A (too) Short Holiday in the Alps (2)

Holiday in the Alps - view of Matterhorn
Holiday in the Alps – view of Matterhorn

 

Written by Viorel Borteş

After rock climbing in Valle d’Aosta, on our way back to Turin, we were already making plans for the next day — an acclimatization hike for our next objective. We wanted to reach Breithorn, a 4165 meters peak, using the cable from Breuil-Cervinia to Kleine Matterhorn. Breuil is a ski resort and during the high season it is very crowded. Now that the winter holidays are over, we found that there was only one cable line going up the mountain, to Plan Maison, at 2545 m.

 

Going up to Plan Maison

 

Inside the cable car we met a very enthusiastic couple. We noticed they were wearing short pants and light clothes. When they stepped out of the cable station and into the wind, they immediately went back in. We prepared for our new destination, which was chosen due to circumstances beyond our control: the Teodulo Shelter at 3,317 m. On our way up we stopped to take pictures, going slow in order to let our bodies adjust to the altitude. Here and there curious marmots came out on the rocks, making noises in their own language and then disappearing. As we were watching all their funny movements I even came up with the approximate translation from the dialect:  “hurry up girls, it’s the paparazzi, we’re not ready to pose yet!”

 

Climbing Gran Paradiso - Teodulo Sheleter
Climbing Gran Paradiso – Teodulo Sheleter

 

The Teodulo Shelter is in renovation, but they do have beer. So we just sat outside, away from the wind, under the sun, enjoying our view. From here we could see that the cable from the Swiss side is working. In the distance there is movement on Breithorn. Lucky them… The weather is tempting us to go up on Plateau Rosa (,3480m) but we realize the descent would take too much time. The cable program was already over so we would have to walk all the way down to our car, but only after two more hours worth of producing red blood cells.

The next day was going to be the hardest one…

 

Holiday in the Alps - climbing Gran Paradiso
Holiday in the Alps – climbing Gran Paradiso

Climbing Gran Paradiso

 

Gran Paradiso is a group of mountains between Valle d’Aosta and Piemont. Its highest peak is 4061 m high and it’s the only 4000 m peak that is solely on Italian territory. It was first climbed on September 4th 1860. In 1954, a group of mountain climbers together with some priests mounted a statue of Madonna on the peak. The statue was recently restored in Florence. Nowadays the ascent is considered to be not very difficult and without serious technical problems. However, you do need a good physical condition. Gran Paradiso National Park is one of the first natural reservations in Europe. It was once the hunting ground of Vittorio Emanuelle II and in 1922 it was given to the Italian state and was turned into a national park.

Federico Chabod or Vittorio Emanuelle II shelters can be used as a base for the ascent. They can be reached from Valsavaranche, a 24 km long valley that starts from Valle d’Aosta and goes all the way to Pont, a hamlet at 1960 m. We go up to Vittorio Emanuelle II. Our backpacks are light. We only packed the strictly necessary stuff. The path to the shelter is like a walk in the park. In just a bit over two hours we manage to climb almost 800 m.

The shelter lies at 2735 m. The first construction was built of stone in 1884 and the new one in 1961.

 

Climbing Gran Paradiso - Vittorio Emanuelle II Shelter
Climbing Gran Paradiso – Vittorio Emanuelle II Shelter

 

We leave our shoes, ice axes and trekking poles at the special shelves and go up to the room we previously made reservation for.

In the little restaurant we find groups of people from all over the world gathered here for the same purpose. The price we paid for our room includes breakfast and dinner, which we can order at any hour. A glass of red wine as a starter, soup, stew and a beer for desert. Then up to get some sleep. At 5 o’clock the alarm goes off. At 5:30 we have breakfast and at 6 we leave the shelter. Stone cones guide us through a labyrinth of huge blocks. After this area the path becomes more obvious and we slowly advance to 3000m. This is where we get ready for the glacier. Harnesses, a 30 m long semi-rope, ice crampons, trekking pole or ice axe. We move pretty slow but we do have the satisfaction of getting past a group that left earlier than us. It’s not bad for a 172 year old team! We are still on the shady side and the ice is breaking under our crampons. We go round crevasses or cross them on small ice bridges.

 

Climbing Gran Paradiso - the glacier
Climbing Gran Paradiso – the glacier

 

Teams are scattered around long distances. This is a good thing because it won’t be too crowded on the peak. Or at least that’s what we thought! We take a lot of stops for pictures and geography lessons. As soon as we get to the sunny side, we take off our jackets. Some of the teams are already on their way back, all with a big grin on their faces.

We are under the peak. We leave our gear on the ground and we only take the cameras on the last meters. A team of young people that left at about 4 in the morning is stuck here, just under the top and is struggling to move forward. All the latest gear from head to toes and it’s not helping them at all. They were getting tangled in the ropes and all the other materials that were only  making their life more complicated. We manage to get past them, we take some pictures then down we go.

 

Climbing Gran Paradiso - the top
Climbing Gran Paradiso – the top

 

It is a fast descent and in less than an hour we are at the bottom of the glacier. Back at the shelter we have a well deserved rest while watching new groups coming up from the valley. The truth is I was only interested in a pretty French girl! We go down as well, our minds still on Monte Rosa.

By nighttime night we arrived in Turin. It was an emotional good-bye with many promises and hopes. After a long sleep at our hotel we cross Italy, Austria and Hungary on our way back home to Romania.

 

Old boys team: Mihai Pupeza, Eugen Popescu and Viorel Borteș

 

 

 

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