Sat 23rd Jul - Sun 7th Aug, 2011
Alps Trip - Gran Paradiso, Italy
Present: Colin Maddison & Duncan Lee (The Leaders), Vicky Alderton, Kieran Lee, Jim Symon & James Williams (Team Dwarf), Craig Marsden, Sue Marsden, Thomas Marsden, Pheobe Marsden, Katharine Bagshaw & Gareth Williams (The Keenies), Ann Sanderson & Christine Beeston (The Ladies), Al Metelko & Trish Cranston (The Rain Dancers), Roger Mapleson, Bridget Mapleson, Carys Mapleson, Owen Mapleson, Scott Sadler and Kate Harvey.
This year’s alpine meet took us to the Valsavarenche, in the Gran Paradiso National Park, Northern Italy. Twenty two souls graced the meet with their presence for all or part of the two weeks and, as far as I’m aware, survived the experience. Neither Duncan nor I had been before and information was sketchy, but the area seemed to offer high mountain challenges, local cragging, easy access to other areas and the wet weather fallback of the Valle d’Aosta for a host of rock-climbing options.
By the end of the first week it had become clear that Duncan had forgotten how to use pen or paper and all too apparent who was writing the meet report. So what follows is my account. It is, of course, a true and faithful record of what took place!
Colin Maddison, Co-Leader and gentleman.
Day 1 – Thursday 21st July.
The meet leaders, Vicky and Kieran are getting a head start as they must return a day or two early. The journey to Dover is swift and uneventful and we catch an earlier than planned ferry. Our first bivvi is the F1 Hotel at Rhiems. Inside it is unremarkable save for the toilets, that flush on entry, flush again on standing up and flush again on leaving... and all to the sound of opera.
It takes some time to get Duncan settled; he’s over excited, but finally snuggles up on the floor with Thomas (the Tank Engine inflatable bed that is), leaving Vicky and Kieran undisturbed to play half the night. Mercifully, Colin is tired and sleeps through much of this!
Day 2 – Friday 22nd July.
The long haul south. Northern France is dull, very dull; or so Duncan tells us several times. Kieran breaks the monotony by filling nappies at frequent intervals. In the Bourgogne we briefly pick up the heavy rain that has dogged Al and Trish’s attempts to climb there over the past few days. But we make good time until the hour’s queue for the Mont Blanc tunnel.
Finally, a beautiful sunny evening sees us negotiating the hairpins up the Valsavarenche. We arrive about 8.30pm at Camping Gran Paradiso and are shown our cabins. We had expected little more than a garden shed, but these are five star Wendy houses with four bunks, fridge, cooker, tables and chairs. Yes, we used to be rough, tough mountaineers!
Day 3 – Saturday 23rd July.
Jim and James arrive for breakfast, having dossed the night at Chamonix. There’s a couple of light showers around lunch time and a fearsome crack of thunder that reverberates around the valley, but it turns out just to be Jim sneezing.
We check out the location of local crags. The nearest is in the campsite, is seven feet high and sports three bolts and a lower-off! Colin, Duncan and Vicky visit Pont, at the head of the valley, and do three single pitch climbs on the compact little roadside crag of Palestra Delle Guide.
Al and Trish arrive early afternoon and join James and Jim for a walk up to the Riffugio Vittorio Emanuele. This is the popular launching pad for an ascent of Gran Paradiso; at 4061m the only four-thousander wholly in Italy. But they are British, so they are looking for good bivvi sites.
The Marsden clan arrive late afternoon and move into the neighbouring Wendy house. The evening is cold, but downies are donned and we dine alfresco. Much wine is drunk and the standard is set for the week.
Jim sneezes again and somewhere high above a serac collapses.
Day 4 – Sunday 24th July.
The day starts cold, but becomes sunny and warm in the valley. Jim, James, Al and Trish, disdainful of any concept of acclimatisation, are heading up to bivvi prior to an ascent of Gran Paradiso. Colin is impressed by their keen, mountaineering spirit and heads off cragging with Vicky.
The Belvedere Di Fosse proves to be a fine, mostly slabby crag of compact granite about 30 – 40 minutes up the hillside through the trees above Pont. It sports 27 mostly single pitch routes of 20-30m.The flora on the approach is stunning both for its colour and variety. The sun is shining, but it’s cold, damn cold; a Patagonia like wind is blowing across the crag. They are joined by Craig and Thomas. The adults wear every stitch they can find. Thomas climbs in a thin fleece and tee-shirt! They do six routes between them from 4b to 5c and retreat to the warmth of the valley.
During the afternoon, further grace and sophistication is added to the expedition by the arrival of leading lights of the Lady’s Luncheon Club, and Ann and Christine erect a small marquis nearby. Numbers are further swelled by the arrival of the keenies, Gareth and Katharine, who immediately run to Pont and back.
The evening is cold again. Duncan tells Sue that two underneath is worth one on top. Something he’s learned from a man with a comb-over in a tent! Susan is aghast, ‘What, a comb-over in a tent!’ More wine is drunk and we retire to arrange our blankets appropriately. Colin makes a note in the log.
Day 5 – Monday 25th July
The day dawns fine; a perfect morning for those toiling above on Gran Paradiso. Gareth and Katharine go up high for a night at the Bivacco Sberna (3401m) and some acclimatisation. The ladies who lunch head off on a two day jaunt to the Val di Rhemes and an ascent of the Punta Basie. Kate, who arrived by plane, train and bus the previous day, explores the valley up to Pont and beyond.
The meet leaders visit Belvedere Di Fosse, which today is warm and sunny and ease themselves a little further into the holiday with seven pitches. The views are stunning across the valley to a range of big shapely, snow clad peaks. Somewhere opposite four KMCers are toiling upwards on Gran Paradiso, a faint trench visible zig-zagging upwards through the snow. They wonder at the effort of it all and stroll back through the trees and meadows to the campsite.
Later Jim, James, Al and Trish arrive back from their successful ascent. Starting at 4.30am, it’s been a long day, but well worth the effort. But, oh my god, the hordes and the queues; they bring them in by the coach load to visit the summit Madonna.
Worryingly, altitude seems to be taking its toll on one member of the team, even at just a little over 1800m. Vicky, “I saw the forecast in Pont today. It’s going to be fine on 24th.” Colin, “It’s 25th today.”
Day 6 – Tuesday 26th July
It’s fine again. Vicky has spotted a jolly up above Pont – Di Fronte Al Paradiso, 177m, seven pitches, 5c max and just a 45 minute approach. Colin is mobilised. The topo is little more than a wiggly line on a blank sheet, so it is left behind. There’s a team above who seem to be having trouble with route finding. The climbing is good and Colin catches them at the top of pitch 4 preparing to abseil.
“Do you know the way from here”, he’s asked in a French accent. Colin glances at the motif on his jacket ‘Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix’. Oh joy, a lost guide! “There is a bolt up there, but then nothing. I’ve looked left and right.” Colin finds the route,and guide and client follow. Later, they wave a cheery goodbye to Chamonix’s finest, who’s an amiable old chap and thanks them for the route.
Later, Vicky’s struggles with altitude continue, “Let’s check the forecast”. Colin, “Okay, it’s Tuesday today.” Vicky, “Looks okay for Tuesday”. Colin, “It’s Tuesday today!”
Craig, Sue, Thomas, Al, Trish and Jim all enjoy a visit to Belvedere Di Fosse. Sue sketches whilst the others climb. Thomas leads his first 6a; a very good effort for someone who climbs once or twice a year.
The ladies return from success on Punta Basie having knocked spots off the guidebook time. Gareth and Katharine return with tales of daring do and an almost successful solo ascent of the Herbetet (3778m) by Gareth, before discretion in the face of hard rock forces retreat. The Maplesons pirouette into camp, having been delayed at the ballet, and thus another chapter opens up in the proceedings.
Day 7 – Wednesday 27th July
It has been a bad night. Seasoned alpinists have slept uneasily in their beds. All night, the sound of wet snow avalanches has been perilously close by. But in the morning all is tranquil. The noise it seems was just Owen Mapleson throwing up through the night.
There’s rain in the morning. The Lee, Alderton, Maddison contingent tour the Valle d’Aosta only to discover that pizza at lunchtime in Italy is as rare as hen’s teeth! They picnic instead and then make their way to the small slabby crag of Chatelair, were they discover... the KMC! Jim, James, Al and Trish are working their way left to right across the slab ticking all the routes. Meanwhile, the Marsdens and Maplesons view the frescos and other sights in Aosta, whilst Ann and Christine hang out at the snooker bar!
Katherine heads up to the Riffugio Chabod for an attempt on Gran Paradiso by the alternative approach. Gareth intends to join her from the valley in the morning.
Day 8 – Thursday 28th July
The ladies are raising an expedition, this time to the Becca Della Traversiere (3337m), from the Valgrisenche. Bridget and Susan join by right, as fellow luncheon clubbers. Their men folk and offspring are granted honorary membership, though Roger is later rejected when it is found he is infected with Bacillus Owenus.
The meet leaders drive down the Valle d’Aosta to the enormous Corma Di Machabi, where they climb Par Condicio, 250m, eleven pitches, max 6a+. It’s a good call. All day dark clouds have threatened, but pass by, whilst up in the Valsavarenche it’s been a wet afternoon and Al, Trish, James and Jim have been rained off Di Fonte Al Paradiso after three pitches.
Katharine and Gareth return successful from Gran Paradiso. Jim sneezes and somewhere another avalanche is loosed.
Day 9 – Friday 29th July
It’s a fine day. Jim, James, Al and Trish dry out their gear at the Belvedere Di Fosse, where they are joined by Gareth and Katherine and climb routes up to 6a. Then it’s time for Al and Trish to bid farewell and head home.
Colin returns to Corma Di Machabi, this time with Vicky, and they climb the nine pitch Diretta Al Banano, 250m, max 5c. Duncan, Roger, Owen, Kate and Kieran explore the strange tunnels to nowhere above the valley (part of the approach road for an abandoned hydro scheme) and continue over high alps in a circular walk back to Pont.
Later, the Lady’s Luncheon club expedition returns successful in its endeavours. The rest of the party are amazed by the style in which Ann and Christine climb. They have, it seems, endured untold hardships of luxury at the privately owned Riffugio Bezzi. They came they saw, they were pampered! All are impressed with the accommodation. Craig is mostly impressed with the five course meal.
Jim inadvertently purchases a 13 Euro packet of dried mushrooms and tries to blame James, but they enjoy the world’s most expensive omelette! Scott arrives and immediately takes to the hills for a run to the Riffugio Chabod and back. In the evening Roger and Bridget celebrate their 22nd Wedding Anniversary. Congratulations.
Jim sneezes and a hanging glacier tumbles.
Day 10 – Saturday 30th July
It’s a sunny morning. But James is grumpy; alpinism with Jim is taking its toll. The ribbing is constant and now Gareth is joining in. “I don’t have a lawyer yet, but I might do by the end of the trip!”
Finally, the meet leaders rouse themselves for Alpinism; only to stand down shortly after. Rucksacks have been packed. There is a general murmur of anticipation. But all is not well. It’s not often Mr Grumpy turns up before the route. Duncan is queasy; the latest victim of the Mapleson plague.
The camp assumes the air of a rest day. The ladies lunch in Villeneuve. Sneezy and Grumpy, team dwarf, retreat to their leafy dell to plan their next venture. Kate, however, walks up to Pont and on round a high level circuit via the Gran Collet (2832m). She is spotted by Scott, running in the same area. Fortunately, she does not spot Scott skinny dipping in a stream.
The ladies are raising another expedition. Their objective is Gran Paradiso. Craig and Thomas are invited to join them. The preparations begin. Craig approaches them with relish; but mostly he eats croissants.
By evening Duncan is taking more than a little wine for his stomach’s sake, so it looks like the meet leaders’ jaunt is back on.
Well into the trip and folk are nervous whenever they see Colin reach for his notebook!
Day 11 – Sunday 31st July
Sunny again. Jim, James and Gareth have departed in the night for an ascent of Becca di Monciair (3554m) direct from Pont. Jim and Gareth are successful but, sadly, Gareth’s feet have been trashed on Gran Paradiso and are now disintegrating rapidly; thus begins a strange period of experimental footwear.
Ann, Christine, Craig and Thomas are preparing to head up to the Riffugio Vittorio Emanuel for their ascent of Gran Paradiso tomorrow. Teenager Thomas is horrified at being up before 11.00am for the walk in, never mind the 4.30am start needed for the ascent!
Sue, “But you’ll be able to go to bed on Monday night and not get up until Tuesday.” Thomas, “But that’s what I usually do!” Colin reaches for the expedition log.
Sue, Pheobe, Roger, Bridget, Chrys and Owen head off for a walk from Pont, via the Gran Collet (2832m) and a possible ascent of Monte Giansana (3047m). Scott goes for a run from the campsite via the Chabod and Vittorio Emanuele riffugios.
Vicky kindly drives the meet leaders over to the Valpeline for what turns out to be an exercise in low calorie alpinism. The walk to the Spataro Bivouac is not too arduous, especially the short lift they get from an Italian in a 4x4, which is just plain terrifying as he rolls backwards down the track trying to hill start! But they arrive safely at the bivouac in just under 2 hours actual walking. It’s a small wood and tin affair, set in a lunar landscape of rock and scree; a cosy enough retreat from the cold wind blowing outside. The line of their route, the East Spur of Point Jean Charrey, 270m TD, UIAA VI, looks impressive. They discover that two, two person Ainsley Harriet packets of savoury couscous are barely sufficient to keep one grown man alive at sea level! They survey what proves to be a meagre supply of food; surely one of these seasoned alpinists would have thought to bring some bread?
Somewhere far away across the Valle d’Aosta Jim sneezes and a gendarme crashes down.
Day 12 – Monday 1st August
The meet leaders are up before 6.00am. The skies are clear; an Ibex grazes outside their door; four more are nearby. They breakfasted amply on half a sesame seed bar apiece.
Pitch one is a long corner with a couple of overlaps, followed by a thin slab that provides a fine opening to the route... except that it is the opening to the neighbouring route! But it’s nothing a short diagonal abseil won’t put right and soon the ascent continues up the arête in long pitches. The crux section falls in four consecutive pitches above half height. Duncan leads diagonally across a big slab. Then a steep, but well protected wall (the guidebook crux) leads back onto the arête, to be followed by another slightly impending wall for Duncan on suspect holds. Above a steep corner, capped by a bulge of dubious blocks, provides the actual crux and there has been a serious miscalculation. Colin reflects that he didn’t bring a hippy along to be leading this himself!
From the top a couple of extra pointy bits are negotiated to reach the summit of the Vierge (2960m). Then down via the Col de l’Anolette in a series of abseils and a scramble down the final one in approach shoes (for reasons Duncan is yet to explain) lead to a long scree filled couloir and back to the hut at 1.30pm for a hearty lunch of peanuts and raisins.
Back in the Valsavarenche, Ann is leading the Ladies Luncheon Club expedition to a successful summit bid on Gran Paradiso. High above the valley she is guiding Christine, Craig and Thomas ever upwards; she sets a fearsome pace. At one point a guide attempts to overtake. Christine, polite as ever, enquires if they’d like to pass, but Ann is having none of it and drives the party harder still. Guide and clients are brushed aside. On descent, Thomas is disappointed to find that dad is not up for rushing back for an afternoon’s cragging!
Jim and Scott walk and scramble to the Summit of Punta Money (3373m) and James customises a pair of tennis shoes for a walk to the Riffugio Chabod and beyond.
The Maplesons make an audacious dash to the Valtournanche for a family ascent of the Breithorn (4165m), reaching an impressive high point for a vertically challenged team, but time forbids the final summit bid and the last few hundred metres await another day.
Day 13 – Tuesday 2nd August
The day dawns bright and sunny. High above Gareth is toiling upwards Herman Buhl-like on solo ascents of Mont Tresenta (3609m) and Il Ciarforon (3640m), having left the campsite at 2.00am. The meet leaders ponder whether one day he will Herman Buhl-like fail to return.
Others head up the hill above Pont to the crag of Strada Del Nivolet, where routes from 3c to 6a+ are enjoyed in the sun. Gareth returns successful after a ten hour round trip and wanders up to watch the proceeding. He is shocked to find that Colin has only done two routes; the disappointment in his leader is palpable. Colin is obliged to point out that it is as many as Gareth has done. Later he does a third route and offers Gareth a rope so that he can catch up.
Tom Marsden, flushed with earlier successes, attempts two 6a+s; but they are steep and bulging and a salutary lesson ensues. The first ends in success, just; but who is shaking more, Tom above that unclipped first bolt or the spotters on the steep slope below? Undeterred, he throws himself at a second; it throws him back at dad, who’s dodgy wrist is wrenched severely. The response is loud, very loud! The air is blue. Hardened alpinists blush down the hill in Pont. As far away as Aosta, gentile women swoon.
Day 14 – Wednesday 3rd August
The ladies are restless and planning another expedition, a two day trip from the Cogne valley to La Gran Serra (3552m), via the Riffugio Vittorio Sella. They co-opt Jim to their cause.
Duncan, James and Colin do a little light cragging on Strada Del Nivolet then, after a heavy shower, retreat to Palestra Delle Guide, where Duncan leads the hardest pitch of the trip at 6b+ and Colin watches in the sun. Gareth has a rare rest day and the Marsdens and Maplesons head down the valley to the winery.
Day 15 – Thursday 4th August
Time for the meet leaders to head home. The journey is long, very long; northern France is still dull, as Duncan reminds us. The bivvi at the Lille Formula 1 is substandard; there is no opera in the toilets and only MacDonalds to eat.
In due course, news filters back to the meet leaders from Jim and the ladies of success on La Gran Serra, despite poor snow conditions.
Gareth heads up alone to the Bivacco Grivola at 3320m. It's virtually brand new, fully equipped, with some of the blankets still in their plastic packets! He enjoys a solitary night there and the next day reaches the summit of Punta Bianca (3793m) and descends on snow to Col della Grivola, then in turn considers the south ridge and south east face of Grivola (3968m), but a lack of information, softening snow and deteriorating weather dictate a return to the valley.
Appendix 1: Alpine Kit List (Prepared by Pheobe)
5 x bikinis 3 x dresses 11 x pairs footwear 2 x pairs bed socks
3 x skirts 6 x trousers Hats = Zero (forgotten by dad).
Appendix 2: Alpine Rations (Prepared by Sue)
Bananas, Marmite, Jam, Bread – to be eaten all together!!!
Appendix 3: Emergency Bivouac Advice (Prepared by Ann)
‘Tin Can’ Pancakes – take one tin can; punch holes in can; create small cave in base; insert night-light ............... hope you remembered to pack flour, milk and eggs.
To all who have figured in this epic tale, remember that history is wrought by the words and deeds of men and women; all I have done is record it faithfully. Many thanks on behalf of Duncan and myself to all who came along and made the meet so enjoyable and successful. A special thank you to Vicky for negotiating with the camp site and for all the driving.
This summer we will be heading for the Gran Paradiso in northern Italy and basing ourselves in the Valsavarenche. For location see map at the following link: http://www.parks.it/parco.nazionale.gran.paradiso/Emap.php
The Valsavarenche is accessed from the Valle d’Aosta and sits within the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, the first National Park to be established in Italy, in 1922. The National Park website describes the Valsavarenche as:
“.... the most narrow and wildest valley in Valle d'Aosta, and is famous for being the setting of climbing activities and great traverses around Gran Paradiso group.”
The valley is one of the main starting points for an ascent of the Gran Paradiso itself, at 4061 metres the only 4000 metre peak wholly in Italy, although the nearby La Grivola weighs in close at 3969 metres. The area offers opportunities for high level ascents on snow and rock, multi-pitch alpine rock routes, valley cragging, bouldering and walking. For the walker, a trip to the scenic Djouan Lake appears to be a must.
An additional attaction of the valley is the ease of access to other areas. In event of poor weather, or if you simply fancy a change, you can lose height rapidly to the Valle d’ Aosta, where there is an array of valley crags offering single and multi-pitch routes, such as the impressive Corma di Machaby. Or if you fancy an alternative alpine scene before, during or after the meet, a quick motor back up the Valle d’Aosta will bring you to Courmayeur and access to the Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) massif from the south. Or go the other way and you could soon head north up the Valtourenche for the Italian side of the Matterhorn (Monte Cervino) and neighbouring peaks. But perhaps the greatest advantage is the wine, so leave a bit of space in the car to fill up at one of the local vinyards on the way home.
For our base in the Valsavarenche, we have chosen Camping Gran Paradiso, which is situated about 20km up the valley, about 3km before you reach Pont, which is the end of the road. It appears to be very well set up, offering additional attractions, such as dry canyoning, and services such as equipment hire. The owner is a mountain guide, so may also be able to help us out with some local information. Link to website: www.campinggranparadiso.it . It is probably worth booking pitches. Your rufty tufty meet leaders and a couple of family groups have booked themselves cabins. The owner has indicated that pitches could be reserved close by if required – or presumably far away if preferred! You could mention you’re with the Brits in the’bungalows’ when you contact them, if you want.
If full, there is alternative camping just up the road at Pont. This appears to be more basic, but perfectly satisfactory and an attractive spot. You can check out Campeggio Pont Breuil at: http://www.comune.valsavarenche.ao.it/Sito-Ufficiale-Comune/it/Camping-Pont-Breuil.aspx
From the north, the Valle d’Aosta is most easily accessed from Chamonix via the Mont Blanc Tunnel (though the Col Gran San Bernardo is an alternative if coming from Switzerland). Once in the Valle d’Aosta take the motorway to the exit for Aosta West (Aosta Ovest), head for Villeneuve and then follow signs for Valsavarenche.
For further information see National Park Websites:
- ‘Rock Paradise.’(Versante Sud). Author: Maurizio Oviglia. ISBN: 88-87890-00-5
- Selected climbs in the Gran Paradiso. Language - Italian
- ‘Mani Nude 2.’ Authors: Massimo Bala & Patrick Raspo. ISBN 978-88-90112-57-7
- Cragging guide to the Valle d’Aosta. Languages – Italian, French, English
- ‘Gran Paradiso’ (Cicerone). Author Gillian Price. ISBN 978-18-52844-99-8
- Carta IGC Gran Paradiso, La Grivola, Cogne - Map no: 101 (1:25,000)
- Carta IGC Valsavarenche, Val di Rhêmes, Valgrisenche – Map no: 102 (1:25,000)
We are seeing what else we can find in the way of climbing guides. Any updates on the meet will appear on the website and in the newsletter. If you want any further advice feel free to speak to one of us.
Get the dates in your diaries and start planning and let us know if you intend coming along and when, so we can watch out for you.
Colin and Duncan.