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kernowclimber
2011-09-05 10:02:24
"Our Lady in Paradiso" from kernowclimber Contract pics
Picture: Our Lady in Paradiso (Contract pics)

Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained
We camped in the Val Veny below the Mont Blanc massif near Courmayeur. Hemmed in by jagged snow capped mountains with blue glaciers fringed by pine forests, this valley is biscuit tin beautiful. To begin acclimatization we took a cable car to Punta Helbonner (3375m) to practice crevasse rescue with an Italian guide, followed by another day at similar altitude. From Punta Helbonner we took the Panoramic Mont Blanc lift for the 5 km journey to the Aiguille de Midi. The world’s highest cable car traverse connects France and Italy offering tremendous views of the Mont Blanc massif and the Mer de Glace. At Aiguille de Midi we emerged via an icy tunnel above a thrilling knife edge aręte to traverse the undulating plateau to Punta Helbonner. The route passes the east face of Mont Blanc du Tacul beneath towering granite spires and over a series of deep blue, cavernous crevasses.

We then tackled Gran Paradiso (4061 m), climbing the zigzag path from Pont to the Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II (2735 m). The hut, resembling an aircraft hangar, is excellent: warm, with bunk-bed dorms for 4 people and tasty, plentiful food. As members of the Austrian Alpine Club we got a good discount. Next morning we breakfasted and set off at 4.30 am for the 1300 m climb. Squally showers and gusts of wind were ominous signs as we crossed the boulder field behind the hut. After taking a route up the west face glacier, atop the snowy ridge, high wind and poor visibility halted progress. I was blown over and had to self arrest with my ice axe. Scary! Disheartened, we returned to our campsite.

Fine weather then settled in. By now well acclimatized, we planned to climb Mont Blanc. However, a bad fall of ground at the infamous Grand Couloir closed the route to the Gouter hut. Seeking an alternative, we trekked up the Val Veny to check out the Gonella route. I didn’t like the look of it and the rapid thaw resulted in the removal for safety reasons of the fixed equipment on the Miage glacier the very next day.

We therefore consoled ourselves with another stab at Gran Paradiso, taking a different route over moraine and a rocky ridge above the north face glacier entailing scrambling and a via ferrata. As darkness receded, the sight of mighty Mont Blanc blushing dawn pink against an inky blue sky was sublime. The final climb above a bergschrund is steep; the short traverse to the Madonna statue very exposed and liable to congestion. We had to wait our turn. It was a magical moment to have the highest peak solely in Italy to ourselves for a few minutes with extensive views of pristine meringue-like peaks soaring into a deep blue sky in all directions. We returned to the hut via the west face glacier. After lunch, a beer to celebrate and a hot shower, we descended to Pont. Gran Paradiso is a great introduction to Alpine climbing, but you need good fitness levels and appropriate experience and equipment to tackle it unguided and safely within guidebook time.


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