Aosta [hike 3: no Grivola!]

pict6607My last lecture over in Cogne, I “ran” up to Refugio Vittoria Sella to meet my guide, to whom I had been introduced by the organiser of the course, Achaz von Hardenberg. This guide happened to be the very impressive mountaineer Abele Blanc, who is one of the twenty men in the World to have climbed thirteen of the fourteen 8000’s. I thus felt a bit shy at wasting his time with my low level climbing experience but he was both very professional and very patient in his guiding. Meeting him was an remarkable moment, for his intense personality is of a quality I rarely met. Climbing with Abele, albeit too briefly, was thus the experience of a lifetime, even though we could not meet our climbing goal, and I can only wish I have the opportunity to repeat this experience in the future…

Col de la Noire

The climb (la course) we intended to make was La Grivola, an almost 4000’s (3969m) whose sharp features are quite attractive and whose (low) difficulty was within my abilities. However, a storm built up on most of the Alps on Friday afternoon and it stroke during the night. We had intended to leave the refuge at 1am, but snow was falling too heavily for us to get out then and we thus started close to 6am when the snow had abated and daylight made handling the more delicate passages possible. (It thus allowed us to get at least some sleep, for some excursioners have had a good time in the hall of the refuge till midnight!) In the first hour, we saw a group of seven chamois, including four yearlings, who had gone down to the altitude of the path because of the snow. The first delicate passage was about climbing the snow corridor visible on the above picture (taken on the previous afternoon), to Colle de la Nera (3491m). There was enough iced snow there to make climbing easy with crampons and one ice-pick, even though we had to rope up for the final steep bit of maybe 50-60 degrees. Once at the pass—it was then 8:30am and we had made a fairly good time so far—, the weather had not improved, with gusts of winds sending snow powder inside every crack of our clothes and bags—as on Ben Nevis in 2006, my Lowe Alpine jacket hood would not close!—and a very poor visibility on the Trajo Glacier. Abele took a look at the glacier and decided that crossing it would be too dangerous for crevices were covered with fresh snow and impossible to detect—unless too late! He then took me to La Punta Nera (3683m), visible on the left of the above picture, that was an easy climb up packed snow, for there is an alternative route to La Grivola that goes through La Punta Bianca with very little differential in altitude (compared with going down on the glacier). Unfortunately the windy conditions were such that attempting this technical ridge walk was also impossible…

Colle de la Nera

We thus went down to the pass, hoping for a miracle for there still was time to cross the glacier in good visibility conditions and to reach La Grivola in about two hours. As miracles rarely happen, Abele then decided to try for another peak on the other side of the pass, La Punta Rossa, to make the most of the day, but after fifteen minutes of walking on the side of the glacier, we hit bare ice where our mixed climbing crampons would not grip, as I quickly found with my first steps… We could thus only head back down to the bottom of the valley. Going down the snow corridor proved to be the hardest part of the climb as, after the 20 meters of steep hard snow, we hit recent snow covering rubble and loose slates that made my going very very slow. It is only when we hit the end of the snow line, at about 10:30am, that the weather started to lift, as seen on the above picture, but it would have been too late anyway. So, after a cup of tea at the refuge—above which we saw a lone chamois—, we rushed back to Valnontey, our starting point, that we reached at 1:30…

From Refugio Vittorio Sella

It is always a disappointment to have to turn back on a climb, but the weather and the difficulty always are the final judges! In the end, this still is a wonderful experience and I dearly hope to be able to come back to this Aosta valley to attempt La Grivola once again.

Trajo Glacier

5 Responses to “Aosta [hike 3: no Grivola!]”

  1. […] there two years ago, I wish I could get back to Aosta to attend (and try once again to climb La Grivola!) but this is the start of the semester… (The deadline for registration is July […]

  2. […] guide we met last summer in Aosta, Abele Blanc, is now back to the Himalayas to try his last 8000′s, Annapurna, for the 6th […]

  3. […] I am starting to think that one-day mountaineering trips are not worth it, as they are too dependent on the weather. This trip to Fort William is exemplary: while I got a perfect blue sky and nice […]

  4. Thanks for your nice comment! It was certainly an exhilarating adventure and the highlight of 2009!!!

  5. libera arbini Says:

    capisco l inglese ma per facilità lascio il mio commento in italiano. Grazie mile pe quanto esosto. All apparenza sembrerebbe una rinuncia alla meta ma penso proprio che sia stata una esperienza esaltante con una tale guida poi. Le difficoltà in crescendo causa il maltempo hanno solo rafforzato le capacità alpinistiche e mi hanno fatto in un certo senso partecipare a tale avventura grazie

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