Thursday 20th & Friday 21st September 2018
Thursday – Mrs P is very happy. We arrive at the Chabod [pr: Sha-bod] hut, 2,710m in readiness for our ascent of the Gran Paradiso, 4,061m (13,323 ft) on Friday following a lovely 2.5 hour walk up from the valley.
Mrs P is not always happy arriving at huts. They tend to be overcrowded and the staff accordingly run off their feet. We are then often wedged into a bunk room with 6 million, smelly, snoring, farting other people with the promise of little or no sleep ahead. But, as I say, on this occasion, Mrs P is very happy. We are greeted by the hut warden, “Titti” like old friends. There are not the usual hordes of people spread across all available outdoor seating spots and, joy oh joy, we have a room with just two bunk beds all to ourselves. This pretty much guarantees a decent nights sleep. (Still one smelly, snoring, farting person to share with but she is used to him). Drinking water is free and the toilets have paper and soap. They are also just a few feet from our room so nocturnal visits will not involve the usual multiple flights of stairs in the cold and dark. To top it all off the cost is reasonable. In fact, by comparison to Swiss huts this is a positive bargain. €48 each for bed, breakfast and evening meal. All we need now is for the evening meal to be cheesy pasta (a Mrs P favourite) and this becomes the dream hut.
The evening meal was not cheesy pasta but was excellent. However the hut unfortunately fails the final, all important, hurdle on its way to Dream Hut status. The breakfast: Very cheap cornflakes, orange juice, stale bread, butter and jam. Woefully inadequate for a day on the mountain. A real shame as otherwise this was all set to be the standout hut of the trip.
On to the story of the climb which I will hand over to the images to tell since a picture paints a thousand words. I will add a few here and there for clarity.
We started in the dark… we always start in the dark. 05.40. Following 2 guided teams of 3 climbers. By the time we reached the glacier it was almost light, which was a good job because the crevasses were something else. What? What happened to the ‘picture paints a thousand words?’ Ok. I’ll shut up and give you some pictures.
The crevasses aren’t so bad but they prevent a direct approach and have an irritating tendency to get bigger. Also, as you get above the snow line, the pesky things are now covered in snow so you are never quite sure how secure the ground you are standing on actually is.
Eventually we are faced with that most vexing of conundrums, the collapsed snow bridge…
You can’t help but wonder if anyone was stood on it when it went. Anyway, what to do?
OPTION 1: Long detour
OPTION 2: climb down into it, cross a lower snow bridge with fingers crossed and climb out the other side?
No brainer. Option 2… (hate detours).
No photos of the inside of the crevasse I’m afraid. It’s not a place to linger when you only have Mrs P, who is the weight of a sparrow, on the other end of the rope. Suffice to say that the inside of the crevasse is very cold and would have happily swallowed a couple of large-ish family homes.
Anyway, onward and upward. Try not to think about the return journey and hope the sun doesn’t get too hot.
It is a big and steep old climb, the snow is very hard and it takes almost 5 hours to get to the summit.
The point at which a glacier meets the rock on a mountain is called the bergschrund. The rock being generally warmer than the ice creates a hole, always steep and occasionally impassable. That’s the bergschrund. This one was, as our American cousins are wont to say, a doozie. The snow bridge was slowly melting away and the ‘safe’ bit was the consistency of Edam cheese. This afforded a lovely view down into the bergschrund. Stunning and scary at the same time. Like an ice cathedral with the most beautiful icicles hanging from black rock catching what little light was available as your eye was drawn down into the vast hole disappearing into a seemingly bottomless void. No photos please I just want to get past. And quick.
Mrs P and I had our sights on the summit statue of the Madonna. There is a short section of very exposed rock for the final 10 metres or so but there are bolts in situ to clip to so any hyperventilating, tears and or shakes are just histrionics.
The statue is not technically on the highest point but it is the most interesting bit of climbing and very cool. Apparently there is often a queue to get to it of up to an hour and a half! Our day on the mountain was one of the quietest a local guide had ever seen. Just 5-10 small groups of climbers.
The descent was uneventful… no, hang on. It was… strange.
We saw, and unfortunately failed to effectively photograph, the following:
A long way up from the hut (1,300 m) was followed by an even longer way down to Gandalf. 2,300 metres. At one point it began to feel a bit like an eternal Sysiphus style descent but we got there eventually.
A big old day. 12.5 hours. Pooped. Tomorrow we will rest.