Days 68 & 69- Ice Cathedrals and strange happenings

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.

Approaching the Chabod hut with Gran Paradiso the big snowy peak in the background

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.

Joy oh joy. A room to ourselves!

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.

Mr P leads the crevasse maze shuffle
The crevasse maze. Too wide to step across

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.

Shortly after dawn and the holes are getting bigger…

Eventually we are faced with that most vexing of conundrums, the collapsed snow bridge…

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).

Mr P goes for option 2
Mrs P climbs out of the crevasse. The collapsed snow bridge can be seen just behind her head

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.

Mr P surveys the final summit ridge from just above the bergschrund

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.

Mrs P on the final summit ridge
Mrs P on the summit block
The statue of the Madonna incongruously draped in Buddhist prayer flags

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 view back along the ‘airy’ bit

The descent was uneventful… no, hang on. It was… strange.

We saw, and unfortunately failed to effectively photograph, the following:

  • A young couple climbing in super tight hot pants and sporting knee length multicoloured socks. He with the added touch of shaved legs. Temperature on the summit with windchill? Minus 5 degrees c. It may be hot on the glacier sometimes but, if you fall in a cold crevasse you do not want to be wearing skimpy swim trunks while you wait to freeze to death.
  • As if to top it all off, a woman had untied from the rope party she was with, donned a weird white outfit and was performing interpretive dance whilst being videoed. I bet their guide will dine off that story for some time to come.
  • More collapsed snow bridges
    Mrs P, refusing to perform interpretive dance or wear hot pants

    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.

    …and the road goes on forever and ever and ever…

    A big old day. 12.5 hours. Pooped. Tomorrow we will rest.

    5 thoughts on “Days 68 & 69- Ice Cathedrals and strange happenings

    1. Really enjoyed your post, glacier maze looked a challenge. And what a monster descent, I thought Pigne D Arolla was bad! A second night in the refuge is possible you know. Your legs will recover one day.


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