Our latest adventure brought us back to the region where my parents are from in Northern Italy. In celebration of my father’s birthday we climbed a mountain together that he had already attempted to climb twice before, but unfortunately was never able to summit, due to bad weather. The weather moves fast at elevation and often times there isn’t a window of nice weather long enough to make the summit. Even when climbing with a guide that knows the terrain well, fresh snow can superficially cover crevasses and in a complete white-out, make them hard to see.
On our first day we hiked over 3000 vertical feet to get to the Refugio, where we were provided shelter with warm beds and hot meals. The Refugio, named after Vittorio Emanuele II an old Italian king, has many various sized rooms with bunk beds. Our room had five beds, made up of a set of three bunk beds stacked on top of one another as well as another set of two. The Refugio provides many amenities including showers, co-ed bathrooms, and even a full bar stocked with different liquors made from local mountain herbs, as well as wine and beer.
We met our guide and friend of my father, Marco, and began the climb around 5AM, long before the sun had even risen. The stars seemed brighter than I had ever seen. Taking a moment to gaze at the majestic sky with my father, he pointed out several of the individual stars, planets, and then the Milky Way. We began the hike by turning on our headlamps so we could see the rock cairns, which are just stacks of rocks in a pile indicating the path. At daybreak we reached the glacier. Pausing to drink some hot tea, we put on our crampons, tied up to one another and began our over 3,000 ft vertical climb up the icy wall. The route is on the southwest face of the mountain so it’s in shade all morning. We were fortunate to have an amazingly clear day without too much wind, but it was still fairly cold on the way up. Taking my hand out of my glove to take a couple of photographs was punished with frozen numbness in my fingers for a solid 10 minutes. A couple of hours later we made it over the ridge where the wind had a bit more bite, but at last we were in the warm sunlight and feeling much more comfortable. At the top we were rewarded with a unique view, a 360 degree panorama including views of Mount Blanc, the Matterhorn, and Monte Rosa, which makes you feel like you are truly on top of the world. This mountain peak is called Gran Paradiso, the Italian phrase used for Heaven. With this view you can see why it has earned that name. We made it back to the Refugio, celebrated with a bottle of wine and went to sleep early that night exhausted. The 4AM clatter of the next mornings climbers preparing for their accent didn’t even wake us we were so tired. The next morning we trekked back down the mountain with a feeling of triumph having reached the summit, but all the way down a little voice in the back of my head kept me wondering, which mountain will be next!
View of our route up Gran Paradiso, Italian Alps
Starting the hike up to the Rifugio
Ibex Herder crossing our path
Clouds over the Alps
The original old Rifugio
Our accommodations at Rifugio Victor Emmanuel II
Rifugio Victor Emmanuel II
Sunrise over the Alps
Team Auda at the base of the glacier
Start of the Glacier
Making our way up the glacier
Stopping to enjoy the view
At the Summit
Mario Auda enjoying the view
Rock formations with Crevasse