Gran Paradiso: Reaching New Heights written by WhereisPim

I don’t know what I was thinking. Guess I wasn’t. My little sister was planning her Eurotrip with her friends for the Summer and mentioned to me that she wanted to go up to one of the mountains. Her friends didn’t want to do it. So for one month straight she was texting me asking me to go climbing w

Gran Paradiso: Reaching New Heights

Gran Paradiso: Reaching New Heights


I don’t know what I was thinking. Guess I wasn’t.

My little sister was planning her Eurotrip with her friends for the Summer and mentioned to me that she wanted to go up to one of the mountains. Her friends didn’t want to do it. So for one month straight she was texting me asking me to go climbing with her (I was living in Switzerland). Thinking back, she was very patient with me because I kept saying no from the beginning. I had told her that hiking is fine but I didn’t want to go anywhere too high up as I was no way a climber and I was definitely not in shape.

The main thing was that she was proposing to climb Mont Blanc! And I thought, are you crazy!?! Isn’t Mont Blanc for serious hikers? Neither I nor she had any experience using the types of tools needed for glacier hike! We didn’t even really know what tools are needed actually. I’ve seen pictures with people wearing helmets carrying axes and stuff. That was my extensive knowledge on ‘mountaineering’.

                                                                                                       Chamonix town

Turned out she was very persuasive because I ended up giving in. By then the hiking operator she was in contact with suggested to her that for beginners we should climb another mountain called Gran Paradiso, which is located in a national park of the same name, instead. It’s not too far from Mont Blanc but it’s on the Italian side. Mont Blanc would have been too challenging for us beginners. My sister did a bit of a research and she agreed with the operator and went along with them. So I went along with her.

So the day came. She parted ways from her friends who were somewhere in Switzerland. And we met up in Chamonix. We stayed the night in a nice little guest house and met up with our guide and the rest of the team the next morning.

                                                                                        Hobbits walking into Mordor
                                                                                                     View from below

We were a small group of 5; Tania the ex-marine mountain guide, Steve the big American business man, Frances the experienced Brit hiker, and us 2 the newbies. Tania drove us to the Italian side and through the Aosta valley. At around 9am we started our journey to Chabod hut, which was where we stayed the first night. The trail was well traced and beautiful. We started out walking up through the green forest and the higher we got, the landscape gradually changed to grassland. We took a few mini breaks and spent total of 5 hours until we reached the hut at the 2,750 m. For me, it was tiring but was not as bad as I thought it would be.

                                                                                                     Chabod hut

The hut was big and very spacious. There were a lot of people up there. I was surprised that so many of them were people in their 60’s and they were still very fit. Some would stay the night and go down tomorrow. The rest, like us, would stay the night then continue the journey to summit starting at 4 am the next day.

We put our stuff on our bunk beds then Tania gave us crash course to mountaineering equipment. We learned how to use crampons, rope harness, helmet, and an axe. She explained to us on what to expect tomorrow when we summit. After that it was free time to just chill and climatize. After a very big dinner, we headed to bed.

We got up around 3 am (ish) and had very small breakfast. I had maybe 2 toasts and at 4 am we were ready to head out. We were told that the weather forecast was not on our side that day and we had to go fast because a storm was coming.

We turned on our headlight lamps and started walking, in silent, in the dark. As soon as we got to the Laveciau Glacier (3,200 m.) we attached the crampons to our shoes and everyone in the team got all roped up to the harness in case anyone accidentally steps on the crevasse. It was getting really cold. My hands were just numb. The gloves didn’t help (but i deserved that because instead of getting proper gloves like a sound person would, I brought with me my diving gloves!!).

                                                                                                      Beautiful View

As we continued to hike up higher, the sun started to rise. And Steve started to puke…. Poor guy was throwing up like mad and wouldn’t stop coughing. Then he was saying that he couldn’t continue anymore and he wanted to go down now. This went on for a bit. Tania tried to talk him out of it and pushed him to keep going, without success. Usually in this scenario, if one person from the team has to go down, the rest has to go down too. And to be honest, had Tania turned around and asked us if it would be ok for us to go down now, we would have instantly said YES, its fine, lets go! Because I was exhausted! I didn’t want to go up anymore. I was hating life and thought WTF I was doing up here and why the heck was I doing this to myself. It was all too much for me and I had no energy to hike any higher. The elevation was taking a big toll on the both of us.

                                                                                                           my crampons
                                                                                                     searching for snacks

But NOPE she never asked us anything. She told Steve that he had to continue to walk up to the ridge and then she would put him with another group who would be on their way down from the summit.

She basically dragged him up to he ridge. We waited there for a while until one group of hikers walked down. Steve was on his knees at that point. I felt sorry for him and for myself. I was totally out of breath. And by that time we started to feel the affect of the storm. It was like we were in snow storm. it was super foggy or snowy? I could barely see anything. The wind was so strong I couldn’t stand still. I couldn’t see the end of my numbed hands. And my face was starting to get numbed too. Tania sent Steve off with the other team and we parted ways. He said "good luck guys, I’ll be waiting at the bottom of the mountain." Bye Steve :(

Walking up to the ridge before the final ridge was the hardest thing I had ever done in my entire life! I had absolutely no energy left and was exhausted out of my mind. I was walking with my eyes closed at that point. I found out later that my sister was struggling as well. It was worse for her because she came down with the altitude sickness and she went into a black out state. Tania basically dragged her by the rope up that ridge. She came to once we reached the final ridge. We got stuck on the traffic of hikers waiting in line to actually get to the summit. Due to the horrible visibility plus the amount of people waiting in line, we decided to turn around and started the descent. We didn't get to see or touch the Madona statue. But Frances took a quick snap photo of us standing on that final ridge!                   

                                                                                                             idiots

It was not over! The descent turned out to be HELL. Because the snow was soggy by the time we were descending, it made it difficult to walk. My legs wouldn’t stop shaking so I kept falling down every few steps. At one point Tania, who probably lost her patience (I don't blame her) because I was too slow, had me sit down and tied the rope around me and dragged me down on the snowy slope. We came down to have a break at Emanuele hut. We were maybe 45 minutes behind Tania and Frances. When we caught up with them at the hut they told us we had 2 more hours to walk down from the hut. We ended up taking maybe 4 hours to actually get down to the bottom, barefoot.

                                                                                                             running down

We arrived at the starting point at almost 6 pm. Tania, Frances, and Steve were sitting at the restaurant waiting for us. I was so happy that it was finally over, I could kiss the ground. We did it and we came back alive!!

We all congratulated each other then drove back to Chamonix. We said goodbye to the team before splitting.

My legs were really sore and we decided to cancel the plan to go up the elevator to see Mont Blanc and just chilled in the city for the next whole day before catching a night train to Paris. I spent 5 days in Paris limping around the city as a consequence. But I was a proud limper.

Climbing the glacier! 4,016 meters! I did that!!


Tips:

  • We booked the hike through high-mountain-guides
  • stayed in Chamonix Lodge the night before the hike. Very comfortable and clean
  • The day after the hike we stayed at Chalet de Pascaline - highly recommended, Pascaline is a very nice lady. The breakfast is to die for. You have to get off at Les Houches station, a few stations from Chamonix
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