This is the photo diary of a ski mountaineering trip to the Gran Paradiso area of Italy.
Guides: Jon de Montjoye and Hilary Sharp
The People: Alan green, John Lovejoy, Eric and me, Dave Butcher
The first photographs from the trip are in the Gallery. Click here to see them. More to follow.
Day 1, Sunday 14th April 1996: Benevolo Hut
Hilary drove us around from Les Lanchers Hotel in Les Praz near Chamonix to the Val di Rhemes with clear blue skies above, and it was hot. Just north of Pelaud (1800m) the road was blocked by snow so we parked up, loaded up with rucsacs and skinned up the road. At the hamlet of Thume we left the road and followed the steep track to the chapel. The snow was patchy so we took our skis off a couple of times. There was a steep snow section as we traversed up to the hut. It was getting cooler but still sunny. We reached the hut after about 2.5h, arriving mid-afternoon. There was running water at the hut in the afternoon but not in the morning. The toilets wer a touch basic, just a hole in the floor and all waste ran into the stream a few metres away, toilet paper was put in a bag at head height. Dinner was at 6.30pm. It was cold in the dorm so needed to wear all clothes and 2 blankets folded double to keep warm.
Day 2, Monday 15th April 1996: Punta de Calabre
Breakfast was at 6am for a 7am start. We contoured around steep icy slopes into Coire St Helena, past Truc st Elena below the steep cliffs of Granta Parey. Then it was up to the glacier on easy hot slopes to reach the top of the Punta de Calabre (3445m) at 11.30am. There was a cold wind at the top and a clear blue sky. We left at 12pm on hard snow and then powder and spring snow. We side slipped down a gully that Jon nicknamed \’Butcher Couloir\’, not sure why. We could have skied it but the steep cliffs at the bottom just below the exit would have made any mistake costly. We had a good run down to the hut and were back at 1.10pm.
Peak: Punta de Calabre(3445m)
Day 3, Tuesday 16th April 1996: Becca della Traversiere
We were up at 5.50am and having the usual hut breakfast of bread, jam and tea at 6am. We left the hut at 6.50am and started a steep climb and icy traverse. We past a dead Ibex on the steep slopes and it was quite a hard ski up to the first col, a rocky ridge. We continued on the traverse past huge crevasses. We were buzzed by a small plane a few times and in the end it landed on the glacier a half mile from us. We roped up at the foot of the last steep section and used ski poles and crampons to get up the deep snow and along the ridge to the top of Becca della Traversiere at 11.20am. I took a few photos from the top and then returned to the skis by 12pm. It was sunny with blue skies and mostly no wind. It was a good ski down and at the frozen Lago di Goletta we put skins on and went back up to a rock ridge, took the skins off and had an excellent ski down on perfect spring snow to reach the hut at 1.30pm. We lazed about in the sunshine and watched Lovejoy make a fool of himself practising his kick turns in front of the whole hut. He chose a slope immediately outside the hut with an overhanging cornice at the top and kept kicking the tip of his ski into the cornice where it stuck! We gave him a standing ovation as he finished and came in, having entertained the entire hut for a good 30 minutes. Brian Hall also had a group at the hut and they had a difficult day as one of the clients broke a binding doing the same route as we did. It took them a couple of hours longer to complete the day.
Peak: Becca della Traversiere (3337m)
Day 4, Wednesday 17th April 1996: Chabod hut
Once again we were up at 5.50am for a 6am breakfast and a 6.50am start. Hilary was impatient and started without us. We skinned up to the col and Hilary joned us before the final slope to the col NW of Punta Gran Vaudala. It was a good ski down the Vallone di Gran Vaudala. The last few hundred metres to the Val di Rhemes down a very steep mogulled couloir of mixed ground. It was a difficult long ski out. There was a lot of ski skating and it was very tiring. We piled into the van and Hilary drove us around to Bruil where we stopped for food and drink. Then it was around to the Val Savarenche and parked a couple of miles north of Pont. We started up at 1.45pm carrying our skis on our sacs up a series of zig-zags through trees. Jon was ill with dizziness and diarrhoea so Hilary led us up to the Chabod Hut which we reached at 4.45pm. It was much cooler here and clouding over. Only 16 in the Chabod hut. Most go via the Victor Emmanuelle Hut for an easier route. It was quite a new hut but with no running water.
Day 5, Thursday 18th April 1996: Gran Paradiso
We were up at 5.20am for breakfast at 5.30am and on skis at 6.25am. It was clear, cold and pitch black. We needed head torches to see anything. By 7am it was light enough not to need torches as we skinned up and across a heavily crevassed glacier under huge ice walls with lots of snow bridges to cross, but all in the shade so they were solid. There was a steep icy section to get out of the corrie onto the main motorway trail from the Victor Emmanuelle hut at 9.30am. It was a gentle slope to start with from here before we reached a steep icy section and my breathing was heavy as we neared the 4000m mark. Then the slope eased and we skinned up the final section, crossed the bergschrund and made the steep traverse to the rocky ridge section near the summit. Here the skis had to come off and we roped up for the final section. We each used a couple of krabs to clip into a cable with our boot toes on a narrow ledge so that we could edge across. The clouds were below us. Another group ahead of us was in trouble as one of them refused to do the traverse. The Italian guide they were with seemed not to care so Jon roped them up and talked them across. Once across we scrambled up the last few rocks to the top with a madonna statue at about 11.30am. The clouds were below and to the south. I took lots of photos and then we returned to the skis and started skiing down at 12.15pm There was now perfect snow most of the way down. We reached the Victor Emmanuelle hut at about 1pm and it was hot so we sat outside and had some drinks. After a chat we decided to continue to the valley instead of staying here. Our next days peak was in poor condition and we feared it would be an anticlimax after the Gran Paradiso. It was soft snow now and thin at the bottom. We reached the road at Pont about 4pm. Hilary left us to go home to Vallorcine. We drove around to Valgrisenche and the Hotel Albergo Perret. Jon was welcomed like one of the family. The rooms were very comfortable and we were well looked after.
Peak: Grand Paradiso (4061m)
Hut: Hotel Albergo Perret
Day 6, Friay 19th April 1996: Heliskiing Testa del Rutor
It was a leisurely start then down to the helipad for lift off at 9.15am. We were dropped off near the top of Testa del Rutor at 9.25am. I was next to the window to try and take some photos from the helicopter but the windows were not that clear. I climbed up to the ridge below the summit for a better view and photos before we started down. The snow was great pretty much all the way down. Only the lower slope was poor and had to watch out for low hanging tree branches. We reached the road at about 11 am. Jon called the helicopter company with his radio and they came and picked us up. They ferried us back to the hotel where we showered, changed and Jon took us back to Les Lanchers Hotel in Les Praz.
Peaks: Punta de Calabre(3445m), Becca della Traversiere (3337m), Grand Paradiso (4061m)