Alarm rings. “It must be a dream” I try to tell myself even though the time has come. There is a very long day ahead and already the lack of sleep is making me nauseous. It was just after 3 am when the journey began. 9 hours later I am running with 35 kg to catch the train to Aosta. Tired and hungry, when I got to the hotel food and sleep seemed like the best decision and any acclimatisation plans became history . Later that day it wasn’t much left to do but explore the beautiful mountain town. It is so quiet and relaxing and feels good to be away from the overcrowded London. The 30 minutes walk from my hotel made me regret the decision of not spending more for accommodation. Lesson learned.
Expenses: Airport shuttle: 6.5€/ Accommodation: 35€ + 5€ tips/ Food from supermarket: 17€/ Gas canister (small): 6€
Sadly the only morning bus to Valsavarenche was at 6.45 am and yet again I have to wake up after only 5 hours of sleep. The pack is too heavy and I fail to understand why. Only the necessary things have been packed, but it feels like I’m carrying rocks. This was going to slow me down a lot on the approach to the hut. Another hour of waiting for the next connection at Villeneuve made me realise that would have been much easier to spend the night there instead of Aosta. I remembered I said the same 4 years ago but it must not have stuck into the memory. It was going to cost me a lot of time and effort later on.
The bus only stops at Eaux Rousses and from there one has to follow the road for another 3 km to reach the start of the trail to Chabod. I felt the heavy weight more than the altitude and after the first hour my energy levels dropped. It took just over 3h to reach the hut. Too slow.
The sun is burning and I laid on a bench for another hour waiting for my clothes to dry.
As the clouds clear I get my first glimpse of the North Face. So scary. It did not look that steep in the photos. I am nervous and start having second thoughts. Did I rush into this thinking I can solo it? So many questions. In moments like this one wishes not to be alone.
The refuge is not very big but modern. Has a very good drying room, clean toilets and even shower for a 3€ fee. Sadly I left my towel at the hotel. There is no wifi and phone reception only outside in good weather. I took a bed and slept like a baby. There aren’t many climbers and the forecast for the night is bad. In the afternoon it started to rain and didn’t stop until 5 am. Some left but I wasn’t feeling well and decided that is best to wait. The North Face was out of the question so late and with fresh snow, and I didn’t feel like doing the normal route in a slush. Back to bed.
Expenses: Local Bus: 8.5€/ Refuge sleep: 22€/ Water 1L: 6€ ( 2 bottles)
I woke up fresh after 11 hours of sleep. My headache had gone and seeing the sun made me regret not going up. It would have given me more time on Monte Rosa. I though of going back to Aosta but didn’t feel right to leave without even trying the route. Later on more climbers started to return from the summit. I was to find out that the snow was horrible and very wet. To my surprise, some had hiking boots and harnesses made from a rope. It’s hard to believe they had a guide.
As more climbers arrive from the valley I see a few carrying dual axes. They will try the Petite North Face with a guide. How did I not think of it? Now my plan is clear. Head out for North Face and if I find it too difficult, then continue via the shorter route, which is also easier, to the ridge. I feel ready and can not wait to start climbing. I took the right decision.
Expenses: Half board: 45.5€/ Water 1L: 6€ ( 2 bottles)
Alarm rings. I listen carefully but can’t hear any noises. I don’t want to be the first to start. Going back to sleep seems a better idea but I’m too excited and know that’s not going to happen. In the dining room, my name and 4 others written on a paper at the table. They must be going for the same route but there’s no one there. Before I finish eating climbers started to show up. We all leave at 3.10 am for the Bertolone route on the North Face of Gran Paradiso . In the distance two head torches. They must have left at least an hour earlier. We start moving together but soon split. One party takes the normal route, another takes the shorter direct approach. I’m facing a dilemma. Whilst longer, the normal route has already a broken trail but not sure how possible it is to get to the climb from there. In the end I decide to follow the Italian party. I’m not keen on being alone on the glacier. Not too long after I came to regret my decision. The snow was soft and deep and even though they were breaking the trail, I would still sink to my knees. As the day came, we were still far but could see the first party traversing. Finally arrived at the foot of the mountain we must change direction and cross the bergschrund all the way to the right of Aurora Couloir. From now on the climb starts. It was just over 6 am.
The slope looks gentle and I am confident I can climb it with no problems. It looked way steeper from the hut. At first, the traverse can be done without any front pointing, but once reached the first rock the real climb starts. I make good progress and catching up with both parties. They are both simul climbing and moving slower than me. Too much debris is coming down and I get hit by ice. My hand hurts. I am lucky it was a small piece. I continue but chunks of ice keep flying by my ears. I am forced to move to the middle. The angle becomes higher and now I’m climbing ice. It’s rotten and sometimes takes 3 4 swings to get a good bite. I feel my energy draining. My calves are burning and I try to rest my feet whenever I get a chance. I am moving quicker than others which is good. By now I have already done 2/3 of the route but my energy is depleted. Would I be able to finish? Looking back down there are a few other parties taking the Petite North Face route and one climber moving very fast straight up. He gets closer and closer with such an ease, it amazes me. I’m wondering why and realise that he is climbing the snow line very close to the rock band. I start traversing left and all of a sudden I am moving much faster. I can’t believe it’s so easy and I’ve been climbing ice for the past hour. Now ahead of the second party and within 100 m from the ridge, I let him pass. He mumbles something in Spanish and keeps going. He seems annoyed by the soft snow and he’s not very friendly. My gloves are wet and hands frozen. I can’t move my fingers anymore. It was never a good time to stop but there wasn’t other choice. I put my knees down in the soft snow, clip a sling to my pack and try to dig out a dry pair of gloves praying not to fall. Once I had them on, it was like heaven. The blood rushed back to my fingers and I pushed forward. On the ridge I felt for the first time the warm sun on my face. It was so bright, I didn’t see much. Looking down on the face I just climbed there is a sense of relief. I’ve done it, but it’s not finished yet. The route continues along the narrow ridge over snow and easy rock. Once arrived to a safer place I put on my sunglasses and empty my bladder that was about to explode. Minutes later the ridge ends suddenly. Did I miss the real summit? An easy but very exposed down climb brings me to the foot of the Madonna tower. Metal steps makes the climb easier for the inexperienced. At the top, there is a smell of s***. Literally. And I can’t understand where it is coming from. Apparently a lady couldn’t help herself and went right at the top in front of everyone else. Maybe they shouldn’t have set up the ladder after all.
It had been 4 years since I turned around meters away from the summit. Now at 9 am, here I was, ascending the North Face on my own. Emotions rush through and I am happy. After a few photos I continue the traverse, kindly requesting to jump in front and rushing down the ridge. Too many people waiting in queue, some over an hour. One of the parties with which I have caught up before the summit offered me a ride to Aosta. It would save me a lot of time not waiting for the bus so I accepted. We started our descent but the sun was already melting the glacier. We arrived at the hut at 12 after a gruelling descent through a slush. I can’t believe people are still going up at that hour. It’s so hot that all the kit dried within minutes. We celebrated with a beer, packed, thanked the hut keeper and left. I arrived in Aosta at 6 pm and picked up the rest of my kit. The temptation of spending the night there was high but all the hotels were too expensive and ended up taking the train to Pont Saint Martin. Not before I had to carry everything for another 20 minutes, I arrived at this lovely farm and rented a hole apartment for myself. At last I could take a shower and rest. The host was lovely and ordered me a pizza and a beer.
Expenses:Beer: 12€/ Train to Pont: 4.2€/ Accommodation: 45€/ Pizza: 12€ ( with beers and tips)
My feet were hurting so much with so little time to recover. All this travelling made me more tired than the climb itself. If only I had a car. After calling the hut to check snow conditions, I packed and left for Staffal. All not before I had been offered a coffee by the host. Unfortunately the bus schedule was wrong and had to wait 2 hours before it arrived. I couldn’t visit anything since I was carrying too many heavy bags. An hour later the bus arrived at the mountain base. After leaving some of the kit at the hotel reception I made my way to the cable car. The ride to Colle Bettaforca takes about 30 minutes and requires a change to the ski lift. At 22€ return is one of the cheapest passes in the valley. From the top one takes Trail no 9, 3h to Rifugio Quintino Sella al Felik. At first, on a wide track, but not long after continuing on a well marked path over rocks, snow and moraine. An hour in, it crosses over a snow plateau and over a steep slope. From here the signs move to a rocky ridge to gain a even steeper slope, but most seem to prefer a lower snow route. At mid day when the sun is high and everything melting, it’s hard work on this 35 degree slope. Arrived at the top, a rocky exposed ridge secured by cables takes us to the hut. It is not visible until the last moments. This section takes 30-40 minutes and while not hard, requires concentration and a steady foot. The refuge is located at the edge of the cliff. It has 142 beds with blankets provided and felt quite warm at night. There are toilets with running water but no shower. There is solar powered electricity. The bar offers a good variety of products and food. It’s part of CAI and members get discount on some of the products including 50% on accommodation 19€, 6€ for a beer, 2.5€ for 1L water bottle, 8€ for eggs and bacon, 17€ for pasta and a whopping 65€ for half board. I preferred to save some money and cooked my own dinner. As the clouds came in we were deprived from the sunset view.
Expenses: Bus: 3.5€/ Hut: 19€/ Water 1L: 7.5€ ( 3 bottles)/ Cable Car: 22€/ Beer: 4€ (small)
Couldn’t sleep much and kept waking up every hour. When the alarm rang I felt tired and wish I could sleep more but wanted to have a head start and forced myself out of bed. It was me and other two in the dining room. It was then when I realised that my dehydrated breakfast is actually a dessert. Without much to eat, I started at 4 am behind the two. When I finally caught up with them and checked my GPS I had a shock. For the past 30 minutes I was going in the wrong direction, heading to Il Naso de Lyskamm. I was 300m off course. Going back would’ve made me loose even more time. Mad on myself for not paying attention, I decided to cut across through fresh snow praying not to fall into a crevasse. As I get closer to the trail, a head-torch light draws my attention. It was moving quickly and couldn’t have been any other than Diego, the ultra runner I met at the hut earlier that day. He waited until I got to safety and then continued his quest of reaching Castore. He was going to reach the top and return in under 4h. I’ve continued on his footsteps until the end of Felik glacier. When I start ascending the steep slope, he was already at the top. The snow was already soft and the going hard. After reaching the Felikjoch, the trail to Castore goes straight gaining the ridge. For Lyskamm one bears right crossing the plateau. I look back and see two guides with their clients closing the gap. I’m too tired and being first on the top was never my objective. I instead prefer to keep my concentration and get over the narrow ridge safely. From here the 40 degree crux section brings me to the summit ridge. There isn’t anything technical but quite exposed and heavily corniced and one slip is all it takes. From where the name “Man Eater”. The sun is out but the wind is merciless. Happy to have a warm jacket I make my way to the summit. The guides continue with the traverse but for me this is the end – 4479m. The snow is too soft and the wind too high for a safe solo attempt. I take in the view – the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and the entire Monte Rosa massif. Priceless. I start my decent at 8.40 am. To my surprise there isn’t anyone else going up. All alone on the mountain the progress is good and soon the hardest section far behind bringing me back on the plateau. A few other parties descent from Castore. The snow is very wet and soft and I decide to leave the summit for another time. It is too warm and everything is melting making it almost impossible to go fast without slipping. Back at the hut at 11 a.m., the baked eggs with cheese and bacon are from heaven and give me the well deserved energy boost to start descending to the valley. The lower the altitude, the warmer and the harder to walk. The steep slopes are now prone to avalanche and signs are everywhere. It took me almost 3 hours to get out of that hell and reach the cable car. Back at the hotel I celebrate my success and couldn’t be happier. The local supermarket was open and dug into local goodies – beer, cheese and antipasti.
Expenses: Eggs and beer: 12€/ Supermarket food: 26€/ Hotel: 72€
The initial bad forecast turned out to change into almost too warm. Everything worked out just fine even though I didn’t manage to stick to the plan and complete the traverse. Better safe than sorry. Another reason to go back and maybe try the entire Monte Rosa traverse.
Hotel Nordend turned out to be a great choice. They were kind enough to keep part of my luggage while climbing and the stay was perfect and so was the breakfast. Pretty pricey though since I had to pay for a double room but I definitely recommend it.
After packing my stuff ready for check in, I took the bus back to Pont. There are only a few a day but the 10.30 am fitted perfectly with my plan. It was going to be a long journey back to the airport in Turin. Train to Ivrea, another one to Chivasso, and another one to Torino Porta Sousa. From there a bus for another hour. Everything went well and landed back in London without losing my luggage. My biggest fear when flying. Another successful trip.
Expenses:Bus to Pont:3.5€/ Trains: 20€/ Bus to Airport: 2.1€/ Flights: 130€
Total Budget: ~550€