I have already been to Italy several times. I’m not a fan of the urban area, or the people. Perhaps the mountains attract me more than I want to. So there I am again on my way to Aosta.
After coming down from Mont Blanc I took the last bus to Italy. Surprisingly only Eurolines has a direct route, if you are willing to pay about 60 euros for a return ticket. But if you don’t mind changing the bus in Courmayeur and waiting for half an hour then you’ll save about 50%. Aosta is a cheap version of Chamonix. You won’t see any glacier from your hotel window or any cable car going up to 3800m but with 50euro/night you can stay in a 3 star hotel in the city centre and have a huge pizza and a beer with less than 10 euros.
Initially I planned to spend 3 night at the refuge. The forecast was better than ever so I realized is no point in carrying a 60 pounds pack with me. I was just going to take the necessaries for 1 attempt. I didn’t even take the rope. Instead I carried the stove which again I shouldn’t have. The food at the refuge was cheaper than my dried frozen meal.
So there I was in the bus station ready to leave. Ever since I got out of the hotel a strange felling, like something was forgotten, keep bugging me. Suddenly it came to me. My poles had no snow baskets. Thank god I booked a hotel 3 minutes away from the station. You really don’t want to miss the bus since there are only 3 a day. At last I was on my way ready for the last bus change in Villeneuve.
Once arrived in Pont, the last stop, the bus will return with the same frequency, last one being at 5.15pm. Check the timetables if you plan to use public transport. It does seem like not many choose this option as me and another girl were the only passengers. However the parking was full, probably more than 50 cars.
The trail no. 1 to rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II starts from Pont Valsaverenche at 1964m through the parking lot, crosses a bridge and follows the river in a straight line till the last restaurant. After that zig zags through the forest gaining altitude until you find yourself above the valley. The trail continues like a snake towards the mountain. The main path is clearly marked but there are many shortcuts. The ground is loose and becomes slippery so one has to be careful. After about two hours I was there. It looks a lot like Gouter refuge but with better conditions and much cheaper. Breakfast and a bed in small dormitory cost me 15 euros with a BMC discount. Hot water without any extra cost, toilet and bathroom with running water. Clean and comfortable bed. Very cold but 2 thick wool blankets are provided and it’s mandatory to have a sleeping bag liner with you. And a superb view of Ciaroforon (left -3642m) and Bec de Montchair (right – 3545m).
The refuge was very crowded and I knew is going to be very busy in the morning so I set up my alarm earlier than my roommates (an elderly couple with their guide from France). At 4am I was ready for breakfast but so were 50 others. By the time I was ready to go would have already passed 40 – 50 mins.
It was too warm outside and right after leaving I had to stop and take off my fleece. You can’t really rush as the first part consists in making your way through big rocks and you don’t want to break an ankle just at the beginning. Is better to wait in line and while the route starts to gain altitude there are possibilities to pass over other climbers. After about 40 mins you are at the base of a 70 feet rock face. Is fairly easy but you should not stay behind a group with their guide. They are way too slow and make you lose valuable time.
Once you get pass that, there is a vast rocky terrain. The only hard part about it is that he rocks are not stable so you really have to be careful. I found the first part to be quite boring and I kind of wished I took the route from Chabod refuge. By the time I got to the Laveciau glacier the sun was already up. I put my crampons on and start waving through the crevasses. Going up the glacier I realized I must be the only one alone. Most of them had guides but will talk about that later.
As long as you keep away from the crevasses, some big enough to swallow a car without a trace, the route is quite easy. It was unusually hot for a morning at over 3500m. You could spend hours searching and never find a cloud.
The final step before starting the summit ascent is crossing the bergschrund. There are 2 fixed ladders and steps cut on the steep slope. It’s a 2 minute job, but not when you are a guide dragging 9 people on the same rope. I just couldn’t afford waiting so I asked them if I can go first since I was alone and jumped the queue. Not a very nice gesture but before you judge me keep reading and you will find out why.
You climb up the ladder thinking that was it and then you see it: 50 -60 climbers waiting in line for the summit. Most of the are inexperienced and very slow. I understand that as a guide you have to make an income but there should be a limit. And that limit should not be the point where you are almost to push me over the ledge just to take your clients to the top. Which is not even the real summit. That statue is a fake summit for people that can’t reach the actual top and spend 10 minutes taking pictures for facebook.
After 50 minutes of waiting I had to turn back in order to catch the last bus to Aosta. If only I had a car.
I was so frustrated and so mad. This was going to be my second solo ascent in just 3 days, and there I was a few meters below the summit stuck in a bottleneck as if I was on Everest not on a 4000er. I hope now you can see why I decided to jump the queue, not once but three times, and I still didn’t reach the top.
I really don’t know what is more dangerous. Going alone on a glacier as I did or having 9 people on a 50m rope with no slack between them and no experience at all and posing a threat for others. Nevertheless the view was amazing and breathtaking.
And for the first time I saw it : Matterhorn.
After enjoying the view it was time to run, literally. I had less than 4 hours to reach the refuge, pack and get to the bus stop. The glacier already started to melt but there was no time to worry. Once in the valley one last look over the shoulder and what hours ago was lost in the darkness of the night now rises in the sunlight.
I did manage to catch the bus with time to spare but only because I flew down that mountain. Therefore I rewarded myself with a well deserved 3 seconds bath in a glacier river.