Went for a training ride with Tracy preparing for a bit of a cycle race next weekend
Did it in good time. The return half is far harder than the outward half. The col de Pre is a killer.
Got home to find that my video with Squash of the Gran Paradiso flight has made it to GoPro HD video of the day. All very exciting
Grand Paradiso: by the Laveciau Glacier
As far as the British are concerned Gran Paradiso at 4061 meters is most often climbed by commercial groups of the ClimbMtBlancwithus.com style. Either for acclimatisation or as a consillation if the weather in Cham is bad.
It’s a sad way to treat such a glorious summit. We chose it for what it is. A summit with one of the best finales of any. We avoided the crowds and their congested hut and took this route with its interesting crevasses. In good weather it is accessible by any fit team of alpinists.
Aosta Valley had kindly sponsored us with a guide and his companion for the descent. This was the first time I’ve ever climbed with a guide. It’s definitely a swings and roundabouts thing. Squash had just returned from checking Kilimanjaro in Africa so her fitness was a match for these young bucks. There was no respect for my age or that my conservativeness (Being a wrinkly old codger with an inbuilt mistrust of guides and Italians) led to me carrying the heaviest sac. Happily they bounded up the mountain cutting 45 mins. off the hut grind and 2 hrs. off the summit day.
The summit day (1300meters) is a solid basic glacier trudge with interesting navigation around crevasses and an incredible dawn with the sun rising over Mt Blanc in the distance. The final finish up and along the rock crest to the top is an absolute delight of steep but easy rock and ice.
The valley of Valsavarenche runs in from the North. It is deep V shaped and narrow. The car parking area at the end of the road is the only acceptable landing place. There is a risk of dangerously strong valley winds. From a week in advance we had to spot particularly light stable conditions. This meant an absolute nil wind launch in deep crusted snow. We attempted two launch places. The first proved impossible Slope too shallow Snow too deep. The second worked ! ! Skis would have been good. As well as having an excellent forward take off technique weather wisdom is essential. No communication is possible from the top and the landing area cannot be seen. In fact there is very little sign of any human presence. You are in a true mountain wilderness. Paragliding from Gran Paradiso is far riskier than from Mt Blanc with its many launch directions, clear views and multiple landing options.
Squash and I had sort of planned on doing something in Italy this autumn but had no ideas about quite what. Mountains – yes. Paragliding – yes. BUT we didn’t know the region well.
We favoured the Aosta Valley as it has routes up the two highest summits in Europe (Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa) and much else besides.
Most northern Europeans stop at the French side of the Alps. It’s far better known and closer. My earlier sortie climbing the Petit Mont Blanc had shown me how completely different the South side of the Mt Blanc watershed is. Para mountaineering here is a serious undertaking. Both the terrain and the aerology can be far more challenging than the comfortable over populated slopes of the Chamonix valley. The mountains of Aosta have a wilderness quality attractive to mountaineer and skier alike. With research, expert advice and a close study of the weather the Para-mountaineer can also have enormous fun in this area.
Close and careful study of the weather led us to choose 3 days for our exploit. There was a patch of bad weather due after which we expected the mountains to shed the anticipated snowfall. We would then get one day of totally calm stable air at over 4500 meters. We needed this to ensure that the narrow valleys would not turn into howling death traps for paragliders. We could allow two days for the approach if needed then a final summit/fly day.
Our first objective was Monte Rosa but a meter of fresh snow on the top ruled out this so we turned to Gran Paradiso in the national park of the same name.
It proved to be an excellent choice. Great fun, a huge achievement and wonderful new friendships resulted………………
I’ll fill in the route / kit / flying details later
Well it wasn’t to be. The Mountain she say NO !
There was too much fresh snow on Monte Rosa so we headed instead for Gran Paradiso. I’ll fill in the details later but for now here are a few video shots joined together.
I will be climbing Monte Rosa with my mate Squash this week. We’ve had plans for an Italian something since last year and this is one of the reasons for my earlier sortie up the Petit Mont Blanc.
Presently we have had some unseasonally cold storms but I’ve been keeping an eye on the piece of sea weed I have hanging on my shed. For some time it has suggested good flying conditions at altitude for Thursday/Friday so we are packing our paragliders.
We hope to spend Wenesday night at this hut and on Thursday to fly down from the summit of Monte Rosa !
I’ll add more latter
The trouble with being active is you wear out all your kit. So I had some new stuff with me and this is how it faired. Bear in mind The Petit Mont Blanc is only 3424 meters. We did have long walk in and out to add to the 1720 meters of climbing. So more a physical challenge than a technical one. Nevertheless an excellent opportunity for forming first impressions of Man and Material.
- Socks Took the wrong ones and got blisters.
- Compede Plasters Worked great.
- Freezer boxes Make great plates and you can put the first cooked item in one then into your puffer jacket whilst you cook the rest.
- Titanium Spork Doesn’t snap and is long enough to reach to the bottom of the Jet Boil.
- Neutrino Endurance Jacket (RAB) Light weight, Packs small and essential if the Rainetto Bivouac is full and you have to sleep out. Loved it. Toasty warm all night.
- Exodus Pant (RAB) Secure double fixing at the waist. Belt and Bracers ! Side vents better and more flexible than Zip offs. Great ankle/boot closure. RAB recommend frequent washing which for a mucky bugger like me is essential.
- Power Monkey Solar charger Kept the camera and phone charged. The twiddley interchangeable plugs are easily lost so tie them together with fine paraglider line. Might make a nice charm bracelet.
- Go Pro Camera Nice piece of kit but once it’s on your head a dimwit like me can never remember which button he pressed last. I think they are now producing a blue tooth remote. Yet another toy to buy.
Time for a little mountaineering so I descide to walk into Italy over the col de Seigne and then to climb the Petit Mont-Blanc 3424 m.
Graham and I set off from la Ville des Glaciers, climbed the 800+ meters / 16K over the col into Val Veny to find a camping tucked below the moraine of the Miage glacier at the NE corner of lac de Combal. We made excellent time but were feeling the strain of the first big walk of the season (feet and shoulders mainly).The col de Seigne brings you into the Val de Veny which runs on the other side of the Mt Blanc massif to the Chamonix valley. The Val Veny is a delightful contrast to the Chamonix valley. No cable cars, no resorts, but beautifull larch forests, picture postcard medows and streams surrounded by grand snow capped mountains and glaciers. It is one of those remote alpine paradises which is still intact.
We enjoyed a lie in as this was to be a fairly short day. We were heading for the Renetto bivouac. The route took us first up and across steep alpine medows. Next we followed a direct line up through a rock gully. There was some simple climbing but mainly steep screes. We crossed a small snow field and after this some scrabling up a narowing in the rocks brought us to a col and wider views into France to our left and right; the massive SE face of MT Blanc (almost close enough to touch). From here we could see still high above us the bivi hut. Simple scrabling provided welcome interest and we reached the hut in excellent time. The hut proved to be an increadibly neat tin can with 9 bunks shoe horned inside.
There we met a jolly group preparing to descend who told us of the conditions on our route. There are stunning views from here. Not only of the dominant ice wall that is Mt Blanc but also of the distant horizon with the Matterhorne and Monte Rosa standing clear. Awaking from a short siesta we were alone. We collected water running off the nearby snows, brewed up and had an early supper. Before bedtime a deer came calling with her offspring. She proved so tame I was able to feed her bread from my hand.
Up and away by early light. First a snow ridge led to a perfect paraglider launch site below the final rocks. Next a short easy rock section led to the summit.
The descent whilst fun at first became tedious and our knees were weary by the time we reached our base camp. Here we took pains to luxuriate completely alone in our magical surroundings. Soaking up the warm sunshine we partook of an excellent lunch.
Lastly came the 5hr yomp back over the col into France. Though tough there were plenty of interests to cheer us on our way. On the drive home we toasted our enterprise with a serieux (Large beer) at the Cormet de Roseland.
I’m going to follow this post with a video to try and do justice to the scenery, also a post on how the equipement faired and lessons learned
With the Etape over I have managed a bit of walking. I’ve also been back on the bike. I did the tour de le Bauges which includes the col de Colombier from Sellanches.
I then spent some time at Tignes. There I cycled up to Val d’Isere to watch the World Cup Mountain Biking, climbed the Col de l’Iseran, had a ride to Tignes lac with Tracy.
Mark Tracy and I then cycled over the col de Petit Bernard followed by the col de San Carlos to enjoy a tasty Italian piza – Fantstic ride. The ride over the sumit of the Petit Bornard is incredibly atmospheric.
Here’s a short video.
Due to my tummy troubles I stayed off the bike until the day before. Then I did a 30 minute ride with a few short sprints and settled into carb loading and preparing all the kit.
The weather forecast was accurate – early rain gave way to sunshine in the afternoon. The roads had dried in time for the first descent.
The start and everything was very well organised and ran smoothly.
It was agreat day. Friendly riding but the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done. After a truely gruelling ride I caught up with my mate Adrian about 2 K from the finish and we rode over the line together. Four of us trained together and we all finished the route. The training proved to be barely sufficient but it has prepared us for next year.