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Gran Paradiso – North Face 19.06.2011 – BUT!

4061 m ; 600 m 45°- 50° ; NorthWest ; TD ; 5.3/ E3

Beatiful and grumpy face

It is difficult to give up on this awkward season, especially after the last long rainy period.
The faces looked white but most of the time the snow on them was hard and not skiable.
We decided this time to go and have a look at the north face of the Gran Paradiso, a beautiful 4000m mountain that gives its name to the surrounding national park in Italy.
Its north face, which is perfectly visible from Punta Helbronner on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, has a bad reputation for always being in bad condition due to the strong winds that sweep across its slopes.
The whispers around were saying that it was not looking so bad after the last storms so we decided to give it a try. Local forecasts predicted rain all afternoon so we left the parking of Valsavaranche after 7 pm to avoid arriving at the bivy completely drenched.
Loaded up like donkeys, we followed the beautiful path up to the refuge Chabod and when darkness fell we set up our bivy tent and started cooking our ravioli.
It was pretty cold and after our tasty dinner we quickly jumped into our sleeping bags.
We awoke at 5 am with the impressive 600m long north face revealing its early morning beauty to us. Although the line looked white, several spines and a funnel were running vertically along the face. We sadly resigned ourselves to the fact that there was no new fresh snow stuck on it.
We decided to go to have a closer view and climbing the moraine first and the glacier after we arrive in two hours at the bergsrhund

It was so cold and windy that I asked myself what kind of masochistic desires brought me to this place? Given that back home it was a sunny June day and I could easily have been chilling and swimming in the lake.
The conditions on the face were not appealing at all for a snowboard descent and I wanted to turn back. My friend Ben told me that while we were at the base of one of the most beautiful north faces of the Alps and we should at least climb it.
Well..”you wanted the bike now you have to pedal” …we used to say in Italy!
Starting the climb, I realized that although the snow was hard, it was perfectly skiable nonetheless.
On the upper part of the face the wind was so strong that a few times I had to cower down, burying my head between my gripped ice axes to avoid to be swept off

Ben Briggs

Reaching the summit, I met my friends Diego and Giorgio who had been waiting there for the wind to calm down for 3 hours. We found a quiet and sheltered place on the ridge between the north and the east face and waited pointlessly for another 2 hours. Everytime one of us poked our noses out onto the north face to check the wind were forced back by violent gusts. It was becoming late and we had to take a choice.
We were all people who don’t like to give up but this time we all agreed that it was too risky and stupid try to ski a line like that in such bad snow and wind conditions.
The sour taste of defeat momentarily came to me but left as swiftly as it had arrived.
Looking around where I was and at my friends walking up the airy ridge, I quickly realized how lucky we were to be there sharing those emotions.We subconsciously recognize success as happiness and failure as pain, but this time the success was simply to just be there. The mountain is a great school for those who are aware of her teachings; we need to be humble, take the things how they come and realize we cannot always win

We downclimbed a few meters into the west face and started to ski down the normal way, and actually it was great skiing!
The snow was hard but with good grip on top, some powder brought by the wind was deposited in pockets in the middle part and finally perfect spring snow in the lower part.
Downclimbing the moraine we quickly arrived at our bivy place where we stopped for lunch, enjoying the beauty the and magic of that wild place.
We reloaded the now less heavy backpacks and started the long way down to the cars.
It had been another great adventure with good friends. Even if the mountain has not been granted to us this time, I think it reinforced to us why we love these experiences so much.

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