European Mountains, Italy

Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele, 2735m, Apr 19-20 2008
(Failed attempt on Gran Paradiso, 4061m)

Busy week-end

This is a timeline of the somewhat busy week-end:

Borgundgavlen Apr 17 2008, 10:48AM

Ålesund - Oslo flight, Apr 17 2008, 14:40PM

Oslo - Bergen flight Apr 17 2008, 16:29PM

Dyngelandsåsen Apr 17 2008 17:37PM

Hånuken Apr 17 2008, 18:51PM

Apr 17 2008 10:48AM
Borgundgavlen, Ålesund
About to head to the airport

Apr 17 2008 14:40PM
Ålesund - Oslo flight
Above Lauparen

Apr 17 2008 16:29AM
Oslo - Bergen flight
Passing Gygrastolen

Apr 17 2008 17:37PM
Dyngelandsåsen, Bergen
Locating Petter's prom. ladder to Mt. Everest

Apr 17 2008 18:51PM
Hånuken, Bergen
Still working on the prom. ladder

Bergen - Amsterdam flight Apr 18 2008, 06:38AM

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix, Apr 18 2008, 13:50PM

Towards Gran Paradiso, Apr 18 2008, 18:30PM

Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele Apr 19 2008, 11:02AM

Below Gran Paradiso, at 3030m, Apr 19 2008, 14:55PM

Apr 18 2008 06:38AM
Bergen - Amsterdam flight

Apr 18 2008, 13:50PM
Passing Aiguille du Midi
above Chamonix, France

Apr 18 2008 18:30PM
Ascending Gran Paradiso

Apr 19 2008 11:02AM
Rifugio Vitt. Emanuele
(2735m). Just well after a 14-hour long headache

Apr 19 2008 14:55PM
My turnaround point (3030m) below Gran Paradiso

Descending Gran Paradiso, Apr 19 2008, 17:09PM

Mt. Blanc, Apr 19 2008, 19:21PM

Geneva - Amsterdam flight, Apr 20 2008, 07:54AM

Bergen - Ålesund flight, Apr 20 2008, 15:31PM

Storhornet on Godøya, Apr 20 2008, 16:50PM

Apr 19 2008 17:09PM
Descending Gran Paradiso
Apr 19 2008, 19:21PM
Courmayeur, Italy. Mt. Blanc massif ahead
Apr 20 2008 07:54AM
Geneva - Amsterdam flight. Above Brussels.
Apr 20 2008 15:31PM
Bergen - Ålesund flight. Passing Ørsta peaks
Apr 20 2008 16:50PM
Storhornet on Godøya (497m). A "detour" from the airport.

Gran Paradiso;  the project, sickness & altitude issues

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Petter sent out an inviation to join in on his trip Gran Paradiso in the Graian alps, Italy. I signed up immediately, fairly confident about the project: We would park the car at 1600m (actually it was almost 2000m, but we had got it wrong at the time), walk/ski up to Refuge Vittorio Emanuele (2735m), spend the night there, ski Gran Paradiso in the morning and return to Geneva in the evening. The team ended up being only Petter and myself.

At best, I wouldn't have any altitude problems at 2700m. At worst, I should get sufficient acclimation during the night. Headache on the mountain was to be repaired with proper medication. Decadron was only available if I was willing to pay almost NOK 1000,-. An outrageous price, and I ended up with Prednisolone instead.

So the project seemed quite doable. My physical condition was however an open question. Normally, the vertical distance up to Gran Paradiso wouldn't have been a topic at all. But I had been (far) down with a nasty virus (symptoms of post-infectious fatigue) for a couple of weeks.

Gran Paradiso (picture of a picture)

Gran Paradiso (picture of a picture) (Click for larger image)


A few days before departure, Petter got a bad cold. But as Petter only sees opportunities and never problems, he was quite confident about a rising curve. On top of everything, my back was giving me strong headaches, and the day before the departure I was totally out. Flat out on the floor! I called half a dozen physiotherapists and claimed emergency. A few laughed (apparently, getting an appointment within a month is impossible), while some had the courtesy to just say no, sorry

But I got lucky in the end; an osteopath had an open slot on this Wednesday afternoon. Just getting there was a big effort. I imagined Gran Paradiso would be a walk in the park in comparison. If I ever got there, that is. Terje - the osteopath - was the man of the day. He cracked me up and figured I would be in shape for Italy. The rest of the day was dedicated to painkillers and rest. 20:00PM in the evening, the headache finally let go. And I could begin to pack for Italy...


To the Pont trail head

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix
(Click for larger image)

  My plane left Ålesund 14:25PM on Thursday afternoon. I flew to Oslo and then to Bergen, where Petter had prepared a forest research project. Our plane for Amsterdam left Bergen 06:05AM on Friday morning, and if I can avoid ever taking this KLM morning flight again, I'll be glad. What a mess! We continued towards Geneva, where we picked up a rental car.

Morale was good. My head was OK, my back was OK and the virus seemed to have left the body. Petter, still with a cold, reported a rising health curve. And the weather was supposed to be good on Saturday. But only on Saturday.

Petter had in advance informed the Rifugio that we would arrive around 19:00PM, in time for dinner. We were sort of on schedule, but as we hadn't eaten anything all day, we would need to make a brief stop. In Courmayeur (Italy), I ran into a small pizzeria and negotiated a solid lunch-box of all-sort pizzas to go. The guy didn't understand English and I didn't understand Italian. Nevertheless, we understood each other completely. After all, we're in Italy..

In the Valle d'Aosta region, we tried to use Google's driving instructions to find the valley leading to the Pont trail head, but this approach didn't bring us any success. A better method was pulling down the window and shout Pont? to passing pedestrians, and see which way they pointed.

Eventually, we made it to Pont, approx. 1970m. There was light snow in the air. Given the fact that we were driving a small car with summer tires, I made a silent wish for the snow to stop falling. The good news were that it seemed we could ski already from the car, and at 16:15PM, we were on our way up the mountain.

Pont @ Google maps
Pont @ Google maps



Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele, 2735m

After skiing only 100m, it was evident that my body was not in a good condition. And after skiing 1,4Km, the skis had to come off. Our route ahead was steep and there was hardly any snow left on the trail. With the skis, I was now carrying approx. 20Kg, and my back was aching.

Petter volunteered to take on some more of the load, and I handed over the rope and my crampons. I had to swallow a lot of pride to go along with that. By now, I was a little concerned. Had I reverse engineered the good work done by the osteopath? If yes, the rest of the stay would be a complete nightmare.

On top of this, breathing was a struggle. Once we passed 2400m, the headache set in. I didn't know if this was caused by my back or the altitude. In any case, my morale was rock bottom at this point.

Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele

Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele
(Click for larger image)

Pont @ Google maps
The switchbacks @ Google maps

Pont @ Google maps
The Rifugio @ Google maps

The snowfall was still light, but the wind was picking up. At times, it would be accurate to call it bad weather. But I didn't mind the least. The (strong) wind gave me extra oxygen (at least that's how I wanted to see it) and the whipping snow took some of the focus away from the headache. At best, I was able to walk for a whole minute, before having to rest almost equally long.

This isn't me, I thought to myself. I was thinking back on the trip to Mt. Blanc, and couldn't recall any problems in getting up to our camp at 3900m. And we were carrying even more gear then.

Visbility got gradually worse, and on top of the switchbacks, we lost sight of the ski tracks we had followed a while. We didn't have a map, no hut waypoint, no tracks and very low visibility. With darkness 1-1,5 hours ahead, we better had to find the hut.

Then suddenly, the Rifugio was just ahead of us. The time was 18:55PM when we arrived. The timing wasn't bad at all. For some reason, Petter chose not to go in the main entrance, and the staff seemed a bit surprised when we came stumbling through the kitchen. And the staff was in the middle of serving dinner...

After a nice 3-course meal, I went to bed. There were less than 20 skiers in the hut, so we got a whole room for ourselves. Luxury! I paid the medicine bag an aggressive visit, then went into what I like to call incapacitating mode.  It would last 14 hours. Talk about being good company!

Saturday, Apr 19 2008.

After the longest night I can recall (I didn't sleep much), Petter reported that the weather didn't match the weather forecast. It was snowing down by the hut, but some blue sky could be seen above. Petter decided that he should at least go for a ski-trip. If the weather got better, he would continue. I was in no condition to even get up, so I wished him a safe journey. He left just after 08:00AM.

I had still not a very clear idea whether it was my back or the altitude that caused this headache. I would just have to wait and see. 11:00AM, things were looking up, as the headache was clearly fading. After a while, I decided to get up and have a look at the hut and the views. The weather was simply gorgeous, and it was uplifting to know that Petter stood a very good chance of reaching the top.
A short ski-trip

14:36PM, I was rather fed up by doing nothing, and as my physical condition was simply outstanding, I decided to go for a short ski-trip up the valley. I almost expected to run into Petter on his way down.

Being acclimated, and without a heavy backpack, it felt good to be moving again. I decided to ski up to 3000m, unless I ran into Petter. 15:16PM, my elevation was 3030m, and I looked forward to Telemark back to the hut.

Petter didn't show up until 16:30PM. He had reached the highest point on Gran Paradiso, so at least the expedition had become a success. It had been a struggle, he told me. At times, the snow was knee-deep, but fortunately, he didn't have to break the trail.


After checking out from the Rifugio, we began our descent just before 17:00PM. Even if check-out was at 14:00PM, the hut manager didn't charge us any extra. The entire crew were hospitable and friendly, and even if I don't particularly enjoy staying on mountain cabins, I have only good things to say about this cabin and the staff.

The descent was fun. At least for me, having quite short skis. I heard Petter announce that he looked forward to walking on the trail. A lot of skiers were on the way upwards, which, given the poor weather forecast, was a bit surprising. Perhaps the forecast had changed during our stay, but it looked as if a snowfall could be moving in during the afternoon.

18:30PM, we were back at Pont. Next stop was a hotel near the Geneva airport. We stopped in Courmayeur (again) for a nice dinner. It was dark by the time we got to Geneva, and locating the hotel as well as a gas station wasn't trivial.

1000m below Gran Paradiso

1000m below Gran Paradiso
(Click for larger image)


Descending from the Rifugio

Descending from the Rifugio
(Click for larger image)

Flying home

Our plane for Amsterdam left 06:55AM the next morning. After saying goodbye to Petter in Bergen, I continued towards Ålesund on the 14:55PM flight. I was quite happy after having secured another nice batch of aerial pictures. Apologies go out to my fellow passengers who had to endure the 260 camera clicks on this flight.

The weather in Ålesund was just great, and I decided to pay a visit to Storhornet (497m) on Godøya. Just to see if the acclimation was still present. It seemed to be. It took only me 27 minutes to walk the 450 vertical meters to the top. Weird sounds came out of my chest, but I never got tired. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't done this walk, because the post-infectious fatigue was back again the next day.

But all in all, it was all worth it. It's been a while since I went abroad, and every altitude lesson is a valuable lesson. And as always, Petter's projects become memorable projects. So many thanks to Petter for this one. Perhaps I'll return to this mountain some day. It would have been nice to be on top of it.


For information on how to get to Gran Paradiso, please visit Petter's Gran Paradiso page.



The pictures were taken with a Canon EOS 300D + Canon EF-S 17-85mm IS USM F 4-5.6


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To Pont, Apr 18 2008

1. Peaks near Chamonix 2. Peaks near Chamonix 3. Peaks near Chamonix 4. Mt. Blanc 5. Mt. Blanc 6. Refuge du Gouter on top of this Mt. Blanc spur 7. Icefall on the Mt. Blanc massif 8. Icefall on the Mt. Blanc massif 9. Aiguille du Midi 10. Aiguille du Midi 11. Steep pillar above Chamonix

To Rifuigo Vittorio Emanuele, Apr 18 2008

12. GPS tracks 13. The Pont trail head 14. High on the switchbacks 15. View down to Pont 16. Increasingly bad weather

Rifuigo Vittorio Emanuele, Apr 19 2008

17. Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele 18. The entrance 19. The reception 20. Our room 21. The dining room 22. Picture of Gran Paradiso

Views, Apr 19 2008

23. The onward route to Gran Paradiso 24. View across the valley 25. View across the valley 26. Ciarforon 27. Monciar 28. Ciraforon and Monciar 29. View across the valley 30. View across the valley

Graccio alpino (IT), Alpine Chough (EN), Alpendohle (DE), Chova piquigualda (ESP), Chocard a bec jaune (FR), Alpenkauw (NL), Apr 19 2008

31. Graccio Alpino 32. Graccio Alpino 33. Graccio Alpino 34. Graccio Alpino 35. Graccio Alpino 36. Graccio Alpino 37. Graccio Alpino

Skiing up to 3030m, Apr 19 2008

38. Heading out on a small ski-trip 39. Gran Paradiso high above 40. Valley view 41. Skiers on the lower glacier 42. View across the valley

Descent, Apr 19 2008

43. The summit group is returning 44. Descending from Gran Paradiso 45. Magnificent landscape 46. Looking down on the switchbacks 47. Not the place for long skis 48. A steep descent 49. We skied as far as we could 50. Alp deer 51. Still skiing 52. Now on foot 53. Interesting path 54. Pointy tops seen from Pont 55. Back at Pont

To Geneva, Apr 19 2008

56. Small Italian mountain village 57. Steep mountains all around 58. High mountain north of the Aosta valley 59. Mt. Blanc seen from Courmayeur 60. The Mt. Blanc tunnel

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