We were nervously putting on our headtorches and adjusting our ice picks as we surreptitiously watched the other groups of mountaineers. It is 4:30am and it is quite warm for that time of day. The Gran Paradiso is our first 4,000m mountain we are planing to do alone and unguided. We have been reading about the popular peak in the Aosta Valley, Italy for days. Checking the weather, studying the maps, reading tour notes on the internet and talked to the refuge owner about the route. The biggest challenge of this tour was to find the route over the moraine field in the dark and to cross the glacier safely. We are only 2 in our team which is the absolute bare minimum to be roped together while crossing a glacier. The problem we were most nervous about were walking over hidden crevasses. Usually there are teams of 3 or even 5 people roped together for the crossing – meaning if someone falls into a crevasse, the others can hold him and pull him out. If there are only 2 of you, holding and pulling someone out alone is at the best of times not an easy thing to do.
We however did our homework and knew that this particular glacier had few crevasses in comparison with others. We made sure that we were in the middle of 2 larger groups and started early while the glacier is still frozen and carries our weight.
As the night turned into day and the Chabod Refuge was long hidden from our view, we reached the glacial tongue, strapped on our crampons, got the ice pick out and tucked our head torches away. The moment of truth had come, we were about to step onto the glacier.
We roped up and left lots of space in between with several stopper knots (alpine butterflies) at 2m intervals. We started quickly and carefully, following a well tracked path up the ice and snow. We made good time and were glad when the largest crevasses were behind us. The snow was very firm which made us feel a lot better about jumping over them!
Several hours later we reached the saddle to the peak and last steep ascent, the rock ridge above already had a number of people celebrating making the summit with photos of themselves and the white madonna statue. Shortly after we also reached the ridge and tucked our rope away. We decided to do the last ridge without a rope as there was only two of us. That’s when we noticed that most of the other groups were all guided by professional mountain guides. We were a bit chuffed that we had made it so far alone and unassisted – it made reaching the summit that little bit sweeter and also made us feel quite independent.
We chose the way down on a different glacier and to the Vittorio Emanuele Refuge – with even less crevasses than the first – knowing it was going to be warmer as the morning progresses we wanted to have the safer route for our descent. We reached the end of the ice and spread ourselves out on a beautifully rounded rock. This is where we truly relaxed – I looked at my friend and grinned from ear to ear, we high-fived each other and I know this is corny but we said “girl power”!!