La Tresenta (3609m) and Gran Paradiso (4061m). I spent the last extended weekend in Italy enjoying some nice high mountain air with a Bergpunkt group. The schedule was very relaxed - we drove to the end of Valsavarenche at Pont on Thursday and made our way up to Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II. The refuge is large (120 beds) and rather comfortable. - there's even a sit-down toilet (besides two of the more Italy-typical squat setups). Like proper Italians, they have an espresso machine!
On Friday, we got up for a 05:00 breakfast and then got started towards La Tresenta. This began with a climb up the moraine over the hut. We then expected a bit of a glacier crossing, but the situation depicted in the map had apparently neglected a decade or two of climate change, so most of that was instead just a hike over barren rocks and the occasional stream crossing. We finally walked up the puny remains of the glacier and had a short climbing passage to get up on the shoulder of La Tresenta. From there, it was a more or less pleasant walk through various types of rubble to the peak, where we got a good look at busy route to neighbouring Gran Paradiso. Theoretically, we should also have had a view as far as Torino, but that direction remained shrouded in clouds for the entire time we spent at the peak. We returned along the same route, had dinner and got ready for a short night.
We had signed up for the 03:00 breakfast to get an early start towards Gran Paradiso, but when the alarms went off it became clear that it was raining pretty heavily, so we went for another hour of sleep. The rain all but stopped, and so we departed around 05:00 in a rather subdued mood - it was dark, drizzling, and the rain was certain to make the snow on the glacier ascent unpleasantly mushy.
The first one or two hours we trudged along in silence, occasionally cursing the wet slippery rocks or the bad snow on the lower parts of the glacier, but after the first step of the glacier the clouds started to part, the sun broke through and everyone's spirits rose. Higher up, it also turned out that it had been cold enough to avoid rainfall, and so the conditions got better and better as we made our way to the top.
We crossed the bergschrund on the fixed aluminum ladder and reached the little saddle under the final climb up to the peak. That final climb brought us face to face with the awesome popularity of Gran Paradiso - it is not difficult, but since there are so many people and a lot of them are out of their element, it took us the better part of an hour to get to the peak. Most of that time was spent navigating crazy traffic jam situations with teams trying to go up/go down/overtake someone at the same time and then attempting to resolve the resulting congestion in various combinations of Italian, French and English.h
Once we made it to the peak, I think we spent less than a minute there until our guide thankfully decided to use alternative way back that involved abseiling onto a lower plateau and then walking back rather pleasantly instead of squeezing past dozens of people on exposed ledges. By that time, I was somehow shaking all over - I hope I can blame that on the cold from standing still for extended periods in the biting wind instead of nerves from the last few climbing moves on exposed terrain to reach the peak, but who knows.
For the descent, we took a right turn and descended on the Ghiacciaio di Laveciau, which was quite a sight because it flows over a series of steps and consequently has impressive crevasses. The original plan was to cross it all the way towards Rifugio Chabod, but we abandoned that and decided to go back to Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II because the lower parts of the glacier seemed too tedious to cross and the afternoon snow was getting seriously mushy. To that end, we got back on the ridge separating the two glaciers, crossed some rubble and then had to climb down on the other side to get back down on the moraine that took us back to the refuge.
We arrived at around 16:30, had a victory beer and a short nap before dinner, a bottle of celebratory red wine and a good night's sleep. The next day, we walked back down to the car and drove back to Bern.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience, and I'm even glad to have experienced the craziness at the peak. Having a guide in that situation was pretty helpful because in retrospect I wouldn't have trusted myself not to mess anything up in the stress and hurry to make the last meters.