Hut to hut ski touring
With the last snowfall in the Alps over a week ago, and a high pressure that was seemingly not shifting, there was not much choice but to use the Easter holidays as the perfect excuse to go up into the mountains and do some hut to hut ski touring.
April is the perfect time to do this, with longer days making early starts bearable, and the sunny weather meaning that if you hit the descents at the right time, you can experience some great spring snow.
So with sun forecast for much of last week, I decided to head up to the Gran Paradiso area in Italy with three other friends to do a multi day traverse over three of the four valleys, starting in Pont in the Valsavarenche valley (normally the starting point for people to climb Gran Paradiso), and ending in the tiny hamlet of Bonne, in the Valgrisenche valley.
With the sun shining, we begun with a trek, skis on our back, along the high dirt road from Pont searching out the snow line so we could put our skis on. In what turned out to be our biggest day of the three-day tour, we had to start early due to the sun warming the snow at a fast pace. And although the walk slowed things down a little, once we had our skins on, we started moving more quickly and getting closer to our first col, which required just over 1200m of climbing.
After not doing much skiing at high altitude this season, it took a while to get used to skinning close to 3000m, but I found that if I paced myself well, I could quite easily keep on plodding for hours. So once we hit the col, we enjoyed a great mix of powder and spring snow as we descended down into the Val di Rhemes valley. Not sure exactly where we might pop out, we tried to stay as far up the valley as we could, knowing we still had quite a long way to go to get to the Benevolo refuge, our overnight destination.
After having to walk again along the valley, once we put our skis and skins back on, the sun was starting to dip behind the mountains, and we knew that we had to keep moving if we were to get to the refuge in time for hut dinner (normally at 7pm). Indeed, what we thought would take around 1.5 hours, took us close to 3.5 hours, and we were greeted by the guardian as we wearily arrived at the refuge with minutes to spare, as he grinned asking ‘soup or risotto’. After the long day and 2200m of climbing, it had to be risotto.
After such a big day and a great Italian dinner, it was hard not to have a good nights sleep, so the 6am start the next day was tolerable after being tucked up in bed close to 9.30pm. We were greeted by another clear sky day, and although it started off freezing, we very quickly warmed up as the sun rose up over the beautiful mountains. Our second day was not as epic in length as day one, although our first climb was steep and at times it felt like you were in an oven as the sun beat down on us as we went up and over Col Bassac Derre, in search of the Mario Bezzi hut. After the hot climb, we decided that to search out the best spring snow, we would climb up a little higher towards the Becca Traverse, and we were duly rewarded. We seemed to time our descent perfectly and enjoyed excellent spring snow as we quickly descended the glacier towards the refuge, arriving at a civilised 3pm in time to enjoy a celebratory beer in the sun – the way spring touring should be!
After another great Italian meal (the Mario Bezzi is quite hotel-like on the comfort scale of mountain huts), we were set up for the final day of our tour. To get back to Bonne we decided to skin straight up from the hut to the Col de Giasson on the recommendation of the helpful hut guardian, which gave us a fantastic descent, but unfortunately brought us out on the wrong side of the lake, which meant a skin/walk up the road back to the car. We didn’t mind though because we had found more great snow on our descent, which was over 1000m and had a fun bushwhack in the trees as well!
Once we had made it back to the car, rather sweaty and pretty tired, our next mission was to find somewhere for a well-deserved drink. We didn’t think the sleepy village of Bonne would be the place to find a cold beer, but we were wrong! As we were packing up our car we were befriended by a local of the Valgrisenche valley, Aldofo, who invited us onto his terrace in the sun. He then proceeded to offer us a beer and give us the history of the valley, which included a good nosy through his photo album, which spanned back to the 1930s.
After a good hour or so we excused ourselves as there was one thing left to do to round off our fantastic trip… so we jumped in our car, a little bit smelly, and headed off to find a real Italian pizza before heading back to France. A perfect way to end a great hut-to-hut ski touring adventure.