Have you ever encountered the situation, that quite suddenly a major peak „jumps“ at you? You are hiking (scrambling, climbing) up to a ridge or pass with nothing in sight but the rocks below your feet when just before you reach the ridge the view opens to let you see one of the most beautiful mountains up close? Just like it appeared out of thin air?
If you know this experience you will understand my feelings about the trip I will describe. It makes you forget to breathe, you’re speechless, your knees go weak. The only thing you can mutter is “Wow!” Or as a Frenchman put it on Corsica: “Ohlala!” He was right, of course, even though he repeated the word 15 times.
The most astonishing of these moments in my life includes La Grivola as main actor. She – an almost 4000m mountain – managed to hide from me for two weeks, when suddenly she jumped into my face. We had been spending the first fortnight of our vacation in Aosta Valley, Italy with dismal weather. Actually the clouds were quite high, hanging at 2500m but if the surrounding mountains are higher than that you’ll find yourself very disappointed. Apart from a day near Gran Paradiso, who tried to pull the same stunt, there was nothing to laugh about.
The day before the one I want to describe, the weather turned to the better and we did a hike along one of the slopes of the lower Aosta valley. The sun was shining but somehow it was terribly misty. We could see Mont Blanc at the upper end of the valley, but only barely. The closer mountains were clearly visible however.
So when we loked out of the window on the next morning and saw the same weather, fine but misty, we decided to gamble on it. How about having a try on Monte Emilius, which at more than 3500m towers some 3000m above the city of Aosta. This meant driving to the ski resort of Pila, which lies at 1800m to the south of the city. Up we went and while doing so the mists started to clear. The valley floor became more or less invisible but the views around us became crisp an clear. And what views they were! All the 4000m+ peaks of the western Alps at one glance: Grand Combin, Matterhorn, Dent d’Herens and the whole Monte Rosa Massif, only to name a few.
Our exaltation gave way to frustration however – the “village” of Pila consists only of a couple of very large hotels – empty at the time. In order to reach the parking lot we had to drive through the hotel! Through the garage anyway – at least a kilometre of concrete. And the chair lift, which should have taken us some 500m higher, was out of work! Reaching Emilius (and returning) was out of the question, so what to do?
Pila is located at the centre of a natural amphitheatre, with a large ridge enclosing it in a half circle. Naturally, for a ski resort, there are lots of ski lifts and quite many downhill courses – even a golf course. After a look at the map we decided to make it to a pass on the western part of the ridge (east of Punta del Drinc) and then hiking or scrambling eastward along it until we reached Punta della Valletta at 3090m.
So off we went and – as we always do – missed our way. But the pass was clearly visible so we knew the general direction and finally bushwacked our way to the base of the pass. There we found the trail again and started the steep ascent. Since the terrain was rugged each of us used our own judgement for the best trail so that I started to get ahead of my girlfriend and closed in on the pass alone. My intentions were set on finally getting a view of Mont Blanc, which I had never seen before. I just wanted to shoot a picture!
Within the last 10 steps suddenly a shadow started to loom above me. I made it to the top and there it was: La Grivola, a perfectly shaped pyramid mountain! The picture can only tell you part of what you really see on that pass. The pass is at 2600m. It drops very steeply into the Cogne Valley at some 800m. La Grivola is 3969m high. And the distance across the valley is maybe 5km. You get the impression that the way down to the valley floor is farther than the way to the summit. And you fell like you could stretch out your arm and touch this beauty.
The other 4000m+ summits were forgotten. For the remainder of the day it was La Grivola which drew our attention. There are a great number of high summits and glaciers nearby – but in the end the eyes always turned back. It didn’t matter that we didn’t reach Punta della Valetta – we had to turn around on a side summit since there would have been some class IV climbing involved – which we wouldn’t have been able to do at the time.