First ascent: Lt. Renato Willien with the alpine soldiers Damiano Arnod and Pierino Brunodet, 14th July, 1940.
Second ascent, nowadays the only known repetition: Nadir Crestani and Alfio Rinaldo, 14th July, 1982 (exactly 42 years after....)
Probably the most difficult route opened from the soldiers of batallion "Duca degli Abruzzi" (joined to Scuola Militare Centrale di Alpinismo) on the Monte Rosa’s Valsesian side, this ascent is developing in a spectacular environment of high mountain and offers interesting sequences on good rock. Unfortunately it’s fairly exposed to objective dangers related to the orientation and the wall structure.
Let’s start from the beginning. July 1940, few days after the armistice’s signature with France that ended the useless “First Battle of Alps”: it was necessary to find alternative drilling zones for the mountain troops in order to a possible employment in some new fronts of incoming war. The massif of Monte Rosa liked suitable because it was completely out of demilitarized zones like Mont Blanc and the other sector of Alps near to French border.
At the beginning of the month a company of “Alpieri” (alpine soldiers specialised in high level mountaineering) arrived to Alagna Valsesia for a drilling camp. The commanding officer, Lt. Renato Willien, chatting with the local mountain guides discovered that the imposing and evident face East of Punta Giordani was run across an illogical and complicated route about 15 years before. The direct ascent, with their technical difficulties, could be a good opportunity to let the staff in Aosta know the high level of mountaineering training of the unit!
After the choice of two reliable soldiers as seconds on the rope (then I’ll explain why normally the parties for difficult climbs was composed of three elements):
“The 13th, July we move from the camp in Alagna to the point altitude 2786 meters on the orographical left side of Western Piode Glacier. Some carriers transported all the gear for an ascent studied in all details and well organized. The tent is our house in the night.
Wake up at 3,30 am; 14th July: we prepare the breakfast and we put in our rucksacks supplies for two days and technical gear suitable for technical difficulties of any grade (!!) on ice and rock
The obstruction is quite sustained, but it’s necessary!”
“Il 13 Luglio ci trasferiamo dall’accampamento di Alagna alla quota 2786 sul margine sin. orog. del ghiacciaio occidentale delle Piode: alcuni portatori trasportarono tutto l’occorrente per un’ascensione studiata nei minimi particolari e preparata con criteri razionali. La tenda ci dà ricovero nella notte.
Sveglia alle 3,30 del 14 Luglio: prepariamo la colazione e mettiamo, nei sacchi, viveri per due giorni e materiale alpinistico più che sufficiente per difficoltà di qualsiasi grado (!!!) su ghiaccio e su roccia.
L’ingombro è abbastanza forte, ma la necessità lo richiede.“.
After an approach on the glacier for about 1 hour and half, with a passage somewhere difficult between large crevasses, at 6 a.m. the party is ready to start the ascent:
“I climb the first rocks for few meters, but I have to stop for a while because the cold air freezes my fingers and doesn’t let me to feel the holds.... I continue and the soldiers follow me. The technical difficulties here are low, but after ½ hour of ascent I have to get over a 3-4 meters smooth slab. 3 pegs help me in the sequence. The wall begins to be vertical, so I decide for saving time and to cross the runnel to it’s right rib. While I’m crossing the first landslide arrives: by chance I’m not striked, but I decide to continue the traverse horizontal more over……”
“Mi attacco alle rocce e ne percorro i primi metri; però mi debbo fermare perché il freddo mi agghiaccia le dita e non mi fa “sentire” la roccia…….Riparto e gli uomini mi seguono. Le difficoltà sono, qui, mediocri, ma dopo mezz’ora di arrampicata mi trovo impegnato in una placca liscia di 3 o 4 metri. Tre chiodi mi aiutano a superarla. La roccia a questo punto si fa verticale e decido, perciò, per risparmiare tempo, di portarmi alla destra del rigagnolo; mentre attraverso mi giunge dall’alto la prima scarica di sassi e ghiaccioli. Fortunatamente non ne sono colpito, però decido di portarmi più a destra ancora...”
Nevertheless the continuous threat of landslides the team arrives to the crux. To get over the sequence, particularly insidious cause a little water fall on the rock, they used an original aid climbing technique called in Italian “corda a forbice” (literally “climb like scissors”) very common in the extreme ascents of the Western Alps - we are very far from the fine aid climbing of Emilio Comici and other Dolomite’s climbers of the same period - The system is very easy but also slightly exhausting:
“I notice that the best point to climb is near the water fall: I’m giving up thinking that not always is possible to have a shower at 4000 m! But this sequence have to be got over by “forbice”: Arnod takes the second rope from his rucksack and give it to me with a wish to climb as soon and as well as possible. Now I’m in full…. “shower”: I drive in a first peg, then a second, a third, a fourth and meanwhile Brunodet and Arnod pull one rope and then the other: the “game” goes on and it’s very funny! It looks like to be in a climbing practice ground to teach to my soldiers the basic technique of “forbice”. Another peg and finally a sling drive me to the top of the slab; after the two alpine soldiers follow me, Arnod couldn’t strip from the rock the last two pegs.”
(Technical reference: Rivista Mensile del Club Alpino Italiano, 1946)
“Vedo che il punto migliore per superare questo tratto si trova là dove scende il canaletto d’acqua: mi rassegno e penso che non sempre si può fare una doccia a 4000 metri! Ma questo passaggio deve essere superato a “forbice”: Arnod tira fuori dallo zaino l’altra corda e me la porge con l’augurio di superare il tratto nel tempo più breve e nel modo migliore. Eccomi in piena… doccia: pianto un chiodo, due, tre, quattro e, intanto, Brunodet e Arnod tirano ora l’una e ora l’altra corda; il “giuoco” procede bene ed è veramente divertente. Mi sembra di essere in palestra a spiegare ai miei esploratori una qualunque salita a “forbice”. Ancora un chiodo e, in ultimo, una “staffa” (in questo caso anello di cordino n.d.r.) mi portano al culmine della placca. Mi seguono, subito dopo, i due alpini, Arnod non riesce a togliere dalla roccia gli ultimi due chiodi”.
(da Rivista Mensile del Club Alpino Italiano, 1946)
Despite an essentially positive judgement by the FA, during the second ascent has noticed also a worsening of the rock quality.
According to Lt. Willien you’d better to climb with limited snow cover and only in the hotter months, but probably a good compromise for the security with the actual mountain conditions and the technical evolution of gears may be the choice of an autumnal or wintry ascent.
The difference in level of this route is about 700 meters.
You can reach the village of Alagna Valsesia from the highway A26 “dei Trafori”; get out at Romagnano Sesia-Ghemme toll gate, then follow the National route SP299 through Romagnano Sesia, Borgosesia, Varallo Sesia for about 65 Km. In the center of Alagna (Piazza degli Alberghi) turn right and follow a little route for about 1 Km to the Wold parking. Here the traffic is stopped: during the summer it’s possible to find a bus shuttle that brings you to Acqua Bianca waterfalls (m 1500; double way ticket 2 Euro); otherwise you can continue on foot for about 3 Km to the same waterfalls.
If you want to reach directly Acqua Bianca with your private car (may be useful in spring or late summer) you have to contact previously (about a week before) the town council of Alagna Valsesia for a special permission. Be careful: near the waterfall the parking is very little and some places are reserved for the mountain rescue service.
Huts & Approach
Unfortunately the absolute absence of points of support requires an approach slightly complex.
Unless you don’t foresee a bivy on the top of the Piode’s Glacier moraine (like the first climbers) or better directly at the attack point of the route, it’s necessary to choose an approach from Rifugio (hut) Crespi-Calderini all’Alpe Bors (m 1829) or Capanna (hut) Valsesia alla Parrot (m 3212): in this case may be to evaluate a longer way to reach the hut, and the day after a loss of difference in level of about 400 meters in order to cross the Piode Glacier by the “Valle Perduta”.
A) Rifugio (hut) Anna Crespi-Calderini all’Alpe Bors (m 1829), 20 beds, recently renovated. Opening from July to September
1,15-1,30 hours from Acqua Bianca waterfalls by track way marked (n°7 up to Rifugio Pastore, then n°6 up to the bridge on Torrente Bors and finally n° 10).
From Rifugio Calderini follow the track up to the building of Alpe Fondecco (m 2070), then continue through the valley (path trails) in order to reach the moraine under the Piode’s West Glacier. Skirting the rocks of Punta Vittoria get over a first group of seracs (difficult), then continue on the glacier less rough always near the rocks, and after a second little group of seracs reach the bottom of the imposing Punta Giordani’s East face near the central couloir (m 3343, 4.30-5 hours).
It’s also possible to skip the overcoming of the first group of seracs following the whole rock spur (known as “La Pioda”) that divides the Western and the Eastern branches of Piode’s Glacier; at its top cross straight the glacier (be careful of some huge transverse crevasses!) up to the surroundings of Punta Vittoria’s North face in order to join the approach described before (about the same time).
B) Capanna (hut) Gugliermina-Valsesia alla Parrot (m 3212), unguarded, 12 beds.
6-6,30 hours from Acqua Bianca waterfalls by track way marked (n°7 up to Rifugio Pastore, then n°6); after the ford of river Sesia (very difficult in the afternoon cause the high waterflow) tiring steep trail on the moraine of Eastern Piode’s Glacier and finally easy mixed rocks (fixed rope).
From Capanna Valsesia follow a path trail just behind the hut up to a rock step (you’d better to inspect the way the evening before): climb it before on the left, then straight (III+, 1 peg on the top); continue on the following large spur without obligatory sequence slightly on your left and reach at about 3650 m the Eastern branch of Piode’s Glacier. Get over a slope for about 50 meters, then traverse horizontally to the left (be careful to the longitudinal crevasses!) for about 1 Km to reach the glacial basin known as “Valle Perduta” just under the Colle Vincent’s couloir. Cross it up to the foot of Punta Giordani’s North Face (large icy slope), then continue the descent between a section of little seracs and reach the East face in its centre (3-3.30 hours).
After the opening of the new cableway from Passo dei Salati called “Funifor” it’s possible also to reach the “Valle Perduta” on Piode’s Glacier directly from Rifugio Giovanni Gnifetti, or better from Bivacco-Hut Felice Giordano al Balmenhorn, by abseiling off the East face of Colle Vincent (m 4088) along the Gugliermina route (First descent: the Alagna’s mountain guides Giuseppe Chiara and Antonio Pernettaz with M. Antonietta Resegotti, summer 1925).
This line now it’s quite well equipped with traditional pegs and tape slings, but may become very difficult for bad conditions of the mountain. Take care to ice fall on the first part! 2 ropes x 60 m are necessaries; may be useful also a couple of snow stakes to equip the first rappels.
C) Rifugio Giovanni Gnifetti al Garstelet (m 3647), 177 beds, opening from end June to mid September (booking service Monte Rosa Huts +39 348 1415490).
1-1,30 hours from upper station of “Funifor” by track on easy glacier and a short section of klettersteig in correspondence of “Passaggio delle Roccette” to reach the Garstelet’s Glacier.
D) Bivacco-Hut Felice Giordano al Balmenhorn (m 4167), unguarded, 6 beds, sleeping bag necessary.
1,30 hours from Rifugio Gnifetti by the normal route to Lysjoch-Punta Gnifetti; attention! Large crevasses on the first part.
From Bivacco Giordano reach in 15 minutes the large saddle of Colle Vincent; quite in its center perforate the cornice: first two rappels on ice bollard up to the rocks. You can find the next belay with peg few meters under the top of the spur that borders the Vincent’s Couloir. From there with 4 abseil x 50 m it’s possible to reach the bottom of a rocky runnel at the end of a snowy ledge. An easy pitch on the right let you to join the lower section of Vincent’s Couloir; descent the last 200 meters (40°) up to the bergschrund. Turn to the right and follow the approach described from Capanna Valsesia (3,30-4,30 hours depending on conditions)
After the bergschrund, continue easily to the left edge (facing the wall) of the central couloir up to a smooth slab about 4 meters high; climb it (V, 3 pegs) and when the rocks become vertical cross the couloir to reach a sort of rib on the left orographic side. Climb it up to a snow field about at 2/3 of the wall’s height which covers the interior of couloir (according to the FA this is the most dangerous section of the route). Get over it very quickly and arrive under the crux: an evident bank of whitish rock, poor of cracks and sometimes wet. Climb a slab near a runnel with little water fall (A0, if dry probably V/V+, 5 pegs, 2 left); after 20 meters (III, IV) there’s an overhang 2 meters high: get over it (V, 1 peg) and after a last little monolithic wall of reddish rock come out to the summit (5-8 hours).
Descent: by the Normal route (SW flank); easy rock at the beginning then slopes a little steep on Indren Glacier up to the huge “snow trail” for the approach to Rifugi (huts) Mantova and Gnifetti. Be careful of an overhanging serac at mid way!
Gear for difficult climbs in high mountain: 1 rope x 60 m, helmet, 1 aider, 5 pegs, a complete set of nuts (particularly medium and big size), 10 express clippers, 5-6 long tape slings, ice-axe and crampons.
External LinksComune di Alagna Valsesia
Sito promozionale Alagna.it
Rifugi alpini del CAI di Varallo Sesia
Bollettino nivo-meteorologico Regione Piemonte
The same 14th July, unique event on the South side of Monte Rosa, another party (in this case not “military”) consisting of the Valsesian climbers Giulio Della Giulia, Franco Barchietto e Carlo Ciossani with the Alagna’s mountain guide Giovanni Antonioli was engaged in a new difficult route on the South face of Parrotspitze:
“…In the imposing silence of the mountain, only two things attract our attention: our wall and down in the valley a far-off small light climbing towards the Piode’s Glacier. Who’s? We will know after that was the Lt. Willien of Alpine Troops, camped in Alagna, also interested in a new climbing adventure. We shout few times to greet and then we continue our traverse on the glacier up to our wall.” (Technical reference: Rivista Mensile del Club Alpino Italiano, 1942)
“… Fra i solenni silenzi del monte, due sole cose attraggono la nostra attenzione: la nostra parete e, giù nella valle, un lontano lumicino che sale verso il Ghiaccio delle Piode. Chi è? Seppimo poi trattarsi del Ten. Willien degli alpini, di stanza ad Alagna, anch’egli in cerca di avventura. Lanciamo per l’etere diversi gridi di saluto e proseguiamo quindi a traverso il ghiacciaio verso la nostra parete.” (da Rivista Mensile del Club Alpino Italiano, 1942)