More than by the impressive numbers concerning Giancarlo Grassi - 300 first ascents on high-mountain, including 50 ones only in the Mont Blanc massif, 800 new routes on mid-mountain cliffs and more than 800 ice-waterfalls - I wish to remember him by his own words.
I report some passages from his book “100 Scalate su cascate di ghiaccio” (100 Ice-falls climbs) in order to explain his personality and sensitiveness. What above all we admire, beyond his extraordinary ascents through more than 25 years of climbing, is the huge passion, the unpretentiousness, the simplicity, and the love towards all the natural displays, even the slightest ones.
Grandes Jorasses – Gianni Comino Memorial route
“...i don’t like to dedicate the new routes to the fallen pals, but i’m deeply feeling inside myself that this one is a worthy homage to Gianni. Coming down amongst the geometry of the contrasts created by the spaces of light touching the shadows, i’m becoming aware of the magic atmosphere of these evenings and i’m often turning back to look at the tracks of my steps on the snow. The wind will sponge out them and they will disappear, like the images of this day and i’ll walk towards other experiences. But i can’t forget the memories; i see again Gianni shaking me and bringing me back to the reality; together we’re going down on the Vallot ridge at the end of another glory day.
Going down i pick up a frosted fly; i warm it inside my hand and it wakes up, dispersing towards its destiny into the snow-storm. We also are going down towards our ones...”
“Maybe there is a relation hiding an ancient dream at the root of this wish of climbing the ice-falls; the dream to re-ascend to the spring of all, just along the natural way of the water. Water which had changed itself into astonishing matter”.
Giancarlo Grassi was born in Condove (Val di Susa, Piedmont, Italy) in 1946, October 14th; as he liked to recall, his passion was born in the Susa and Lanzo Valleys, the mountains close to home, to which he was always linked, even though he had climbed all around the world.
He dedicated all his life to the mountaineering and was also an excellent writer. Alpine Guide, member of the C.A.A.I. (Club Alpino Accademico Italiano), GHM (Group Haute Montagne) and GISM (Gruppo Italiano Scrittori di Montagna), alpinist of world-wide renown, he widely contributed to the popularization of the extreme ice-climbing in the Western Alps.
At the beginning of his career all the great high level classic routes of his epos, included the Walker Spur on Grandes Jorasses at nineteen, didn’t suffice to Giancarlo to make him considered inside its surroundings. His “palmares” doesn’t include only this kind of ascents: in fact, he became one of the greatest pioneers of technical ice-climbing in the Alps during the late Seventies and the Eighties. Despite this, the ruling outlook of the Torinese mountaineering didn’t understand his climbing way and his value was underestimated through several years.
In the Seventies he started to be strongly attracted by the ice-falls and he soon becomes a protagonist, a true master of the ice-falls extreme climb. Lately he managed to bring the piolet-traction technique from the ice-falls to the high mountain, becoming a specialist of the phantom-gullies, thin ice-ribbons with extreme difficulties that can be climbed only during the winter. He explored numberless high mountain’s ghost gullies and an endless number of ice-falls in all Western Alps main valleys, as Valle dell'Orco, Val di Cogne, Valli di Lanzo, Val di Susa, Val Varaita.
Notwithstanding he considered the ice as his favourite element, he also realized several first ascents on rocky ground. At the beginning of the Seventies Giancarlo joined the climbing movement known as “Nuovo Mattino” (New Morning) and was one of the first Italian people to climb in the Yosemite Valley; he embraced the new ideas applying them to the wild granite domes of the Piedmont valleys, as Orco, Susa, Lanzo and Sea Valleys, where he climbed a myriad of new routes.
He roped-up with different contemporary outstanding alpinists, as Renato Casarotto, Patrick Gabarrou, François Damilano, Gianni Comino, Marco Bernardi, Giampiero Motti, Ugo Manera, but his modesty made him always capable to climb with unknown mountaineers.
In particular Giancarlo conceived a very strong party with Gianni Comino, with whom he practised an highly challenging way of mountaineering, climbing several extreme gullies in Mont Blanc massif, as the Ypercouloir on Grandes Jorasses South face, and some impressive seracs, as the Col Maudit serac and the Poire left serac on Brenva wall in summer 1979.
The disappearing of his friend and favourite pal Gianni Comino, fallen in "solo ascent" in reason of a ice-collapse on the Poire right serac in 1980 at twenty-eight, didn’t stop him. He continued his exploration of new ice-falls across the Piedmont and the nearby Aosta Valley.
He also climbed in California, Canada, Andes, Patagonia and Himalayas, realizing some important ascents, as Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy, Patagonia, in 1985, or Polar Circus in the Rocky Mountains, Slipstream in the Canadian Rockies and Pomme d'Or in Quebec, Canada, where he climbed with Renato Casarotto.
Giancarlo was betrayed by his favourite element: a snow-ridge falling down while he was on the descent way from the summit of Monte Bove in Sibillini group (Central Apennines) suddenly broke his life in 1991, April 1st.
Nowaday finally his great value had been recognized; more over since 2011 the new bivouac at 3852 m. on Pic Eccles SW ridge, an eagles’ nest lying below the Freney Pillars, one of the most secluded places in the massif of Monte Bianco, had been renamed "Bivacco Giuseppe Lampugnani - Giancarlo Grassi" in his honour.
1966 - Albaron di Sea North face
1966 - Punta Rossa di Sea North face
1968 - Becco Meridionale della Tribolazione Via Grassi-Re with Alberto Re
1973 - Caporal Sole Nascente with Mike Kosterlitz e Gian Piero Motti
1977 - Mont Blanc du Tacul Pilier Sans Nom 1977
1978 - Grandes Jorasses Ypercouloir Grassi-Comino with Gianni Comino
1978 - Aiguille Verte North Face Goulotte Grassi-Comino with Gianni Comino
1979 - Dome de Moulinet East Gully
1979 - Monte Bianco di Courmayeur Seracco a sinistra della Poire with Gianni Comino
1980 - Roccia Nera Goulotte Grassi-Bernardi with Marco Bernardi
1980 - Monte Bianco di Courmayeur Cascata del Freney with Marco Bernardi e Renzo Luzi
1982 - Punta Gugliermina Via Grassi-Meneghin with Isidoro Meneghin
1984 - Col Maudit Filo d’Arianna with A. Faré e G. Langhi
1984 - Picco Luigi Amedeo Fantacouloir and Pilastro Rosso
1985 - Grandes Jorasses Gianni Comino Memorial Route with con Renzo Luzi e Mauro Rossi
1985 - Cirque du Mont Maudit Lacrima degli Angeli with Carlo Stratta
1985 - Grandes Jorasses Direttissima
1986 - Mont Maudit Overcouloir with Nello Margaria e Angelo Siri
1986 - Mont Maudit Couloir del Bicentenario
1987 - Mont Blanc du Tacul Labirinto di Minosse
1988 - Punta Baretti Goulotte Franco Garda
1990 - Punta Giancarlo Grassi (Quota 3095 metri) Via Grassi-Ghirardi-Baraus with M.Ghirardi e F.Baraus, the last new route realized in Mont Blanc group
“And now, coming back to Rainbow Bridge with Inti after a climb, inspired by the particular and soft sunset light which can be found at Rainbow Bridge and in no other place, sometimes he likes to take his time talking about that extraordinary natural phenomenon which, day after day, at the beginning of the cold season, turns the water in ice.”
Gian Carlo Grassi, 100 scalate su cascate di ghiaccio, Gorlich - Istituto Geografico De Agostini, 1983
Gian Carlo Grassi, Arrampicata in Valle Susa, Ghibaudo, 1986
Gian Carlo Grassi, Gran Paradiso e Valli di Lanzo, Zanichelli, 1986
Gian Carlo Grassi, 90 Scalate su guglie e monoliti, Gorlich, 1987
Gian Carlo Grassi, Sogno di Sea, 1988
Gian Carlo Grassi, Ghiaccio dell'Ovest, Club Alpino Italiano, 1989
Aldo Cambiolo, G. Carlo Grassi, Diamanti di cristallo - Guida alle cascate di ghiaccio della Valle d'Aosta, L'Arciere, 1994
Bibliography and filmography
- Annuario C.A.A.I. 2009 – Giancarlo Grassi Padrone degli Orizzonti by Elio Bonfanti
- Annuario C.A.A.I. 1992 – Ultime sere con Gian Carlo by Marco Conti
- Rivista della Montagna - Momenti d'alpinismo 1984 - Couloir fantasma
- Rivista della Montagna - Aprile 1987 - Primi passi nel regno di cristallo
- ALP - Maggio 1991 - Giancarlo Grassi Mille ascensioni per un sogno di cristallo
- L'uomo del Giardino di Cristallo - 2009 - Regia di Angelo Siri