Mountain Guide Stuart MacDonald offers tips on how to climb the highest independent peak in Italy (the Matterhorn shares its borders with Switzerland), which offers outstanding views across the Alps from its summit. It's graded F+ and 4,061m high, so if you’re looking for a big peak that is technically relatively straightforward, Gran Paradiso ticks all the boxes. There is a catch though...
The catch is that – unlike on many other 4,000m peaks in the Alps – there are no lift systems to take you partway to this summit, so if you suffer from blisters or sore knees, this probably isn't the peak for you. If you are fit and enjoy the satisfaction of climbing summits under your own steam, it's perfect though.
There are two main routes to the summit: you either ascend via the Rifugio Chabod or the Rifugio Vitttorio Emmanuel. The former takes about half an hour longer – but provides a nicer journey on the mountain in my opinion. I also much prefer the Chabod Rifugio. Half board costs 49,50 Euros.
Both routes are glacial walks that end in a 20-minute technical scramble. In UK standards, the ridge is around a Grade 3 scramble, and it’s all protectable using slings.
It's a technically relatively easy route. Photo: Ioan Panaite / Shutterstock
Both routes start from Pravieux in Valsavarenche, at 1,850m. To get there you could either fly to Geneva or Turin and hire a car. It takes about 2 to 2.5 hours to walk to either hut. And it’s roughly four hours from the Chabod Rifugio to the summit – half an hour less from the Rifugio Vittorio Emmanuel.
Valsavarenche. Photo: Alfio Finocchiaro / Shutterstock
Techniques and tactics
For small groups of around three people a 30m rope is sufficient. A few carabiners and slings is all the protection required. The summit ridge is the scene of many a traffic jam, often caused by incompetent teams pitching their way along relatively easy ground.
It’s a 2,000m descent from the summit to the valley floor – due to the absence of lifts to take the sting out of this, some choose to spend a second night in the hut to spread the descent out over two days.
You need to be competent at glacial travel and alpine scrambling techniques. It's a much more enjoyable climb if you have done some acclimatisation beforehand.
Gran Paradiso National Park. No lifts or infrastructure. Photo: Zsofia_R
Early June to late September. One of the best things about this route is that it is climbable for most of the season, with the exception of when it’s very icy.
Stuart MacDonald is a Mountain Guide based in the Chamonix Valley: www.stuartmacdonald.org
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