Our Trip to Fruita, Colorado

Shelley and I made a short weekend stop in Fruita, Colorado a few weekends ago for some mountain biking.

We stayed at James M Robb – Colorado River State Park for three nights and four days.  The below photo was our camp spot.  We wanted to stay in North Fruita as there are tons of BLM spots up there, but with us coming into town on Friday night with a big mountain biking event that weekend, we didn’t think we’d find any spots.  So we just made reservations early for a spot.  This was a pretty nice camp ground.  On Monday, after we finished mountain biking up there, we drove the area around North Fruita marking all the camps spots for future trips back to this area.

Ripley seems to always find the best seat in the house.

We left Boise on Friday and made the drive in one day…..one long day.  11-1/2 hours with fuel and food stops.  We didn’t want to waste a day of vacation traveling by taking two days to drive there, so one long day was better.

The mountain biking area we really wanted to try out was in North Fruita, but a mountain biking event was taking place this same weekend.  So our first two days, Saturday and Sunday, was spent in the Kokopelli trail area and the Rabbit Valley trail area.  Both are south and southwest from Fruita.

Monday, after the mountain biking event was over in North Fruita, we drove up there and spent the day.

Here’s a map of the area so you can get an idea of where we were riding.

The riding was great on all the days.  It was so much harder and technical then what we typically ride on around Boise.  Plus, there are hundreds of miles of trails to choose from too.

This was our Kokopelli area ride.

The scenery around this ride was pretty spectacular.  As you can see from the map, a lot of the ride was right along the Colorado River.  We could see a lot of rafters cruising the Colorado too.

As I mentioned, there were places where we couldn’t ride and had to get off and walk the bikes.  Steep drop offs or just real technical climbs.  In this photo of Shelley, you can see her getting ready to climb down.  With her in the photo, you can see that’s about a 10′ drop.  There was one spot where the warning was regarding a 100 yard boulder field that dropped 60 feet or so and said that all the but the most technical riders should even try it.  We watched a couple guys from Germany try it, but only one of them even came within half way to making it.  Everyone was climbing up or down it.

This was our Rabbit Valley area ride.

Rabbit Valley was pretty nice, but not quite as spectacular as riding along the Colorado River.  This area was more wide open with some spots where you rode along cliff faces, but mostly it was pretty mild compared to the day before.

This was our North Fruita area ride.

Our rides in North Fruita were mostly long climbs to spectacular downhills.  On the map above, those long straight lines on the right hand side were 1-way trails where you climbed up one and then ripped it down hill on another.  Then we moved over to the west (left side of the map) and did a big loop.  That loop was pretty nice at the beginning, but around mile marker 13 on the map, it got pretty difficult with lots of climbing and areas where we had to walk our bikes.  Then, the down hill came along and it was miles of greatness back to the trail head.

Here you can see Shelley just beyond that first clump of trees along the trail working her way to those switch backs on the second ridge in the background.  That’s what we had to walk.

Here we are, finally at the top looking back down what we just rode/walked up.

Now that we are at the top, I’m getting ready to take in the miles of downhill ahead of us back to the trailhead.

On Sunday evening, my sister Laurene and her husband Roger both came to visit for the afternoon and join us for dinner.  They live just a few hours away and got some of their own biking in on Sunday before joining us.

It was great to see them again and catch up over beer and dinner.

My Big 5-Oh

Trying to get back into writing on my blog. I have to admit that posting little snippets to Facebook is much easier and it has taken me away from the blog for some time.  So I thought I’d come back with a recap to my 50th Birthday week.

It’s kind of fitting, in a way, as Shelley and I spent three days and four nights on Mt Rainier this past week for our 2nd and 3rd summit, respectively.  We are now a multi-summit of Mt Rainier family.  Not too shabby.


The Summit of Mt Rainier

Rainier wasn’t a blue bird trip, but it was pretty close.

The forecast was calling for rain and storms on our approach days, but the storm waited us out for about 12 hours so we got above it on our way to Camp Schurman.  We did get some precipitation but we were well above the 7,500 ft freezing level by that time and just got some light dusting of snow.


Camp Schurman

The wind, however, was a bit more of an issue.

The wind started on day two as we set our tents at Camp Schurman and didn’t stop till the following late morning as we made our way up the last snow field to the summit.  The wind also made us start a bit later than we would have liked.

We woke at about 4:00 am and started climbing around 5:30 am.  It was easier to stay warm during our breaks with the sun up than it would have been had we left in the dark at 1:00 am.  It was pretty cold, but nothing like we’ve experienced in other places.


10,500 feet. An hour out of Camp Schurman.

We made it up and back in about 10 hours.

Although the summit wasn’t right on my birthday, it was still pretty cool to be back in the mountains again.


Around 13,500 feet on Mt Rainier.


Moving up to Camp Schruman from our camp 1 on day 2.

My sister, Sylvia, was putting us up in Seattle for this trip and she and her husband, Bruce, picked us up when we got back.

Seattle may be beautiful and all (during the summer) and it has great food and places to see, but it also has traffic.  Really, really……….really bad traffic.  Sylvia and Bruce live about 6-1/2 miles from Alpine Ascent’s office and that round trip too 1:34 minutes.  Yep, 13-mile round trip in 1 hour and 34 minutes.  I even took a photo of Bruce’s car’s trip computer to prove it.  Man alive.

We planned this Rainier trip last fall/winter and then in January or so we learned that Ken Griffey Jr was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and the weekend we came down off the mountain was going to be Ken Griffey Jr Weekend at SafeCo Field.  So we bought tickets for two of those games, Friday and Saturday, to watch all those festivities.


The Hall of Fame Kid.

Both games were great.  Both games were Mariner come-from-behind wins in the late innings.  Saturday was like a playoff game with a sold out crowd and lots of pomp and circumstance with the retirement of Griffey’s number and all.

What a lot of fun.

Saturday, Sylvia organized a birthday brunch for me with those family members living in Seattle.  My other, wiser, sister Barbara and my brother Bob and their family all came by for the brunch.  Sylvia really knows how to put on a spread and celebration.


Thanks, Sylvia for doing all that.  It was really great.

I got some good cigars (one of which I am smoking now as I write this post) and some other cool stuff.  Barbara got me a Roman numeral “L” shirt that she said stands for “50” but I have other ideas about her true intention.


Birthday loot.

barbara and the %22L%22 shirt

Shelley and I drove back to Boise on Sunday and on Monday I had a low key birthday get together here in town.

We met some family and friends at Payette Brewery, had some beers and caught up with some people I hadn’t seen in some time.  Then Shelley took me to a nice dinner and chocolate fondue dessert.

Pretty nice day over all.  And a pretty awesome week.

shelley and I at dessert

Shelley and I at dessert

I stood on top of Rainier for the 3rd time, saw two great ball games, had a great family brunch and hung out with friends and my beautiful wife.

I’m a pretty lucky 5-0.

Some shout outs now.

Thanks to my sister Carol and my niece Sierra for house sitting and baby sitting our dogs while we were gone.  Without them doing that, climbing Rainier and having such a great week would never have been possible.  Thank you two so much.

Thanks to Sylvia and Bruce for putting us up in their house and for the great hospitality….like always.

Thanks to everyone for coming by for brunch, Barbara/Jim, Monica/Joe and Bob/Jennifer.  The gifts and vices I received were very thoughtful.

Thanks to everyone who came by for a beer at Payette and the cards and gifts, Andy, Sue/Hawk, Travis, Ty, Dean, Noah/Amy and Bev/Greg.

And of course to my lovely, beautiful wife Shelley.  After 9-ish years of climbing, she still enjoys going up mountains with me and sharing in those hardships.  She’s so strong, smart, fit and thoughtful.  It was her idea to climb Rainier the week of my 50th birthday and it was her planning that brought everyone together in Boise.  It was a great week and I’m glad I shared it with you.

A Lack of Customer Service at The Market Arms

I’ve gotten use to a certain lack in customer service over the last few years, but what happened to us on Sunday, September 27 at The Market Arms in Ballard, Seattle tops all expectations of poor customer service.

As most who read this blog know, we live in Boise. We lived in Seattle for a number of years and spend 3 – 6 weeks of time coming back to visit every year. In July of 2010 we found a new soccer pub in Ballard called The Market Arms. Great soccer atmosphere for games. We’ve watched a number of out of town Sounders games there, UEFA games and Championship games. Their food has always been good and the wait staff have always been nice and efficient.

But on Sunday, we got to meet the owner, John Bayliss.

In order to explain things in context, I need to set the stage a bit.

This Sunday there were two sporting events taking place, nearly simultaneously. The SoundersFC were playing a key game against Kansas City on the road at 2:00 pm and the Seahawks were playing at home against Chicago at 1:25 pm.

Shelley had more interest in the Sounders game and I just wanted to be able to keep track of both. In the big scheme of things, the Sounders game was more important in the playoff run, so I had a bit more interest there as well.

So we needed a place that would have both games on. Having been going to The Market Arms since 2010, we knew they would find a way to have the Sounders. So we left my sister’s house early to go there first and check it out.

When we arrived, we found they had their five inside televisions labeled with which game would be on which TV. They split their restaurant into half with 2 TVs showing the Sounders and 3 TVs showing the Seahawks. Having got there a little before noon, we had our choice of tables and we picked a good one that had perfect views of two TVs. One was labeled “Sounders” and the other one was currently playing the Dallas/Atlanta game and was labeled “Seahawks.” The two TVs labeled “Sounders” were turned off. We found out later there was a WNBA Championship game taking place on ESPN (the channel showing the Sounders game).

So we thought we had the perfect set up. We arrived early enough to get a good seat to watch both games. We ordered a couple beers and an appetizer of potato skins and hunkered down till kickoff.

Just before the Seahawks kickoff we ordered another round of drinks and lunch.

Things got silly around 2:00.

The restaurant started filling up with Seahawk fans around 1:00, with many of them overflowing into the Sounders half of the restaurant. The two TVs over there were still off. Many of these people were asking about the TV situation and our waitress was telling them that the TVs tagged with “Sounders” would be showing that game at 2:00. When the Seahawk game started, on of the TVs labeled “Sounders” (the one we were going to watch) was changed to the Seahawk game. The other Sounders TV was still off. Needless to say, there was no where to sit over by the other “Sounders” TV now as that area of the restaurant was full of Sounders fans. Our perfect seat was in jeopardy. We asked our waitress if the game would be switched and we were told if it said “Sounders,” it would show the Sounders.

The Sounders kickoff was delayed 15-ish minutes to accommodate the end of the WNBA game. When the only indoor Sounders TV was turned on, the one at the other end of the restaurant away from us, the WNBA game was just wrapping up. The Sounders then kicked off and the TV closest to us that was supposed to show the Sounders, still had the Seahawks game on.

So, we did what anyone in our position would do. We asked our waitress if the TV could be switched to the Sounders. I watched her walk over to the owner, John, who mouthed “no” to her. Their conversation went on for a few moments and she came back to us and told us she was told there were technical reasons the channel couldn’t be switched. Something about switching this TV would affect the other three TVs showing the Seahawks game. I suspected this was BS, but I couldn’t say anything about it.

A few moments later the waitress brought the owner over to explain what was going on, but he went to the wrong table. There was a group of Sounders fans sitting next to us and he went up to them and said, “You want to watch the Sounders? There’s a table on the patio. You can go out back.” They didn’t move. I don’t even recall them saying anything to him.

Our waitress was standing behind him and told him he was at the wrong table and he came over to us and, leaning on the table in front of me, asked us “You want to watch the game?” I’ve been around long enough to know this was a “gotcha” question that had no correct answer. If I said yes, he would tell me to go out to the patio, if I said, no, the conversation would be over.

So I thought I’d try to explain our situation. How we got here at noon, picked out seat specifically for it’s location to both TVs, etc. When I tried to talk, he interrupted me with, “Do you want to watch the game?” I tried to talk again and he interrupted me a second time, “Do you want to watch the game?” I tried to explain things again, and he interrupted me a third time, “Do you want to watch the game?” This time, exasperated, I said, “Dude, you gonna let me talk and finish a sentence or you just gonna keep interrupting me?” He said, “There’s a table on the patio out back if you want to watch the game.” He then waved his hand at my face, giving me the “brush off,” and turned his back and started walking off.

So, I called him a jerk.

Now, did I say “fucking jerk”? Or “you’re a jerk”? Or “Way to be a jerk”? Honestly, I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. His arrogant attitude, condescending behavior….his lack of concern for a customer’s complaint and his indifference made him a jerk. He was a jerk.

He heard me and turned back around and got right in my space. Up close and personal. Stuck his finger in my face and started yelling at me for calling him a jerk. He told me how he wasn’t gonna stand for being called names and how I wouldn’t answer his question. I tried to explain again that he wouldn’t let me talk or finish a sentence, and he interrupted me again, over and over. I couldn’t even get four words out. Having to talk over him I said, “You’re doing it again. You keep interrupting me and won’t let me speak.”

His reply? He sticks his middle finger in my face and says, “Fuck off!”

At this point, the only negative thing I said to him was calling him a jerk. I never swore at him, never disparaged his mother, family or staff. I was just trying to explain our position and he didn’t care and refused to listen to me. When I called him on it, he tells me to “Fuck off.”

Yeah, real professional. Real good customer service.

Now he storms away. Evidently, the Seahawk game is staying on the TV we, and those Sounders fans around us, thought was going to show the Sounders.

Our waitress came back over and apologized. She said she thought the Sounders would be on that TV, etc. She was very nice. Very embarrassed. When she left, the Sounders game was now on the TV that the Seahawks game was on. The TV that was labeled “Sounders.”

But wait a second….didn’t the owner tell our waitress there were technical reasons it couldn’t be switched? Yeah, he did.

So now he’s a liar too. He lies to his own staff, so they can pass the lie on to his customers.

What a jerk. What a fucking jerk.

After our waitress left, another woman approached and we had a conversation with her. She tried to explain that, “He’s really not a jerk.” Okay, maybe he’s not. Maybe he is Mother Theresa during the other 99.99999% of his life. I get it. People have bad days. But right then, right at that moment when he’s interrupting me, arrogant, condescending and waving me off like a fly…..he was a jerk. This woman really did try to explain things, but there really isn’t much she could say. I felt she was in a very difficult position and I was polite with her.

At one point the John Bayliss came back over, interjected himself into our conversation and said something about being at work since 5:00 am, working hard and, “I’m not going to be called names!” Then he looked at me and told me to, “Fuck off!” again before walking away. Oh, yeah, none of us (including his employee) could get a word in edgewise. She was even trying to shoo him away and he would have none of it.

I finished my conversation with this second woman and things were over.

We were asked if we needed anything as the second half of both games were still left to play, but we were done. I had no intention of ordering another beer or any more food. We couldn’t really leave as we had no where we could get to in order to watch either of the games. Being from out of town, we couldn’t go home and my sister was watching the Seahawks at their house.

So we stayed and drank water till the Sounders were over.

In the end, our waitress gave us our bill and she took two beers off our tab, leaving us with a $41 bill, before her tip. Yes, I did tip her. She was great. Plus, I assume the owner doesn’t get any of the tip money.
So, after being lied to by the owner, being treated like garbage by the owner, being waved off like a fly by the owner and being told to “Fuck off” by the owner, they took two beers off my tab.

That was pretty disappointing, too.

Needless to say, we are never going back to that place.

The Breithorn Traverse

For our final climb of the trip, Jon chose to take us over to Zermatt and climb the Breithorn.  This mountain is considered the easiest of the 4,000 meter peaks in Zermatt due to its location near the top of the cable car.  However, we would be taking a more challenging route to the summit and one that would expose us, again, to those techniques needed to climb the Eiger.  Mike would join us for this climb.

Jon drove us the 2 ½ hours from Chamonix to Zermatt and once in Zermatt we took the ski lift and cable car up to the top of the ridge.  We then trekked across the glacier to the Rifugio Guide Di Ayas hut on the Italian side of the mountain range at 11,220 feet.  Here we are just arriving, you can see the weather was a bit foggy.  The next photo of the hut was taken the morning we left.



This hut is Jon’s favorite.  All the huts we stayed at had their own nice features, but this one really felt like you were in a ski lodge in “Anyplace USA.”  The guardians were really nice, like always, and the food was very good, like always.

The hut had a very nice gear room and dining room.




It had flush toilets and running water, however the water was not drinkable.  That was the only downside.  The dorms consisted of two types.  An open dorm sleeping about 20 climbs or so (which is where we slept) and then eight (I believe) 4-bunk private rooms.  There was a second floor to the hut but it was closed off and not being used so I didn’t walk up there and see what it was like.


We left Chamonix around 8:30 am and arrived at the hut around 4:00 pm.  We hung out in the dining room, as it was a bit blustery outside with fresh snow falling and wind.  This weather was scheduled to end over night.  We sat in the dining room with Jon and Mike and talked about independent climbing.  They discussed with us route finding and things to look for while climbing on a glacier to help avoid hazards.  We hung out for a few hours then Shelley and I went upstairs and laid down for some rest before dinner at 7:00 pm.

We were asleep by 9:00 pm with an early start the next morning at 5:45 am and breakfast at 6:00 am.  I have to say that the breakfasts were the only disappointing meals I had on this trip.  I could have really used some eggs and bacon or pancakes.  But, when in Europe, you get the classic European breakfasts of breads and jams.  By 7:00 am we were roped up and on our way.  The weather was perfect.  Hardly any wind and clear.  We could see Gran Paradiso to our south and we were surrounded by other peaks as we hiked to the start of our climb.

The Di Ayas hut is about 2 hours east of the Breithorn with a very slight up hill climb.  We made this in one move and it wasn’t too difficult.  It was nice to take a good break near the base of where our traverse was going to start.  This starting point was the steepest snowy terrain we climbed on our trip.  This was well over a 40 degree slope to get to the base of the rocks.  Unlike our traverse from the previous day, we wore crampons for this rock traverse due to the amount of snow on the rocks.

The weather that was hitting Grindelwald and dumping snow over there was also impacting the Zermatt area.  While on the glacier moving to the Breithorn, we were walking through 6” – 8” of fresh snow.  Most of the trail was well worn but in places it was quite deep.  This area wasn’t that busy with climbers and we were the first team to head for the Breithorn traverse so we had to break trail once we left the main trail between the cable car and the hut.  You could see that a good snow fall had occurred here in the last few days before we arrived.  It was easy to see why the Eiger trip was washed out for us.  I wouldn’t have wanted to climb there with 10” – 13” of fresh snow.


Once at the eastern end of the Breithorn massif, we started up on the rocks.  Just like the traverse from the day before, this exposed us to a technical rock climb and skills we need more exposure to.  There was no rappelling done during this traverse, however, there were spots that were much more exposed then the previous day.  There were also parts that were quite a bit more difficult than the previous day as well.  Here are some photos of this rock traverse.

IMGP4519 shelley

Note the climbers ahead of us up on top of this portion.  This photo gives you some sense of scale.  Also in this photo is the Matterhorn being buffeted by high winds.  It was only visible for a few moments at a time throughout the day.

IMGP4525 matterhorn

Here is Shelley down climbing a short section to a snowy, knife edge ridge between peaks.  I like this one and the one below it as they both show just how steep and exposed the sides of this ridge could be.

IMGP4531 shelley downclimbing

This next photo was taken higher up and looking down on the knife edge you see in the photo above as Jon and Shelley came across it.


I enjoyed this rock climb better than the previous day because of the views and exposure.  We would get up on top of one of the tops of the ridge, with 1,000 – 2,000 foot cliffs on both sides, and you could look around the Zermatt valley at a dozen pyramid shaped 4,000 meter peaks.  It was just incredible.  Zermatt was under a bed of clouds, however, but we were so high, the peaks stuck up through the clouds all around us.


After a few hours of rock climbing, we were back on the snowy ridge and on our way up to the summit of the Breithorn.  After this rock climbing, the summit ridge was anti-climatic.  Shortly after 1:00 pm we stood on top of our third summit for this vacation.

Perrons de Vallorcine

With our trip to Grindelwald and the Eiger called off due to weather, the three of us talked over our options for the second part of our trip.  We all decided to focus the remainder of the trip on those skills that would be necessary if we decided to come back for the Eiger another time.  Specifically, rock climbing.

Jon picked a rock climb traverse known as the Perrons de Vallorcine.  The Eiger required a 1:1 guide to client ratio and Mike Brownlow, from Scotland, was our second guide who was going to join us there.  With that trip wiped out, Mike joined us this morning with Jon.  This traverse, and the rest of the climbs Jon had planned, would require a 1:1 ratio.

This traverse consists of three connected but separate spires and requires all the skills necessary for the Eiger.  There is route finding, rock climbing, belaying and rappelling (also known as abseiling).

The route starts out at a parking lot near a dam.  We parked on one side and then walked across the dam to the trailhead.


The trail goes up some grassy hills then you climb up to the Grand Perron.


On the back side of the Grand Perron are three rappels, the first being 10 m (33ft), then 25 m (82ft) then 20 m (65ft).  This drops you down to a col at the base of Pointe Vouilloz.

Pointe Vouilloz is slightly higher than Grand Perron and the high point of the climb is on the far side this feature.  To get down one makes two more rappels of 10 – 15 m and 25 m.

Finally, the third spire is Pain de Sucre.  This section isn’t has high and there were no rappels on it.  After you down climb the far side of Pain de Sucre, you have quite a long walk out back to the dam and your car.  Shelley (blue helmet) was roped to Jon and I (orange helmet) was roped to Mike.  There was no snow on the traverse so we did not have to use crampons.  Jon and Mike would climb up ahead and set a belay before we followed.  Neither of us ever slipped or fell needing the belay, but it was comforting to know it was there.  Here are some various pictures of the traverse.






This last picture is looking back at the three features that make up this traverse.  The Grand Perron in the background, Pointe Vouilloz in the middle and Pain de Sucre in the foreground.


Neither Shelley nor I had ever done this sort of rock climbing.  We’ve climbed boulder fields and features similar to the Grand Couloir on Mont Blanc, but nothing as big as the Grand Couloir or as technical as this traverse.  There were places were you really had to be on your game as the exposure was extreme.  It was common to be standing on a ledge the size of a bar stool with a 1,000 foot drop next to you.  Or narrow cracks and ledges just a few inches wide with 1,000 foot drops.  This made for some spectacular views and some exciting locations.  According to Jon, this traverse is similar in many ways to what we would have found on the Eiger.  However, the Eiger is much more technical is some areas than this traverse.  This made a good skill and confidence builder if we ever decided to return to the Alps for a shot at the Eiger.

Too Much Snow

We spent the weekend here in Chamonix enjoying two days off from climbing.  We found a micro brewery and celebrated our Mont Blanc summit with our traditional hamburger, fries and beer dinner.


beer and burger

We visited the Alpine museum here in Chamonix.  We bought some chocolate to bring home and shopped in some tourist traps.

shelley chocolate

And spent more than a few hours sitting in cafes drinking tea and coffee and eating pastries.

rich having coffee

There was a big thunderstorm that moved in on Saturday as well.  This isn’t the type of picture the Chamonix tourism people usually promote, but it does actually happen.

rain in chamonix

Tonight, after another great dinner at Maison Moustache et Filles, we met with Jon here at the hotel to discuss the plan for next week.  You see, the weather in the Bernese Oberland area is not good.  The Eiger looks to be getting dumped on with snow.  13 1/2″ of snow over Monday and Tuesday.  Our summit day would have been Thursday.  If we climbed up to the Monchsjoch Hut, which sits at 11,975 feet, from where we would stage out of for the Eiger, we would just be stuck there.  The freezing level is currently around 9,800 feet.  There would just be too much snow on the ridges for climbing to be safe.  Also, there would be so much snow around the hut and on the surrounding glaciers, we may need to have snow shoes just to move around to work on our skills.

So, we have lost the Eiger for this trip.

We talked about what we could do instead.  It seems that most of this bad weather is focused on the Oberland area of Switzerland.  What we are looking at doing is working on those skills we need to improve ourselves.  Route finding, rock climbing and rope work to name a few.  So tomorrow, we are going to climb a ridge over near Zermatt that will give us some time working on these skills.  We’ll come back to Chamonix afterwards and spend the night.

Tuesday, we’ll go up into the Alps, once again, and stay in a hut (not sure of the name) and try to climb a couple 4,000 meter peaks around this same Zermatt area.  We’ll come back to Chamonix on Wednesday evening.  We’ll say goodbye to Jon on Wednesday and then on Thursday we’ll be back on our regular vacation schedule and head to Annecy as planned.

We are a bit bummed at losing the Eiger, but we also knew this trip was a long shot to make all five mountains.  We have been very fortunate to have had such great weather up to this point and feel very lucky to have been able to make Mont Blanc.  We have both been doing this mountaineering thing long enough now that we know climbing isn’t up to us.  It’s up to the mountains.  They have to let you on top.  Sometimes they don’t.  The Eiger will be there for another time.

The Top of Italy

On Tuesday, August 20, at approximately 0915 hrs Shelley and I stood on the top of Italy, on top of Gran Paradiso at 13,323 feet.  This was Shelley’s first summit since hurting her knee in March of 2012.  She really earned this summit with all her training and preparations since her surgery.

summit gran paradiso kissing

We left Chamonix by car on Monday morning, August 19, and drove to the trail head and camp site below the mountain.  We had a short lunch at the cafe there and then climbed up to the Refuge Victor Emmanuel II hut at approximately 8,900 feet.  The amenities of the place were quite unexpected.  It had flush toilets, running water (no hot unless you wanted to pay extra for a shower), telephone, mail, electricity and pretty decent food.  The hut is completely off the grid so all the power is supplied by solar or generator and propane.  All the supplies are flown in by helicopter.  The hut is run and maintained by three families that live there during the season.  They maintain the hut and do all the cooking.  They are called “Guardians.”

From information our guide provided, the hut was built by the Italian Alpine Club and they receive 50% of the room fees and the guardians receive all the money from the food they sell and the balance of the room fees.  With that income, they have to pay for the supplies, food, fuel and the helicopter they call in to resupply them.  They keep what’s left over.  They run a pretty tight ship.  All poles, axes and boots stay downstairs.  They provide free hut sandals.  This helps keep things clean.  The hut is 4 stories tall.  The ground floor has the offices, living quarters for the guardians, kitchen and dining room.  Then the second floor has 6-person rooms (two 3-person bunk beds each) and a bath room.  The third floor (where we stayed) has 4-person rooms (two 2-person bunk beds each) and a bath room.  The fourth floor is an open loft with no walls.  The whole place sleeps well over 150, but I never got an exact number.  There’s also a newer overflow building next door not connected to the main hut.

With that said, you’d think it was pretty expensive.  But it really isn’t.  A bed is Euro 50 a night.  I don’t know how much the meals were as breakfast (bread, jam and tea) and dinner was included in our climbing fee.  The food and drink was cheaper up there then it is down in Chamonix.  A shot of espresso was only Euro 1.  A 1 liter bottle of beer and a glass of wine was Euro 7.80.  Not that bad.

The hike up took just about 2 hours.  Here is Jon Bracey (our guide) and Shelley approaching the hut.

shelley and jon approaching the hut

Here’s another picture of the hut.


Here’s Shelley inside the front door.

shelley at the front door

Here’s the “bar” inside the dining area.  It’s not a bar like you’d find downtown.  It’s more like a counter where you can buy snacks and drinks.  The hallway on the left goes back to the kitchen.  That’s Shelley on the right in the green jacket.


The dinning room.  When it gets crowded at the hut, they have two servings for dinner.  Dinner starts at 1900 hrs sharp.  And the place is packed.  The second round of dinner would usually start around 2015 hrs.

dining hall

Our 4-person bunk room.

bunk room

After dropping off our gear and a short break for lunch in the dinning room, we organized our gear for the next day’s climb.  Since we were going to stay at the hut two nights, we didn’t have to take everything with us up the mountain the next morning.  Each room has a keyed lock on it for privacy and security.  Wake up the next morning was 3:45 am with breakfast at 4:00 am.  By 4:40 am we were roped up and heading up the mountain.

The climb starts out through a draw with some boulder and scree climbing.  We roped up and put on crampons about 90 minutes into the climb.  From that point on it’s a pretty non-technical glacier climb.  Some steep parts, but over all pretty gradual and pleasant.  Since we are climbing from the west side, we were in the shade of the sun rise all morning.  It was a little cold but hardly any wind and pretty comfortable.  At the top, when we finally got some direct sun on us, it became real nice.

Here we are about 15 minutes below the summit rocks.  If you look at that “U” shaped cut out in the rock’s ridge, and then look at the top right of the “U”, that’s the summit.  You should be able to make out the statute of the Madonna in the photo.

07 just below the summit

There were a lot of climbers on this narrow rock ridge.  You can see them in the photo above.  This led to a big traffic jam getting onto the summit.  One just has to have patience in getting up there as only a few people can actually stand on the summit at the same time.  The exposure is pretty high with drops all around and the summit itself is only about the size of an average breakfast table.  There just isn’t a lot of room to move around.  In order for Jon to take our picture, he had to step off the summit and shoot the picture looking up at us.  It’s very tiny.  We were up there with another group of climbers (people just can’t wait) and our ropes were getting tangled around each other.  There was a lot of ducking under and stepping over each other.  It didn’t seem very safe really.  But everyone moved pretty slowly and deliberately as everyone was pretty aware of the danger around us all.

17 the ledge

The photo above was taken from the summit looking down at the rock ridge and a section I call “The Ledge.”  In the middle of the photo are three climbers wearing orange, blue and red.  They are all on this ledge area that causes the biggest traffic jam of climbers.  It’s a one lane crossing here (unless you are part mountain goat and can hop and jump across, which we saw some climbers do) so if you are going up, you have to wait for climbers to come down to make room for you on the other side before trying to cross.  Some people just get real impatient here.  Jon had to calm one climber down who thought it was taking too long.

This ledge is about as wide as your climbing boot, 8 feet long and about 1,500 feet straight down.  There are three bolts in the face of the wall that you clip into and out of as you cross.  Coming back down I was able to take a picture of Shelley just coming off the ledge.  The three of us were roped pretty close together so I had a hard time getting the camera out to take any pictures in this area.  Not some place you want to be screwing around with a camera.

19 shelley coming down

We took a short break at the bottom of this rock ridge and enjoyed the views.  Below you see a view that includes the Matterhorn (the pyramid shaped mountain in the middle of the photo) and below that is Mont Blanc.

22 matterhorn

23 mont blanc

The decent was uneventful and we got back down to the hut in about 3 hours.  All in all it was about an 8 hour round trip for us.  Here’s Shelley just above the hut as we come out of the rock and scree draw we started up that morning.

28 shelley nearing hut

By staying at the hut two nights, we were able to relax the rest of the afternoon at the hut.  Upon our return we had some minestrone soup, salad, wine and beer in the dinning room.

29 us at dinner

We hung out on the deck and enjoyed the sun shine too.  We slept in the next morning and had a later breakfast around 7:00 am before heading down the mountain and back to our car at the trail head.  We were back in Chamonix by 5:00  pm.  We had a very short turn around in Chamonix.  We had time to enjoy our success on Gran Paradiso that evening with a nice Indian dinner, but then it was time to arrange our gear and go to bed for an early start the next morning with our move up Mont Blanc to the Gouter hut.

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