The plan was for the guides to check out the weather at 4am and then wake us up if it looked good. I woke up long before that and saw how it was flashing outside – it was a no-brainer that we wouldn’t be going out early as scheduled, no way the guides would risk us getting hit by a lightning. Which I appreciated, a lot.
Breakfast wasn’t nearly as good as dinner had been, and the coffee was horrible (I haven’t mentioned it before, but Italian coffee really is as good as reputation says, apart from this breakfast). And my stomach felt a bit weird again, either I hadn’t recovered from yesterday or then the altitude was getting to me. Either way, I just forced in some yogurt and cereals and a cup of tea with a lot of honey.
The weather situation wasn’t good and the guide told us that we have to give up on Punta Gnifetti. Even though the sky was clear at the moment, there was a bank of clouds approaching from the south-west and they would reach us long before we would get to the Regina Margherita hut, and then we’d either risk getting in the middle of a lightning storm, or have zero visibility going over the glacier. But they had a backup plan, we would summit the Piramidi Vincent peak which was closer and faster. And only 4215m, so over 300m lower than Punta Gnifetti. It was maybe a disappointment for some people, but I have to be honest and say that I was relieved. Based on my experiences in the past days, I would have had a really hard time with 4554m!
Since it would be snow and ice all the way up to the top, we strapped on our crampons already at the hut and were split into three rope teams again. The team division was a bit different as compared to the via ferrata, now it was speed that was decisive. And I had zero intentions of going fast, so I made sure to be in the slow group (also called “party group”). The fast group would take a different route than the rest of us, they will actually do two peaks (there’s a second one very close to Piramidi Vincent).
Getting to the trail head required a bit of via ferrata again, very interesting in crampons. I had the honour of going first, the groups were reversed for this passage. Once we started the hike over the glacier, the guide was leading the team and I was the last person. I found it to be useful, because it means that I had four people in front of me, going at different speeds at time, which meant that I often had some slack in the rope. It allowed me to stop just for a second or two to take some deep breaths, until the rope was tight again and I had to move. After a while I also found a more economical way of walking, I basically just dragged my feed over the snow instead of lifting them with every step. Every little helps!
But oh boy was it hard. My thighs were screaming and all my energy went into putting one foot in front of the other. I didn’t look at the scenery, I didn’t even lift my head to see where we were. Just one step after another, there was nothing else in my world at that point. And then… we reached the top! It’s a funny thing with the energy, I felt just fine as soon as we stopped. The wind was cold (yes, finally at 4000m, there was wind) and my fingers were starting to freeze a little, but otherwise no problems. I asked the guide to take a picture of me (funny, he managed to put one finger in front of the lens so I needed some cloning to get rid of it), I was still tied to the rope so I couldn’t get free of the people, but who cares. I was standing on top of an Alp, how freaking awesome was that?!
When we started going down, the guide reversed the group again, which meant that I was leading the way. Again, going down was easy, my thighs were happy and I didn’t need any breaks. In fact, I didn’t want any breaks… I was feeling the nature’s call in a very bad way but there’s nowhere to hide on the glacier. Towards the end of the glacier trek, I was pulling on the rope in desperation (sorry Jakob!). 😀
We had a break at the Rifugio Città di Mantova which is very close to the Gnifetti Hut, they served proper coffee as opposed to the dishwater we got for breakfast. After that, it was a short trek back to the lifts, but this time we needed crampons to get over the glacier because it was a bit colder now in the morning (because yes, it was still only morning, even if we had been on the move for hours).
And there it was. My first time in the Alps, my first via ferrata, my first alpine peak, my first time using crampons and walking in a rope team, a week when I pushed back my boundaries! It was a tough week, to be honest, and I don’t feel like I ever want to do it again. Having said that, I’m very glad I did it – once!
- Today’s ascent: 600m
- Highest altitude: 4215m (which is the actual height of Piramidi Vincent, while my watch says 4198m)