We had planned to climb this peak the day before on skis – but one look at the exposed glacier and blue ice on the slopes was enough to make us change plans. We decided to head up the following day and switch out our skis for alpine climbing boots and crampons instead, and left our heavy avalanche backpacks behind to go as light and fast as possible so we would be able to get back in time to catch the last lift back down. Since the summit of Punta Giordani is connected to the Vincent Pyramid by a short rocky ridge we figured that if we were fast enough we might be able to climb both peaks in a day, so that was the plan.
On summit day we had an early breakfast at the little café near the cable car in Alagna, and headed up with the first lift (at 08:45) to Punta Indren which is at 3275 m. At the top station we put our harnesses on and roped up to head out on the glacier. The climb starts with a pretty easy slope, and we made quick progress up the mountain. As we progressed we realized just how bad the conditions were though. After only a few minutes we needed to stop and remove our jackets due to the heat – the sun was shining and it was really warm even if it was only mid-morning. Some rocks were already falling from the nearby rocky face of Vincent Pyramid, probably dislodged by melting ice and snow.
We paused about half way up on a rocky section and had some snacks while we looked at the upper sections of the climb, which looked even icier than the lower parts. It looked like it was fortunately still possible to avoid crossing the blue ice, but in some points the snowy areas where it was safer to cross were getting worryingly thin. We were in absolute shock looking at the state of this glacier! I have already been to this area several times, mostly in the late summer months, and even in August I had never seen the glacier in such a suffering condition… and now it was only late March. Living in Northern Italy I obviously was aware of the fact that we hadn’t had any precipitations for the past months, but I didn’t realize just how much this had affected the high mountain areas. Climate change has such a devastating impact on the mountains, and you really see it so much more clearly compared to when you’re spending most of your time in a city environment.
After our short break we switched leads, with Emma S. going in front, and continued up the mountain which was now getting a bit steeper. About 2,5 hours after leaving the top cable car station we were right below the summit, which is a small rocky ridge… but there was a problem. In front of us was 50-60 meters of rock hard blue ice and a big crevasse. Emma crossed the crevasse but quickly realized that she wouldn’t be able to cross the steep ice safely with her lightweight crampons, so she stopped at a small snowy area. My crampons were a bit sharper so we decided I would head up slowly and place an ice screw about halfway up from which I could belay Emma so she could make it up safely as well. We then repeated the process again to reach the ridge, which is very exposed on one side – looking down you see a drop of thousands of meters down to the glacier and neighboring valley, pretty amazing!
The tiny little summit ridge has some easy rock climbing, and we quickly made it up to the Madonna statue on the summit. The wind had picked up a bit up here so we took a selfie and headed back down from the rocky section to figure out how to get back down over the ice. Since we didn’t expect to find these conditions we hadn’t brought the necessary tools to build an Abalakov anchor (which is when you make holes in the ice and thread a rope through them to build a safe anchor from which to rappel or belay). Initially we decided that I would lower Emma down, having her place some ice screws along the way, and then try to cross the ice the same way I went up. She safely reached the snow at the end of the icy part, but as I started to walk down I realized that it wasn’t going to work on the sections where the ice was too hard! For some reason going down is a lot harder than going up. At this point, after a quick discussion, we agreed that the safest thing to do was to leave a couple of ice screws behind so that I could lower down from those. Sacrificing gear might be expensive, but sometimes if it’s the only way to stay safe there is really no other option and it should be an easy choice 🙂
After the ordeal on this icy section we had run a bit late, and looking up at the Vincent Pyramid we could see that the conditions looked exactly the same up there. Not feeling super exited about crossing another ice field (and at this point with only two ice screws left) we decided to leave the second summit for another day and head back down towards the lift. The descent was quite fast, until the last section before the cable car where the snow had softened in the super warm weather and we started plunging through knee-deep snow with each step we took. Luckily we still made it in time, and headed back down to the valley quite satisfied with our day, but extremely worried about the state of the glaciers.
Now we’re waiting for some snowy weather to pass before we’ll head out towards the next peak – fingers crossed there will be a LOT of snow, because it’s very much needed!
Punta Giordani 4046 m
Route & grade
Normal Route from Punta Indren, F
Pennine Alps, Italy
Start of climb
Punta Indren, 3275 m, which can be reached by cable car from Alagna Valsesia or Staffal (Gressoney-Saint-Jean)
Approx. 5 km
About the route
Easy ascent that can be done in a day if you catch an early cable car. No major difficulties if the route is in good conditions. The final little rocky ridge is quite exposed on one side but max grade II.
When to climb
March – September, depending on conditions! In warm and dry conditions watch out for rock fall from the adjacent Vincent Pyramid, and be prepared for icy sections on the steep upper slopes. With a good snow cover it can be done on skis.
Gear to bring
30-40 m rope, harness, crampons, ice axe, glacier rescue gear.
Nice easy slopes but a suffering glacier ahead.
The “Eye”. Some rocks were falling from above here.
It was so hot! We climbed in our base layers pretty much the whole way.
Heading up towards the steepest section of the climb.
Building anchors on the ice below the summit.
Up on the icy summit ridge.
First rappel to head down.
Aren’t ice screws all you need to make an abalakov? It’s easiest with an abalahook but it works with just a sling as well. (Idk the english word for sling Make the V thread, take a sling, put the sling in one hole and the climbing rope in the other, such that the rope is in the loop of the sling. Then you can pull the sling out and the rope should come with it. It can be a bit tricky but it works and saves you 60-80 euro’s per screw! 🙂
You need the Abalakov tool to catch the rope and we did not have that with us this time since we only had regular glacier gear and did not expect ice climbing! So it wasn´t an option this time / Emma S