Adventure in the Alps 2016 Part 7: Gran Paradiso National Park
Gran Paradiso, Italy's first national park, isn't the easiest place to get to! We played an awkward game of "which bus do we catch when?" before we finally made it there. The bus dropped us off miles down the road from the entrance to the park and we set off on an uphill walk through seemingly abandoned mountain villages.
When we finally arrived at the base of the park, we found a quaint little hotel, had a quick snack, and set off for an uphill climb. Unlike most of our hikes in the Alps, the hike to Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II began in the woods. We followed steep switchbacks up the side of the mountain until we popped out in a typical alpine style moon field.
When we arrived at the hut, the sun was shining, it was warm and windless, and the hut was bustling with activity from day hikers, big wall climbers, and teams arriving for their summit attempt the next morning.
Vittorio Emanuele is an old hut which embraces it's rich climbing history. Stickers left behind by climbers from all over the world cover the walls. The lodging is big and comfortable, with semi private bunk rooms for 4 and shared bathrooms. The common room is large and warm, filled with the smells of espresso and Italian cakes. The front porch's huge picnic tables after overflowing with laughing climbing teams. After finishing their beers, the weary climbers limp down to the tiny nearby lake where they their toes in the glacial waters and let out a sigh of relief.
After an enjoyable afternoon, the clouds rolled in, obscuring the views. The winds picked up and the skies darkened and the climbers either retreated down the mountain or found their way into the dining room. Maps, guide books, and card games suddenly appeared while pitchers of wine were filled. The hut was loud and lively through dinner as teams planned their routes for the next morning. The forecast wasn't looking good and many teams were making plans for the likely event of a storm.
We awoke to grey skies and drizzle. The incoming storm wouldn't allow us enough time for our summit attempt, so we opted instead to climb above the hut to the base of the large mountains above and investigate the route for a future day.
As we rock hopped through the trail we heard the tinkling of bells. Looking down, we weren't sure what was making their way to us, but after a few moments we were joined by a heard of Valdosta Goats. They thought little of us, picking their way over the rocks to find nibbles of grass and wildflowers. They had beautiful horns of varying lengths and gorgeous brown coats of fur.
After spending some time in the with the goats, we made our way back down the scree covered field to the hut. We packed up our gear and tightened our packs on our backs for the steep down climb.
We found that getting out of Gran Paradiso would prove just as difficult as getting in. We missed the morning bus pickup by mere moments and had to wait in the pouring rain for the afternoon school bus to drop the children off and pick us up to take us back to the small town below which would offer a larger bus route back to Aosta. Fortunately, we found a small mountain lodge, a bottle of rose, and a stack of old Italian mountain picture books to keep us entertained.