EXCERPTS FROM:

THE ALPINE GUIDE

VOL. I

THE WESTERN ALPS

By the Late
JOHN BALL, F.R.S. &c.
RECONSTRUCTED AND AND REVISED BY W. A. B. COOLIDGE
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO. 1898

IN ADDITION:

ASCENT OF MONVISO by SIR W. M. CONWAY in 1894

PLUS

THE MONVISO LOOP TRAIL

&

THE MONVISO LAKES' HIKE

HOME
COMPILED BY GIORGIO ZANETTI
UPDATED DECEMBER - 2001

THE WESTERN ALPS

CHAPTER II.
COTTIAN ALPS. I.

SECTION 4
VISO DISTRICT

(page 48)

plus: ROUTE C. ASCENT OF MONTE VISO

(page 61)

SECTION 4
VISO DISTRICT
(page 48)


    I n the introduction of this Chapter Monte Viso was compared to the salient angle of a bastion projecting from the main watershed of the Alps towards the plain of Piedmont. This angle is so extremely sharp that, if a circle be drawn round the mountain, more then seven-eighths of the circumference will lie on the side of Piedmont, while less then one-eight will be included in the narrow valley of the Guil. The peak towers up in a singularly solitary fashion, and is therefore well seen from the Piedmontese plain and elsewhere, so that one is not surprise to learn that it is perhaps the single peak mentioned expressly by the writers of classical antiquity, while the name "Vesulus" or " Viso" has been explained by the fact that it is visible so far away. It rises a little S.E. of the main watershed, and it is noteworthy that many other of the great peaks of the S.W. Alps stands also apart from that watershed, e.g. the Punta dell' Argentera, the Aguille de Chambeyron, the Ecrins, and the other summits of the Pelvoux Group, the Grande Casse, Mont Pourri, Charbonel, Ciamarella, Grand Paradis, Grivola, &c.

The Viso is connected with the watershed by a range of shattered peaks, which include the two summits of the Visolotto, and the Punta Castaldi, or Visoulet, the exact point of junction being N. of the last-named peak. Hence the Viso is a wholly Italian mountain, and it is misleading to speak, as has been done, of its French slope. The E. face fronts the valley of the Po, the W. face overlooks the head of the Vallante valley, the S. face (that usually ascended) rising above the Forciolline glen of the last-named valley. The N. face is divided into two facets as it were, the N.W. of which dominates the head of the valley of the Guil, and the N.E. that of the Po at its source. More precise topographical details will be found in Rte. C. below. The peak itself is composed of hornblendic and other green schists, the summit being a glaucophane schist; but with these serpentine and euphotide are associated, and it is possible that the whole mass consists of igneous rocks intrusive in the older mica schists and gneiss, their schistose structure being due to pressure. Monte Viso is the culminating point of a long ridge, which runs S.E. from the main watershed, and separates the Varaita and upper Po valleys, which, together with that range, form the subject of the present Section.

     A summary of the history, &c., of the Viso up to the end of 1881 is given in Mr. Coolidge's monograph on the peak in the tenth volume of the " Alpine Journal" which needs to be supplemented by Signor G. Rey's account (in the 1887 "Bollettino" of the Italian Alpine Club) of the convenient route he discovered in 1887 up the E. face of the peak. Further information may be sought in Signor Isaia's "Al Monviso per Val di Po e Val di Varaita" (Turin, 1874), though more recent explorations have caused certain portions of this work to be out of date. For the most interesting history of the fifteenth-century tunnel under the Col de la Traversette (sometimes called the "Col du Viso") Signor L. Vaccarone's admirable historical monograph "Le Pertuis du Viso" (Turin, 1881) should be consulted, particularly the appendix of original documents, a model work of its kind.

     Crissolo is the best headquarters for explorers of the Viso, as it has now a fair inn and guides, and is closed to the foot of the peak. Casteldelfino does not possess the former two requisites, while Abriès lacks the last-named.

ROUTE C.
ASCENT OF MONTE VISO.
(page 61)

     Monte Viso (3,843 m., 12,609 ft.) long enjoyed a reputation for inaccessibility second only to that of the Matterhorn, though this was due rather to the formidable appearance of the crags that rise tier over tier to its summit than to the actual experience of any competent mountaineer who had attempted the ascent. The S. face of the peak, above the head of the Forciolline glen, is the only side by which, looking from a distance, it appears practicable to reach a considerable height, without encountering serious difficulties, and it was this face that on August 30, 1861, Messrs. W. Mathews and F. W. Jacomb, with J. B. and Michel Croz, succeeded in effecting the first ascent of the peak. In 1862 Mr. Tucket spent a night on the summit, and in 1863 the first Italian party attained the summit. These three ascents were all made from Casteldelfino through the Forciolline glen. Nowadays, while the S. face is the ordinary route, as being both the shortest and easiest, it is usual to spent the night at the Quintino Sella Club hut (2,950 m., 9,679 ft.), at the very foot of the S. face, reaching it from Crissolo over the Passo delle Sagnette. It was not till 1879 that a new way up the Viso was struck out, MM. P. Guillemin and A. Salvador de Quatrefages then climbing from the Col de Vallante up the N.W. face, that so well seen (though wholly Italian) from the head of the valley of the Guil. But this route is rather difficult, and has been but rarely taken since its discovery, while that of the N.E. face from the Piano del Re, first effected by Mr. Coolidge in 1881, is even more difficult and dangerous, and does not seem to have been repeated. It was only in 1887 that Signor G. Rey opened out a new route up the great E. face from the Col dei Viso, and this is now frequently followed, since, without being very difficult, it is more interesting then the ordinary way up the S. face. In 1891 Signori V. Giordana and P. Gastaldi made the first ascent (4 hrs. from the Club hut up the E. wall) of the second peak of the Viso, the Viso di Vallante, 3,672 m., 12,048 ft. (the name has been wrongly applied to other points), the blunt point which rises a little S.W. of the main peak, and has been called by some French writers the " Triangle;" while in 1893 Signori Antoniotti and Grosso, having ascended this summit, forced their way first below, then along the connecting ridge in about 4 hrs. to the highest point of the Viso itself, this serving as a variation on the ordinary route.
     We must now proceed to give some account of the two main routes up this magnificent peak, a brief notice of the two N. routes being quite sufficient, as their interest is mainly historical.

1.    By the S. Face. - This rocky face rises above the head of the Forciolline glen, which is enclosed between the main ridge running S.E. from the Viso, and that running S.W., on which rises the Viso di Vallante. The club hut, near the Sacripante spring, can be reached in 5 hrs. from Casteldelfino by following the Col de Vallante route (Rte A. 2) as far as the Soulières chalets (2 hrs.), and then mounting in a N.E. direction, at first up a hill-side diversified with ancient knotted trees. A stream is seen on the N.E. which descends in a waterfall from the upper lakes. It is necessary to climb up the steep rocky barrier on its W. side by a green gully, and a rocky hollow, and over a shoulder, in order to gain the upper basin of the Forciolline glen. Several lakes are passed, and the glen bends gradually to the N. when the foot of the last slope of the Passo delle Sagnette is passed. The Club hut is seen as soon as the corner of the valley has been turned, and is attained in 3 hrs. from Soulières.

    A party starting from Crissolo must mount in a S.W. direction by a zigzag path up pastures to the desolate Randoliera glen, enclosed between two great moraines, which leads past the Prato Fiorito lakes to that of Costagrande. Above the last-named lake there is a steep ascent up the rocky barrier called the Balze di Cesare, by which and a short descent the Lago Grande di Viso is attained.

(This point may also be reached in about 3 hrs. from the inn on the Piano de Re (see last Rte.) while a rather higher point, nearer the foot of the Passo delle Sagnette, can be attained in 4 or 5 hrs. from Crissolo or Oncino, past the Alpetto chalets.) From the large lake a stone-strewn plain is traversed in a S.W. direction to a small lake, immediately above which is the gully of shifting stones by which the Passo delle Sagnette (2,975 m., 9,761 ft.) is reached in 4-5 hrs. from Crissolo. On the higher side a stony traverse to the N.W. brings the traveller in less than ½ hr. more to the Club hut.

    From the Club hut the Viso appears as a rock wall, crowned by two horns, the easternmost of which is the culminating point. Rocks and snow lead to the foot of this wall, which is then climbed in two or three great zigzags first to the E., then to the W., by many gullies and ledges, to the base of its upper portion, where the rocks, hitherto not very steep, rise more precipitously. It is perhaps best to bear rather to the right, so as to gain the S.E. ridge, but a direct ascent is also quite possible. 3-4 hrs. suffice under ordinary circumstances for the climb from the Club hut, there being no serious difficulty, though there are many loose stones on the ledges. Many inexperienced travellers make this ascent annually. The actual summit consists of a rock-strewn ridge, which rises in two horns, connected by a curving snow arête, and distant about 10 min. from each other. On the E. side and loftier point there was set up in 1896 a huge bronze statue of the Madonna, backed by a gigantic cross 6 m. (20 ft.) in height.

    The view from the summit is, as might be expected from the prominent position of the peak, extremely extensive, both over the plains and the mountain ranges of Italy, France, and even Austria. It is said that on a very clear day the Mediterranean can be seen (but this seems very doubtful), and also the island of Corsica. 1½-2 hrs. suffice for the return to the Club hut.

2.     By the E. Face - The starting point for this route is a bivouac near the Lago Grande di Viso, or that of Costagrande (see above), though a party of active walkers may achieve the ascent direct from the inn on the Piano del Re. The actual ascent commences from the Col dei Viso, 3 hrs. from the inn. Immediately to the W. of that pass a great deeply cut gully is seen, which descends from a conspicuous snowfield of some size on the E. face of the Viso. The steep but good rocks about 100 m. (328 ft.) N. of this gully are climbed, and then the snowfield traversed, so as to gain the foot of the true E. ridge. A well-marked notch at the foot of the sheer drop in which this ridge ends gives access to its S. slope, by traversing which diagonally the crest of that ridge is gained above that drop, and henceforth followed more or less to the E. summit, which may be gained in from 4 to 5 hrs. from the Col dei Viso. This E. ridge is separated from the great S.E. ridge by a deep couloir which descends to the Lago Grande. The route up the E. face seems to offer no very serious difficulties, and to be quite safe.

3.     By the N.W. Face - From the Piano del Re or any of the neighbouring summits there is seen to rise in the wide depression between the Viso and the Visolotto a curiously shaped and jagged rocky point, called the Mano, at the base of which is a high cliff of ice, commanding the great gully which descends from between these two peaks towards the Piano del Re. This ice cliff is really the butt end of a little glacier (the only one of any size anywhere on the Viso) which lies hidden away in a deep hollow between the two peaks, and close to the head of the Vallante glen. This small glacier (the true Viso glacier, and the real source of the Po) is the key to the two routes which have been effected up what mat be called the two facets of the N. face of the Viso. From a bivouac close to the lake just on the Italian side of the Col de Vallante there is no difficulty in reaching over stones and this glacier the notch close to the N.W. foot of the Viso. A short gully and easy rocks then lead over onto the N.W. face, and round to a small three-cornered ice field on it. It is best to mount the good rocks on the S. of the couloir leading from the higher ice field to that just mentioned, the higher ice field, which stretches like a band across the whole N.W. face to the hanging glacier under the Viso di Vallante, being thus attained. A nearly direct ascent up it and the rocks above it, with a great zigzag to the left to a jagged crest and back to the right below a curious rock, shaped like an inverted bell, and a final snow gully lead to the highest crest of the Viso, between the two horns. The first party which took this route lost much time in photographing, halts, &c., but estimated that 6 hrs. 20 min. walking were taken from the Col deVallante to the summit. Mr. Coolidge, who three weeks later, in September, made the second ascent by this route, being favoured by weather, and finding the rocks mostly free from ice and snow, took 1 hr. 20 min. from the Col de Vallante to the foot of the peak , 1½ hr. more to the upper ice field, and 1 hr. 20 min. thence to the top, in all 4 hrs 10 min. walking. Later parties have taken a much longer time, and it is probable that this route is easiest in late summer, when the rocks are most likely to be free from ice and snow.

4.     By the N.E. Face - This difficult and rather dangerous route may be dismissed briefly, as it is more or less of a tour de force. Mr. Coolidge, with his two guides, Christian Almer, sen. and jun., went in 2 hrs. 5 min. from the inn on the Piano del Re to the foot of the great couloir descending from the ice cliff between the Viso and the Visolotto (see 3. above), and in 2 ½ hrs. more, keeping to its right edge (later in the day it is swept by avalanches from the aforesaid ice cliff), and climbing up rocks and round a great pinnacle on the S., reached the Viso glacier (see above), at the N. foot of the Viso. Leaving the N.W. route to the right or W., the party climbed up good rocks on the N.E. face, and then up very steep rocks (rotten and, in 1881, also iced) on the right bank of the steep and long ice couloir which comes down from the summit to the Viso glacier (steps having occasionally to be cut in the couloir itself) till a gully in the rocks on the left led them to the E. summit in 5¼ hrs. from the Viso glacier, or 9 hrs. 50 min. from the Piano del Re. The route is an obvious one when the Viso is examined from the Col de la Traversette side, but is very long, though direct, and hard, so that it can never become popular, and has apparently never been taken a second time.

    In 1839 the late Principal Forbes made the tour of the Viso, and has been followed by a few travellers. This may be made from the Piano del Re inn by way of the Col dei Viso, the Passo delle Sagnette (in 1839 a pass further S. - perhaps the San Chiaffredo (Rte. D. 1) – seemed to have been crossed), the Forciolline glen to the Soulièrs huts, the Col de Vallante, and the Col de la Traversette. Four ridges must thus be traversed, and at least one long descent and reascent made, so that this expedition is very laborious, and not to be recommended. It has further the disadvantage that by it the traveller is so close under the Viso that it is impossible for him to gain a just idea of the peak itself, though the rock scenery on the way is very striking. It is far better in every way for the traveller who wishes to study and admire the monarch of the Cottian Alps to ascend one or another of the great belvédères, which, as in the case of Mont Blanc, surround it. These are the Grand Rubren, at the head of Ubaye valley (§ 3. Rte. B); the Pelvo d' Elva, S. of Casteldelfino (§ 3. Rte. D); the Pointe Joanne, above the Col de Vallante (Rte. A. 1. b. above); and the Monte Meidassa, above the Piano del Re (Rte. B. above). The E. face itself is best seen from the Viso Mozzo (Rte. B. above).

NOTE: The following two segments, from pages 49 to 61, have been omitted in the above section,:
1) ROUTE A. SALUZZO TO GUILLESTRE BY THE VAL VARAITA.
2) ROUTE B. TURIN OR SALUZZO TO GUILLESTRE BY THE VALLEY OF THE PO.


PLEASE REMEMBER THAT THE ABOVE ROUTE DESCRIPTION WAS MADE BACK IN 1898!
UP TOP *** CONWAYS' ASCENT *** LOOP TRAIL *** LAKES TRAIL

EXCERPTS FROM

THE ALPS

FROM END TO END

BY SIR WILLIAM MARTIN CONWAY

WESTMINSTER - ARCHIBALD CONSTABLE AND CO. 1900

THE COTTIAN ALPS

(pages 34 - 41 )

June 11, 1894

    At last we started for Monte Viso from dirty Casteldelfino. It was 6.30 on as fine a morning as one might wish to see. A strong north-west wind was carrying a few blankets of mist high aloft. It seemed set and the weather must hold with it. We dispatched all the luggage we could spare and started lightly laden, up a delightful mule-path. Reaching Castello in an hour we turned up the Vallante valley. An hour brought us to Ajunt alp, where there were cows and fresh scalded milk on which we breakfasted royally.

Thus far a native accompanied us, a man with an adamant face whose expression never changed and was of the foolishly thoughtful type, proper to the White Knight in Alice Through the Looking-glass. He was the sort of man of whom you might hope to make a religious enthusiast. Once let him think he understood some mystery and he would go to the stake for his belief. He spoke to us in detached manner, as from another world. "You come from far to climb our mountains, even from England they tell me. It is very strange. Monte Viso is not like these hills. There is no grass on it. Oh! It is very big. Easy, you say; well, perhaps; it is not my affair. You will sleep in the hut. There is no wood there. You must take wood. You know that, I dare say. Well! good-day. A successful climb to you. My way lies up the valley and I shall never see you again."

From Ajut we bore up the hillside to the northeast. There was a sharp rock-peak in front, standing between the foot of the Viso and the Punta Michelis. We made for the col to the left of it, plodding steadily up a hillside diversified with broken rocks and ancient knotty trees. Squirrels played on the stones. A cuckoo called from a distant tree. A wood-pigeon quitted her nest close over our heads, and we took one fresh egg in tribute from her. Karbir climbed for it with the bag on his back and became delightfully tangled in the branches so that Zurbriggen laughed with delight.
In an hour we reached the upper edge of the tree level and paused to gather wood. Pleasant it was to see Karbir make for himself a monstrous fagot, tie it on behind his former load and then go merrily upwards as though with a mere bag of feathers.

The wind continued to rise. The increasing clouds hurried overhead and began to cling about the higher peaks. We were not destined to suffer from heat. Large rocks kept tumbling down a gully on the far side of our valley and then bounded splendidly over the débris-fan below. Another hour brought us easily to the edge of the winter snow, where we sat down to put on our pattis, whilst the unfortunate ones, who had no pattis, adjusted their gaiters. We came to little frozen lake, then to a second, and, round a corner, to a third, larger than the others and with a name of its own, the Lago Forciolline. We circled above it, along the northern slopes, with a precipice rising on our left hand. Still circling with the valley curve, we lost all view of verdant lands and wooded hills. Clouds roofed out the sky, wind howled amongst the rocks; there was nought to see but sheer desolation, with forms not large enough to be grand, not graceful enough for beauty.

At length, when the whole corner was turned, the hut came in sight, near above. Behind were the toothed pinnacles of the Viso's south arête, with one church-like rock, standing in a gap, straight over the hut. At 1.15 (after four and a half hours' walking from the inn) we stood at the door. The key was with us and all that remained to be done was to cut away the hard blue mass of ice that blocked the threshold. We hacked and hacked, urged to extra vigour by the cold wind that ran through us.
When the obstruction gave way, we entered the strong haven. A fire was lit, and the smoky chimney cured by an adjustment of the cowl. Coffee and food rewarded us and we entered on a lazy afternoon. The rattling of hail on thee roof showed how good it was to be indoors. All were marry and sang such odd snatches of song as we remembered. Sleep followed, and the hours passed swiftly, with writing for my employment and snoring for the rest. We shivered, when it occurred to us to do so, for the highest temperature we could generate in the immediate neighborhood of the stove was only 41° Fahr.

As the afternoon advanced Aymonod began to display his power as chef. He had little enough to exercise them on, for the resources of Casteldelfino are small. He compounded soup out butter, salt bread, and cheese: a combination that turned out unexpectedly well. As the pots were boiling, the men, one after another, burnt their fingers with the lids, to every one else's indescribable amusement. Thus the day rolled away. The sky cleared, the wind dropped, and a clear night came on.

June 12

    It cannot be said that we slept well in the Viso hut. I had a vivid uncanny dream that I was a Mahatma and wandered over the earth, leaving my material body in the cloak-room of a railway station. I called for it in due season but it could not be found. "Come in," said the man, "and hunt for it yourself." I found various packages and amongst them a coffin neatly done up in waterproof stuff with a green label. "Perhaps my body's in there," I said.

"Oh no!" was the reply, "they never make up merchandise in that form hereabouts. Besides, that contains the body of the man who owns these clothes," showing me the uniform and cocked hat of one of our Carabinieri friends!At 4.15 A.M., on as bleak a morning as can be imagined, we left the hut; we arrived at the summit of Monte Viso in three hours and a quarter, having only halted five minutes by the way to put on the rope. We walked at first over a hard frozen snowfield to the foot of the actual pyramid of the mountain. Turning up it, we made a long zig to the east and a longer zag back to the west, then went nearly straight up the face, striking the north arête not far from the top.

The mountain was in dreadful condition, deeply mantle in snow, which filled all the gullies and crested the ribs between them. Hot days and cold nights had turned much of it into ice. The drippings of its thaws over the rocks had glazed large areas with blue ice. The moment we touched the mountain, step-cutting commenced; we had to hew out every footing from bottom to top. Fortunately frost reigned, so that we were not troubled by slushy snow insecurely poised on ice; but many of the upper slopes were excessively steep and frail. A bitter wind blew from the start and only increased as the day advanced. When the mountain is in proper summer condition its whole south face is practically clear of snow, and the rocks form an easy staircase. " Evidently," said Louis Carrel, " Monte Viso should be like the Grivola to climb, but I have never seen a mountain in worse condition than this."

Sky and view were fairly clear when we started, but, as the hour of sunrise approached, mists began to boil in the head of the Sagnette valley and a pink glow pervaded them with a tender radiance. We rose higher and the mountain frontier to the west came into view. A cloud navy was sailing over it from France, preceded by a row of far-projecting rams. Eastwards, the Italian plains developed at our feet, spreading in purple softness to far-away undulations of peopled hills and, southwards, to Apennines piled high with masses of sunlit cumulus.

We roped in two parties, and the guides took the hard work by turns. Once, when we were leading, at the steepest part near the top, and the others were not so close to us as we supposed, our rope was permitted to start a loose stone. I looked dreamily at it, as it bounded down, and was horrified to see it making straight for Carrel, who was crossing a very bad couloir. I shouted at him and he saw it. The next instant it struck him, as I supposed, on the ear. I looked to see him stunned, but he went calmly forward. As a matter of fact he raised his elbow just in time to save his head at the expense of his funny-bone.

The higher we rose, the closer the clouds gathered about us and more the wind howled amongst the jagged rocks, as though it would tear them from the mountain side. Sooner than expected Zurbriggen turned to me and said, "In two minutes we shall be on top." I climbed beside him and saw, near at hand, a mound of snow with a foot of stick and fluttering rag standing out of its side. The high stone-man and the boxes containing the wooden Madonnas were all buried under deep winter accumulation of snow. We just had time to look down on the neighboring minor summits before clouds hid them from us. "Wait a few minutes," said Zurbriggen, "the storm may clear off at any moment, for the clouds are not thick." But just then, snow began to fall and a colder blast to blow. We turned in our steps without a word. The snow was no moment's amusement; it set in heavily and whitened the fragments of projecting rock that helped us in the ascent. It came thicker and thicker. Downward we went, incredibly slowly, retracting our ruined steps, which had all to be cleaned out once more.

The fresh snow on the rocks froze our fingers. Ridge succeeded gully, and gully ridge, with infinite monotony. At last we were below the worst of the storm and halted to eat a morsel. FitzGerald went forward whilst I remained behind, that Zurbriggen might smoke his pipe. When we started on we struck out another route and bore away to our right into a steep couloir, the main avalanche and falling stone vent off this part of the mountain. But there was no danger now; the grip of the frost was on everything. Below the couloir we emerged on the avalanche-fan, down which we glissaded and so reached the hut in an hour and half's going from the summit.

We lit the fire again and took stock of our condition, flustered, battered, and chilled. Some cold cream in FitzGerald's pocket was turned into a stony lump. Our knitted gloves were as stiff as boards. Icicles hung in rattling plenty from beards and moustachios; but a hot brew of coffee set things to rights. The day was still before us. The storm raged worse and lower than ever, so no one pushed to move.
It was eleven o'clock before we started down for Crissolo. We glissaded to the flat of the valley and thence cut steps up a short icy slope to the little Sagnette Pass, whilst the wind drove heavy hail against our right cheeks till we thought our ears would pulp. In less than half an hour from the hut we were looking down from the pass, eager to see what might be on the other side. Our guides had made minute inquiries from a local guide at Casteldelfino as to the route from the hut to Crissolo. He told them of the pass and that it was easy to climb to it, " but to descend the other side is almost impossible; there is a vertical gully there down which no man can go, and on either hand of it are walls of rock incredibly steep. You will not get down there anyway, and I advise you not to try." We were so little disturbed by these dismal tidings that we even packed the ropes in the sacks at the hut, not expecting any need for them. Nor were they required. A fairly gentle snow couloir, flanked by easy rocks, was the beginning and end of the terrors of the way. We tramped rapidly downwards and glissade carried us to a soft snow-slope.

The storm dropped behind as we descended. The Italian plain emerged, a faint vision, through a veil of falling snow; in another moment it was a clear actuality, shining in sunlight, with its lines and dots of trees, its straight ruled roads, its glittering rivers, encircled by far away hills and masses of clouds, domed and bright above, flat and purple-shadowed beneath. We pounded over wastes and slopes of soft snow and broken rock, through a region of utter desolation, where the cloud-capped crags of Viso keep watch over the frozen and snow-covered Lago Grande. Passing the end of the lake, we mounted to a second col. There was another frozen lake, the Lago Costagrande, beyond it, and more wilderness of snow and rock, whence bent away a wide and utterly desolate valley, bounded below by two huge ancient lateral moraines, monuments of a great glacier that once flowed down this trough.

But the storm was still upon our track, We hurried through a swampy region, then down sheep-pastures, and along a well-made path, bordered with flowers and all the gaiety of early summer. There the gale caught us again and flung hail and snow upon our backs, plastering them white. When the sun came out again each was a strange sight to the man walking behind him - for we were in fields where there was no sign of snow or tempest, save the foreground of whitened coat-back that hid for each a portion of the hot Italian plain. The path led us faithfully into the main valley at 2.15 P. M., we entered the Gallo Inn at Crissolo, and the interviewing of gendarmes began again. After lunch, the first decent meal we had eaten for two days, we walked to the neighboring sanctuary of S. Chiaffredo di Crissolo, a white-washed collection of buildings, finely situated, like most Alpine sanctuaries. The frescoes outside the church and the votive pictures within are miserably bad, but they served to fill up some vacant time and they led us to a fine point of view for Monte Viso. Our peak, now that it was rid of us, had shaken itself almost free of clouds. Its summit was often clear, and only tearing mist whirled about its upper rocks or was dragged through their teeth.

The gale evidently continued to blow with unabated fury; we no longer cared whether it raged or not. As we sat in the sun and looked aloft at the scene of our morning struggles we found it almost impossible to believe that less than twelve hours before we were standing together on the highest tip of that savage, remote, repellent-looking tower.

TRAIL SYNOPSYS
Left Casteldelfino at 6.30 A.M. One hour to Castello. One hour up Vallante valley to Ajaut alp. Turned north-east and made for depression left of rock between foot of Viso and Punta Michelis.

One hour to upper limit of trees: one hour to edge of winter snow. Bore round left, past three lakes, leaving the last one (Lago Forciolline) on our right. Continued bearing left till the hut appeared ahead, straight below a church-like rock on the Viso arête.

Reached the hut in four and half hours from Casteldelfino.

Next day started at 4.15 A.M. Crossed snow to foot of south-west face of Monte Viso. Bore up face, first to right, then back to left, and then straight up, striking the south arête near the top. Ascent three and a quarter hours.

Descent by same route half-way down; then bore west into a large couloir and straight down it and snow-slope below to the hut, one and a half hours from the top. Started again at 11 A.M. Descended, and then re-ascended to the Sagnette pass in half an hour. Went east down a couloir to undulating ground deep in snow.

Passed Lago Grande and Lago Costagrande; got over east into desolate valley running north-east and followed it, bearing left, and so reached Crissolo in about three hours from the hut.

UP TOP *** CONWAYS' ASCENT *** LOOP TRAIL *** LAKES TRAIL ***

THE MONVISO LOOP TRAIL

Excerpts From

ITINÉRAIRES DE RANDONNÉES

(EDITIONS ATLAS , ISTITUTO GEOGRAFICO DE AGOSTINI s.p.a. NOVARA; 1979)

(The translation is mine)

Gain in elevation: first day = 800 m.; second day = approx. 850 m.; third day = approx. 950

Times: first day = 3 hrs.; second day = 6 hrs.; third day = 5 hrs.

Best time to go: from July to September.

Guides and maps: Guide Didier-Richard: Massifs du Queyras et Haute Ubaye; map Massifs du Queyras et Haute Ubaye (1:50 000).

The Mon Viso, the highest point in the Cottian Alps, is a remarkably isolated peak, attaining 3,841 m. in height, where the rest of the surrounding peaks barely attain 3,100 m.

Although it stands in Italy, outside the watershed between Italy and France, the border between France and Italy passes not too far, and in hiking this trail , one has to cross it .

It is rare that when hiking in the vicinity of peaks of this height, one encounters trails below 3,000 m. in elevation, but it happens here; this trail takes you between 1,900 m. and 2,950 m. It is also possible to complete the loop in just two days, but it would require a rather quick pace.

TABLE OF HUTS (RIFUGI) IN THE ITALIAN COTTIAN ALPS by THE ITALIAN ALPINE CLUB (C.A.I. CLUB ALPINO ITALIANO)

THE MONVISO LOOP TRAIL

HOW TO GET THERE:

From the France side of the border, after leaving the Durance Valley, drive up the Queyras till Abriès. Continue to Ristolas all the way to the hamlet of Echalp.
The road ends at the Mon Viso Belvedere, where we leave the car.

THE MONVISO LOOP TRAIL

ON THE TRAIL

FIRST DAY:

From the Belvedere, follow the trail that climbs up the Guil valley, to the col de Vallante (2,811 m.; 2 hrs.) and by-pass, on our left, the Baillif-Viso hut situated on the right side of the Guil valley.

From the col, we can enjoy a remarkable view of the North face of the Viso. We now descend from the col towards the Gagliardone hut (2,450 m.), where we will rest and spend the night.

THE MONVISO LOOP TRAIL

SECOND DAY:

From the hut, we descend on the trail along the Vallone di Vallanta, passing by the Grange del Rio and the Soulièrs huts and finally the Gheit huts (1,912 m.). We then leave the Vallone di Vallanta by ascending the Vallone delle Giargiatte. After crossing a bridge over the torrent, we take the trail that ascends obliquely and which will takes us to the Pian Meyer. This trail follows the small valley to the Gias Fons (2,365 m.). After Lago Bertin and Lago Lungo, we arrive to the Sella Chiaffredo (2,764 m.).

Without descending in the small valley, we reach Passo Gallarino (2,727 m.), then we cross in an Northern direction the Piano delle Sagnette (from where the Viso is once again visible) and reach the Quitino Sella hut where we will spend the night; it would be preferable to continue till Pian del Re, to allow us to climb up to the col de la Traversette in the early hours of the morning.

We continue in a northern direction and cross over the Colle dei Viso (2,650 m.). After passing Lago Chiaretto, the trail crosses over a rocky outcrop and descend to the Pian del Re (2,020 m.) where stands the hut.

THE MONVISO LOOP TRAIL

THIRD DAY:

The trail of col de la Traversette, start to ascend the higher valley of the Po, then, after several switchbacks, we arrive at Pian Armoine, circumvent the rocky spur of Monte Meidassa, and finally cross the Pian Mait.

After passing the old garrison of Fonte Ordi, and with a final effort, we ascend a few more switchbacks and arrive first to the col, and finally descend towards the French side towards the Belvedere of the Viso via the sheepfold of Grand Vallon( 2,486 m.) which stand halfway down the trail.

UP TOP *** CONWAYS' ASCENT *** LOOP TRAIL *** LAKES TRAIL

THE MONVISO LAKES' HIKE

Excerpts From

BACKPACKING AND WALKING IN ITALY

by STEFANO ARDITO

BRADT PUBLICATION, UK - HUNTER PUBLISHING, USA (1987)

THE MONVISO LAKES' HIKE

GENERAL NOTES

At 3,841 m, Monviso is not one of the Alps highest summits, nor one of the very best known ones. But it is high, beautiful, and isolated. Its pyramid can be seen clearly from Turin, and from almost the whole of Piedmont on clear winter days. Its shape is very well known to hikers, climbers and skiers. At its summit, in 1863, Quintino Sella, a member of the new-born Italian parliament, conceived the idea of founding "an association similar to the English Alpine Club". Italy's CAI was born a few months later.

Approach to Monviso can be made from several different directions. From France, it is an easy hike from the end of the road to the Baillif hut, dominated buy the mountain's pyramid ( which lies entirely in Italian territory). From the South, a long and gently sloping valley climbs from Val Varaita to rifugio Gagliardone. From the North, the best route of all starts from Pian del Re, which is the source of the River Po, zigzags south, passing a series of magnificent lakes dominated by the summit and Visolotto's twin pyramids. At the end of the walk, rifugio Quintino Sella is the starting place for the ascent to the summit (an easy but very long scramble on moderate rock) and a convenient resting place for hikers.

Scenery is harsh and rugged, the trail climbs near to huge boulders, the lakes reflect rock spires and ice gullies. It is a harsh atmosphere, but this is the Western Alps' true spirit and image; Monviso's foothills are one of the very best places to experience it. If you have more time, walk the whole of the 4 day Monviso tour. On day one you reach Quintino Sella; on day two you cross Passo di San Chiaffredo, reaching Vallone di Vallanta; this is the most strenuous day.

On day three you cross Passo di Vallanta and descend to the Baillif hut: this is an easy day and you could continue to complete the loop in three days. The last stage is another climb to Colle delle Traversette's 2,950 m; nearby Buco di Viso is probably the first tunnel ever dug in the Alps. A steep trail descends back to Pian del Re.

THE MONVISO LAKES' HIKE

HOW TO GET THERE:

From Saluzzo, follow the Po valley up to Crissolo, and then continue on a very small and winding road to Pian del Re, at 2,020 m, where there is a cheap hotel open all summer long. Board an ATI bus in Saluzzo (there are direct buses from Turin or Cuneo) that will drop you off in Crissolo at 1,318 m. To Pian del Re you will need about 2 ½ hours on foot, although it is quite easy to hitch-hike. At Pian Melzé, 1,700 m, there is another cheap place to stay.

THE MONVISO LAKES' HIKE

THE TRAIL

From the roadhead at Pian del Re, cross the grass plain and start to climb on a large, zigzagging trail. A short ascent leads to Lago Fiorenza, the first of a long series of lakes, facing a perfect view on Monviso. The trail climbs again, traverses for a while, then passes high above lake Chiaretto, to reach a huge boulder field, dominated directly by Monviso. The composing snow and ice gully is the start to the mountain's north face Coolidge route, one of the best known in the Alps.

The trail veers left, climbs again with good views, then enters an impressive, level moraine valley again dominated by Monviso's east face. At the end, you cross Colle di Viso, and traverse a little to the left to rifugio Quintino Sella (2,640 m, 2 ½ hours from Pian del Re). If you sleep in the hut, you should consider climbing towards Viso Mozzo in the early morning, to have a better view; Viso Mozzo is 3,019 m and the ascent requires 2 hours for the round trip, but it involves no technical difficulties. On the way back, you can include the most spectacular lake of all.

Descend the same way to Lago Chiaretto, and turn left at the junction to the next trail, heading for rifugio Giacoletti. The trail crosses a grassy saddle, then forks again, in front of another lake. Leave the main trail, descend to the lake, pass by the right of it and ascend a little more to Lago Superiore, the largest in the area. From the northeastern corner of the lake, another good trail descend, crossing a rocky gully, then zigzags on grass and moraine slopes to Pian del Re. Allow 2 ½ hours for a return trip this way.

UP TOP *** CONWAYS' ASCENT *** LOOP TRAIL *** LAKES TRAIL