With an altitude of 4061m, Gran Paradiso is the highest mountain entirely on Italian territory (most 4000s in the Alpine range are in fact located on the borders between Italy, Switzerland and France). The mountain is located in Valle d’Aosta, one of the most remote and naturally outstanding regions in the Italian peninsula.
The climb to the summit of Gran Paradiso is graded F+ (easy +), and the route is relatively easy from a technical point of view. For this reason, the mountain is often climbed as a first destination for beginner alpinists attempting to climb their first 4000m peak. Nevertheless, technical equipment and experience in an alpine environment are necessary, so I strongly discourage anyone with no experience on this kind of environment to attempt this climb. I would also suggest that beginners hire an alpine guide to accompany them in what can be an amazing adventure.
The starting point to climb Gran Paradiso is the village of Pont Valsavarenche (1541m). From here there are two potential routes to summit the mountain: the one via Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II and the one I have opted for, via Rifugio Chabod. Unlike many other alpine climbs, there are no lift systems that take you partway up Gran Paradiso, which means that climbers have to hike from the very bottom of the valley.
On the first day, the hike starts at the parking lot in Pravieux (1834m). If you are looking for an early start, consider spending the previous night at the Camping Gran Paradiso, right next to the trailhead. After an easy start through a larch forest, the trail becomes steeper, and after a series of switchbacks you will reach Alpeggio di Lavassey (2194m) in about 45 minutes.
From here the trail becomes much more scenic and you will be able to spot Gran Paradiso in the distance. After two hours following the trail through the rocky pastures you will reach Rifugio Chabod (2710m), where it is possible to eat and rest ahead of tomorrow’s climb.
From Pont Valsavarenche to Rifugio Chabod
Distance: 8km | Duration: 2:45 hrs | Elevation gain: +876m.
The climb starts in the early hours of the morning (how early depends on your level fitness and skills). The Rifugio provides an abundant breakfast for the long day ahead, so make the best out of it (unless you are one of those who cannot have breakfast too early, which I will never understand). The first section of the route starts on the moraine behind the Chabod, which passes just below the Northwest Face of the mountain, until the bottom of the glacier where it is time to put on harness, crampons and rope up with your team.
The steady ascent on the Laveciau glacier is not particularly hard, but the presence of numerous crevasses demands caution. Continue until the glacial plateau called Schiena d’Asino (the donkey’s back) at 3700m, which is also where the other path from Rifugio Emanuele II merges for the final push. Continue on the left towards Colle di Montcorvè until the final stack of rocks which represents the summit of Gran Paradiso. The summit sharp rock pillar is by far the hardest part of the climb (grade 3 scramble). The climbing route is extremely exposed, since there is an unsettling 600m drop on the Tribolazione glacier. Slings can be used to secure the roped team on metal rungs.
At 4061m you will find the Madonnina di vetta, a statue of the Virgin Mary which stands at the very summit of Gran Paradiso. The 360-degree views from the summit are incredible, and it is possible to see the three most iconic peaks in the alps: the Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco), the Matterhorn (Cervino) and the Monte Rosa.
After another exposed section to return to the glacier, the descent is extremely long (2100m), and it could be tricky for those with knee injuries. Since you will now cross the glacier at a later and warmer hour, pay extra attention to crevasses which are very frequent.
From Rifugio Chabod to Summit of Gran Paradiso (and back)
Distance 9.5 km| Duration 8 hrs | Elevation gain: +1351m / -1351.
From Rifugio Chabod to Pravieux
Distance: 8km | Duration: 1:30 hrs | Elevation gain: – 876m.
Despite this being a relatively easy climb, there are two parts that require extra caution: the crevasses area and the summit rock stack. Gran Paradiso is usually climbed from the end of the spring until the end of July. A good level of fitness and basic alpinism skills are required for this climb. With a good level of preparation, this can be an incredible first adventure above the 4,000m line, in one of the most beautiful natural areas of Italy.