Climbing Italy's Highest Peak, Gran Paradiso, with a guide

Climbing the Normal Route on Gran Paradiso

guides and climbers descending from Gran Paradiso Summit
A guided climber approaching the summit of Gran Paradiso in early season conditions in June 2024. Photo: Zeb Blais
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Climbing Italy's Highest Peak, Gran Paradiso 

Gran Paradiso, 4,061m  |  Normal Route

Gran Paradiso is the highest peak fully inside Italy and is one of the most accessible 4,000m summits in the Alps.  At an elevation of 4,061m (13,323') it is high enough to feel the thin air of altitude and makes it a perfect acclimatization peak for Mont Blanc or other high peaks in the Alps. On it's own, Gran Paradiso is an excellent climb with glacier travel and wild exposure on the summit ridge.

The Normal Route has two variations: one from Rifugio Chabod and one from Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II.  The difficulties are similar and the routes join at the Hogsback (Schiena d'Asino) and continue to the summit from there.  Both routes are described here.

 

The Rifugio Chabod on Gran Paradiso
The Rifugio Chabod on Gran Paradiso. Photo: Zeb Blais
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The Logistics

In terms of the Alps, the logistics are fairly simple on Gran Paradiso.  You must rent a car to get to the trailhead inside the Gran Paradiso National Park and book a spot at one of the refuges, either the Rifugio Chabod or Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II.  There are no park entrance fees or permits required.

approach to The Rifugio Chabod on Gran Paradiso. Photo: Zeb Blais
The approach to Rifugio Chabod on Gran Paradiso. Photo: Zeb Blais
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The Approach

Approach to the Chabod Hut. The approach to the Chabod Hut is 3.5 - 4 miles and gains 2,900' on well maintained trails.  The length varies a bit depending on which switchbacks you take, but overall it takes 2.5 - 3 hours to get in with a short break or two along the way.

Approach to Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II.  This approach is very similar to that of the Chabod, and travels through slightly steeper terrain and arguably more dramatic views.  The steep terrain is managed by a series of switchbacks and well maintained trail that makes moving steadily in this terrain easy.  The approach to Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele takes 2.5-3 hrs.

Climbing the normal route of Gran Paradiso with a guide
Clmibers and guides on the Nornal Route of Gran Paradiso from the Chabod Hut. Photo: Zeb Blais
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The Climb

The Climb from the Rifugio Chabod

The Climb of Gran Paradiso's Normal Route from the Rifugio Chabod is fairly straightforward, but has a few route finding challenges and glacier travel.  It begins on a well-maintained hikers trail, approaching the Glacier del Laveciau, crossing streams and talus to trails up the moraine.  In early season, this section is snow covered which can make it easier or more challenging based on the condition of the snow.

Climbers and guides on the Laveciau Glacier on the Normal Route of Gran Paradiso. Photo: Zeb Blais
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Gaining the Laveciau Glacier begins with a short traverse climber's right, under a small ice cliff which should be watched with some vigilance as it has the potential to shed ice onto climbers below.  The route winds around and above this feature, then works up the climber's left side of the glacier past (and over) a series of large crevasses.  The route then trends right to avoid exposure to seracs above.  The track set sometimes gets close to this cliff, so use good decision making to decide whether or not the track is an appropriate distance from the ice cliff.

The route then trends right to exit the Laveciau Glacier and ascends to the Hogsback (Schiena d'Asino).  (Continued below).

The Rifugio Vittorio Manuele on Gran Paradiso, Italy's highest Peak
The Rifugio Vittorio Manuele II on Gran Paradiso. The Becca di Montcorvè is behind. Photo: Zeb Blais
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The Climb from the Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele II

The Route from V Emanuele II starts on a rocky talus field (covered by snow in early season) and traverses north around the large rocky buttress above the Rifugio.  This is the shoulder of Becca di Montcorvè. The trail here can be a bit hard to find in the dark, so scouting it and checking out the snow conditions higher up can be a good idea before starting on the summit bid.

After wrapping to the north of Becca di Montcorvè, the route follows the drainage to southeast and gains the Gran Paradiso Glacier.  The Glacier has seen better days and seems to be very thin until it meets up with the Glacier of Schiena d'Asino.

Ascending the Gran Paradiso Glacier just before joining the Hogsback Glacier (Ghiacciaio del Schiena d'Asino)
Ascending the Gran Paradiso Glacier just before joining the Hogsback Glacier (Ghiacciaio del Schiena d'Asino).  Photo: Zeb Blais
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From the Schiena d'Asino, the Chabod Hut and V Emanuele II Hut Routes join and continue to the Summit. This spot can be windy and often just below the Hogsback is a good spot to take a break.  Above the Hogsback, the route arcs around to the North making a series of switchbacks up a steeper section leading toward the summit pyramid.

On top of the Madonna Summit looking down the Schiena d'Asino Glacier.
On top of the Madonna Summit of Gran Paradiso looking down the Schiena d'Asino Glacier.  Photo: Zeb Blais
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The summit block is steep and exposed and requires solid cramponing and comfort moving on steep rock and snow.   There are two "summits" on Gran Paradiso, with the slightly higher true summit (4,061m) being further up the ridge to the north and the "Madonna Summit" closer (4,058m further south). Due to the popularity of the climb, there is one way traffic flow to enable people to get on and off the climb without causing gridlock.  This flow begins low and flows clockwise over the Madonna Summit, beginning with a steep, exposed snow traverse and ending in a well-equipped via ferrata that puts you on top with a large statue of Madonna. 
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The view from the Madonna Summit on Gran Paradiso
The view from the Madonna Summit on Gran Paradiso. Photo: Zeb Blais
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Getting off the Madonna Summit is a series of steep but easy rock moves that lead to a snow slope above climbers still ascending toward the top.  The route traverses above the climbers below, then cuts downward to rejoin the route.  This is a bit of a bottleneck on busy days and requires communication with other teams to get through in a civilized way.  Be patient and friendly and try to assess what makes the most sense for the movement of people on and off the summit block!
The summit of Gran Paradiso.  Climbers and guides are shown making the clockwise journey up to the Madonna Summit. Photo: Zeb Blais
The summit of Gran Paradiso.  Climbers and guides are shown making the clockwise journey up to the Madonna Summit. Photo: Zeb Blais
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The true summit involves a few exposed moves to gain a sidewalk wide summit plateau.  It begins just past the via ferrata that takes climbers to the Madonna, but the track getting there still involves queuing up with those going to the Madonna unless you're comfortable with climbing below the trail on steeper exposed snow.  Going up the step to the true summit is easier than getting down, so make sure your downclimbing skills are up to the task before committing to going up!  To get off the true summit, reverse your route and join up with the Madonna trail.

Descending Gran ParadisoPhoto: Zeb Blais.
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The Descent

The descent of Gran Paradiso's Normal Route is simply reversing the ascent.  Typically, the snow will have softened on the descent and this can make for difficult travel, so time your ascent accordingly.  Snow bridges over crevasses will be weaker, so don't assume the solid glacier you ascended in the morning will be as reliable on the return!

 

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