Clifton College students successfully summit the Gran Paradiso


Over the summer break, a group of Clifton College students successfully summited the Gran Paradiso. Set within Paradiso National Park, this stunning mountain measures a whopping 4,061m high making it the highest mountain entirely within Italy. We spoke to the trip leader, Jody Sumner, to find out more about their incredible journey…

On 7th July, our students met at school to embark on a life changing adventure with the ambition to summit a 4,000m peak. We arrived in Chamonix later that day and made our way to town to buy the largest sun hats we could find. We then checked in at our hotel in Argentière and ate as much dinner as we could!

The next morning, we enjoyed a beautiful French breakfast in the hotel and learnt that you need to boil your eggs yourself before cracking them open to eat! The guides met us late morning and we then took the drive through the Mont Blanc Tunnel and into Valgrisenche, where we began our approach to the Rifugio Bezzi from Usellières (1,800m). On foot, we continued up Valgrisenche, ascending gently to start acclimatization to the Rifugio Mario Bezzi (2,284m). Here, we found a snow slope where we practiced using crampons and ice axes on steep terrain, safe glacier travel and rope work skills.

From the refuge early the next morning, we made a gradual ascent of the west facing slopes below the Grande Traversière, crossing many gorgeous mountains and streams which descend from the glaciers above. A final ascent across a moraine slope led us to the Col Bassac Déré (3,082m). The descent from the col crossed the remains of the Glacier de Golette to touch Lake Goletta. The exit from this hanging valley was steep to the Refuge Jean-Frédéric Benevolo (2,287m). The routine of huts became the norm, set with eating lots, playing card games and treating blisters!

mountain hut italian alps

The next day, we gradually ascended from the refuge to Col Rosset (3,025m). It was here that we had our first glimpse of the Gran Paradiso, which was nerve racking and extremely exciting at the same time! The steep descent took us down to a glittering lake where we spent some time paddling in the cold water to soothe our sore feet before making our way to the next refugio.

The morning after saw us descend down from the refuge back into the valley (and finally back into civilization!). We treated ourselves to food and drinks at a small shop before making our way up to the Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele (2,735m) ready for our summit attempt the next day. This ascent was steep and, with tiring legs, gruelling work for everyone. A sleepless night in the hut for many with anticipation for the summit attempt.

12th July was summit day. An early start of 4am saw us eat yet another breakfast of bread and jam and then Miss Sumner was busy on feet taping duty with copious amounts of Compeed ready for the climb! We roped up in our teams and then started the hard climb to this isolated peak, crossing snow fields which led us to the Glacier du Mont Gran Paradiso and headed towards the Becca di Moncorvé.

We all started to feel the altitude, with sickness and wobbly legs, but we kept going at alpine speed towards the summit. We crossed the rimaye (a large crevasse separating the glacier from the permanent snow field above) and ascended a steep slope to give us access to the final rocky summit. Here, we took off our crampons and rucksacks and continued to climb the final exposed rocky ridge where we met ‘Madonna’ at the summit.

It took us seven hours to reach the summit point, a magnificent feat which felt incredible to have achieved. We were also met by jaw-dropping panoramic views, a moment we’ll never forget. However, once the feeling of success had settled down, we were all too aware that we were only halfway there – we needed to climb back down to reattach our crampons ready for our descent. We navigated the Glacier de Laveciau which was an intricate maze of deep crevasses.

Due to the afternoon sun, the snow bridges were weakening which caused Mr Wigginton to have a little fall, luckily, unscaved he got to inspect the inside of a crevasse, which was all very exciting! After an eventful descent, we finally reached our last mountain hut, the Rifugio Federico Chabod, at an altitude of 2,750m. We all enjoyed a well deserved rest, ate lots and reflected on what was an incredible day.

The next morning was the last of our journey, and on our final descent we spotted many Marmots along the way. It took us only a few hours, we then boarded our transport for the return journey to Argentière where all the team enjoyed a celebratory evening dinner.