Cogne: Punta Rossa (Pointe Rouse)

Posted by Sam Harrison on September 9, 2014 at 12:13.

 Mountaineering and climbing

alpine mountaineering alps aosta bivvy cogne punta rossa

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The long summit day for the Gran Sertz took it out of us a bit, and we used that coupled with a good weather forecast as an excuse to have a rest day on the Wednesday. We became tourists for the day and visitng the impressive Cascata di Lillaz, a three-tierd 150-m-high series of waterfalls lying just past the little village of Lillaz at the head of the Aosta valley. The same funding (Alpine Pearls) that provides the free bus from Valnontey to Cogne as provides free buses to Epinel, Gimillan and Lillaz. During the winter these falls freeze up and make the region a popular ice climbing venue, but it is hard to imagine that with the sheer amount of waterfalls cascading down them now.
One of a number of falls at the Cascata di Lillaz

The day after, we planned to make the ascent (all 1700m of it) to the Bivacco Gratton before summiting Punta Rossa the day after. Whilst Punta Rossa barely gets a climbing grade (in the absence of snow, the most difficult trekking grade of EE is given, and with snow about it becomes a Facile), it was a summit we wanted to do not just for great views but also as good acclimatisation before attempting Gran Paradiso the week after; it lies at 3630m, making it ones of the highest points you can get to that is still "just a walk". The Bivacco Gratton and its perfect placement to watch the sun rise also came highly recommended, prompting us to split the summit over two days instead of popping up and down in the day.

Catching the free bus down to Cretaz meant we were able to make the ascent into a circular walk, returning the following day via the Colle della Rossa and the Sella hut. The ascent from Cretaz was tiring and for the first 1000m consisted almost entirely of a zigzag path working its way up an improbably steep slope through a forest. Past this point however, it opened out into beautiful green Alpine pastures, unfrequent by people but consequently home to more wildlife than we saw for the entirity of the rest of the stay; in the space of 30 minutes we'd spotted a golden eagle, two ibix rutting, a herd of chamois and a sprawl of marmots1.

Very well signposted route to the bivacco.

The pastures soon turned to boulder fields and scree slopes, as we wound our way up the final few hundred metres of ascent to the bivvy hut. The location of the hut is quite stunning; perched on a broad ridge running from Punta Rossa to Punta Pousset, it offers a commanding view over the neighbouring La Grivola, as well as further north towards Switzerland and iconic peaks such as the Matterhorm, and west towards the Mont Blanc massif. Not that we got any of these views when we arrived; mountains in the distance were shrouded in cloud and La Grivola was becomming increasingly more hidden by the minute. Unsurprisingly, it soon started rain, but fortunately not before we'd managed to cook our tea.

Bivacco Gratton with La Grivola in the background.

The hut was cosy with four of us in there and we were glad it wasn't at its maximum capacity of nine people. Three triple bunk beds line the sides of it, with space enough for only a couple of bags running down the centre of them. If need be, there is a small shelf near the door which could be cooked on if it's too wet to brave outside. All the huts in the area have plenty of blankets and pillows in them, and so all you need to take with you is a sleeping bag liner.

Fortunately, the clouds had disappeared the following morning and we were greeted by skies of deep yellows and blues, and one of the most memorable sunrises I've experienced in the Alps. The sun creeped its way out as we ascended the broad boulder-strewn ridge up the final 400m to the summit, casting its warming early-morning light over the expansive panorama of iconic Alpine mountains that lay behind us, poking their heads out of a sea of clouds blanketting the valleys.

Sunrise over the Switzerland. Spot the Matterhorn!

Outside the hut first thing in the morning.

Lovely colours!

Imogen with La Grivola in the background.

Spot the hut! The Mont Blanc range is poking out on the left and Grand Combin in the mountain on the right.

The ascent was technically easy - just a walk - though the exposure was considerable and care was needed on some looser sections. A small patch of snow warranted the use of an ice axe, though we would have managed without (for most of the summer season the route is snow free). The summit offered stunning views of the Gran Paradiso mountains, with a picture-perfect lenticular cloud shrouding them to make the scene even more impressive.

Final few steps to the summit, La Grivola in the background.

Lorna, Darren and Imogen on the summit, with Gran Paradiso in the background.

Grand Combin on the left and the Matterhorn on the right. Mont Blanc de Cheilon, Pigne d'Arolla and Dent d'Herens are sandwiched in between (see this post).

Clouds started to roll over on our descent towards the Colle della Rossa, and we were again grateful of the early start. Just after the col, we bumped into fellow AC member, Rick, who was making a one-day push for the summit from the campsite. Speaking to him later, it transpired that the cloud had indeed got in the way of any views when he reached the summit. The 2200m of descent dragged on, especially after the Rifugio Sella, but we fortunately arrived back before the afternoon rain showers that were predicted set in.

I have it on good authority - and by that I mean WikiAnswers told me - that the collective noun for marmot is indeed a "sprawl" (and rather boringly, that for chamois is a "herd").

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