/ gran paradiso
I've camped near to the hut before (but out of sight), so it is possible. There is a huge boulder field to lose yourself in.
Just a scramble as far as I recall, but along a very narrow ridge with a big drop. There would be horrendous queuing if the masses did do it.
The route from Chabod is more interesting and quieter till you join the ordinary route from Emmanuel near the top.
We ticked both tops last year ski touring. The Madonna was a circus and I had a minor sense of humour failure. There's a queue-inducing airy traverse which is not really any better/worse than anything on the other summit in terms of accomodating people, as far as I recall.
The other summit was similar in difficulty (i.e. not very), maybe even a little easier, and far more pleasant due to lack of crowds.
From the Emmanual Hut it is facile, whilst from Chabod it is PD. I was last there 3 years ago and there was a big crevasse near the start from Chabod. But it was obvious and easy to avoid.
We came in from Turin, then about 2 hours (7 euros) on train / bus combo. You can also get buses from Courmayuer and Chamonix. Not sure about Geneva direct, but you can of course get a bus from Geneva to Chamonix easy enough.
I did this last summer. Camped out of view of the hut easily enough. Set off before everyone in the hut so we had the summit to ourselves and easily went to both. Then got to feel all smug on the way down as we past all the hordes on the way up! :-) It's a fun peak and well worth doing.
According to my log book we left the tent at 3 and reached the summit by 8, then back to the tent by 11. I remember the summit being a bit exposed and tricky. But if you have it to youself, stay roped up and take your time at the top it won't be too bad.
I did this a couple of years ago. I believe the official policy is that camping isnt allowed in the national park. What we did was to push well past the refuge and past the morraine field to just before the glacier. There were dozens of pre-prepared bivi sites round there already. My partner just left his overnight kit under a massive rock to collect on the way down. A benifit of having done this was doing the morraine field in day light, as I've read it can be a nightmare by torchlight.
Regarding the actual summit. Instead of utilising our head start on those starting at the refuge, we opted for an extra couple of hours in bed (we kept pressing snooze til we could see head torches above us on the glacier). Our reason for not going to the actual summit was that I've seen shorter queues in shops on xmas eve! We worked out that by the time it was our turn in the queue, we would potentially be descending in the dark. Maybe we were just unlucky and picked a busy day?
I did it this summer - we just started out from the village at midnight, but a few hundred yards up the path from the refugio there were people packing up a camp... they were certainly well within sight of the hut.
Like the other posters I found the Madonna summit snarled in a massive queue while the true summit was largely empty. One thing we did discover to our surprise that there was an ab station at the back of the Madonna summit allowing us to drop down and skirt the summit ridge back to the start and our packs this rout even had some old pegs so it seemed a well established method. Despite this the guides were taking their clients back across the traverse over the waiting climbers increasing delays and causing a few hairy moments.
We did it in the winter two years ago and were the only ones on the mountain. Conditions became so bad on the way down we stayed in the high hut just below the moraine field (which is not much fun in the dark as mentioned) for a couple of days till it broke.
Last year we did the North Face again in winter which was actually an easy bag and really enjoyable.
We chose winter to avoid all the desperate queues.
If you want to optimise your prospects for a civilised summit experience (and it is a fine summit), I'd recommend you go before mid-July and avoid weekends. Then either go up the night before, bivvy beyond the boulderfield behind the hut, and start up the glacier before the crowds emerge from the hut; or follow Ciro's advice and climb direct from the valley, starting from Pont about 11/12pm - the path up to the Vittorio Emmanuelle is stone-paved and superbly graded, so gives a rapid ascent even by torchlight. That may seem a bit stern and Calvinist, but it saves you humping bivvy gear, and brings its own rewards - when the sun comes up on the glacier you forget you've already climbed c.4000 feet!
If you don't get to the summit rocks before the guided parties you may be in for a very long wait and/or some bad-tempered wrestling and rope-tangling. The key bottleneck is a very short but somewhat exposed traverse along a narrow ledge on the east flank of a large block, close below the Madonna (helpful pegs in place last time I was there). As other folk have indicated, this experience may lead you to reconsider your views on how important it is actually to climb those last few metres to the culminating point ...
Info on bus services from Aosta up the Valsavaranche can be dug out from http://www.savda.it/it/orari.php
Oh, and it wasn't mentioned in the route maps at the hut, but we found a nice, exposed but easy via frerrata on the right hand side of the main glacier that avoids a long section of snaking up the mountain in a human chain... this lead to an otherwise empty glacier walk and didn't re-join the crowds till fairly near the top.
Well worth the detour, there's a couple of pics of it here:
Wow. I climbed it in 1998, and those photos are unrecognisable from when I did it - there is so much less snow and ice!
Yeah, the alps are melting away :(
A dozen or so years ago there was a big thick fixed rope down there. It meant that you could go to the madonna the usual way - the short exposed traverse on the east side - then slide down the rope on the backside. A sort of one way system. It was great, no fighting between ascending and descending parties. It finally succombed to a rockfall (I think).
If going to the madonna is important to you, then you'll probably have to queue unless you get there first. Otherwise go to the real top - stay lower down on the west side of the rocky ridge and traverse under the block that the madonna sits on and easily up to the real top a little further on. To avoid crowds as much as possible, try going early in the week and definitely not at week ends.
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