This is proven by the fact that there are people going far away, seeking solitude, and pushing themselves to the extreme, not only geographically, but looking for the limit as an inner experience. Many different ways exist, because exploration is first of all a mental attitude.
Also, in ”Effetto Albedo” a group of friends have discovered our physical and mental unknown spaces, our world beyond the Pillars of Hercules; in our beloved Alps, a few km from our houses, we found several forgotten, wild and unexplored skiing/snowboarding lines! Year 2020, untouched terrain. Isn’t it amazing?
Our discovery has been a fantastic, sensational revelation, also because our ”beyond” has not meant ”far”! So Effetto Albedo means friendship and exploring this dimension with the best light and powder snow, chasing aesthetic, untouched descents.
For us, Valpelline Valley (near Aosta, Italy) has been the emblem of this discovery. There are no ski resorts here. A few shepherd’s huts, steep slopes, almost no visitors except for some rare ones, and more accessible spots in summer. For the rest, only glaciers, couloirs, high mountains, more wolves than men, and above all, unexplored terrain!
But let’s walk the walk!
It was still pretty warm and I was just enjoying the cold water from the fountain. I wiped the water off my face and I felt that feeling of warmth and rehydration that gives you absolute well-being. I thought about how simple things are sometimes enough to feel happy inside, and how good water is. Water is underrated. A bit like this valley. There was a face up there that was redder than the others in the light of the sunset, a face flowing into a beautiful couloir. I
I immediately took my favorite ski touring guide. My girlfriend gave it to me. It’s a guide that empowers your creativity: a pair of binoculars! A big rock looks interposed between the upper face and the couloir, a big boulder that looks carved out at the bottom. A cave? If only the hole would run from top to bottom, like a tunnel, it would be incredibly cool… Of course, it’s unlikely… But the rock has a different color, so maybe. Who knows! Calcareous rock eroded by water and debris? There’s only one way to find it out.
A few days later, Francesco and I decided to take a closer look. No information, just a blurry pic taken with a cell phone through the binoculars.
We quickly hike up into the woods, following some amazing wolves’ tracks for about an hour, until we come out onto a beautiful sunny plateau. From here we enter a beautiful and deep canyon, which seems to be connected with the upper couloir of the alleged cave, about 500 m higher. We really start to enjoy the adventure to the fullest. Hours pass by, the snow is perfect: light powder.
We are now quite high and we feel more and more excited because we manage to get into what on our picture seems to be the right couloir. Francesco goes ahead. He keeps his head down to the track like a tractor and he doesn’t notice what’s above his head… He’s too busy tracking. Just above our eyes, the couloir enters a big boulder of a different color. Inside the boulder, however, there is also another color and as colorblind as I am, I recognize it, it’s the color of the sky, we pass! “Fraaaaaa! Look at it! We’re passing through! I reach him, I take over opening the track and again, even sharper, the passage is revealed. Simply mythical. We stop and burst out laughing in disbelief.
We keep on climbing and we go through our myth. OK, it’s quite extreme going up there. We’ve got an ice axe each, no rope, no screws, nothing. We start scratching ridiculously on the smooth, steep rocky slabs in the cave. A pitch higher and then maybe we can grab a ledge over there…But the rock is just too smooth for our crampons. After several attempts, still no way. We need ice for the crampons, not smooth rock. “How much water do you have Fra?” “Very little…” “I still have some”… That’s it. If there’s no ice, just make it! We take blocks of snow, we wet them, and like the best bricklayers in the Bergamo area (only Italians will understand), we trowel and plaster the wet blocks on the rock. An icy step takes shape and sticks to the rock, magic. We try again. This time the crampon bites and Fra clings to the ledge higher up. He pulls himself up and he’ s out! It’s my turn. I dig the crampon into the frozen step and climb up better than I expected. From there, an icy crack gradually leads out of the cave, more exposed but also easier. We come out of the arch, which is even more beautiful from above. You can even see Mont Blanc. What a place!
We start opening tracks again as fast as we can, and after another complicated icy part we are on the beautiful upper face. We realize how incredible it is to be there, on that beautiful slope we saw from the fountain of the village. A little more effort and we are on top! We are not that tired, but thinking how to get down from the cave without a rope makes us a bit nervous.
Boards on. The atmosphere is just surreal. No need to talk. I wonder why we’re there. There’s no reason. We’re just there and we feel so powerfully alive!
The face is wonderful and the sunset-lit snow is just amazing. Great turns. We already feel more confident than at the top, we’re focused again. A few more turns and we’re back in the cave.
We create a sort of anchorage and we fix the two joined poles like a rope. You can’t trust it, but it’s still a big help! After some tricky stunts, but never risking too much, we are finally out! And below, the couloir is magic! “What time is it?” 5:30 pm! Crazy, we hadn’t realized! Maybe, because time is different in the cave? The rest of the story is an unreal descent, a very long couloir at an unlikely time. We still enjoy the skiable part of the woods, just before darkness. But then, needless to say, we have no headlamps and discomfort reigns until the end! Only one cell phone out of 2 is still charged but its light is enough to go down. The plans were not exactly to come back that late, but who cares; it has been a crazy adventure.
A real ”Allegory of the Cave”, with a 1000 m couloir and a big journey we won’t forget.
It’s always simply by raising our eyes that we fall in love with other big lines, all of them probably never skied before, such as Torre di Lavina W, Epicoune E, Chatelet SW, Grande Roisé NE, Petite Roisé N, Berrio S, Cervo E, Tuckett Alternativo, Colle Etresenda W, Valletta di Valeille NE, Saillousa E, Gorret S! What’s next?
To go further, you don’t need to go far. The Pillars of Hercules are in our mind. Going further enriches our life.
Words: Flavio Migliavacca
Photo: Effetto Albedo
Review: Elena G. De Murillo