Actual: Rif Stellina to Rif Vulpot at Lago di Malciaussia - 1805 metres, about 8 km before Usseglio:
17 km, 1400 metres ascent, 9.4 hours including 1.8 hours breaks.
Best bit: Small red dots, a fine summit, and the Alta Via path.
The landslide had foiled our plans. It happened a while ago but from Stellina you could see rocks plunging down its course from time to time. It could be years before they settle sufficiently for the path to be rebuilt.
We had two options. Down or Up. I had thought it had to be down to the valley until Ezio suggested an 'Up' alternative. Careful scrutiny of the map revealed some very small red dots in that direction. We are nervous about red dashes, let alone small dots. These appeared to lead up near vertical rock and scree. Meanwhile (this is last night) the cloud had rolled in and we were busy watching ibex and Brocken spectres.
Franco agreed to point out the route at 7.15. The cloud magically cleared at that precise time and the binoculars revealed a wavering route marked by flashes of red and white paint. Sandro had been that way, 'so it should be ok'.
After overnight rain, it dawned fine, so soon after 7 we set off along the small red dots. The path was thin but well marked. It was unrelentingly steep, if not in a vertical way in a vertiginous way. It crossed a lot of very thin loose scree over huge drops, and we had to tiptoe over rocky bulges to make progress up to where the path crossed some snow. 'Don't go on the snow' Franco had warned. So we fumbled our way around it and after an hour and forty minutes of careful ascent we found ourselves up at 3238 metres on Passo Novalesa.
A wave back to Stellina and a break to catch our breath were both in order. The view was indeed breathless, with the glacier stretching down into France to the north west and leading up to the pointy summit of Rocciamelone in the other direction (see above).
We went down into France, briefly, before heading up the rim of the glacier next to a huge drop where there used to be a lake. The French drained it because they thought it could make the glacier unstable. Now there's a big hole there.
Reaching another high point (here's the message we sent at the time from here), we turned right over mixed ground of snow and rock before reaching steep snow leading to the final 300 metre ascent to the summit. We'd just seen 45 people descend the snow, and it was easy enough to reverse their route and haul ourselves up the steep final section to the relatively spacious summit with the huge 104 year old Madonna.
There were many people up there as today the Madonna was celebrating her birthday. Every year, they told us at Stellina, people go to the summit from all directions to celebrate this day. It must have been quite a feat to get the Madonna into its position all those years ago.
Today, we were the only people ascending the 3528 metre peak from Stellina.
We hadn't expected to come this way, but Roman had waxed lyrical about it, so our next message - a picture of the Madonna was for him. Happily, he recognised it immediately.
There were many people in the vicinity of the summit, many breathless as this may be a rare day out in the mountains for them. We were well acclimatised and didn't notice the height. We enjoyed the views (and sent yet another message), with cloud building up, for half an hour before taking the easy 'tourist route' down to Rifugio Cà d'Asti (2854 metres) to complete our traverse of Rocciamelone.
We had by now seen 200 to 300 people ascending or descending or lingering on the summit, but now we took a left turn along a thin path that dropped to around 2500 metres before holding its line beautifully across the steep hillside. Here was more of the Mt Cenis bellflower, not to mention the black vanilla orchids and milk vetches, etc, but concentration on where the feet were going was important as tricky gullies were negotiated.
This was the Alta Via Val di Susa again, beautifully contoured as before.
Cloud swirled around as we walked along here to rejoin the GTA path, rising again after its excursion to Susa. This led us uneventfully over Colle Croce di Ferro (an old iron cross lingers nearby) to a lovely old mule track for a long descent.
By now we realised we wouldn't reach Usseglio until 6.30, so we would stop at the rifugio at the bottom of the hill to phone ahead and warn of our lateness. So we stopped at Rif Vulpot to phone ahead, only to discover that this was the rifugio 'in Usseglio' that we were booked into. It was 4.30 and had been raining for half an hour.
The rain continued whilst we showered and washed and rested. The 8 km to Usseglio could wait until another day! We are booked in here for two nights. With no phone reception, so unable to file this report. It's quite cool - a rare rainy evening in the Alps.