FRANÇOIS CAZZANELLI, FRANCESCO RATTI AND THEIR LONG WINTER TRAVERSE IN VALTOURNENCHE
AN INTERGENERATIONAL AFFAIR
François Cazzanelli has been aspiring to these mountains for a lifetime. In fact, one could say that this is a fully-fledged intergenerational affair. The story began in August 1940: Alfredo Perino and the two Mountain Guides Luigi Car-rel "Carrellino" and Marcello Carrel crossed the Grandes and Petites Murailles for the first time. They set up two bivouacs: the first on Col des Grandes Murailles and the second one on Col Budden.
Manuel looks up to where Simon is pointing, far away, northwards. There is only one moment before his glance stops on Durrerspitze, and a smile appears on his face. <> Simon sharpens his view, shielding his eyes against the sun with his hand. <<Yes, Manuel, I think so too. Done, let’s go tomorrow >>.
Later on, in August 1947 other two Mountain Guides, Ferdinando Gas-pard and Bruno Bich crossed the Matterhorn and the Grandes Murailles for the first time with Mrs Carla Durando. They managed to do so with only two bivouacs: they set off from rifugio Horli and touched the summit of the Matterhorn at 6 am, moving towards the peak of Grandes Murailles, where they found a place to bivvy for Car-la. During the evening, Ferdinando and Bruno reached the peak of Dent d’Heren to then head back down to the previously organized bivouac. The day af-ter they reached Chateau des Dames, where they set up the second bivouac, to descend the day after.
December 1985. Marco Barmasse and Valter Cazzanelli, father of François, for the first time crossed the Grandes e le Petites Murailles during the winter season. Un-fortunately they had to give up on the summits of the Matterhorn and Dent d’Heren, due to the terrible conditions, evident right from the start of their venture. The successive step dated back to August 2018: François Cazzanelli and Kilian Jornet Burgada who linked up for the first time the Grandes and the Petites Murailles in only one day, starting off from Cervinia and coming back in only 10 hours and 59 minutes, after a pleasant “stroll” of 23 km and 3300 metres of vertical height gain.
A GOOD PLAN
Some nagging thoughts never go away, when they go through your mind. Not a day goes by that François does not look at that line cutting through the sky, not a day goes by that he doesn’t think back to his story. And not a day goes by that he doesn’t think how to write the successive chapter. It has to be winter: of course, it is more difficult, but exactly for that reason it is more stimulating. And it must be complete, from east to west, no shortcuts of any kind. He has his favourite places, along that line, explored like the back of his hand over a lifetime. Capanna Carrel, a beacon, a lifeline in the vastness of Matterhorn’s verticality: the two Jumeaux and the void which separates them, a place in which you can’t abseil down if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. And then Punta Lioy, the project’s lion’s den, the most difficult point, the one in which you feel the thrill most and the exaltation of the void surrounding you.
You need a partner, for an undertaking of such calibre. In fact, even better: you need the partner. The right one, the one with whom you immediately connect, you understand one another without even having to talk. Francesco. François and Francesco are like fire and ice, opposites and complementary, two sides of the same coin. As much as one is flammable, hyperactive and creative, the other one is taciturn, contemplative and reflective. On their own they are two formidable alpinists with years of experience; together they are the perfect roped party, a team with physical, psychological and cognitive qualities ready to tackle any challenge.
Such a long ridge must be tackled at full speed. Of course, it is long, but not on-ly. Speed on this type of terrain makes you feel alive, fulfilled, free. It is a return to one’s origins, a purer and more sincere confrontation with the mountains. If you remove the non-essentials, only the fundamental things remain: there is no longer heat, cold, thirst, hunger: there is only the acute and refined wish to continue climb-ing, to continue following the line to enjoy this moment to the fullest. That’s what remains, with your partner. Because you are not on your own, be-cause you are with another human being who has chosen to put his life in your hands, and has accepted to take yours in his. And this pact, this sacred alliance at the base of every roped party, becomes even stronger if you proceed with a short rope.
UNDER YOUR NOSE, RATHER, ABOVE
If you’re born and bred in Cervinia, that ridge has always been under your nose all your life. Well, above your nose, to be precise, but the substance doesn’t change. It’s like an arch, like a huge embrace which shuts off the horizon to north. It starts on Plateau Rosà, that icy plateau which forms a natural terrace to admire the magnificence of one of the most iconic mountains of the Alps, the Matterhorn. It continues towards west, like a crown placed on the head of Valtournenche, first along the Grandes Murailles, then along the Petites Murailles. The lowest point – so to speak – is Mont Blanc du Créton, just above Bionaz. A natural line, domestic in terms of collocation but Himalayan in its dimensions and difficulties: there are over 30 kilometres of ridge, dotted with twenty or so peaks which on their own repre-sent quite a commitment: Furggen, Matterhorn, Punta Maquignaz, Punta Bianca, Dent d’Herens, Punta dei Cors, Punta Lioy, to name but a few of these incredible towers of rock and ice.
GUTS AND HEART
January 2020, Shortly before Valtournenche and the whole world stopped breathing. A perfect season, with solid and consistent ice just like the high pressure centred over the Western Alps. When Francesco receives François’s call he is already pre-paring his gear. It takes four days, with no less than forty hours spent climbing, caressing the scales of the dragon delicately and decisively. It takes effort and perseverance, and nights spent in the bitter cold of bivouacs at altitude. It takes guts, and it also takes heart. But nothing and nobody stops such a roped party. It takes four days, and the win-ter link up from Plateau Rosà to Château des Dames is history.
There probably is no more delicate and intimate way, to move in the mountains. Between you and your partner there are a couple of metres, destined to remain so. Because when you travel with a short rope there are no anchor points, ice screws, pegs: if your partner slips, you have to hold him. If you don’t hold him, you both fall. It is a delicate and powerful tool: you save a lot of time, if you move well; if you don’t move well it is a recipe for disaster. With a firm foot and a steady step you have to pay special attention to your partner. You have to always think for two.
François and Francesco know the theory very well. Practice, after a few experi-ments, seems to confirm this: together they work well like the well-oiled mechanism of a watch, they know each other so well that they can predict each other’s movements and thoughts. And this is the last cog, the most important one, even more than the weather or ice conditions which in many points is the only thing that keeps this bundle of stones cemented together, just like the scales on a dragon’s back. It can be done.
Another story, another page written on that big book of rock and ice which is Valtournenche. An arrival point, but even a starting point. For François and Fran-cesco, who are already dreaming greater dreams. But also for those who will come after them.