Col Du Grand St Bernard

With the lifts about to shut for the season we headed over to the Col du Grand St Bernard between Switzerland and Italy for a night in the refuge.

The Col is one of, if not the oldest route through the Western Alps with evidence of use as far back as the Bronze ages. The pass is appears in history around 390BC and is well documented by the time of Julius Ceaser around 60BC. Napolean also famously crossed the pass in May 1800 with 6000 men and there’s a staue at the top to commemorate the feat.

More recently the Hospice and the Col has become synonymous with the image of the St Bernard dog with the barrel of brandy round it’s neck. The legend is that the brandy was to rejuvenate victims of avalanches or hypothermia until they could be rescued by the monks who acted as mountain guides.

st bernard

The barrel of brandy appears to be part truth part legend but the dogs were certainly used by the monks, to clear paths in the snow following the scent of a trail buried in up to a metre of fresh snow and sniffing then digging out victims of avalanches, one dog is reported to have saved 40 lives, on finding the 41st victim the dog was stabbed by the victim who thought he was being attacked by a bear. The victim escaped from the snow and followed the blood trail left by the St Bernard back to the safety of the hospice where the dog later died. Sucks for the dog!

Not intending to die in an avalanche or stab anything a group of 3 of us set of early to hike up to the hospice, drop off some kit then head over to the Italian side to find some nice spring snow, leaving the rest of the group to come up later and meet us for dinner.


Parked at the bottom of the Col, in the summer there’s a road up to the top, this is as far as you can get until about July. Left about 9.30am for the hike up


Heading up with Craig and James, split boards have got to be the way forward, carrying boards is hard work!


Looking up the last part of the route to the Hospice, is a bit steeper than the first part as it doesn’t follow the road. About an hour into the climb by now and starting to get pretty hot.


The top, well the hospice/refuge anyway. 2500m above sea level and a well earned 15min break to drop off some overnight kit we didn’t need to carry any further. Whole climb took about 1hr30.  Jamie blitzed it later in the day in 1hr12 but we can’t all be whippets.


Looking back from the Italian side at the statue of Napolean, the frozen lake and the Hospice in the distance, the mountains aren’t wonky in Italy it was just really hot and couldn’t see anything on the camera display as it was so bright.

We’re going up where? There?


Once we dropped down into the valley on the Italian side we traversed round to a non-south facing slope as there were signs of recent avalanche activity on the sun facing slopes. We picked a route up the North facing side of a gully and set off with boards on backs and Craig skinning up, and yes it is as steep as it looks.


It was now seriously hot as my sunburned forehead will testify to! The climb took us another hour or so with the going getting harder near the top as the sun degraded the snow even more until snow shoes were sinking in on the deeper snow on the top ridges. We stopped just short of the top (10m or so) as the snow was almost impossible to walk up by now and we’d run out of time to traverse round any further.


At the top and in serious need of a sit down!



Craig and James set off first in the slush, having seen how soft it was I opted for one mahoosive toe side turn down the main face really letting go as the snow was slowing things down a bit. The climb back up to the hospice nearly killed me!


The best looking refuge ever! Complete with comfy beds, electricity, hot water and an awesome room.


The others including Kate, joined us later in the evening as we got to sit down to veggie soup, pasta and tuna salad and apple compote, none of us lasted very long before hitting the hay.


The next day was pretty cloudy higher up and spoilt the plan to re-climb the same route as the day before and then drop off the back, back down to the car park. Still didn’t spoil a good group photo.


Heading back down after a fantastic couple of days. One of the best places I have ever visited without a doubt.