- Cristalli Monte Bianco

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The common history

In the meantime the two future cristalliers of Mount Blanc meet. For duty of chronicle, Franco during the previous autumn had led Roberto along the basin of the Glacier of Miage to publicize an idea and to convince him to this philosophy of the search of crystals; in this particular environment, even if their approach to mountains is different, they both will have great satisfactions. This way, the two start the Company, taken by a passion that in time will become sacred fury. Going in quota to the Glacier of Pré de Bar, they find in alternate phases on a sub-vertical vein their first minerals in a crack: cubic fluorites (bi-coloured) combined with hyaline quartzes and sporadic galena, this one also crystallized cubic. These champions are still the only ones found in the massif of Mount Blanc. Obviously their joy is great, but from the beginning they realize that the most important thing is to use the common sense: above all, to be good seekers, they have to know thoroughly the ground, so unpredictable, incoherent, difficult, sometimes impenetrable and rather dangerous with which they will measure their strength. They'll have to stop for a long time under slopes, sues in their job, feeling, every time, that the world collapses on their head, since they have created dangerous empty spaces. They are anxious to disclose the secrets still hidden by rocks and ice, even if Monte Bianco had been scouted and explored since immemorial time. In short Roby says: "the cristalliers will always be misunderstood and of doubtful ethical fame, accused to empty the mountains removing their soul and, by some pedantic ones, to lower the quotas (sic!). But, after all, if a divine hand created the sought-after minerals of the alpine cracks (according to the last scientific data, about twenty million of years ago, in the last phase of the orogenesis) it is unthinkable that He had selfishly wanted to leave in dark hollows these perfect geometric figures of shining light and rich of fascinating mystery."
In 1983, they assiduously go to the basin of Fréboudze or Fréboudges (first "fumés" - brown - quartzes of a certain merit) in Val Ferret, and to Piccolo Monte Bianco in Val Vény (roses of hematite, brookiti), reaching the foot of the Innominata, beyond the mountaineering hut Monzino, running after the fabulous anatasis, (octahedrites or dioxide of titanium) that an inhabitant of Biella had discovered there, it will be known after, at the Aiguille Jean-Joseph Croux.
In 1984, it's mountain hut Gonella turn. Too many Italian collectors, starting from the cristallier from Milan Walter Monistier, had found in this immense stone glacier, besides the numerous other mineralogical kinds, splendid zeolites, as well as quartzes with inclusion of bissolite etc. Nothing: even if Roberto and Franco looking for them arrive at the Aiguilles Grises, they come back without any crystal in their backpack; the times were not yet mature. Just the case to say it. It takes a lot of patience in running after them. (In the meantime with a regurgitation of passion for mountaineering that he feels sometimes, that year in July, Roberto is again on Mount Emilius with Osvaldo, in the repetition of their "direct" way of 1980 on the North face, opening a new itinerary slightly different and more direct to the peak together with Alex "Lupetto" Casalegno and of Maurice Castellan).
But let's talk about 1985, since for their training of cristalliers the basin of Triolet is important. In fact Roberto ascends with Osvaldo, in one day, the Aiguille de Talèfre from Arnouva through the East Crest (Emile Rey's Route, Roberto does it, but he sees nothing: he's too busy to dig as a mole along those 700 meters; at midday his companion has to call him to make him realize that he had reached the top); the mountain is still very snowy, but in spite of this they understand that it's rich of diaclase (veins of quartzite). Thus, from now on, they begin to board it with a lot of raids in many campaigns. Nevertheless, we have to consider that, in this zone, as in other ones of the massif where geodynamics has been intense, the cristalliers coming from Courmayeur and Chamonix through Pierre Joseph col have always exported from the cracks a great amount of material. So only thanks to summer heat that had reduced some hanging snowfields, our two friends can find some unexplored cracks.
Anyhow, in 1986, (year of the bicentennial of the first ascent to Mount Blanc; note that in 1787 the second ascent was performed by three cristalliers from Chamonix to prepare the scientific one of de Saussure), Roberto, in a solitary turn on the East face of the Aiguille of Estellette, discovers by chance an important site. Climbing subsequently with his companion Franco, who has a flair and is able in using sledge-hammer, to their great surprise, they find a fantastic, amazing lithoclase with hyaline quartzes (with "faden" crystals, i.e. , with a core). It will become source of champions for many, many years to come. This way in 1988, at the end of August, with the aspirant guide Stephen Grivel from Gressan (the only survivor with Hans Marguerettaz in 1985 of Lyskamm tragedy) they sprightly return to the superior branch of the Glacier of Triolet and from there toward the Plateau Méridional. That summer is torrid and obviously the permafrost is not much consistent in a gully of the South-East slope of Talèfre, where they must go. They avoid a first discharge of ice above the Goedecke's Route (III°+), while more aloft on the couloir Roberto comes surprised from blocks suddenly detached from the superior hanging snowfield and his companions think he's done for. Then, at the return it will be him to help Stephen, slipped on the rocky plates remaining crushed with the whole load and turned to belly down toward the terminal crevasse, totally immobilized and with the rope as tense as a violin one. But all's well that ends well.
"A morbid hunger of quartzes, as if it were a beautiful woman ready to make love", Roberto affirms with emotion. Nevertheless, in spite of ice and rocks avoided for a wonder, the cristalliers, that day, come downhill after midnight, each of them with a load of more than 40 kilos of collecting minerals and with other misadventures that could have changed their joy in tragedy. Few days later, out of mind and tireless, Franco and Roberto return on the same itinerary to recover other fumés quartzes of an oven that seemed inexhaustible; luckily everything stays calm, imperturbable, not even the whistle of a stone. It's sure that the mountain has offered them and in various phases of its geological transformation, a rare scheelite (tungstato of Wolframio and kick), numerous gwindel or helical quartzes very appreciated by collectors, and a big quartz of about 15 kilos, that will be given to the Regional Museum of Natural Sciences of Saint-Pierre.
1989 is the keystone for the two "adventurers" from Charvensod, who prove their sure abilities in facing every kind of situation; from this moment on the young mountain climber Hans Marguerettaz from Courmayeur joins them forming so a formidable team operating in the Southern sector of the Massif. Hans, moreover, endowed with an endless curriculum of exploits, with exceptional routes in solitary among ypercouloir, supercouloir, connections etc. delays the passage to guide, because of an accident in paraglide: with that ephemeral gadget he hedges hop the granite rocks and, therefore, a gust dashes him against the wall. Maddish. But by now he starts recovering and he's anxious to be in good form to begin a serious collection of minerals. On the other hand, he'll give the material of the big oven, found by him on the South-East face of the Aiguilles Marbrées, to the Regional Museum, adding those lacking pieces to its mineralogical section, as its President perfectly knows. He will still find other notable specimen, as for instance, a red centimetric octahedral fluorite in the morion quartzes of the Aiguille de Toula. Since the first exits everything is fantastic for those three vagabonds, looked at with amazement and suspicion when they are in the cable-car, grungy, gross, tired and folded up on the backpacks, almost always swollen to their limit. "Actually, besides the alpine equipment, the cristallier has to bring a whole series of deadly iron excavation scrap; this already slashes him thin from the departure, at dawn; much more when the fate rewards him with the due load of recoveries. After all it's really the physical difficulty that countersigns him from an elegant mountain climber, as Roby says:" beh to the most, "peones!." Nevertheless, apart from people's opinions, this expedition is unforgettable for them because of the good reasons above mentioned; unity is strenght in labouring and suffering. And here they are down in the territories preferred by Hans, under the Turin Old Hut in the so-called "great couloir of the latrine": a notorious place with frequent "traps" and such as to bewilder even the coral caws when the dust rises. But here, at the extreme limit of an irreducible snowfield, quartzes fumés of rare beauty and worthy to make part of any world collection emerge from that unstable granite; and also other minerals such as the roses of hematite, the calcite and the ones of the rare earths: the monazite and the allanite inside small quartzes that's very hard to see in the clay or in the chlorite. Then it's the turn of the Marbrées, the Giant's Pass, the Grand Flambeau, the Aiguille d'Entrèves and so on, up to the Mont Noir du Peutérey (pirite of rare symmetry and hyaline quartzes with epitassia of the siderite). They perform also a descent from the Petit Mont Blanc directly on the Miage's glacier and moraine following the traces of the chamoises in free climbing descent (cubic pyrites with quartz and titaniti with adularia), on a layout that, in mountain language, is perhaps a first run. Again on the Talèfre (pink octagonal fluorites with quartzes fumés; these pieces also will go to the Museum, lacking in this precious pyramidal mineral). Once more to the Estellette, where Hans lowers Roberto from a wall higher than 70 meters, carrying a great slab of about 65 kilos on the back and fearing that the rope, rather thin due to the excessive load, can break. He still wonders why he suffers from an awful ache of back. But he's satisfied and aware that his boulder will be given to the Museum.
In 1990 the team is at work under the Monts Rouges du Peutérey (tabular hyalines quartzes geminate with cerussite); then to the Pic de la Brenva (faden fumés quartzes and green octahedral fluorite). Hans becomes alpine guide and glider pilot.
Afterwards, in 1991 the gang reaches the "gum" of the Giant Tooth, where Franco waits for them anxiously, since his companions go down on the precipice (Périades); having overcome the superior shoulder (East) they move to the North slope and, with a short crossing, they stop on the North-East edge to a draught of rope from the peak. Here Hans, the dangling legs, works with the crowbar and the hook in the crystallized hollow (morion quartzes among which an amazing sample higher than 40 cm with cluster quartzes). They heap up the backpacks and, having recovered the loot, they come back with a series of double ropes that they have to equip little by little, seeing the void below that goes down for 800 meters. These are exciting descents such to cut the breath in all the meanings, because of the load, obviously. Then in team, they face in different trips one of the wildest places of the massif: the peak Yeld, the glacier of the Périades on the North-North-West wall of the Jag, where certain "dalles" or plates are stuck with the spit. Terrible environment and very infrequent human passages since the times of the Zimmer caravan in 1900.
Finally on September the 7th 1991, with his group scattered on the Aiguille de Talèfre, Roberto, positioned on a steep suggestive frozen slant of the variation of Luigi Carrel (East Slope), is victim of a terrible accident but happily with a happy end. To avoid a rock overhanging him, he falls down along a colander for tens of meters, halting thanks to a granite protuberance that saves his life.
He will get by, (nearly bared) with the fracture of his left foot malleolus and with superficial excoriations in the whole body. This will teach him to put on his crampons, to hold an ice-axe in his hand, to wear the crash-helmet, even if it cooks the brain (I couldn't be worse, he says) and to face adventures with a minimum of safety, knowing the danger. But we're not sure that he always respects these basic rules.
Nevertheless in 1992, after having forgotten his fears, he's with Hans at Col Savoie (gwindel and hyalines quartzes). Going down together from the "brêche" of the Monts Rouges de Triolet, zigzaging on the glacier, they stop on the borders of a rocky islet towards Peak Isabella. Hans starts lowering Franco on the opposite side and, on a prominence at 30 meters from the underlying glacier, their companion makes an exceptional discovery on an almost vertical and saturated of soil crack. In fact, he extracts a champion with two light green crystallines above pyramidal, one of which a centimetre. When they are all three on that slender prominence, there and then, though admiring its beauty, they understand almost nothing about the nature or the kind of what they had found. (* It was a mineral of the rare earths: the Kainosite, unique for Mont Blanc and then contended by different alpine Museums). After, they are left by the helicopter in the depression between the Mont Greuvettaz and the Aiguille de Leschaux, in consequence of the interest of Mr. Noussan. They camp out up there trying to recover some material and they do the same near the bivouac of the Brenva. In the meantime Hans, as well struck by the virus of mineralogy, has desired for a long time to organize in his country the first "Show Market" of minerals and fossils, and this will happen at Christmas.
In 1993, above a variation of Hans (dihedral of 40 meters beside the 1975 Route Goedecke) of the South-East Crest of the Talèfre, Franco, Roberto and Giorgio Lale Murix from Saint-Pierre working on an archaic oven can extract some plates stuffed with adamant quartzes of around 35 kilos each. They will be shown, together with old books about this subject, at the second exhibition that Hans organizes for the last week of August. Afterwards, Franco, Giorgio and Dario Vighetti from Aosta break down another diaphragm on the litoclase of the Estellette, finding marvellous champions with a faden of 27 centimetres. At the end of September, Hans and Roberto, from the Pass Supérieur de Savoie, search on the South-South-West edge of the Aiguille. About this route it has come to our knowledge that there had been only a roped party in descent; none on the climb.
And here we are in 1994: it is worthy of note to remember the two days of the end of July that Roberto spends with Hans at the Dent de Jétoula. Here in fact after a descent of 60 meters on the slope Rochefort, where his companion, in a precedent solitary turn, had found many gwindel morions and almost all in matrix, Roberto restless can't help admiring not only the impregnability of the suspended oven in the abyss, but, even more, the inexpressible cleverness and courage of his friend, gifted besides of extraordinary humility. After a camping out in the open, the day after they lower flanking the South Crest (Via Gigi Panei), but without any result, till the base of Mont Fréty glacier. Then, reaching the hut of Pavillon, Hans communicates him the possibility to expose their champions along the course of the cable-way, having got in practice the ok from the Count Titta Gilberti. He fears nevertheless a sabotage of the third exhibition of minerals, already scheduled, since he has had a hard contrast with the mayor because of political matters concerning the valleys Vény and Ferret, etc. "The syndic, short after, probably angry, takes the necessary steps to prepare the decree that will forbid picking minerals on the territory of Mount Blanc", they explain (* * More or less this already happened at Bellecombe and Banchette in the municipalities of Chatillon and Montjovet, where he had been to take information). On August 14 Hans is again with Roberto on the terrace of Punta Helbronner: their intention is to reach the Jag of the Giant, but a snowfall in quota diverts them down toward the Vierge. Insofar they lower themselves along the Northern Spur of the Petit Flambeau finding, almost near its base and on a small terrace, unusual hyalines quartzes higher than 20 cm with laumontite. They are very happy! As usually in these cases they embrace each other, unaware that unfortunately this will be ineluctably the last hug and the last appointment of Hans with the mountain. Then, happy, they minutely wrap the best pieces, leaving other ones in sight of a possible return and they go up again along the snowy crest, shaped as a scimitar (also this route has probably never been done before), reaching shortly the cable-car.
The following day, Hans participates in the party of the guides and, on 21, been fond of free flight, while coming back with his glider from Ayas Valley, he tragically breaks on the southern heap of stones (non ho trovato il tuo nome groundstone: sai tu che esiste e che significa pietraia?) of Mount Tantané (La Magdeleine). He was only 30 and it is always difficult to understand and to accept this tragedy; he was a true professional in every field. There is no doubt that mineralogy in Aosta Valley and the small town of Courmayeur greatly felt his death; especially the cristalliers, who well know that the time lost is lost forever.
"Crystals are a spark of purity", said the guide/cristallier Georges Bettembourg and he added: "It's abnormal to spend a life in mountain without seeing crystals."
Hans' friends Walter and André Grivel will organize the show market, that unfortunately will stop existing in 1996.
Meanwhile in 1995, there is a great cultural show at Saint-Bénin Centre, in Aosta: "Les Dents de la Terre" (The earth teeth), supported by the Aosta Valley Region, with the participation of the mineralogical group "Les Amis di Berrio." The same group will collaborate also with the French collector Dr. Eric Asselborn for his "Minéralogie de Chamonix."
Afterwards, in 1996, Franco and Roberto helped by the geologist Paolo Castello, project their slides "The cristalliers talk about themselves" at the "Jardin de l'Ange" in Courmayeur, place allowed by Franco's friend Henry Truchet. In the meantime there is an intense work for the imminent opening of the "Museum of the Crystals", under the terrace of the glaciers of Pointe Helbronner, and Massimo Rey want them to fill a first showcase. Therefore they return to the Vierge to recover the quartzes left in '94, in order to put them with other ones in the museum adding also some pictures of their search.
In September 1997 they open the highest exhibition of crystals in Europe, dedicated to Hans, supported by the Region and strongly wanted by the Society owning the cable-cars, to realize the wish of the Count Titta Gilberti (died some years before) to offer something more to the guests reaching Punta Helbronner.
Well, the room is divided into sections: the alpine pieces of the Museum of Mineralogy in Turin (presided by the geologist George Peyronel) and the ones from the massif of Mount Blanc found by the two cristalliers from Charvensod who, the following year, will fill the empty spaces. On October 3, Roberto with the guide from Courmayeur (ex-cristallier) Mario Mochet, faces in one day the impervious spur of the miners at East of Col Infranchissable, and they return to lake Combal with a first photographic documentation both of the course and of the inside of the cavern (things never seen before), disclosing definitively the nature of the argentine mineral: id est that the galena gangue was not hydrofluoric, as asserted in 1963 in the guide C.A.I. / T.C.I. by the geologist Ercole Martina getting many consents, but simply of zinc blend (sulphide of zinc). Yet it would have been enough to consult the 1864 Felice Giordano relationship: look at "Rivista Mineralogica Italiana", 1999; "Minaria Helvetica", 1999; the catalogue "Cristalli e Minerali in Valle d'Aosta", 2004; Minerals of Piedmont and of Aosta's Valley, 2007 and the catalogue "Mineralientage", Munich 2010.
In 1998, in consequence of a disastrous detaching of a pillar on the South-East Crest, the Talèfre offers (a chi??)? Andrea Borney from Aymavilles other pink octahedral fluorites with the fumés quartzes, quite different from the striking French red ones.
In 1999, they make a first important discovery of stilbiti, quartzes and other zeolites as laumontite, heulandite and cabasite on the walls above the Dôme glacier, not far from the Shelter Gonella, and they find, around the slopes, considerable green quartzes of bissolite. Here they meet the keeper and friend Alessio Ollier, one of the best guides of the sixties / seventies, also good cristallier, hunter with his brother Attilio, and precursor of the alpine help.
In 2000, on the occasion of the 150° anniversary of the foundation of the Guides of Courmayeur, Franco and Roberto are invited to their party, at the feast of the Assumption; they bring a quartz to be shown and then they give it to the president of Italy Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, on holiday there. During the summer Franco, together with the young Luca Mochet, finds, at the right place and at the right moment, an exponential oven grazing the ice on the South-West slope of the Aiguilles Marbrées: it's difficult to quantify the content of that layer, but certainly the fumés are valuable; they find also several epidotes and adamant gwindel.
The 15 October 2001 Franco goes through the most dramatic moment of his life, because he wants to put again his hand in the hole at the Marbrées, even though he knows that that site has become a trench, as in "The battle of the Ardennes." However, Roberto accompanies him and they are quickly there, through the glacier of the Giant; even if there's nothing left and in spite of the abundant snowfalls, they don't come back, but they decide to climb the slant as if it were just a walk. Roberto, in fact, takes advantage on being on the ridge to climb the Peak Payot; they are always untied and everyone for himself, as usually while searching, knowing that place stone by stone. During the descent on the opposite slope, i.e. along the crest going to the Col of Rochefort, with mist and a frozen north wind (enough to make an Eskimo shudder with cold), Franco, a meter far from his companion, suddenly falls inside a gully luckily full of snow (after a violent fall from around 3 meters on the rocks) where he rolls down for many tens of meters. Hard to believe if you know the zone, he doesn't knock against the sharp rocks, but he halts in that narrow passage sinking on a providential subsidence, while his backpack disappears in the underlying glacier. Roberto's anguish and terror finish only when he can see his brotherly friend's conditions. Franco gets away with 9 fractured ribs and various lesions. Have they paid the right tribute to Mount Blanc for having raided it of so many treasures? And still thanking the gods who hadn't been so angry after all.
In 2003, after the campaigns with some friends from Turin and its environs to the Alp of the Frasses in the hessonite garnets concession in Valley of Susa, Roberto is invited to expose some select pieces at the "Fondation Tissières" in Martigny together with Valais cristalliers. In the meantime Franco, president of the association, obtains from the President of the junta Roberto Louvin a special licence to carry away, in collaboration with the Regional Museum, the splendid vesuvianes from the wall of Banchette. After all, on the matter permits, the President Dino Viérin had always granted the licence, "understanding with foresight that not all are criminals destroying stones and awaking devils, but that there are collectors who, if they can, keep the minerals popularizing science and culture, without noise and commerce", affirm our friends. In fact Roberto and Franco's pieces are exhibited from South to North of the Dora Baltea river; it's hard to find other people doing that, but Les Amis di Berrio are few and, so, politically they don't count. Therefore on the Banchette (Rodo), the guide Aldo Cambiolo from Valpelline puts in safety the unusual yard. In summer, they'll come with him to the place of the super spherical and pearly stilbitis and at last, after many days of inhuman excavation at more than 3000 meters above sea level, they are gratified by a crystallized cove sunk on itself for more than three meters between the ice and inactive material of that metamorphic rock: it will result that they are the most beautiful pieces of the Alps, besides the already quoted numerous accessory minerals.
Also the Museum helps them and, with the corps of foresters, it grants them a flight in helicopter to bring down the remaining material, including a plate of over 70 kilos that will go to Saint-Pierre museum (* * * now closed for restoration, where we hope the minerals will be put in a suitable place inside the castle, and no more near the toilets!). It would take a too long time to talk about all the other discoveries of our two crazy boys and it could maybe be boring. So let's go on with the most important events of their long career.
Actually, in 2004, there is the second exhibition for Roberto at Martigny; in June, for the Mineralogical Group, the exhibition "Crystals and Minerals in Aosta Valley" at the Archaeological Museum of Aosta, thanks to the assessor for culture Teresa Charles. On August 21, to commemorate the decennial of their friend Hans' death, they organize a projection of slides at the Jardin de l'Ange (the third one). And, on the occasion of the last visit of Pope John Paul II
to Introd, they're asked for a quartz crystal (symbol of purity and of the inaccessibility of mountains), to give Him. (Did He know who were the donors, just to put a good word for Heaven?)
In 2005, Franco is interviewed by the guides Hervé Barmasse and Pietro Giglio, for the telecast "Here Mountains" (regional italian TV).
The third exhibition at Martigny is about Sempione tunnel; Franco aware of its importance participates complying with the Swiss collector Alexander Saltzman's wishes.
In 2006, the Region asks them to prepare a showcase of minerals for the Museum of the Alps, inside the fortress of Bard, where they show a notable druse of quartzes fumés from Marbrées in the space devoted to the great John Ruskin. At the beginning of March, since the exhibition at the Archaeological Museum had been an international success, Franco and Roberto are invited to expose their best pieces, from the Southern sector of the massif, at the "Mineral Show" of Bologna about Mount Blanc. The season finishes with the invitation, from the "Club de Minéralogie" of Chamonix, at the inauguration of their magnificent Museum.
In 2007, they're invited to the guides day at Courmayeur, for having inserted, together with other cristalliers, minerals and, most of all, a hyaline quartz of Hans weighing 6 kilos found at the Eagle Beak (the only piece that his widow Joanne Grey had given to Pointe Helbronner museum) and some photos, immortalizing him in search. Intelligent exposure organized by Luciano Maregliati, Pierino Rey and Luca Mochet.
In August 2009, for the 42nd "Exposition Bourse internationale Chamonix Mont-Blanc", they prepare two showcases with the collections of their best pieces; French thank them for their regular presence at the meeting of the end of the year to hear the news but, most of all, they want to honour and show the minerals of the other side, nearly always ignored.
In autumn 2010, the organizer of the "Borsa internazionale" of Munich, Mr. Keilmann and the journalist from Alto Adige Mr. Wachtler go to Plan Félinaz, as a consequence, Ferronato and Lucianaz have the great satisfaction to expose their quartzes together with the ones found by the best cristalliers of the three countries around Mount Blanc. What about this exhibition with more than 200.000 visitors? After that success, the website of Roberto registers an amazing increase in visits (over 275.000 in a short time!).
In 2011, Region asks them to lend two big free quartzes that, with Grivel ice-axes, will reach Rome for the 150th Anniversary of the unity of Italy and that are supposed to have gone even to Washington.
For the opening at the Regional Library of Chatrian exhibition ("The art of a goldsmith in Aosta Valley"), besides the native gold from the mine of Brusson, they prepare different cubes with many crystals of quartz in the most varied forms and colours.
Recently, because of the dismantlement of Punta Helbronner to realize the new cable-car, helped by the staff, they have to empty, dismount and reassemble the showcases, in a room granted by Roberto Francesconi at the Pavillon du Mont-Fréty; after 14 years and innumerable visitors, they will be shown here waiting for a better and larger space.
That's all...

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