Dec 16, 2012

Cogne, an ice story

Big loads of fresh white powder all over the Alps made our front forward plans for some stunning Alpine ascents totally out of the question. After some depressive hours of modern small talk and new planning (read SMS and mail en masse) we headed for an afternoon work out in le Parc Thermal in Fayet which always tend to keep its quality high. Specially regarding the involved access question and it's exposed terrain...!

Boys with toys...Parc thermal a Fayet

Next morning we had our heads turned south and direction Italy and the ice safe Vallèe d'Aoste and Cogne as final destination. Didn't make us disappointed this time either, the high quality espresso, great jambon cru and the Aosta wine... And, there was also ice! But no one to share it with, so we had to do all those number of ice routes just by our self, with out the later in season crowds. And to add to the plus the cold keept us going as well... Arriving at perfect espresso time around 09:30 the temp was around -5 but the next days we had well below -15C

Since both of us are very much into snow plodding we picked the Lillaz Gully route as a prémiere choise. Unfortunate we found an old track going up the hill so it wasn't as bad as hoped for, still enough to keep us waiding up to our waist here and there but mostly not deeper than up to Erik's knees. Which is about up to the hips on me, sort of

View over Lillaz Gully from the parking

Finally at the base of the gully, I warm my toes for a while, getting them heated up and during the time start rigging the gear, asking Erik to hand out the rope. Then he pics up this unsure face, staring to look around and finally admit that it's not here...most have come off during the walk up...

Well, I could make out that he wasn't kidding about this so what to do

Back down the hill, at least now I can work the heat back to the toes. And after a couple of 100rds meter down I see la corda laying nice and neat just before the ski track. And, after some more plodout we are ready to continue with todays goal, climb something. And if that wasn't enough we even had it on film with me behind the camera, what a comic!

Note the rope drop...!

Lillaz Gully

And to my realif the climb is worth every bit of sweat. A nice thin string of ice takes me up the first pitch, never desperate but just takes a bit of cautioun. The route is devided between some steeper ice and mixed parts and some snow filled up in the colouir. but overall a nice 6 pitch climb.

Erik Neergaard at work

Arriving at the what would be the crux pitch, second last one. It looks fairly dry but a nice crack on the left gives good support, backed up by an ice screw at the bottom. With the crack crux fresh in mind the last pitch should be a runner, but some most interesting spindrift makes it harder then suspected. Adding a bit more alpine feeling to the climb.

Topping a dinner at Bon Bec, Cogne, with some fromage d' local

Next day we are back in Lillaz Riva again. With no special goal, just looking what seems to be in condition. And trying to stay as warm as possible in the freezing temperature, which is well below -15C

First choise is a nice looking ice wall that goes over to a steep chandelier, which we with great interest start swinging our axes into. Back home it turns out to be "Stella Artice" WI5 that we had been knocking a fair amount of ice off.

Next goal is on the opposite slide of the valley and "Candelabro del Coyote" WI4/5, 4 pitches

Del Coyote is the route to the left, Tuborg to the right

Again looking much easier from distans but once on it, the cold dry ice gives a fair amount of resistance, hard to protect and difficult to get bomber if any placements on. A workout!


Next morning we take it a little slower letting the sun do some work on the air temp. Loading up the car and preppering the skis with skins before departing. Jumping into the car it feels very "stiff" and tired. And turning the key it gives the answer, a quiet click is all that is heard. The fan whistling in the back ground but no life to the engine. The diesel has frozen solid!

As always the local Italians are more then helpful, and Monsieur Herren from la Barme are soon there to help us pulling the van to the local garage. Not to surprised that a diesel dosnt start on a day like this.

-We had -19 at Valnontey this morning, so not a good night for a clean diesel engine, we have this problem all the time here. I belive him! A know fact with the new clean diesel

With the Mercedes safe and secure in the garage we were keen to get going to get cold ourselfs. So a lift up to Valnontey, since we heard it was the coldest place at the time. And then up to first obvious icefall, just to get some climbing done. And aiming for "Ingnegneria" ll WI4/5

The ice has this perfect looking shape, with the first pitch not just step but a bit tricky as well on the upper chandelle. Two good ice screws and a good belay later I take of for next pitch, which soon sends me a big piece of ice on my cheek. A bit of cussing back on it I continue the climb. But when Erik arrives he looks a bit concerned and drops the news that "that should probbobly been sewn, your bleeding quite a lot"

A handful of snow trying to clean up the face turns it very red, and with something hanging loose on the side I must agree to call it the day. Back down to the village, find some water to clean up and at least put some sport tape on it...what a day indeed!

Fixed up!

Pow pow Stoked
Time to park the axes in tha back of the car and get some skis under the feets before this take a really bad turn. And taking about that it turns out to be a decision of the week, with a big load of fresh cold powder arriving we got more then Stoked on a pow pow day on Helbronner, Courmayeur.

Vallèe d'Aosta, Cogne

It is one of 3 valleys on the North side of Gran Paradiso, which also is the name over Italy's highest peak with the same name (the highest peak which hasn't any borders or shared with France or Switzerland)

The area is famous for the ice climbing but also the cross country skiing and ski touring and in summer it's a lot of people trekking

Aosta is the closest bigger city and the closest airports are Milano, Turin and Geneve

During December and January it can be quite cold since the village is suited at over 1300m, but later on it is often crowded with climbers. So be early specially in the weekends.

It is a lot of different places to stay but on of the nicest is hotel la Barme in Valnontey. Which also has quick access to the climbs up in that valley.

Chateau Royal in Cogne is an other good option

The area is divided in to valleys, Lillaz and Valnontey. With ice falls and mixed routes up to 600m in length. The belays are fixed in general with good bolts
6-10 ice screws, 7-10QDs, a couple of mid size nuts and cams can be useful
2x50m ropes

Info about ice conditions via Ice climbing Cogne Not so easy to read though

There is a topo from 1999 "Cascades autour du Mont Blanc"

/Bonne chance

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