It's our first day in Cogne and we're looking for a warm-up route. The easily accessible classic Cascade de Lillaz is beset by axe-wielding hordes, so off we go in search of a single pitch climb which the guide book claims is three minutes walk away. This is nowhere to be found as we struggle through knee-deep snow along a vague path. We trawl onwards in the hope of reaching some ice falls further up the valley. This was to become our daily grind.
Cristal Guisy, Valeille, Cogne
© Misha, Feb 2009
Eventually we see a nice looking WI3 higher up the hillside with just one team on it. The approach isn't too bad until the path scuttles off to the side, leading to another busy line. It's only a couple of hundred metres up a snow slope but soon enough we're cursing as we sink through the powder snow with every step, sometimes waist deep. “It was worse on Mera Peak,” adds Mike One helpfully.
The initial ice section is gently angled, so I suggest Mike Two gives it a go. He's never climbed ice before and plays around at the bottom, producing an excellent Scooby Doo impression as his crampons lose purchase. Ah yes, now we remember the blunt points he showed us the previous evening; clearly we were all too busy watching Hard Grit to bother with trivial things like sharpening the tools. Time for Mike Three (that's me) to set off instead. The other team is walking off past us. “Now my head can rest,” the leader says. Reassuring.
Soon all that remains is to get to what looks like a good belay ledge via a short, steep fluted section. Plenty of natural hooks, so not too bad, until one of the axes gets well and truly stuck and no amount of wiggling, bashing or pleading can dislodge it from its icy grip. A screw goes in and suddenly it's that much easier to climb up a bit and knock the axe loose. Unfortunately the pump is building by now so I carry on slowly, which only makes the pump worse.
And so upwards to the ledge, which turns out to be a reasonably steep section. Still, there's a bit of a cave higher up which might do for a belay. This turns out to lack both comfort and decent gear, so I have my first experience of downclimbing on ice. Hanging belay it is then, though the fact that only one of the screws is fully in doesn't inspire confidence. Just as well that Mike One comes off only a couple of times. It will be getting dark soon, so we give up on the rest of the route and the Mikes lower off.
Time to get out of here, shame the ice doesn't look that great for an Abalakov, but at least there are some icicle columns off to the side. Rope faff ensues as I traverse back and forth to thread the ropes round the icicles and disassemble the belay. There are several icicles, each about as thick as an arm, so they should hold, but there's only one way to find out... I live to die another day. Darkness falls as we descend into the valley and follow a cross country ski piste back to the village.
The car thermometer shows -12°C, though somehow it doesn't feel that cold – must be the dry climate. Soon enough though we're reminded by the hot aches that it's pretty chilly after all. For the love of the game...
Over dinner, we think of Honorary Mike (Paul), who had to stay behind at Birmigham airport with his expired passport. Clutching a fancy new passport, he joined us the following evening for more adventures later in the week.
The list of entries so far is below (closing date for entries is Midnight on Monday 9th March):
Click to read individual articles in this series:
LYON EQUIPMENT COMPETITION: A Grand Day Out
A Grand Day Out is another creative competition and a chance to express yourself and share your adventures.
FULL DETAILS HERE: LYON EQUIPMENT COMPETITION: A Grand Day Out