Europe's longest running ice climbing festival, Ice Climbing Ecrins (ICE) now in its 21st year, drew to a close last Sunday 16th January.
Despite very average conditions (although better than pretty much everywhere else in the Alps!) the festival ran its full course successfully concluding with a great Saturday night soiree consisting of two big events - The Big Air and The Dry Tooling Competitions.
By Saturday morning the competition for the Dry Tooling had reached epic levels of excitement with most of the world's best ice climbers in quarantine and awaiting their fate; following the cancellation of the World Cup at Val Daone, the international elite of the ice world had concentrated in L'Argentiere-La-Bessee, centre of Ecrins Ice. Among them, the Russian national team, but also Americans, Canadians, British, Spaniards and Italians ...
After a fabulous glitzy evening show, Russia's Alexey Tomolova (RUS) won the dry tooling competition, with Duverney Simond (FRA) second and Eric Jamet (FRA) and Gaetan Raymond (FRA) tying for third place.
In the women's event hot French favourite Stephanie Maureau kept the Russians at bay with a first place performance, with Maria Tolokonina (RUS) coming second and Liudmila Badalyan (RUS) third.
FINAL RESULTS - WOMEN
- Stéphanie Maureau (FRA)
- Maria Tolokonina (RUS)
- Liudmila Badalyan (RUS)
FINAL RESULTS - MEN
- Alexey Tomolov (RUS)
- Simond Duverney (FRA)
- Eric Jamet (FRA) and Gaetan Raymond (FRA)
In parallel to the dry tooling in the Big Air Contest the Hautes Alpes best riders showed of their skills with Paul Henri Faure winning the SKI category and Niels Regnier the SNOW COMP.
The Ice Climbing Ecrins Festival is not just about ice climbing pros. The underlying theme, developed by its creator Gerard Pailheret, is encouraging novices to experience the amazing sport of ice fall climbing. As per usual the buses taking the beginners and experts alike were full each morning for the short climb to the Fournel and Freissiniers valleys - ideal ice playgrounds offering everything from top rope ice parks to cutting edge M10's!
As festival organiser Mathieu Maynadier remarked "The goal is that participants find the workshops fun! Beautiful and graceful movements are not important at this stage. The most important are the basics such as keeping your heels low to prevent cramped calves, and climbing with your feet apart so you feel stable and just as importantly you don't tear your over trousers to shreds!"
Here are some comments from people who either took part or instructed in the workshops:
First workshop - Ice climbing for beginners
Two novices -
"It is not easy from the start to gain confidence in your feet. In fact it's a vicious circle: the less you trust, the less you weight your crampons and the more your arms burn! But once you learn to plant your cramponed boots correctly, you start to feel solid. Our patient guide continually tells us to climb relaxed with arms outstretched, but this is definitely easier said than done!"
"For me, my biggest problem is planting the axe accurately and on target! Funnily enough when the route gets harder and steeper I seem to do better! Too soft a blow and the pick bounces wildly. Too hard and I get covered in ice chips, and the axe is a pig to remove. But I get plenty of opportunity to practice and eventually get the right force in the right place. Hurray!"
The second workshop - Dry tooling
On the dry tooling lessons the languages spoken included English, Iranian and French! We share advice, as well as good "tooling" spots around the world. Mohammed and Ali (you couldn't have invented it better) are two Iranian who are regular Chamonix converts. This year they participated in their first Ecrins ICE festival.
"I heard about ICE through the FCA. It's a very nice event", confirmed Mohamed. "We learnt a great deal and got to practice in a very nice atmosphere!"
Third workshop - Advanced ice
In a beautiful area still untouched by early spring, Matt, a Briançon guide, coaches the most experienced climbers:
"Here, the area is steeper, more technical, he says. The goal is to refine your climbing. Think about your footwork and take care not to spend too much energy. Learn to read the ice, choose small natural hollows. Gain confidence through repetition."
ICE Climbing Ecrins 2011 was an especially important occasion as it marked the first ICE festival where its creator, Gerard Pailheret, was not present. Tragically, after months of struggling with stomach cancer, Gerard left us in late November last year. For those who did not know him, Gerard was the most inspirational ice climber in the Ecrins. A native of Marseilles, Gerard arrived in the L'Argentiere valley some thirty years ago. After starting off working at the local ski stations as a pisteur, he soon became a fully qualified UIAGM guide in order to integrate the Bureau des Guides des Ecrins into the UIAGM in the early 1980s.
He was a fanatical ice climber and ice climbing guide, he organized ice courses back to back throughout the Winter months and he ran the ICE festival successfully for 19 years. He also ran the hugely popular ice climbing website http://ice-fall.com/
This gives up to date photos and reports on all the ice falls and mixed routes in the Ecrins Massif and as such is a "Must see" website for any ice climber visiting this amazing area. The site is still in full operation and is now being handled by local climbers.
Through his continued work over 2 decades he has allowed thousands of people to experience the wonders of ice climbing. For all of us locals and for the many climbers he has inspired over the years he will remain the definitive and symbolic figurehead of ice climbing in the Ecrins Massif.
Report by Jerry Gore of AlpBase.com