Based on weather, and because ice-climbing aggravates my leg much less than skiing, we returned to Cogne a few days later to do a route in the adjacent valley to Valnontey, Lillaz. The short approach was very welcome. As usual, Yves carried all the heavy stuff. I always feel kind of lame about my partners shouldering most of the load, but it is for the good of everyone involved.
It was pretty cool for the initial “approach” to the climb go through the small village. I have not experienced this in North America.
Yves’ route choice was spectacular.
Unfortunately, the short approach and spectacular nature of the climb meant that there were a ton of other parties (Brits, Italians, Germans…Yves and I were the only French/Asian dynamic duo :)) arriving at around the same time as us, or right after. I have never been surrounded by so many other ice-climbers on a route; we could have been in sport-climbing area. It detracted from the peace and serenity that I seek when I climb, and having so many other climbers around me makes me feel a certain pressure. When I am rock climbing, my leg brace is apparent; however, I do not wear the brace when I ice-climb (and it would be under my pants anyway), so other climbers might be wondering why I move/climb the way I do. However, this did allow me to glean a little insight into other climbing cultures.
Perhaps because climbing is more popular in Europe, and population density is higher, such crowds are not uncommon. I am used to crowds on popular Yosemite Valley and other Sierra climbs; but nothing like I experienced here. Parties seemed to hurry and hop on climbs as fast as they could. In the States, if there are multiple parties at the base, the party that arrived first usually has priority to climb first, unless there are discussions about one party being much faster over the party that started ahead of it.
Climbers here seemed to have no problems climbing under/over ropes, without communicating with the other parties. The Brits were quite respectful; the Italians and Germans were atrocious, aggressive, and not particularly skilled. Of course, these few data points do not allow me to make generalizations about all the climbers from these countries. But I was surprised that Yves and I (the supposed loud, obnoxious “American” :)) were the ones that brought civility to the party :)
Fortunately, the crowds cleared significantly after the first pitch or so.
I was pretty psyched to place my first ice-screws in Europe!
One really cool aspect of this route was that instead of just going straight up, you need to skirt around picturesque pools of water, snowy ledges etc. to move between some pitches.
I feel very lucky to have been able to experience such a place, with a great partner. The snow and clouds made the drive back through Gran Paradiso very atmospheric.
I hope it is not too long before I see you again, Cogne!