Ice, Ice baby: Cogne, Italy (round 2)

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.

The familiar drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmeyer

The familiar drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmeyeur and Aosta

It was pretty cool for the initial “approach” to the climb go through the small village. I have not experienced this in North America.

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Yves’ route choice was  spectacular.

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The starting pitches of Cascade del Lillaz

The adjacent single pitch Chandelle de Lillaz

The adjacent single pitch Chandelle de Lillaz

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 :)

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I am looking kinda pissed in this picture because Yves and I had hurried up to escape the many other parties, some of whom were quite rude and aggressive. I’m parked here by a waterfall, seeking shelter from the ice raining down from the other parties above us. (Photo: Yves Durieux)

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I included this picture to show how many other people there were, and how at one point it was a rope shit-show (Photo: Yves Durieux)

Fortunately, the crowds cleared significantly after the first pitch or so.

It is too bad the website asianposes.com is now defunct

It is too bad the website asianposes.com is now defunct (Photo: Yves Durieux)

I was pretty psyched to place my first ice-screws in Europe!

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Getting ready to lead (Photo: Yves Durieux)

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(Photo: Yves Durieux)

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My happy place (Photo: Yves Durieux)

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(Photo: Yves Durieux)

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.

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Moving around little ponds

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Yves humping the ropes around

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Looking at the final pitch

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.

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Clearing clouds

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Beautiful Gran Paradiso

I hope it is not too long before I see you again, Cogne!

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Heading back to France

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