I was fortunate enough to have a great tour guide in Yves for ice-climbing around Chamonix. This was actually my first European climbing experience, rock or ice, and what an introduction. Beautiful setting, great partner, fun leads. I am glad Chamonix is a multi-sport destination and we could ice-climb when I could not ski.
Since Yves and I had not climbed outside together before, we started off with a mellow trial run close by, at La Cremerie, Argentière. I often feel a bit bad about having to limit our routes to ones with not very long approaches.
This went quite well, so we next headed over the border to Italy and did climbs in the Valnontey valley, and Lillaz valley in Cogne, Italy. A place so nice we had to go there twice.
I guess it is pretty neat for my first visit/experience in Italy to be via ice-climbing! I know it doesn’t really count…not like when someone visits a city in Russia, and can then colour out half the world map.
Yves suggested ice-climbing in Cogne in Gran Paradiso National Park in the Aosta Valley, Italy for the setting, and the route because he knew it was in good condition. One thing I really enjoy about Chamonix, and many parts of Europe for that matter, is being able to cross national borders so easily and ski, ice-climb, rock-climb etc. in different places and countries.
The drive to Cogne involved passing through many tunnels, including the rather famous and long Mont Blanc tunnel. As one might imagine, accident/fire mitigation inside the tunnel is a big deal. Within the tunnel, cars are asked to leave 150m between them and the car ahead of them. This is so sensible for avoiding traffic jams due to accidents/breakdowns etc. I doubt that drivers in the US would adhere to such a rule.
Mild temperatures made me realize ice-climbing could actually be Type-I fun and not entirely a freezing suffer-fest. While the approaches to these areas is mostly flat, the abundant new snow at La Cremerie and Valnontey made the final kick up to the climbs challenging for me.
The two climbing experiences in Cogne could not have been more different. We had Sentiero dei Troll entirely to ourselves on one day; and I have never been in more of a multiple parties shit show than Cascade del Lillaz another day. The setting for both were beautiful though; the latter was particularly striking. I have never climbed in a place quite like this before and am super psyched about returning to do more ice climbs here and around Chamonix. It has also gotten me more excited about doing more ice-climbing in my backyard of New England. Separate blog posts to come for each of these days…
The first route, Sentiero dei Troll, is located in the Valnontey valley. We drove through a number of small, mountain villages, which struck me as being quite run down. Perhaps it was just the age and state of some structures; I’m sure the quality of life of the residents is not bad at all.
It was a wonderful surprise to have the entire route/place to ourselves.
Avalanche danger can be an issue around here because of the south facing climb, accumulation of snow higher up and the steep valley walls.
We saw some Chamois, which you do not find in North America. The couple we saw seemed quite unperturbed by humans.
What goes up…
…must come down
The climb itself was enjoyable. Convenient belays, comfortable temperatures with ice that was not bullet-proof. What really made the climb great was the setting and views. We made good time on the route, descended without incident, and made our way back to Chamonix.
Ice-climbing in the adjacent valley, Lillaz, in a future post…