Sunday, 19 February 2012

Pisse Froid ... Great climb, shame about the name!

What a line!
It's across the valley from St Christophe, and we've been eyeing it off for a while  - it's long and spectacular, the grade wasn't too hard, it had a shorter walk-in than the Valley of the Devil climbs and it looked fat (well, mostly).

The first day we wanted to climb it, we could see a party on the walk in - and there was another party gearing up in the carpark ... well, it was the weekend. So we aimed to come back (earlier) the next day.
So up we went ... 
And this time, we were first there!

Mark heading up the upper pillar.

The first pitch was a bit scrambley, but the ice then improved and  a few lovely pitches followed, gradually steeping to the top ... but the very top, the part that disappears into a gully ... well, it's climbable, but ... see the photos taken on rappel below! The weather was warming up and the icefall is melting - it was good to climb it, though.
Just stick to the left ... 

... one swift kick!

A great day out. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


 Back again to the Valley of the Devil!

We first saw the line of Deliverance from the other side of the valley, and it looked awesome - four pitches, 180m, WI4+ (it's the line of ice on the right, still all in shadow). Knowing it got afternoon sun, and the temps weren't that cold, we aimed for an early-ish start, not wanting to get too wet.

... on the first, and crux, pitch.
Mark starting out ... 

The second pitch: Mark avoiding the holey bits, but lots of solid ice to be found.
By midday, we were at the top of the third pitch ... not feeling like we'd done the approach or the climb as quickly as we would have liked, as the sun was now out in force. Jen scrambled up the final pitch to the top, as the water started pouring off the route ... we were soon, again, completely soaked!
Surprisingly, for an apparently 180m climb, we managed to rappel off in two lengths ... We only have 60m ropes. We were definitely at the top (it ends in a plateau). So where did the missing 60m of climbing go? Sure, you weave from one side to the other, that adds some distance ... but 180m is a little optimistic. A shame, as it was a fun climb and a great line - and in a spectacular part of the Alps, too.

Monday, 13 February 2012

A random catch up in the mountains

Jason, our mate from Amsterdam, was going to be skiing at Les Deux Alpes - which is the ski resort just up the hill from where we were camped at Venosc. We thought it would be pretty cool to catch up.

We then found out that Jason and his mates were in a chalet in a village just down the hill from where they would be skiing ... and, even better, that the chalet was right across the road from the campsite, 100m from the van.

We couldn't have planned it better!

So we headed up the hill for a great day on the slopes - perfect blue skies and fabulous views across the mountains. During the week, Jason and his mates invited us around for drinks and dinner on numerous occasions, and we quite happily crashed their holiday and hung out in the comfy chalet.

We'll have to randomly run into each other in the mountains again some time ... maybe Canada next, Jase?

The boys heading down the piste ...

... and relaxing in the sun.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Les Hémos à Godo

Back in the Valley of the Devil!

Jen started up pitch one, and missed the first bolted belay turning it into a mega-simul-climbed pitch  ...
but worse, managed to open a river near the top of it.

So, early in the day we had some pretty soaked ropes which then froze into fat cables. Forcing the ropes through the belay devices was probably more work than climbing. 

But we continued up, into the top bowl for the final two pitches.

Cables. Much heavier on the walk back, too!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Dancing Fall!

Yes, it's named for the Frank Zappa song ... 

Heading up the first pitch ... 

... and Mark leading up the second.

And just one more shot of the line ...

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Another day out at Ceillac

Ah, Ceillac - the shortest walk-ins we've seen, and some reliable ice too! So once again we managed to knock off two routes in a day ...

The first was Formes du Chaos, where we were followed by a French father / son team (Son doing all the leading; Dad enjoying a day out for his birthday) who lamented the shape of the ice fall this year: it was, like everything else in the Alps, a little on the thin side.

Apparently there isn't usually this gaping hole ...
But there was enough good ice to climb, or the gorge was narrow enough to bridge between the rock and ice (funky moves required - particularly to avoid the bloody streak a previous party had left behind ...!)

But thankfully the very top pitch was a bit more solid, giving Jen a chance to jump on lead.

As the day was still young, we headed across to the one-pitch wonder of Sombre Heroes (or as we keep calling it, Sober Heroes). We soloed up the first easy bit before Mark headed up the amazing pillar ...

An awesome pitch

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Dogs!

On Saturday 21st January, Cogne was home to the Italian national dog sledding championships - and the quiet cross-country ski piste was over-run with dogs and their owners. This sport leaves climbing of all varieties in the dust when it comes to being an expensive and time-consuming hobby: how are these teams of animals fed and exercised, not to mention trained?! And each team came in their specially kitted-out van, too.

Once in the harness, they had to be restrained by their owners to stop them charging off at full pelt: they knew what they needed to do, and couldn't wait to get running.

And ...
... they're off!

This was no Iditarod - the circuits were only 10km or so - and being a time trial with a number of categories (different dogs, different numbers of dogs and even a guy with only one dog, who skied behind him), we sadly couldn't place any bets on the teams. Still, a crazy sport to watch!


Thursday, 19 January 2012

The last two days in Cogne ...

Mark on the mega 55m WI5 penultimate pitch of Erfaulet - it's a lot steeper than it looks! And distressingly hollow in parts.

... and here on the final pitch: great cauliflower formations, that we didn't quite catch on camera.

And the next day, we headed up Stella Artice - the Artic Star - another WI5, but this one felt a wee bit harder. Can't quite see the freestanding cigar from here, though ...

Here it is! This shot, taken from the belay at the back of the cave by Jen, shows the start of the super steep and airy second pitch up the pillar. Yep, that's Mark about to climb.
Rappeling back down we had the leisure to photograph the drips: at least the pillar is getting fatter?

And lastly, again on rappel and looking straight up into it. A very impressive pitch.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Cogne ... more of the same, and all of it great

We had no idea Cogne was ever more than a sleepy town ... until we were here during Italian school holidays. Thankfully, the vans have now all packed up and gone home - but as this is the spot for good ice in Europe at the moment, we still need to start very early to beat the rush of ice climbers and be first on the route.

Crowds or no crowds, the hot chocolate in this part of the world is still the best. Their secret? Potato. Yep, it's really just chocolate flavoured, creamy mash. Knowing this does not deplete its deliciousness.

We've splashed out and stayed in a studio apartment for a few nights, to dry everything out - and take a break from our normal cuisine to have something from the oven: roast beef, roast potatoes and one night, stuffed capsicum.
Jen on Pattinaggio artistico ...
... enjoying a great day out climbing.

And Mark on the easier (and drier!) second pitch of Tuborg - another fun route.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


After lots of time in the Ecrins with marginal conditions - we gave in and headed back to Cogne. Why did we wait so long?

Random climber on Patri (Left)

An Alpine Club member warming up on Thoule (which at a supposed 3+ showed how variable ice grades can be!).

Jen waiting around for our turn Thoule
Jen making like a triangle on some steep ground on Cascade Lillaz
Jen leading on Acheronte
Conveniently, Acheronte drops you a short walk from the top of Patri (Right) - Perfect for an extra lap at the end of the day, especially in friendly stepped out conditions

Cold Couloir Attempt 1: Winter 2010/11 - Busy before we got there, people queueing, and the brittle ice was plating off in concerning head-sized chunks... we found something else to do. Vertigine Porcellana I think.

Cold Couloir Attempt 2: Winter 2010/11 - Same story except our back up was Chandelle Levure I think.

Spot the difference
Cold Couloir Attempt 3: Winter 2011/12 - Get up at stupid o'clock, walk in in the dark - first on route. Woohoo! Until 45 m into the first pitch, Mark breaks a pick. We bail after the first 60m pitch (to the delight of those queueing)

Cold Couloir, Pitch 1 (and 2 further back)

Cold Couloir Attempt 4: Winter 2011/12 - Get up at stupid o'clock, walk in in the dark - Only to be third on route, following the 2 teams of rescue services apparently getting paid to learn/practice ice climbing... They don't seem to be bringing down much ice, so we give them some space, then start on up.

Jen popping over the steep section of P2
The somewhat crusty P4 (not counting the snow plods as a pitch)

There's plenty more to be done here despite the non-ideal conditions... we just need to keep getting up early enough to beat the crowds...