Monday, 10 January 2011


Climbed all the moderate routes that are in condition? Weather report showing temps into the early teens? Time to leave town and cross the border ... to Italy!

Ah, Italy - where the air is colder and the hot chocolate unbelievable.

Our destination was Val Varaita, home of the first icefall climbed in Italy - as well as many others, of course. We first parked up in Chianale, an extremely picturesque little town at the top of the valley, covered in snow. Even for a weekend, the place was very quiet, and although we saw other parties on both Saturday and Sunday, the ice was never crowded.

Both days we headed towards a nearby canyon to a small amphitheatre of icefalls called Martinet. There's one short section of ice to be climbed to get there, and once in the amphitheatre, there are at least five lines to choose from. These range from an easy II/2 on the far left, to the scary looking chandeliers of the (not yet properly formed) left branch of a II/4+. As we are most happy on 3+ and 4 terrain, it was perfect for us!

Looking back down into the amphitheatre ...

Mark leading ...

First up was the sustained right hand side of "Gola del Martinet - Original Route". Although it's been stepped out by many previous parties, its continuous, 50 metre-long arc of ice is stunning to look at and, with parts of the ice feeling a little hollow and the roaring water directly to your left, it feels like a challenge for the grade. (There's a further top pitch which was mostly water, and although it was climbed by parties on the days we were there, we decided it wasn't for us.)

... Jen rapping off

And then the next day, it was the first pitch of Bianca Sirena. Sadly the top got a little too thin, even on the right side, but that left us enough time for ...

 ... Cascata di sinistra! Mark lead this in one long pitch, using all the length in the rope (plus its capacity to stretch!) and with Jen almost having to start climbing. The top section was deceptively steep, and although a little damp on the abseil down, it was another fun climb.

But that's not all Chianale has to offer. With our gear soaked through, we decided to hang it out in the van and crank Fred's heating - then, still wearing our wet clothes and gloves, head to a bar to dry ourselves off. We found this place: Le Montagnard.

We walked through several doors into the warm and cozy cellar, and soon had our clothes spread out in front of the fire, a glass of red in front of us - and a basket of fresh bread, a large platter of local meats and four slabs of only handmade but homemade cheese. With the assistance of one of the other guests to translate (our Italian is marginal!), the owner explained that he had made all four of the cheeses himself. One was a rich and creamy "three milks" (cows, sheep and goats), and the other three were harder and crumblier, one with chilli, one with garlic and the other with juniper berries. Delicious. And amazingly enough, considering the massive portions, we finished it all ...

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