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Daring Deeds - real stories, expeditions, road trips and adventure

Ice climbing, head spanners, chamois and Cogne

By Scott Swalling
25, Feb, 2019

Scott and climbing partner Dan head off to Cogne for a spot of ice climbing

Ice Fest 2019

Every year a friend of mine, Dave Pegler, organises Ice Fest - a non-guided trip that includes accommodation, excellent food, wine and some great local knowledge. This year we headed to Cogne.

It would be my first time ice climbing in 5 years and with the absence of any real climbing in the past 4 years, it was always going to be interesting. But with some training under the belt and feeling surprisingly fit, other than a severe lack of sleep, Daniel and I bundled our gear (including skis) into my van and headed off for a 12 hr drive to Cogne. 

Dan and I had some ideas of what we wanted to climb but had no real goals (maybe I should have set mine even lower), with a few routes picked as options for the week.

Day 1 - Candelabro del Coyote
Dan on the 1st pitch of Candelabro del Coyote
Further up the first pitch of CdC.

Dan and I headed to Candelabro del Coyote WI-4+ as it looked good and we had both climbed many routes beyond this grade. Dan opted for first pitch...  Huffing and puffing like to 2 pack a day smoker I eventually made the belay, in no state to continue on. We abbed off, Dan calm and understanding, me disappointed but chalking it up to exhaustion.

Day 2 - Patri
On the exploration walk before getting on Patri
Dan appears from the fun, but short lived rock chute on Patri

… a fun easy few picthes in the beautiful valley, the only one with any real snow cover.

Day 3 - Thule, a surprisingly steep 3+
The van being grumpy
Dan under Thule (how can it melt when it is minus 8?)

After a battery issue with the van, we made the short approach and I lead the first pitch. The sun had hit the ice on the last pitch, but it had clearly been melting for a while. As Dan arrived at the belay, we decided the curtain was too thin and wet and we retreated.

Day 4 - Back to Candelabro del Coyote.

A complete and utter head spanner. I felt fitter and hadn't experienced any real head issues, none that I had not overcome before mid route.  I chose to take the first pitch. Long story short, my confidence was severely misplaced and I would soon disappoint myself and in my mind let down Dan. Basically I was confused at the monumental loss of confidence and I was stopped on the ice.  I had to back off, and appologised to Dan about 50 times as we walked out and made other plans. (Dan was very understanding, one of the reasons he makes an excellent climbing partner and is a great friend).

Day 5 - Cascade Lillaz
A busy Cascade Lillaz
Dan cruising the final pitch

A fun outing on Cascade Lillaz was calm and exactly that, fun. We avoided the running water of the first pitch and ended up getting caught in the queues, but everyone was pleasant and it was more like a day at the crag.

Day 6 - Acheronte, Valnontey
Waiting for the first pitch on Acheronte to clear a little
Overjoyed with being hit by ice bouncing bombs, with only a small flake to hide behind

After an interesting and totally new approach and a little waiting at the first pitch for some other teams. I started up, head in a good place, happy and climbing with confidence. After a while his voice crackled over the radio to get comfy as we had a little wait. I watched chamois (about 20 or so), bounce from rock to rock, dart back into the trees and generally make our movement on such ground look slow and cumbersome.

We had been held up a bit by the other teams so time had got away.  As we sped out of the valley in fading light and on icy terrain, I hadn't noticed my threadbare socks rubbing, with about 1km left to walk out, I suddenly did. I slowed behind Dan and after a lot of very short but rapid steps we were back to the van and soon back in Cogne for dinner and wine, beer and Ruko gin.

Day 7 - Chandelle Levure
Dan leading the 2nd proper pitch on Acheronte & Photo at the top

I had to pace myself as my heals were killing me directly out of the van.  My goal was to climb enough to get Dan to the last pitch.  Once at the base of the climb I headed up the first easy pitch, using most of the rope and reaching a sunny belay and called Dan up.

Every step hurt… “Could I campus the last pitch?” I thought.

Heading back into Valley Valnontey, it was tad cold

Every route Dan and I did (or tried) was excellent, the atmosphere, the beauty of the valleys and the styles of route are endless and fantastic.  I will certainly head back and I will go back at the peak of my point end game and get on routes based on what I like the look of, that has always put me in good stead in the past.

Dan starting up the last pitch of Chandelle Levure

That ended the week in Cogne on Ice Fest and as per usual we had to try and drink most of the alcohol that night, it is tradition really, and we did OK.

Click here to read Scott's Daring Deed in full.

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