Water and Ice Bonanza!

The third stage of the ‘Mountain Academy 2’ program took place in Cogne, Italy from the 13 to 18 February. This week was all about ice-climbing.

text:Jerome Blanc-Gras
translation: Neil Brodie

Why ice?

Climbing frozen waterfalls is one of the richest of the alpine disciplines. It gives an opportunity to discover a new element. The climber has to observe the ice and adapt to its constantly changing shape and form. Icefalls must be treated with caution; ice climbing demands time and sensitivity.

Ice-climbing is an activity that involves all aspects of alpinism: confronting a hostile environment, using the equipment correctly, controlling your emotions and knowing when to commit.

The aim of the week was for the participants to gain the skills and knowledge to be able to climb calmly and efficiently so they could fully appreciate the beauty of this discipline. It was also an opportunity to train for bigger Alpine objectives.

Why Cogne?

There are lots of reasons to spend time in the high valleys that surround the Gran Paradiso: the conditions are reliable, the icefalls plentiful and the locals are friendly. The climbing history is also very rich; from the start of the 80s, the Valnontey, the Valeille and the other valleys of the area were the scene of frenetic activity by the likes of Gian Carlo Grassi. Always on the lookout for the best lines and the steepest ice, they gave us the great classic climbs such us the mythical pillar of Repentance Super.

So, what about our week:

Base camp was the Belvédère hotel in Gimillan, where the staff went out of their way to make us comfortable and keep us well-fed.

The first three days of the program were dedicated to learning the skills necessary to move on ice: specific climbing techniques, rope-work, placing protection and sharpening the equipment.

On Cascate di Lillaz, some of the team discovered ice for the first time while others experimented with climbing on lead – challenging for both body and mind! The morning temperature of -15°C quickly rose with the arrival of the sun, and the climbers were able to try their hand on a variety of structures, from vertical pillars to cauliflowers to hollow ice. The next day we moved to the neighboring valley of Valsavaranche, where the classic ice-fall of Rovenaud gave us a steeper and quieter climb.

The steeper, less featured ice made the climbing more difficult but didn’t dampen the group’s enthusiasm. Over the next few days everybody continued to progress on routes such as Tuborg and Candelabro del Coyotte in the Valeille valley.

As the team got used to this new element they became fully absorbed in what ice-climbing has to offer; excitement and beauty, of course, but also the opportunity to meet new people. Mountain Hardwear sponsored athletes Tim Emmett and Klemen Preml – just back from climbing a futuristic new route at Helckmen Falls in Canada – were keen to share their extensive experience of professional climbing with the Mountain Academy team. Tim climbed Joyeux Noël  – a 120-meter high vertical ice-fall in the village of Introd – with Aude and Denise giving the perfect opportunity for a photo shoot. By chance Ezio Marlier, who had made the first ascent of this ice-fall back in 1989, was there with some clients and was happy to share his stories.

Ueli Steck, who was climbing in the area, popped into the hotel for a cup of tea and a chat, and Elio Bonfanti, Aku ambassador, presented a slide-show demonstrating the vast potential for ice-climbing in the Italian Alps.

In the evening everybody handed over the photos and video they had made that day to Patryk, who had come down for the week despite being unable to climb following a recent knee operation. Patryk acted as the cornerstone of the group, motivating the members, collecting in the day’s images, editing them and then diffusing them on the various internet sites that the team uses. He was able to show the wider world what a week at the Mountain Academy is really like – a mix of pleasure, adventure and friendship.

Next episode: The Mont Blanc range 🙂

Routes climbed:

Cogne :

Lillaz, grade 3, 5 pitches
Candelle Levure, 7 pitches, 2 of which are grade 4+
El Candelabro del Coyote, grade 5, 4 pitches
Tuborg, grade 5, 5 pitches
Patri, grade 4, 6 pitches
Lillaz Gully, grade 4/M4+, 7 pitches

Valsavarenche :

Cascade de Rovenaud, grade 4, 3 pitches
Antares, grade 4, 3 pitches
Trip in the night, grade 5+, 4 pitches
Joyeux Noël, grade 5+, 2/3 pitches

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