The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

Monday, 23 December 2013

Don't forget your map!

Even with modern day technology don’t forget the basics of being able to read a map!

I click on the Nokia ‘HERE Drive+’ tile on my new Nokia Windows phone and waited as it looked for a GPS, loaded the road maps and located us to within metres of where we were. I knew how accurate it was as we were sitting in the car outside our house in Kendal!

Set Destination – search. Drive to – click yes. Finding your route……………and START – click yes.

Only 113miles and 2:52hours. 5mph and a voice tells me ‘after 255yrds turn right’ and we’re away.

My son asks for the phone in the back and starts giving directions as we exit Kendal and head towards the M6. No need for him to ask questions anymore like ‘how much further now Dad?’ or ‘you said it was only 1 hour to go half an hour ago! ’He’s got it all there in front of him.

Then he shouts out that we need to ‘get in the left lane’ and ‘take the next junction’.

I’m in the outside lane on the M6 and have taken this journey hundreds of times over the last 25years, but have never exited at the next junction!

Foot off the accelerator as my mind computes all the information which my phone, clutched by my 7 year old son, has already done, as I decide what route I should take. 25 years of experience or follow the GPS? I play the game and let him navigate. 
Why not I tell myself? It’ll be interesting to see which way the GPS takes us
‘In 1 mile keep left and take the next junction’ ‘In 500 yards keep left and take the next junction’. ‘Take the junction Dad and turn left’. ‘Keep right Dad and turn right in 260yrds’……….and so it goes on. 

We’re now in beautiful English countryside, rolling green fields, villages, village greens, corners shops, pubs by the name of ‘The Jolly Angler’ and ‘The Hare and Hounds’. 

We continue on, enjoying the new parts of England we’ve never explored before. A shout from the back ‘50miles to go till we get there’

Great I tell myself, this might be a quicker way, amazing after all these years……….I try to mentally think back over the route to remember it for next time. Impossible, no map or bearings, I’ve just been enjoying the scenery and being told whether to turn left or right or to just go straight on! 

My son knows more about where we are than I do and I read maps for a living! No bother though we’ve got the GPS – amazing technology, works within 2 metres of accuracy.

Then it all goes quiet in the back, a junction’s coming up and I wait for some directions.

‘Dad, the battery’s run out’ and my son leans over to the front and passes the phone back to me. 


I’m now on the junction, a line of cars waiting behind. I get the horn and a gesticulation from the M-series BMW up my arse.

I hazard a guess and turn left, then pull off the road next to a gate and farmers field. I look up and bales of hay wrapped in black plastic are stacked up next to the gate, someone’s graffitied the bails by writing in white paint ‘arsehole’ onto the end of one of them!

I turn around to look at my son in the back but it was no good, yes the phone had actually run out, and no Dad, ‘you didn’t say let me know when the phones about to run out and I’ll plug it back into the charger’. Anyway he wasn’t bothered, he was just looking out of the window.

I plug the phone into the cigarette lighter, click ‘HERE Drive+’ but nothing. The phone seems to need a certain amount of charge to reboot the GPS as the phone keeps shutting down. Blast!

‘Asshol’ Monty shouts from the back seat! I look in the rear view mirror and he’s looking back at me. ‘What does that mean Dad?’

I open the driver’s door, go around to the boot, open it up and under a boot full of kid’s stuff, I rummage for a dog-eared map which I thought I’d never need again. As I pull out the map its cover catches on the peddle of my sons bike and is ripped off!

‘Arsehole’ I hear Monty shout, ‘what does it mean Dad?’

I slam the boot, get back into the car, slam the door and thumb the map pages to try and find out roughly where we might be.

Minutes tick by, ‘Dad, how much longer will it be until we get there, I’m hungry?’

I orientate the map, work out some land marks, make a mental note of some features that I can tick off as we pass them to make sure we’re heading in the right direction - the next village, town, ‘A’ road and make some rough timings. I do a ‘U’ turn and we head off.

This is more like it I tell myself, I actually know where I am now, have a feel for the direction even without looking to see if it’s left or right, I know which way we’re heading. This is the fabric to navigation. This is the joy of it, the learning, and I could come this way again, and I’d remember it for next time.

I’m enjoying the feeling of navigating through this unknown English landscape and in part by intuition, which only comes from being able to read a map.

Relying on the navigation system seems to actually ebb away your confidence as you end up waiting for confirmation on where to go even though you know it’s correct – Crazy!

Known landmarks, villages, ‘A’ roads and we’re back on track
I re-boot the phone – bingo. I click on the ‘HERE Drive+’ tile and wait while it finds the GPS again. Set Destination – search. Drive to – click yes. Finding your route……………And START – click yes. ‘After 50rds turn left and do a ‘U’ turn!’

Not likely I thought and pull the plug. I sit back and just enjoy the beauty of being able to switch off and just drive.

‘Dad, how much further is it now?’

Safe driving!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Cascade Lillaz, Valeille, Cogne

We drove up to Lillaz today and climbed the super classic Cascade Lillaz.

The flat short walk into the cascade was a treat on our last day here in Cogne. Climbers everywhere for the first time which was a bit of a shock, as it's the Cogne Ice Climbing Festival this weekend signalling the start of the ice climbing season here in Cogne.

The first pitch of Cascade Lillaz today, which was complete but not fully formed enough to climb - there was a lot of water still running behind a thin lens of ice for the most part of the steep climbing and crucially where the icefall connects at the top!

Dawn seconding easier ice up a subsidiary water course which by-passes the first pitch on Cascade Lillaz, Cogne

Dawn enjoying some great ice of the third main pitch on Cascade Lillaz, Cogne.

There was a second steeper pillar in the middle of the main Lillaz drainage which we climbed and used the time to work on our technique - great climbing on good steep ice

Matt Hellicker climbing the last pitch on Cascade Lillaz, Cogne

We headed back to Lillaz and joined in with the festival by way of enjoying a free lunch! and social with some of the local activists here in Cogne. There were climbers enjoying technique workshops, borrowing test gear and later this evening there's films/talks and a good social which should be great. 

It feels strange though as we've had the place to ourselves up until today, which I know is rare and also inspiring and why you'll definitely see me back here again early next season to enjoy whatever the area gives 'up' and what we can 'tease out!'

I wonder what mixed action is going on in the Lakes at the moment!

Safe climbing

Friday, 13 December 2013

Pont, Valsavarenche

We headed back over to Valsavarenche today and on up to the head of the valley to Pont at 2000m. 
We drove up to Pont yesterday after climbing Antares and saw some great looking ice on the east side of the valley looking across from the Hotel Gran Paradiso which I'd not climbed before.

The routes aren't in any guidebooks I have with me here and almost sure that they're in an old Italian ice climbing guide I have at home, but now unfortunately out of print but called 'Cristalli e Diamanti' which I have a copy of at home.

The routes were in great condition and almost sure they'll form most seasons, as they have good drainage from above.

Dawn working the steep central pillar and enjoying some great ice

After breaking trail in knee deep snow up the main drainage line beneath the icefalls, we then ran the rope out for a couple of pitches on easier angled ice which led us to the base of all the routes.

Dawn pulling over the top of the steep central pillar - Pont, Valsavarenche.

We had a great day today, which felt all the more adventurous due to the fact that we'd just seen the routes the day before while drinking a coffee in the Hotel Gran Paradiso and then with no information went back today and climbed them - fantastic!

The Cogne Ice Climbing festival starts tomorrow in Lillaz which should be fun and with the offering of free food and drink, well who could resist!

Safe climbing

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Valsavarenche Cogne today

The highest spine of peaks solely in Italy (Mont Herbetet, Becca di Montandayne, Piccolo Paradiso and the highest summit Gran Paradiso itself at 4061m) split Valnontey and the next valley west Valsavarenche which runs parallel to it. 

It's a much lesser visited and hence quieter valley with the small hamlet of Pont at it's road end. It's from here that you generally climb the Gran Paradiso in summer time. Marked footpaths take you up the steep valley side to the Refugio Chabod and the Refugio Vittorio Emanuele where an overnight stay followed by an 'alpine start' will take climbers onto the glaciers and up the the highest summit at 4061m.

Great views across from Antares to the classic North Face of the Gran Paradiso.
But it's the ice we're interested in today and we found Antares being in great condition.

Dawn enjoying the first pitch on Antares today, Valsavarenche

An early view of Antares from low down in the initial snow gully - Valsavarenche.

Dawn topping out, after enjoying some great ice on Antares today

Enjoying the huge cave belay at the top of the main pitch - Antares

A fantastic panorama of the peaks looking across the valley from Antares
Left to right - Mont Herbetet, Becca di Montandayne, Piccolo Paradiso and the highest summit Gran Paradiso 4061m

Again, it felt like we were the only people in the valley climbing today.

You've got to love the ice!

Safe climbing

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Valnontey today

An overnight of minus 11 last night and a high of around +2, cold, clear and another bluebird day here in Cogne!

We headed up the valley from La Barme and climbed the classic Sentiero del Troll, WI3, 350m

Apart from a few people enjoying the world class cross country ski tracks here in Cogne (that cover more than 48km) it was just us in the valley - amazing.

Dawn enjoying the sun and some great ice on Sentiero del Troll, Valnontey, Cogne

The line of the classic Sentiero del troll - 350m of stepped ice and hour from La Barme!

It feels more of an alpine route in places, as it winds it way up towards the summit of the Bec du Vallon on the west side of Valnontey.

Fantastic views of Valnontey looking NE towards Cogne and
the peaks behind - left to right - Punta Arpisson, Punta Garin and Mont Grausson 

Interestingly, there is some amazing Hoar Frost growing in the valley bottom, I couldn't help but take a few photos!

Amazing feathers (Hoar Frost) growing on the snow surface which is due to water vapour moving through the snow on these cold clear nights we've been having.

These are some of the best examples I've ever seen of Hoar frost most of which are over 2 inches in size and seem to be growing!

Safe climbing

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Conditions in Cogne Valeille today

We headed up to Lillaz and into Valeille today - minus 8 again last night and sunny, clear skies all day today, high of +2 (+6 in the sun!)

We left with open minds in terms of what we were going to climb and immediately saw that E Tutto Relativo looked formed, so we headed straight up to it. You need a flexible approach early season!

We headed up the initial easier pitches which normally would be straight forward but today, early season you needed to take extra care as the ice was very thin and hollow in places.

Dawn pulling around the base of the steep pillar on E Tutto Relativo, Valeille, Cogne.

Our first proper view of the ice at the bottom of the free-standing column. 

As you can see the pillar has formed in a multitude of thin columns as the water has dripped down from above making good secure pick and crampon placements difficult to find. The ice screws felt hollow and questionable to how well they'd protect..

Typical early season conditions on a steep free-standing column like this though, before every thing's filled in and the ice having fattened up a little - You could see through the column in parts!

Great climbing though, with the column feeling fresh and unclimbed forcing you to take your time with every axe and foot placement and yes it felt steep!

Dawn topping out, with the steep pillar dropping down out of sight below.

Dawn working hard right up to the belay - E Tutto Relativo, Valeille, Cogne

Dawn abseiling down the top half of the free-standing column  - E Tutto Relativo

We then headed on up the valley to check out some of the other routes.

Left - Pattinaggio Artistico Direct touching down but not formed enough to climb, but the upper pitches look great.
Right - the bay of the classic X Files and Hard Ice direct not touching down yet

Left - an unformed Stella Artice
Right - a thin Inachevee Conception

Cold Couloir WI4, 600m looks in good condition
Just a note of caution though - there has been a lot of wind at some point moving the snow around, creating some wind slab which we observed and cross loading some of the gulley's and slopes - be careful on the snow slopes in-between any of the pitches.

 Valeille Rive Droite from an unformed Stella Artice on the far left to Cold Couloir on the right

Some of the classics on the other side of the valley - Valeille Rive Gauche

 Tuborg WI4+/5  

Candelabro del Coyote WI4+/5

Chandelle Levure WI4+ - the route looks very thin and still needs time to fill out.

Hope that helps if you're heading over this way at any point.

Safe climbing


Monday, 9 December 2013

Cogne ice conditions today

I’m staying at La Barme over in Cogne (Italy) this week and enjoying some great early season conditions.

We headed up Valnontey today for our first icefall climbing foray and climbed Patri, which was in great early season conditions, the ice linking up the final pitch and filling in the top gully was as fat as I’ve ever seen it!

The first pitches on Patri, Valnontey, Cogne.

  Dawn Blazer enjoying the climbing higher up on Patri, Valnontey, Cogne.

 The upper pitches of Patri right and left

Dawn enjoying some great ice on pitch 4 climbing Patri left, Valnontey, Cogne.

The top pitch on Patri left stacked out with some great ice

Fantastic day today on Patri, I'm sure that we were the only people in the valley!

Looking across at Grand Val on the way back this afternoon. It's all there, but just needs another week to fatten it up a little, filling in a few gaps.

Il Sentiero dei Troll WI 3, 350m - looked in good condition today 

Valmiana WI 3 110m also looked good today as we walked down the valley.

The bottom pitches of Thoule pictured here looked good but the final curtain leading to the more slabby ice to finish looked thin, patchy and de-laminated from the slabby rock underneath. The top pitch needs a little more time to form fat enough to climb safely.

Both Lauson and Ingnegneria the first routes on the Thoule side of the valley were not in at all. These routes take a lot more drainage, ice is forming but it's mainly running water at the moment. 

The weather here in Cogne has been fantastic in helping form the ice, giving both good early season conditions and also setting many of the routes up, so that potentially it could be a fantastic season. 
Cogne had a very wet Autumn and since then there was an early snowfall in October and then another 40cms in November which has been a great feed for all the routes here. Since then the evenings have been well below zero and the days warmer creating a great melt freeze cycle. You can tell this as everywhere you look curtains of ice have formed over many of the cliffs and rocky outcrops.

The best example of this melt freeze cycle is the formation of Doccia Fredda, a route close to La Barme in Valnontey that doesn't readily form as it requires drainage from mainly snow or wet weather and a very good melt freeze cycle as it's steep!

The rarely formed Doccia Fredda WI 5

If I get a whiff of this being good enough to climb, I'll be back to Cogne like a shot!

Heading to Lillaz and up into Valeille tomorrow.

Safe climbing