Sunday, 8 March 2009

cogne ice climbing

hectic [hek-tik]
characterized by intense agitation, excitement, confused and rapid movement, etc.

This week has been hectic. I spend a week away and what happens? One of our senior managers is sacked, the other is shifted from managing back to engineering and we're suddenly reporting to one of the company directors. Honestly, I'm not all that sure what my job really is anymore. Mind you, it doesn't seem to let up any - I spent 2 days travelling back and forth to Nottingham (managing a build) then drove a land rover to Plymouth and back in a day for some testing (wednesday consisted of approx. 10 hours driving, 4 hours working, several minutes wishing I did something else for a living and a few seconds asleep at the wheel...), and have just finished the week with a day of chasing around Coventry, wasting several hourstrying to access a computer system with the wrong passwords...

Anyway, on a more positive and interesting note, last Wednesday I flew out to Milan to meet up with Patrick, with whom I was going Ice Climbing in Cogne - a valley area in the Italian Alps.

This was a trip I had suggested whilst sitting in a cafe in Scotland after having spent days slogging through waist deep snow and not actually managing to climb anything - I needed some proper climbing! Expensive flights were booked, hotels and hire cars arranged and the next thing I knew Patrick and I were travelling into the mountains.

Wednesday was spent travelling, so on Thursday we headed out to climb the classic 'Cascade de Lillaz'. I didn't actually expect to be thrust straight into leading, bearing in mind my actual ice climbing experience at that point had been limited to seconding a single 10m ice pitch on Aladdin's Mirror Direct in the Northern Corries, and a session at the Ice Factor.
I hadn't even placed an ice screw before. Mercifully I was feeling reasonably confident, and once I'd watched the team ahead climb the first pitch, and had an encouraging chat with Patrick including a basic ice screw briefing), off we went. 4 beautiful ice fall pitches, and one slushy snow horror later and we were on our way back down and heading to the bar for a hot chocolate - Italian styleeee (if you've never tried proper Italian hot chocolate, you really, REALLY should).

I don't really know quite how to convey how incredible it felt to have led all 5 pitches of such fantastic ice, in such gorgeous surroundings and weather and with such a brilliant partner (more on that in a later post). So basically, I won't even try to say anything more eloquent than 'wow'.

Having had a fantastic day on Thursday, Friday was looking promising, that was until my stomach decided that it wanted to transform itself from a useful and well-loved body part to the demonic pain generator from hell.

Despite the horrendous cramps and sickness we walked in to a climb called 'Patri de Gauche'. Patrick led the second pitch via the most vertical section of ice I've ever seen - I got myself into a right state seconding it (I could try to justify my poor performance but I think it was simply a matter of being inexperienced and feeble, lacking technique - I have nothing but admiration for the way P led that thing in such a cool, calm and collected manner.)

Not feeling particulary brilliant my choice was to bail off the route after this pitch (yes, I was being phenomenally wimpish), so we did. One abseil and alot of faffing later we meandered back down to the beginning of what turned out to be the first pitch, a much easier angled affair involving a rather funky ice cave at the top. This pitch was to be my lead if I felt up to it - needless to say I had to have a crack at it and a little while later I was sat at the most wonderful belay in the world - a position akin to a nice comfy armchair atop a frozen waterfall with an alpine view, in the sun. Awesome.

Sadly this was to be the end of our actual climbing, due to a number of factors including faffing and incompetance, but mainly weather conditions.

It would have been nice to have gotten more done but all in all it was a great trip, with some great climbing and more laughter than is necessarily healthy (await another blog entry - the comedy is worth a written piece of its own!)

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