Despite having lived in Chamonix for over three years it’s taken me a while to get round to exploring Cogne, the European ice climbing capital just a short drive from Cham. I guess the usual prime ice season (Jan/Feb) coincides with prime powder season and it can take a bit of willpower to turn down a blower pow day in favour of getting up early and standing around in the cold all day. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the decision has been a lot easier to make this year. Skiing conditions are frankly pretty rubbish at the moment. There certainly isn’t blower powder out there. Whilst ice conditions certainly aren’t ‘all time’, there’s still lots to do and thus I’ve finally got round to spending time in Cogne and exploring its valleys.
This weekend Dan and I headed out there to attempt Cold Couloir, a turbo classic of the area and a route that I’ve wanted to get on for a long time. It’s a moderate difficulty ice line (WI4+) that’s famous for being the longest route in Cogne. The accepted figure seems to be 600m for the line, though our altimeters clocked it at 670m to the end of the difficulties. If you turned it into an alpine outing and went all the way to the summit you’d be looking at nearly 1200m of elevation gain!
The route more than lived up to the hype. The climbing was excellent from start to finish and in great condition. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough, though get there early if you fancy a go. With ice conditions in Cogne quite thin at the moment crowds are flocking to all the classics that are in good condition. An early start from Chamonix saw us on the route at 8:00 in first place. Just as well because by 8:30 there were already three teams queuing behind us!
The 04:45 alarm was pretty brutal but completely worth it. FYI, Stella Artice is definitely not in condition and it looks like it will be a while until it’s properly formed.
Dan approaching the start of the route. The first pitch is an awesome 50m 80/85 degree cascade with a few short vertical sections (WI4+).
Dan cruising it.
Me on the second pitch, a real fun WI4. (Photo: Dan Pobega)
Dan following up the second pitch which has a mellow start but a steep and technical finish. Below you can see three teams all vying to get on the pitch! Fortunately we managed to stay ahead of them.
Dan climbing one of a series of short ice walls between easier ground.
Dan on the awesome WI4/4+ amphitheatre pitch. It felt like something out of the Canadian Rockies.
Dan on the final snow field before the steep crux finish.
Approaching the base of the final pitch. We saw no signs that anyone else had been this way, which is a shame since it’s a great way to finish the route. (Photo: Dan Pobega)
Me on the final ice wall after 650m of climbing. Though the local guidebook says the technical climbing is all over after 450m we cetainly found this not to be the case. In fact, this final pitch was probably the crux of the day, with a short but steep wall that rises to 90 degrees for 8m (WI4+). The photo is very deceptive and I’m glad Dan suggested we stop to pitch it! (Photo: Dan Pobega)
On the way back down. V-threads are now in place for the upper section (there are in-situ belays for the lower section). Full 60m ropes are obligatory if you want to make use of them. Thanks to the French team who put them in place as we went down!