Frozen waterfalls open a whole new world of possibilities for winter sports lovers. Discover why Cogne -an ancient Italian village in the Aosta Valley- is considered as one of the best destinations in Europe to learn ice climbing. And read the story of 2 Belgian friends, who went on a 2-day introductory course with Andrea, a local IFMGA mountain guide.
When thinking about winter holidays, skiing and snowboarding are probably the first ideas that come to your mind. But if you are looking for new experiences, or you want to transfer your climbing skills honed in indoor gyms to an adventurous outdoor environment, you should definitely try ice climbing!
Basically, this sport constitutes ascending a vertical ice surface. Sides of a glacier or a frozen waterfall are the usual terrains for its practice.
Like rock climbers, ice climbers wear a harness attached to a rope (or two as the case may be), that prevents them from a dangerous fall to the ground. So they usually work in pairs or more with a partner belaying the climber from the ground (for single pitch climbs) or from an anchor point halfway up the icefall (for multi pitch climbs).
The essential gears for ice climbing includes mountaineering boots, crampons (steel, 12 points, vertical front points), a pair of technical ice axes and a helmet. Ice screws, quick draws and ropes are also necessary. And of course, you must wear suitable cold weather clothing and gloves.
One of the advantages about ice climbing is that almost everybody can practice it. A popular saying among ice climbers is that “if you can put a nail in with a hammer, you can go ice climbing”.
However, it’s quite a demanding sport that implies dealing with fear of heights and being patient, something that doesn't sound too easy when you are facing freezing temperatures.
According to Andrea -an IFMGA mountain guide living in the Aosta Valley-,
"Ice climbing is a sport which combines both the physical and psychological aspects. You have to be very watchful and concentrated. And you must always evaluate the conditions, even several times on one single icefall".
Because of all this, it’s highly recommended to practice this sport with a certified mountain guide, especially if you are a beginner.
Last February, Pierre Henry and Matthieu (two Belgian friends with a growing passion for the mountains) contacted Andrea through Explore-Share.com and went on a 2-day introductory ice climbing trip to Cogne. They had had a recent mountaineering experience at the Mercantour National Park in the South of France and were looking for an activity that allow them to get in a better shape and learn new techniques. Ice climbing sounded like an interesting choice for them. So here’s their experience:
A 2-day ice climbing course in Cogne with a local IFMGA mountain guide
Cogne is a mountain municipality inside the Gran Paradiso National Park, an unspoiled natural area in Northwestern Italy. With almost 150 frozen waterfalls it's an outstanding destination for ice climbers from all around the world.
The first day of their trip with Andrea, they had a short walk to the Lillaz icefall, an iconic ice climbing spot ideal for beginners. Here they learnt and practiced the basic skills and then finished the day abseiling. Matthieu says:
“This first day allowed us to grasp the general techniques and already test our strength and our fear of heights”.
At night, Andrea took them to a local restaurant, where they enjoyed dinner together. The best way to debrief after an intense day outside and enjoy the delicious Italian cuisine.
The second day, they went to Valnontey and hiked for almost an hour to reach “Patri de Gauche”, another of Cogne’s classic and challenging icefall. Pierre Henry found this route "more difficult, more demanding physically and more impressive than Lillaz”. For Matthieu,
"Ice climbing is really physical and requires to be a bit of a daredevil but the satisfaction of reaching the top of a frozen waterfall gives you a feeling that surpasses any of those challenges”.
While hiking back, they saw some chamois, a typical inhabitant of the Gran Paradiso National Park.
After their introduction to ice climbing, the two friends headed to a traditional resort for some piste skiing. About their experience, Pierre Henry says:
“All went very well! We are very satisfied about the ice climbing trip offered by Andrea. It is something I will probably never forget. I hope I can go on another adventure with him in the future! Thanks to Explore-Share and Andrea for this new experience”.
Matthieu also highlighted Andrea’s knowledge and friendliness, as well as their delightful talks about mountain activities.
Tips for planning an ice climbing trip to Cogne
If you are traveling to the Aosta Valley or any nearby destination in the Alps, you should definitely consider visiting Cogne.
You can get there in 1 hour 20 drive from Chamonix, 45 minutes from Aosta and 50 minutes from Courmayeur. By plane, the closest airport is Turin (1 hour 40 minutes by car from there).
The best time to practice ice climbing in Cogne is usually in January and February.
Like the two Belgian friends, you can also contact Andrea for one or several days of private guided ice climbing. He’ll teach you the basics if it’s your first time and help you become autonomous if you already have some experience.
You will learn ice climbing techniques as well as using crampons and ice axes. Besides, you'll acquire knowledge on safety procedures and how to analyze ice.
One of the things that make Cogne a world class area for ice climbing is that it offers climbing routes accessible for every level.
"There are a lot of possibilities -says Andrea-, so if there are too many climbers in one spot, we can move to another one. There are also icefalls of all exposure so based on the time of the day and the sunlight, we can go for one or another".
In case you plan to go there, we recommend you to stay at Hotel La Barme or Hotel Ondezana.
Don’t you feel like climbing an icefall already? We hope to have encouraged you to try this fascinating sport!
We at Explore-Share value very much experiences like the one Pierre Henry and Matthieu had this winter. They ventured to something new and unique together with a local mountain guide, and they had such an incredible trip that they are already planning their next adventure. According to Matthieu, it will probably be summiting either Monte Rosa (Italy) or Mount Elbrus (Russia).
You can also find your next adventure on Explore-Share.com. You'll find here ice climbing programs offered by certified mountain guides from all around the world.