Our traditional Christmas New Years Eve adventure was slated for Cogne, Italy this year. I had managed to get enough pounded through the thesis, and the submission deadline is looming but the time off was completely awesome and essential. So we drove down on the 30th, over the Saint Bernard pass/tunnel, down to the Aosta Vally in Northern Italy, then up and into Grand Paradiso National Park and the extremely picturesque Cogne valley, THEN, even further up the Valnontey valley. We seemed to have driven to the ends of the world, but were very warmly greeted at the La Barme Hotel.
We met up with our guide to be, Alessandro, after settling in, and established our plan for the next day. It was definitely going to be an ambitious choice: a classic, Patri Classic, a five pitch long 250m ice route rated at a solid WI IV. Ambitious for sure, what with three short days top roping a max III+ last year, this was going to be a big day for me, but well, a lot of magical things happen with a guide. We made our game plan, enjoyed a solid dinner, and sorted our gear for the morning to come. I struggled with adjusting the crampons I borrowed, some complication with the anti-balling plates, and we ended up trading, but were well adjusted in the end..
I was pretty intimidated, I am not going to lie. This is something I struggle with, which may seem weird or unusual to people who don’t know me that well, but oh man was I less than enthused. This was my idea, my plan, totally organized by me, but here I was on the night before, virtually speechless with a complete and all encompassing …doubt? It is something I am working on, separating the real fears from the delusional ones, the solid danger from the imagination, and trusting my abilities, and committing to these awesome things. Breakfast was early, and quiet, but I resolved not to let these doubts interfere with the things I wanted to accomplish, the experiences I wanted to have, and the adventures I wanted to enjoy. So off we went in the pre-dawn twilight light.
It was a short 1-1.5 hour hike up extremely well trodden and even sign posted trail. We got up to the bottom of the route smoothly, with only one team ahead of us. We established our gear, I took a deep breath, and off we went.
The first bump was a bit scrambly, it has been a solid five months since the last time I put crampons on my feet, but we got up to the bottom of the actual first pitch, and Alessandro headed up like some sort of ice climbing mountain goat. This dude was intense. He set up the belay, and then slightly awkwardly, the second team decided they wanted to start up the route now, so off they went slowly but mostly surely. I started up at the call, and struggled with four ropes in front of me, under my axes, in front of my crampons, but the further I went the easier it came. It was a long pitch though, 30m is longer than I have even rock climbed on a pitch! The second was steep, completely vertical, but quite short, and I struggled up it but made the top. The third pitch again, short, steep, and tough.
Alessandro took some photos, but he hasn’t sent them over yet. Always nice to have some of me climbing sometimes!
I was making it, but struggling a bit. This was at the extreme end of my abilities as a budding ice climbing diva, the first pitch was still in the fun end of extreme, but as we continued to move up the short vertical pitches I moved a little further out of that zone. Still extremely gratified to be moving my way up, the fun started to slip away a bit, and with each small slip and struggle it got further away. I stayed focused, kept pushing, and made it to the top of the third pitch. I was wiped, it was cold, and I felt like I was reaching my mental and physical limit. We took a small snack break, but I just didn’t have another 100m left in me. So I piled on all the clothes all three of us had brought, and settled down to wait while hanging out with the second team who had managed to catch up with us. Its amazing the number of people who have stories related to PhDs.
The boys made it up the last two pitches, but even the indomitable German boy admitted it was hard, and he struggled, and was extremely happy to get to the top and rappell back down. Alessandro the mountain goat even actually put in some ice screws for his own protection and not just our belay point. Definitely meant it was getting tougher.
This was our first ice day, it was an intense start, and I think we both did well. Based on my previous experience, this was a highly successful day, and I think that I did really well despite not sticking it out for all five pitches. In all honesty, sometimes, you just have to make that call. We walked down, an exposed and icy hiking trail, and made it back to the hotel by 3:30. A long, challenging and rewarding day, which I did not let my lame wussy inside talk me out of. A big jump into the ice climbing season, and a great way to ring in the new year. We even managed to stay up until midnight!
Anyone else get pre-route jitters?