The first time I tried ice climbing it was an impromptu hour of top roping into a Moulin on the Mer du Glace last June. So not content with the array of supposedly dangerous mountain activities I already participate in, that short session was all it took for me to decide it was something I wanted to have a go at properly this winter. It’s fair to say that first ice climbing session may as well not count when compared to the waterfalls and river which defined my Ice climbing adventure this past weekend.
This winter has been a tough one for those seeking snow sports in the Chamonix valley. With only a handful of decent snowfalls between December and the end of February, it’s been far from ideal conditions for those in search of powder, but thankfully those bitterly cold, dry nights have ensured that the regions ice falls are in top nick.
On the advice of my guide for the day, an essential when you don’t have a buddy to teach you the skills, we headed to Congne on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massive to take on the Cascade de Lillaz, a stretch of undulating river and tall waterfalls which create a gloriously winding route for beginner ice climbing at grade 3.
With blue skies joining us for the day, there was something therapeutic about every thud of the ice axe securing in the shimmering ice whilst the sun streamed down.
With such good conditions, we weren’t alone on the ice, making for plenty of queues up to narrow stretches of ice. At one point the wait was looking like a good 30-40 minutes so in the spirit of adventure we headed for a steeper separate section to test out my skills whilst we waited to carry on the main route. A classic frozen column of water with dangling icicles, mushrooming lumps of ice and sections separating off, it was certainly steeper than it looked, I later found out it was graded at 4+.
After I belayed the guide it was my turn to follow, removing the ice screws and quick draws as I went. Wow was it hard. The arm pump started in a matter of minutes, the legs started shaking with every kick in, at one point I must have swung my left axe 15 times before it stuck due to the tiredness of my arm (it never helps when you are weaker on one side than the other). There was so many times I thought I was going to have to stop, to go back down.
Popping up over the top was incredible, adrenaline pumping and elated with completing a tough route for a complete novice, I felt invincible – well at least until the tiredness of my arms caught up with me. The only way to label it was tough but amazing. Unsurprisingly this means I might have found a nice addition to my mountain hobby list.