A great place to try ice climbing although I would dispute the description, “ideal for beginners”, that it is frequently labelled with. True it has a range of easy grade three ice climbs but they can vary wildly and are situated in an Alpine environment where the snow conditions are an important consideration. The Valmontey and Lillaz valleys are deceptively attractive but there is a considerable risk of avalanches, under certain conditions, from the slopes above the climbs.
Although the ice forms on a fairly consistent basis it is possible for there to be periods with very thin ice or even no ice at all. Do not believe the climbing map issued by the tourist information office featuring approximately 140 routes. We went recently and only found about a dozen routes in condition. These tended to be frozen watercourses as the routes that depend upon snow-melt had not formed. Some of the harder routes are: a) sensational b) Long and c) hard, that’s why they are called harder routes.
Things you need to know
Cogne is about the size of Grassmere, but nowhere near as busy, with a lot of hotels and apartments tagged on. It is very popular in the summer but unbelievably quiet in the winter. There are a few shops but if you are self catering there is a huge Carrefour at Aosta.
French and Italian climbers will quiet happily start following up routes, crossing ropes and commit a range of sins frowned upon in less Gallic parts of the world. It is not charming and often feels intimidating if not dangerous.
If you want a route to yourself start early. Getting up in daylight does not hack it.
Beer in the Bar Licone is expensive, the pizza’s are really good.
La Brassiere Du Bon Bec, which is over the road from the Bar Licone, is a good place to eat. The Entrecôte steaks when we had them were as good as it gets and a very reasonable price.
A lot of the restaurants are closed during the week in winter.
If the fabled 140 routes are not “in” you may well find yourself competing with a lot of other climbers to do the ones that are. Some of them eg. “Flash Estivo” are a lung bursting hike from the valley floor. One or two routes are easy to get to but many are not. We frequently left routes with a dozen or more parties on them.
On a few routes you can use a small rack of nuts but generally you will be using ice screws. Six should be enough for the longer harder stuff plus two for ice anchors.
Although most routes have bolted anchors they are actually the abseil stations so if you are not the first on a route be prepared to anchor off ice screws.
This is a great video that explains all of the scary stuff don’t think you can wing it half way up a route.
Top Tip for beginners
If it looks easy it will be hard.
If it looks hard it will be very hard.
If it looks very hard it will be way beyond what you and most people can do.