19 December 2022, Italian Ice & Swiss Mixed Winter Climbing

Antares WI 4, Valsavarenche 🇮🇹

Whilst the early season ice conditions are pretty decent over in Cogne, as it was a busy weekend due to the Ice opening festival there, we opted to climb on the other side of the Gran Paradiso and enjoyed the quiet, chilly and very short walk through the powder snow up to the vase of Antares from the Valsavarenche road.

Antares from the road. We did not do the last pitch as had deep snow covering thin ice.

Lots of teams arrived later to enjoy the decent early season conditions and some fat ice on the main steep pitch of Antares, but it was quiet early on and Rami and I had the route to ourselves for the ascent, not for the abseil descent!

Very comfortable first belay ledge – bolt anchor, big platform, fairly sheltered from ice fall, good views across to the heart of the Paradiso National Park and North Face of the Paradiso itself.

After an easy snowy walk to the first belay there is some more easy snowy ground before the pleasant steady ice leads up to the fixed anchor in the rock on the left.

Enjoyable steady climbing up the first ice pitch of Antares with a move Left to the anchor or possibly easier to move left lower down.

There is either a move left to get across the rock slabs to the anchor, or possibly easier to go left sooner and climb more direct.  On starting the steeper main ice pitch above – there was a small section of fixed rope on this anchor – making it easier to down climb and traverse out on to the ice – as the traverse from the height of the anchor itself would be across bare rock.

Fine views across to the North Faces of the Grand and Piccolo Paradiso – mainly exposed ice on the face.

The main 2nd pitch was in good condition and a pleasure to climb several steep bulges with good axe placements and an easing of the angle after each bulge with decent opportunities for placing ice screws.  We had done some previous intro ice training but this was Rami’s first proper ice route – and it packed a punch with a few fine short vertical sections.

Topping out on the fine sustained crux 2nd pitch which has some good steep bulges with ledges in between to get back in balance and place ice screws.

Whilst there is a mini waterfall down the centre of this upper wall, this is easily avoided in the nice big dry cave on the left with bolt anchor and ledge big enough for a comfortable bivi!   The waterfall could be passed easily and rapidly starting the 3rd pitch which looks like it’s going to be steeper than it is, with big footholds and good hooks rapidly leading to an easing of the angle and another bolt anchor, this time on the right.

Arrival of the sun for the abseil down the upper cascade – here starting the 3rd pitch

The last pitch did not seem to have had much traffic and was an unappealing combination of thin ice with water running below and deep soft snow above.  We started rapping back down the route!

The main cascade from the base of the route with the anchors on the rock on the left.

Back down in the valley floor it had gone from a chilly -9C in the shade to a very pleasant sunny and sparkling winter ambiance with folk enjoying the good conditions on the cross country ski track in Pont, not to mention of course the obligatory Italian cappuccino at the café.

Winter ballade ambiance as the sun arrives on the path through the powder on the very short walk from the Valsavarenche road to the route
Winter wonderland ambiance in the upper Valsavarenche with the cross country ski track looking great, and the café open.

There are various other lines forming in the Valsavarenche although none we saw looked as fat and complete as Antares and the mild weather forecast for the next few days will not help in building these further.

Some big higher mountain ice lines lower down Valsavarenche.

Jardiland, M3+ Leysin 🇨🇭

As a contrast to the Italian ice, we enjoyed some Swiss mixed, at the friendly and very new mixed climbing crag above Leysin, Jardiland.  This is a good place to swing the tools in to frozen turf; fettle picks in to limestone cracks; enjoy some short and steady mixed routes….whilst clipping bolts along the way!

‘Jardiland’ easily accessed via the snowy tracks above Leysin. A 2-3 pitch crag with easier mixed routes on plus some steeper harder projects on the walls on the left.

We climbed both of the very new ‘sport mixed’ style routes in the centre of the crag, ‘Cochonium-19’ and ‘La Balade de Dalton’ which both feature a mix of short limestone walls often with good turf placements above and bolts below up to around M3+ (around Scottish grade III-IV).

Rami enjoying the steeper wall sections between the easier snowy turfy sections.

There are quite a few bolts on the steeper sections but obviously less so on the easier snowy turfy sections and we placed a few nuts and cams as part of a good overall mixed climbing training day including a couple of abseils back down the crag to climb another route.

Rapping the line of Balade de Dalton with some fun climbing back up on the upper walls.
Good views from the crag to the limestone towers around Leysin (Tour d’Ai) as well as the PréAlpes Vaudoises and across to Les Diablerets.

Both routes have a shared top out with various fixed anchors and bolt and peg runners and some fun steep moves up a short rattly limestone chimney crack!

Easy snowy turfy climbing between the walls and more technical sections at Jardiland!

On topping out on the crag – any decent tree anchors are well back so it’s worth ensuring you have plenty of rope to reach them!   Walking off gave a pleasant change to abseiling and an atmospheric Scottish feel, apart from the fine views to the Dents du Midi big north faces of the Mont Blanc Massif!

Les Dents du Midi and Mont Blanc Massif on the walk back from Jardiland.

Clearly this is not a big or impressive crag but it’s a fun place to climb with a very easy approach and will catch on as an interesting new venue to train mixed climbing for maybe future ascents of some of those north faces…or other fine mixed routes above Leysin for that matter.  Thanks to Simon Chatelan’s new Swiss mixed climbing guide book for the inspiration and Pierre Bady and Danig Pohin for their work developing this crag.

The M1 snow ramp linking the 2 routes before the last pitch to top out on Jardiland. Les Diablerets beyond.

Get in touch this winter if we can help with some cascade ice climbing and winter climbing, mountaineering training, glacier snow shoe walking, private guiding for Chamonix ski touring and off piste skiing.

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