22 December 2021, Lau Bij, Cogne Ice Climbing

The slightly intimidating collection of icicles that forms the route of Lau Bij above Cogne.

There were head torches bobbling their way up towards the base of Lillaz Gully well before dawn this morning.   A keen early start on a -10C mid winters morning.  Although as seems par for the course as this current high pressure system moves in to its end game, the temperature increased noticeably on climbing up out of the frosty valley floor.

The wandering first pith of Lau Bij, with some steep walls but plenty of ledge shuffling too. Photo Gareth Hughes

Having climbed Lillaz Gully on numerous occasions, we have often gazed across to Lau Big from quite close on the descent path and always thought the upper traverse through the icicles looked pretty scary.   That view was not contradicted by our even closer inspection this morning!

The long & thin free standing icicle – sometimes touches down – but today it was streaming with water and freezing – so presumably growing!

We managed to take a route on the first pitch which whilst not the line of most resistance was certainly not the line of least resistance either – which takes a big slanting rightwards rising traverse to good ledges below the final steep wet wall climbed to the most welcome 4 bolt rock belay in the cave

The fine wandering journey of the first pitch finishes with some steep moves up a short wall below the cave belay.

Whilst the route has had some ascents already this season, there was no one else up there today and very little evidence of recent traffic.  So either the previous teams had a very nice lite touch, or the running water has been returning the ice to a fairly natural state between ascents.   Either way, whilst both pick & screw placements were good – this was not the ladder style hook fest sometimes found in Cogne!

Gareth on the ‘Traverse of the Gods’ 2nd pitch. Short but memorable.

There was not only a 4 bolt belay in the rock cave, there was also a great sheltered view of the traverse of the gods 2nd pitch journeying through some pretty exposed icicle country.

A rare bolt runner on a multi pitch ice route protects the last few moves on the ice – before a short mixed section to reach the tress…

Whilst there are plenty of good ledges for rests along the way, there are some pretty steep bulges to negotiate too as the icicles push you out to traverse around them.   There is a bolt runner right at the end of this exposed traverse before stepping up in to a few mixed moves and tree belay.

Gareth coiling the rope at the base of the crag, with a sunny Cogne Valley and South face of Monte Bianco beyond on the right.

Rapping from the top of the route could give a scary liason with the large icicle fang towering down the R hand side of the route – best to well avoid this and a short easy walk across to the left side of the crag gave a steep rocky abseil right back down to the bags and well clear of the damoclean swords!

Down in Lillaz the Cascade area looks to have taken a battering from the sun higher up.  Lower down the first 2 pitches at least were complete as per the photo above – but with high volume water running close behind.

A river runs through it. An entertaining and atmospheric venue – but cold!

On the way back down the valley to Cogne, we checked out conditions in the fine river gorge.   It’s worth taking a walk down to the semi frozen river just for a look as it’s a pretty cool frost hollow which is currently streaked with various ice lines from easy to hard!

Dry tooling route on the initial wall with bolts also next to the icicle.
Both easy thick and easy and thin and hard routes in condition down in the river gorge.

Please get in touch if you would like to do some guided ice climbing or training in the Cogne or Chamonix areas.  From this weekend, the middle and high mountain lifts of the Mont Blanc Massif will be open so there will hopefully be a good variety of options from valley cascade to middle mountain mixed to high altitude icy and goulottes…

You can even do a half day for Chamonix intro ice climbing training, or a short route here: