Gran Val, Valnontey (WI3), Cogne

It had been a hard slog through deep powder snow and over boulders to the bottom of the route but Gran Val in the Valnontey Valley looked an excellent objective for Anna's first day of water ice. The second and third pitches looked particularly enticing with the latter's ice couloir looking characteristically 'Scottish'.

Deep snow
The route
The first pitch was very easy apart from more deep snow wading to reach an ice screw belay on the right. There was probably a bolt belay somewhere but it was lost beneath the snow.

The second pitch provided some enjoyable climbing up the impressive icefall but the ice quality was inconsistent. What's more the temperatures felt above freezing and there was water running beneath the ice in multiple locations. Many of my axe placements were soft and sometimes unreliable. Often a top layer of rotten ice needed to be stripped from beneath the snow coverage to find more reliable placements. My mono-points felt equally insecure but most of the time I was able to kick in shallow steps. I one occasion my foot placement ripped but it was a minor event. I trended left towards the centre at half height but needed to back off due to the ice being unjustifiably thin with running water below. I swept in at a higher point where the ice was thicker. Another ice screw belay with the sound of running water in close proximity.

Second pitch
(Photo credit: Anna Kennedy)
The third pitch ice formations reminded me of the main pitch of Creag Meagaidh's The Wand. It was a steady angled 70 degree attractive ice gully hemmed in by rock walls. Again the ice was inconsistent and occasionally thin, which made the climbing feel harder than it would have been otherwise. Rotten blocks of ice rained down on Anna but it was the inevitability of finding reliable placements. Then throw in into the mix some hot aches at half height that took a woozy five minutes to pass.

Third pitch
(Photo credit: Anna Kennedy)
We didn't bother with the final pitch, which looked very easy and was buried in deep soft snow. We rapped off the single bolt at the top of the pitch, which looked an infinitely better option than trusting an abalakov thread. Anna threw the ropes back down the pitch. One landed in a drain of water but she managed better clearance on second attempt. We abseiled off bolts down the second pitch, followed by an abalakov thread abseil down the first pitch. It was 16.40 and snowing by the time we reached our bags, and largely dark by the time we reached the car. We had earned our cheap bottle of fizzy red wine once back at the apartment. 

Anna Ab'ing down the second pitch

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