Lillaz Gully (WI4), Cogne

After resting-up on New Years Day we were ready to hit the ground running. Anna’s leading was improving so swinging leads on Lillaz Gully now looked possible. For the first time on the trip we were able to follow an existing trail through the snow to the base of the route, which made for a remarkably easy approach compared to the preceding ones.

View back to Lillaz
Anna led the first pitch, which climbed an aesthetic ice gully. The ice was in good condition with first-time placements but the climbing was made easier by the existing ice screw holes and stepped-out nature of the ice. Two rope lengths of easy snow slopes then led us to a short gully of ice, which Anna also led. This pitch was less steep but the ice was thinner to counter this.

First pitch
The guidebook described the fourth pitch as “40m, 85 degrees” so I was expecting some sustained ice climbing. In reality the ice was relatively easy to climb but it tapered out towards the top of the pitch, which meant some tricky mixed climbing to substitute. Exiting the tapering ice to gain the snow slope above was proving a tricky task as there was little in the way of ice or turf for the axes to bite in to on the slopes above - just powder snow. I bridged my feet out wide and found some good hooks in the rock but I could not find anything higher to progress. We had spent some time translating the French description the previous night and had been amused to learn the need to pull on tree roots on one of the pitches. With the ice now running thin I looked to my left to see a line of tree roots poking through the snow. This was obviously the location. If it was ok for Perroux and Damilano to hook their way up tree roots then it was ok for me! I bridged left to meet them and then delicately hooked my axes over them in succession. The final root was felt particularly wobbly.

The fourth pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Top of the fourth pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Pulling on roots at the top of the fourth pitch
For the fifth pitch I climbed the right branch via the M4+ moves. The ice was thick low down and the mixed moves towards the top of the pitch felt easy compared to Scotland with steady bridging of the feet up a succession of holds. Unlike Scotland’s rime-up rock it was much easier to involve the hands where necessary. By now it was snowing heavily and visibility was vastly reduced. Anna started her climb on second and eventually her first ice axe appeared over the top of the pitch like a submarine periscope.

Scottish conditions at the top of pitch five
Anna led the final pitch, which was awkward and sketchy due to limited ice and deep powder snow and intermittent hidden rock. I found myself tugging on trees for the first part, with a delicate rock step higher up to reach the top of the route.

The tricky step at the top of the route
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
We were soon both a the top. The climb had been fantastic. Certainly the best so far on the trip. Anna looked ecstatic. What’s more we had made good time having completed the route before 1.30pm and in only 4.5 hours.

Top of the route
After a long series of abseils down Valmiana two days previous, the easy walk-off was a welcome experience. We descended through the trees to eventually meet Cascades de Lillaz. The ice was looking in much better condition due to cold temperatures and the section of ice that was running with water had now filled (although looked thin still). With much of the afternoon still free we were able to drink coffee and relax and contemplate a big day out up one of the valleys tomorrow.

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