Patri de Gauche (WI4), Cogne

After yesterday’s relatively short day we were keen to explore further up one of the valleys than previously ventured. The freezing level was predicted to rise to around 2000m today so the sensible thing was to aim high. I was keen to stick with WI4s, now that Anna was finding her feet on ice, so it was time to try one of the Cogne classics Petri de Gauche. Maybe Petri de Droite if I was feeling in good form.

The longer walk up the valley felt a stroll compared to previous outings due to the firm path that had formed in the snow. This continued all the way to the start of route. There were already two groups climbing the first pitch as we approached with two more teams gearing-up lower down. The guidebook described the route as being the most popular in Cogne, which seemed hard to believe given busyness of Cascades de Lillaz. We waited our turn whilst more climbers approached the route from the valley. The guidebook was evidently right. This route really was a honey pot.

The walk-in
The Petri icefalls
Anna led the impressive first pitch, climbing sustained 70 degree ice with intermittent steeper sections, skirting to the right of another pair of ropes. Then some Italians began climbing the far left-hand side of the icefall. Traffic was busy but everybody was courteous to one another compared to some of the antics I have experienced in Chamonix. This was Anna’s hardest lead for the fourth day in succession... so I will forgive her for dropping a screw that resulted in me having to cross two sets of ropes to retrieve whilst seconding the pitch.

First pitch
I continued up a short, steep icefall on the second pitch to an easy snow slope. Anna then led another short section of ice steps. Both these pitches felt easy due to the ice being hooked / stepped out from traffic. Above this presented the impressive cirque of the main Gauche and Droite icefalls.

Third pitch
The easiest line up Petri de Gauche looked to be the trade route on the left-hand side but the ice was wetter here. By this route, people were climbing to a belay at only 2/3 height and then ab’ing back down, which seemed a bit of an anticlimax. It looked difficult to move right in order to gain the final 1/3 due to the arrangement of the ice and would potentially involve another belay to do so. The central portion of the icefall was too thin and fissured to climb but the right side looked an excellent challenge – steeper and much more direct. It looked to be the perfect climax.

The Petri icefalls
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
The Gauche and Droite icefalls
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
The lower half was sustained. I my technique on steeper ice felt stuttered and out-of-practice but I made steady progress. In places the ice was brittle and fissured, which required care with my axe placements but overall the ice was far more pristine than elsewhere on the route with little signs of previous traffic. At half height the angle eased back slightly with a series of spaced large blocky steps to navigate through. The climbing was now much easier with obvious, positive hooks for much of the way. I bypassed a bolt belay on the right and continued up a short ice chimney to the summit of the route.

The final icefall
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
A chilly Anna had been waiting at the bottom of the pitch for a long time. She had firstly needed to wait for the pair of climbers ahead of us to move-off, and then for me to climb to the belay. Her gloves were damp and cold and halfway up the pitch the worst hot aches of her life kicked-in in brutal fashion for an unrelenting five minutes. She pinned herself to the ice and waited for them to pass. A pair of abseil ropes was dropped in her face from 30m above in the meantime to add to injury. Only when the hot aches had completely passed was she able to continue climbing.

Anna climbing the final chimney
The pitch was a grand finale to what was an outstanding route that rightly deserves classic status (and busyness). The top of the route was a tranquil place compared to the hive of activity below. We paused for five minutes before starting our descent. It was too late in the day to consider Petri de Droite and my technique was confirmed as being a little rusty to contemplate. Apparently the route was more like WI5 in its current state so it was maybe not the day for it.

Top of the route
We abseiled back down the entire route unaware that there was a simple walk-off down to our bags. The abseils at least allowed us to reflect on the great climbing that we had done. Particularly Anna’s effort on the first pitch.

Ab'ing down the first pitch

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