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2 weekends ago Etienne, Thibaut and I (Jozua) went to look if there was already some ice climbing to be done in the Queyras.

Oui oui, ambiance hivernale! Pic by Thibaut Lampe

First a short presentation of the rope party:

Thibaut (24) is a Belgian friend with who I’ve been doing quite some skitouring before. He prefers splitboarding aka walking around in the mountains on a snowboard cut in two. His van, Powla, welcomed us once again with such warmth. Yep, the name of his van has something to do with a certain snow consistency that he kind of likes. Little detail … he never touched a frozen waterfall before.

Etienne (18) is a French guy that I met on an international youth ice climbing meeting two years ago (he doesn’t speak Dutch, in fact we still need to learn him some elementary Dutch vocabulary like ‘neuken in de keuken’). He is in the Groupe Espoir Alpinisme Toulouse (a French training similar to mount couch) and doing his first season in the French Youth Ice Climbing Team. He feels comfortable doing lock-offs for hours and climbing rock with bare hands or a pair of Petzl Nomics doesn’t really change a lot for him. I might be exaggerating from time to time but you get the point ;).
Then there’s me, currently working on the future of telemark skiing at ‘The M Equipment’ in the south of France. Besides spending as much time in the mountains as possible. As Belgian I have limited experience with technical ice axes and that’s something to work on this winter.

Me, Etienne and Thibaut in our home for this weekend.

Thibaut and I initially had the plan to go ski/splitboard-touring but I saw on the internet that there was already some ice climbing to be done. Etienne had a weekend free of training and asked if I was free to go ice climbing so I was really stoked to go check some ice. I kindly asked Thibaut if he would also be interested to get a first ice climbing experience. He said yes, luckily.

Friday evening I pick up Etienne at Gap train station and off we go … to the Queyras. Powla brought Thibaut from Belgium to Switserland to France. Etienne and I had already chosen the route for the day after, ‘Y de droite’ in Ceillac seemed to be in condition. This is an easy multi-pitch icefall (WI3+ 250m), perfect for a first time ice climbing and we already climbed ‘Y the gauche’ together before. At 23.00h we arrive at Ville-Vielle. Thibaut has 1 one old Petzl Aztarex for which I made a metal griprest. With some tape we fix the metal wire and combined with a Sum’tec it should do the job. Because Etienne is ultra-motivated and Thibaut doesn’t really know what to expect we put on our headlamps and go feel some ice in Aiguilles. Etienne explains the basics to Thibaut and after some night traverses, it’s time to go to bed.

The first pitch of les Y.

The next morning we eat French breakfast at ‘Un Autre Pain’ and at 10:30 we’re ready to start our route. There’s one rope party in front of us but after the first pitch they let us pass by. The route consists out of a few steeper ice parts, so called ‘ressauts’, with a lot snow plowing in between. We simul climb those snowy parts and advance quickly. As planned we are back at the car around 14:00. There we meet a rope party that had been climbing ‘Les Formes du Chaos’. This classic seems to be in good shape and we keep it in mind.

Our goal was to do a little skitour in the afternoon and so we drive to Fontgillarde and start skinning to Col de Longet. We thought to encounter perfect powder snow “There was a retour d’est last weekend right!?” but it seems that there only fell about 10 cm. Besides there had been a lot of wind so we didn’t find a meter of fluffy and soft snow… Anyway we go on, it’s at least a good training!

At 17:00 we’re at the col. It’s freezing cold and it starts getting dark. Headlamps instead of goggles get placed on our helmets. Junior (Etienne) forgot his one so he learns how to ski on the feeling. In the evening we enjoy ‘fondue fromage’ in the van with a descent Belgian beer.

The splitboarder preparing his DIY Anticonf board for an awesome (kuch kuch) descent.

Since Les Formes du Chaos (25m, WI4) seems to be a quite popular icefall, we get up earlier on sunday. Snow starts to fall as announced so Powla gets parked at a safer spot a bit lower in the valley. The 4×4 fiat panda which I borrowed from my parents (thanks mutti and patti!) should do the job.

After arriving at the bottom of Les Formes du Choas it seems that someone got up earlier than us. Luckily they climb really quick without dropping ice. Etienne takes the lead and climbs the first pitch which we split in two. Then it’s my turn to lead the rest of the route. This time it’s a more interesting and technical climb. Although it’s a bit tricky and quite hard to find good screw placements, we really enjoy it.

Me leading pitch 3. Pic. by Thibaut Lampe

In the meantime it starts to snow really heavily and besides one ice screw hole, we don’t find any tracks from the ropeparty in front of us. The 6th pitch seems to be in bad condition so we decide to traverse to the right and start our descent. By accident we end up in ‘L’Y de gauche’. Some down climbing, short rappels and butt sliding later we’re back at the car.

After a tricky drive (with a LOT of snow, Powla was in her element) we say goodbye. Thibaut takes Etienne to Grenoble on his way back and fulfilled I drive back south. Great weekend with a great team!
Let’s hope winter goes on like this. I’m really stoked for more ice climbing!