It’s early December 2020. At altitude and deep in our alpine valleys, the cold has been around for a little while now. As a serious and fanatic crag climber, I nevertheless strive to find areas in the sun to enjoy these beautiful fall conditions until the end, feeling grateful for my privilege to move as mountain guide throughout the pandemic. Both the magic and the nightmare of social media means that I start to see pictures of ice axes, icefalls, ephemeral lines, each more beautiful than the next. Every year the scenario repeats itself. There’s a short circuit in my brain. It's hunting for conditions. Fishing for the information to take advantage of these frozen curtains for a moment. Well... in reality its often long hours spent freezing alongside a good friend in the middle of the north face after a long approach in deep snow. But that's okay. The fun is there and that's the most important part!
La Maurienne – “Mordor” for some, paradise for others – conceals little-known gems, some well-hidden and even still unexplored. The Ribon valley just before Bessans is one of those places where it is possible to enjoy good cold conditions early in the season with several ice routes of all levels on the left bank, oriented E-NE. The deepness of the valley and the altitude doesn’t just provide the perfect conditions, but also guarantees relative tranquility.
Matthieu Brignon has already climbed there several times this season and even opened a nice line, "Dehors la loi", which is teasing me to get out the picks. Come on, it's definitely too frozen now, time to put away the climbing shoes and take out the ice axes. I congratulate him on his new route and tell him that I am available and ready for any icy and tiring attempt that he can dream of. A former (very) high-level trail runner and mountain guide, he also has a behavioural dysfunction linked to the seasonal drop in temperatures, which irreparably pushes him to go and hang himself from these frozen structures, a behaviour that is only amplified when the line does not exist in any climbing book!
The SMS has barely sent, when I receive his reply. Manu Pelissier has just opened a new line at Epena, time to go! That was without taking in to account the whims of mother nature which decides to add another good layer of snow and encourages us to change plans… No worries, there are projects a plenty and Matthieu tells me "there is this line perched up there… it has been several years now that I have looked at it and the cigare (a free-standing ice column) has never been so big. Wait, I'll send you a photo ". Beautiful, impressive, fascinating ... there are plenty of qualifiers and I already know in my head that I will go. I have little doubt: it will be the first line of the winter season with crampons and ice axes for me. It may rattle me a bit, but never mind, an opportunity like this cannot be missed!