New crag in Lillaz, Cogne… great rock and rad views galore




Climbing equals freedom, balance, dedication, strength and the love of nature.

The Aosta Valley offers countless opportunities for climbers of all grades and tastes, with crags set amid stunning scenery.

One such case is the new Marcello Gerard crag set up by the Cogne guide Alberto Silvestri together with Marco della Noce in Lillaz, Cogne. It offers grades starting at F5a up to F7b; you will find engaging routes requiring delicate moves, making for an exciting venture.

Bathed in the sun all year round, this is the ideal place if you want to hone your skills at the marvellous game of climbing.

Proudly supported by the Guide di Cogne and Peakshunter.

All pictures © Sibilla Leonida, except where otherwise stated.



LIllaz Cristina Borgesia

Picture © Cristina Borgesio


The opening party…  Picture © Debora Bionaz



A feast for the eyes, a feast for your soul. Explore & Be.



A mountain is sincere. The weapons to conquer it exist inside you, inside your soul.      

Walter Bonatti

L’alpiniste est un homme qui conduit son corps là ou, un jour, ses yeux ont regardé. Et qui revient. 

Gaston Rebuffat

I look at climbing not so much as standing on the top as seeing the other side. There are always other horizons in front of you, other horizons to go beyond and that’s what I like about climbing. 

Chris Bonington


We could go on and on, and find quotes that match our own thoughts, our own essence, our fears and beliefs, our expectations and dreams. We all go to the mountains for different reasons, but all aspire to having fun.

Even when conditions are dire, the wind is blowing, you have lost your path and a storm is approaching, we need to find a way to enjoy what’s happening.

Clearly, diverse people tackle projects of varying degrees and difficulty, and we do not necessarily have to climb all the 4,000 m., 7,000 m peaks, and so on to feel content. Little things make big things happen. Isabelle Santoire and Heike Schmitt understood this and have been pushing girls (and boys) up mountains for quite some time, accompanying them in their own pursuits, cherishing their joy and, most importantly, smiling with them along the way.

For this reason, when Isabelle asked me to take part in her new Explore and Be project, a girls-only Ice climbing day in Cogne, I immediately signed in. I knew I was in for a fun day, meeting new people, sharing ideas, getting motivated. This is what Explore & Be is about.

I saw some very enthusiastic faces and most girls were so stunned at how much fun ice climbing is. I bet it’s all down to the relaxed atmosphere, where no real competition is felt, but two rules apply: be safe and have fun.   The idea is to connect people with similar aspirations and interests, both men and women, coming from various countries and bearing differing backgrounds.

More events are planned in the future, so stay tuned! And do not miss them!


All pictures by Hugo Vincent Photography.

Proudly supported by Arc’teryx.



Lecturing on ice axes – useful info indeed.


Love ice, love life. The Cogne Ice Opening 2015


Matthias Scherer on Hard Ice Direct, Cogne. Photo Angela Percival/Arc’teryx


Ice, ephemeral and fleeting, defining our transient life.

Ice, cold and tough, revealing its secrets with relentless resistance.

And then there is the Ice of the Cogne Ice Opening Festival, where old and new friends meet and the keyword is only one: having fun.

Whether people tackle the ice for the first time or want a tougher challenge, there was something for everyone at the fourth edition of this excellent gathering. People from all over the world reserved their places well in advance and have already set aside some time for next year’s event.  What is its secret? People are SMILING at the Opening. Always.

Clinics were organized over two days and people were happy sharpening their tools, despite unusual warm temperatures all over Europe. It’s cold in winter in Lillaz, didn’t you know? You do know now!

And of course there was the All about the Ice evening, with talks and videos, laughs and tears and the joyful expectation of the raffle.

The evening kicked off with Alex Crudo, member of the Cogne Mountain Guides, talking about the guides’ activities and remembering a prestigious member who sadly passed away this year, Albino Savin. A representative of the Gran Paradiso National Park illustrated the climbing ban on three lines in the Valnontey area because of a bird who has its nest there – the lines you CANNOT climb are Monday Money, Gusto di Scozia, Flash estivo, Flash estivo colonnato centrale, Fiumana di Money. More info here                 Luka Lindic  illustrated his way to alpinism, with images of some of his exploits, such as the Integrale de Peuterey, Rolling Stones on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses – which he free climbed – and his expeditions the world over. Jeff Mercier showed two exciting videos of his link up of three hard routes in Kanderstegg, early this year, with Julien Irilli. Klemen Premrl, who last year enthralled the public with his iceberg climbs, showed a video of his exciting Iceland trip, climbing ice with the aurora borealis in the background, in his the Iceland Trifecta. Matthias Scherer, Tanja and Heike Schmitt rounded off the night with the European premiere of their Stormbringer – No retreat  video on their Norwegian trip.

A big thank you goes to all the guides who helped during the event:  Maël Baguet, Jon Bracey, Matt Helliker, Heike Schmitt, Isabelle Santoire, Cecile Thomas, Maciek Cieselski, Titi Gentet, Patrick Pessi, Jeff Mercier, Patrick Raspo, Marco Farina and Alberto Silver Silvestri.

What are we to learn from all these videos and images? One simple lesson: go beyond your limits, tackle new challenges, but most of all, whatever you do, love life. And do pay a visit to Cogne for excellent ice climbing. As usual, you will not be disappointed.

Proudly sponsored by Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, La Sportiva, Glorify, Sterling, Clif Bar and Suunto.


Many people during the clinics!


We are never short of girls at the Cogne Ice Opening!!


Jeff Mercier illustrating his Kandersteg link-up.


Francois Cazzanelli and Marco Farina talking about their Cerro Torre ascent. I moderated the evening!

Cogne 1

Luka Lindic gets going at dry tooling in Lillaz. Photo Hugo Vincent

Cogne 2

Having fun on Loie! Photo Hugo Vincent

Jeff Mercier Kandesteg cop Rab

Jeff Mercier during his Kandersteg link up. Photo cop Rab


Klemen Premer in action in Iceland. Photo Tim Kemple


Matthias Scherer during his Norway trip. Cop Matthias Scherer/Arc’teryx


When ice climbing is a work of art… at the table. Only at Hotel Ondezana, Cogne

Cogne Ice Opening 2014

It's all about having a good time... Rudi Hauser, Klemen  Premrl, Jeff Mercier, Maël Baguet and Christian Lehmann

It’s all about having a good time… Rudi Hauser, Klemen Premrl, Jeff Mercier, Maël Baguet and Christian Lehmann

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway

Life. Making the most of it. Be it reaching the zenith of a mountain, learning a new skill or simply “taking the road less travelled by”, the journey encompassed by these new experiences takes centre stage.

And so, when faced with hardly any ice on the eve of an Ice Festival, Cogne Ice Opening organisers Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt decided to opt for alternatives. Chief among them, dry tooling. With the help of Jeff Mercier, Patrick Raspo and Heike Schmitt, a few routes set up at the speed of light to satisfy possibly disappointed people, eager to hit the very ephemeral ice. In the end, all I could see were smiles, determination and the will to learn this new technique. A good lesson in resilience. Dry tooling feels very unnatural at the beginning and trusting your tools is an acquired art, but you slowly build up confidence and learn to enjoy the ride.

Some ice, albeit brittle, was nonetheless to be found, and keen climbers honed their skills at it, whetting the appetite for the not so distant future.

The lack of freshly formed waterfalls was nonetheless supplemented by “All about the ice”, the Opening’s Movie Night. Tanja Schmitt presented Velocity, shot in Cogne at the beginning of the year, which offers a slightly introspective take on the fascination hidden within ice climbing. Matthias Scherer introduced Reborn, which premiered at the festival, a superb film retracing the couple’s recent journey to Canada and the anticipation that lingers at the beginning of every ice-climbing season.

Mountain Guide Matteo Giglio briefly talked about his exhaustive guidebook Effimeri Barbagli , covering the 700 waterfalls in the Aosta Valley. Austrian extreme climber Rudi Hauser presented a superb set of images from ice climbs in Norway, lulling the viewers with enthralling landscapes and outstanding shots. He also illustrated his forthcoming film on a the combination of two 1000 metre- rock routes, which he free soloed and linked by running and riding a bike, all in 11 hours.

Manu Ibarra and Jerome Blanc-Gras presented the Italian translation of their The Art of Ice Climbing book , edited by Versante Sud under the title L’arte del ghiaccio  They also introduced their project Icefall Data, which aims at collecting information about ice climbs, their nature and the possible accidents which may arise from this sport.

Bold French climber, base jumper and aspirant mountain guide Maël Baguet showed a film on Ballade au Clair de Lune, the exceptional ascent of this complexl route on the south face of the Aiguille du Fou (Aiguille du Chamonix), together with Damien Tomasi and Mathieu Maynadier. Wanting to descend rapidly, Maël jumped from the top with a wing suit, making it the first ever jump from the summit. More info here.

The final, thrilling touch to a very varied evening was given by accomplished Slovenian climber Klemen Premrl, who entertained the audience with some adrenaline packed short movies, attesting to his (and friend Aljaz Anderle’s) somewhat scary climbs on icebergs in Greenland.

Two days of clinics on ski-touring, ice climbing and dry tooling were the perfect recipe for happy faces, new friends and treasured adventures. In addition to the above mentioned athletes, classes were held by Matt Helliker, Jon Bracey, Isabelle Santoire and Fabian Mayer.

This event is growing, which makes the organisers really proud, and the world-renowned hamlet of Cogne, an even more interesting place to visit.

Sponsored by Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, La Sportiva, Sterling Rope, Suunto, Gloryfy and Clif Bar.

A cool crowd is gathering...

A cool crowd is gathering…

There is indeed some ice... Matt Helliker in action. Photo © Alan Scowcroft

There is indeed some ice… Matt Helliker in action. Photo © Alan Scowcroft

Walking up to the dry tooling crag. A colourful crowd.

Walking up to the dry tooling crag. A colourful crowd.


Rudi Hauser tackling some (for him) easy mixed climbing.


The dry tooling crag from a (short) distance… loads of fun!


Maël Baguet and Jeff Mercier enjoying the sun…


Manu Ibarra and Jerome Blanc-Gras presenting their The art of Ice Climbing – L’arte del ghiaccio book.

Smile... it's a group photo!  Left to right, Manu Ibarra, Jerome Blanc-Gras, Maël Baguet, Matthias Scherer, Tanja Schmitt, myself, Klemen Premrl, Rudi Hauser, Matteo Giglio.

Smile… it’s a group photo! Left to right, Manu Ibarra, Jerome Blanc-Gras, Maël Baguet, Matthias Scherer, Tanja Schmitt, myself, Klemen Premrl, Rudi Hauser, Matteo Giglio. Photo © Donatella Brina

Maël Baguet giving some tips on dry tooling techniques

Maël Baguet giving some tips on dry tooling techniques.

Maël Baguet. Smooth moves.

Maël Baguet. Smooth moves.

Maël Baguet and Vertical editor Claude Gardien contemplating the state of Lillaz waterfalls...

Maël Baguet and Vertical editor Claude Gardien contemplating the state of Lillaz waterfalls…

Not only rock and ice... ski-touring, too. Jeff Mercier and Isabelle Santoire.

Not only rock and ice… ski-touring, too. Jeff Mercier and Isabelle Santoire.

Jasmine Heinen 1

Chasing ice… Photo © Jasmine Heinen

Ryoko Amano 1

Heike Schmitt on early season, delicate ice. Photo © Ryoko Amano

Are alpinists actors? – A thorny issue indeed.


Seeking a way in stormy weather. Cop Arc’teryx Alpine Academy

You have to look at life and smile. Even when things seem difficult and challenging. Perhaps even more then.  So when I stupidly fell whilst rappelling and broke my heel, knowing that I could not attend some fun days in the mountains – the Alpine Academy in Chamonix  – I did not throw a tantrum, but went anyway.

It was worth it, for I was taught another relevant lesson in mountaineering life.

Watching Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt’s Velocity and also Luka Lindič’s Determination, two of the many films screened for the Movie Night, I found some key questions relating to the mountaineering world were raised.

Matthias and Tanja – see two posts in this blog  and  –  left everything behind to follow their passion, ice climbing. They did not just dream or ponder about it, they let ice absorb their lives and cherished in it. They are unassuming and honest and do not seek fame, nor fortune.  Neither does Luka. A young Slovenian alpinist, he has already accomplished a lot, such as the solo Peuterey Integrale in the summer of 2013

His message is clear. Some mountaineers behave like actors and are much keener on the  mere “story telling” than their actual pursuits, apparently seeming to have completed their projects before setting off for their ventures.

Setting the boundaries in this field can be a thorny issue at times, but it is certainly a topic worth examining.

Perhaps, in the future, Mountain Festivals will devote some time to this debate.

Stay tuned…


Matthias Scherer on Repentance, Cogne. Photo Tanja Schmitt



Luka Lindič at the screening in Chamonix. Cop Arc’terix Alpine Academy


Cruising. Cop Arc’teryx Alpine Academy



Sharing the view. During the Peuterey Integrale. Cop. Luka Lindič



Beauty. cop. Arc’teryx Alpine Academy



Looking back towards the Aiguille Noire. Cop. Luka Lindič



Frozen Love – Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt


Couples who share their passions are not so infrequent in the sport industry. We find examples in the climbing, swimming, skiing, mountaineering world in general.

Tanja and Matthias, however, are united by a love for something rather treacherous: ice climbing.  It is the frailty of it all, hanging from a brittle and unstable piece of ice that appeals to them, for they are always reminded that life is but a short flash and needs to be enjoyed fully.

I met Tanja and Matthias at the IMS in Brixen, South Tyrol, in 2012. This mountain festival offers the chance to spend time with mountaineers and climbers, and so I immediately captured their spontaneity and their kind manners.  They have lived in stupendous Chamonix and are now based in Cogne, the ice-climbing capital in stunning Aosta Valley. Being German, and from a non-mountainous region, means that they had to adapt to different cultures, languages and settings to be able to follow their interests.

What I found most fascinating, though, was the fact that they always come back from their frequent trips  – to the fabulous Canadian Rockies or magical Norway for instance – with many excellent photographs and videos, whose soundtrack they compose themselves on a computer software.  Frozen Love is one example   A journey into the allure of ice climbing and a testament to their love.  Others are the ascent of Repetance in Valnontey, Cogne   and a video on Canadian Ice

Their websites  and  are also incredibly rich in pictures and extremely detailed descriptions of their ascents, with slideshows, comments, advice and superb shots which aptly frame their vision.

Among Matthias’ most memorable lines are Juste une Illusion and Rappelle toi que tu es un Homme in France, Lipton in Norway, Rainbow Serpent, Replicant and Killer Pillar in Canada. As for Tanja, some of her most cherished routes are Double Scotch in France, Rübezahl in Kandersteg (climbed together with her twin sister Heike), Crash, Dancing with Chaos and Shooting Star in Canada, and Hydnefossen, Hauksfossen and Kjerrskredkven in Norway.

They also practice ski touring and, in the summer months, when ice is nowhere to be found, they go rock climbing. They have also been very active on the mountaineering front with several first ascents, such as a new route on the north face of the impossibly beautiful Grivola, in the Gran Paradiso National Park, in 2006.

They take part in several courses and will be at next month’s Alpine Arc’ademy in Chamonix  An excellent way of getting to know the basics of mountaineering in the company of professionals, with magnificent surroundings as a backdrop and a chilled-out atmosphere.

See you there!


Tanja climbing Shooting Star, Icefield Parkway, BC Canada (Photo Matthias Scherer)


Matthias climbing Rainbow Serpent, Ghost valley, BC Canada (Photo Tanja Schmitt)


Tanja climbing Dancing with Chaos, Icefield Parkway, BC Canada (Photo Matthias Scherer)