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Sharing Axes and Wheels
- Cogne Ice Opening 2015

Women are notoriously known for icy cold hands and feet, so maybe they feel a special bond with the frozen waterfalls on which an increasing number are drawn to climb. Leading the charge are twins Heike and Tanja Schmitt, high level mountain guide and pro climber respectively, who organise the Cogne Ice Opening event in Aosta Italy each December. It draws a great crowd however getting to the small hamlet of Lillaz (the event base) can involve national border crossing, highways and mountain roads - not easy without a car.

For those who work a full time job and can't spend days traveling by public transport (most people I know), particularly in a region not well connected by train, renting a car is a solution. People with good corporate jobs may have a better budget to play with but ride sharing is not just about cutting costs it is also about community, sharing adventure, and reducing environmental impact and so it was great to see the number of people open to carpooling for Cogne.
Sharing Wheels to Cogne
A unique international mix of women + man assembled in Geneva then Chamonix for my ride. 

Ryoko, Japanese - our driver and talented skier and climber (nicely organised the rental car)

Heather, Canadian - accomplished alpinist, including expeditions to Lhotse, Makalu, Everest, etc

Jessica, Scottish - complete beginner to ice climbing

Bjorn, German - former Head of Transport to the UN and now our Chef de Mission

Me, Canadian/British - ridesharing advocate. Pursue trails, ski, climbing, and general adventure

While initially an all-girl car was planned one canceled and we ended up with Bjorn, who turned out to be a great asset. Having lived in Geneva and driven these routes often, he guided Ryoko (in a very non-assuming way, his diplomatic skills coming into practice) on windy roads, through to the best lanes at toll booths, and alerts for speed cameras. Meanwhile in the backseat Heather watched nervously on the mountain road as the guardrail was too close for comfort. I then learned that in Japan they drive on the other side of the road from Europe, not only educational but an insight into why these small roads seemed even smaller!
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Sharing Axes
Cogne Ice Opening is a mix of day instruction / practice for different ice climbing levels and women specific clinics, complimented by an evening social and educational program of aperitifs and films. Along with athlete presentations we also learn from the park Ranger about an endangered bird that has come back to nest near some of the routes, reminding us to respect the natural surroundings we use as our playground. There is the opportunity to try gear from the event partners, including Arc'teryx, who loan me a warm puffy jacket that I didn't take off all weekend and Black Diamond, whose technical axes I completely forgot on the ice when I went down early (luckily In the community spirit someone hands them in for me). 
Not wanting to get cold while waiting to climb/belay I accept to try dry-tooling, which involves climbing rock faces with ice axes and crampons. I always wondered what the draw was for this activity but Heike coaches me while I hang in yoga-like positions clinging to rocks with tiny axe ends.  She has an engaging yet evil laugh that I know well, it means she is plotting something challenging for me. Trying to be encouraging she shouts up to me that the pain is normal 'your arms are supposed to hurt' but my whole body is cramping! I guess there is a reason this event kicks off the season.  
Heike Schmitt checking the setup
Dry tooling
The Sharing Economy

Along with looking to share a ride to Cogne, I had put the word out to the owner of the Hotel Ondenzana in Lillaz that I was open to sharing a room. Having not heard back I assumed it didn't work out but on arrival I find out that a girl named Claudia had already checked in to our room. It takes some time before I get to meet the owner of the backpack on the bed next to mine and my curiosity grows. She turns out to be a super happy easy going American-German real life Scientist. I ask her if she is like the guys on the tv series Big Bang Theory, a nerdy image she does not want to be compared with but when I ask what she does in her job she talks about testing theories and most of it went over my head. It turns out that Claudia was going to be stuck without a hotel room as everything was booked, so once again the 'sharing economy' is not always about costs.

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The Cogne Ice Opening is a great event to start the winter season, it connects and often re-connects people from all different regions and experience to share an interest in climbing in a non-pressured atmosphere. This may be why so many women turn up for it. They certainly bring a special energy to the ice.
Women of Cogne Ice Opening 2015
Ryoko Driving the Ice.  Photo by Hugo Vincent Photography.