Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gaissau Ice

Heavy snow over the last couple of days had brought the avalanche danger level up to 4. So on Saturday the 21st, my partner Toni and I went in search of some (hopefully) unclimbed ice. Our first destination was a nearby gorge at the end of the Wiestal reservoir. The gorge is well known to canyoneers in the summer. We knew before hand that getting to the potential ice would be difficult and complex.

We wallowed around on steep wooded slopes over the gorge trying to find a descent route in which we would not have to rappel. The snow was mid-thigh to waist deep. Toni was using snow shoes and I was on short approach skis. Toni definitely had made the smarter choice for the approach. That meant he got to break trail.

We were unable to find an adequate descent route, so we went back to the car and headed to our second choice for the day in Gaissau. The waterfall pictured above is what we ended up climbing. We climbed two distinct lines on the 30 meter ice fall, the left and right pillars. Behind the ice was a cave. The two pillars had formed a curtain-like structure of icicles that were hallow. the ice temperature was good and the ice was thick enough to always find good screw placements.

As in the Wiestal gorge, we were impressed by the amount of snow on the approach. What normally would have taken 20 minutes turned into a slog with a stream crossing over meter-high snow covered blocks. When we got to the base of the climb we were both wet from the consistent and heavy snow fall as well as from sweating.

Toni climbed first and had to do a lot snow removal at the top of the fall once he had cleared the steeper lower section. When Toni topped out, there was a piece of Kevlar accessory cord around a tree that some one had used as a rappel anchor. We weren't the first ones to climb here. Regardless, it was a nice climb on an ice fall that is not in a guidebook. We had to find, evaluate and make the climb based on our own feelings and beliefs. It also was the correct choice for a day with bad weather and high avalanche danger.

Equipment and Material
Most people climb water ice at the level of WI 3 to WI 4. What is the appropriate material and equipment for frozen water falls at this level? After a few years of experience, this is what I bring when I am expecting normal to good ice conditions in a WI 4 Ice fall:
  • 12-14 ice screws - 2@ 22cm, 4@19cm, 4-6@16cm, 2@13cm, all Black Diamond Turbo Express
  • 6 normal quick draws
  • 2-60cm slings carried as quick draws
  • 1 Yeats "Screamer" damping quick draw (All quick draws are with large wire-gate karabiners)
  • 2-60cm slings racked with one large and one small screw-gate karabiner (total of 2 large & 2 small karabiners)
  • 2-120cm slings racked together on a wire-gate karabiner
  • self-locking belay device with two small screw-gate karabiners (I like the Petzl Reverso 3)
  • 2 additional small screw-gate karabiners and one extra wire-gate karabiner
  • 5 meters of 5mm accessory cord, 1m cord in a loop (5mm), Petzl Tbloc, Abalakov thread hooker (all carried on a wire-gate karabiner.
  • Extra cord for rappel anchors, 7mm, carried on a wire-gate karabiner (ca. 1 meter for every expected rappel)
  • knife that can be openned with one hand
  • one 30cm sewn sling to tie-off screws if necessary
I climb with leash-less tools (Petzl Nomic) and Grivel Rambo 3 crampons. On my Black Diamond Blizzard Harness I have 3 fixed plastic material karabiners to rack all the screws; one on the left and two on the right.

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