Monday, March 23, 2009

failure - purgatory - salvation


Unclimbed alpine ice at WI4+ to WI6. I know where it is and I want it. Checked out the lines on Tuesday. Got a partner and headed back with all the gear on Friday. 1100 meters of elevation gain over a four hour approach. The slope up to the cirque is 30+°. My pack was 18 kilos without one of the half ropes. Ski touring equipment and ice gear - boots to ski with and boots to climb with.

The weather: unsettled, new snow 20 to 30cm, snow showers during the day, some wind.

Can you see where this is leading?

We got to the base of the climbs. The ice looked good. The long massive lines would have to wait for another day. They are bad-ass, multi-hour (multi-day?) affairs.

Okay, let’s start with the double curtain and then move on to the pillar. We’ll get two firsts.

Short and quick: the low angle “ice” to the curtains was mush on top on wet rock – platter-size chunks broke away under your front points and from your picks.

Let’s take a look at the pillar.

30 meters to the column. I put a good screw in 2 meters from the belay. The next screw at a bulge 5 meters up was shit. I pushed its 19cm almost all the way in just with my hand. It’s just ten meters of snow and then the ice. Yeah, right.

There was no purchase. When I stood up, the surface of the snow brushed against my nose. No pro. Maybe I can climbed the small open book of ice to the right of the column and then move back left to get on the blue, compact ice.

No go. The “ice” in the open book was thin sheets in layers formed on top of spin drift. Go far right, there’s an ice bulge, maybe it’s thick and compact. I knocked away the bottom of a 25cm thick icicle. Reaching my hand up underneath, I found that there was a 10 cm gap between rock and ice. Drill a 22cm screw in and thread a sling. Can’t find the fucking exit hole from the screw! Just clip it and call it good.

I move into the chimney. One side ice and the other side rock. I got a 16cm screw in sideways on the ice bulge. Now I had the illusion of security to fuel my human optimism that, “just a bit further would be some good placements”. Idiot.

There wasn’t even mush, just spin drift over wet, brittle, limestone. I dry tooled through two moves using my back to stem against the left rock wall. I found a hole to thread a thin sling and equalized it to a 10cm thick icicle, clip it all together with a Yates “Screamer”. Made me feel warm all over.

I kept trying to borough through the snow hoping to find some solid ice. I uncovered a small cave. In the back were two thick icicles. Crystal clear, solid. I double wrapped a sling around one and drilled a hole through the other to thread a piece of cord. Equalized everything and rapped off. You win.


The indoor climbing gym, what else?

Pulling on plastic with all the other extreme types. I guess it’s better than staying at home and wallowing in failure. But I’m going to lose it if I see one more yahoo pantomiming moves after they’ve been rehearsing the same route for three hours.

I atone, get stronger, train. It’s not even close to climbing boys and girls. At its best it’s nothing more than training.


Halleluiah! Ice climbing pure and simple. Everyone else thinks it’s too late in the season. Can’t think for yourself? Make your own evaluations? It’s better that way because we’re alone. WI5 ice that’s a bit too cold and brittle. Hallow with lots of air in there. Care, diligence, patience, belief. There’s no, “take”, pulling on quick draws, top rope rehearsal, etc., pure, simple and undiluted.

Misjudgments are immediately penalized. You can’t hide. No bullshit.

Real, climbing.

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