23 February 2010


Mixed climbing holidays are very similar to beach holidays in many ways but I do miss the sun and I couldn't wait to get out of Haffner Creek and take a slow walk in the rays.

Ramon trying to find the sun.

Ramon looking for the sun.

It was the same again today, went to the plex to try Musashi but my heart wasn't in it.

22 February 2010


A Page from Mixed Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, Sean Isaac

The day after Sea of Vapors we headed up north to track down Jacobs Ladder and some other stuff, by carefully piecing together all available information we managed to find nothing at all, the conclusion was that the pages for Mt Hunter area are full of errors! (maybe the map refs are helpful??)
As every cloud has an icy lining we trekked back south to reconnoiter a route that we had heard some rumours about. Cryophobia next to Hydrophobia (very cool sounding routes) had seen five or six attempts and at least three other (four, nice one Carlos and Tato) ascents this season.

The thin line on the right is Cryophobia.

The slopey, rising traverse is Dermophobia. This bouldering area in the Waiparous / Ghost is good but appears undeveloped (Ramon Marin)

There might be a Geophobia soon with any luck?? and all of these routes are only a short walk from the 4x4.

So after scoping out the approach and stashing some gear we headed home to psyche up for an early start and a crack at this awesome route. A painfully early alarm began the big day and eventually we got to the start of the route. Ramon kicked off the first hard pitch (see his blog for his view of it) then it was over to me for the crux pitch.

Ramon dwarfed by the bottom half of the huge wall.

Me nearing the crux (Ramon Marin).

I was hoping to onsight the route but on my first attempt at the crux of the crux pitch I pulled out on a flat hold above the roof and took a small fall so we pulled the ropes and Ramon tried the pitch. He got no higher than me on this attempt so we pulled the ropes and I had another try, Knowing which hold not to use I got established above the roof and calmed my forearms enough to make it up a seriously decaying dagger of ice and across a ledge that was being bombed by ice melting off the sunny top pitches. Nice!

The top half of the route was harder to correlate with the guide book description (the route was originally climbed in leaner ice conditions) so we actually climbed it in two long pitches, not so smart maybe but it worked! First Ramon took on some more tough rock and then ice that I didn't want to touch while seconding the pitch (I jumped off at one point to avoid it). The ice looked like easier climbing than the rock but at the price of no protection as the bolts were out of reach to the side. When a sensible belay was reached we later found that it was almost the start of the M6 pitch.

The boldest climbing I have seen Ramon undertake.

Then I got involved with some of the boldest climbing that I never want to do again, a 55m pitch of steep delaminated ice with 8 ice screws for protection (I clipped 2 or 3 bolts meant to protect the start of the M6 pitch). Most worrying, at two or three locations during the pitch there were wide sheets of ice maybe 5m high that echoed like a drum when I hit them. When I saw a wide horizontal crack, partially re-frozen, I hooked the axe over the bottom edge then when I looked in was unhappy to have confirmed what I had previously suspected; that there was a wide gap between rock and ice.
No pro.
Tired arms.
No choice.
Push on.

Eventually I stepped on to a good ledge at the top.

That shrinking feeling

Climbing plans during the last few days have been hit and miss, two days rest went without a hitch then we had decided to climb on the Terminator Wall (or Trophy Wall) the following day. During the approach to the routes my 3 year old, super comfortable boots wore holes in my feet. It seems that the warm air central heating was enough to shrink my boots, so after visit to the ski boot fitters for a stretch we were ready to try for the Terminator Wall again the next day.

"Now where did I leave those axes"

My outing on the Terminator Wall was not perfect either as I began with an attempt at Haunted by Waters. I know where the hold over the roof was meant to be (the photo in the guide is not a red herring) and the route has been done since the first ascent, but not many times judging by the condition I found it in. I can only assume that verglas had put the hold beyond the blind scratchings of my pick.

Me clipping the bolt in the roof (Ramon Marin)

As I didn't want to waste time trying to redpoint Haunted we moved on to plan B: Sea of Vapours by the Postscriptum start and Original Traverse. To start Ramon carefully picked his way up the thin, debonded and brittle ice of Postcriptum in the cold conditions.

Ramon on Postcriptium

Then I was carefully traversing from the belay when Carlos's words popped in to my mind.... There is a thin unprotected traverse on to thin ice then the only way to proceed is to climb up to thicker, protectable ice, all the time threatened by a swing back in to the corner.... It was at this time I requested that Ramon stop taking photos. Once I had placed a couple of screws climbing up little pillars and steep featured ice was good fun then as the angle eased things got less entertaining. We pressed on up featureless hard ice until near the top then as light faded decided to bail.

A mammoth retreat from the Terminator Wall was made longer by having to stomp back up to retrieve an axe that I had left in the snow (they are still going well, thanks Danny).

The Terminator Wall as we found it. Sea of Vapors starts with the thin smear (postcriptum) then joins the right hand ice line.

16 February 2010

The Real Big Tick

After a few frustrating days it has been good to get a couple of routes finished. Following our unsuccessful first visit we went back to redpoint the Real Big Drip: (more HERE)

The Real Big Drip; a totally brilliant route packed with great climbing.

Driving in to the Ghost Valley was not difficult as there is very little snow now, but a 4x4 or a lot of courage is required to get near to the rote (we have a 4x4). We followed our tracks in the snow from the previous day and got to the base of The Drip ready to go for it. As Ramon had put in the leg work to find the holds the previous day we decided that he should have first crack at pitch 1. This crux pitch is graded M7 in the Rockies Mixed Guide and I think this is a bit stingy! so a very good lead by Ramon got us to the first bolted belay.

Ramon near the flake on pitch 1

Pitch 2 (my lead) was meant to ramble up the ice shrooms on the left, but on closer inspection I was stopped by a rock band (the alternative, overhanging ice of the main pillar, didn't entice me!). Luckily some crimping got me to a bolt then some psychological pro in a ice bracket helped me back to more permanent ice. Now it was Ramon's turn for the M7+ pitch 3; climbing well he held on to make a cool onsight of the steep limestone wall. This pitch was physically easier than the first and holds were easier to find but it was still a good test. I followed Ramon up the small limestone edges then struggled up a rock/ice chimney with the backpack to a belay behind the final pillar. To start the final hard pitch I tapped my way up aerated vertical ice forming the back of the curtain, after clipping the tat extending from a piton I traversed left hooking a partially reformed horizontal crack that threatened to drop me and the curtain. Poor footholds focussed my attention as I turned round the edge of the curtain on to the face and some vertical ice to easy ground.

On the way round the curtain edge

Two more pitches got us to the top of the Real Big Drip as it was getting dark, on with the headtorches for some spooky abseils past weird ice features looming out of the darkness. Down on the ground we could relax a bit more but there was still the walk and drive out to complete without any trouble.

hmmmm.... I wonder if my tongue will freeze to that krab?

During the day temperatures were warm but the Drip was not thawing, this was not the case for snow covering the featureless forest floor. When we reached the trees our tracks back to the 4x4 had mostly vanished! I have got lost in Fontainebleau forest before let alone the Ghost, somehow by linking occasional snow filled depressions in the moss we found our truck and only missed one turning on the track back. Pizza at 11pm. 0700 start to collect a slightly battered Kristoffer Szillas for a look at Pilsner Pillar.

Kristoffer on his 3rd Wi6 of the weekend (2 previous routes had dropped ice on his head)

I made an attempt at Lucky Lager in the back of the cave behind Pilsner, it quickly beat me off with to many excuses to go in to here. Then, much to the disappointment of the damp Pilsner team, I set off up another mixed route on the right hand side of the crag (something in the Traditional Ale area where there are now 3 lines).

Some bolts, loose rocks, screws and pegs lead up to the hanging ice finale. (photo Kristoffer Szilas & Ramon Marin)

Leaving the Pilsner Amphitheatre to go home for a rest. photo Kristoffer Szilas

14 February 2010

gone forever

missed the chance of onsighting Suffer Machine (by a long way) I was totally worked by the roof!! not my usual form so guess i must have been tired from 3 days in the Parkway and one rest day was insufficient. Should have recognised that i was tired during the skin in to SM (i have done that journey 3 times now) as i was struggling all of the way.

totally gutted to have stuffed the route up. Ramon almost onsighted the pitch but even this was taken away when he slipped on the slab. Will have to summon the motivation for a red point.

another rest day

then worse to follow...
failed at the crux of pitch 1 of The Real Big Drip (partly tired still, partly hidden holds, partly didn't want it enough)
failed 1st red point (couldn't see the big hold by my nose). Will have to summon up the motivation for another red point.

10 February 2010

A walk in the Parkway

Since Nemesis we have been climbing every day; Bear Spirit for an onsight (and a nonsight), The Vision!, Cineplex (Musashi - 2 good attempts, the best reaching the psychological crux tork) then 3 days in the Icefields Parkway.....

Ice 9 (photo Ramon Marin)

Ice conditions seem a little lean this year and routes such as Ice 9, that I have seen very fat, are currently only thin pillars. Seeing how Ice 9 looked this year got Ramon and I to the base of the route and discussing who was going to lead the first pitch. It was obvious from the ground that to climb the pillar was going to require a confident approach, unfortunately as it was my lead I was going to have to fool myself to jump on the skinny pillar; I was only going to 'have a look'. As I climbed up the fat base to place a screw I started to get a close look at the climbing and immediately wanted to be back in the car, thick chandeliers guarded this side of the pillar, pressing on to get a good look at the front face I could see that the ice was completely different. The line to climb was heavily featured ice with lots of air pockets but luckily not those fine chandeliers that can be dug through without finding anything solid. But ... the sun had worked its evil magic on the ice and had left a layer snow/neve/frozen mush over the surface, acceptable for tools, not for pro.

As I was only climbing up to 'have a look' at the line when I reached the point where I felt that climbing down was not an option the tension built. Doubts about picks hidden in invisible ice started to crawl in my mind (lower down on the pillar deep pick placements had crunched, settled and held). Focusing on a slight easing in angle and a likely screw placement above a possible fracture line I made a few more moves to a point where I could relax.

Ramon on pitch 2. Fun in the sun with quick release ice screws

Day 2. A quasi-early start saw us beaten to Curtain Call so we went to take a look at Oo La La, an M8 two pitch mixed line on the Tabernac Wall. I had fight with pitch 1 of this very good route; it was steep straight off the ledge and me struggling with unnecessary figure 4's in big boots was good entertainment for Ramon.

a silly game!! (photo: Ramon Marin)

Ramon trying to force the route without ice.

The tenuous looking curtain at the end of the second pitch visible from the ground turned out to be no where near our route! Despite Ramon questing up to have a good look we could not finish the route.

Day 3. I was flagging by Tuesday and a 0530 start didn't help but at least we made it to the base of Curtain Call unimpeded.

The wild Curtain Call north of the Athabasca Glacier

I found pitch one easier than it looked (it needed to be!) and could weave through the crazy ice sculptures relatively easily. Seeing the screw holes at the belay there must have been a lot of teams on CC this season and pitch one was probably only Wi5. Pitch two however....

Ramon on the overhanging brittle ice crux.

After a little adventure to take a look at Call of the Curtain from below the roof and then get the ropes stuck we made it back to the car then Canmore for a rest.

5 February 2010

Hi iso madness at the vision and other contrasts

Starring Rob Owens, Will Mayo, Gordon McArthur, Patrick Delaney (and dry flowers!)

4 February 2010

It has begun....

From Calgary....

....to Canmore (well 'Stanley Headwall parking' really but it just doesn't sound the same) (Ramon Marin)

I have been here in Canada for a few days and spent a couple of days in Calgary then two days swinging the axes. Sort of warming up really but todays route was good value: Nemesis on the Stanley Headwall, apparently in Wi5 condition. Ramon and I climbed it in 2 and a bit pitches and avoided the easiest (non) line to ensure a genuine Wi6 tick (not planned this way though!)

Me skinning in to the base of Nemesis and unfortunately the approach is much steeper than it looks in this photo (Ramon Marin again, no way was I dragging my SLR up there this time)

(Ramon Marin)