photo by Bradford MacArthur

Monday, 30 April 2018

Jupiter Shift

Jupiter Shift

It was Late February in southern British Columbia.  The icy arctic winds had pushed out any remaining warmth from the January warm spell, leaving behind a bone chilling cold that settled into the mountain valleys.  As per our usual routine, Marc and I returned to the Mt. Slesse cirque in the North Cascades to attempt some more of our winter climbing projects. This was my sixth visit to the mountain this winter, and for Marc even more. Over the years the Nesaquatch valley has become a home to us; one in which we have explored the ins and outs of, but even still, it holds many mysteries.  It holds beauty and quiet in it’s silence. Marc grew up in a nearby town and had some of his first alpine climbs in this area.   At age 15 he had his first overnight epic on the Northwest Buttress- an experience that drove him back to the mountain countless times. Mt. Slesse became his training ground for alpinism, but one which is much bigger, larger and scarier than one would ever expect. 

Marc first introduced me to the Nesaquatch River Valley in 2014, when we simul- soloed the Northeast Buttress.  At the top he wrote in the summit register how he never thought he would be soloing this climb with his girlfriend, the climb which had taught him much about the challenges of alpinism. Together we have established many lines including, mixed, rock, and ski descents in the area.  Marc returned in the winter of 2015 and soloed the The Northeast Buttress, claiming it as his most challenging solo climb to date.  The big terrain and steep slopes makes for excellent powder skiing, then when the snow firms into a crust the alpine climbing becomes good. This is what brings us back there time and time again, despite the long approach. 

This time we hiked in with the notion of attempting the East Pillar, a route Marc had been wanting to try for a long time.  I looked at the forecast and imagined what it would be like-  shivering cold on a dark north face in the dead of winter for two days during an arctic outflow.  There was going to be a whole lot of suffering I would have to endure.  I knew that this mountain meant so much to Marc and that this was most likely the last opportunity to climb it this winter. He had dedicated the past two winters to living in southern BC, waiting for the ice runnels to form. I would put in my suffer time for him.  

The access road into the Nesaquatch Valley was buried under a deep snowpack so we parked the car at the Chilliwack Lake Road then began the long ski tour in. The valley had been coated entirely in a crisp white from the previous night’s snow fall.  The morning sky glistened with ice crystals and the air had a biting chill.  As we skied up the road the winds of the Arctic Outflow blew through the spruce and fir trees, speckling the white ground with needles and branches.  With each step we sank to our knees in the deep powder, making trail breaking an exhausting effort. I wore my thickest base layer, hat, mitts for my hands, and yet I never broke a sweat, that’s how cold it was. We followed the long road through the forest to where it meets the river.  We stopped here for a snack before crossing the river and making our way up the switch backs to the memorial plaque.   From here we got our first view of Mt. Slesse and spotted our objective- the East Pillar; a prominent strip of ice feeding down from a large cave high above.  The route looked to be in superb condition, however, the approach slopes at the base did not. There was no sign of avalanche debris at the base, meaning the slopes were still awaiting a slide. This would make accessing the climb highly risky. Marc and I continued upward to reach our gear which was stashed a few kilometers up the trail.  When we reached the poor little fir tree that held our gear it was nearly buried under snow revealing only its crown. Marc dug down and pulled out our colorful Arc’teryx duffle bags that held our tents, boots, crampons, ice tools, climbing gear, ropes, food and gas. We spent the next while stamping out a level platform to set our tent in the soft snow.  The warm rays of the sun had long since left the valley, leaving behind the blue tinge of numbing cold. Despite all of our stomping around I could feel my feet losing blood flow; an inevitable consequence of being a poorly circulated Californian. Once the tent was set up I hurriedly climbed inside.  I wished I had the flexibility to warm my feet on my own belly because my hands were like popsicles.  Marc sat down across from me and with his gentle smile said he would warm them up for me on his belly.  He then stated that he wouldn't do this for ANY of his other partners, not even if they asked nicely. I laughed at the thought, then I told him I felt very lucky. 

Over hot meals we discussed strategy:
The morning sun should hopefully cause the slopes to release, but we would wait it out to be sure. 
That night the temperatures dropped to -20c.  I slept in two sleeping bags, my 8000m peak jacket, down pants but despite everything my feet still froze. 
It was a slow and painful process to get out of our bags the next morning because everything needed to be warmed up, including ourselves. 

A misty cloud pooled behind Slesse’s sharp summit as it found shelter from the strong northeasterly winds. The winds howled through from the notch between the first and second peaks.  As the sun hit the upper wall we watched small avalanches cascading down the East face. The face was active and the slope was unstable.  Marc and I looked at each other and in mutual agreement decided this was not the right time to try the East Pillar- this was the right day to go powder skiing. 
We clicked into our skis and dashed down fluffy powder fields below camp. The snow was light, creamy and very deep. I followed Marc bouncing off of drops and diving between trees.  When I reached him- about 1000m below at the basin- he was beaming from ear to ear.  Marc has a quiet contentment about him, a peaceful energy that emanates from somewhere deep, deep within. He’s able to see the full picture, absorb what’s around him and appreciate everything at once. He and I have come to know this mountain so well; discovered it’s secrets and now we can simply enjoy them.  As we toured back up to camp we stopped for a moment to admire the valley below- completely covered in snow it looked like something out of a dream. We agreed that this was the most unique and most beautiful view we had yet seen of the Nesaquatch valley, a reminder of why we go into the mountains. 

Turning my view back towards the ski track I noticed that Station-D peak was framed perfectly between the trees of the old logging road. Hiding from view was a beautiful and mysterious line Marc and I had been referring to as ‘The Andromeda Strain Line’ (due of its resemblance to the classic Rockies line.) Marc had sent me a photo of this line a year previous, after he had spotted it from a perched vantage from Slesse’s Second Peak. 
-Marc, what do you think about trying The Andromeda Strain Line?  
- Well it depends on the condition of the slopes below, but yeah… for sure that could be a good idea.

It was settled, we would go for that line, but we would need to come up with its own name.  Marc thought of Jupiter Shift, to follow along with the Space theme.   (Station- D refers to the old Boarder Patrol station, but I think it sounds more like a space station. ) 

The morning sun rolled slowly over the mountain peaks and warmed the frost from our tent walls.  We prepared the usual breakfast of maple-brown sugar oatmeal with a handful of dried fruit,  then began the ski up to the base of the mountain. Our packs were gigantic- I cringed under the weight. My shadow was cast into the snow, looking more like a sherpa than a fast and light alpinist.  Marc’s voice called up:
-These bags are stupidly heavy! With this load we’re preparing for an overnight epic. Let’s ditch half the gear and make due with what’s reasonable.
I agreed so we ended up leaving behind one double rope, the tag line, a handful of pitons and some cams.  This meant we would be committed to reaching the top and walking off the opposite side of the mountain then traversing to a steep gully to make a single rappel or two.  
 We continued the hike to the base of the climb where we dug out a small stance on a snow arête to rack up and stash our skis.  At this point I had noticed the exceptional pain coming from my frozen feet. They would get frost bite if I carried on without tending to them.  I looked at Marc, his expression was calm and patient.  
—No worries Lil-B, let’s warm them up. 
After abut a half an hour with my feet warming under Marc’s jacket we began up the steep snow, one at a time, to be mindful of the avalanche potential.  Reaching the choke of the couloir we built a belay to start the technical climbing.   We looked up into the funnel of the mountain, the line looked superb- compressed snow gullies leading into steep rock chimneys and a roofed exit to where we could not see above. It was difficult to tell how long and how hard the climbing would be. After one more feet warming session I racked the gear onto my harness then started up the squeaky nevé.  I stopped about twenty meters up to pound in a knife blade piton into a thin seam in the otherwise compact granite. I tied it off short with a sling, then continued up the pitch. Soon I found another knife blade seam but again I had to tie it off short. This reminded me of a climb Marc and I did the previous year; the North Face of Lady Peak which had very minimal gear opportunities -which were marginal at best- for the entire route. I hoped this would not be the case today.  I reached a ledge at the rope’s full 60m length where I found a perfect belay stance and to my luck found two bomber #1 cams for an anchor.  Marc cruised up to me so fast and causal he wouldn't have needed the belay, nonetheless we were both having fun and stoked to be out there together. We had already discussed that I would lead the entire route because it was my winter project line and Marc was stoked to support me and get rope-gunned up the route. 

The second pitch started out with better protection, but the climbing was a bit more challenging. This pitch consisted of sustained mixed climbing in a chimney.  I arrived below an overhang and couldn't think of how to possibly climb it.  I contemplated my next move- left looks hard, right looks hard, straight up looks hard, hmmm…
- I don't know how to get over this overhang! I called down
Marc answered,
-What do you mean? You know how to climb overhanging rock!

I laughed.  Of course I know how to climb overhanging rock, but this rock was buried under a wave of overhanging snow and a thin veneer of ice. I began inching my way up one move at a time, uncertain of where this would take me.  I stemmed as wide was I could; my right crampon points on the vere glassed face, and my left crampons on the lip of the roof, smeared onto a slab.  I dug through the offending snow bulge to the boulder above.  With the snow gone I reached my tool around the block and to my surprise, found the most amazing hook.  A hold crafted perfectly for my pick.  I matched both hands on my tool then proceeded to layback up the corner with my tools. The climbing continued in an engaging and sustained nature until I reached the roof where I built another belay with a nest of micro pieces, wires and pitons. 

I watched as Marc blissfully climbed the pitch, tip-toeing his front points between small edges and ice blobs, delicately taping his tools into the veneer of ice.  When he reached me he was cold.  He had been shivering at the lower belay- “Soul Shatteringly cold”, he said.  

Pitch three was the crux roof traverse that began with some deep snow digging. I squeezed my knees into my chest making my body as small as possible to fit into the chasm under the roof, pressing my hands in opposition against the blocky features for support. Carefully I stepped my front point rightward on micro edges until there were no more edges but sheer slab. Once again I ran into a crux where I didn't know what to do.   Marc called up to me again:
-Try a Stein Pull in that block!
-‘What?’  I thought to myself.  Which block?  He’s confusing me.
-Flip your tool over and crank down on the handle!
-Ah, Marc thats so sketchy!  
But alas, that was my only option.  I carefully pressed the front point of my right crampon into the slab, doubtful that it would hold, and pulled down on my sketchy  inverted tool.  Then, being sure not to move my lower body, I reached my right tool far around the corner and miraculously found a blind hook. That was the end of the physical crux, but next came the psychological crux.  I stood up into a precarious stemmed position in a corner.  The corner very thin, without any obvious holds. One move at a time I progressed up the delicate corner on questionable holds the entire time.  The ice was too thin and breakable to hold my weight but the small amount of dirt that had accumulated in the corner was just enough.  I’m sure I could have pounded in a knife blade or bird beak at this point, but the climbing was too demanding to take my hands off my tools.  Nonetheless, I reached the snow gully above and with a breath of relief continued up to the end of the rope. 
      Up top everything was covered in a thick layer of rime so it took me a long while before I found a semi decent belay.  As Marc climbed up, the sun was setting behind Mt. Slesse sending a cast of colors into the sky, illuminating the ridge lines in a blue and yellow contrast.  He met me at the belay and we simul climbed together to reach the summit just as the light was fading. We high-fived, but did not take a summit photo, which I later regretted. I wish I could have captured the energy during this moment in a photo or a video.   But I know, that even through a photo, it is only the person who lived the experienced who can appreciate it. It’s the feeling of camaraderie, a partnership, where each person is working towards the betterment of the whole, no longer an individual but a pair.   It was very cold up top so Marc and I hurriedly packed up the rope and hiked down the western slope to reach a notch.  We made two rappels off of pitons to enter into a steep couloir, then we down climbed back to our skis.  It was dark and starry night as we skid down to camp over the snowy mounds of glaciated granite with the light of our headlamps illuminating the way.

Marc and I reflected back on the climb, aware that this climb was not particularly ground breaking, nor life changing. It was not the biggest nor proudest line we have established together but this was a climb where we were synchronized. We listened to the environment and made choices based on what we were told and based on each other.  It is in these moments of simplicity that we find peace and contentment.  

We never know when will be the last time we get to climb with someone.  We will never know when is the last time we will share such a beautiful moment together.  It is important to be present and appreciate what you have while you have it, because nothing lasts forever.  I hold the simplicity of this adventure, climbing Jupiter Shift, close to my heart for it was not about the climbing, but about the experience.  Skiing out with heavy packs on our backs, the familiar pattern of life kicked into the subconscious and lead us to where we needed to go.

Monday, 21 September 2015

A photo journal of The Incredible Hulk- The Venturi Effect and Solar Flare

My shadow and I climbing up the Crux pitch of Solar Flare 12d
In late August Marc and I decided to hike in to the beautiful Hoover Wilderness above Bridgeport, CA to climb on the Incredible hulk.  Having grown up in the Sierra I felt drawn to climb in these mountains, and for the past few years the idea has been filtering through my mind waiting for the right moment.
We chose to start on the ultra- classic  'The Venturi Effect' a Peter Croft, Nettle and Davis line (The Venturi Effect), and return on a later date for Solar Flare.
The Hulk in the afternoon sun- view from basecamp

The elevation took me by surprise having come straight from Squamish at sea level.  The peak resides at 11,040'.  ( Video of us on Venturi )

After hiking in, the exhaustion overtook me and I spent the rest of the afternoon stretching, drinking gallons of water and admiring the different lines on the Hulk.  Marc on the other hand had plenty of energy to boulder on some of the infinite rocks that lay about the base.

Hanging out at basecamp

With an early start I took the first pitch, a burly 11c with frozen hands.  We swapped leads till the end, each getting to lead two 12 pitches.  Pitch 4 was my lead, the 12d stem 'The Book of Secrets'.  I was nearing the top and found myself with both hands and feet pressing outward in a full bridge between the walls.  With one impatient move I eagerly pushed down on my palms and popped off the wall.  
Overcome with sadness I pulled back up and sent the rest of the pitch.   This was the only fall of the entire day.  Marc managed a full onsight, and I was one move away.  The day spiraled upwards from that moment on.  The sun came around the corner and we cruised up the headwall, enjoying the amazing cat-scratch splitters that line the face.
Me leading up The Book Of Secrets

Marc starting the stemming corner
Topping out the 12a, first pitch of the headwall

Marc coming up the 12b headwall cracks

Marc lead the second Crux pitch with a steady pace, teching his way up the insecure and physical moves.     
We made it to the top around 4pm, both extremely content with our efforts.  We then rapped the route, packed up our tent and hiked out of the valley, looking forward to return.  
Smiles from the top!

Solar Flare 12+,  Peter Croft and Conrad Anker 2007

This is a line which I did not expect to do so well on.  It follows a striking prow that is known for having bouldery moves while bouncing back and forth over two sides of an arête. The day started out with a frigid wind howling through the valley.  We both regretted having started early this day.  We inched our way up the first 4 pitches, with numb fingers and toes huddling together on a small ledges for 2 hours waiting for the sun to arrive.
Pitch 1, Frozen hands

12b stemming
I lead pitch 5, a bouldery 12c.  Crimping my left hand on a micro edge and smearing my right foot out across the face I reached as far as I could; leaning towards the arête.  My reach was a few inches shy and my only option was to fall towards the arête and hope for luck.  I fell rightward and my hand happened to catch on a small incut, hidden on the other side of the arête.  I looked back at Marc, eyes full of surprise thinking that this was some sort of magic.  I finished the pitch without a fall and finally made it to a sunny belay ledge.
Warming my hands before making the crux move on the 12c

Marc coming up the 12c

Marc took the final crux.  The 12d that leads up the golden prow.  Right from the start the movements are technical and it never eases until you reach the belay.  Huge gusts of wind almost knocked him off as he balanced from one side of the arête to the other, but he made it to the top without a fall.
Marc on the 12d arête

It was then my turn and with a calm excitement I too sent the pitch.  I then lead us up the final 12a/b where the route connects with Sunspot Dihedral.  
Marc on the final pitch, 12a/b

Despite the cold and windy conditions that were playing against us, we both managed an onsight of the route!  

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Malta Motion


Poking out of the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean is a small limestone land called Malta, along with its even smaller co-island, Gozo.

On May 10th Marc and I boarded the ferry from Pozallo Sicily heading to Valetta, Malta, ready to get our sport climbing on. As Valetta came into view it appeared like no other place I had ever seen; A land completly absorbed in  sandy city walls, narrow steets winding in every which way, and big industrial like tankers and machinery in the harbor.

My first impression was that Malta was chaos. 

Our rental car agency dropped a car off for us at the ferry terminal and left us to fend for ourselves. I was surprised to find the steering wheel on the right side of the car and the manual shifter was left handed.  More surprised still to learn that the Maltese drive on the left side of the road. 

Just like that we set off on a quest through the interconnected maze of cities to find the one and only climbing store. It's quite complicated navigating through these cities as is, but given that Malta is lacking 80% of their street signs makes things much worse.

With a bit of luck two hours later we were on our way to the first crag, The Mellieha Cave. The cave is located in a sink hold on a plateau just above the ocean.  Overhanging walls of pockets and stalactites worked me over pretty quick.  (not to mention we had been two days on from climbing in Sicily already)
Marc climbing Crazy Monkey
  We set up our tent outside of the cave where the dirt road meets the seaside cliff, overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Ocean.
Our tent at the Mellieha Cave

I awoke during the night to the sound of thunder off in the distance, and a quick flash of light.  Less than 20 minutes later, a full blown light show was directly overhead striking through the sky. I darted off the the car for shelter to comfortably watch while Marc decided to stay in the tent… I imagined what kind of horrific rescue situation would play out if I had to save Marc from a lighting strike.

Fortunately the storm passed without a single disturbance and I returned to the tent. 

The calm morning was preceded by a light windstorm, which I was asleep for.  I woke up to Marc squishing a tick from my shoulder.  Looking around the tent, we found about 12 more tikcs creeping around by our feet.  We quickly killed them all and searched our bodies for more.  With absolutely no idea how they entered the tent, our only conclusion is that they were blown in by the slight wind and happened to enter the tent while part of the Zipper was undone.  Just our luck.  

Blue Grotto -Wied iz zurrieq and Ghar lapsi

We cruised down to the other side of the island to check out the sea cliff climbing.  
Marc rappelling down to Red Wall

We rappelled down to a small isolated bench lined with climbs.  I dove into the ocean for a cool wake up.  The swimming is amazing except that small boats are continuously passing by.  Strangley enough the Blue Grotto town is famous for its 'tour boat' attraction.  Hundreds of tourists pile in by bus to be taken out to view the sea caves.  They were pointing in awe at us all day as we climbed, got to see me take some fun whippers :)


Greek Odyssey multi pitch, Red Wall

Within a few days we were ready for a change and headed over to Gozo.


The small island of Gozo can be crossed in no longer than 20 minutes, that is, if you don't get lost, and is a paradise for sport climbers and divers.  Caves and tunnels connect the underwater world, filled with colorful fish and flora. This small limestone island is also home to the world class climber Stevie Haston. 

Marc and I rented a small apartment in Xlendi Bay, a charming ocean town and set off to climb at some of the sea cliffs. Day one we climbed a beautiful multiptich on the sea cliffs called White Wings.  

Day two we ventured down to the Underworld, a Stevie Haston creation.  The swells from the Mediterrranean ocean seem to be directed precisely to this cave creating an atmosphere of booming intensity.  Right away we knew we were in for some excitement. The dark morphed rock was wet but  amazingly full of giant pockets and jugs.  We spent the afternoon climbing various routes such as Vampire Lats, Furry Animals, and I love Elvis.
Me climbing out of the Underworld via the 7b+ Furry Animals 

Marc exploring the Underworld


Gozo- The White Tower

Our exploration of Gozo continued as we headed over to The White Tower to climb with Stevie, Alix and Inigo.  Unfortunately I don't have any photos.  We both loved the climbing here. The walls are steep and sustained, but each route varies in style.  There is techy face climbing to intricate stemming to juggy endurance climbs, all overlooking another spectacular bay. 

Our Gozo/ Malta days were summed up with another few days of climbing, swimming and exploring the Mediterranean Cuisine before we jumped back on a plane to Italy. (well, before spending the night in the airport, and getting hassled by the airport security, losing a rope along amongst other complications. )

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Mate Porro y Todo lo Demás  North pilar (Pilar Goretta) Fitzroy

Carolyn Davidson and I had just returned from a successful mission on Aguja Rafael Juarez having climbed the stellar line called Coralo in the Torre Valley. Just as we got back El Chaltén the weather was breaking immediately into another climbing window. With one day to prepare we packed our bags and began the trek back into the mountains, this time up to base camp Piedra Negra, on the north side of the Fitz group.  Our plan was to climb a route of Rolando Garibotti and Bean Bowers called Mate Porro y Todo lo Demás, 900m 6c.
The North Pillar of Fitz Roy
The weather was a bit stormy as we approached Piedra Fraile, a small refugio located in the Valley below Piedra Negra.  Merely out of curiosity I asked Carolyn if she had ever experienced the Patagonian winds because I certainly hadn't.  Without knowing, I had just predicted the forecast for our next few days.  
The winds struck us as we were hiking up the steep hill to the base camp.  I could only hope that the night would settle the storm and the weather window would prevail as the meteorgram had predicted.  Once at Piedra Negra we located some stashed climbing gear which our friend had left for us under some rocks, set up a tent and fell asleep.
Fitz Roy as seen from the hill where we got our first taste of the Patagonian winds
We awoke at 1:30 am and the air was still. We prepared a quick breakfast  and began the long approach to the base of the route by headlamp, leaving at 2 am. 
We reached the base of the route by 8:30 after having weaved our way across complex terrain throughout the night. The morning was chilly and the sky was filtered with a thin cloud layer. A tent was set up at a rock formation near the base of the pilar but we could not spot any climbers. 
I began the first leading block of what I estimate to be about 10 pitches, but I can't be certain because I was linking pitches as well as using a mix of short fixing, free climbing, and french freeing whenever possible. Carolyn was following on ascenders and carrying the pack; we were basically speed climbing. Soon enough the dihedral ended and Carolyn took over the lead.  Until this moment I was so invested in the climbing that I hadn't noticed the clouds pouring over the peaks of the Torres from the south. Now that I was belaying my heart rate slowed and I became cold. As I changed from my rock shoes back into my approach shoes I felt the freezing wind bite my feet.The next anchor was located on an arête that was perfectly exposed to the wind. Carolyn aided the thin and technical crack with frozen hands as I stood shivering and exposed on the ledge. The clouds quickly engulfed the entire mountain and snow flurries whipped past in strong gusts.  I yelled up at her but she could not hear, "Carolyn we need to bail! The weather is worsening!" I waited for a response but all sound was overtaken by the wind. My only option was to meet her at the next belay so I struggled my way up the overhang on jumars. Once I arrived at the ledge Carolyn's calm rational reassured me that all would be well if we could make it to the bivy ledge.  I scrambled up the gully with a settled mind, focused on finding a protected bivy spot which I could barricade with rocks.  The storm clouds were dark and the wind was persistent but our -20 sleeping bag and warm boiled water from our jet boil made for a rather comfortable sleep. On the bright side, the storm clouds painted an amazing sunset, and there was no better place to view it than the north pillar of Fitz Roy.
Beautiful but dramatic sunset
The next morning maintained the chill and windspeed from the day before and we were faced with a tough decision.  If we pushed on we risked facing the unknown weather so we decided it would be best to bail. By 4 pm we were back at the base of the pilar and the day had transformed into a beautiful and calm day. We were devastated.  Not only was it frustrating that we had wasted our time rappelling during the best weather conditions but we watched as another party (a group of Spaniards) casually climbed up the route. They had waited out the wind started up sometime around midday. 

Carolyn Taking over the lead at the break of day
After contemplating various options we decided that we would have a good chance at summiting the North Pillar in a single day via Mate Porro if we started early. The first half of the route was fresh in our memories as well as the lower rappels.  We were up and moving by 3 am. Having already climbed the first half of the route I was able to climb even faster. I lead my block by headlamp, with the help of the full moon.
The full moon setting after a bright night of climbing
Carolyn took over as it began to get light out and we were back at the bivy ledge by 11 am. Once again the weather was less than ideal. The winds were strong, so strong in fact that we found the Spaniards huddled in their bivy sacs waiting for the winds to die. 

I traversed the ledge around to the north side of the pillar in search of a line that would be protected from the southern winds. I chose a line called Gringos Perdidos, 6c, which follows crack systems of varying sizes up to a small roof.  It was impossible to see what lied beyond the roof so I chose to climb a flared groove that veered left into an offwith dihedral. Only later did I find out that I had linked Gringos Perdidos with another variation, and in doing so found an entirely new crux section.  I was stoked; at the top of the North Pillar being challenged with technical free climbing with the sun at my back. 

We reached the snowy summit around 5 pm, so proud and happy of our revenge ascent. There was no time to relax however, for we still had the entire decent, and descents are often more challenging than the climb.  Just to our luck our rope became caught as we pulled our very first rappel, winding itself around a chock stone high above in an icy chimney. It was critical that we save it as we still had some 20 plus pitches to descend.  Carefully I pulled myself upward on the lodged rope while squeezing up the chimney about 30 feet to where it was stuck. I was surprised by how easily the rope dislodged but realized that it would be an ideal location to build a knot anchor. With some rap cord I tied a small not and wedged it between the chock stone and the wall. Then rappelled back down to Carolyn. Our rope gave us trouble on every single rappel, fortunately we didn't have to climb up again to retrieve it. We quickly caught up to the Spaniards, they must have waited on the bivy ledge at pitch 16 all day. We made it to the base before dark, slipped into our bivy sac and fell asleep awaiting a long and tenuous hike out on empty stomachs the next day

Monday, 8 December 2014

Winter Alpine in the Tantalus

I e-mailed my mom to tell her about our spontaneous trip into the Tantalus Range last weekend. She responded with: 
“A spontaneous heli drop?!” 
She had clearly seen this photo that Marc had posted on Facebook:

  But it was spontaneous.  Our plan was to climb in the Joffre Range but a power line had fallen across the road and blocked off the access so at the last minute we had a change in plans.  An hour later we were unloading our bags from the helicopter onto the glacier under Mt. Dione.
Where the heli dropped us off (thats Dione in the background)

We made a quick stop at the hut to drop off the extra gear and went out for an afternoon ridge scramble between Serratus and Dione. Then found a quick 2 pitch mixed route to get a feel for the conditions.  

The first pitch was a chimney iced over with rime on the right and flakes of rock on the left. I torqued my left front-point into a microscopic crack and stemmed with my right. The pitch led us to a nice ice gully to the top of the ridge.  

This gave us a great feel for the conditions, and conditions were excellent.  The season had been bringing a west wind that had scoured the entire west face in rhyme. Our timing was perfect because just as we arrived the temperatures dropped and the Arctic Outflow kicked in; meaning a change in wind direction, now from the north. The north face was experiencing freezing winds up to 70km, while the west side was protected, sunny, and covered in ice.  

Day two brought extreme winds to the col where the hut was located.  We put on our arctic war proof jackets aka: Arc’teryx Dually, and faced the storm. 

The second pitch on of our first day climb.
The wind is blowing through the col behind me

The next morning ee woke at 4:30 to boil water for the day, then headed out across the glacier to attempt route on the west face of Tantalus.  The approach took about 2.5 hours to the base of of west face, including a steep down climb of step kicking.  

We chose a line called the Kay- Mannix.  We kicked steps in the steep couloir for quite a while 

Mount Dione (right peak) and Mount Tantalus( left peak), view from the South west.  We were headed fro the west face, the longest face.
Me climbing the coulior

until the ice tuned totally vertical, into a small waterfall.  This was the limit of my ice soloing ability so Marc made a quick belay and I tied the rope around my waist.  Just as I had finished the knot a spin drift avalanche came shooting over me.  
“Keep your head down and hold on!”  I could hear Marc shouting from above.  He was off to the side and protected.
Literally this was the only thing I could do. The steepness of the section I was climbing was just enough to protect me from the debris and it projectiled over me.  I was completely enveloped in the snow but I was able to pull out my ice tool and scale over to the right and out of the fall line. 

From there we decided to avoid the gullies and head up a steeper mixed section. Marc took the first lead but at the end of the rope was struggling to find a belay.  I was admiring the pleasant rock to the left imagining that it would be a superb rock climb. I then realized, this can’t be a good sign when the rock to my left is happily baking in the sun, and im climbing a route of frozen water.  Either way, I  climbed the pitch which was super techy and fun and I then lead an unprotected pitch of steep snow and ice. We then climbed to a sunny and melting ridge and decided to call it.  

The sun was heating up the upper mountain and sending ice avalanches down all the couliors and the route would certainly take us the entire rest of the day to finish, possibly into the night. And descending winter routes is not always as straight forward as rock routes.

We descended the arête and made it down in 5 raps no problem.  

That was the extent of my tantalus winter weekend.   
The amazingly beautiful sunset from the hut
Unfortunately I didn't have a camera so I didn't get any shots of Marc on this trip, but ill get one for next time.  

Monday, 29 September 2014

East ridge of Alpha, Tantalus Range

Marc- Andre at the lovelywater dock at noon just before we split to opposite sides of the lake.
Yesterday I solo scrambled the East ridge of Alpha for the first time.  It apparently goes at 5.8, but the crux section is super short, only about 20 feet or so... and the rest is a nice 4-5th class scramble.  From this photo you can see the summits of Niobe and Omega about 1000 feet below (where Marco was climbing).  Car to car, including the cable crossing it took us about 9 or so hours.  I passed a team about half way up the ridge who decided to bail due to lack of time, and were surprised to see me arrive so late in the day to do a casual scramble.  I explained that going solo is much faster in situations such as this.
Heres a nice photo of the integral ridge of Alpha.  For whom it may concern, there is a complete marked trail through the dense forested approach up to the ridge, but the carins are hard to spot, and the decent is flagged with yellow and pink tape, but keep an eye out. 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Shadow

The shadow, what to say about the shadow... well, its one of those routes where I found myself in a unique place I have titled the ‘self-encouragement stage’.  That special point where you have to verbally encourage yourself to keep pushing on. The thing about stemming, I have found, is that the longer I spend in one position the more likely I am to slip. Thats how this route goes, its unrelenting.  Fortunately my mental games worked and I was able to send the pitch on the third go ground up on lead. I made two attempts on sunday with very close calls and some fun runout whips into the corner (they were all clean falls)  We returned on the next day for the send.  
Photo by Anders  Ourom. The Shadow 12.d or 13a? The sheer dihedral which hangs high on the Squamish Chief, the direct line of Univeristy Wall- both esthetically and stylistically eye-catching.  

I also want to mention that I wasn’t on sighting, I had climbed the route on second last fall but wasn't ready to lead it. 
The corner has small pockets for gear but they are quite spaced which requires some exciting run outs.  About half way up the pitch the crack widens to #1 for about a meter which is the only rest on the route. However the transition move out from the jam and into the stem is what I found to be the crux. The walls are slightly undercut at this point making both my hands and feet insecure. The rest of the route is protected by stoppers which are run out, but super solid if they are placed right.