Monday, February 24, 2014

Bridal Veil Falls and the Talisman

Bridal Veil, Telluride, CO. WI5/6

    Even if we had called it off last week, it would be the best season of climbing, well, ever.  But why would we?
    Brett Baekey and I drove to Buena Vista and met David Fay, who graduated CC last year and now teaches math at HMI in Leadville.  That night we crashed in the basement of the Sumggler's Pub in downtown Telluride. We got up at the crack of dawn and hiked it up to the sickest ice in Colorado. 
   In summer, water drops 365 feet without touching rock.  Come winter, blue chandeliers grow on the overhanging rock walls and link together to form a Gothic cathedral of ice.

Brett and David on approach.
   My friend and dedicated alpine partner Carl Deane called Jack Roberts a friend, hero, and mentor.  Jack's passing on Bridal Veil falls took everyone by surprise, and I think it shook Carl's world more than I could imagine.  For me, this climb had connotations of danger, and climbing it seemed a dark proposition.  As Carl likes to say "lets roll the dice".

   Of course the only way to climb ice is in a state of control and calm. Once I found this head-space, I remembered to have fun. The conditions this time of year were easy, and we felt confident. This was steep, featured, type-one fun with more exposure than I could have imagined.  We took the right side.  Given another chance, I would try the cleaner, more aggressive, and more continuous left line.

The Spray Cone.
   Brett took us up pitch 1 with indomitable psyche.  The spray cone was huge, easily weighing hundreds of tons.  It obeys the physics of a glacier. Throughout the season, it separates from the falls above and moves down the smooth rock below, lurching and popping from time to time.  On Brett's lead, he stepped over a huge crack reminiscent of a bergschrund.  From the first large ledge I stemmed my way between daggers and mushrooms, pulling a small roof at the route's crux.  The ice was steep and thoughtful, but never did I go far without a good rest and a chance to collect myself.  At each moment, I took in the full exposure, feeling it's depth.  Not once did I want to be anywhere else, just there, pulling from one stick to the next in perfect ice.

Leading the crux, pitch 2. 
   I finished up the pitch on the bluest part of the pillar, at the center of the falls.  We pulled into a protected cave, and David led the final overhang on the route.  It was a beautiful pitch on twisted, hollow, complicated ice.  We rapped off and finished with the afternoon free.  We checked out the Cornet falls pillar, a moderate line closer to Telluride, and had some good laps.
David pulls out of the cave on pitch 3.

On Rappel

Brett everstoked Baekey

The Talisman:

The Talisman, Camp Bird Road, IV WI6 M6
   I'm not sure how our weekend could get better, but it did.  We went up Camp Bird road in search of the Talisman, hoping to find it still in.  It took a while to commit to the faceted snow slope on approach, and in hindsight that was the most committing move of the climb.  Once on the wall we found every pitch to be technically involved, steep, and wild.

   I took the first pitch, finding the ribbon on the right side sublimated down to rock and moss.  I pulled over ice petals and through steep ground, eventually climbing a pillar narrower than my shoulders for a couple body-lengths.
   Brett was stoked to take pitch 2, the crux.  He floated the overhanging daggers and hummocks, climbing quickly and confidently.  After the rising traverse and the route's pure ice crux, he pulled into an overhanging corner, climbing insecure mixed moves with poor gear in choss.  He displayed control and poise on the pitch, and his send was impressive to watch.  Falling anywhere would not have been good.

Brett at the crux, WI6 M6.  One of the raddest leads I've seen.

The steep mixed terrain on pitch 2.
David and I followed clean, and David racked up for pitch 3. It was the most exposed and photogenic part of the drip.  A couple of mixed moves led his out to a pedestal of ice improbably clinging to the wall.  300 feet of clean air swept below.  Updrafts suspended flakes of drifting snow, hanging and catching the light.  He pulled into fifteen feet of overhanging curtain, and onto the vertical headwall above.
David leads out on pitch 3.

The crux of p.3, WI5+.

the peak at the head of Yankee Boy Basin.
Following pitch 3.
The wildest hang-dangler this side of the Uncompaghre
We rapped the wall with the sun beginning to set.  Our headlamps were off on the dark hike back.  We shared in total contentment, deciding that it doesn't get much better than this.  The crux of the weekend was returning to real life.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cody: Broken Hearts on Valentines Day.

Broken Hearts, South Fork of the Shoshone, Pitch 6, WI6

Jack solos pitch 1.
Pitch 3.
Hanson, Jack, Niels and I legged it to Cody for fifth block break.  It's been a good season there, and nearly everywhere else.  Avalanche danger was looking to be through the roof after a storm cycle and warm weather. We figured we would roll the dice on some moderate gulleys.  Jokes, instead we decided to look for great protected ice lines in one of the wildest spots in the lower 48. 
   The South Fork of the Shoshone is a unique canyon with intricate and difficult terrain on both sides.  The bottom of the canyon is low, 6000ft, and sees rain sometimes even in the middle of winter.  On both sides, high peaks rise over a mile above the valley, and huge snow bowls feed countless threads of ice that drop to the floor.
   The storm cycle limited what we could do greatly.  On the way up we spent the night in Lander and cooked a huge breakfast with my brother. We got on Stringer upon arrival, where Jack and I soloed together.  Even during the South Fork Ice Fest, the canyon was less crowded than any one of our zoo-style front range ice crags.  The ice fest traffic was concentrated on shorter routes with easy approaches, so we knew we would still have alot of space to ourselves in which to get scared.

Leading Pitch 5, aka My Only Valentine WI5
The next day we got on Broken Hearts, a 7 pitch system of pillars on the sunny side of the canyon.  I heard that pitches 5 and 6 would be in, and was excited to push myself a bit.  Really we were just a bunch of sexually frustrated outsiders trying to reconcile our choice of activities on Valentine's day.

 ie. we're here because we're not all there.
    In a group of 4, Jack and I soloed the first two pitches while Niels and Hanson climbed as a pair behind.  Jack took pitch 3, the first real pillar of the route.  We burned alot of candles postholing up the gulley to the buisness pitches.  In and of itself, the first 4 pitches make a fantastic moderate outing, but we had dispatched them by mid-morning.
   We arrived in the first of the upper amphitheaters.  Pitch 5, aka. My Only Valentine was formed well as a large curtain of vertical, featured ice.  It was dripping and nearly every placement was an inspiring one-swing-stick.
   The Carotid Artery is a pillar on the left side of the wall.  It appeared to have formed and broken off.  As a mixed climb, it is both chossy and incredibly difficult, with the only protection at it's M7 crux being a couple of pins, placed on lead by Alex Lowe.
   As I was finishing up the pitch a certain professional climber showed up chainsmoking cigarettes with some friends in tow.  While I was slowly enjoying the last few sticks in great green ice, he apparently started up the mixed version of Carotid, then backed off it.  A few minutes later he tried the pencilesque and partially formed right variation to My Only Valentine.  He backed off that too.  Meanwhile, Jack started following me up the pitch. Finally this guy relented and climbed the curtain as I had, and as a normal human being would do. 

In the second ampitheater, we found the sixth pitch in good condition.  I started up it with a couple of hours of daylight.  I burned a good chunk of that by delaying complete commitment at the top of the spray cone.  I was looking at about 65 feet of relentless vertical and slightly overhanging fragile ice.  There was no 'gunning it', instead I tiptoed up the pillar slowly, making every stick count.  I was undoubtedly overdriving the tools, but it felt good to be solid.  Further up, I stemmed across to the rock for a rest and found myself face to face with an open fracture line.  It was getting dark, and quickly getting colder.  I heard a deep, resonating pop, followed by a sickening groan, and a pop again.  The pillar was settling.  I childishly forced some sticks above the fracture line, as if it would matter.  My heart was racing.
   Nothing happened.  I was being soft, I got control of my mind quickly. With a burning but sustainable pump, I kept stemming it out, kept resting.  The clicks and pops were coming at regular intervals, and then they stopped.  Once I set off again into the vertical, I placed my last screw well above the fracture line and committed to the final 30 feet of steep ice. The top section was still difficult, but it was well bonded to the wall behind.
   I overprotected the bottom and misjudged the height of the pitch, bringing 7 screws for 110 feet of pillar.  It felt good to be completely reliant on my points and movement.  Bringing less protection certainly made it a less strenuous lead, and I found a deep sense of calm and contentment as I pulled the last bulge.  I felt confident at every moment, save for a short lapse in my trust in the pillar's integrity.  Realistically, though much skinnier, it looked about as solid as the Fang, and the expansion fracture was smaller and better healed.
   When I looked at my hands, they were dripping with blood, seeping through my gloves.  I was so focused that I hadn't noticed my smashed knuckles through my thin gloves. It was dark, and I bounced my voice off the far side of the amphitheater signaling to Jack that I was off.
   The seventh pitch apparently hasn't come in for over 10 years, and unfortunately we didn't get a good look at it.  When it's in, it features a ledge a mid height with a steep thread of ice above and below. It is likely of similar difficulty to the 6th pitch, but much more fragile. When I rapped down from the tree at the top, I was only halfway down the spray cone with a 70 meter rope and had to come off rappel on one end and downclimb by headlamp, pulling the rope through the anchor with my bodyweight.  We descended into the dark and hit the bars in Cody.
Leading pitch 6.

This was the aftermath for my hands.  I like the dexterity of dry-tooling gloves,
but the ice did a number on me.
Weather got alot worse, with 45 degree temps and sleet throughout the valley.  We checked out Welcome Wagon, WI4/5, but found it sunbaked, melting, and rotten.  It was too much for either Hanson or I to lead, so we called it a trip and hoofed it back to Lander, enjoying a nice evening with my family.
   Upon return to CC I was greeted with disciplinary action regarding a recent incident involving our stove, a coffee pot, a keg shell, 'theft', and my cat.  Our friend left the stove on and set off the fire alarm last week while we were all in class, and firemen just happened to be conducting a drill next door.  They broke into our apartment, 'saved the day' by turning the stove off, and then proceeded to report all our violations of code.  The 'theft' amounted to borrowing a trashcan from downstairs, but it is going on our records.  The administration instructed me to 'get rid of my cat'.   We'll see where that goes in the next couple of weeks, and meanwhile, my cat is in hiding.

Hanson, Niels, and Jack approaching Welcome Wagon. The Illest of block breaks. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Fang

Leading the Backside of the Fang
   It's worth waiting for the Fang.  It's a huge free standing pillar in the Vail Amphitheater, and easily one of the most iconic pitches of ice in America.  Its an Alex Lowe first ascent, 1981.  Earlier this season it was in, but received few leads and sustained a huge fracture during the December cold snap.  Our most recent weeks of cold weather gave it another crack at 3/4 height.  Historically, it has fallen on a few climbers with serious and sometimes fatal consequences.  I waited for warm temps and persistent dripping to heal the fractures.  Three times I went to Vail, warmed up on the Designator, WI5-, then did some steep dry tooling, all the while thinking about starting up the Fang.
At the crux section, Brett belaying. Photo courtesy of Nick's cell phone.
   I've been training alot in preparation for the Canadian Rockies.  I've been ski touring and running to keep the lungs working.  The power-endurance carried over well from sport climbing, and I transitioned into a five week strength cycle. It's hard to motivate indoor training in an crowded gym, but I'm feeling better every day on ice so it's been worth it.  The week previous I got on Amphibian, M8.  I felt as if I couldn't pump off the tools.  With no pump clock to speak of, I have all the time I need to lead ice slowly and carefully.  I think I owe it to myself and others to lead responsibly.
   The base had filled in a bit more with fewer overhanging mushrooms, and the cracks, though still visible from the ground, had clearly healed over.  While not hacked out yet, it was showing some evidence of lead traffic.  I warmed up on Cupcake Corner.
   Once I started up the pillar the sticks were easy but the screws were all hitting air.  The first good placement was at least 60 feet off the deck.  The chandeliered ice started to go away as the steepness increased.  I found a rest by arm barring in a deep pod, but had to leave quickly to keep from getting soaked.  30 feet higher I stemmed across to the rock for a rest, still in the drip line, and stared the foot wide gap in the fracture line face to face.  Small tendrils of ice had bridged it, but otherwise the pillar seemed to be supported by it's own structure and the thin steel cable that apparently encourages it to form.  While shaking out I wrung the water out of my hood and gloves.  Pulling around the side of the pillar and onto the upper head wall was exposed and interesting, but mainly I was happy to be on dry ice.  All-told it was about a 90 minute lead on 115 feet of ice.  It's not the most inspiring effort, but I felt confident and in control, never allowing myself to get pumped.  Nick Roman followed the pitch and Brett saved it for the sharp end another day as we were running out of light. 
Leading the 7th Tentacle, M6 WI5

Brett and I are getting close on Amphibian, M8 (pitch 1)

Somewhere near Monarch Pass,  big turns.

Niels and Gus, skins off.