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.

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