Thursday, March 20, 2014

Canadian Rockies: pt. 3, Curtain Call

Curtain Call III WI6. March 2014.

 This is one of those lines that you need to see only once.  It takes hold of you and never lets go.  I remember seeing it in Will Gadd's book years ago, and I knew I had to climb it. 

All the Belays were in protected caves.  This is the first.

Brett leading out on the first pitch, 60m of fragile, steep ice.
 We soloed a short 10m step of vert ice and established ourselves in a nice cave.  Brett took pitch 1, leading the climbers-left side of the pillar.  It was a rope stretcher with relentless angle and consistent chandeliers and mushrooms.  Zach and I followed very quickly. The next cave was quite like the first, but with a persistent drip of water above, soaking to the bone.  I racked up quickly and left my friends to get drenched, starting up one of the strangest pitches of ice I have ever led. 

I stemmed, chimneyed, and eventually squeezed my way out a narrow window in the face of the pillar.  The window provided a terrain belay, and protection was mostly unnecessary.  I took my time, enjoying the massive exposure and climbing in the warm sun. I ran it out until I was above the fracture line, and the sticks sounded solidly instead of shaking the pillar with them.  I started placing screws and finished the last 30 meters of steep ice to the top, finding some shallow stems in which to take a few deep breaths.  It was thoughtful ice, with many fragile features, but for the most part it was a surprisingly easy pitch. By the time Brett and Zach followed the clouds had moved back over the sun, and they were soaked from the drip at the dark belay.  We all rapped quickly with little time to relax.
Leading the crux, pitch 2.  About to exit through the window and onto the front face of the pillar.

We originally wanted to go big in the alpine, but after finishing Curtain Call, our trip is complete for me.  We're not going to force anything in these conditions, but I think there might be a few more climbs in store for us before we go back to the grind.

Dropping pillows the next day below the Crowfoot Glacier.

Canadian Rockies: pt.2 Columbia Icefield

Snowdome, with the route Slipstream at center.
Skiing onto the ice of the Athabasca
    In the last few days there’s been alot of snow on unstable layers, and alpine climbing is now out of the question.  To kill some time we decided to take a flat ski up the Athabasca Glacier to see some peaks as the afternoon sky cleared up.  Our dream routes were looking good, but it’ll have to be another season. It would be pushing the snow a bit too hard to get into steep alpine terrain at the moment, and unfortunately we can't wait until april.
   Hopefully we can get some good water ice done before we head back to the states.  We're going to have to pick and choose carefully; most of the good ice here has hazard on approach, overhead, or all over the damn place.  If we cant go big, we can leave with some photos and some new goals for later.

The North Face of Mount Andromeda.  The Andromeda strain is the prominent corner system in the center of the face.
Brett surveying the north face of Andromeda

The storms moved back in to dump again...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Canadian Rockies: pt.1, The Ghost

The Sorcerer IV WI5
    Zach Keskinen, Brett Bakey, and I showed up after over 20 hours of driving.  First we went out to the Ghost river to find some big ice with low avelanche hazard.  The weather has been bad and snow conditions in the Rockies are unstable this spring, but the east slope is generally dry and can be safer.
   The front range rises dramatically from the plains, and there's almost no development.  Approaches are long and difficult, first with hours of driving on destroyed roads, ice, and riverbeds, and then with hours of hiking and post-holing.   We decided to do The Sorcerer.  Despite the cornice looming over the route, the approach slopes are safe.
A view of The Real Big Drip

The Sorcerer

Feeling less than great after driving past midnight
Zach leads pitch 1

Brett leads pitch 3

On the crux, p 4.

The crux was the blown out road.

The Weeping Wall, lower right hand side, WI5, 3 pitches.
Brett beginning the long crux pitch.
 We had a quick ski-tour near Lake Louise. The weather wasn't exactly photo weather, but we skiied up to the toe of a glacier and reveled in the low visibility. We got some mellow turns on the way down. 
   The storming continued, but we decided to head up the parkway do the Lower Weeping Wall, which also has very limited avy hazard even with heavy new snow.  It was a wet day out on good ice. 
  Our hopes for the alpine are limited.  We have another 6 days here, and it's only going to snow more on those funky layers.  If we're lucky then we'll at least get to see some of the big faces, and we'll keep climbing classic water ice.

Brett at the crux.