Sunday, December 15, 2013

Frank Triple Play! (Ice + coffee + bouldering!)

Just when you think winter has settled in...

"Winter has arrived
at last, we lie within it's icy jaws
to lie there, as asleep
until roused by springtime thaws."

than BAM!, the chinook comes, and winter disappears for a week, and fall weather returns.  That's what happened this past week.  Lethbridge went from being the coldest city in Canada (colder than the North Pole!), to being a balmy 7C.  I had planned a day of ice climbing with the eternally-psyched Mark Guckert, but when the weather turned warm he suggested that maybe we could go both ice climbing and bouldering in the same day!  So, with Mark D in tow, we packed up mats, rock shoes, ropes, ice tools, crampons, jackets, and assorted gore-tex paraphenalia and headed off to the Crowsnest Pass.

Our first objective was the very thin ice climb in the Gold Creek Canyon that I had spied two weeks earlier.  I assumed that with all the cold weather that it would have formed into a nice and fat pillar, and so when we arrived at the canyon I was surprised to see that it was basically in the same shape as when I had seen it last.  It looked like our plans for ice climbing had turned into a morning of mixed climbing.  It turned out for the best, though, as toproping these short climbs became one of the most entertaining ice sessions I'v ever had.

Me on the center-most of the three climbs were did in the Canyon.  When I started up, this route had a huge icicle hanging off the roof about 12 feet up; I broke it off turning the roof.  We also did the thin ice smears to the left (very fun!) and Mark G brilliantly climbed the series of free-hanging icicles to the right. I was the first person on the rope; in the photo below you can see how many of the icicles were broken off during the day; it was pretty beat up by the end!

Mark G (aka Mixmaster Mark) trying not to break off the man-sized icicle in front of him... Thin ice can be VERY fun!

Mark D getting the hang (pun intended) of mixed climbing.  Turns out steep ice can be very pumpy!

I would have really liked to try and lead one of these climbs, but the ice was so thin that almost none of it would hold screws, and the rock is too rotten to hold rock gear.  Also, given my performance on toprope, it would have been a little premature (not to mention dangerous!) to attempt a lead ascent.  Hopefully by the end of the winter (and after my new ice tools arrive in the mail!  Woohoo!) the ice will be thicker and I'll gather sufficient courage to lead one of these routes.  After the ice ends, another 20 feet or so of much easier moss and rock 'Scottish climbing' lead to the anchoring tree; it's probaby 20m from the base to the rim of the canyon.

We had a blast climbing these short routes, getting the hang of hooking rock and thin icicles was really educational (and physical).  Mark G has an impressive set of skills, so it was nice to watch him climb the series of thin icicles on the right side, hooking and stemming his way up a series of bouldery moves.  Mark D was a bit tentative at first swinging the tools, but soon got the hang of bashing his way up steep ice.

It soon started to get warmer, though, so our thoughts turned to an afternoon of bouldering.  We packed up and headed out of the canyon. On the walk out, we ran into a group of snowshoers, who told us that there was another waterfall downstream.  I had never been able to find the rest of the ice climbs in the canyon (though I knew they were there somewhere from reading Joe Josephson's guide), but following the instructions of the snowshoers we soon found the other half-dozen ice climbs in the Canyon.  They are all short (probably maximum 15 or 20 m high), but a lot thicker (probably WI 2-4) than the mixed climb we had toproped further up the canyon.  Next time!

We popped over to the Cinnamon Bear Cafe for coffee and cinnamon buns (awesome!), then headed to the Slide.  It was getting late in the day (already 3:30, and just a week from the solstice), so we headed over to the Albatross Area. We thought we might do a circuit, but instead we settled on trying the problems on the Tombstone Boulder.

None of us had ever tried them before, so we warmed up, and starting climbing in the growing dusk.  We did an easy-ish slab on the side of the boulder, then turned our attention to the two hardish problems on the boulder, Tombstone Right and Tombstone Left.  It took us a half-hour to finally work out the beta for Tombstone Right, a very tricky (and balancy) steep arete that has has some very cool slopers and arete holds on rock with a very distinct sandstone-like texture.  We sent it one after another (quality line!), then shuffled the mats and quickly sent the left arete which turned out to be much easier.  We figured Tombstone Right was about V5 (though the fact that we were climbing in the windy dusk of a December day may have biased our judgement), and I thought that Tombstone Left was about V3.  Both very high-quality lines!

Mark G on Tombstone Left (V3ish).  Very fun! 

By this time, it was getting late.  I gave a few half-hearted attempts to a line that would link the start of Tombstone Right into the end of Tombstone Left, but soon gave it up.  We headed back to the van and started the long drive back to Lethbridge.

All things considered, a very fun day in the mountains!  I'm looking forward to getting out again, and sampling more of the ice in the Southern Rockies.  I feel doubly-armed for a winter of climbing; warm weekends will mean bouldering, cold weekends will mean ice climbing!

More later! Have a fun week!

[Huge thanks to Mark D for supplying photos!  I forgot my camera at home...]

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