Friday, December 30, 2016

Waterton Ice!

Last week I was bouldering in the Cave at the gym at the University, and was ruminating aloud on the likelihood of going ice climbing over the winter break, and whether or not I could find anyone to climb with.  Usually this type of monologue falls on deaf ears, but to my surprise Graeme C. piped up, and said he'd be keen on heading out to get on some ice.

I took this as (a) an omen that I was meant to get out climbing with someone new, and (b) a great opportunity to get out of the city and head to the mountains.  I had only climbed with Graeme a few times, but he always seems very enthusiastic.  As such, we make plans to head on out the following Wednesday.  Since I have never been ice climbing in Waterton, we decided that that would be our destination.  I've done most of my ice climbing on the short curtains of the Crowsnest Pass Area, so I was looking forward to seeing something new.

After a big of an early-morning epic tracking down my quickdraws (eventually finding them buried in an unmarked bin in my garage?!!), Graeme and I grabbed coffee and headed out of town.  On the drive out I found out that (a) Graeme is a great guy and a good conversationalist (both huge pluses for the travelling climber), and (b) keen about getting more exposure to climbing ice.  He'd only been ice climbing a handful of times, but was excited to broaden his experience.

On the road to find some ice!  I only had my phone to take photos, but it was better than nothing!

Eventually arriving in Waterton, we drove up the Cameron Lake Road to check out the famous ice climbs French Kiss (WI3) and Quick and Dirty (WI4).  Both climbs are two pitches in length, though the first pitches of both climbs see much more action than the second pitches.  When we arrived, we suited up and trekked up the slope to the climbs.  Arriving at the ice, we saw that a handful of climbers had already arrived; one of them (Trevor) I knew casually from the climbing gym, and he had already led and put up a toprope on French Kiss (it has a nice bolted anchor).

This produced a short-lived quandry for Graeme and I.  Neither of us was really keen on leading the steep and sustained Quick and Dirty, but we really wanted to get on something.  Luckily, the other group nicely offered to let us use their toprope to climb up to the anchor, then traverse over to set a toprope anchor on the steeper ice to the right.  Though I haven't ice climbed in years, I volunteered to climb up, then lead the required traverse to put in another anchor.  After a few shenanigans (in which I wished I had brought up a few more screws), I put in an anchor and rappelled off.

The toprope on French Kiss.  It's a nice route, with a great bolted anchor in an alcove at the end of the first pitch.  It's a longer than it appears in this photo, I was standing at the bottom of a steep slope, looking up.

Rappelling off, it became apparent that the ice climb I had put a toprope on was much (!) steeper than I expected.  I would only later learn that we were climbing a WI5 or WI6 pillar, a grade of climbing out of my range (as I would soon discover).

Graeme tied in, and headed up the pillar.  He climbed well, progressing nicely up the route before pumping out about halfway up.  He took several hangs before making to the anchor, but climbed well. After Graeme lowered off, I tied in and headed up, only to find out why Graeme had pumped out.  The ice was STEEP (dead vertical with two slightly overhanging bulges) and very chandeliered.  I pumped out (!!!) about half way up, and had to hangdog my way to the top, fighting the most desperate pump ever.

Me standing at the anchor I had built, watching a much stronger climber lead French Kiss (WI3). Very cool! Given that I'm about 22m off the deck, you can get a sense of the angle of the ice.

Another couple of teams had also arrived at the ice, and one of them (a much stronger climber than we were) asked if he could take a burn on our rope.  We quickly agreed (especially since he offered to clean the anchor for us, and we were both crazily pumped).  We were gratified to see that even a much better ice climber than we were still had to take a couple of hangs to make it to the top of the pillar.

Still pumped, and with the wind rising and the light fading, Graeme and I packed up and headed back down the mountain.  Despite the lack of mileage, we still had a great day in the mountains, and I'm keen to head back and explore some of the more moderate ice in the area.  I'm thinking that the shorter routes of the Crowsnest might be a better idea, though.

This isn't me on this pillar.  I have the brightest alpine pants/jacket in the universe.  I'm presuming that this is, however, what I looked like as I climbed the route.  Luckily the very friendly and accommodating climber agreed to clean our anchor off for us. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

2016: The Year in Review!

Every year, I like to look back over my year, and reflect on the things that happened, the places I visited, the people I met, and the problems (or routes) that I climbed.  Every year I am mildly surprised that I'm still climbing (I seem to be slowly falling apart), but I am enjoying the experience as much as I ever have and so have no real plans to throw in the towel (just yet).  This year I went on three trips (Red Rocks, The Boulderfields, and Idaho/Montana), and spend a lot of time at Frank Slide (now with almost 1200 boulder problems!).  I had a lot of fun traveling, climbing, and meeting new people, and so here, in no particular order, are my climbing highlights from 2016!

Kyle highballing at Castle Rock, Idaho. I love climbing in the desert!

1. Bouldering in Red Rocks!  For many years, I've heard about the sandstone bouldering in Red Rock National Conservation Area just north of Las Vegas, Nevada.  I've always wanted to make the trip, and spend some time bouldering on sandstone (one of my favorite kinds of rock) in the desert (which I love), but it always seemed too far away.  This year I finally made the drive down with Kyle and Ernie in February, to check out the area (and climb with all of the U of L Climbing Club folks).  I had an amazing time, climbing a lot of very fun lines including Pork Chop (V3), Monkey Bars Right (V6) and Monkey Bars Traverse (V6/7, which is likely my hardest flash ever, in part due to beta from Kyle).  We had a blast climbing around the area, spending time not only at Kraft Rocks but also several other areas including Black Velvet Canyon (which has amazing rock, and where Mark D. climbed The Fountainhead (hard V9)) and Oak Creek (where I managed to do the amazing but weirdly hard Blood Trails (V5)).  Had a blast with so many amazing people, including Kyle, Ernie, Mark D., the hilarious Morgan D., and all the 'Club Kids'.  Would love to go back!

Kyle sending Monkey Bar Traverse (V6/7), Kraft Rocks, Nevada.  A fun line, but the real prize of the boulder is Monkey Bar Direct (which Kyle has also done...)

2. The Channel in Idaho!  While I hadn't heard much about this area, Kyle was keen to check it out on our trip to the desert this fall.  I'm incredibly glad we went (we spent two days in the area); the problems, the rock, and (especially) the holds are second to no area I've ever been to.  The rock is so incredibly sculpted, it is hard to believe that holds like these actually exist - even when you're climbing on them.  Another trip is definitely in order!  The only downside is that it is filled with water for half the year.

The Channel!!! Dr. Suess-inspired bouldering in the desert among dead fish.  Amazing!

3. Bushido (V7), The Golden Rule (V4), and Memento (V0/1) in the Boulderfields.  I love the Boulderfields just outside of Kelowna.  I love the rock, I love the problems, I like the terrain, the city is fantastic place to visit (for a bit, anyways), there's a fantastic swimming lake, and the local climbers (huge props to Andy, Jay, Braden, Garett, and all the gang!) are an amazing group.  Futhermore, I've always enjoyed finding and putting up new lines, and there is a wealth of untapped rock in the Boulderfields.  I was lucky this year to put up three fantastic lines; Bushido and Memento are both incredibly aesthetic lines on the Nerf Boulder, and The Golden Rule is just a few steps away.  Memento is (I hope) one of the very best easy highballs in the 'Fields, with perfect incuts up a tall wall of perfect gneiss.

Me on the AMAZING highball Memento (V0/1), the Boulderfields, BC.

4. The 2016 Rock the Blocs (again, in the Boulderfields).  Every year, Andy White and the Kelowna locals put on what is likely the best outdoor bouldering festival in Canada.  I managed to make it out to the RtB again this year, and although they had to call the event early on account of rain, I managed to climb enough problems to squeak into first place in the Masters Category.  I'll be back again next year, hopefully with a few more Frank Locals in tow.  One of the great things about the RtB is that it is a great place to meet up and reconnect with old friends, and I was psyched not only to hang out with the Kelowna crew, but also to spend the day with (the Hope bouldering legend and all-round great guy) Marco Lefebvre.  It was also fun to spend some time with Aletha and Stephan (Frank Slide locals who I don't actually get to see that often).  Mark D. also got third in the Men's Open, so I was pretty happy that Frank Slide was well-represented at the event.

5. The 2016 Tour de Frank, at Frank Slide.  Every year, Kyle and I organise the Tour de Frank, an outdoor climbing festival/competition in Frank Slide.  This year, the TdF came to the House and Heart sectors, with a huge list of hand-picked problems to challenge visiting climbers.  This year was the best TdF yet, with about 80 people from across Alberta and SE BC.  Some incredibly strong climbers came out this year, with Marc Eveleigh (Men's open) and Samantha Li and Eva Thompson (Women's open, tie) winning the event.  With great sponsors, a lot of the climbers walked off with well-earned swag.  We were worried the weather would turn ugly, but it held off nicely and everyone enjoyed a great day of climbing.  Huge thanks to everyone who turned out, and (even more huge) thanks to all the volunteers.  You can read all about it HERE.  See you next year!

6. The 2016 Butte Bouldering Bash, near Butte Montana.  This year Kyle and I attended the BBB in central Montana.  I have been keen to visit the boulders of the Batholith for some time, and so Kyle and I timed our fall trip to coincide with the BBB so we could do some climbing and meet up with the locals.  The rock of the Batholith is a brown-to-grey compact granite, and though many of the boulders are on the small side in some areas, the climbing is of a pleasantly technical 'tic-tac' style (which I really love).  We spend a lot of time talking to Patrick and Tom (the organisers of the BBB who do a fantastic job), and were lucky to meet Erik Christensen (the Montana bouldering guidebook author) as well.  I'm looking forward to bouldering more in Montana this year, I think there is a lot of fantastic bouldering to be done there!  Read about the 2016 BBB HERE and HERE.  Kudos if you can spot Trent and Kyle in the latter blog post.

Who knew that Montana boulderers had such bright clothing!  I was expecting a lot of camo, for some reason... it is always great to meet climbers from around the world, and the folks from Montana were a ton of fun!

7. Frank Slide!  I had a fantastic time climbing at Frank Slide again this year!  Once again, the Slide has provided me with not only a great climbing experience, but has also continued to produce new problems at an astounding rate.  I managed to climb many great problems at The Slide this year, including the aesthetic Old Man And The Sea (V3, FA), The Oracle (V4), Beautiful Struggle (V4, which was also repeated by Shelley and Jonas), Mark Derksen's Force of Will (V6/7), The Gifts of Life (V5, FA), the funky Black Slot Arete (V4), and the weird but satisfying Alberta Meat Market (V4).  Of the 40 first ascents I made this year, the vast majority were at Frank Slide.  Although I failed on most of the harder lines I tried, 2017 is another year!

Mark G., Josh B., and Kyle looking at the start of what would become The Mark of the Beast (V9), one of the superb lines (and an old project of mine) that went down this year (though not by me) in the Slide.

8. The Karage Crew and the Frank Slide Locals!  Bouldering is less fun if there are no fun people to climb with.  Luckily, that isn't a problem here!  Though the local community isn't huge, it is composed of great people.  So, I sincerely salute all of the Karage Crew, including (and especially) Kyle, Jonas, and Mark D.  "Training" is more fun when more people are in the Karage.  I also need to extend my sincere thanks to all the Frank Slide "Locals" (i.e. all the people who regularly show up at the Slide, and generally make it an exciting place), including Kyle, Jonas, Dan A., Josh B., Mark D., Mark G., Morgan D., and Davin (the newest addition to the Slide Posse).  From building patios, to cleaning lines, to shuffling rocks, to finding new problems, to spotting and being psyched, the Frank Slide locals are a great group of people.  More and more people are coming down to (or up to, or over to) the Slide every year, so here's to meeting more people in 2017!

Me on the 'Top-100' line The Old Man and The Sea (V3ish), one of my favorite lines from 2016. That's Kyle spotting, and I'm fairly certain that Davin took this photo.  Frank Slide locals are a great group!

9. All the Frank Slide problems that haven't gone... yet.  There is always something new going on in The Slide.  Despite all the effort that Josh has continued to put in at The Slide (as he single-handedly writes a new chapter in Alberta Bouldering History), three problems have yet to be sent; The Sunny Corner project (which is amazing and will be one of the hardest problems in Canada when it goes; Josh Bylsma has been sieging it, so its ascent is likely someday), the Baby Jesus Sit project (a savage and temperamental line that refuses to be climbed), and The Length project (which I'm certain will be wrapped up this year).  I wish I could send one of these lines, but I suspect that my double-digit days are behind me.  Don't worry, though... I've got several lines on my own project list!

Kyle starting up one of the superb lines on the Zelda Boulder, the City of Giants, Frank Slide.

10.  Those climbers who are excited to climb!  It's always fantastic to see excitement and dedication in other climbers.  Whether it is a new climber nursing their first flapper, or the world's best athletes trying some of the planet's hardest lines, I can relate to both.  When I see a video of someone crimping their way up a pane of granite, or swinging though a hueco-filled roof, I can feel the chalk on my hands and the momentary weightlessness of well-coordinated movement.  I would like to single out Adam Ondra for his send of The Dawn Wall (huge props!), Nalle Hukkataival for finally completing his project, my friend Sean McColl for nailing down the IFSC Combined Championship, Josh B. for persevering on the Sunny Corner Project, and to Kyle for showing me yet again how easy V7 dynos can look.  Adventure is not dead, and there are always new horizons to find!

So what does 2017 hold for me?  I'm looking forward to some exciting trips (Hueco Tanks (at last!) in February, Boulderfields in June, maybe Montana in the spring (and again in the fall?), hopefully I'll get to Spiral Tunnels too...), and a lot of exploring and climbing at Frank Slide.  I'm hoping to start putting together a Frank Slide guidebook this year, and I'm looking forward to that.  Regardless of what happens, it will be a lot of fun, so I'll see you in 2017!