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. 

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