Friday, 21 September 2018

The Real Ice Porn


Original Ice Porn: "photo" Joe McKay




I hear that as of September 21st 2018, this climb is in again.  Once every decade...

This is a story I wrote about our original try at the FA. One of the best adventures I had with Dana Ruddy.  

Beware the original warning offered by Dave Marra (no shrinking violet himself.)


Real Ice Porn aka Polarity: Photo Jon Jugenheimer September 19, 2018





Ice Porn is in!” said Dave Marra as he pointed toward the unclimbed north face of Mount Snowdome. Around the corner from Slipstream (VI WI4+, 925m) was a thick stream of blue ice flowing uninterrupted from seracs above. What an unlikely spot for a clean line of ice—straight down a nearly vertical and unblemished dark expanse of limestone where nothing had ever formed before. Furthering the audacity of the line was the history of the fictitious ice climb we were referring to: Ice Porn. Five years ago, Joe McKay—a local guide—had spoofed the climbing media’s incessant need for hyperbole by inventing the ultimate ice epic set in the very spot where this new line now appeared. He had photoshopped pictures of Nemesis (V WI6, 160m) onto the north face of Mount Snowdome after climbing the former with Dana Ruddy and Paul Valiulis. With over-the-top phrases like “Gather about three metres of extra slack . . . then like a coiled
leopard, I launched myself out . . . aiming for the hole in the curtain out in space,” the climbing rags reported it as fact. Ice Porn had been etched in the collective consciousness of the Rockies climbing community, and here was our chance to actually climb the real thing.
“But if you guys decide to go do it, I’m out,” Dave
continued, “’cause I’m a family man now.” The three of us had
different reasons for being on the hunt for a first ascent: Dave
had a short break from family responsibilities to reassert himself
in the mountains he so loves; I had just worked every day for six
months; and Cory Richards seems enthusiastic about climbing
big stuff in general. However, three years earlier Dave and I had
nearly met our demise on the same day while climbing different
routes in adjacent cirques off the Icefields Parkway. Dave had
benn famously spat off the final pitch of his new route For
Fathers (V WI6, 1000m) when the serac he was climbing up
exploded. Meanwhile, I had been avalanched on at the base of
Cerca del Mar (V WI5+, 160m). For this reason I felt a spiritual
connection with Dave although we’d never climbed together
in the mountains, and deferred to his advice on the subject of
seracs. With the possibility of heading up as a threesome ruled
out, Cory and I bid him adieu. He put us in touch with Dana
Ruddy, and made us promise not to touch the blue glacial ice
if we got that far.
Dana had been on a send-fest for the past few years in the
Rockies. Judging from the state of his boots, I believed him
when he casually stated, “I don’t think anyone has put on more
miles in the alpine in the last couple of years.” No surprise that
he agreed to climb the Emperor Face on Mount Robson with
Cory and me. We marched the 20-something kilometres to Berg
Lake, saw the snow-covered face and walked out again. Nothing
beats a backcountry marathon with full packs to make one want
to travel vertically rather than horizontally. Over the next three
days the discussion centred on whether we’d get scooped on Ice
Porn. One day we saw Celtic Reforestation trucks cruising the
Parkway. “Oh my God, it’s Guy Lacelle,” I worried. Luckily, it
turned out that the trucks were simply on their way to a poorly
paid beetle-probing contract based in Canmore, and the world’s
foremost ice soloist was not scooping us. At the time it only
managed to put more fire under my desire to get going on the
route. Dana didn’t seem worried as he argued that we were in
Jasper and climbers there weren’t competitive.
“Yeah,” I reasoned, “but if JR sees that thing he’d be up it
in an hour without a backpack to slow him down,” referring to
one of the Rockies’ better-known speed demons—Jonny “Red”
Walsh. With a whiteout up high and continued bad weather in
the forecast, Cory and I hiked gear into the base the next day in
an effort to scope the route. From below we convinced ourselves
that the seracs were not overhanging and actually rather benign.
Dana spent the day hanging out at home, unsure of whether to
go due to the obvious objective hazard. Earlier I’d said to him
that the desire to climb the route, “depends what you have to
live for.” Given that he enjoys a nice lifestyle as a “legendary”
Jasper local complete with a lovely girlfriend and a slack work
schedule, I imagined it would take some convincing. I was
happy to hear upon our return that he was keen and considered
the climbing “no problem.”
If the climbing was no problem I thought, the length of
the route might be, with its 1,000 metres of vertical rise from
the glacier to the summit, 600 metres of which looked to be
WI5 or harder. Had any of us climbed that much steep ice
in a day? Never having climbed ice by headlamp I figured we
could be shut down by time rather than technical difficulty, so
I convinced the other two to bring light bivy gear. Dana was
most concerned about minimizing time under the seracs so he
suggested going over the top and descending the glacier instead
of rappelling the route. We tilted the odds in our favour by
taking a few luxuries and going as a team of three, bucking the
present fashion to be fair to the mountain.
First thing in the morning we climbed 300 metres of
easy ice. Dana successfully rope-gunned four 70-metre pitches
of beautiful ice while I silently prayed he would somehow
continue. Pitch one: “I would have been off that one.” Pitch
two: “Wow, my arms aren’t working.” Pitch three: “Yup, my
arms are non-functional but I think I can take over somehow.
I’ll find an easy way up but hope it’s not vertical.” Dana brought
me back to reality: “Nope, I saw it and it’s vertical, but I think
I’ve got another pitch left in me.”
A couple of weeks later at the opening night of the Banff
Mountain Film Festival, I recognized the same team dynamic in
the film The Alps, in which Robert Jasper guides John Harlin Jr.
up the north face of the Eiger. Robert Jasper (Dana) does all the
hard leading, his wife (me) belays while John Harlin Jr. (Cory)
feeds the slack. This may sound a bit harsh, but let’s be honest
about what happened up there: Dana was “the man” and Cory
and I were the belayers. To be fair, Cory led the last WI4 pitch
up to the base of the serac, while Dana and I discussed how to
surmount the overhanging glacial ice-cliff. It was obviously the
steepest ice either of us had ever seen.
“I know,” I offered. “I’ve seen photos of Jeff Lowe aiding
the serac on the north face of Temple. We’ll just sit on screws.”
“I’ve never aided,” responded Dana, so I thought my
chance had come to pay him back for his consecutive leads.
Being the slower of the two, I arrived at the belay behind Dana
to hear that we were pulling the plug. Cory had decided that
the risk was too great. If the serac came off from the force of a
climber, we’d be crushed. A more usual level of risk aversion had
returned to our team and it didn’t take any convincing to decide
to rap. “Not the worst idea ever,” became our rally cry.
We were glad for the bivy gear two pitches down as we
settled onto a comfy protected ledge, which was better than
rappelling slowly in the dark. We had done the “first team-ofthree
ascent to the top of the rock buttress on the north face
of Mount Snowdome and shiver bivy at 3,200 metres with
associated smoking of a large celebratory hash joint”…ever! It
was the most memorably enjoyable night I have spent in the
mountains.
Descending to the valley the next morning, we returned
to a different climbing reality that includes all the details,
which I suppose matter but didn’t seem to at the time. Four
days later, Ueli Steck and Simon Anthamatten from Switzerland
repeated the route but climbed through the final serac adding
50 metres to our effort. However, they didn’t climb off the top
of the mountain either, as it was blocked by a cornice. This
prompted the question about who, if anyone yet, had done
the first ascent. At the time, Cory had chatted to Will Gadd
and Barry Blanchard and both seemed to think we’d done
the first ascent of the waterfall, but not an alpine first ascent.
Unfortunately Cory’s correspondence with the climbing media
resulted in Climbing.com’s Hotflashes (coincidentally sounding
pornographic and thus perhaps appealing to the same male
instinct) reporting it as the first ascent of the north face of
Mount Snowdome (Cory had not told them any such thing).
As expected, people let their opinions be known and correctly
pointed out that it was not the first ascent of the north face since
it did not top-out. Then again, M-16 (VI WI7 A2, 1000m) on
the northeast face of Howse Peak didn’t top-out either. Does
that just make it some kind of cragging route?
Then there’s the nature of our climb—serac threatened.
Barry points out that there are various reasons for grading a
route commitment grade VI. Difficulty and objective hazard
are a couple of the criteria. Clearly the climbing was not that
difficult, at least not for someone in shape like Dana. Does
it deserve grade VI commitment just because the entire team
could be obliterated? It is definitely not an alpine grade VI but
is it a waterfall grade VI? I don’t know. Barry says he’s climbed
through seracs only once—on Borderline (VI WI5, 800m)—and
won’t ever do it again. We didn’t, and Dave Marra on For Fathers
didn’t either (but he tried). So why is a European climber willing
to accept the risk that modern-day Canadian alpinists won’t (or,
in Dave’s case, have their sanity questioned for even trying)
Arctic Dream (VI WI6, 500m) below the Quadra Glacier shares
a similar history. Canadians did the first ascent of the waterfall
but it took Europeans to go through the seracs. The exception is
Eric Dumerac and Shaun King’s ascent through the seracs above
Gimme Shelter (VI WI6, 500m). I can relate when Ueli says he
didn’t know if he “would ever get a chance to climb something
like that ever again in the alpine.” Looking back, in a way I
wish we had tried the serac pitch. Having said that though, I’ve
learned to be happy for what I manage to do in this life.


Summary
Polarity (VI WI5+, 800m), north face of Mt. Snowdome,
Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta. FA: Cory
Richards, Dana Ruddy, Ian Welsted, October 13–14, 2007.
FA through serac: Simon Anthamatten, Ueli Steck, October 18,
2007. Note: Anthamatten and Steck did not top-out either due
to a large cornice blocking access to the summit plateau.


About the Author
Ian Welsted is lucky to have witnessed great feats of ropegunning
prowess in a variety of conditions, predominantly in
the Canadian Rockies’ winter season of late. Ambitions center
around dreams of permanent retirement from compulsory
employment with B.C.’s thriving forestry and mining industries.




The Canadian Alpine Journal 2008

Friday, 10 November 2017

Planting the Flag

We attended the Banff Mountain Book Festival , housed in glistening postmodern pavilions of brushed steel and glass, comforted by banking and energy patronage.  We sat respectfully through a panel of native leaders who impressed upon us that place and history and sacredness are one in the same.  Lawrence Joe told us as outside enthusiasts that when we are on the land and find an artifact we need to report it, respectful of its history, so that the cultural continuity of place may be undisturbed. We congratulated ourselves on taking a  more cerebral, intellectual approach than the standard "huck-fest" on offer at other climbing festivals.  And then we went and tried to plant the flag.

I was set to climb with Mr. Scottishwinter.com himself, Simon Richardson.  You see, as a member of the book festival jury (along with a much more impartial professor and a professional climber, who can not be blamed by association for my bias) I was in a privileged position to acquire for my potential climbing partner a free airfare to the Canadian Rockies at one of the prime seasons for ice and mixed climbing. Growing up in Manitoba where prominent native leaders were killed with seeming impunity, I am familiar with the concept that (at the risk of stepping outside my culturally biased understanding) juries can not reach a universally true decision.

In his presentation for his book, Steve Swenson mentioned going to areas of the world where one casts ones glance out and thinks, "No other human has stepped here", the inspiration for doing first ascents.  Simon revealed he has 700 FAs under his belt, or more commonly "to his name".  As the days of intellectualizing were nearing an end, we discussed doing a recently completed drytooling route as a warm up and then a more typical Rockies rock-to-mixed route we had scoped a few days earlier. Inspired by Steve I mentioned we should skip straight to adventuring on new terrain. Simon eagerly responded, "that's what I do."

The process of exploring and recording our travels in the sacred mountains is slow and in a constant state of being revealed.  Had native people been up Yuh-hai-has-kun, the Mountain of the Spiral Road (an uncannily accurate description of climbing the highest peak in the Rockies by its easiest route)? Were there spots that would provide interesting climbing for Simon and I that had not been visited?

In learning we proceed from our historically determined comfort zone to greater exploration.  How else do we learn about new terrain other than by stretching our boundaries while beginning at known points?  To expand the allegory to breaking and beyond, we have to take ourselves out of the cave and into the mountains.  So, I scanned my memory of the range for a potentially classic line of which I had heard nobody else claiming knowledge,  but with which I was familiar, and came up with the unnamed north facing lower ridge of Storm Mountain above Arnica Lake.








The definitive guidebook didn't have a line on the map. 




So, off we went in -20 temperatures, two hours up to Arnica Lake, to our "unnamed face". What an obvious unclimbed line, moderate and climbable by many in the Bow Valley, home to many an alpine climber, almost hard to believe it hadn't been climbed.

Up the snow gully we tromped.  Simon is a year or two more experienced than me, so at the first ice step I paused to make a belay stance as he caught up, looked around and behold, two other figures walking in our tracks across Arnica Lake.

"Who's that?"

"Blompnee", indecipherable.

"Who's that? It's Ian".

"I know"

To Simon, "This never happens here.  Two parties on an unknown face on the same day, even if it is clearly visible from the highway"

Tried again, "Who's that, it's Ian".

"Toshi"

So that made sense.  Toshi was one of the few I knew who also would have a mental map of this face, having also walked past it on his way to the north face of Storm Mountain.

Simon had said he didn't climb ice by choice, but seemed eager for the first pitch.




So funny that in Canada we have places like this to ourselves, with a clear view of  iconic Castle Mountain and the Trans Canada Highway and a surprising two other climbers.  Amazing more people don't do this stuff. Then again I had explained to Simon that there is a small group of people in the Rockies who search out first ascents.  Most of them are very strong climbers and are not partial to the type of moderate route we had found.  Some even harass those who pursue such routes for "scrambling".  



By the 4th or 5th WI3 step the ice was cold enough that screws had to be put in a quarter turn at a time, by slamming the side of my hand into the hanger of the screw, a painful technique I had avoided for years.  Screws were needed however as by this elevation, say 2500 meters, my hands were frozen insensitive and I couldn't tell if I was going to be able to keep my stiff fingers curled around my tools.


I was overjoyed to take this photo of Simon topping out the steepest pitch of ice.  Five minutes earlier I had peeled off the rock which hung in place of the orange bare rock in the lower right of the photo.


Topping out the ice into a bowl of snow which held a month and a half's accumulation of snow found me worried me about avalanche potential, so I looked to the rock for pro.  Finding a perfect crack I placed a nut, gave it a sharp tug to set it, and a large chunk of rock the size of Simon's 45 liter backpack departed down the pitch, with Simon about 20 meters below.  

"Oh my god, I've just gotten Simon Richardson invited to the Banff Festival and now I have killed him", I thought as I pictured the news hitting the millions of viewers at ukclimbing. A nervous 5 minutes passed as I yelled questions and made an anchor, but by the time I made it to the lip Simon insisted he was good to continue.  I figure you don't make it up as many mountains as he has if you aren't tough.

At this time, having clearly injured him, I felt I had to reveal the bad news, that we weren't on an FA.  A few pitches earlier I had spotted a single piton up and left of our line. Though it didn't seem conclusive evidence as it was on a different system trending away from our gully, this artifact proved that we were not the first people to pass here.  I had been keeping this information from Simon as I thought it might influence his degree of enjoyment of the route, and my main aim as Canadian host was to show him a good time.

Simon agreed that perhaps it put a dent on the sheen of our FA attempt, as did the presence of a whole two climbers on the next gully over. Above looked like easy going though. One does not put up 99 routes on Ben Nevis alone without a certain drive, and none of these qualifiers bent Simon from his goal of climbing the route to its end.


Just like our objective being determined by a culturally relative recording of past visitors, our end point was a relative maximum. By the junction of three ridges on the standard descent from the true north face of Storm Mountain we had found another piton and a nut. But there was no climbing looming over us, it was dark, and we were happy to descend.


If at first we set out with a modernist ideal of establishing our claim to this piece of terrain, to plant the flag so to say, we had passed to a post-modern realization of the relativity of such claims through our encounter with previous cultural artifacts and the relative nature of our goal.

And then it passed into that which is after postmodernism, or it's other name, internet post truth commercialism.  For it was on the same day that our friends Greg Boswell and Jon Walsh climbed an indirect ascent of a route which had  been traveled previously. As Jon posted to Facebook:

The Silmarillion Indirect
Yesterday, Greg Boswell and I set out to climb the upper ice of the Silmarillion (E. Walsh, Delworth, Edgar) on the Storm Creek Headwall, via a mixed start up a snowed-up ramp system that gains the ice from the right. In the photo, this is the right most hanging smears. I don’t think this route has formed again as a pure ice route since the season of its first ascent which was 2004. It seems like the mixed start to get to this ice was someones project as there were lots of bolts on the first pitch and half. Perhaps it has even been done before, but judging from the locking biner left on the last bolt, I’m going to guess project. I’m also going to take a guess that Dave Thompson may have been involved, but if anyone knows any history here, it’d be interesting to know.
Regardless, it was a fun day, despite the cold temps. The protection was good, the rock was generally excellent, and the climbing interesting despite not being very steep. Obviously not the type of line for everyone, but some will undoubtably enjoy it. By Storm Creek standards, the overhead hazard is even reasonable, and on November 5th the snow was only boot deep at the base of the wall. Approach time was 2 hours; car to car 11.5 hours, and we felt the cold slowed us down a fair bit.
Regarding the bolts, about 5 hangers were missing, although I believe they got replaced today, by a team that climbed to the end of the bolts, but bailed due to the cold. I don’t think they brought a wrench though.
Anyways, here is the beta:
Pitch 1: start just left of Rectal Squirels (currently not in), and follow a left trending, low angle weakness, past many bolts. Not a lot of natural gear to be found on this pitch but there is some, and you will want to bring the rack. Belay at a 2 bolt anchor or even go a few meters further around the corner to belay. M5, 55-meters
Pitch 2: Technical climbing up the slabby corner past 4 or 5 bolts and good gear. Obvious route finding continues left on natural gear. A belay after 20m on a small ledge worked well for us. A good fixed angle was left in situ, and can be backed up with cams, nuts) M5+/M6-, 20-meters
Pitch 3: A rising traverse left gains the ice. Bring a couple stubbies, and belay screws with you. Belay in fat ice below roof (we left a v-thread here). M6, 40-meters
Pitch 4: 35m of WI5 gets you to the original Silmarillion finish. We rappelled from here. If you were still in need of more, a sketchy-looking run-out slab traverse to the right, gains the right-hand ice flow, and about 15m more meters of WI4 would get you to the top of what I believe is the Will Kahlert direct finish.
Rappel note: from the thread at the end of P3, we rappelled about 50m to a rock anchor. It was difficult to find good gear and although it’s 2 pitons and a nut, all three pieces were mediocre at best. The ropes ends hung out in space below this. You may want to look a bit higher. It was about 50m to the ground from our rock anchor. We saw a piton rappel station about 10 meters above the ground if you do this and come up short.
Rack: Ice screws; Standard mixed rack (set of nuts and single set of cams from yellow X4 to #3 camelot, including a few pitons) was what we used. We would’ve been happy to have had doubles in .5 to #2 camelot. Bring some extra runners if you want to attempt to link P2 and P3.



As Alan Kirby notes:

The pseudo-modern cultural phenomenon par excellence is the internet. Its central act is that of the individual clicking on his/her mouse to move through pages in a way which cannot be duplicated, inventing a pathway through cultural products which has never existed before and never will again. This is a far more intense engagement with the cultural process than anything literature can offer, and gives the undeniable sense (or illusion) of the individual controlling, managing, running, making up his/her involvement with the cultural product. Internet pages are not ‘authored’ in the sense that anyone knows who wrote them, or cares. The majority either require the individual to make them work, like Streetmap or Route Planner, or permit him/her to add to them, like Wikipedia, or through feedback on, for instance, media websites. In all cases, it is intrinsic to the internet that you can easily make up pages yourself (eg blogs).

So, here I am blogging, after ironically posting the following false first ascent claim, which overlooks the existing cultural artifacts:

Unnamed Direct (WI3, M4, 500m)
On November 5th, Simon Richardson and I set out to climb an unclimbed line on the unnamed ridge on a lower branch of Storm Mountain above Arnica Lake, via an obvious gully line which bisects the face and tops out at the junction of three ridges on the standard descent from the summit.. In the photo, this is the most obvious central gully. I don’t think this route has been climber as it is not listed in Dave Jones Rockies Central guidebook (It is just to the right of route 7 on p. 236, Northeast Spur (Greenwood/Lofthouse). It seems like the lower gully to get to the last few pitches to the ridge was someones project as there were two pitons and a nut spread apart in the first few hundred meters of the route Perhaps it has even been done before, but judging from the tat left on the last nut, I’m going to guess project. I’m also going to take a guess that an old Rockies hand may have been involved, but if anyone knows any history here, it’d be interesting to know.
Regardless, it was a fun day, despite the cold temps (estimated -30 at 2700m at our ridge topout). The protection was good, the rock was generally excellent, and the climbing interesting despite not being very steep. Obviously not the type of line for everyone, but some will undoubtably enjoy it. By Storm Mountain standards, the overhead hazard is even reasonable, and on November 5th the snow was only boot deep at the base of the wall. Approach time was 2 hours; car to car 19 hours, and we felt the cold slowed us down a fair bit.
Regarding the pitons and nut, we added considerably to the fixed gear on rappel, so it is now obvious the line has been climbed.
Anyways, here is the beta:
Pitch 1-5: Short WI3 steps up the gully interspersed with snow slogging and the occasional mixed bit.
Pitch 6: Head to the right hand narrow slot which leads straight up then slightly right. An exit to the lower ridge left is possible.
Pitch 7: 35m of slogging gets you to the last signs of the original finish. We did not rappel from here. Simon is an obsessed first ascentionist and was still need of more, so we slogged up the gully and then headed out left in growing dark to gain the left hand ridge about ten meters left of the main gully. About 20m more meters of M4 got us to the top of what I believe is the unclimbed direct finish.
Rappel note: from the topout at the highpoint of three intersecting ridges (intersected with the Greenwood/Lofthouse), we rappelled about 50m to a rock anchor. It was difficult to find good gear but we managed. We saw a piton rappel station about 10 meters somewhere on the descent, but often opted for threads in order to conserve gear.
Rack: Ice screws; Standard mixed rack (set of nuts and single set of cams from yellow X4 to #3 camelot, including a few pitons) was what we used
Thanks to Jon Walsh for the reporting template I modified in creating this route description.
Red in the one photo is Toshiyuki Yamada's new line, which he climbed on the same day as we were there. Lots of activity around Storm Mountain ion November 5th, good to see.
Please note: my claim for a first ascent is tongue in cheek and somewhat cheeky.


With a furious publishing schedule and the imperatives of market driven commercialism behind him, our friend at Gripped, Canada's climbing magazine of record, promptly responded with an appropriately pseudo-modern article after we plyed him with scotch.

So, there is the entire pseudo-modern truth of attempting to go where nobody had gone before in the Canadian Rockies. 












Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Mandrill Mothercorp Mafia in Search of the Secret Scotch Synthesis



“I ken nay help yee”

Ensconced in our silver wedge hybrid conveyance Team Mandrill peered outside into the dank murk at our Talisman, a Scot houndstoothed pantleg to deerstalker, puffing pipe.  The Scot was cool in his belonging, calmly comfortable inside his natural fibre wool suit from sheep that had roamed these green mountains for millennia. Impervious to the rain, too confident in his belonging to react to such obvious new worlders, he didn't quite recoil from the surge of conditioned synthetic air we emitted, but a sly mocking grin crept across his lips. He recognised us for what we were.

Our Bleeding Edge poured from the lowered window. We sported our bright, primary colour Skittles suits. Skittles, the protectively packaged sickly sweet high fructose corn syrup sugar pellets, fun in a pill. The Mothercorp adopted the colours to mimic the rumps of that most colourful of primates, the Mandrill. Key to the sexual appeal of the old world monkey, the colours were copied by the marketing minds at the Mothercorp, landing us like circus performing new world monkeys in the old world of Scotland.

Back at the factory in Vangroover the chemists of The Mandrill Mothercorp were all in a tizzy. Rumour had it a new petrochemical formulation was in the pipeline. Mad German scientists at the chemical conglomerates were working on a new formulation, Imipolex G, or IG for short. It promised to insulate hydrocarbons from water.  Endless uses could be imagined; oil spills into waterways would be rendered innocuous, pipelines under river-ways could burst asunder with nary a public comment, school aged kids would stop painting fishes on stormwater drains.. Our Skittles suits would soon be perfectly waterproof, isolating us further from our surroundings. City slickers in their trench-coats would be comfortably protected from the autumnal deluges on the wet coast.  Imipolex G: it had become the grail, the elixer vitae at the end of  the rainbow, like the magic protective suit of armour the Scot apparently possessed.  The only stumbling block; the IG remained to be found.

Boatloads of fleeing hot cash were washing ashore in Vangroover, feeding a frenzy for real assets; condos, apartment buildings, city blocks, art works, park benches, advertising spots on park benches, all being bid up mercilessly.  From the great boreal forests of the north, energy laden sands skidded their way east through the port and the pipe. The Mothercorp, through a virtuous process of recycling, dipped into the flow, headquartered as they were at the east/west nexus of the trade. If they could only find the Imipolex G the returns would make its present trade as merchants of Mandrill Skittles suits a pittance in comparison.  Our homeland replete to overflowing from the Drillers' success, we were on a mad hunt for the plastic.

 Basquiat, Morrisey, Andy and Otto peered out the window, dubious of our mission. Tasked with testing our new world mettle in this land of sheep, grass, North Atlantic gales, the Drillers' goal; send and track us on a Slothropian quest to confirm the promise of petroleum, “Plasticity's central canon; that chemists were no longer at the mercy of nature.”




As Andy said back at The Factory, “I love Hollywood. They're beautiful. Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.”

The Mothercorp courted the plastic Hollywood look. Images of youth, beauty, and power were its current commodity. The Skittles look sold it, the immediately recognisable look that said,



“We have more money than you for we are Canadian at the beginning of the 21st century. We are rich in resources and we are young. We have petroleum, we are privileged, we have fish and timber and gold and diamonds, and we don't mind you knowing. We have been sent by the Drillers to produce images of youth shining through the old world murk with the brilliance of our plasticity. We have plaything-like petroleum products protecting us from your populace pleistocene political problems.”

Morrisey, our Hollywood visuals man, didn't enunciate as such but the Scot knew us none the less.

“We are seeking the bracks”, Morrisey admitted.

“Aye, Glenelg” the Scotsman assented. “ I hope you find what you are looking for”.


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Uisdean had welcomed us to the lands of his ancestors, land of marauding pirates wagering island castles on drinking competitions, of faeries and magic stones, sheep farming and enclosure, ghosts, peat distilling and hostility to mercantile southerners. Uisdean had nobility of blood deep in his roots, was cool in the Farris Thompsonian sense, like Barack Obama is cool. As the comedian said, you hear the name Obama, you picture a tall warrior holding a spear. You hear the name Uisdean (U I S D E A N), you hold a mental image; hunts deer for cash, freezers full of black pudding, doesn't spare words or idly spread sea foam spray further than needed, tells jokes in calm half-sentence dry replies.

“I grew up in the Bracks of Glenelg.”

What makes one more Scot than mangering in a 2000 year old stone tower?

“We would sit on top and toss stones down on visiting tourists.”

“Aye, twas good fun.”, smiled the young celt.

“The Bracks hold a special power, maybe they hold what you are seeking”

“The oldest bracks in Scotland; undoubtedly the oldest Bracks in existence”. This last a typical example of humour that Uisdean occasionally shared.



We found the Bracks. Dark ruined turrets of stone, lichen black tubular protrusions from the oak cloaked croft fields, homes from the age of Christ. Their lumpen soaked forms reeked of discomfort, arthritis, gout. Passing a youth here required a force from before the current age. No laboratory substance could possibly fend of this weight of wetness.

Basquiat, the natural athlete, did as he was born, he climbed the Bracks, laid his hands on and tested the tone of the stone. A visual tug of war, the Skittles suit outshining the senescene colors of the oaks, but overborn by the ancient strength of the black stone.”

“I this disrespectful?” from Otto.

“How are the holds?” Andy.



“I feel the power Uisdean spoke of”. Basquiat was entranced.

“Enough of these lowland wanderings. The Corp wants us to seek the Imipolex G up high. It rises above all other substances, will be high in the towers. These bracks are much too crude for our needs. We must refine our process.” Morrisey peered from behind his black Ray-Bans. As the acquirer of the images, the commodity, he held the purse from the Mothercorp, the producer of the product. Calm, quiet, competent, and responsible, he was the sensible side of the team, with his eye on the prize. And he had his gaze firmly fixed past the image to the treasure in the hills, motivated by the mission of the Mothercorp.


Our Moveable Feast went seeking the furtive molecule in the highlands.

Hurin the Tall opened the door to the keep below the Ben. Mole on his cheek, his bulk framed the small guarded entrance behind him. His gaze quickly registered our panoply of primaries. We explained the Mandrill Corp had sent us on this Team Canada trade mission, unnecessarily as word had leaked. .

 “I don't believe in the mythical Omipolex G. I accept that I will be as my ancestors, wet as nature in the Isles has it. By moving through the mountains I remain warm. Those new fangled clothes of yours, the Mandrill mania, they only work for a few outings then wet through. It's like everything these days, planned obsolescence, works for a year then you get a new one. It's just the Samo.”

“My true love, my Paramo, my mistress, this suit has kept me dry for a decade without infidelity. Everyone wants the new look, but my baggy pants have an assuaging valence in my mind.”

“All very well,” says Morrisey,” but the semiotics of the Corp represent a new era of expressionism, it peddles the stylish cut. We want to show the clean lines of youth cutting through this old world sentimentalism.”


Andy breezed in, flattering in encounters, lubricating our entrance with easy bonhommie. He had a way of holding his cigarette low between the crotch of his two fingers and scratching his nose lightly and repeatedly with the same two, giving the impression he had been to all hours hoovering cocaine up with the film set he at the same time associated with and denigrated. He was rewarded well for his whiplash looks and had featured in front of the camera, but was more happy as a fixer, a social actor. He was a personification of the IG molecule itself, smoothly easing our admittance.  Upstarts traditionally were not welcome at these high mountain bolt holes. Generations of Scottish bloodlines previously were checked before entry was granted but the rich Mandrill crest and colours, like a club tie, opened many doors.

In every corner hung a Mandrill competitor in ersatz Skittles pigments. Humidity of a jungle, a westcoast marijuana manufacturie, or a Scotch hut jammed to capacity with cups of tea on high rotation, an ideal laboratory for testing our latest amalgams; we were practically the crude material in a fired heater, paused ready to shot up the towers.

All settled in.

An eager youngster, new to the pursuit, effused, having spotted one of the stars of the sport.






“GADD...IS your name Wyatt, the minister's son?”

"I had a down day due to weather, and was just reading a heavy tome I found in the pile of literary detritus on the shelf in the corner, along with the usual Climb and Alpine Journals. It is thick and difficult to understand, and I suppose someone did not want to carry it out. There was no cover and the title page was missing, so I don't know it's name, but somehow I thought I was having a recognition."

“No, my name is Jean Michel.”





The rest of the hut crew were cool enough to accept Basquiat by whatever name he chose to go by.

“Wow, I like your jacket. I love the Mandrill colours.”


We took her to be a starstruck philistine.


“Yeah, they set us up. But it's the same as yours...”. Jean Michel, the quiet type, more a man of action than words, was never confrontational.


She missed witnessing the next day;s performance as Jean Michel settled into his natural setting. Unhindered by team, irrespective of audience expectations he climbed into the storm straight from the keep. Jacket flapping wildly from blown zipper, shambolically traipsing through the swirling jets of vitality robbing moisture, skipping up the Ben. Veritably, he was not a suitable test subject for the Drillers' substances, studies; his numa protected him, his drive innate, anima complete from an unknowable history, the Skittles merely colours on his palette.





Moments of numinosity flowed through Jean Michel, his transgressivity revolutionary, not following the recognised rules. He was playing the organ to crash the cathedral, the bird blowing his sax, brush strokes of brilliance, his emanation powerful, his protective halo (his afro hair in wind rime) enough to repel the spectres, the puer eternus floating up and down out of the heavens, encycling the mountain at gathering speed.

Below, Morrisey masterfully captured the required images in monochrome, to be edited later to highlight the colour signifiers. Jean Michel in his Skittles suit contrasted starkly, differentiated from the grey of the old Ben, location chosen by the Mandrill minds for its severity, its harshness, its threatening unhindered brutality of climate. The uninitiated viewer would associate the colors with Basquiat's growing repute, his otherworldly performances. The Mothercorp usurped Jean Michel's morning energy; just as the art critic takes ten percent for a positive review so it cost the Drillers a small tip to the youth to claim association with him.



Paul of course knew this; he had read his Propaganda; he even prepared a sauce a la Bernays the evening before to butter up Jean Michel. He needed, but had failed, to convince Jean to tie in with Andy. There had to be a way to make Jean Michel's feats comprehensible. The Corp needed less an ascending angel, too holy and venerated, more a griot, that travelling storytelling musician of African lore. For a moment or two Jean Michel had acquiesced and partnered with Andy but the result was much too banal for him. Sensitive to his true calling he had reneged. At a moment of rapture he backslid to his solipsistic ways, addicted to the high.



Spied passingly through the cyclone, Jean Michel encoded the Corp's product; the claim of spirit, verve, youth, enthusiasm, freedom in nature, energy. The Drillers spent entire lifetimes prospecting, extracting and processing energy in the new world; they even had a term for it, they called it their “advantage”. By the suggestive dichotomies revealed through jet travel, here in the old world Jean Michel held the advantage, that he had a pure talent others idolised. He represented all that the Drillers desired.

And Jean Michel was willing.. Conscious of his critical reception he knew the path he had followed with singular righteousness was unsustainable; he needed to make the crucial commercial tie-in. He was a worldly prophet, not aloof to profit.

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Through the day Jean Michel's movements were lost to the Team, like a club kid ecstatically dropping in and out of a show. Mid afternoon, a scene developed in one of the alleys high up on the west side. Andy, Otto, and Paul Morrisey were there for a performance by two Scots, a happening that attracted an eager crowd of actors, photographers, media types. Wealthier patrons were at hand, their gallerist dealer guides pointing what was what, who was who.

In slid Jean Michel down from the heights in the cloud, alighting the event. Heads turned, whispers spread.

“Is that the guy who was alone on Point Five?”

“He fourth classed that Cerro in Argentina a few years ago, that's him.”



Juxtaposition with the audience was stark; they stood soaked, shivering, damp with inaction. Clutched hoods, numbed digits, they were the Mandriller's dream consumers. Basquiat was a radiant child in comparison.

Whispered discussions within the critics.

He has an “innate capacity to function as something like an oracle, distilling his perceptions of the outside world down to their essence and, in turn, projecting them outward through his creative acts.” (Fred Hoffman)

"He is certainly prolific. He has already produced 7 masterpieces today alone.”

“Call it a seventh sense. Certain artists intuit they are going to die young, so they produce huge bodies of work in condensed periods of time.”...”But fast and furious by themselves are not enough ...There has to be an unexplained and original edge to this velocity and ferocity, an element that transfers desperation and desire into something new and compelling.” (Jerry Saltz)



“How does he do it by himself, without the safety of a partner?”

Yet another critic offered his answer.

“What identifies Jean Michel as a major artist is courage and full powers of transformation. That courage, meaning not to be afraid to fail, transforms paralysingly self-conscious “predicaments” ...into confident” outcomes. (Robert Farris Thompson)

Hearing the critics fueled Jean Michel further. He could not contain his energy standing around. His “vitality in motion” (RFT) required an outlet.

“Andy, what is that dark tower?”

On the far side of the alley stood a dripping dark tower, removed from the spotlight of the happening.

“They call it the Dark Lord. The German chemists might call it a schwartzgerat, a black device to separate the wheat from the chaff, the crude from the lighter elements among us. Only the highest grade reaches the top.”

“Locals say it is infamous, that under great pressure you get stuck in the chimney, like a vapor stuck in a stack. To continue upward you reach a sidecut, only the lightest fraction continues upward.”

“Are you thinking what I am?”

“They say the Imipolex comes from a dark source, that it is lighter than all other molecules. The Corp would love us if we found it.”

“Somehow I feel drawn to the ascent. Whether it is the flesh or the spirit I don't know. But if there's a treasure to be found up there they'll give us all blue ribbons.”



His internal dialogue was obvious.

“I have achieved a lot but,”

“When we reach the peak and look down at what we've come from, see mists and clouds, not the base of the mountain”(Rene Ricard) ,

“I feel I need to achieve more. I need to have the Corp behind me. If we find the Imipolex G we'll be set.”

“It is important to form the right connections; for your own protection you need to trust someone. Someone else has to have a personal commitment to your work- so that it isn't shopped like merchandise.” (RR)

Sometimes he thought of himself in the third person in his mind, using the zen mind of the observer trick when in action,

“Can I trust you Andy?”, Jean Michel asked, returning from his reverie.



Up he began, avatar in modern king's clothing, wearing his crown and carrying the torch of old and new alike, the until recently undiscovered genius of the Fraser River delta.







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“Everything is covered in a carbonaceous sludge, blackened”, he called down. “Yet all the sidecuts are covered in a light white powder. I can practically touch the next level, I almost have to talk myself out of getting higher.”



This as Jean Michel made the effort to pass the channel which would separate the one heavier fraction from the others.

“Only do what you can get away with”, Andy's advice form below.


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“Uh. Are you guys leaving? I could use some help here.” A faint childlike voice came from the dark gash.

Without questioning, Andy and Otto walked around to the top of the alley and dropped in on Jean Michel, picking him up along the way, saving him from the heights and his predicament.



On the way down past the dispersing, gossiping crowd he summed up the dichotomous forces pulling at his psyche. Everyone wanted to know: how did he risk so much in pursuit of his calling, why did he do it?

“You've got to realize that influence is not influence. It is simply someone's idea going through my new mind.”(Jean Michel Basquiat)

“But I don't want to die young and leave a beautiful corpse.”



“I don't want to be blown off by the Drillers once they have refined out of me what they can take.”

The last word went to Andy .  "We, who have always thought of happiness as climbing or ascending would feel the emotion that almost startles when a happy thing falls."