Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The "Wrong" Mountain

"Maybe it is a good thing we didn't make it onto Storm Mountain".

Alik and I agreed we had fortuitous misfortune when I got us lost at the Twin Lakes. Twin Lakes. Imagine, there are two of them.

I had jogged up the trail a few days earlier with Corinna.  Something had seemed a little different than I remembered but memory is not my strong suit. Last year at this time I approached Storm Mountain for an enjoyable alpine outing.  I shrugged off this year's faint impression of non-familiarity. With Alik we repeated the approach and began the traverse around the lake.  It got a little steeper than I remembered.

The next morning, looking closely from above the opening slush pitch I realized that indeed, we had contoured the wrong lake.  Upper Twin Lake leads right and to the north face of Storm Mountain, home to the infamous unrepeated Wallator route we were aiming for. A year earlier we had approached our first ascent Canoeing to Cuba from Upper Twin Lake. We found an easy route with some spectacular settings. It was about 100 meters to the start of the Wallator route; you'd think a year later I would be able to find my way back.

 Contour the wrong lake, the Lower Twin Lake, and you get to the base of an unastounding wall. So unastounding that the Dave Jones Rockies guidebook just calls it Unnamed 3021.

At this point I was profusely apologizing to Alik. I had finally spotted the south ridge of Storm Mountain a kilometer to our right, and realized we were faced at 6 pm with a very unappealing traverse.

"Honestly, I don't understand how we got here.  Last time we just traversed around the right side of the lake and it led right below the face."

"Twin Lakes though hey.  I guess there are two lakes.
Maybe we went around the wrong lake?"

"I've been to Upper Twin Lake and it's not below the north face, but on second thought that might have been Arnica Lake.", pondered Alik. "So many lakes!".

"Well, thanks for not losing it on me for getting us lost"

"Yeah, maybe I should be more goal oriented now that I work half the time", Alik ruminated after his recent adoption of a somewhat normal work schedule, a relatively uncommon thing for him.

"Well, should we just climb this namby pamby gully, or do you want to try to traverse over?"

"There's no way we are going to make it to the base of the wall in two hours."

The lassitude of being lost caught ahold, and we settled under our little tarp as there was snow in the forecast.

Seconds later, we were glad to be under cover. Monday night and winter was flashing its presence.

The next morning we had a leisurely 6 am start, as it was an easy snow gully we were aiming for.  I'd already dismissed a couple of much more intimidating route suggestions as too "namby pamby", a British expression my younger friend was unfamiliar with.

It is never a good idea to form the idea that a route is going to be a push-over.  How I didn't guess the ice strip would be slush I don't know.  Then again, I got the wrong lake so underestimating the difficulties of a pitch is a minor misjudgement in comparison. It was easy enough that I wasn't too worried about Alik coming up on a dubious slush based anchor I described as "probably good enough for top-roping." When three out of five pieces are in slush, the integrity of the two nuts placed in choss is essential.

 "I think it's good as long as you get a solid piece in before whipping."

"Oh, I have no plans on whipping."

Well, no one really ever plans that.  We also don't plan on drytooling around 5 meter steps of showering slush on downsloping feet with questionable cams and a "cammed" angle looking "reasonably solid".

Luckily Alik is an expert on camming angles.  Who else have you ever seen stack a leeper and an angle to make an anchor?

We were being drawn onward by a mysterious force. There was no astounding climbing, just plain snow gully slogging.  

"Take a photo. No, hold on, put your helmet back on, photos with people standing on ski terrain with their helmet in their hand just doesn't look hard core."

Near the top of the gully we spotted the black hole that had been sucking us upward. And, incredibly, an ice pillar.  

On closer inspection the pillar wasn't so climbable. We could have gone around but we figured we might as well climb something vertical.  The rock step was surprisingly fun with good hooks and pro. There's even photo proof that it was steep enough I had to drop knee.

"Time to go spelunking"

"I don't know, looks pretty tricky. Let's traverse and see what happens."

What happened was a trip to the ridge, an epic view of a storm blowing in over Storm Mountain, and an easy descent to the larch filled valley.

Spot the climber.

The story of the traverse back to the bivi spot is not documented due to darkness falling.  There was a debate over the presence of a cliff (Alik was right), its traversability (Alik found the way) and its potential lethality (high in my estimation).

By midnight we were squeezing tighter under the tarp as thich snow crowded us. By morning 4 inches had fallen and winter was on.

We had gone winter climbing, maybe not on the right mountain but in the mountains none the less.

Friday, 16 September 2016


You know when you are posing this hard at The Back of the Lake in the "weekend warrior look" that you likely are not sending any time soon.

Of course, we all want our climbing exploits to end in situations like that pictured above. Sometimes, and sometimes for an entire summer, that is not possible.

Sometimes weeks are spent like this.It's not all roses.

When all is said and done, and a summer has passed and I haven't climbed anything worthwhile, it is time for excuses. So, without further ado, and quoting widely from The Art of Climbing Down Gracefully by Tom Patey, a summary of my summer.

One great excuse is The 'Ice-Man' Ploy.
 "I'm a Snow and Ice Man myself!" is a fairly safe assertion...Show me the Englishman- Yes; show me the Englishman, I say- who can stand upright in his steps, square set to the slope, and hit home hard and true, striking from the shoulder! There must be a few of us Ice-Men left around. Ice-Manship may be a forgotten craft but it's still the Cornerstone of Mountaineering.  Never forget that! Any fool can monkey around on overhangs...

It was unmistakably not summer but the three weeks I spent in Scottish conditions last winter likely set back any summer plans immeasurably. Goggles, gore gloves, and wet pants.

This fear of the weather, and its concomitant usefulness as an excuse is neatly summed up as The 'Fohn Wind' and other Bad Weather Ploys

the next time I went up to a hut I determined to follow the advice of local Alpine Guides. If they don't know , who does? Thirty two Guides slept at the Couvercle Hut that night, and they all got up at 2 a.m. like a major volcanic eruption. One Guide, with an attractive female client in tow, walked out, prodded the snow with an ice-axe, sniffed the air, and without a word retired to bed. It later transpired that this was the celebrated Armand Charlet. Thirty one silent Guides looked at each other, shook their heads, and retired likewise.  We woke at 8 a.m to find brilliant sunshine. ....
The last time I saw Charlet he was headed for the valley with the attractive blonde in close attendance. It was the first day of what proved to be a ten-day record heat wave.

Returning from the immaculate rock of southern Spain I decided it was time to reassert myself on the limestone of the Bow Valley.  Fish out of water? Is this 5.8? Am I going the right way? How do I protect a second on this pitch?

There is The 'Greater Ranges' Ploy

Historians tell us that Frank Smythe only began to function properly above 20000 feet. This adds up to a pretty considerable handicap, when you consider how much of his time he spent at lower altitudes. It is all part f the mystique which surrounds The Men who are expected to Go High. 
For this ploy some previous Himalayan experience is essential... Once the aura has formed, you can hardly go wrong. You can patrol the foot of Stanage with all the invested authority of an Everester. No one expects you to climb. It is enough that you retain a soft spot for your humble origins.
"This is all very different from the South Col!" you can remark crisply, as you watch bikini-clad girls swarming over the rocks like chameleons.

As the aura never seems to die, this excuse can be used even if your last trip to altitude ended somewhat short of the summit.

On a few occasions I employed The 'Chossy Climb' Ploy

'Poxy', 'Chossy', 'Spastic' and 'Rubbish' are all terms characteristically used climbers to denigrate ..routes which they have either failed to climb or failed to find(without searching too minutely)

This is of course very useful in the Canadian Rockies.  In the photo below I am well established at a belay stance on a Yamnuska classic.  Solid.

Then we get to the crux of the matter, the 'Responsible Family Man' Ploy.

The little camp-follower who cooked the meals and darned everybody's socks is suddenly transformed into an all-demanding, insatiable virago whose grim disapproval makes strong men wilt in their kletterschuhe. Climbing weekends become less and less frequent...In many cases this is the natural end of all things, but a few diehards still put in an annual appearance- pale shrunken ghosts, who glance nervously over their shoulders before they speak.

Now, in my case it is not marriage or kids that is making me responsible, but I do have a girlfriend and a dog. I seem to go running more days than I go climbing.

Fatefully I took the decision to be responsible and move into a house.  Of course, when the basement, which is going to be a suite and make it affordable to own, ends up looking like a war zone, days climbing seem like they could be better spent.

When you get friends' daughters who are in grade two to wear masks and wield crowbars, you know it has gone too far.

And then there is the decision to forsake a life of selfish climbing and take up the noble profession of rock guiding, letting me legally share my love of the rock and rope trickery with others.  With this amount of rope-work, it is a push to fit in time in the mountains.

Finally, when I did make it through all the choss wrangling, the rope twisting, and the responsibilities of becoming an upstanding citizen, I was bowled low by the dreaded
'Weak Member on the Rope Ploy'

A Past-President of the Aberdeen University Mountaineering Club used this ploy with such remarkable success that he was never once crag-bound during his entire term in Office. "
No hard climbs for me today, Tom," he would sigh heavily. "I'm afraid I've got a weak member on the rope- can't afford to extend myself."

I had it all lined up, a big trip to the big mountains, to make up for this summer of climbing trade routes. Even announced it to my classmates in the Apprentice Rock Guide Exam class of 2016.  My one partner called in sick with a sore back.

The second decided to go climbing in 30 degree 90 percent humidity, technical slab at that.  Currently assessing whether he'll be up for the 25 km approach, we'll see.

At the least I am having fun working on The Art of Climbing Down Gracefully.