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. 












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