Friday, November 20, 2009

Ice Conditions: The Ghost (Nov 20)

Marc Piche and I had a recreational day knocking off two classic single-pitch Ghost classics--Phantom Falls and The Sliver. Both are rare to form and I have wanted to do them for awhile. Marc fired Phantom, which is a 55m pitch that thins and narrows near the top. Bring stubbies to protect just before the crux. The new bolted anchor on top could use some chain. Steve (forget last name) showed up with Rockies legend Jeff Marshall and did it after us. True to form, Jeff was kicking it old school with a one-piece MEC windsuit from the early 90s. To complete the retro look, he busted out a vintage pair of Footfangs.

Since Marc had done the Sliver before, I was given the lead on this gem. Similar (i.e. narrow and thin) to our warm-up but definitely steeper and more technical. Lots of hooking in a body-wide column with a bit of a roof near the end of the difficulties. Despite a fragile appearance, the ice is well bonded and accepted 13 and 16cm screws. The three V-threads scattered up the pitch gave it a sport climbing feel (well, not quite).

Burning and Drowning also look good and we brought the rock gear for it but time was running out with our late start and me having to be back for movie night at Noah's school.

photo: Jeff Marshall kicking it old school with a early 90s era one-piece MEC windsuit.

photo: Phantom Falls, North Ghost

photo: The Sliver, North Ghost

Monday, November 16, 2009

General Ice Conditions

I just spent the past seven days straight guiding ice. Early season ice climbing is always a challenge due to the fact that psyche and conditions are typically at opposite ends of the continuum: psyche high, conditions variable. Having said that, I really enjoy November ice. Usually very little snow on the approaches, wet ice and minimal avi hazard all contribute to make it a special time of the winter. The ACC Banff Ice Camp was a success. For five days, we attacked the new ice and managed a good variety of climbing styles from sport mixed to pure drytooling to classic WI4 multi-pitch ice. The next two days were private mixed guiding at haffner Creek and up Rogans Gully. Normally an easy WI2, Rogans offers fun scrappy traditional mixed climbing at this time of the year. It has an alpine feel grovelling up the narrow gully and is currently in M4 WI3 condition. The following photos give an idea of conditions encountered. Routes/areas we did include: King Creek, Bow Falls, The Playground, Haffner Creek, Hidden Dragon and Rogans Gully.

photo: Hidden Dragon

photo: Haffner Creek

photo: Bow Falls

photo: King Creek

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Unclimbed WI6 Ice Route

OK, here you go. This is a photo of an almost-formed, unclimbed, single-pitch, WI 6 pillar. By now, I am guessing this never-before-climbed feature is actually touching down. It was close last week and judging by the amount of dripping, it was still growing. It eagerly awaits the gentle touch of a very skilled climber (if your last name is Lacelle, that would help). Figure out where it is and go do it. Too sketchy for me! Being a slender, free-standing pillar, your first screw placement will have to wait until about 25 metres up once you are above where it attaches to the rock--essentially a free solo. In total, this pitch will be about 60 metres long. It is pretty rare these days to find virgin pure ice routes so go snag the first ascent of it. She won't be a virgin for long; unless it gets cold soon and it collapses. Who will be the first?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ice Conditions: Sinus Gully (Oct 25)

Headed up to Stanley Headwall yesterday to guide on Sinus Gully. 1.5 hour walk for a 40m WI3, but can't complain because it is still only October. The trail was snowfree except for a wee skiff on the last few hundred metres. The trail up the scree slope to the base had about 5cm of snow. All-in-all, easy hiking. The route itself is in normal good condition with brittle bits and wet bits. Other teams yesterday climbed Ice Cannibals, Two Step Gully and the bottom of Thriller. Nemesis looks sort of doable for a skilled party. Suffer Machine is all there but lots a bit thin and lacy in places.

Tried to guide ice last weekend too but the warm temperatures had destroyed most of it so we enjoyed some drytooling at the Playground.

photo: Nemesis (left) and Suffer machine (right)

photo: Thriller Cave (left) and Sinus Gully (right). Ice Cannibal is located behind these routes to the left of the visible serac band.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Noah's First Ice Climbing

My six-year-old son Noah has been bugging me for three years to try ice climbing. Of course, like any good young boy, he is jazzed on sharp implements. Who cares about movement and stunning scenery when your father attaches spikes to your feet and gives you a weapon to swing. I put Black Diamond strap-on aluminium Neve crampons on his hiking boots, which in their smallest setting were still too big so I had to use zap straps to keep them in their collapsed position. Oblivious to the rain and wind, he was in Heaven and could have spent all afternoon chipping at the ice. The toe of the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefields was the venue of choice for his introduction to the dark art of ice bashing.

photo: Black Diamond Neve crampons with gerry-rigged zap straps to make them smaller

Thursday, October 8, 2009

ACC BMFF Ice Camp (Nov 9-13, 2009)

The second annual ACC BMFF Ice Camp is exactly one month away. At $850 per person for 5 days, it is unbeatable value so sign up now.

From the ACC website:

For those people who aren’t satisfied with being a spectator in life - why not cap off your weekend at the Banff Mountain Film Festival with some early season climbing with ice and mixed climbing legend Sean Isaac ?

Based out of Canmore the camp will kick off your ice climbing season with some instruction and a whole lot of climbing. This 5-day camp is made up of four days of ice and mixed climbing outside with an optional day in the middle to give you a chance to sharpen your skills at the indoor climbing gym or rest up your arms to “giv’er” for the last 2 days. Sean and Camp Manager Nancy Hansen will expand the awareness and repertoire of intermediate to experienced ice climbers by exposing you to the opportunities, potential and satisfaction of early-season climbing. A few of the many potential objectives include ice and mixed routes on Mount Rundle, the Stanley Headwall, Ranger Creek, Grotto Mountain and the Ghost Wilderness.

Turn inspiration into action - this is your chance to LIVE what you saw on the big screen over the weekend.

ACMG Alpine Guide

It is official. I am now a fully certified ACMG Alpine guide, which means I can guide anything climbing related including rock, ice and alpine. I never have to do another course or exam if I don't want to (but I probably will in order to become a ski guide and thus a international mountain guide....). I began the process in 2005 and the sailing was smooth until my full alpine exam last summer. Despite my marking card not adding up to a fail (by the definition in the course outline), I was failed. Confused, I sought counsel from friends who used to be examiners and they agreed it did not make sense. I appealled my mark (a long and wearisome affair that has its own pitfalls) and was awarded a re-test (cost of which covered by the ACMG and TRU) on the day-in-question. They gave me two days out of which only the best day was counted (both days were all P's anyways). That replaced the screwed up day on my marking card. Ironically, with the new marking scheme, I could have messed up both days (got a bunch of M's and F's) and still passed. Essentially, a contrived hoop to leap through. On the positive side, it was a solid two days out with a knowledgeable and respected examiner/mountain guide where I received excellent feedback and coaching at no cost to me. Still a little bitter? Yes. Glad it is over? Definitely!