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!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dave Thomson 1955-2009

My friend and mentor Dave Thomson is no longer with us. I'm finding it difficult to write words about him. The following is a short obit by Jeremy Kroeker.

David John Thomson, born in England, April 26th, 1955, died near the base of Castle Mountain on July 17, 2009. He was the beloved older brother of Mary Thomson, brother in law to Roger Meager, and special uncle to Katie and Tristan. He was the cherished and only son of Alexander Wallace Thomson and Beatrice Jean Thomson (deceased) and nephew to Lilian Thomson, (deceased).

In an athletic career spanning over three decades, Dave rose to elite ranks in many fields – caving, sea kayaking, skiing – but at heart, Dave was a climber and, apart from his family, it is the climbing community that will feel the most acute sense of loss.

His unrelenting motivation and drive earned him the nickname “Every-day-Dave,” while ground breaking first ascents cemented his place among the greats of Canadian climbers, most often in the arenas of ice and mixed climbing. As a mixed climber, Dave pushed the leading edge of the sport to become the “Father of Modern Mixed Climbing in the Canadian Rockies” – a lofty title that he earned and bore with humility.

Additionally, Dave was a fiercely independent closet intellectual with a quick, sarcastic wit and an honest heart. The climbing community is poorer for his loss, so are his family and many friends.

He leaves behind thousands of amazing photographs as a legacy to his many adventures in the mountains, on the coast, in the Arctic, and other parts of the world.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

2009 Canadian Alpine Journal

A teaser: the cover of the 2009 CAJ. Our cover boy this year, err, I mean man, is West Coast alpinist Bruce Kay (photo by Jim Martinello) seen hear doing his thing on a new route above Seton Lake near Lillooet, B.C. It should be hitting book selves at your local climbing shop in early July. The whole process went much smoother this year so maybe I am getting the hang of it. Some of my grey hairs from my first CAJ last year even seem to be returning to their normal brown colour. Of course, I, in no way, did this by myself. I owe a huge thanks to Suzan Chamney, Lynn Martel and Helen Rolfe for keeping me on track and making the CAJ as polished as we can. Hermien Scuttenbeld, Shaun Chamney, Anne Ryall and Sheila Churchill also pitched in to make it happen. Everyone put 100 per cent into it again. I also need to send a shout out to all the contributors who supply us with the text and photos (their only compensation being a free Journal). Obviously, without them there would be no CAJ. Thanks for enduring my constant stream of pestering e-mails.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Broken Arm

About five weeks ago, I got into a fight... with a T-bar cable. It won. Here's the before-and-after x-rays. A big thanks to the amazing orthopedics that we are so fortunate to have in Banff. Dr Hiemstra did a mighty fine job of putting my arm back together, As you can see, the radius is plated but there was also a small fracture in the wrist that needed casting. I got the cast off today revealing a very puny forearm. I have always had skinny arms but it is really skinny now. It will be awhile before I am squeezing stone again.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Canadian Alpine Climbing

I get lots of e-mails requesting beta on areas I've been alpine climbing in Canada. The following was my reply to a recent inquiry. Here's my completely biased take on the areas I've been.

Cirque of Unclimbables: expensive, remote, beautiful, very dirty cracks, bad weather and mosquitos as big as grizzlies, and grizzlies as big as... well, you get the idea.

Baffin: expensive, remote, beautiful, long walks, lots of blank rock, polar bears are bigger than grizzlies

Waddington: real mountains, big mountains, big glaciers, splitter granite, questionable weather, lots of potential for new routes of all styles.

Bugaboos: excellent granite, average mountain weather, way more accessible than the above areas, thus fairly picked through, but still gems to be grabbed for the sly.

Rockies: perfect stone, no grizzlies, never rains, more "alpine-ish" than above areas (with the exclusion of Waddington), but still lots of alpine rock if you like big limestone.

Squamish: inexpensive, very accessible, the best granite, rainforest bouldering, can be wet, slugs almost as big as polar bears.

Skaha: inexpensive, very accessible, closely spaced bolts, hot in summer, nice lakes, lots of Lulu Lemon...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ice Condtions: Various (Feb 3-5)

I just enjoyed three awesome days of guiding with a few regular guests. The previous two years we froze in sub-minus-20 temperatures so perseverance pays off and they were finally rewarded with perfect weather and conditions.

Day 1 (Feb 3), Massey's: An elk with a big rack was on the tracks eating grain so we were forced to flounder in facets to get around it. The first pitch is not as fat as usual but there is still plenty of room for two parties to climb beside each other if working together. I did the steeper left hand start with Ari while Simon took Neil and Tanya up the right side. The walk/scramble off left looks like crap with no trail beat in and bottomless junk so rapping is the way to go. Two full-length 60-metre raps will get you down. Pat and Keith did Guiness Gully at the same time and reported good, plastic ice.

Day2 (Feb 4), Valley of the Birds: All seven of us attacked the Valley of the Birds in the North Ghost. The drive in is now manageable but medium to high clearance is still recommended for the Stump Land detour around the Monster Drift that formed due to the clear-cut. An ice dam bridges the river about half way between Marker 39 parking and the climb so you can skip the awkward side-hilling trail under Sentinel Crag. The ice bridge may not be long for this world with the warm temps. Between three guides with four clients we climbed Yellow Bird, Seagull, Albatross and the Eagle. All are in fine shape with good ice. Only the Eagle sported hooking from previous traffic; all the others were fresh-albeit-plastic ice. The Eagle is a very slender column with a glued-together crack 10 metres up. The hooks and features for feet are welcomed but gentle technique is encouraged. It had full sun by 1:30pm which improved the ice quality (also the nine TR laps helped deepen the hooks).

Day 3 (Feb 5), Weeping Wall: We were surprised to find no one else in the parking when we arrived at 8:30am. Neil and I did left-hand while Simon did right-hand with Keith and Tanya. The third pitch on the left hand sounded detached from the water running behind it. I could feel Neil's swings vibrate in the feet while belaying and he was 40 metres below me! Simon reported the right to be excellent one-hit shit and good stemming. The crux of the right hand is typically better ice becasue the corner faces north so gets less sun messing with it. Pat and Ari did Professors that day and said that a snorkel would have been a good piece of gear to bring. They swam up the first three pitches then left soaked.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Munising Ice Festival

This was my third time attending this event (2002, 2005, 2009) and despite being in the middle of nowhere, it is an awesome grassroots festival. It draws a huge crowd from the nearby major cities of Minneapolis, Detroit and Chicago and everyone is super psyched. 448 people attended from 10 states including Florida and Texas-- plus Canucks from nearby Ontario. The level of enthusiasm for all thing ice is very inspiring. Representing Black Diamond Equipment, I gave my slide show on winter climbing to a packed hall the hall--not even standing room available. I also taught two days of clinics: an intro to ice one day and a woman's clinic the other (Yeah boy, you read correctly). No woman athletes were present so since I had long hair I was the next best thing. Both clinics were successful in that I had first time ice climbers styling vertical pillars with solid technique by the end of each day.
The climbs are located on the south shore of Lake Superior in Pictured Rocks National Park. Most are short vertical pillars and curtains pouring over sandstone caves and overhangs tucked in the trees. The closest routes are only 10 minutes from town and a 5 minute walk. There is some longer stuff out on the lake cliffs and across the ice on Grand Island. Munising is a snowmobile town in winter but for Superbowl weekend every year the ice climbers take over.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ice Conditions: Jasper and Nordegg (Jan 10)

I just spent the past five days instructing in the Jasper and Nordegg area with a Thompson Rivers University ice climbing course. This is a second-year course in the Adventure Guide Diploma. The goal in one week is to have the students leading each other up and down a multi-pitch ice route in the WI2-3 range. It is very inspiring to watch these students develop their skills and decision-making process on their way to becoming competent and self-proficient ice climbers. I wish I learned how to ice climb this way. The following are conditions observed during our week up north.
photo: Students leading each other up pitch 2 of Two O'Clock Falls

Roads: The Icefields Parkway is now open north to Jasper but in poor winter driving conditions. The road from Saskatchewan River Crossing to Lake Louise is also in poor condition with lots of ruts and slippery sections.

Routes: We steered clear of any routes with avi hazard given the parks bulletin and the overall weak condition of this year's snowpack. We climbed Swartz's Falls, Maligne Canyon (The Queen and The Last Wall), Tangle Falls, Two O'Clock Falls and Cline River Gallery. All areas were in normal condition but ice in general is running with water making it hard to keep ropes dry. As of Thursday (Jan 8), the canyon beyond Pure Energy in Cline River Gallery was frozen offering access to the Splashdown routes, which are usually tricky to access. This can change rapidly so be cautious of thin ice and open pools.

Cascade Falls: On the drive home today, I was shocked to see a party on Cascade Waterfall in Banff. Given the Banff National Park avalanche bulletin of HIGH hazard at all elevations, recently observed natural size 3.5 avalanches on Cascade Mountain (yesterday!) and temperatures above zero degrees Celsius, this is a VERY poor route choice. This is not the time to be climbing under ANY avi terrain. Enough from the soap box; please play safe and choose routes accordingly.

photo: Rappelling Two O'Clock Falls