Monday, January 11, 2010


I like scrambling: moving fast high above the valleys, almost but not quite climbing. Climbing, the real thing, can be so tedious sometimes: all that fighting for each metre of upward progress, all that belaying. I suppose free soloing would fit the bill for moving fast and still having it feel like climbing, but I am too chicken for the real solo thing. So when I want to cover a lot of ground in the mountains, for training, fun or whatever, scrambling it is.

Katsutaka "Jumbo" Yokoyama on Mt. Baldy

These days I have an additional reason to go scrambling. A shoulder injury (I have a related piece of advice: listen to your body and stop doing something if it hurts. Obvious, I know, but apparently it was not obvious to me.) has forced me to take a few weeks off from pulling down on ice tools. So, if the real thing is out, what does one do for a climbing fix? Go scrambling, of course.

Yesterday visiting Japanese hardman Katsutaka "Jumbo" Yokoyama and I went scrambling up Mt. Blane in the Opal Range. I like getting out with visiting climbers: you get to see familiar places through their eyes, and you get to do things people who know better would not want to do. I also like Mt. Blane: I have been on it a bunch of times, in summer on the northwest ridge and the west face, and in winter on the ephemeral ice drips that sometimes form on the west face. I had also tried the northwest ridge in winter before. It always seemed like a reasonable enough Plan B, but invariably something would go wrong. With Valery, we got halfway up the ridge before being forced down by a blinding snowstorm. With Steve, we did not even get to the base of the ridge, after we set off a sizeable slide on the approach.

Valery Babanov above a sea of clouds on the approach to Mt. Blane

The author retreating from the northwest ridge of Mt. Blane

Yesterday, for once, everything went well (maybe because we finally made Blane our Plan A). We slogged up through deep but stable enough snow, all the same trying to avoid crossing too many loaded gullies. Three hours after leaving the car we were at the Blane-Brock col, buffeted by the chinook. We simulclimbed the northwest ridge, with my attempts at weaving the rope between outcrops along the knife-edge crest being constantly thwarted by the wind. It would lift the cord and suspend it in a graceful arc (a catenary, I suppose: over the drop to the east.

Fun scrambling on Mt. Blane

Katsutaka "Jumbo" Yokoyama a cheval on the northwest ridge of Mt. Blane

After two hours of very fun scrambling we arrived on a very cool summit. The exposed summit of Blane is a cool place in summer but in winter, with snowy mountains to the west and chinook-blasted foothills to the east, it is doubly so. It is also a mildly committing place, as going down is no easier than going up, the ridge being too low-angled to rappel. But after a further two hours of reversing the spectacularly exposed crest we were back on the col, basking in the afternoon sun. An hour after that we were back at the car, with the kind of big smiles you cannot always get from a day of ice climbing. Sometimes nothing beats scrambling.

Looking south from the summit of Mt. Blane

Katsutaka "Jumbo" Yokoyama enjoying a summit snack of rice

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