Thursday, February 25, 2010

Living in Paradise Integrale

Between working, traveling, getting injured and dealing with life in general, I was not getting out as much as I wanted to. Hell, it was even looking like the reading break adventure, which has become something of a tradition for my friend Eamonn Walsh and me, was not going to happen. But then a free day materialized. Weather and snow conditions were stellar, and deserved something more than a casual day out.

Living in Paradise on Mt. Wilson. Photo: Eamonn Walsh

I suggested Living in Paradise, a long ice route on Mt. Wilson above the Icefields Parkway. I already had a bit of a history with it, having first tried it in December 2002 with Guy Lacelle. We approached by way of Midnight Rambler and Stairway to Heaven, hoping for a grand link up. Unfortunately we found the crux pillar on Living in Paradise to consist of unconsolidated icicles, with a poor belay to boot. We bailed. My second encouter with the route in April 2008 was a bizarre one. Jon Walsh and I had topped out on Dirty Love, a new route on the south face, in a whiteout and were looking for a way off. In the end we just picked a likely gully and started rapelling. Somewhat to our surprise, the gully turned out to be Living in Paradise. In addition to offering a grand tour of the route itself, the top-down inspection also revealed a cool mixed gully through the summit quartzite towers.

Guy Lacelle starting up Stairway to Heaven.

On the auspicious date of February 13, Eamonn and I were driving by three in the morning and hiking up Lady Wilson's Cleavage by five. To maximize our chances of actually topping out we did not approach the route the proud way, via Midnight Rambler and Stairway to Heaven, but the wanker way, by a long traverse right from the Cleavage. In the grey light of dawn we stood at the base of the first pitch. The ice had looked blue from a distance, but upon closer inspection turned out to be rather hollow and chandeliered. Fortunately it was not quite as bad as that time with Guy, and after two pitches of careful climbing we were up the first tier. Some walking up good hard snow led to a pleasant pitch of fat ice. More walking and we arrived at the base of the last tier.

Eamonn below the first tier of Living in Paradise.

The author on the first pitch. Photo: Eamonn Walsh

The last tier of Living in Paradise.

Eamonn on the last tier with the Icefields Parkway below.

A blue cigar buckled under the weight of the fractured ice blocks stacked on top of it. Just looking at it scared us, so we headed up the sun-baked splatters on the left. These were not devoid of interest either, but were a bit more reasonable than the direct way up the pillar. Soon enough we were up, slogging up a huge snow slope toward the quartzite towers guarding the summit ridge. The gully that Jon and I had rappelled two years earlier turned out to be just as cool as I remembered: not too hard, with walls of rime-covered white stone.

The snow slope below the summit quartzite towers.

The gully through the summit quartzite towers. Photo: Eamonn Walsh

The sun was still high in the sky when we topped out. Fortunately snow stability was good, otherwise the giant slopes leading down into the Cleavage would have been nothing short of terrifying. But all went well: the snow walk down, the death hook rappel down Phil Spectre's Nighmare, the downclimb of the Cleavage. In fact we were back down at the car with daylight to spare. "I told you, Eamonn, we should have slept longer."

Eamonn  walking down the backside of Mt. Wilson.

Eamonn walking down Lady Wilson's Cleavage.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Michigan Ice

Earlier this month I flew to Michigan for the weekend to attend the Munising Ice Fest. Michigan? Ice climbing? They seem to go together about as well as Alberta and bouldering. But even though the Midwest is not the Rockies (I have been told I have a knack for stating the obvious), there is some excellent ice to be had. The best of it is across the great water, on the north shore of Lake Superior in Ontario. Indeed, the ice and mixed climbing around the various Bays (Thunder, Orient, Kama...) is as good as anything in Colorado or New England. A bold statement perhaps, but just check out the north shore sometime. The south shore is poorer in steep ice, but there are a few gems there as well.

On Sunday afternoon Jon Jugenheimer, Matt Stellner and I skipped the busy scene at the Curtains, an accessible teaching area, and went for a hike along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. When the lake is not frozen, most of the climbs along the shoreline can only be accessed from the top, making them tricky to find as well as somewhat committing. Once you pull the ropes, it is either climb out or swim out. Our objective was Dairyland, an Upper Peninsula classic of wind-sculpted, sediment-stained ice. There is something quite unique in climbing a steep pillar with waves gently lapping at its base and the sun setting over a watery horizon. As my friend James Loveridge says, it is like sea cliff ice climbing. It is sea cliff ice climbing, except the water is not salty. "The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down/ Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee..."