Thursday, March 11, 2010

A day in the life of a weekend warrior

Being a weekend warrior means making the most of your days out. If Plan A does not pan out, it is not back to the coffee shop: it is on to Plan B, and if need be, even C. Last weekend Eamonn Walsh (not a weekend warrior, incidentally) and I were up by 2 a.m., on the road by 2:30, and at the base of the first pitch of our intended route before 6. We were a bit disturbed to find most of it had fallen off in the heat of the previous few days. We could have walked around it, but the fact that we were standing there in the predawn darkness without gloves or hats, listening to the rush of flowing water, with miles of avalanche slopes above us, did not inspire. Legend has it Bonatti would not even cross the ‘schrund unless it was minus ten or colder. Neither of us is Bonatti, but we have walked into enough stupid situations to recognize the potential for another one. We were back at the car still in the dark.

Less than virgin ice on Polar Circus.

We were psyched for a big day but the alpine did not appeal. What to do? A link-up of some classic ice routes seemed like the next best thing. Polar Circus was first. By the time we left the car it was light enough to leave the headlamps behind. We sweated our way up to the base of the Ribbon Pitch, at which point we figured we might as well break out the rope, since we had carried it that far. A few quick pitches, a bunch of rappelling, and we were back at the car before noon.

Eamonn turning the (unformed) Pencil.

Eamonn on the last tier of Polar Circus.

For no particular reason, other than the fact it is a classic, Curtain Call was next. As if to add greater variety to our day, the weather took a turn for the worse. We walked up in a snowstorm, and climbed the two long pitches of the route in gusting wind and blowing snow. The climbing offered a cool contrast to Polar Circus: while there we ran up miles of moderate ice, here we took it more slowly over crazy mushrooms and overlaps. Rappel, slip and slide down the icy trail, and be back at the car by 4.

The big, bad, beautiful Curtain Call.

Eamonn starting up the first pitch of Curtain Call.

I was happy with the day and prepared to settle in for the long drive home. But as we were passing the Weeping Wall, we realized we still had a couple of hours of daylight left: just enough for the Lower Wall. It looked sun-bleached, but underneath it was still perfect blue hero ice. I had The Count from Sesame Street urging me on the whole way up: “One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, faster, faster!” We were back at the car before dark, and this time once we started driving, we did not stop until Lake Louise for some bad gas station food. It had been a good day.

A portrait of Quasimodo as a young man.

The Count takes a break from Sesame Street on the Weeping Wall.

How did we get so far with so little?

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