Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Equinox

Spring equinox is a great time to be a climber in the Rockies. As the Earth’s northern hemisphere begins to tilt toward the Sun, south-facing crags in the Front Ranges offer a welcome relief from the long winter. But early spring, with its crisp mornings and long days, is also a good time to venture into the high, shady places near the Divide.

On the first day of spring Eamonn Walsh and I headed up on Yamnuska. I cannot count the number of times I have hiked up the switchbacks to play on Yam's grey and yellow walls. There is something up there that keeps drawing me back: sometimes it is to push myself cerebrally on a rarely traveled, runout testpieces; sometimes it is to push myself physically on multi-route linkups; and sometime it is just to have fun. The most recent outing fit into the third category: well-protected climbing, not desperate but challenging enough to have to try at the cruxes. In spite of all the time I have spent up there, every spring it takes me a few routes to get my ‘Yam legs’ under me. Until that happens I move tentatively, unsure about that overhang of wedged blocks, or the friction of rubber on the grey, rippled limestone. I definitely felt this way the other day: trying sequences a couple of times before committing to them, paranoid about the loose rock. But I know I just have to be patient, and to spend some time with the ravens soaring and diving around me, for things to start flowing again.

On the second day of spring Steve Swenson, Ian Welsted and I were up early and on the TransCanada Highway before dawn. The forecast was for a typical spring mix: some sun, some cloud, a few flurries, even a bit of rain in the afternoon. It was not a forecast to entice one into the alpine, but it was just right for some late-season ice. A few days earlier some friends had climbed a new route on Mt. Murchison that seemed like an excellent objective for a fun (meaning: interesting but not scary) day of ice climbing. While the mountains to the west of the Icefields Parkway were plastered with snow, the ones to the east were reassuringly bare. Hell, we even had to do some scree bashing on the approach! The business was two pitches of beautiful, narrow ice tucked into a tight chimney. Where the ice turned hollow or chandeliered or mushy, there was just enough rock gear to be had on the sides to keep things reasonable. The one close call of the day came at the top of the route, when some fair-sized rocks melted out of the scree above and bounced down the funnel. Fortunately whoever was throwing them had bad aim, and by mid-afternoon we were safely back at the car. Bring on spring!

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