Sunday, November 21, 2010


My friend Ian Welsted has a rule of thumb about -15 C being the cutoff temperature for getting on interesting ice. It sounds arbitrary, but is actually amazingly spot on. Any colder than that and already fragile chandeliers turn into brittle crystal, smooth curtains into armour plate, and one's extremities into useless clubs. Of course like most rules, this one has exceptions to it. If the sun is shining, then even -30 C can feel downright reasonable. Just make sure to be down from the climb when it dips below the horizon.

Ian pushing the temperature envelope while looking for a new way onto the ephemeral ice of French Toast on the Stanley Headwall. By the time we had rappelled off, the forecast storm had moved in, bringing cold, wind, and snow, and turning the usually casual walk off into a bit of an epic.

That's more like it. Ian on a much more pleasant day, attempting a new route on the wall left of Polar Circus. We made the mistake of naming the unclimbed line Polish Sausage in advance, thereby ensuring failure.

It does not take bare hands to ensure screaming barfies if you break Ian's rule. Eamonn Walsh enjoying the feeling of blood rushing back into his digits on the first ascent of the Great White Fright on EEOR.

When it's cold, it's all about the sun. Guy Lacelle happy at -30 C on the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

With Ian's rule in mind and daytime highs hovering around -20 C, ice climbing this weekend didn't appeal. However, it was a perfect opportunity to go hiking. Winter hiking has a few things going for it. It still gets one out of the house. It helps to keep off the winter fat. And it also prevents one from getting into an ice-climbing rut, whereby a day's outing amounts to a grand total of a pitch or three below treeline. Even if it's merely walking, I like to tag a summit every once in a while during the cold months. I find it helps to keep my head in the right place for when the stars line up to allow for a winter-alpine hit. But perhaps most important of all, getting up high when it's cold and snowy is simply good fun.

Above the clouds.

The Alaska Range? Nah, just K-Country.

Sunset from a windswept ridge.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Of wild wind, wild cats and wild men

Over the years I have shared many fine adventures with my friend Eamonn. Lately a few common threads seem to run through these outings: virgin ice, early starts, long approaches, and sandblasting spindrift. Last Saturday was no exception.

Eamonn enjoying a brief windless interlude...

... that of course was too good to last.

A fine position on the edge of the range.

At times the wind was so strong (gusts of over 160 km/h were recorded on ridge tops), the spindrift did not even make it down.

On the approach we followed the tracks of a mountain lion.

A fondness for ice climbing and good looks seem to go together. Photo: Eamonn Walsh.