Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just ice climbing

I must be easily amused. I have been ice climbing for nearly twenty years, racking up forty or fifty days in an average season. Yet somehow, I am still not bored of it. What is it about climbing ice that holds my interest? After all, it is cold, repetitive, and let's face it, mostly easy. Take yesterday, for example. We climbed the Replicant for what was my seventh time. We got up early. We drove, biked and hiked for several hours just to get to the base of the route. We got screaming barfies and ice-cream headaches. Then we retraced our steps to go home. Why go to all that trouble just to climb two pitches?

I suspect the day I require an answer to that question to get me out of bed at an uncivilized hour will be the day I stop ice climbing. But for now, I hope the photos below provide enough of an answer.

The Trophy Wall on Mt. Rundle. How much more compelling can climbing lines get?

Barry Blanchard and Steve Holeczi trying to avoid a windslab in the grey light of dawn, with the valley floor seven hundred vertical metres below.

Steve doing what he does best: eating and looking scary.

The belay at the base of the route was unfortunately the last non-hanging one. But as much as hanging belays suck, there is something magical about a house with a roof of icicles and no floor.

Steve tapping his way up ominously booming, detached ice on the first pitch.

How does one grade ice like that? Vertical but full of bomber hooks, so it feels like steep, juggy 5.6. On the other hand, on the entire pitch, maybe only a couple of screws in the hollow ice would hold more than bodyweight (especially Steve's weight). A strange game, this ice-climbing business.

On the second pitch, upward progress was assisted by much better ice and sandblasting updrafts. Photo: Barry Blanchard.

Barry nearing the top belay wearing every last layer he brought, including the belay jacket.

Ah, the joys of relieving yourself at a hanging stance: first you have to haul it out, then stuff it back again. All this with multiple layers of clothing, a harness, and a partner complaining that you are pissing on his boot.

By the time we had rappelled back down the wind picked up in earnest, bringing the first taste of the coming cold spell, and making us appreciate the shelter of the forest below all the more. As Beavis and Butt-head once famously said, you gotta have things that suck to have things that are cool. Perhaps that is the appeal of ice climbing.

A day on the Trophy Wall is kind of like a winter triathlon: climbing, slogging and biking through snow.

PS: For lack of anything better to do, this fall I have been revistiting some old favourites. Gery Unterasinger has posted some photos from Sacre Bleu while Josh Lavigne has put together a short video from Nemesis.

Nemesis from Joshua Lavigne on Vimeo.


  1. Oh man,your blogs always make my day!

  2. Hi Raphael. Your blog is one of my favorites to visit. Unlike many of the other climbing blogs, you don't try to make things over-dramatic or super-cool--you just talk about great climbing in the mountains. Most of all, you seem to be having so much fun. Perhaps this is why you have been climbing for so long? In any case, this is just a shout out to say that people do read your blog, and that it is really inspiring. Keep it up!

  3. Thanks! I figure climbing is a pointless activity, so why do it if not for fun?

  4. "it don't gotta be fun to be fun."

    -Carl Tobin