Saturday, May 8, 2010

Undertoe

Yesterday Eamonn and I came back for the last route in our Tangle(d) trilogy. Undertow was the first route climbed on the wall, and is without a doubt one of the finest ice climbs in the Rockies. All but one or two pitches are moderate, but they go on and on, all the way to the summit. Below are some photos from our day.

Dawn over the Sunwapta valley.

It had been snowing off and on over the previous few days, and fresh snow blanketed the mountains.

Eamonn making the long traverse from the top of Shades of Beauty to the base of the routes. We traversed above treeline to avoid the post-holing in the trees.

This is what we drove three hours and walked four hours for. From the left: "Undertow", "Can't Touch This" and "Boobquake".

As the sun hit the wall, sloughs started coming down all over the place. Some were big enough to make us stop and think what we might be getting ourselves into. "Let's go, they're just sloughs. What's the worst that could happen?"

Eamonn low on the route.

The sun on the approach was strong (it being May, after all), but in the shade it was still winter.

Funny how ice always looks easier than it is. Photo: Eamonn Walsh.

Looking up at the last steep (and appropriately crux) pitch.

Eamonn swimming up the slope below the summit seracs.

Putting a slight twist on a quote from Alex Lowe, winter lingers long in the high country.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tangle Ridge

Given that I live on the doorstep on the Canadian Rockies, it’s probably just as well I’m not a devoted rock climber. Don’t get me wrong, I love rock climbing, and I've been going up to Yam and Bataan since the middle of March. But when the weather turns cold and snowy, I’m just as happy going ice climbing – especially when it’s ice like the stuff on the north side of Tangle Ridge. I’d heard rumours of big ice back there, but it wasn’t until I saw photos of the route “Undertow” that I realized just how cool it was.

The northeast face of Tangle Ridge. From the left, the routes are "Undertow", "Can't Touch This" and "Boobquake"

Last weekend Dana Ruddy, Eamonn Walsh, Ian Welsted and I got up early and hiked up Beauty Creek. The approach is long (almost four hours) but straightforward, and the tedium is nicely broken by having to climb “Shades of Beauty” an hour into it. We considered making a foursome on “Undertow” but thought this might involve too much standing around. In the end Dana and Ian teamed up for that route, while Eamonn and I decided to have a look at one of the lines on the right. The middle line looked juicy and enticing, but the hint of a hanging dagger halfway up made it an uncertain proposition. The rightmost line sported a lengthy mixed section, but it didn’t look too unlikely, and so we went for it. The result was “Boobquake” (ten ropelengths or so, WI4+ M5): a fun and consistent line up a big face. The climbing was never desperate but always entertaining, and the position on the hanging ramp on the sixth pitch was outstanding. We topped out into the late afternoon sunshine, and took our time on the summit identifying peaks near and far. The descent was the icing on an already great day: a quick run down the backside had us back at the highway in a little over an hour from the top. The name? It’s a reference to a witty response to a piece of self-righteous nonsense.

"Hmm, what to do?" From the left, Eamonn, Ian and Dana.

Eamonn on the second pitch of "Boobquake". "Can't Touch This" is on the left.

Starting up on the mixed section, pitch four or so. Photo: Eamonn Walsh.

Eamonn slogging up the summit snow slope.

The east faces of Mts. Alberta and Woolley from Tangle Ridge.

The place had us inspired, plus the weather this weekend didn’t look any more promising for rock climbing. And so yesterday morning Simon Parsons, Eamonn and I got up at two o’clock and yet again made the long drive up to the Icefields. This time the goal was the middle line, dagger and all. Failure was a distinct possibility, but I for one simply couldn't walk past a line like that without giving it a try. The bottom pitches went quickly and by early afternoon I was climbing a column of excellent ice into the cleft hiding the dagger. At first glance it looked climbable, but upon closer inspection turned out to be dangerously fragile. The solid ice above was almost – but not quite – close enough to touch. In the end an overhanging rock traverse from the left proved the key (in the spirit of full disclosure, we placed the protection pins on aid). While I was frigging around, the weather took a turn for the worse. Fed by a steady snowfall, the bowls above us started spitting avalanches at regular intervals. But though the sky went dark a few time while we were climbing the crux pitch, nothing too big came down. The dagger pitch may have been the technical crux, but the snow wallowing leading to the final pitch pouring from the summit ice cap was certainly the physical crux. Nothing builds character quite like digging a trench up bottomless snow. We topped out in a whiteout, glad we knew the way down. I guess May had come to the Rockies.

Eamonn starting up "Can't Touch This". "Boobquake" is on the right.

Simon low on the route.

Tagging the ice on the crux pitch. Photo: Raphael Slawinski collection.

Eamonn working on his character high on the route. Photo: Simon Parsons.

The obligatory summit photo.

Between “Undertow”, “Boobquake” and yesterday's “Can’t Touch This” (ten ropelengths or so, WI5+ M6), there are now three lines on the north side of Tangle Ridge. It's got to be one of the coolest places to climb ice in the Rockies, and before the season really ends I expect I will be back once more to tick the first route climbed in this exciting valley.

May ice! Photo: Simon Parsons.