Sunday, April 24, 2011

Playing pinball on the Spray Range traverse

I like link ups. There is something very satisfying about doing multiple routes in a day, be it ice climbing or Yammering (or sometimes both). But link ups, let us face it, are also rather contrived. On Yam, say, you climb a route, you walk back down to your stuff, you move it to the base of another route, you climb it, you walk back down... For instance one June Jon Walsh and I did what we somewhat pretentiously referred to as an El Cap day: three routes adding up to over 900 m of climbing, each route featuring much 5.10 with 5.11 cruxes. I know, for a true El Cap day the cruxes should have been in the 5.13 range; I guess ours was was a poor man's El Cap. Still, I barely squeaked through the crux on the last route, and felt wasted the following day. It was a fun enchainment, but not a very natural one.

Not quite El Cap.

An enchainment becomes more compelling when each link in the chain naturally leads to the next one, like ice flowing over successive tiers on a mountainside. Guy Lacelle and I once tried to combine Midnight Rambler (an easy ice gully), Stairway to Heaven (a bolted mixed route) and Living in Paradise (a hard ice route), the three ascending the same drainage on the south face of Mt. Wilson. Given that it was December and days were on the short side, our odds were rather long. Still, we had to try. We walked up in the dark, scrambled up the first route, broke out the half rope we had brought to save weight for the second route, and finally started up the third one. The afternoon was getting on, but it was not lack of daylight that stopped us, but lack of ice. I still remember Living in Paradise on that day as one of the most engaging pieces of ice I have ever attempted. Faced with a shitty semi-hanging belay and harder climbing above, we pulled the plug.

Guy Lacelle on the first pitch of Stairway to Heaven attempting the enchainment.

A somewhat less obvious but - at least to me - very natural kind of link up is one where the descent from one route places you at the start of the next one. Borrowing a term from masters of the genre, the Giri Giri boys, I call this a pinball link up. Ski touring lends itself very well to the kind of flow that pin-balling from descent to ascent provides. The other day I got a taste of the possibilities of pin-balling as Gery Unterasinger and I traversed the Spray Range. Starting from the Burstall Pass parking lot we ascended a giant slide path on a bulletproof crust to the saddle between Commonwealth Peak and Piggy Plus. A fabulous descent down another slide path landed us in Commonwealth Creek. A second ascent up yet another slide path, by now softening up in the sun, took us to a shoulder of The Fist. From there, a disappointingly short run down the Tryst Lake chutes led to a third valley bottom, and a third climb.

Gery approaching the Commonwealth Peak-Piggy Plus col, with Mt. Sir Douglas in the distance.

Gery hucking the cornice and plunging down into Commonwealth Creek.

A sweaty ascent below The Fist.

How many different kinds of snow are there?

Each time we plunged below tree line, we shed layers in the sweaty heat. Each time we crested a ridge, we pulled them back on against a biting wind. Yet another powder descent took us below Tent Ridge. By now I was feeling all the ups and downs in my legs, and the fourth and last ascent was by far the hardest one. But the top did not disappoint, with views down to the Spray Lakes, up to Assiniboine, and across the ridges and valleys we had crossed. A last blast down on a mixed bag of powder and sastrugi, and we popped out on the road right where we had left the second car.

Ascending for the third time, with the Tryst Lake chutes behind. Photo: Gery Unterasinger.

The third descent. Photo: Gery Unterasinger. 

Gery on Tent Ridge...

... and ripping it up on the way down.

Looking back across the traverse.

A ptarmigan clinging to winter near the top of Tent Ridge.

I am already thinking of other possibilities. Snow, ice, rock; seen from the right perspective, each medium offers vast opportunities for knocking about in the mountains. And of course beyond the relatively limited world of one-day pinball missions lies the vast universe of multi-day pin-balling. I cannot wait.

1 comment:

  1. I have only been in the Spray range in early summer starting the Tour Divide but it's gorgeous. Jealous!!!