Monday, November 19, 2012

The Ghost in the Machine

In the end, what's climbing about? Gymnastics? Or exploration? I suspect everyone will answer differently, and maybe even differently at different times. For example, I spent most of September projecting a single route at the Lookout. Each day at the crag was much the same as the previous one: I'd warm up, get on my project and try to work it into submission. While I did make some discoveries along the way (such as that it's better to hand-wrap rather than crimp the hold at the start of the first crux), I'd be hard pressed to call what I was doing exploration. Instead, I was essentially perfecting a gymnastic routine, so that I could eventually execute it error free.

On a warm afternoon in late September, with the aspen turning yellow in the valley below, I surprised myself by floating the route almost effortlessly. I haven't been back to the Lookout since. Instead, as the days have grown shorter and shorter, I've been waking up earlier and earlier, trudging for hours only to climb a few pitches of snowed-up rock nobody's bothered to climb before. To make matters worse, I haven't even been getting up the damned things: just scratching up a little ways, noticing it's getting dark, looking up and seeing lots of hard climbing still remaining, and rappelling off. And repeating the same ritual the following weekend, hopefully getting a couple of pitches higher. So what is it that gets me out of bed every cold, pitch-black Saturday morning? It's knowing that, after passing the previous highpoint, I'll step around a corner or turn the lip of a roof, and finally see what lies ahead.

All the same, as much you might aspire to live by the cliched dictum about 'it' being about the journey and not the destination, if you never arrive at your destination even a fun journey can become tiresome. And so just as I was happy to finally send my project at the Lookout, I was happy to finally finish one of my mixed projects. Granted, it was by far the smallest of them all, but you learn to aim low if you want to succeed. Even better, the result was a route that might actually be worth repeating.

The Ghost in the Machine (70 m, M7)
FA: Ian Welsted, Jon Walsh and Raphael Slawinski, November 2012

This is a fun little route with two back-to-back pitches of solid M7. It’s found below the left end of the big overlap left of the Suffer Machine area. In spite of being put up with a bolt gun it manages to retain some soul: the first pitch is a sustained ropelength of traditionally-protected mixed climbing, while the second features bolt-protected steep pulling on thin ice that’ll have you grinning from ear to ear. A good outing for the short days of late fall; go get it before all the ice sublimates away!

Pitch 1 (40 m): The harder-than-it-looks pitch. Scramble up and left to a broad snow ledge. Move left and climb easy rock to the base of a groove leading up to an arching right-facing corner. Climb past a couple of fixed pins to an overhang, plug in some good cams overhead and make a few strenuous moves past the right side of the overhang. Continue up and right past another fixed pin to some thin ice in a chimney. Climb the chimney past two more fixed pins to a sloping ice ledge and a bolt belay.

Pitch 2 (30 m): The easier-than-it-looks pitch. Move right from the belay and climb a few metres up a thinly iced slab to the first bolt (hard to see from the belay). Continue up a right-facing corner to another bolt on the left wall. Step onto the left wall and climb steep ice-covered rock past three more bolts into an overhanging slot. Continue up the slot with great drytooling and excellent gear to easier ground and a bolt belay on a snow ledge.

Descent: It’s possible but awkward to return to the first belay. With two 70-m ropes it’s best to make one long rappel back to the base.

Gear: Cams from #00 C3 to #4 C4, half a set of nuts, 6 draws and 8 shoulder-length slings. No pins or screws are needed.

Nemesis on the left, Suffer Machine on the right, and The Ghost in the Machine in the middle.

The line of The Ghost in the Machine. The thin strip to the left is the not-quite formed route An Ideal For Living.

Jon Walsh pulling the crux on the first pitch.

The hooks in the sublimated ice are a bit marginal but fortunately the gear is good.

Jon Walsh nears the end of the first pitch while getting pummelled by spindrift.

The second pitch is all mixed climbing should be: beyond-vertical rock, thin ice, verglassed cracks... Photo: Jon Walsh.

Where do I find a climb that goes on like this for two hundred metres instead of only twenty? Photo: Jon Walsh.

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