Thursday, January 30, 2014


Plastic climbing is hard: all those long reaches, wild swings and slippery slopers. No matter how hard I try, I never seem to get any better. But wait; how hard do I actually try? Do I really think I can spend most of my free time hanging from ice tools, then put in a few gym sessions and expect to float up C5 problems on the sculpted plywood of the Calgary Climbing Centre? No, given that kind of training regimen - or rather the absence of one - I should be happy I can grunt my way up the occasional C4. You don't get shit done by dabbling. Success takes discipline and focus.

In my defence, I don't always dabble. Last summer in Pakistan Ian and I were determined to finally climb something big. After a couple of trips on which we'd puked, gasped and exhausted ourselves into failure, we thought we knew what it took to succeed: staying healthy while surrounded by Asian microbes, acclimatizing on boring snow slogs and pacing ourselves on big pushes. And it worked. When a giant high-pressure system settled over the Karakoram, we were ready. Five days after leaving base camp we stood on top of the biggest and coolest peak we'd yet climbed.

But just as we couldn't stay on the summit of K6 West forever, we - or at least I - can't be single-mindedly working toward a goal all the time. Once in a while it's fun to dabble. And last weekend provided the perfect opportunity for some high-quality dabbling. With clear skies and temperatures in the valley bottoms rising above freezing, you could choose between ice on the shady aspects and rock on the sunny ones. But I didn't want to have to choose; I wanted it all. There've been times when, asked whether I wanted ice cream or crème brûlée for dessert, I'd been tempted to reply, "Yes". And that's how I answered last weekend.

Day 1: Ice Cream

Cole Steinbrenner taking a break on the approach to the Terminator Wall on Mt. Rundle, with the January sun rising on Cascade Mtn across the valley.

Rounding a rock rib an hour later, to be confronted with some of the most spectacular ice in the range.

Yours truly stepping out in more ways than one on Sea of Vapours. Well, not really, but who can resist throwing a coin into Fontana di Trevi - or posing on the famous traverse? Photo: Cole Steinbrenner.

Cole Steinbrenner on the way down, with the meanders of the Bow River almost a thousand metres lower.

From left to right: Terminator, Replicant (both unformed) and Sea of Vapours. 

Against the backdrop of a pink sunset, the snow-covered mountains resemble a stage set more than an actual landscape.

Day 2: Crème Brûlée

Seen from the cold shadows of Echo Canyon on Grotto Mtn., the cliffs of the Lookout glow in the morning sun.

With no snow in sight, you could be forgiven for thinking it was summer. That is, until you noticed the different shadows cast by the low winter sun - and yours truly's blindingly white back. Photo: Bonar McCallum.

Alpenglow over Canmore and, from left to right: Mt. Lougheed, Rimwall and the Three Sisters.

A different place, a different time but the same sun, setting on the north face of K6.