Monday, February 29, 2016

Romancing the Ghost

When I returned from Scotland at the beginning of February, I hadn’t swung my tools in a while. The climbing in Scotland was all about rimed up rock (and atrocious weather, but that’s another story). And even before I left Canada, in order to prepare myself for the fabled Scottish mixed climbing I’d eschewed fat ice in favour of rock, the more snowed up and traditional in flavour the better. By the time I got back from the land of tenuous hooking and three-hour leads, I craved fast, smooth movement. With iffy avalanche conditions deeper in the mountains, Juan and I headed into the Ghost. His expert driving and a newly bulldozed track got us to within a half-hour walk of the blue pillars of Fang and Fist. We squeezed every bit of ice out of the climb, even the rolling steps higher up. After rappelling off, we backtracked to the main drainage and boulder hopped up it for another half hour, hoping to spot some ice on the impressive rock walls looming on all sides.

“A waste of rock,” was how Juan summed up our fruitless search.

Back at the truck, we had a bite of lunch then drove a couple of kilometres back to the mouth of another drainage. We figured the free-standing pillar at the start of Going to the Sun Highway would nicely round out a day of swinging tools. It did that, but the hike up the frozen streambed, so much more pleasant than the cobbles of Malamute Valley, was memorable for another reason. As we rounded a corner, the wall at the head of the creek we were crunching up in our crampons came into view.

The cirque at the back of the valley, with the Blind Date wall low down, Bad Romance up and right and unclimbed (?) left of Bad Romance.

“Whoa! What’s that?” I stopped to get a better look. A black rock wall adorned by crazy ice blobs looked like a mixed climber’s dream. Higher in the alpine cirque discontinuous ice lines beckoned. Over the next few weeks a few friends and I explored the valley’s potential: soaking our feet after breaking through creek ice, tiptoeing gingerly across drum-tight snow slopes, having our eyes welded shut by blistering spindrift, falling out of control when a tool placement ripped. But all the while, we couldn’t think of too many other places we’d rather be. Below are our finds, with potential for more. I hope you’ll get up there to check them out, before spring arrives all too soon.


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Bad Romance with the belays marked.

Bad Romance, 130 m, M7 WI4

FA: Juan Henriquez and Raphael Slawinski (with guest appearances by Seb Taborszky and Paul Taylor), February 21, 2016

Approach: Start hiking as for Going to the Sun Highway, but instead of turning into the side drainage on the right that holds that route, continue up the main drainage. Hike up the frozen creek, bypassing open pools through trees on the right. At the head of the creek, head up and right on windblown scree slopes to a rock band directly below the route (the right one of two major ice lines). Either scramble directly through the rock band (recommended) or make a long end run on snow ledges going right, then back left. The snow ledges are steep and unsupported and, unusually for the Ghost, avy hazard is a real concern. 2 hours.

Pitch 1 (30 m, WI3R): Climb a thin flow of low-angled ice to a snow ledge. Belay at a short curtain. Other than a wire placement at the start and a screw and/or thread 20 metres up, there isn’t much gear to be had but the climbing isn’t hard.

Pitch 2 (40 m, WI3): Climb the curtain to a fun narrow runnel. Where the runnel widens into a broad shield, climb up and right to where the ice runs out below a roof. A couple of dry moves gain a 2-bolt anchor. This pitch protects well with screws but there are also some wire and cam placements on the left wall.

Pitch 3 (60 m, M7 WI4): Climb bolt-protected rock with the occasional small ice blob to a hanging curtain. The first few moves from the belay are the crux, with small and slippery hooks, but the climbing quickly eases. Once on the ice, climb moderate ice to where it ends in a rock overlap.

Descent: Rappel the route. Rather than swinging into the 2-bolt station, it may be easier to make a v-thread above the hanging curtain.

Gear: Screws (including some stubbies), a few small-to-medium Stoppers, Camalots #0.4 and 0.5.

Juan approaches Bad Romance on our first attempt, soaked feet and all, as spindrift pours down the wall.

Alpine ambience from a rats' cave.

Windloaded slopes above cliffs. Spooky!

Juan taps his way up the first pitch...

... and I try to keep snow out of my hood on the second. Photo: Juan Henriquez.


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Blind Date (in red) and Orgasmotron (in yellow) with the belays marked.

Blind Date, 90 m, M7+ WI5

FA: Jeff Mercier and Raphael Slawinski, February 16, 2016

Approach: Start hiking as for Bad Romance, but at the head of the creek head up windblown scree slopes directly to the route. 1.5 hours.

Pitch 1 (20 m, M7+ WI3): Climb steep, nicely featured rock past 6 bolts to where a step right gains the ice flow above the roof. Climb 5 metres of thin, low-angled ice to a ledge and a 2-bolt anchor on the left.

Pitch 2 (40 m, WI3): An aesthetic pitch gains a large, comfortable ledge below the upper mixed wall. Belay at a bolt-and-pin anchor. The station at the top of pitch 1 is a bit exposed to falling ice so take care while leading.

Pitch 3 (30 m, M6+ WI5): A classic pitch of mixed climbing that moves from rock to ice to rock back to ice. The climbing is mostly bolt protected, but a few screws are needed for the upper ice. Belay at a 2-bolt anchor. With another couple of bolts, this pitch could be extended another 10 metres up the last hanging dagger.

Descent: Rappel the route. With 60-m ropes, you can bypass the station at the top of pitch 1.

Gear: Screws (including some stubbies).

Jeff Mercier and I tromp up the frozen creek on our way to Blind Date. After all, we did meet for the first time just earlier that morning. Photo: Julien Ferrandez.

Jeff bolts the first pitch. It's work but the fun kind. Photo: Julien Ferrandez.

All the same, it's a lot more fun to just climb. Photo: Julien Ferrandez.

Above the crux on the first pitch. Photo: Julien Ferrandez.

A bit later, on the third pitch, it's my turn to climb with a whole load of hardware hanging off my harness. Photo: Julien Ferrandez.

Jeff styles the third pitch. Photo: Julien Ferrandez.

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Orgasmotron, 100 m, M7+ WI5

FA: Juan Henriquez and Raphael Slawinski, February 28, 2016

This is a one-pitch variation to Blind Date. The last pitch is a must-do, a fantastic piece of mixed climbing.

Pitches 1 and 2 (60 m, M7+ WI3): Climb the first 2 pitches of Blind Date to the large, comfortable ledge. Move 10 metres right and belay at a blob of solid ice at knee height.

Pitch 3 (40 m, M7 WI5): Drytool past a bolt to a short ice flow. From its top, move up and left past more bolts into a corner and follow it to a rotten alcove. From the right side of the alcove, drytool over a roof and up smooth rock on small, well-spaced hooks. From an ice blob continue more easily to a hanging curtain. Another 10 metres of ice leads to a 2-bolt belay on the right. With another bolt or so, this pitch could be extended another 5 metres to a more comfortable ledge.

Descent: Rappel the route.

Gear: Screws (including some stubbies), up to 14 draws (including some double-length ones), a few small-to-medium Stoppers (optional).

Yours truly prepares to murder the impossible on Orgasmotron. Photo: Juan Henriquez.