Thursday, March 2, 2017

Field follies, part I: Lone Pine

I don't know about you, but I find my climbing comes in waves. When I'm into sport climbing, all I want to do is session rock. When I'm into ice, all I want to do is swing tools. As a result, sometimes I have a hard time switching gears as the seasons change, and keep crimping with frozen fingers into November, or keep seeking out ice in high, shady places into May. I'm prone to a similar obsessiveness when it comes to where I climb. I won't visit a particular crag or valley for years, then on a whim I'll go there, see all the potential, and for the next few weeks go nowhere else. Take the polar pit that is Field, for example. I hadn't climbed there for years other than an occasional plan B, but now my last five outings have all been there, and I don't think I'm done with the place yet.

Lone Pine

The great Isaac Newton was an anti-Trinitarian. A what, you ask? In case you've forgotten your Catholic catechism, the doctrine of the Trinity is central to Christian mythology. It says that the one God is in fact three: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three are distinct but are one substance. Newton thought all this fancy talk was just thinly veiled polytheism, and (privately!) took the heretical view that the Father was in fact the main man.

That's all very interesting in an obscure historical way, you might say, but what do convoluted theological arguments have to do with ice climbing? Bear with me.

There once was rock corner (a left-facing one if you want to be precise). Water dribbled downed it, and in winter the water turned to ice. Some winters there was less ice and and it just hung in space from the lip of a roof, others there was more and it'd connect with the ledge below in a skinny pillar. It was in one of the leaner winters, in February of 1998, that Allan Massin and Steve Pratt, a couple of local climbers, came and climbed the corner. Because the ice over the roof didn't connect with the ledge, and because drytooling hadn't been officially invented yet, they used some old-fashioned aid climbing to get up the rocky bits. As climbers do on the occasion of being the first ones up a piece of mountainside, they gave the corner a name, calling it Lone Pine in honour of a tree leaning out over the top.

A couple of winters later more water flowed down the corner, and a chandeliered pillar formed over the roof. Another couple of local climbers, Greg Tkaczuk and Eamonn Walsh, came along in December of 1999. They climbed the skinny pillar covering the rock where Massin and Pratt had hung from bits of metal, and continued to the eponymous pine tree at the top. They called their version of the corner Littlest Hobo.

Fast forward to February of 2017. Golden local and social commentator Ian Welsted enticed Okanagan organic farmer Willis Brown and Calgary physics professor Raphael Slawinski to check out a radical new line. And radical it looked, with daggers hanging menacingly from a rock roof. It all looked menacing enough that Slawinski was cowed into hanging from bits of metal hammered into cracks to hammer more bits of metal into cracks. But, being a sport climber at heart, he then lowered off and pulled the rope. They then took turns pinkpointing the rock and ice now adorned with many quickdraws.

While postholing through isothermal snow on the way down, they amused themselves by thinking up clever names for what they had just climbed. In the end, in honour of the alcohol theme of the valley and of Slawinski's Polish heritage, they settled on Wyborowa Exquisite. But a few days later, while idly leafing through Sean Isaac's Mixed Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, Slawinski came across the description of an obscure climb called Lone Pine. While there was no photo, the approach and route sounded suspiciously like what he'd just climbed. His suspicion was confirmed when he sent Walsh some photos of the day.

"That's Lone Pine alright, except we had an ice pillar where you were dry-tooling through that overhang", Walsh wrote back.

And so we come return to the idea of the Trinity. There were after all three climbs: a rock aid-climb, a more or less pure ice climb, and an exercise in drytooling. And yet, while distinct, they were the same substance. Or, like all those theologians, am I just splitting non-existent hairs?

Summary of statistics: The umpteenth ascent of Lone Pine, but the first one by a social commentator from Golden, an organic farmer from the Okanagan and a physics professor from Calgary. Also, maybe the first free ascent of the original aid-climbing line. To encourage others to also enjoy the climb, we left our pitons fixed, so all you need is a handful of screws of all lengths and a few cams to gold Camalot.

Willis Brown starts up the first pitch of Lone Pine, with the daggers of the second pitch dangling overhead.

Willis Brown embarks on a pinkpoint (technically, a beta flash) of the second pitch.

The moves may be the same, but there's a certain difference between hopping on a hanging dagger with your last piece a Lost Arrow rather than a fat bolt.

Willis Brown traverses into the forest, with the famous (?) pine tree peering down at him.

So much to do... Mt. Stephen across the Kicking Horse River from Mt. Field.

The rimed summit block of Mt. Stephen. With a crappier-than-usual snowpack, summits have seemed especially remote and aloof this winter.

No comments:

Post a Comment