I'm afraid I've let my blog slide. Not that it matters much, given how these days lengthy blog write-ups are out and insta-posts are in, but I can't help feeling a bit guilty. My excuse is that since I last wrote about Juan's and my misadventures in Hyalite, I traveled to 3 more ice climbing festivals, giving clinics and slideshows. In between these extended weekend trips, I tried to get out as much as possible back home in the Rockies. All the while, the elephant in the room was something called a full-time job. It didn't leave much time for blogging. A matter of priorities, I suppose.
To begin catching up, I thought I'd start by going back to last December, and the story of an abandoned mixed project. Tom Ballard was in the Rockies for a few weeks, living up to his reputation as one of the strongest winter climbers around. After we made plans to go climbing, I tried to think of something that would keep young Tom amused. An unrepeated Simon Anthamatten-Ueli Steck route seemed like a good choice, at least the night before. Unfortunately I got up uncharacteristically early, and dawn was still a ways off when we pulled off the Icefields Parkway opposite the route. I wasn't sure it was actually in, so between the prospect of festering in the car until it got light, and all the fresh snow blowing around, I suggested driving on toward Plan B instead.
Years ago (and we're talking about the past millennium here), Kefira Allen, one of the pioneers of multi-pitch M-climbing in the Rockies, invited me to check out hers and Dave Thomson's latest project. Nightcrawler, as they were calling it, connected two ice pillars by climbing out stacked rock roofs on a sunny cliff band on Mt. Wilson. Sporting leashes and 3-ply Goretex, somehow I managed to hold on and scratch my way up the crux pitch without falling. I lowered off and we headed down. I don't believe Kefira and Dave ever went back. Almost 20 years later, as Tom and I sat by the side of a snowy Icefields Parkway, I remembered the long-abandoned line.
I wasn't sure if Kefira and Dave ever finished bolting their project so just in case, in addition to ropes, screws and draws, we also dragged a full rock rack and a power drill up the rolling ice of Midnight Rambler. As it turned out, we'd be taking most of that technology for a walk.
"Mind if I try for the onsight on the first pitch?" Tom asked. Wishing to be a gracious host - and having done it before - I made ready to belay. A few minutes later Tom was alternating hands on a tool, feet pasted below a roof. He'd reach up to what seemed like a likely edge, then, disappointed, sink back down again. Eventually, with a grunt and a curse, he uttered the dreaded word: "Take!" Understandably, he wanted to lower off and try again, but having dragged the drill all this way, I insisted we continue and check out the second pitch. It was a pleasant surprise to find that, other than having to cut out strands of old rope stiff with age, dust and ultraviolet, the second pitch was all rigged and ready to go. After rapping off, we even each had time for another burn on the crux first pitch.
"What do you think, Tom, M8?"
"I never miss an onsight on an M8."
"OK, M8+, then."
Yours truly scrambles up Midnight Rambler, with the broken-off dagger of Stairway to Heaven looming above. Stairway to Heaven gains the ice from the left, Tupperware Tea Party from the right. Both routes start up a short pillar that can only be seen when you're almost standing at its foot. Photo: Tom Ballard.
Tom Ballard locks off to gain the initial ice, which never seems to quite touch down.
Both Stairway to Heaven and Tupperware Tea Party have optional belays just above the ice (on the left and right, respectively), but with a few long slings, both are easily skipped. And after all, who wants to climb 20-metre pitches when you can climb 40-metre ones?
While Stairway to Heaven skirts the roofs on the left, Tupperware Tea Party tackles them more or less directly. A mess of old fixed rope hangs above Tom's head, a reminder of the heady late 1990s, the early days of M-climbing in the Rockies.
The crux first pitch of Tupperware Tea Party (if you skip the optional belay, that is) isn't steep enough to be tempted by the dark arts of figure-4s and 9s, but steep enough that keeping your feet on takes some body tension.
The second pitch is much easier, but without it the route would be just a masturbatory exercise in drytooling. Instead, you get to swing over to a gravity-defying dagger. Photo: Tom Ballard.
From the top of the route you get a front-row view of the upper cliffs of Mt. Wilson, with the slender threads of Suntori (on the left) and Living in Paradise (on the right). But those are stories for another time (Wilson Adventures II and IV, if I get around to telling them).
The rappel from a v-thread just above where the hanging ice attaches to the rock is an exhilarating affair, especially as you swing in and out of the water streaming from the lip of the ice.
Tupperware Tea Party, 90 m, M8+ WI5
FFA: Tom Ballard and Raphael Slawinski, December 14, 2017
This is an old Kefira Allen and Dave Thomson project. It climbs the right side of the hanging ice on Stairway to Heaven. I believe Kefira and Dave were calling their project Nightcrawler, I hope they wouldn't mind Tom and me renaming it. Given Dave's and Tom's English origins, the tea-themed name seemed more appropriate.
Approach as for Stairway to Heaven by climbing Midnight Rambler (WI3). The only gear needed for Tupperware Tea Party is a bunch of quickdraws (including some long slings) and a handful of screws, though some small-to medium cams (purple to red Calamot, say), can be useful to protect the transition to the ice on the second pitch.
Pitch 1: 40 m, M8+ WI4+: Climb a stubby pillar, which often doesn't quite reach the ground. From its top, trend right past an optional belay station to a series of stacked roofs. Lock off and reach through these to gain a good stance at a foot ledge. Judicious use of long slings keeps the rope drag reasonable.
Pitch 2: 50 m, M5+, WI5: Step left from the belay and follow the line of bolts to where you can bust left toward the hanging ice. Climb vertical ice to where it kicks back to a mellow gully. Belay from ice screws, trees up and left, or bolts on a ledge on the right.
To descend, make a short rappel to the lowest reasonable stance on the ice, then a long one (2 x 60 m) to the ground.