Thursday, November 1, 2018

Wilson Adventures III: The Bride of Frankenstein

Winter seemed to come early to the Rockies this year. Late September and early October, instead of yellow aspen leaves and flawless blue skies, brought deep snow all the way down to the valley bottoms and the plains further east. After some grumbling over the premature ends of both the rock and alpine-climbing seasons, I reluctantly embraced the wet cold. I went drytooling long before I would normally consider it socially acceptable; I ventured up the guts of a chimney I wouldn't have given a second thought to in better weather; I even swung tools into freshly formed ice, the earliest I'd done so in a quarter century of climbing ice in the Rockies.

I felt almost disappointed when warm sunshine returned, melting the snow and ice and drying the rock. While in cold, shady corners choss remained solidly frozen, it seemed perverse to make winter longer than it is already. Hanging up freshly sharpened and already dulled ice tools for at least another week or two, I hiked up to Bellavista to touch rock with bare hands again. But I expect it won't be long before winter comes back to the Rockies. While waiting for it to arrive here for good, here's the story of another Mt. Wilson adventure from last winter.


January 2017. I knew it was a bad sign when, stopping to pee along the side of the Icefields Parkway, I couldn't wait to get back inside the warm car. But after getting up at four and driving for three hours, not going climbing wasn't an option. Wearing nearly every layer we had, Juan and I started crunching up Lady Wilson's Cleavage.

Less than two hours later, we rounded the corner into the amphitheatre that held the line of our desire. An ancient fixed rope swung forlornly from below the broken dagger at the top of the cliff - likely a relic from Kefira Allen and Dave Thompson, early M-climbing pioneers. A more immediate concern, however, was the frigid blue shade that still pervaded the amphitheatre. Unable to wrap our minds around climbing overhanging rock and ice in arctic temperatures, we walked a hundred metres down the hill to sit in the sun and drink hot tea. Finally, sometime around noon, the sun swung around and lit up the base of the cliff, and we started climbing.

By late afternoon we managed to frig our way up two and a half pitches, where we connected with a line of bolts with that old fixed rope clove-hitched into. Cutting off the bleached cord, we headed down satisfied with with a good day's work.


December 2017. With the dots connected, we figured that all that was left was sending the route. And rather than hiking around the bottom cliff band as we'd done the first time, we thought we might as well add more climbing to the day and start up the the rarely-formed pillar of Skinny Puppy.

The pillar went well enough, even if it left Juan soaked to the skin as he hung on to place screws in the midst of a lively shower. At least the day was pleasantly mild. It was as we walked up the snow gully to the base of our project that I grew worried. Where before we skirted the hanging ice on the short first pitch via its right margin, now unsupported daggers and umbrellas overhung the climbing line. The few bolts on the pitch wouldn't do much good if the ice collapsed with the rope running under its lip. But the alternative was not climbing, and we'd gotten up so early and driven so far...

In the end we got up the hanging ice on the first pitch and the overhanging choss on the second, but the stacked roofs on the third spelt an end to the redpoint attempt. We'd have to return for a third visit to the still unnamed project.

The Bride of Frankenstein from the Icefields Parkway. The route starts up an out-of sight smear left of the obvious flow and climbs overhanging rock to the broken dagger.

Juan climbs a very wet Skinny Puppy. When formed, this short pillar makes for a direct start to the route.

A frontal view of the Bride of Frankenstein from the gully below.

Yours truly starts up the second pitch, a chossy but fun piece of drytooling. Photo: Juan Henriquez.

Juan mixes it up near the top of the second pitch.


February 2018. Juan had already made other plans, so I convinced Landon it'd be fun to wake up early and drive for hours to spend a day scratching up a few scruffy pitches. What I didn't count on was how much it had snowed since December. Halfway across the traverse from Lady Wilson's Cleavage, we found ourselves wading waist and sometimes chest-deep through unconsolidated facets. Wet, frustrated, pulling ourselves up by pine branches, more than once we nearly aborted what seemed increasingly like an exercise in futility. But eventually we managed to plough our way to the base of the rock band, where the snow didn't lie as deep.

On the plus side, the hanging ice on the first pitch that had so concerned me in December had collapsed, and no longer threatened to pull the unlucky climber off before crushing him. I did have to hangdog my way up the crux third pitch to remember the sequences, but after that it went down, helped by a power scream or two.

With the approach having taken longer than expected, by the time we both stood atop the third pitch the sun was getting low over the Divide peaks across the Icefields Parkway. Not wanting to selfishly force Landon to rappel in the dark, I suggested we head down. But he wouldn't have any of it: "You don't want to have to come back another time, do you?" And so I set off on the last pitch, clipping a couple of Dave's old bolts, twisting an upside-down screw into the underside of the broken dagger, and then running it out on smooth ice above.

As we walked down through a starlit winter's night, we tried to think of a good name for the route. In the end, with it being a mirror image of Mixed Monster across the Cleavage, The Bride of Frankenstein seemed appropriate.

Sporting my trademark alligator suit (at least a trademark for last winter), I enjoy some three-dimensional climbing on the first pitch...

... and try not to break any edges on the second. Photos: Landon Thompson.

Landon Thompson in full sun on the second pitch...

... and yours truly on the crux third one. Photo: Landon Thompson.

As daylight fades, I snag the ice on the fourth and final pitch. Photo: Landon Thompson.

Back on the Icefields Parkway, as we pack up the car, a curious fox checks us out. Photo: Landon Thompson.


The Bride of Frankenstein, 100 m, M8+
FA: Juan Henriquez, Raphael Slawinski and Landon Thompson, winter 2018.

The route is found on Mt. Wilson on the same cliff band as Mixed Monster. Look right of Lady Wilson's Cleavage: The Bride of Frankenstein is the first obvious icicle (Stairway to Heaven being the next one). Approach up the Cleavage, then up a narrow avalanche chute to the base of the rock, which is contoured to the route. The approach takes around 2 hours, more or less depending on snow conditions.

Pitch 1 (20 m, M5). Clip a few bolts on the right side of the hanging ice. A 2-bolt belay is on the left side of the ice ledge above. Beware of collapsing daggers.
Pitch 2 (30 m, M7). Step right and up from the belay into a short left-facing corner. Above, trend up and right to a final hard pull getting onto a good ledge with a 2-bolt belay. A small rack of C4s from 0.3 to 2 is needed to supplement the bolts on this pitch.
Pitch 3 (20 m, M8+). Increasingly powerful pulls past a bunch of bolts lead to a 3-bolt belay below the final dagger.
Pitch 4 (30 m, M6+). Some drytooling past a couple of bolts (a 0.75 C4 might be useful at the start) gains the snapped-off dagger. Turn the ice roof on the left and climb it to the top. If the dagger hasn't broken yet, it might be possible to step onto ice straight from the belay.

To descend, rappel the fourth pitch back to the station below it. From this station (i.e. the station atop the third pitch) a double 70-m rappel (and maybe even a 60-m one) reaches the ground.

Happy Day of the Dead!