Showing posts from 2010

"... and keep your heels down!"

A lot of factors contribute to competent ice climbing, such as technique, endurance and boldness. None of these comes easily, at least not to me. But something else that's key to efficient ice climbing is having one's systems dialed - and that's a bit easier to come by. Over the years I've developed my own set of habits that serve me well when venturing out into the cold. They are all rather self-evident, but maybe you will find one or two of them useful. In no particular order: For a full ice-climbing day I typically bring three pairs of gloves: thin ones for approaching, a favourite pair for climbing, and thick ones for belaying. That makes for two pairs on the climb. I clip the belay gloves to the back of my harness while climbing and change into them at belays, while the climbing gloves go deep inside my clothes to stay warm for the next pitch. Count on your approach gloves getting wet. If the approach is over an hour or so, I bring a spare pair of socks to change

Just ice climbing

I must be easily amused. I have been ice climbing for nearly twenty years, racking up forty or fifty days in an average season. Yet somehow, I am still not bored of it. What is it about climbing ice that holds my interest? After all, it is cold, repetitive, and let's face it, mostly easy. Take yesterday, for example. We climbed the Replicant for what was my seventh time. We got up early. We drove, biked and hiked for several hours just to get to the base of the route. We got screaming barfies and ice-cream headaches. Then we retraced our steps to go home. Why go to all that trouble just to climb two pitches? I suspect the day I require an answer to that question to get me out of bed at an uncivilized hour will be the day I stop ice climbing. But for now, I hope the photos below provide enough of an answer. The Trophy Wall on Mt. Rundle. How much more compelling can climbing lines get? Barry Blanchard and Steve Holeczi trying to avoid a windslab in the grey light of dawn, with t

Faux Alpinism

What is alpine climbing, exactly? At what point is one no longer just rock or ice climbing, but alpine climbing? For me, it comes down to a number of things. Any one of them does not make an outing alpine; rather, a few combine to push one over the threshold and into the alpine. In no particular order, here are some things that help make alpinism what it is: Slogging. Most alpine climbing, especially in the Rockies, requires some. Slogging up the east face of Mt. Alberta in the winter of 2005 . Photo: Scott Semple. Heavy packs. Sure, sometimes you get away with a daypack, but most alpine-climbing packs make you wish you'd never picked them up. Climbing with an overnight pack on the Dogleg Couloir on Mt. Chephren in the winter of 2008 . Photo: Pierre Darbellay. Summits. Not all alpine outings have to end on a summit, but they should at least pretend to try. This often involves slogging (see above) past the end of so-called difficulties. "Past the difficulties" on the D


My friend Ian Welsted has a rule of thumb about -15 C being the cutoff temperature for getting on interesting ice. It sounds arbitrary, but is actually amazingly spot on. Any colder than that and already fragile chandeliers turn into brittle crystal, smooth curtains into armour plate, and one's extremities into useless clubs. Of course like most rules, this one has exceptions to it. If the sun is shining, then even -30 C can feel downright reasonable. Just make sure to be down from the climb when it dips below the horizon. Ian pushing the temperature envelope while looking for a new way onto the ephemeral ice of French Toast on the Stanley Headwall. By the time we had rappelled off, the forecast storm had moved in, bringing cold, wind, and snow, and turning the usually casual walk off into a bit of an epic. That's more like it. Ian on a much more pleasant day, attempting a new route on the wall left of Polar Circus. We made the mistake of naming the unclimbed line Polish

Of wild wind, wild cats and wild men

Over the years I have shared many fine adventures with my friend Eamonn. Lately a few common threads seem to run through these outings: virgin ice, early starts, long approaches, and sandblasting spindrift. Last Saturday was no exception. Eamonn enjoying a brief windless interlude... ... that of course was too good to last. A fine position on the edge of the range. At times the wind was so strong (gusts of over 160 km/h were recorded on ridge tops), the spindrift did not even make it down. On the approach we followed the tracks of a mountain lion. A fondness for ice climbing and good looks seem to go together. Photo: Eamonn Walsh.

Mt. Cromwell

Thanksgiving weekend had whetted my appetite for alpine climbing, so Josh Lavigne and I made plans to get out again the following weekend (can you tell I am a weekend warrior?). I tried to think of something I had not done before, but that was not so far from the road that it would not fit into a regular weekend. In the end we came up with the Elzinga-Miller route on the north face of Mt. Cromwell. The north face of Cromwell from the Icefields Parkway. This would be my second trip up the north face. Ten years ago Jim Sevigny, my alpine mentor, and I walked up Woolley Creek in early September to attempt the Robinson-Arbic. The weather was far from splitter: a light drizzle fell as we waded across the Sunwapta River and low-lying cloud hid the face, so that we had to sit on our packs and wait for a couple of hours before we could even see the start of the route. The face looked to be in great shape, with white streaks coming down all over the place, but upon closer inspection the whit