Showing posts from January, 2011

Winter, interrupted

Otto von Bismarck, the founder of the German Empire, was fond of saying that "The less people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they'll sleep at night." Had the iron chancellor been an ice climber, he might have added, "and the less they know what lies above the routes they climb." It has been an interesting start to the new year. After a protracted cold spell (which, however, never saw temperatures dip below -30 C), warmer weather arrived together with long-overdue snow. The fresh snow overloaded a horrible, thin snowpack that seemed to consist mostly of depth hoar, and initiated the biggest avalanche cycle in decades. Two of the many, many slopes that went big were the ones above the Bourgeau ice climbs ( the Right Hand with a bit of help from Banff Park safety specialists ). I climbed these routes most recently last winter, when Katsutaka "Jumbo" Yokoyama and I had enjoyed a day of climbing up and down and up and down. Of course

There but for the grace of a great imaginary being go I.

I like to believe I can be in control in the mountains; that if I make all the right decisions I will come through unscathed. Sure, at times I do take calculated risks. For example in 2006 three friends and I traveled to Pakistan to attempt the southwest face of unclimbed Kunyang Chhish East (ca. 7400 m). The face is both huge (it rises two and a half vertical kilometres from the glacier) and beautiful (a subjective assessment, but I for one find it intensely compelling). I might also add dangerous, as the lower part of the face is threatened by multiple serac bands. They do not calve very often, but when they do the resulting avalanches are truly apocalyptic. A serac avalanche sweeps down the southwest face of Kunynag Chhish East. We made two ultimately unsuccessful attempts, stopped by illness the first time and by excessive heat the second. Both times we left basecamp at midnight and scrambled over giant fields of avalanche debris in the dark. Both times we retreated in daylight