Showing posts from 2019

Winter Dance

I don't have a good feel for the Fahrenheit scale but I do know that negative temperatures are cold. Down in town, the car thermometer read around twenty degrees and the early morning air felt almost balmy on my face. However, as we drove up Hyalite Canyon, it started plummeting, finally bottoming out below zero. The inside of the car was cozy but I could imagine the almost liquid chill on the other side of the glass. I know, ice climbing is supposed to be cold. But I'm soft, and especially when there's mixed climbing involved, with the attendant pulling and locking off, I like more moderate temperatures. There was nothing for it though. Between clinics on the weekend and final exams at the university later in the week, I had just today to go climbing. Sometimes it's motivating to be on a schedule, as there's no coming back another day. After twenty minutes' walking we located an old boot track heading steeply up to the left. After a few more minutes we eve

Banana Peel

Friday. Squish, squish went the windshield wipers. The mountains played hide and seek behind soggy clouds as we drove west on the TransCanada through steady rain. Other that maybe in Scotland, rain and mixed climbing don't go together well. Still, "Storm Creek's a lot higher. This'll turn to snow by the time we get up there", I said confidently. A couple of hours later we were gearing up at the base of the rock. The wall above us glistened black and wet. Even though we were now hundreds of metres above the highway, the rain continued to slash down. "Hmm, do you think these conditions are actually dangerous?" "Nah, the terrain above us is pretty steep. Not dangerous, just gross." And then the ultimate argument: "And we're already here..." Fortunately the first couple of ropelengths didn't involve any ice, just snowed up, slippery rock. Halfway up the second pitch I took off my gloves to wring them out. Then I


Next month will be twenty-four years since I first climbed the north face of Athabasca. There are far bigger and harder ice faces in the Rockies, but that particular shield of snow and ice, capped by a layered cake of rotten limestone, has got to be the most classic. The glacier-draped north aspect of the peak adorns countless postcards, but the view of it driving south on the Parkway is no less sublime for that.  Erol Altay, with whom I took some of my first steps on vertical ice in the city-park like surroundings of Starved Rock two hours west of Chicago, had flown west for a couple of weeks. We kicked off his trip in rock shoes on Yamnuska, changed into crampons for the Ice Bulge on the north face of Fay, then headed up the Parkway intent on Athabasca. Back in 1995 Rockies’ ice faces were still a reasonable proposition in August, not the ugly, scarred things they tend to become by late summer these days.  Plastic boots and Footfangs on our feet, Pulsars in our hands, we ki

Control (aka Wilson Adventures IV: Living in Paradise)

"And walked upon the edge of no escape, And laughed I've lost control ." - Joy Division The slender thread of Living in Paradise drapes down a series of overhanging limestone bands high on the south face of Mt. Wilson. Just getting to its base is an adventure, requiring either climbing a route through the lower cliffs, or making a long traverse across steep snow slopes above those cliffs. When I climbed it almost ten years ago with Eamonn Walsh , we opted for the traverse. Even though we had a memorable day, carrying on over the summit ridge and down Lady Wilson's Cleavage, the sideways start was a niggling imperfection. Ever since then I'd wanted to return and ascend the route more directly. Then last year the Totem Pole, a rarely-formed ribbon of ice in a claustrophobic gash worn deep into the rock by running water, came in. Here was a chance to climb up Wilson's south face on nothing but pure water ice. I liked to think Guy Lacelle, with whom I

UP ice

Michigan: it’s always an adventure, even if not always of the kind you expect. Then again, if it weren’t unexpected, would it be adventure? I dozed as the plane taxied to the end of the runway and made ready to take off. It’d been a short night: the day before, we climbed pillar after pillar along Superior's shore until the sun set, skiing back on the frozen lake by the light of the full moon. Once we’d eaten and checked into a motel near the Marquette airport, it was nearly midnight. A few hours’ sleep before  Mein Herz Brennt  playing on the phone intruded on my dreams, telling me it was time to get up.  An announcement caused me to snap my lolling head upright: “This is your captain speaking. Currently MSP isn’t accepting any flights. We’re going back to the gate.” I peered through the porthole at the monochrome scene outside: snowy ground, black evergreens, a few flakes drifting down from a grey sky. But apparently the weather was less benign in Minneapolis, which was bein