Friday, December 28, 2012

The Really Big Drip and Early Ice in the Canadian Rockies

There was a lot of good early season ice this November in the Canadian Rockies.  This was especially true up on Mt Wilson near the Saskatchewan River Crossing on the Icefields Parkway.  Two seldom formed routes, Shooting Star and Dancing with Chaos, were in.  There was minimal avalanche danger with the low snow pack on a mountain that is famous for big slides later in the season.

Dancing with Chaos
 Mark Cosslett and I did both these routes on a couple of trips up there.  We stayed in the Rampart Creek Hostel that was open but empty this time of year.

Mark Cosslett Following the Second Pitch of DWC 

  I had climbed Shooting Star several years ago the last time it formed.  Like my earlier experience, the first pitch was thin and technically getting over some ice blobs at the bottom. 

First Two Pitches of Shooting Star
On my previous ascent I got to lead the free standing pillar on the third pitch which comprised the best climbing on the route.

Third Pitch of Shooting Star
This time Mark had the privilege of going first and putting the rope up for me.  Ice climbs like this are such a special treat!

Mark Cosslett Starting up the Pillar
In the Ghost River area, there is a magical place called the recital hall.  It is a natural amphitheatre that is 200 feet in diameter surrounded by 200 foot high limestone walls.  You can only access it by trekking up a gorge with some short easy ice steps and a final rope length of Grade 4 ice.  Inside there are two seldom formed ice climbs that spill into the Recital Hall to create some of the most beautiful ice formations that I have ever seen.  This year, Rainbow Serpent, a climb on the south side of the Recital Hall had formed, but the other route, Fearful Symmetry, on the north side was only partially formed.   I was with two new German friends, Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt who I met at the International Mountain Summit in the Dolomites in October.  I had climbed both these routes before, so the visitors got to lead and Matthias made quick work of it for a wonderful day out.

Matthias Scherer on Rainbow Serpent

I've always wanted to do the Really Big Drip.  Driving into the Ghost River it stares at you from the wall on the other side.  This year I heard that the lower icicle was hanging lower than usual and that the climb was in good condition.

The Really Big Drip
In mid December I headed in there with Raphael Slawinski and Juan Henríquez.  My thought was if Raphael wanted to lead that was fine and if I felt good on it I could come back later with someone else and lead some of the pitches myself.

Raphael Slawinski on the 1st Pitch of TRBD
 I felt good following the first pitch even though it was chossy rock.  Stepping onto the dagger was spectacular!  Juan pulled of a huge piece of the loose flake on the first pitch when he followed it.

Raph on TRBD
Above the dagger was a nice bolted belay on a ledge in a protected cave behind the ice.  The second pitch was ice that looked to be overhanging in one section, but were able to sneak past where the overhanging ice was offset making it much easier than it looked.

Squeezing through the Ice to the Outside of the Dagger
The third pitch kicked my ass.  It was rated M7+, but I felt that you needed to be a solid M9 climber (which I'm not) to red point it.  I ended up pulling on some of the bolts to get up and I realized I needed to be much stronger if I was going to lead it.

Raph on the Crux 3rd Pitch
Up on the Thompson Highway there is a great mixed climb called Unicorn next to the classic waterfall called Kittyhawk.

The Unicorn is the Mixed Climb left of Kittyhawk on the Right

Gery Untrasinger and I climbed The Unicorn a few days after I was on TRBD.  I led the first pitch up a technical slab then over the overhang. 

Leading the First Pitch of The Unicorn

The first crux was getting onto the ice above the overhang. 

Climbing the Second Crux
 The next crux was climbing a pillar onto a comfortable belay ledge. 

Gery Unterasinger Squeezes through on the 2nd Pitch

The final pitch benefited from the abundant ice that allowed Gery to stem his way out and through a hole in the far side of the curtain.  It was a great day on the mountains.

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