Sunday, 6 December 2015

Now You See it, Now You Don't.

Notice the blue rope tied around the snowy pillar.
“Do you think we should untie the anchor from the pillar?”

“Hey Alik, the pillar's unsupported at the bottom”

A few taps and Alik manages to reduce the foot wide pillar to a dagger. Chris and I are sandwiched into a tiny alcove behind the most solid ice we have seen yet on the route. I glance around and take in two tied off knifeblades, a small C3 cam with one of its three lobes fully expanded, and the ropes tied around the now freehanging dagger. I try not to portray my concern, but I'm looking around for gear. The simplest way to escape the consequences of the dagger peeling off and loading the anchor is to untie. It's only the second time I can remember doing so when unhappy with how we are all anchored to the mountain. We're 5 pitches up the unrepeated mixed route Zeitgeist, and I figure my chances are better just huddling in this little alcove while Chris and Alik figure out what they're going to do next.

WI4 usually implies some ice.  Are we in the right place? It's storming, why are we here?

We'd started the first pitch in the dark. The route description says it's WI4, but Alik only finds slick waterworn quartzite, which makes for slow movement.We're not sure if we are in the right place as we skied in to Taylor Lake at 4:30 a.m., but when we all regroup we are at two fixed nuts.

150 meters of bottomless snow excavating makes me insanely sweaty. Have you ever been in a gully where it is easier to drytool the sides and campus your legs out of the snow that to try to break trail up the slope? Above Chris gets an easy looking ice lead, which turns out to be unconsolidated, narrow, and tricky.

Why does ice always look so easy while belaying?
“I wanted more gear, it just wasn't there”.

The Scottish snice gully.
The same is no doubt true of the anchor.

Tap tap at the pillar/dagger.
I never know how to react in these situations. Am I just overly worried? Untying the loop around the dagger is definitely a good start though. How much does a foot round tube of ice 5 feet high weigh? Would two tied off pins and a tipped out micro cam hold that impact? Why is it Alik is so calm about the situation?

Alik spots a cam in a crack just above the anchor, and asks if we've investigated. We had discounted it as it's got ice and munge in it, which is typical of limestone cracks on alpine routes. I can only speak for myself, but once one of the lead lines is running through it everything seems a bit more reasonable.

Spot the difference.
A light swing at the top of the dagger, a body height above the belay ledge. And it's gone down the gully. About the size of a falling climber's body, but seems more dense.  Good thing we untied that loop of rope that was around it. Alik is not at all flustered. Something about soloing A4 in Yosemite when you are 15, calms the nerves. He does a great job of stemming the steep moves out of the cave. I try to talk myself down after the dagger debacle. I tie back in to my end of the rope.
Route description says, "Drytool around pillar". Not an issue now.
By my lead on the next pitch I've begun to clue in to the fact that the ice is not as fat as when Rob and Steve put the route up. Alik tries to talk me into going up a thin veneer which follows the path of first ascent. After unconsciously considering his risk tolerance and mine, I decide to go for a steeper chimney system which promises protection. It's 3 pm, we've already mentioned that we are not going to make it up the route today, so I don't even care if it takes me off route. I jam myself hard into the corner, determined to make myself feel secure on the pitch.

The route description says to go up the "ice" in the corner in the left of the photo.  I had had enough of trying our luck.

View of the same pitch on the first ascent.

From the comfort of my living room I reconsider the day. On Rob's old blog I see a photo of the ice on the crux pitch, described as WI5. It is, no surprise, fatter than when we were below it. His blog also reminds me that he is a strong and bold climber. I'm glad I decided to give it a pass. We turned around just below the photographer's viewpoint. We didn't make it up the route, but I feel some “good learning” took place.

Maybe I was making myself overly secure in the chimney.  

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