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Back on the Sharp End

After a Fall in the Mountains

By William Bevans

I climbed smoothly and efficiently through the initial ice bulges on what started out as a bumpy cauliflower pitch of AI3.  Not long into my lead on the first technical pitch, I came to a small ledge and took that opportunity to shake my arms out and rest while I looked up for the line of least resistance.  It was early morning and the sun just peeked over the horizon.  I was perched on the beautiful and tough East Face of Mt. Kidd in the northern Canadian Rockies.  The air was dry and cold.  Light winds raked the face with snow that had fallen from the prior day.  The feeling of being an climber high up on such an amazing line in that setting was a very visceral experience.  With my thoughts collected and a small recharge of energy, I moved off the ledge and into a small chimney.  I worked the chimney with a series of stems, being content and focused in the moment; finding comfort in the noise of clanging metal from a full rack of screws and ice tools.  I laid solid foot placements with my mono-points, working the cracked limestone well, continuing to move well and without issue; and then suddenly, it just happened.  I looked down and saw I was quite a distance from my last piece; I then looked up at the remainder of the chimney. It looked grim.  What began as good, solid ice thinned into a translucent coating frozen to the rock; verglas.  I could see the green lichen underneath the clear coat.  Nothing was protectable.  I had one leg loaded onto a mono point, my other leg fully extended keeping my stem position. I knew I couldn’t hold it for much longer and I knew I couldn’t down climb.  

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It’s coming.  Soon it will be the end of October.  The sky will be getting dark early, the air will be crisp and we will be waking up to frost all over everything.  This combination sparks New England climbers to morph and begin preparing for the ice season ahead.  Whatever we did all summer will slowly go to the wayside; we’ll begin scouting cliffs, sharpening our metal, pouring over weather maps and waiting for that steady spell of cold. The winter climbing community will awaken from months of slumber to make trips into the high ravines to see if Pinnacle Gully is in or wait to see who is brave enough to scrap the Black Dike first.  Shortly, most of us will be sitting at our 9-5 and get that text from our partner, “You think it’s in? You wanna go?” The beginning of many of our weekend or midweek warrior epics will be here before you know it.  


Last season, I saw some amazing climbing feats go down; ones that I wish I could have been a part of but ultimately decided I couldn’t be.  It was never easy to volley the text back to my partner and admit my truth: “Sorry, just not feeling it.” or “I just can’t do it.”  That was the first winter in over two decades of climbing where I had to turn down a number of trips.  I knew I didn’t possess the head game required to climb at those high levels.    

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East Face of Mt Kidd, Alberta, Canadian Rockies

East Face of Mt Kidd, Alberta, Canadian Rockies

It was November 2016.  We were in the Canadian Rockies.  The season was still young, and like any of us, I was trying to shake out the cobwebs and get on some good pumpy alpine ice.  In the Can Rocks, it’s imaginably cold, there isn’t much daylight, the approaches are long, the mountain weather is serious, the terrain is highly technical and the climbing is tough as shit.  You can easily see why climbers that hail from this region are absolute beasts.  We drove along the dark, cold and snowy I-93 Icefield Parkway just outside Banff.  It was some obscure hour in the morning and a natural silence filled our drive.  On our docket was the East Face of Mt. Kidd, which may only have seen one successful winter ascent.  I found myself trying to get my head straight.  ‘Am I gonna be ok? Am I fit enough? Am I really prepared on all fronts to bivy a night out if need be?  What the fuck am I actually doing here?  Why am I not surfing in Costa? How bad do I really want this? Does this just sound like a good, bad idea?’  I found myself waging the proverbial alpine war, asking myself the tough questions I rather just avoid.  You don’t know what’s coming.  You don’t even know if it is climbable.  You basically have to be as fit as possible and try to battle up it first go the best you can.

“I was surrounded by verglas and caught tight inside this chimney.  My eyes moved over every inch of rock and ice as tried to make sense of every possible move sequence I could commit to until I was in a spot of safety.”

Questions unanswered, I began the approach with my partner, working as smartly and efficiently as we could, as there wasn’t much in the way of a trail.  It was dark and still very cold out.  No matter how much we tried to keep our packs light, they still felt heavy.  My body was trying to acclimate to the aches of climbing after a long summer of surfing.  Moving along, we tried to make sense of a path by connecting obscure recesses of dirt between patches of fresh snow.  I knew if we just got off the trail a little bit, it would set our game off and we’d start doubting things.  The calm pre-dawn was interrupted suddenly by an avalanche barreling down the south face of Kidd.  Although there was nothing to be seen, the sound was unmistakable.  It took a minute, but we shook it off and started moving again.  We crossed glacial fed creeks, and trekked in the forest along beautiful, massive cedars and larches as the smell of fresh pine filled the air.  We started to feel our engagement in this mission come to life.  Our senses filled with adventure and peace from the natural beauty around us.  Once the light broke, we found ourselves greeted by the intimidating East Face towering over us in full winter ware.  The approach was behind us, and it was time to get real as we started the technical terrain.      

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Climbing light ice in Mt. Blaine Canyon

Climbing light ice in Mt. Blaine Canyon

As climbers, we are interested in the grades or ratings of our climbs for they allow us to gauge our ability and give us a somewhat quantitative measure in our advances.  We also want to get better and climb harder.  Like many young budding ice climbers, I was quick to work up to WI3s and 4s but truth be told it would be many years, hundreds of routes and countless hard lessons before I climbed into the next realm of WI5.  Any climber can attest that between these two grades, the parameters change significantly and I would certainly attest that the head scare factor significantly increases in that jump.  Being a good climber is one thing; we all know those who climb well have skill, sound technique, and usually an above average degree of fitness.  But what does it actually take to climb larger objectives with significant difficulties?  Arguably, a climber’s mental strength and conditioning is usually the single most important factor in their potential and their capacity to be successful on advanced difficult climbs.   The training regimen or composition of what makes a mentally strong alpinist is not completely understood or it is esoteric at best.  A climber with advanced mental conditioning who has committed to creating a bulletproof head is capable of solving complex problems while staying task focused, operating in pretty terrifying conditions all while remaining calm.

 

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I was surrounded by verglas and caught tight inside this chimney.  My eyes moved over every inch of rock and ice as tried to make sense of every possible move sequence I could commit to until I was in a spot of safety.  Committing, I went for the “do or die” move. Then, I caught a little spindrift and goofed my placements.  I remember hearing metal clang all over like wind chimes while I fell.  Several meters of air time passed me by before I bounced off my rest ledge crushing my shoulder.  The ledge slowed my fall, but I continued down another 10 meters until I finally, just stopped falling.  Hanging there, I remember doing a quick motor drill like, move toes, move fingers, blink, blink, you good? I’m good. I’m good!  No major injuries, a few cuts and the adrenaline flowing hard.  Now what?  Head game damaged, ego beat up a bit and feeling a little humble, I pick myself up and my partner and I limped it back out to the car.  Hiking out, I began thinking of the consequences should things have ended up worse.  What if I couldn’t walk out?  What if this? What if that?

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Mental conditioning could be the single most difficult trait for a climber to improve on.  This is especially true after a serious accident, as our climbing psyche can be left damaged, weak or fragile.  This is the side of alpinism that we tend to glance over; the psychological and the mental strength dimension of being a climber and specifically, getting back on the sharp end of the rope after an accident.  Sometimes our egos get in the way and we don’t talk through those issues.  I didn’t really know the extent of how was I affected by my fall until I went climbing in Mt. Blaine Canyon the next day.  I get in, everything is looking good; nice grade 3 cruiser.  I hop on, start climbing and a few feet up it all starts coming back. I fire in a screw and signal to my partner, “Just lower me.”  This would be my head for most of the remainder of the season.  At this point, after so many years, countless trips, expeditions, big walls, alpine assaults, and high altitude objectives where I enjoyed the complex head game of being an alpinist, the incredible focus climbing gave me; it all seemed over.  After my fall, I got my first taste in what it is like to have lost my head game.

“Years later, I still remember that day vividly and respectfully consider it one of the most important lessons I have ever learned; acknowledging and respecting where your head is while climbing.”
How do you get your mental game back once you feel it slipping away? A few days later, right across the way from my mishap, in Ghost River Valley, a local climber fell 40 meters on the climb Kemosabe (W4).  Luckily his partner, a physician, was able to  stabilize him to the best of his ability and initiate a cooperative air rescue.  I was deeply moved by this accident as a 40 meter fall is no joke and it was close in time and location to where I fell.  He and I stayed in contact throughout the year and we spoke recently about re-evaluating how much risk we are willing to put into climbing.  We discussed how similarly our paths forward would be; focusing on moderate climbing with much less emphasis on difficult routes and naturally working back up into difficult routes down the road.  Climbing used to be a major part of who I am and a significant priority in my life but as I approach this upcoming season, I’m seeking a healthier balance.  I need to acknowledge that I recently kissed the edge of what could have been a much more serious accident.  As for retraining the mental strength required to climb such lines, a good start for me is not forcing anything and to trust the natural process.

Rescue on Kemosabe

Rescue on Kemosabe. Courtesy of Kananaskis Country Public Safety Section Rescue

An incident that touched closer to home was when highly respected and accomplished Adirondack guide Matt Horner took a serious 20 meter fall last winter shattering several bones in his face.  Matt has rebounded quickly and in recent conversation stated he is eager to get back on the ice anticipating only minor tweaks in his game like placing more pro, climbing more cautiously but ultimately no major plans but to go with the flow.  

The first major incident where I witnessed a partner lose his head game was a few years ago on an expedition.  My partner was an accomplished climber, having ascents on several of the world’s great difficult lines.  He is humble, smart, fit and was destined to be a natural and successful leader on our climb.  We climbed together for a solid month and I believed we would work seamlessly together to succeed in our upcoming trip.  After so much work and several weeks on the go, we finally made it to base camp and we were ready to climb.  In Himalayan expedition climbing it is mandatory to complete paperwork regarding the disposal of your body should an accident occur resulting in death.  It’s actually quite a head trip to fill out.  As we stood staring at the 7,000-meter Himalayan beast in the face, he simply said to us that this wasn’t his trip and he was out.  It was the first time I saw someone back down like this, a career defining trip left to the wayside; a sixth sense telling him to walk away.  Years later, I still remember that day vividly and respectfully consider it one of the most important lessons I have ever learned; acknowledging and respecting where your head is while climbing.  

A mentor imparted on me that climbing in the mountains is really all about how much you are willing to suffer and the answer to that is all in your head.  I never really understood that until I started to put together the common themes among my trips; shivering all night in a bivy, eating tasteless gruel day after day, post hole, soul sucking marches across summit fields, being scared shitless 30 feet above your last piece,  freezing on a belay ledge and hoping your partner is down to rope gun the crux.  Anybody who has done this type II kind of climbing knows that it’s a very deep, inward experience and it’s barely as romantic as it appears on Instagram.  It is the type of grind we as climbers are proud of, that gives us character and always has us coming back for more.  Everyone has their different reasons why they climb, but our common thread is found in our processes.  No matter what discipline you climb in, no matter where in the world you climb, climbers across the world speak the same language.  You can climb anywhere in the world and most outings begin and end with striking similarity; morning coffee, catch-up on the approach, a stoked first tool placement, enjoying hard earned views and who ever guns the crux drinks for free that night.  For me, many of the toughest and grueling experiences I have been lucky to be a part of have forged the strongest relationships in my life.  The dedication to our craft arguably makes our collected commitment to alpinism one of the greatest activities in the world.  Co-workers say to me “You’re crazy doing that.” I say “You’re crazy, you watch football all day Sunday.” I really don’t know any other way so I guess crazy is all relative.  So as the saying goes “most people prefer comfort forgetting that difficulty is what actually nourishes the human spirit.”

The season is starting soon and we will all be shaking out our summer cobwebs, checking conditions, pondering where the ice is good and trying to put all of the data together to plan a good, safe outing.  For newer climbers, trust the process, stay patient and allow your learning to flow through the high and the low points.  If you come up short on a climb, don’t let it shake you, everyone has been there.  Re-think a different, smarter approach.  Learn from your mistakes and always be open to learning from others mistakes.  Alpinism is a lifelong study that never ends.  There is always something to improve upon.  Learn to trust your gut and remember that most of climbing is mental and it’s not any easy game.  Remember that everyone at one point or another has had some time where their head wasn’t in the game.  When you’re out there, be safe, check on each other, climb within your headspace, have fun and make smart calls so you can rope up and climb another day.  See you out there!

 

About the Author: William Bevans is a New England based alpinist with over 20 years of experience in the mountains.  His studies are concentrated in the area of technical alpine climbing and high altitude mountaineering.  He has completed climbs and led expeditions in the Cascades, Rockies, Alps, Himalayas, Andes and big walls in Yosemite, Zion and Mexico.  Currently he is involved in mentoring next generation alpinists and climbing the New England classics.  

 

Other articles by the Author: Layering 101

The Apex and Switch – DMM Ice Tool Review

DMM is not well known in the US. When you think of ice tools, you think Petzl, Black Diamond , Grivel and most recently Cassin, not DMM. Well once you have a look at these tools, you will start thinking about DMM.

In mid February, DMM gave NEice some of their newest ice tools to review. Since then we have tested them at Lake Willoughby, Cannon Cliff, Crawford Notch and Frankenstein cliff. We have climbed ice from 3+ to 5+ in temperatures ranging from  -5  to 45 degrees F. In all, we logged over 100 hours of climbing with these tools and they are fantastic!

The first thing you will notice about the tools is the quality. The manufacturing of these tools is some of the best I have seen. DMM has been around since 1981 and it shows in the construction and design of these fine tools.

Apex: After a few swings, the Apex felt like they had been mine for years.  – Chris Thomas 

Switch: In my 35 years of ice climbing, the Switch is the best ice tool I have ever used!  – Doug Millen

The Apex ($239)

I was lucky enough to demo pair of DMM Apex tools (thanks NEice.com). From the first time I held them I could tell that they were my next gear purchase. I’m not going to spend time on specifications, that’s what Google is for, I’m not technical enough to know why they matter. What I do know is these tools are perfect for the climbing I do and affordable enough that I’ll have new tools and enough left over to pay the tolls between me and the ice.

The first climb on the DMMs was a moderately steep pitch of 4 ice. A few swings of the Apex and I felt like they had been mine for years. The grip fit my hand well and the tool felt balanced, a little less top heavy than the Cobra. Although the shaft is straighter clearance between my hand and the ice was more than enough. The Apex felt more like the Petzl Quark then the Cobra having a different pull which you could feel in the angel of the wrist.

Bottom line… If you’ve been climbing on Vipers, Cobras. Quarks. etc. and dreaming about a more technical tool that climbs and canes even better, the DMM Apex is your next set of tools. When you consider price and performance of this tool there is no better for the majority of mere human climbers.

The Full Report .

Features

  • Hot forged, ergonomic handle
  • T Rated Integrity Construction
  • Dual hand rests for leashless climbing
  • High clearance shaft
  • Pick weights for bullet hard ice and customized balance
  • Supplied with grip tape for handle/shaft customization
  • Supplied with T Rated Ice picks as standard
  • Can be used with leashes in traditional climbing mode, but excels without leashes
  • Mixed and Ice specific picks available separately. Compact Hammer, Compact Adze, Mountain Adze (Large)

http://dmmclimbing.com/products/apex/

~Chris Thomas

 The Switch ($279)

I have used Nomics for years and I was curious about these tools.

They are slightly heavier than the Nomic but the extra weight feels good and requires less swings in hard ice. The Pick weights are included but I found I did not need them. At about 1 inch longer than the Nomic it was easier to reach for better holds. The tool is fully T rated and you will not be able to break any part of this sturdy tool. The hand grips of the Nomic feel fragile and weak in comparison to the Switch. The handle is glove friendly, hot forged ergonomic with full strength upper and lower rests. If you use different gloves in different conditions you will like this grip and big hands fit well. The coating on the handle is great, I never felt like I was slipping out, even on overhanging ice. The swing of the tool is perfect too and so natural. I am a carpenter and I know a good swinging tool when I feel it. The picks come with the perfect shape for ice or mixed climbing and are pre-tuned. I never touched the picks with a file.  The Picks go right in, and come right out, no problem,  yet they feel really sticky and secure in the ice. The Switch as it’s name implies remains in balance when switching hands on the rests.

The only concern of mine is how the coating on the handle will hold up over time. So far, so good, not even a nick.

Bottom Line…I have switched from Nomics to the Switch, and I have loved every moment of the last 6 weeks climbing with this tool. The Switch is now my tool of choice.

Features

  • Glove friendly, hot forged ergonomic handle with full strength upper and lower rests and supreme stability
  • T Rated Integrity Construction
  • Full strength clip-in point accessible from either rest
  • High clearance shaft
  • Inboard eyelet allows threading of cord for use with freedom leashes
  • Pick weights for bullet hard ice and customized balance
  • Supplied with grip tape for handle/shaft customization
  • Supplied with T Rated Ice picks as standard
  • Mixed and Ice specific picks available separately. Compact Hammer, Compact Adze, Mountain Adze (Large)

http://dmmclimbing.com/products/switch/

 A few photos of the tools

You can get them at The Mountaineer 

http://store.mountaineer.com/product_p/dmmapex.htm

http://store.mountaineer.com/product_p/dmmswitch.htm

~Doug Millen

 

An Ice Climbers Guide to the Catskill Mountains – 3rd edition

Yes, we have been waiting for this ice guide!

An Ice Climber's Guide to the Catskill Mountains, Third Edition

An Ice Climber’s Guide to the Catskill Mountains, Third Edition

An Ice Climber’s Guide to the Catskill Mountains, Third Edition
The exclusive and detailed guide to ice climbing in the Catskill Mountains of New York, by Marty Molitoris.
Third Edition Now Including:
Aerial Photos in both color and black & white
Color National Geographic Topographical Maps
Over 170 New Routes
8 New Areas!

ISBN 978-0-9747067-3-3

Retail: $29.95

For more information, please visit AnIceClimbersGuideToTheCatskillMountains.com
Pick up a copy of An Ice Climbers Guide to the Catskill Mountains at the following locations:

Rock & Snow
44 Main St
New Paltz, NY 12561
845-255-1311

www.rockandsnow.com
Alpine Endeavors – Ebay

You may also be interested in The Devil is in the Details

Astro Turf

Astro Turf (IV M9, WI 4+ R)

Lake Willoughby Vermont

FA: Matt McCormick and Josh Hurst

Josh Hurst at the roof of “Astro Turf” – Photo by Matt McCormic – +click to enlarge

On Saturday Jan 7, 2005, Josh Hurst and I climbed a new route in the central section of Mt. Pisgah. “Astro Turf” start as for Aurora about 150’ right of Super-Nova in the right facing ice/turf gully on the left side of the Star man buttress. The first 2 pitches follow Aurora.

1. Climb the 40’ right facing ice/turf gully to the big snow ledge and belay below the left facing turf and rock corner capped by a chockstone.

2. M5 – Dry tool into and up the left facing groove past one fixed pin and tunnel under the chockstone capping the groove. Belay immediately after the chockstone at the fixed nut/pin anchor.

3. M6/WI 4+R – Standing on the chockstone, dry tool left until established on the ice. There is a fixed angle and nut that can be found at the stance at the end of the traverse. The pin is reachable after stepping up immediately after the traverse. This pin may be covered in ice depending on the conditions but can be dug out against the main black wall. Once across the traverse, climb 80-90 degree thin ice for a 30-40 ft run out on to thicker ice. Climb thicker ice to the top of the ice smear and belay

4. M9 – Dry tool up into the shallow groove past 2 bolts and small cam placements. At the end of the groove, reach up and clip the bolt in the 6’ roof then pull strenuously out the roof past 2 more bolts and up the 90 degree thin ice to the ledge above.

5-6. WI 5 – Climb the center of three flows to the top as for (Starman?).

Standard rack needed plus ice screws.

Topo map of the climb

– Matt McCormick

We End Where We Start

Time to go “UP!”Gothics North Face

The ice climbing season is coming to an end and the lower elevation climbs are melting away. But for the die hard ice climber, the best climbing  is just beginning. The snow in the higher elevations is consolidating,  the nights are cold, and the days are long and warm, Spring climbing in the Alpine Zones of the Northeast is one of the best experiences an ice climber can have. Make your plans now and get out before it all melts away.

Enjoy these  recent photos from “The Zone”

Doug Millen

Scottish Ice Trip

by Petzl-sport
Scottish Icetrip – English from Petzl-sport on Vimeo.If there is one place on earth where climbers celebrate the arrival of the next snowstorm, it has to be Scotland. Each winter, pounded by the North Atlantic winds, the Scottish Highlands are covered by a layer of snow and frost at the mercy of weather conditions. Here, winter climbing has existed for more than a century, and the smell of adventure is as authentic as the whisky borne of the local peat. Climbing is done from the ground up, without bolts, and generally onsight. An introduction to the very modern ethics of Scottish mixed climbing. It’s in those condition that Ueli Steck flashed “the secret” (X, 10), the hardest climb in Ben Nevis.
See more of mountaineering videos, gear and techniques on :
http://www.petzl.com/en/outdoor/activities-techniques/mountaineering
Source: Petzl, Vimeo

Surf's Up!

“The ice swell was ON at Poko-Moonshine cliff this season, the winter of 2010- 2011. My friends Matt Horner, Matt McCormick, and Bayard Russell pioneered an amazing new mixed line just right of the Jeff Lowe test-piece, Gorillas in the Mist. Only one pitch remained to finish Endangered Species to the top of the cliff… and Kevin Mahoney was psyched…” – Freddie Wilkinson

Source: Vimeo, Freddie Wilkinson

Quand l'Diable s'en Mêle

59D_Quand_l_Diable_s_en_m_le_MP

Marc Paquet dancing his way up on the St-Laurence north shore near La Malbaie, Quebec. Photo by “pathbeaudet”

Spray Ice, Quick Report

PONDELLA__HELMCKEN__6357

“This is going out from Tim Hortons in Salmon Arm, BC. I wanted to post Pondella’s photos and some words. Yeah!”

“I am sure of little in life, but of this I am sure: The Helmcken Falls spray ice cave is absolutely the wildest, best, most insane ice climbing area I’ve ever seen.”

“The metal detector was an integral part of the rack, and will be for future ascents” – Will Gadd

Much More ….

Source: gravsports.com, Will Gadd

13th Annual Catskill Ice Festival

AE LOGOblueR&Slogo-red-clear

January 21, 22, 23 & 24

Last year was  great fun! This year again will have multiple clinics on all the skills and techniques you need to get out on ice – from basic skills, to dry-tooling, to glacier travel techniques.

Slide shows on Friday & Saturday evening featuring ice climbing in the Catskills, and a special show by Freddie Wilkinson on Friday. Slide shows will be held at Rock and Snow at 8pm. – Marty Molitoris / Alpine Endeavors

More information on this event..