Saturday, December 5, 2015

This House of Sky

We left Calgary at 6am headed for the Ghost. Because the days are so short, that meant that we spent most of the off-roading in the dark. Luckily, there was a really good road already broken through the snow, which made route finding a breeze. We stopped to check out some of the open water, but Kyle's truck had no issues with any of the creek crossings.
Scoping out the river crossing in the dark
 We left the truck at 8:20 to start up This House of Sky, a 750m WI III ice climb. The approach from took us about 10 minutes before we hit our first bit of ice. Since there were 5 of us, Matt and Kathrine went ahead as a party of two, while Alan, Kyle and I climbed together as a party of 3. Kyle had brought his 70m non-dry treated rope in hopes that dragging it around in the snow would clean it (it used to be white and green, but it is currently black), but more on that later. We were able to solo much of the ice at the beginning of the route, which allowed us to move pretty quick. It was pretty wet in places, with water running down the route, but the ice felt really solid. There has been some traffic on the route already this season, some of the lower steps had been well picked out.
Alan soloing one of the short ice steps
 We kept moving, to keep warm and stay close to Matt and Kathrine who were zooming ahead. As we moved farther up the route, we got into more of the steep ice that Kyle lead for me and Alan. It was chilly as the route is in the shade all day, but the ice was getting better and better as we ascended.
Kathrine making her way up one of the longer ice pitches
Alan actually really likes ice climbing
 We pitched out 6 of the ice pitches and soloed the rest. Most of the steep pitches had bolted anchors with brand new neon yellow webbing that was nice and easy to spot.
Matt leading one of the upper pitches
 As we got higher and higher, the rope got wetter and heavier, eventually freezing almost solid. This made belaying extremely difficult, both for a lead belay and top belay. Nobody wanted to belay, so we all had to take turns, cursing the rope the whole time.
Frozen ropes and belay devices add an extra level of difficulty to climbing - trying to take up slack for Alan
 We reached the top of This House of Sky just before noon. We had a break for lunch and looked at the ice in the bowl above. There was an awesome pitch way up there, but we weren't sure if we would be able to get to it. We started up the valley and more ice came into view. It looked like it would go! Unfortunately Kathrine's ankle had started acting up so she opted to wait. Luckily she had come prepared with lots of jackets!
Matt's rope turned into an icicle
Alan attempts to tame the froze rope
On our way up to the ice, we were able to get a great view of the Devil's Head, a scramble that we had attempted earlier this year. It was cool to see it from such a different perspective, and trace our route we had taken along the ridge.
Great view of the Devil's Head - we made it to the lower notch on the left when we attempted it in the fall
 We had two short pitches of ice to climb before we could get to the main flow that we had spotted from below. Matt lead the first and Kyle took the second one. These pitches were the steepest ice we had been on all day and it was really fun. Matt had to improvise on his pitch because the main route was too thin. He led us up a fragile ice pillar with a bit of mixed climbing in a rocky corner, and belayed off a questionable rock that was "frozen" into the scree. It was a great lead and a really fun bit of climbing. Kyle's pitch was another exciting one, and really beautiful.
Kyle leads a crux pitch in the upper bowl
Me following Kyle up the steep ice
 Finally we arrived at the money pitch. It was long, steep and sustained. The ice was a bit more brittle up top so there were lots of projectiles. Matt sprung a leak in the ice with an ice screw, and tried to plug it back up. The screw held for a few minutes but before long water started spouting out and running down the route. As the last one on the route, all I saw was a flood of water running down the ice! I was the last one to climb this final pitch and really enjoyed how long it was. What I didn't realize was that our rope had become so frozen that all three guys had to help belay me. Matt had me on a munter while Kyle and Alan worked to feed and pull the rope. They were so happy when I topped out!
Kyle leading the final pitch
We quickly rappelled back to Kathrine, who had been waiting patiently for three hours. One rappel took us over a hollow tube of ice with water running through the centre, which Alan thought was the coolest thing ever. Despite countless rappels, we made good time on the way down, but didn't quite make it out before dark. Kyle had brought a BBQ so we had hotdogs and beers to celebrate our awesome day, before making the drive back out of the Ghost in the dark (as usual).

1 comment:

  1. Another great read for an armchair mountaineer :)

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