Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Alpinism..... Conditions, Partner's & Commitment

I arrived back from Patagonia on April 2nd and pretty quickly got myself organized to head north into Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. Strathcona was BC's 1st Provincial Park. Our objective was a large east face that to our knowledge hasn't been climbing or attempted in the conditions we were heading in with.

Phil climbing with the beautiful Island mountains in the distance.

On April 4th I met with Phil Stone at his house on Quadra Island to pack and organize so we could do the 9km hike in the next day.

Phil and I went through our gear a few time trying to make our packs as light as possible because we had to climb with everything and descend into another valley to finish.

My Gear List was:
tools, crampons, helmet, 4 pins, 8 screws,, half ropes, 10m of rap tat, 2.5 pickets, 5 wires, 2 cams, , torso pad, light sleeping bag, bivy, beta light shelter, snow shoes, poles, 1L water bottle and mini first aid kit. 2.5 days of food and Phil had the other 2.5 days and also our personal stuff.

The hike in was a good hall. We broke trail in mostly soft, mid calf, deep snow for about 8 hrs. We both thought we would get there a bit faster. I guess the heavy packs and snow wasn't anticipated to be as hard as it was. Regardless we got to the meadow at the base of this massive face and set up camp and ate some food.

A 400m ish rock buttress to the NE of the face... we were calling it the Mitre.
Camp and looking up the valley.

As we woke the next day the weather was nice and brisk with a sun/cloud filled sky. Our plan was to observe the face and see how much was falling especially in the couloir we planned to climb the next day. The couloir seemed to be really stable with very little activity, the other routes that had more exposed to sun were pretty active so we knew if things got to much warmer we wouldn't be in a good place so we planned on getting an alpine start... 3:30am.

Phil cruzing in the meadow.

We organized most of our things the night before to get a head start on the morning. Things flowed and we were off to the couloir. We roped up at the base and simu-climbed for about 180m to our first crux, to this point we had been climbing fantastic 55-65 degree hard snow and ice, it was a 10m vertical step. It was awesome! At the top of the step the route returned its 55-65 degrees and we continued pitching it out through a few more short bulges.

Getting in the goods! Photo by Phil Stone

Me above the first crux section we encountered. Photo by Phil Stone

Phil coming up the Couloir.

On our 7th or 8th pitch we started to get some small sluffs in the couloir which was concerning, they were small so we keep going. By the time I got to a belay stance behind this massive boulder the sluffs had started to get larger. Also the terrain steepened again to a 20m vertical crux section and we couldn't see around the corner. We sat in our little safe zone and watched the sluffs get larger for about 1hr while we considered our options and ate food.

Our high point.

We figured we climbed about 600m up the couloir before we turned around. The decent was an adventure trying to stay out of the sluffs and then traversing to trees lower down to get out of the couloir.

Our route. 

The climbing was awesome! Conditions just didn't hold long enough for us. In retrospect we should have climbed at night and tried to top out in the morning. Snow conditions would have been better because of colder temps and we did have a full moon. Regardless a lot was learned about this route and I'm very excited to get back in there again!

Thanks Phil for a great trip! It was a pleasure to share stories and climb with you. Look forward to more in the future!

I have a few thoughts on climbing alpine routes like this one. Who climbs with all there gear up and over something? Not many people. So somethings I think that are important to consider before jumping into a unknown or large alpine route of this commitment level are:
1. Being honest with yourself and skill level no matter how much you want it, the mountain will always be there, you may not if you don't listen.
2. Way the a) objective hazards and b) subjective hazards.
a) are they worth it and how can you minimize them... snow conditions, weather, etc
b) control your mind! it is what will keep you calm and composted when you need it most! Listen to your gut it can be the difference been life and death.   
3. Your partner. To me the partner is the most important and you'll know right away who you can climb with and there comfort level when shit gets real. You and your partner are there to push each other, feed of each others energy, and keep each other is check. And if something big happens you trust them with your life. It is an intimate relationship, people outside of this environment will have trouble understanding.
4. Go light! It is easier on your body, you can move fast which puts you in the the way of objective hazards for less time. Take only what you need!

Other options.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of your best posts yet! Thanks so much for sharing...I loved the end and your reflections. You're right - the mountain will always be there, but if you aren't smart, you may not be there to try it again!