Another Virgin Bites the Ice

The past few days have seen a flurry of never-evers taking their first whacks at ice, many of them (both the whacks and newbies) here on Crane Mountain’s Waterfall. Saturday, four freshmen had their inaugural swing, yesterday an EMS customer spent his second dayof ice climbing the entire line, and today Tom Lane and I finally had a match on the calendar.

Tom has made a splash on Crane’s rock scene this summer, with FAs of excellent lines like Oddy’s Crack of Horror, but until today he had never tried ice climbing. I figured that should be remedied ASAP, so with our schedules coinciding, we decided to head to the Waterfall. We got a late start, but figured we could make up time with rapid climbing and no dawdling at the belays.

In short order, we traipsed the half hour hike out, arranged our gear and ourselves, and began climbing. I led up, placing a screw or two along the way on the first pitch. Tom followed as if he had ice climbed for years, never once slipping, overlifting a heel, or popping a tool and, possibly assisted by extreme emphasis from his partner, never once smacking himself in the face with one, either.

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 Tom comes over the steep part of pitch one.

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Pretty good with those tools, already.

We moved onward, ascending the second pitch in a trice. Tom went from front-pointing to French technique, pied en canard  and piolet canne when the angle eased. It came pretty easily to him, apparently.

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As he anchored into the belay, I asked him the Big Question:

Wanna lead the next pitch?

OK, the third pitch is no great shakes, but keep in mind Tom had never laid hands on an ice tool before, had never placed an ice screw – hadn’t handled one before. I knew he was good, cool-headed, and efficient on the sharp end of a rope, of course, and his performance below was easily good enough to do much harder than the short stretch of WI2- ahead. Without hesitation, Tom jumped at the chance. I handed him two screws, pointed out where they would best go, and he set off for higher ground.

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Tom sets off on his first ice lead, pitch 3.

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Tom places his first ice screw.

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The sun came out briefly as Tom led his pitch.

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He’s liking this ice thing!

 Tom was his usual efficient leading self, despite the newness of the medium. He tied off to a handy tree and belayed me up. We sorted gear and coiled the rope, then walked the “fourth pitch,” a couple hundred feet of hiking to the base of the fifth pitch. This one is also pretty easy, but it is doggone sparsely protected. One can get a screw in about six feet off the ground, after that it’s a 35′ run-out to the next opportunity. I decided maybe Tom could lead this some other day.

We climbed the sketchy pitch and belayed in the shadow of the final, steep pitch. It’s a toughie; I only just climbed it without a top-rope last year. I’m not feeling in tip-top shape just yet, but decided to give it a try. Without going into detail, we managed the feat, though I can’t claim to have done it without some trepidation and whimpering. I belayed Tom up, and he came steadily, without a fall – but he did lose points for dropping an ice screw along the way. Still, WI4-, no falls, first time out: that’s impressive.

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Past the worst difficulties, Tom moves up to the last pro before topping out.

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High above the valley, Tom concentrates on each placement of the thinning finish ice on the final pitch.

The ice wanes at the top of the pitch, presenting a bit of sketchy travel to finish the trip. There’s enough for climbing, it’s just sparingly laid out, and once again, protection isn’t an option. We sorted gear and rappelled the pitch, then decided to walk off the rest, in order to look at a few other lines and one route that has been established.

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Fifi’s Frozen Fingers

The descent southward involves some steep, but walkable ramps, passing one excellent ice route along the way, Fifi’s Frozen Fingers, WI3+, a swathe of ice coating the rock route Fifi Fingers. Tom was duly impressed by this, but we didn’t have time to fire away at it today. That will have to wait until after New Years, when perhaps we can get together and do some more hard ice. Who knows? By then, Tom might be leading 4’s!

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