Casualties are Mounting

We went up north yesterday. Climbed Roaring Brook Falls to start; Bruce had a grand time on that (hard not to). I tried pulling off the direct start of the first pitch, but the vertical wall was a chandeliered mass of unconsolidated ice a foot thick. Stemming wasn’t an option for a short guy like me. I could not reach the righthand wall, or at least mentally couldn’t face doing so across that watery chasm of death. Unable to go straight up, I finally worked out a tenuous traverse left onto the rock slab, hooking uncertain ice blobs in the brittle maze until I could turn the corner onto more reliable media.

Bruce followed speedily, and took over the forefront for the rest of the climb. He took the steep notch option in the central pitch (where folks usually walk around), then practically jogged up the last pitch, hardly pausing even at the top-out, where dry-tooling is necessary.

After walking down, we drove to Lake Placid to take care of some chores and say Hi to the hard-working crew at the Lake Placid Eastern Mtn. Sports store. The town was busy; ski season is in full swing I suppose, so we didn’t stay long. After taking care of business, we headed back out of town, winding away and down into Cascade Pass.

 Bruce wanted to familiarize himself with the Buster area, partly to be better prepared for guiding it, and partly just to have some fun. We just missed getting the prime real estate, Buster itself, to ourselves, beat out by a guide and his charges, but no matter. We looked over the approach (a good place to practice crampon technique), then wandered right, past the next little flow to the last of the trio of WI2 options in that group.

A ridge of ice ran almost straight down near the center of this formation. It looked interesting, so Bruce roped up and set off to lead this “directissima” line. At first, all went well. Near the base, the ice was slightly crusted, but solid underneath. Above this however, it was wind-scoured and platey. At the midpoint, a short vertical wall, perhaps seven feet tall, blocked the way. Bruce stood up beside it, placed a screw, and then began working his way upward. The ice was terrible: it plated off in five and ten pound chunks mercilessly and repeatedly. A moment of adrenalized sketchiness ensued when, at the crucial moment, his left tool and both of his feet popped. For an instant, his right crampon tangled in the quickdraw of his pro, and I envisioned an upside-down hurtle onto the lower-angled ice below. But his right tool held, Bruce quickly regained his feet, his left axe, and his composure and, making one good heave, pulled through.

That was the only excitement on the climb; Bruce made it to the belay, and I cleaned the pitch for him. As I reached the belay, I noticed Bruce’s nose was bleeding. Neither of us had seen the cause of injury, and it wasn’t serious, so I forbade him cleaning it until I could snap a photo: 


This is the second battle wound I’ve witnessed this season, the third one among ice climbers I know. And it’s early yet. Note to all: keep your face away from the tools!

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