Draw Blood

Got my comeuppance today. Aaron, Bruce, Peter, Jason; I now join your ranks, the legion of lacerated ice climbers.

It all began with this gorgeous, sunshine-wrapped day. No calls for work, so after putting it off, I decided to take a walk along Crane’s SSW flank and look for potential ice climbing opportunities down low. I drove up to the top of Sky High Road (currently Ski Hi, a spelling I detest) and began walking westward. The trailhead road is still driveable with four-wheel drive, good tires, and high clearance; none of which my Elantra has, so I perambulated en pied, hiking a short way up the direct summit trail, then cutting off near the ramp boulder.

I wandered up and down a bit, but mostly maintained altitude. The side of the mountain here is a series of benches cut by occasional gullies. The tiered layout makes close-up inspection difficult. I could scope out the wall above the bench I walked along, but couldn’t tell if there was anything on the bench above that, nor the wall below me. However, I’ve walked along this side of the mountain before, knew I had scoped out a lower bench in the past, and been up higher as well. I hoped this level would reveal something I hadn’t seen before.

I dropped into one of those gullies soon after leaving the trail. This had to be the cascade that parallels the direct summit trail. I glimpsed a sparkling ice flow as I passed under it, perhaps 200′ away and 50′ higher than me. Too bad that doesn’t maintain the same steepness as that last fifteen feet: it would be the best climb on the mountain if it did. In any case, I’ve been up along it, and it is mostly WI1, with a couple avoidable WI2 steps.

Continuing on for another ten minutes, I spied an ice-smattered wall above me. Eureka! Sure enough, this looked promising, not huge, but decent. A steep slab ran up about 30′ to a 20′ headwall with an overhang. In several spots, ice blobs pasted themselves over the headwall, draping down in front of the overhang. This looked good.

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The Fifty Foot Ice Wall

 I walked over to the cliff and geared up. I didn’t have much: crampons, tools, harness, helmet, a 42′ hank of rope, ‘biners, and a cordalette. No screws! Musta left them home. Hmmm. Well, looked feasible enough…

I set out, walking back and forth awhile before choosing a line that rose up along a small, right-facing corner of rock that poked through the ice fifteen feet above. The ice was in as good a condition as I could hope for, given the weather fluctuations we’ve had this winter. I worked up steadily, to a stance beside the top of the little corner. The ice reared up steeply here; not quite vertical, but definitely getting close. I would need some high plants to get over the bulge onto lower-angle ice not far above. I worked up the face a few times, testing the placements, kicking better pockets for my feet; then losing heart and backing down. Finally, I felt it was all set, everything was good to go, each placement secure, each footstep mentally mapped out.

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I stepped up to my previous high point, moved my tools a bit higher, stepped the left foot over to the top of the rock corner, and pulled up. Kicked out a good right foothold. Moved up higher, brought my left foot level with the right. Swing the left tool, happily a solid thunk resounded. Now I would have to reach for a good plant with my right tool before committing to the pullover.

I chucked, I ducked, but looked up too soon. The spray of ice hit my helmet, but I hadn’t felt the resultant dinner plate break away until I glanced back up. It hit me just above my lip, and just beside my right nostril, thankfully: it was big enough to break teeth or nose. It hurt plenty for a couple seconds, then passed. Rubbing my face, I saw no blood on my gloves, but knew from the continuing tingle there must be more than a bruise. Eventually, I did see a few scarlet drops adorning the pure white ice, but it didn’t gush like facial wounds often do.

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A mere flesh wound. I’ve had worse.

Which was good: I was in no place to deal with such issues. I swung the right axe again, and this time, it settled firmly in good ice. In a few seconds, I stood above the bulge, looking up at the last obstacle, a narrow band of ice cascading over that overhang. To my left, the curtains looked poorly connected, but my line appeared to be well-attached, and the ice was certainly less sun-baked. I went for it, and, although not easy, it wasn’t particularly hard either, just one more committing move – with a longer pause before looking up to check my tool placements!

It was an easy one to name; in a nod to Mr. Zevon (RIP), I culled a snippet from Werewolves of London.

I spent another hour there, climbing various lines, including almost trying one of those bigger curtains. Looking at the one inch gap between it and the rock dissuaded me, however, and I opted to traverse off to a handy rappel tree rather than risk riding the carapace down 30′ of cliff.

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So now I’m proudly wearing my own Ice Climber’s insignia. Hopefully, I can get back out there avec belayer and we can send a few more of those lines. Without adding more facial scars to anyone.

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