The first day, I got warmed up on the first two pitches of Lower Weeping Wall. This piece of ice is also one of the more classic in the world. It sported climbing up to WI4 or so. I backed out of the WI5+ pitch due to the ice turning to slush from the sun. Still a solid day out and nice to bite my teeth into the ice climbing in Canada.
I had heard Canada ice climbing ratings are quite stiff but I guess I was used to it as I try to avoid the climbs that are extremely hacked out and climbing in Cody, WY is humbling and honest so I was not really shocked.
Kirill and I set our sites to Polar Circus (WI5, V 900m) for the next day. We wanted this climb bad as I have wanted it for quite a while. Tackling it as a team of two 19 year olds seemed brilliant.
Polar Circus is a 900 meter line with over 1,600 feet of ice climbing. Consider the fact that all of it is WI4 to WI5 (only two pitches of WI3), it does not come easy. It’s simply one of the most beautiful, inspiring pieces of ice I have ever seen. The position of it makes you feel like your on a full on alpine climb in Alaska or South America. It’s located 2 hours west of Banff, Alberta and stands out.
We woke up at 4:30 in the morning, and headed off for the two and half hour drive for Polar Circus. The sunrise was close to 8 A.M. and the sunset was at about 9 P.M. We started the hour approach and started climbing a little after 8. I was tired already and had only slept three hours but soon “woke” up.
The first pitch was soaking wet. It was almost like a full waterfall. The temperatures were cold and I knew this would be a long day as the commitment grade was V. Kirill started the first pitch at WI4 which turned out to be pretty honest. It was so wet in fact, that the quickdraws were coated in ice making it almost impossible to unclip. I got soaked following it and the rope had a coating of ice on it making it like a steel cable. It was only the first pitch and we had 8 or 9 leads left.
We thought about bailing as if all the rest of the ice was like this, it was not happening. After staring at the rest of the climb, we simply had to see how the ice was higher. Usually the higher you go, the less wet the ice is I kept telling myself. For times sake, we soloed the second pitch which turned out to be good plastic ice for 40 meters. I was really happy. The ice was amazing. It was snowing by that time and we were glad. Still, I didn’t know if the climb would be successful as many things had to work out right.
Soon the third pitch came which sported easy WI2 ice for 70 feet. With good easy ice, I started soloing. When I got to the top, the ice turned very bad, very quickly. A chunk the size of a microwave came out with one swing and I screamed “ice” to Kirill who was waiting for me to get to the top. It hit him and I instantly asked if he was alright. He didn’t reply. It barely missed his family jewels. It just left a cut on his thigh. He soon replied that he was fine. I got out of the way and continued on to the “4” pitch which is usually simul climbed due to avalanche snow conditions but the snow was amazing so we both soloed the 50 degree snow which cut right and then left to the start of the last six pitches.
The sight of these three formations stacked right on top of each other was amazing. If each pitch was just a single pitch, they would be very classic. Before the climb, Kirill told me he really wanted the crux WI5 pitch. He has looked strong on lead and had not lead at that grade. It was hard to give him that as that looked like the best pitch but I eventually gave in since this would be his first WI5 and knew it meant a lot to him. It also ended up working out perfectly.
We soon cruised up to the last two pitches. Then a cornice the size of a bus fell from above to our left. We knew we had to get up these last pitches soon. I lead the first pitch and looked at the final WI5 pitch which looked soaking wet with horrible pro. I was glad I was not leading this. Kirill shot up it and found variation that provided great protection. We got to the top.
It took him a while to lead it and I could tell it was starting to get dark. I ran up it to get warm again and found the pitch to be absolutely amazing! I was extremely jealous that he got the lead as I wish I could have had it. It was exposed and the position was magnificent. I got to the top and started laughing. We both hugged. You know you’re happy when you hug. I could see my car far below and the position was out of this world. It was getting dark but I did not care, I had climbed Polar Circus.
We had 10 rappels or so to do in the dark and I was not looking forward to it. It was already 8 P.M. Our rope was frozen every inch of the way with water. We brought a tag line so we could rap 60 meters at a time. On the first rappel, our rope got stuck. I DID not want to prussic up the rope in the dark. We kept whipping it around and finally got it to pull. The next rappel took us to the top of the second formation. Again, our rope would not pull for 10 minutes but finally pulled after many tugs. The next few rappels went fine but I was really wanting to get down. The descent was not easy. We then actually got the rope stuck on the 3rd pitch after down climbing the interesting 50 degree slopes. (“turning” the pencil) I did not want to prussic up the frozen rope. Kirill told me he simply didn’t have the strength to climb the WI2 pitch to get to the rope. I got pissed and simply quoted,” sometimes in climbing, you have to do things even when your body does not want you to.” Later, a quote we both laughed at. I started up with my leading gloves that were frozen and soloed up to the anchors in the dark. It was rather interesting. I fixed the rope that was stuck, rappelled and continued down.
Soon after two more rappels we were at the base only to find out a raven went through all our stuff at the base. The raven ate our food that we reserved for after the climb and stole two ice screws of mine I left at the base. Thieves! We rushed down and glissaded and got to the car after a bit. After 18 hours of climbing we were finally at the car! I was not happy with our time at all as it took 5 hours to descend but it was in the dark and a slow process.
Kirill was out right when he stepped in the car. I was upset that I had to drive the two and half hours back to our time share. It was 1 A.M. I took a No Doze and kept listening to really hard rock music blasted. I drank a sip of water every 2 seconds and constantly was ready to pull over to sleep. Everyone back in town was really worried about us. I somehow pulled the drive back and got “home” at 3:30 A.M. 23 hours after I had woken up for Polar Circus. A time I am totally not proud of but we were not going for a speed record, just enjoying the day out.
The next two days were spent relaxing as I was very tired.
I then organized plans with Kurt for Sea of Vapors (WI7+ R M5, 4 pitches, V) Lucky for us, it was in phat! It sported WI5+ ice for 4 pitches but it was hacked therefore even lowering the grade further to WI5. The Trophy Wall includes 3 of the most sought after hard routes around. The wall is world known and sits a couple thousand feet above the Trans Canadian highway between Banff and Canmore. Climbing any of these routes is really considered a trophy. They don’t come into condition much. I have read about these climbs from many of the top climbers around and have dreamed. That’s all it took.
I have looked at the Trophy Wall in pictures and it really looked crazy but I wanted to venture up on it. I had to wait until I could lead solid WI6 though. All the climbs are Grade V even though only 4 pitches. The brutal approach and hard climbing makes a day of climbing. I really did not think I would get on any of these climbs for a long time. There remote, difficult, and really out of this world with exposure. You can feel the exposure all the way up. They really are some of the most sought after ice climbs in the world.
Sea of Vapors was originally rated WI7+ and was probably the hardest route in the world when it was put up in the 90’s. WI7+ is still the top of the scale in ice climbing. The other two lines go at WI6+. Since then, there has been slight downgrading but the climbs still can become the most difficult around and are not climbed often.
I started the approach going real slow. I was still not totally rested up. The approach was hard but I was glad we at least had a trail. When the sun came up, I saw the Trophy Wall and it looked really intimidating. Looking at it and realizing that I was not feeling it since Polar Circus took it out of me created a thought of wanting to bail and return in a couple days and get totally fresh. I told Kurt how I was feeling and we agreed to at least go to the base and check things out. We climbed a WI3 pitch to approach the base. This thing looked hard.
Kurt basically flaked out the rope and had me tie in. I threw him on belay. We were not bailing. We had perfect weather and ice conditions. We were also the first ones to get on it for the day. Kurt lead the first pitch which was fun steep climbing. I joined him at the belay and he led the next pitch which sported a M4 move to good steep ice. When I joined him at the belay, I really was glad to actually be on the climb. Kurt asked me if I wanted the next lead. I thought about it and Kurt was pushing me to. I took the screws and went up. I actually thought it was the best pitch of the route. It was almost a full rope length of REALLY exposed good steep climbing. It ended at the most amazing ice cave belay. After the lead I was so stoked to be out there. At this point, I thought we were at the top but Kurt took the lead for 15 meters to the true top out.
We were both really happy and started rappelling to the base. After 5 rappels, we were off the climb. I glissaded just about all the way down looking back up to the Trophy Wall thinking of my next adventure and goal. The climb was simply one of the best climbs I’ve ever done. Only to prepare me for the future and bigger goals I have.
Of all things, I was mad that my head was not in it, but I was happy to not bail and get over it by conquering my fear and emotions. It really felt like I was preparing for a war. Ice climbing is almost all mental.
Now that the ice climbing season and winter mountaineering season are almost over, I sag my head in sadness but in complete satisfaction. I only want more, and have the urge to keep getting better. That’s what climbing is all about. Competing against yourself year after year and chasing goal after goal until you get to your ultimate dream!
Coming back to Colorado, I was excited to get on more alpine ice and mixed. The weather and bad avalanche conditions have kept me from getting out. It’s been dumping up high alot! I have since been getting out everyday training hard rock climbing. I recently did a massive link up in the Flatirons. Shawn, Brian, and I dubbed it the “Brothers Traverse.” We linked up The Regency, then climbed the Royal Arch, continued on to the Fifth Flatiron, and ended on the fist. We summited Green Mountain and wrapped around the other side making a giant loop. It included almost 2000 feet of rock climbing. As far as other climbing, Danny and I have been training hard for our goals this summer. Pushing our limits on trad and sport.
Clear Creek Canyon
I recently accomplished a big goal of mine with free soloing (ropeless) the Bastille Crack (5.7+, 5 pitches) in Eldo in 10 minutes. Polished and then ended with a wet mid fifth class chimney up top. I also free soloed Wind Ridge (5.8, 2-3 pitches) twice. All this within an hour. I have also soloed a few other lines in the 5.8 range in Clear Creek Canyon. Why? Nothing makes me feel more alive. I just want to live life to my absolute fullest! This makes me feel free. I love my life.
While the ice melts away, I am very upset. I got to train harder everyday. I also got to get my new Petzl Nomics. I’ve been leading WI5’s with my old school traditional Cobra’s leashless, gripping to stay on. I say it’s for training but feel like the tools are holding me back.
Dreams have been accomplished and new harder ones have sprouted. Now I got to train harder to accomplish them, both mentally and physically!