Thursday, December 30, 2010

Slipstream, Mt Snowdome, Canadian Icefields

Columbia Ice Fields, Mt. Snowdome - Slipstream is the obvious runnel of ice in the center of the picture.

This photo above shows about half of the actual climb. The climbers are on the first good ice pitch, of which there are four, with none of the lower approach gully or glacier showing.   
                                                      Amazing photos by Chris Scharf Photography

                                       Slipstream from the walk in on the 2nd ascent, Jan '81.

A real treat for from Jim Elzinga of John Lauchlan on the 1st ascent of Slipstream, Dec. '79. John had encouraged me to get on the climb and offered recent beta from working on a film about Slipstream.  Without out his encourgaement I would not have climbed it.

I think these are from the first waterfall section mid route.

For those into such things. John and Jim used Forest Serac Sabers that they cut down and modified the picks on the 1st ascent. They had leather boots and SMC rigid crampons. Of the four of us all except Gary used umbilicals. I lead all the water ice with the Clogs shown below on the 2nd ascent. Gary used the curved Chouinard tools. Gary had some of the first plastic Kolflachs in the country having bought his in Europe that fall while climbing in Chamonix. I had Haderer singles with super gaiters. Gary used Chouinard rigid crampons and I was on SMC rigids.

Gear Notes:

The upper slope provides the continued spindrift avis while on route. And the same slope loads and slabs off from the ice cap and sweeps the entire route clean many times each winter. The spindrift avis you'll likely live through. The powder snow slab avis are a toss up to live through depending where you are on the route when it happens. The nasty one will be part of the serac coming off. If you are in the waterfall pitches you may live through has happened. Check out the conditon of the serac barrier before you leave the highway.

Past that, climb fast...take the gear you need to do that. Get off in the light so you can find your way down the descent gully off to the climber's far left in the bowl.  Stay out of the crevassed nightmare that is the top of  Snow Dome. Walking off the south side of Snow Dome (been done) and down the Athabasca is not recommended.

Climb has up to 6 pitches of WI3/4+ ( or 3 depending again on your rope length). Nothing really hard by today's standards. Climb has every bit as much ice as Polar Circus and can be just as hard technically but is much, much longer and very alpine in feel.  Add the combined effects of a big mountain (3,456 m / 11,339 ft) with all the objective hazards to go along with that and you have a true classic.  Be careful,  pick the right conditions and climb fast.  We took 8 screws and while I looked for and wanted some in the upper bowl, I did not find a place for rock gear.

1st ascent took 3 days c2c.  A year later, the second ascent took 7 hrs and under 16hrs c2c walking down the Athabasca in the dark.  8 years later, and anyone's guess were the timing started, Slipstream was soloed in 2hrs plus of climbing.

Approach Notes:

An hour of so up the rock glacier from the highway. Most walk in as the snow gets blown off pretty fast. And you don't want to be on this route if there is a lot of new snow or wind around recently.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Polar Circus

Icefield's Parkway - Polar Circus

"Polar Circus is a popular and classic ice climb located in the Canadian Rockies off the Icefields Parkway. Climbers from throughout the world come to Canada to test their skills (and empty their bladders, sometimes unintentionally) on this incredible, 700 meter tiered frozen waterfall. Originally rated Grade VI, the first ascent of this route required eight days, fixed ropes, and substantial aid on the steepest sections. In what was to become a typical situation on this beautiful wall, the climb was crowded even during the first ascent, with two parties competing for the prize. The second ascent party, narrowly missing being the first to bag this great line, eliminated all but five meters of aid from the route. With the evolution of modern tools and techniques, "Circus" has since been downgraded to Grade V, WI5, and is typically climbed by competent teams in a long day from the Icefields Parkway."

With a 5 minute approach from the road this is one of the WI2+ pitches that start up the Cirrus Mtn Gully aka  the Canadian water ice classic...."Polar Circus".    Below:  looking up one of those early easy pitches.  The perfect warm up for the climbing to come.

A bit of easy climbing leads you to the first steep section of water ice.

Below is looking down from the start of that pitch.

Polar Circus '80, in easy ice conditions...the first steep bit that blocks access to the upper gully.   Depending on conditions any where from  WI3 to WI 4.

The same pitch in Feb 2010 and a bit steeper and more sustained.

Polar Circus, when in safe avi conditions is an easy (WI4+/ 5-), and super classic one day ice climb.  With an short approach and quick descent it is one to go back to again and again.

Again 1980 with bivy gear (the 80/81 winter season turned Polar Circus from an over night climb to a one day route) at the beginning of the long snow gully below the Pencil.

This is looking down the snow gully section just after turning the easy ice at the base of the Pencil which is on the right of this picture and just out of sight.    Climber's left and up hill of this picture is the avi prone slope.

Turning the Pencil just below and gaining the avi slope. A short bit of WI4 and a lot of mild ice and gully climbing are below this. Spectacular position! The avi slope goes up and out to the right and then back left into the upper bowl above on an almost level traverse. That final level traverse back into the basin and the upper tiers can be really scary because of the sun exposure.

John Lauchlan in this picture and  in the same area where he was later swept away in an avalanche while trying to make the first solo ascent in the early winter of  1982.

Ray Jotterand photo 1979

The unformed Pencil's stub.

Partially formed and fallen pencil in the back ground.

Looking up the right hand section of the boot packed snow traverse above the Pencil.  At the trees in the picture the boot pack jogs back left and into the huge upper bowl.

Get there early while the traverse is still in the shade!

The last four pitches of the climb (or 3 rope stretching pitches with a 70m rope and some imagination) and generally the only thing people rope up for these days. In early Jan of '75 the first ascent party climbed 14 roped pitches of ice and taken 8 days up and down. Water fall climbing was still fairly new and nothing this long or this cold had been done before. Charlie Porter, the Burgess Twins and Bugs McKeith were some of the most accomplished climbers of their generation at the time.  The second ascent lead by Laurie Skreslet literally following in the 1st ascent teams foot steps did it in two days and all but the last bit of it free.

Huge admiration for both team's imagination, tenacity and skills.  Ice climbing changed faster than anyone ever thought possible between 1975 and 1980.

The upper bowl from lower on the route.

The upper bowl when you turn the corner on the snow traverse.  Good look at the first fun pitch on the first tier of the 3 upper tiers.

The upper tiers are made up of this pitch, the Ribbon pitch and the final head wall of ice.

The Ribbon pitch below.

Difficulty on this pitch  depends on the amount of ice some what but more importantly what time you get  there, the temps and how wet the ice is.  This pitch can easily be running with water and rotten ice.

You are looking at entire last set of tiers in this picture.  The three climbers at the right side of the ice are at the base of the Ribbon pitch in fat Feb '10 conditions.

Parts of the the last long pitch (or two short pitches) are shown here on the last tier.  Fixed anchor on the right with a decent belay platform and rap chains.   Climber here is on the last bit of steep ice and generally the crux of the route.

The final short pitch to finish the climb..steeper than it looks and generally sun rotted ice by the time you get on it.   Perfect finish to a great climb!   Picture is taken for the chained belay anchor and rap point.

For shortened view of the last tier.  Chains in the rock are climber's left one step above the climber in the picture

Looking back down the final pitch just belwo the last set of rap chains.  Incredible piece of ice!

The always terrifing, free hanging rap off the Pencil on the way down.

A wonderful climb to be done over and over again just for the fun of it!

Dbl click to enlarge the topo and check out the rap line, depending on conditions and daylight if might be a little confusing first time up the route.

Another topo here which might show the actual climbing a bit better:

Gear Notes:

These days all the rap anchors up high (above the Pencil) are fixed chains or pins and tat. You will rap straight over the Pencil so be careful there of you or your rope knocking anything down. 70m ropes are really much easier but 60m ropes will work as well. Take some tat for V threads for the Ribbon pitch and lower in the gully if you want to avoid any extra uphill walking at day's end.

Be really careful on the avi slop above the has been fatal.

Avi danger in particular on this route can be horrible with a huge slide coming out of the upper bowl at the top of the climb. Nothing would survive if you were any where below the final tier when that happens.

A dozen screws should be plenty for anyone capable of finishing the climb. Plan on anywhere from 5 to 3 roped pitches depending on the length of your rope and a lot of easy ice either soloed or climbed together.

A early start will get you off before the south facing avi slopes heat up. Or better yet do it on a snowy, cloudy and cold day. You can avoid the avi danger and soft, rotten ice on the crux pitch if you do without the sun. Don't forget 3 or 4 long screws just for that rotten ice late in the day.

8 or 9 hrs round trip, car to car, these days is a reasonable time with good ice and snow conditions.  5 or 6 hrs of climbing.   A hook fest on hammered out ice will make it quicker. A lot of snow to break trail through or really cold, new ice can make it a "slightly" longer day.

Approach Notes:

On a good day 10 minutes up a boot packed trail from the road. Cowboy-up and start on the first easy ice available instead of walking up the snow slope to the left and beginning of the first WI4 pitch.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blue Moon, Snoqualimie Mountain, Central Cascades

 Northwest Face of Mtn Snoqualmie- photo essay - direct variation, Pineapple Express, 2nd ascent of "Blue Moon"

Date: 2/19/2009

Trip Report:
The view from high on Phantom Slide going in.

The scene of the crime. Pineapple Express in orange.,

Craig's photo. Wayne and Craig's 2 pitch, direct variation, Blue Moon marked on the full line of  PE.

The Blue Moon variation should be obvious in both pictures. And more direct than either line topo suggests. The ice hose and chimney pitches are just left of the smaller rock head walls and just right of the orange topo @ mid height. The obvious ice hose dissappears into the chimney in Cauthorn's picture. From that '05 picture I have to assume the line is generally there and "in".

First pitch snice

For the most part the entire route was solid sticks in snice with a good water ice base.

The money pitches on Blue Moon are #2 the ice hose and #3 the amazing Scottish chimney.

This comment from Craig aka Alpinemonkey on Blue Moon's first ascent":

"I didn't lead our second pitch that may have been the crux, but it had about 3 moves off the deck that were a little thin and hard. After that it seemed sort of like moderate thin ice/dirt climbing, a little run out, but not unreasonable."

Pretty sustained pitch, thin ice on the bottom, with a hand crack in the corner mid pitch that will get the attention of most. Big Cams in hidden placements made the run outs resonable. Much steeper than it first appears. But, hey, the landing looks good :)

The 3rd pitch starts from a physically tight belay (fixed stopper) inside a deep, 3' wide chimney. The leader will be dropping EVERYTHING that comes off down on you. On our ascent I could not turn side ways because of our (small) pack, couldn't see and was swimming in snow. I had the wind knocked out of me by a big piece of ice I unknowingly took full in the chest. It is a short crux right off, on a 60m pitch but awesome position, spectacular visuals and hard climbing. This was the crux of the climb for us @ M5/6 with perfect dry tooling to get to the chockstone, and then ice, to get on to the chock stone, (FP just below it). Thankfully ice at your back and over the top in there, it was weird and way fun. Awesome pro. You exit the chimney onto steep tree climbing and end on a fairly flat bench with fair size trees for a belay.

Bit cold and miserable at times.

Pretty much simul climbing to NY gully from there for us.
Last pitch of NY Gully has a bit of a sting in snow and big gloves.

Entrance to NY gully.

Camera started to fail here.

Looking back down the ramp from the same spot from a previous ascent.

Camera failed here from the cold, so no pics of Jens, again leading in fine style and me floundering about with the pack. But it looked a lot like this pic of Marko's from a few days earlier.

Looking back down the face after the last corner crack crux again on a previous ascent.

These two pics are of the last bit after the crux of NY gully.

Jens Klubberud and I did the climb in 7hr 15min from rope up at the base of the gully to the exit on the ridge, Feb. 18. 4 to 6" of new snow on the ground in the Phantom slide and it snowed most of the day on us, enough to get small spindrift avis on the first 3 pitches.

A proud line and fine climb! Excellent position and a few stellar sections. In places you start to get a real, big north wall, feel. I'll admit it was no dissappointment when the climbing eased after the first 600 feet.

Blue Moon a 2 pitch direct variation of Pineapple Express IV WI4 R M6 5.8

Blue Moon variation of  PE
Pitch 1 - 60 meters WI 3
Pitch 2 - 60 meters thin and delicate WI4 [b]new[/b]
Pitch 3 - 60 meters, ungraceful chimney but short M5/6-[b]new[/b]
Next - bunch of simul climbing
Pitch 4 - step off into NY Gully and climb to corner crack
Pitch 5 - Corner crux of NY gully 5.8 M4
Final- easy but exposed traverse to the ridge

The original ascent account of Pineapple Express.

"On February 9, 2005, Roger Strong and I climbed a new route up the longest portion of the Northwest Face of Mount Snoqualmie. We approached from the Alpental parking lot, ascended the Phantom Slide to the northwestern shoulder of Snoqualmie, dropped into the Thunder Creek drainage, and then traversed beneath the New York Gully area to the lowest toe of the rock buttress. The first pitch started just left of the lowest point of rock and climbed a thin slab of ice hidden in a long right-facing corner (WI3+ R). After this pitch we trended up and left, pulling steep heather into a mixed gully leading to a tree belay beneath a rock headwall. The superb third pitch climbed the steep right-facing corner to a tree belay (M6 with good gear). Pitch 4 led up and right into snow and trees. The next pitch squeezed through the trees and traversed right to a 5.8 rock step that led up to a tree belay. We then continued up easy mixed ground to a flat ledge beneath the huge headwall that guards the top to the Northwest Face. We then traversed easily along a spectacular ledge system rightward to join the last two pitches of New York Gully. In total, we did nine long 60-meter pitches. For gear, include a couple of thin pitons along with cams to 3” and many slings in the rack. IV M6 5.8 WI3+.

Dan Cauthorn"

Gear Notes:
Even with all the snice available this year, we placed only one shortie screw on lead. We did however use 2.5 to 3.5 cams in a number of crucial places. There are several fixed pins and now a wired stopper on route. Lots of useful places for a selection of blades or thin lost arrows. Which I suggest we start leaving intentionally as fixed pieces.

Approach Notes:
Park in the Groomer lot facing north. Directly in front of you is Phantom Slide. Head directly up hill entering the trees early on the left (mid height of the first approach slope) and bypassing the water falls and small cliff band which on on your right. Follow the boot pack up the left edge of Phanton slide until you hit a slight steepening on Phanton Slide near the top of Mt Snoqualmie and close to the first obvious big rock spur of the NW face of Snoqualimie. Look closely on your left for some bigger old growth trees, cut left here into a clearing and bench. (300 or 400 yards ) Head straight up again at the left edge of the bench. (200 yards) Hit the ridge at the decent gully. Decent gully is just under the western N face spur of Snoqualmie. Way easier (up and down) than it sounds or looks!