Thursday, August 28, 2008

Climbing in the Rain

Summer seems to have ended way too early here in coastal British Columbia. Normally August is a month filled with sun, warm weather and endless high pressure, allowing trip after trip into the mountains. Instead, every few days has brought a storm with an inch or two of rain, followed by days of unsettled showers. As a result my mountain trips have canceled and I have been heading to the steep sport climbs to stay in shape and try new link ups and extensions.

However, there is a diamond in the rough, so to speak, here in British Columiba. When times get desperate and it is raining like this there is a some salvation to be had in the form of a world class limestone cave hidden in the hills of Vancouver Island. When I say world class, I mean it- this place is loaded with tufas, stalactites, pockets, flowstone and edges, as good as any where in the world. A little information can be found here and there about it, so I will leave the details a little more vague for you google detectives out there to research the mecca known as Horne Lake.

Senja Palonen works Subdivisions 12c/d. Photo by Rich Wheater

Now granted this place won't ever become too popular for a number of reasons. First there are only about 30 to 50 routes there...not huge. Second is the grades. The main attraction is this massive amphitheater about 100 feet high and 2-300 feet wide. The easiest route in this cave is the cliffs' 'warm up' which is a really steep 11a. After that there is pretty much 1 route at every grade from 12a to 14b. You have to bring your A-game to have a good time here, and be fit for full on 30m enduro-thugfests. That being said these routes are world class, knee bar, heel hooking, tufa wrangling gems, requiring 3-D full body climbing tactics.

Me (Evan Stevens) working knee bars on Save the Pushers, 13a

The last reason keeping people away? It is slightly epic and expensive to get there...let me just recap our latest journey.

Yesterday was one of these desperate rainy summer days in Squamish, so we rallied 6 people to meet up for the journey to Horne. The trip starts by getting to the ferry terminal at Horseshoe Bay, about 45 minutes from Squamish - remember this place is on an island. So forever a climbing dirtbag, we try and save costs however we can, and one method is by 'smuggling' each other onto the ferry. It costs $50 each way just to bring your vehicle over to the island, and then $14 each way per passenger. So we did what any cheap climber would do - hide 5 people under your gear in the back of the truck - voila $64 dollars for the ferry ride split by 6 instead of $134 for each ride. Yes, I know, it is stealing and I am a bad man, but what is a desperate climber to do when it is raining?!!??! So inevitably we got busted, and forced to pay the full price, oh well, it was worth a shot, at least they didn't arrest us!

Will Stanhope works a rest on Save the Pushers. Photo by Rich Wheater

Or so we thought. When we got to the island and drove off the boat, it seems that they had called the cops, telling them we were driving around with people in the back of the truck. Yes, I know again, bad idea, no seat belts and dangerous for the 2 people (and my dog) in the back, but it was a short drive to the cliff, and we were carpooling to save funds and the earth! Luckily for us, the nicest cop in the world, I swear the nicest cop ever, pulled us over. He told me I couldn't keep driving with people in the back, that 2 folks had to get out. He turned his cheek when they started hitch hiking, and let me go with a warning instead of a $750 ticket.

So with only about a 15 minute delay we were at the crags ready to climb. While packing our bags up at the truck, I basically inhaled a yellow jacket and was stung in the mouth. WHAT IS GOING ON???? Seemed that the stars were alligning against me, trying to keep me from climbing at Horne Lake. Luckily I am not allergic, and we got to the cliff.

Luckily for me I persevered. I got back on my project, the classic of the cliff, a massive, 14 bolt 35 meter long 13a called 'Save the Pushers' and sent, so for me all the epic struggles were worth it. This thing is so crazy steep, you lower off 60 feet away from where you started into some amazing Arbutus trees, and crawl your way back to the ledge. Everyone else had a blast and we stayed dry and got pumped while the rain fell out in the trees instead of on our heads, protected by the massive cave.

Will Stanhope shows you how steep it is here-but the clip loaded sideways so turn your from Mike Doyle

Enjoy these teaser photos and video clip, get strong, blow some money and find Horne Lake.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Adamants Part 3

Last time I left you (scroll down) I had just been HAMMERED by weather trying to free climb the Blackfriar. We spent the next day drying out and licking our wounds, ready to pounce the next day for another free attempt of this 2,000 foot wall.

Staring down Blackfriar from camp

The day dawned clear and cold and we headed over to try our luck again. Freezing cold temps met us as we climbed in the shade for 6 pitches back up to our previous high point in no time flat. We were feeling like we could do this, all free in a day, which would be a first for any of the big walls around here. The next pitch proved to be a bit alpine. Going light, all I had was a pair of running shoes to keep feet warm at belays. I quickly put them on for the next pitch, 5.9 ice/rock jamming between a snow patch and the wall. Gear doesn't work too well in this scenario, so I ran it out for a good 50 feet to a nice ledge where the snow was gone and I could put my rock shoes on. The pitch then started to ramp up a bit - steep and with a small crack, which I had to dig out protection with a nut tool on lead, only to reveal RP placements for pro. No time to stop and think of how scary it was, so I just kept on firing to the next ledge.

Following Craig's proud 5.11+ onsight gardening fest

Craig stepped up for his next lead which was more of the same, 5.11 free climbing with small gear while gardening out the crack. We began to watch the time add up, as cleaning and freeing your pitches on lead takes a LONG time; almost 1.5 hours per pitch. At this rate there was no way we were going to make it. In fact I slowed us down big time on the start of the next pitch, trying for a long time to make my self fit into a tight squeeze chimney right off the belay. At 6' 2" and a 180 lbs, size was not on my side, I just couldn't get my hips into the thing. So I handed over the lead and Craig wriggled his smaller frame into the crack and fired off another 50m of gardening after that.

2 hours later and 8pm in the evening we decided to make the obvious call. Gardening and doing this route in a day were not going to happen. We had broken the sacred alpine free climbing rule of British Columbia - stay on south facing rock! South facing alpine rock in BC gets dried off in the sun, and doesn't allow as much moisture and vegetation to thrive, keeping the rock clean. We were trying to climb a north facing route and it just wasn't working. Oh well, lesson learned. Back to camp with our tails tucked between our legs.

The next day we decided to test our theory and headed for a new variation start to the classic Gibson-Rohn route on Ironman. Looking at the line it was obvious that we had a few pitches of slammed shut corners that were still climbable, so we took the power drill in tow to place a few bolts for pro if need be. Craig led the first pitch and fired off a nice 55m 5.11c putting in 6 bolts on lead AND still managing to free the pitch while dragging up the drill. Impressive.

Me (Evan) drilling on lead, p.2

Pretty soon after starting it was obvious that my pitch was going to be hard with out much gear. I placed 3 bolts right early on while aiding the feature, and then was able to work over toward a super thin crack and place a few pins, and finally get some regular gear in. Craig followed the pitch clean at 5.12- with some wild full body bridging, so we knew our new route would go free. 2 more pitches of splitter clean cracks lead us into the regular route on Ironman, where we than rappelled our route so we could re-lead that 2nd pitch and free it. We called our new variation 'Man of Steel' being that we bolted a new line on Ironman, it is always fun to have a play on words.

Craig following the last pitch of Man of Steel

We awoke the next day to a vicious thunderstorm early in the morning, so pancakes and extra coffee seemed in order. By noon the weather was good and radio reports had the weather being horrible for the next 3 days after this. So we bucked up and left camp at the early alpine start time of 1pm to climb the standard route on Ironman, 10 pitches V 5.10+. As we started it was obvious that the weather was going to deteriorate, so not wanting to get caught in a storm we simulclimbed almost the entire route, getting back to the base 3.5 hours after we started. Minutes later the skies opened up and we fled back to camp.

10cm of snow the next day left us festering in the tent, watching movies on the Ipod waiting for the helicopter to take us out.

Now all I have to do is stop climbing every day in Squamish so I can get around to edit my hours of video to post up here!

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Adamants - Part 2

Well, I gave you all the quick intro just 2 weeks ago, and now I am back.

But I am so loaded with killer photos and great stories that I will break this up into a few posts.

We landed at the head of the Austerity Glacier in the heart of the Adamant Spires, a remote group of peaks about 100 miles north of Rogers Pass, British Columbia. My trusty partner Craig McGee guides in the winter for Canadian Mountain Holidays in this area so he was chock full of lines for us to try. We built our snow camp, racked up and tried to sleep, giddy as two kids on christmas (in my case Hannukah) morning, ready to try the 2,000' formation known as the Turret.

Digging camp at the base of the Turret

Racking up in the AM

The formation had never been climbed in a day or free climbed so of course that was our goal. We walked 5 minutes to the base and picked what looked like the best line. Info on the route was virtually non-existent and the two pictures of where the route went had 2 different lines drawn in! A few hours later and about 1,000 feet of climbing brought us to the base of the headwall. We had battled a bit of loose rock and tricky route finding to this point, and now the vertical headwall took on the character of an onion skin. Peeling, hollow giant flakes were the name of the game, as we cautiously tread up another pitch or two.
Craig tackles the headwall of the Turret with Mt. Sir Sanford in the background.

About 400 feet from the top, the scary climbing got the better of us. I came up to a 7 piece anchor that Craig had made, and he still didn't feel good about it. The next pitch was a 100 foot traverse across perched blocks that was looking to weigh in at 5.11 r/x. We had enough and bailed.

We then turned our sights to trying the first one day and free ascent of the Blackfriar, another 2,000 foot wall close to camp. We did about 6 pitches of amazing Black Canyon of the Gunnison style free climbing until the skies opened up on us. I was on an intricate and run out 5.10 pitch when waterfalls starting pouring down the route. Not having a solid piece of gear in to bail on I kept climbing in the rain until I could make the anchor. Of course the anchor was guarded by 10 feet of ice climbing- this is the mountains after all! A minor epic saw us off the cliff soaked to the bone and hustling back to camp for dry clothes and warm tea.
Me bailing off the Blackfriar in a storm.

Back in camp we were feeling the mountain beat down. Adamants 2, Craig and Evan 0. But I have been in the mountains enough to know that humility and failure are a big part of the game and that is what keeps you coming back to try again. So we dried our gear out for a day, and rested up camp, to get ready to try the Blackfriar again...