Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ice Skills Week

Spent an awesome 5 days ice climbing in December with Aaron, Tyler, and Kory on the Ice Skills Week.  I had spent time in the mountains with all three of them before on various climbs & courses, and knew it would be a super fun week with lots of enthusiasm, laughter, and perhaps the occasional crude joke.  Everyone was keen to get some experience leading on both single pitch and multi pitch terrain, and the avalanche hazard was nice and low so we had lots of great options. 

On Monday we started out by getting nice and pumped at Haffner Creek.  Most of the day was spent top-roping and honing movement techniques as well as working on strategies for placing ice screws in steep terrain.  We also worked on some of the other critical leading skills like downclimbing, clipping draws with big gloves on, anchor building, and consciously relaxing on the ice tools.  Downclimbing in particular is a skill that most climbers neglect to practice but is super important to get yourself out of a tight spot without falling.  We finished the day dangling from our arms on some of Haffner's classic mixed climbs. 

Mixed climbing at Haffner

Doing some practice leading on the steep ice at Haffner

Tuesday we took advantage of a rarely formed climb called The Water Hole, as well as a new climb higher up the mountain side.  The day involved 4 fun pitches of climbing as was a great way to go through all the multi pitch skills such as anchor building, choosing safe belay locations, double rope techniques, multi pitch rappels, and generally avoiding rope clusters with climbing teams of 3 or more.  The first two pitches were fun WI 3 ice, which was followed by a very cool but unprotectable pitch of really thin ice.  A short rock scramble and half hour hike led us up to a great pitch of WI 4 above treeline with good views over the Bow Valley.  This upper pitch may be a new route this year and was first climbed a few weeks before we were there.  Descending back down the climb gave us more opportunity to work on various skills.

                                                   Climbing the ice above The Water Hole

With everyone feeling strong and confident about their climbing techniques we decided to spend the day doing as much lead climbing as possible.  We headed into King Creek in Kananaskis and surprisingly had the place to ourselves.  There are a number of nice WI2 & WI3 climbs and everyone took advantage and did some lead climbing.  Leading on ice is a serious proposition with potentially high consequences in case of a fall, so I never pressure anyone to lead, but these guys were keen.  Everyone climbed with really solid pick placements, placed good screws, and kept a cool head, the keys to doing it safely.

Leading into a cool little cave on a route at King Creek

Wanting to put all the new skills to work we headed up to the multi pitch climb Rogans Gully near Banff on Thursday.  Most of the climbing is reasonably moderate so it was a great place to give everyone the chance to lead on a multi pitch route.  After the short approach, Kory took the front and did a great job leading up the first long pitch of ice.  A few lower angle but really neat pitches up a winding canyon brought us to the next steep section.  Aaron took over and cruised up the next harder pitch, which involved two steep sections of ice and a tricky topout on snow covered rock.  Some more low angle climbing brought us to the final 45m pitch where Tyler took over and was faced with some surprisingly rotten ice near the top of the pitch.  Despite the lack of good ice for screws near the top, he kept a cool head and looked solid as he took us to the end of the route.  A fun scramble and rappel down the rocks to the right took us back to the car. 

Belaying below the first steeper pitch on Rogan's Gully.

Leading the steep middle steps on Rogan's Gully.

For the final day we decided that finishing off with a good pump on steep ice was the priority.  We headed up to the mega classic Guinness Gully (WI4) and moved quickly up the main pitches of the route.  Wanting more, we continued up the gully to Guinness Stout (WI4+).  A couple of easier pitches brought us to the main attraction, a sustained 45m section of near vertical ice.  After 5 days of climbing it was a good challenge and workout for the arms, but the techniques we practiced throughout the week allowed everyone to do really well on it and enjoy the climb.  

I look forward to doing more climbing with these guys in the future, and wish them luck on their continued ice climbing adventures!

J. Mills
CRAG Head Guide

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