In 'Quest For Everest' Steve Whittington is sharing his training experience with us as he prepares for a big challenge: climbing Mount Everest in March. Make sure to check out the other blog posts in this series.
At 5:00 am while driving out to Field, BC from Calgary, I mentioned to my climbing partner Jeff Dmytrowich: “One of the these weekend climbing trips I want to roll into it with lots of sleep instead of none from travelling the week prior.” So that was the start of a long day - I was already tired with ambitions to climb 5 pitches of vertical ice (Grade 4 and Grade 4 +) with a bit of a grinding slog between pitch 3 and 4.
We parked at the trailhead, read the route description and began slogging our way up through trees on steep terrain until we found a trail. The route description indicated a 15 -20 minute approach, so at 35 minutes we knew something was wrong, but felt we must be going towards the climb or at least the upper pitches. The path through the woods had turned into a gully that was icy and steep, so we had put on our crampons. We finally reached the climb after a 1000 foot of front pointing up the gully. Our calves were burning, and we had reached the top of the third pitch over half way up! Yep, we had gone the wrong way, we had hiked up the descent path.
We rappelled down the route and climbed the third pitch as our warm up. It was the longest pitch, 195’ of ice, and it stretched out my 70 meter ropes to their max. I lead the first pitch. I wanted to lead this pitch when we had picked this climb. I felt this long pitch would test me. My plan was simple: stay focused, find and use rest spots, move efficiently. The pitch went well, I belayed Jeff to the top of the pitch (where we had started) and we had a bit of lunch and talked about what we wanted to do next.
We wanted to climb the harder pitches but were not excited about 45 minutes of front pointing up steep terrain to get to them. As it turned out the guide book was gracious with the time duration to reach the climb, as we marched to the base in a mere twenty minutes.
We looked at the climb. It looked mean but we could see several likely routes and we picked our line of attack. We soloed (climbed without rope protection) over the first lower grade pitch and then roped up. I lead again with the plan to establish an anchor from which Jeff would finish off the last hardest pitch. Leading the next pitch reached a step (we had been unaware of) and got into the harder 4+ ice. The plan was to create a belay station on what we thought was ledge further up. Getting up another 30’ from the step I realized what we thought was a good location to belay from was no good. I also realized I was getting tired on this pitch. I placed some protection and got Jeff to lower me back to the step. I set up an anchor there and belayed Jeff up. This last pitch was his to lead. And lead it he did in style!
Jeff worked his way up quickly, found the one rest spot on the route, tested a couple of tool placements and fought his way up. For added fun, near the top there was some frightening onion skin ice he had to bash through to get to solid ice. Jeff belayed me up and we then rappelled the routes. In winter the days are short and it was starting to get dark. We pulled out our head lamps and headed down. The gully was a lot easier on the way down than on the way up! From a training perspective this was a great day. I was fatigued but able to perform physically and mentally as required over the span of many hours without much difficulty.
The next day we were tired and picked an easier multi-pitch climb. On the approach we hiked up the wrong way again but at least did not arrive at the top of the climb, we actually started at the bottom this time. It was another great day in the mountains but with a long eight hour drive home afterwards to Saskatoon. I guess that is why the back of the Alpine Club Saskatchewan Section’s t-shirts show a long straight highway with mountains in the distance and the slogan beneath the image is “the drive to climb.”