Sunday, December 9, 2007

Defeated by the kid

Sunday brought more temperatures in the 30s in Anchorage, so Kim and I decided to get out of town. We drove 2 hours out to Caribou Creek to try our hand at a climb called Kid's Corner.

I had my eye on this climb for the end of the season, after I had warmed up on some easier climbs, but I figured we might as well give it a try. The climb is five pitches of solid Grade III ice, which would make it the hardest climb I have tried to lead thus far. In retrospect, it probably wasn't the best choice for my first lead of the season.

I have to warn you now that I am pretty new to ice climbing. This will be my second full season. This blog for the next 5 months is NOT going to be a heroic checklist of all the awesome climbs I conquered, adventurous new routes I've discovered or first ascents of climbs in remote places. And there will NOT be pictures of me standing on top of mountains that no one has been on before, or pictures of me climbing crazy overhanging icicles that look as if they are about to detach from the rock. That is an entirely different blog.

What I hope it will be is a totally honest account of my trials and tribulations, and hopefully some successes, in learning how to lead ice. Last year I realized that on the way to succeeding, I am going to encounter some setbacks. So, I tried to keep this in mind after yesterdays climbing fiasco.

The entire climb is in a narrow canyon that never sees any sun. The temperatures are usually below 10 in the canyon during the day and drop below zero over night. That makes for some really solid hard brittle ice. The climb was big, beautiful and blue. It was so good to see fat ice again. I was a really nervous hiking in on the river to the climb. I had heard some nightmare stories about the ice on the first pitch being so hard that one of the best woman climbers in the area could not get her screws in all the way. But when we arrived at the climb the first pitch looked pretty easy. We confidently strapped on our gear and talked about how we would be at the top of this pitch in no time. Little did we know we would be quickly humbled.

So I started my lead. I got a feel for what the ice was going to be like on the first section of low angle ice and started to feel uneasy. The ice was exploding under my picks and the noise was unsettling. Ping! Ping! Like I was swinging my tools into rock. I would swing a tool and the ice would explode in all directions leaving a shear face for me to swing into again. I couldn't sink my tools in far enough.

Let me explain. On a good day it goes something like this. You swing hard, your pick sinks into the ice, you give a yank to make sure it's secure and you move your feet up. Repeat. Today it went something like this. Swing, swing, swing, crack, start over because the ice you were swinging at is now gone. Swing, swing, swing, crack, exploding ice in my face. Repeat.

Finally I get my tools in solid and move up. This process was totally exhausting. And I never really knew when the ice that I had sunk my tool into was going to crack again. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I'm now hanging on the edge of this climb about 20 feet up and totally not confident that I can keep going like this. I put in a screw, but it takes about 5 minutes. And then, my feet slipped out from under me. Luckily my picks were in far enough that they held, but I was done. I had to back off.

Kim said she wanted to give it a go, and I thought that was a good idea. I just wasn't feeling this climb. She had a similar encounter with the climb and had to back down. I could hear her breathing heavily as she down climbed.

Having to back off of a climb is not a good feeling. For a brief moment you feel like a total failure. Or as Kim would say, a "heaping, steaming pile of failure". But then you begin to verbally rationalize your fears and convince yourself that it would have been dangerous to continue. I know that it would have been dangerous to continue, but not because of the condition of the ice, but the condition of my mind. And that does not make me feel better.

And so my first bad day of the season. But at least the season has begun. And I know now that having bad days just make the good days that much sweeter.

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