Sunday, March 23, 2008

Brittle Ice

Today I went out to Eklutna Canyon and led Ripple again. One last time before the season ends. The plan was to check out Annie Greensprings but it's tough to walk by Ripple when no one is on it and not climb it.

The lead up Ripple ended up being the hardest lead I have done thus far. On Thursday the ice was soft and sticky which made for easy climbing. Today it was so brittle I was knocking down torso sized pieces of ice. Yikes.

I was hanging three quarters of the way up the climb on a vertical section that looked less than vertical from the ground. My last screw was about 15 feet below me and totally useless, because there was a ledge directly below it. I knew I had to put in a screw, so I wanted to swing my tools (complete with my reattached leashes) in good. I swung with the left, whack, and I saw and heard a two foot wide and three inch deep dinner plate crack around my pick. I pulled it out and the ice crashed off of my elbow and onto my foot almost knocking me off the wall. I yelled "Ice!" to Kim down below.

I guess my voice sounded a bit frantic because I felt a tug on the rope. Kim had taken the rope in and stepped back. "If I fall now, it's gonna hurt." I thought. I later found out that Kim thought that I yelled, "Take!" which means... well, it's not good when you are in the middle of the climb and nowhere near your last screw.

I took a few deep breaths and tried again. Once you remove a piece of ice that size the next swing is a usually a really good stick. But not today. More ice came off again and again, until I finally got a good enough placement to throw in a screw. As I hung there from the side of this waterfall, calves burning, exhausted, I wondered what this was all about. What exactly was I doing up there? I am not usually a huge risk taker and I don't really get the whole adrenaline junkie thing, but I have to admit there was a certain thrill, looking down the vertical wall of smooth blue ice, knowing that at any moment I could fall off. I guess the thrill comes from coming close disaster, knowing that you can get yourself out of the situation, and then doing it. But I'm not sure.

I calmed myself down and realized that this is no different than climbing on easy ice. I just have to swing a bit more. If I take it one tool, one foot placement at a time, I can work my way through it. My instinct was to start climbing as fast as possible to just get to the top of the climb, but I know that is when accidents happen. So I took myself back to the slow and methodical approach and came to the realization that I have been afraid of brittle ice all this time for no good reason.

Kim followed up and we were both exhausted. Probably because I put so many screws in! We decided after we rappelled to call it a day. A good day.

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