UNPRECEDENTED EARLY-SEASON ICE CLIMBING ACTIVITY IN CANADIAN ROCKIES

Posted on: November 7, 2007


Ueli Steck pulling through the overhanging seracs on the last 50 meters of Polarity (VI WI5+, 800m). Steck and Anthamatten added this last pitch to the route two weeks after Richards, Ruddy and Welsted made the first ascent of the lower section. The north face of Snow Dome has yet to see a complete ascent to the top. A nasty cornice prevented Steck and Anthamatten from summiting. [Photo] Simon Anthamatten

Check Alpinist.com next week for an exclusive Weekly Feature showcasing more of Ueli Steck and Simon Anthamatten's Canadian Rockies sendfest.

With long new alpine routes, new variations, swift repeats of difficult testpieces and a multi-national cast of climbing characters, the Canadian Rockies have seen an aggressive start to this year's ice climbing season. On October 13, Cory Richards, Dana Ruddy and Ian Welsted climbed a new ice route around the corner from the famous Slipstream (VI WI4+, 925m), almost nabbing the the first ascent of the north face of Mt. Snowdome in the process. The new route is called Polarity (VI WI5+, 800m). The team did not summit the peak because of the highly dangerous overhanging seracs at the top.

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Two weeks later, the Swiss pair of Ueli Steck and Simon Anthamatten snagged the second ascent of Polarity, adding approximately 50 meters to the route by climbing some of the steep serac ice.

Steck wrote in the Hardware Sessions Blog, "Here it was hard glacier ice. So the ice was always cracking and splitting. When I started to climb I knew exactly that everything could break and I could fall off.... But I kept going. The roof was then totally fun. It was real climbing!" The Swiss team retreated about 10 meters from the top due to a dangerous overhanging snow cornice. "Maybe one day the cornice will be smaller and somebody will top out on the summit—another 10 meters."

While repeating Riptide (VI WI7 R, 225m) on Mt. Patterson, they noticed a previously unclimbed line. The Swiss duo proceeded to climb RocketBaby (VI M8+ WI5+ X)—which climbs four original pitches before finishing with the last three pitches of 1999's Rocket Man—a few days later.

"The first pitch was fast done. Easy, only M5. Then I started for the second pitch. The climbing is not that hard but very unstable. The hooks are small and slippery... The first part of the pitch goes over a roof. After the roof you are awake. And then it starts the real unstable climbing," Steck wrote.

They then repeated Mt. Rundle's classic Sea of Vapors (WI5/6), Sacre Bleu (WI5+), Razor Blade (WI4+) and Ten Years After (WI5+ M5), then established the new route Not Flying is Not Trying (WI6 M8) after several falls onto interesting protection. Writes Steck, "I remember that I realized that the knifeblade was ripping off. The fall was stopped by a sling that was around a small icicle of maybe 10 centimeters of diameter...But it held."

The Steck-Anthamatten team intends a new route on Howse Peak, home to some of the more difficult alpine ice and mixed lines in the Canadian Rockies such as M16 (VI WI7+ A2, 1000m, Backes-Blanchard-House, 1999) and Howse of Cards (VI M7- WI6 X, 1065m, Gadd-Mahoney-Semple, 2002), but has thus far been stymied by uncooperative weather.

That week, Frenchman Daniel Du Lac and locals Eric Dumerac and Steve Holeczi established their own new route on Mt. Rundle. The team began by climbing Laser Blade (WI 4+), left of Sacre Bleu on Mt. Rundle, then added four new pitches through the icy rock band above, to top out Leviathan (WI5+).

Sources: Ueli Steck, Hardware Sessions Blog, Waterfall Ice: Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, danieldulac.petzlteam.com

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