I didn’t think a thirty-six hour escapade deserves a place under the “Trips/Adventures” menu, but I wanted to bang out a quick blurb about what turned out to be an awesome weekend of first experiences and new accomplishments.
Nate and I left New Brighton early on Saturday morning for Casket Quarry in Duluth. Casket is unique; unlike the ice climbing quarry in Sandstone where there are plenty of moderate pure ice and mixed lines, Casket has been developed almost exclusively for hard, ground-up mixed climbing. If you can’t pull at least M6, you won’t have much fun there. This is really the first season I have started scratching around on steep rock routes with ice tools and crampons, other than the occasional easy mixed climbing moves on alpine routes. To be honest, I always viewed modern bolted mixed routes as contrived and a good way to burn through expensive picks and crampon front points. Now that I’ve gotten in the game though, I’m addicted. Hard mixed climbing takes an incredible amount of physical and mental strength, and I have already seen my endurance and technique on pure ice routes improve because of it.
We had the privilege to climb with an incredible crew on Saturday – many of these guys are legends and pioneers of the Minnesota climbing scene, and they climb HARD. It was a super productive day, as I led my first two M7 routes and didn’t take a fall on either. One of my three resolutions for the year is to lead M9, so that only leaves two grades to go…and next weekend the goal is to lead Reefer Madness, M8. Nate and I were so fixated on the climbing that we neglected to take a single picture that day, so I’ll include a link here to the Mountain Project guide for Casket Quarry.
After a beer and a mind-blowing wild rice burger at Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth, Nate and I pointed the Corolla south towards Sandstone, arriving at the quarry at about 2000. We set up camp in the dark, made some hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps, and passed out in the tent to rest up for another day on the ice.
We woke up the next morning ready to hit it hard. Amidst a growing sea of brightly colored topropes, we ticked one steep ice route after another. I led up each WI4 and WI5 route we could find, placing three or four ice screws on each to protect against a fall. At the top of each route, I slung a tree or clipped an anchor bolt and set up a belay to bring Nate up as he unclipped and removed the screws. When we were both safely at the top, we untied from the rope and let it fall back down to the base, and then rappelled down on a fixed line, grabbed our rope, and started on a new line of ice. We started to get pretty tired after a few hours of that cycle, so it was a welcome reprieve when my girlfriend Liz showed up for her first ever ice climbing experience!
Liz only started climbing when she met me last summer, but she already regularly knocks out 5.9’s and the occasional 5.10 both in the gym and outdoors. I suppose a high degree of fitness from being a disciplined distance runner and a regular at the gym didn’t exactly hinder her progress in a harness. That being said, she’s not a huge fan of being cold, and ice climbing is a totally different animal, so I wasn’t sure how she would do or whether or not she’d like it. No big surprise – she tied in on a steep route and smoked right to the top. Even her heavy, clunky ski boots didn’t seem to hold her back, and she enjoyed it enough that I think we’ll be looking for some real ice climbing boots for her.
A couple beers and an episode of the Mighty Boosh closed out the weekend, and now it’s back to the daily grind for five days. If only it were five days of play and two days of work…