I wrote at the beginning of the year that I have three goals to accomplish in 2015, and that I would post updates whenever I had checked one off the list. Well, the pencil came out and the box has been checked, because I climbed my first WI6 route on lead this weekend! For those who don’t know what that means, a WI6 route has vertical and overhanging ice, hard to find and/or bad protection in case of a fall, and limited or no opportunities for resting.
Nate and I headed up to Duluth early on Saturday morning with the intent to climb at Casket Quarry both days. After warming up on a short, moderate M6 called Thin And Bear It, we headed over to climb Martini Madness. Martini is M6 or M7 depending on ice conditions, and on Saturday it was definitely M7. A huge chunk of the hanging dagger had broken off, leaving a fairly sizable ice roof to climb and the promise of a painful ledge dive if the leader fell while make the move onto the upper ice flow.
We both cruised Martini, and I was feeling strong and smooth after leading the route. As Nate flaked the rope, I studied our next challenge: the intimidating ice line called The Chimney. In good ice conditions, the pitch is a fun WI5/M5 that takes enough good ice screws to prevent a dangerous fall. These conditions, however, were anything but good. The vertical ice leading up to the huge ice roof was sun-leeched and hollow. Picks and crampon points had to be placed and weighted delicately, since much of the ice was just a skin with an inch or two of space between it and the rock wall.
I managed to place one ten centimeter screw about ten feet up and a thirteen centimeter screw about eight feet higher. Neither piece would have held a fall, but it was comforting to look down and see my rope clipped to something.
I gently hooked and tapped my way up below the ice roof and clipped the bolt in the rock wall to the left – the one thing that would stop me from falling to the ground if I whipped on the next few moves. Even so, I realized, it would be a painful fall, as the location of the bolt in relation to the overhang meant that I would swing back into the ice with a frightening amount of momentum. I wavered mentally for a minute, unsure of my ability to pull the crux without falling. I reached down to my harness and fingered a single carabiner…it would be simple to clip the rope to the bolt and have Nate lower me under the pretense of not wanting to risk an injury two weeks before my climbing trip to Switzerland. Suddenly, a familiar voice from below broke into my internal debate.
“Get your ass up there, Jimmy, we don’t have all fucking day!”
I looked down to see a cluster of people watching me from the ground. The source of the stoke was local pro climber Adam Dailey. Another Duluth badass, Rick Kollath, chimed in as well.
“Yeah, everyone is waiting on you, stop messing around and climb that thing!”
I smiled and shook my head. Ego and peer pressure is a dumb reason to climb, but there was no way I was backing off with some of my climbing heroes watching. I took a deep breath, leaned out as far as I could on my left ice tool, and carefully tapped the tip of my right tool into the soft ice a few inches above the lip of the roof. I tugged it gently, testing it as best I could before I committed my full body weight to it. The placement seemed solid, so I unhooked my left tool and slotted it into a hole in the ice a few inches above my right pick. Both tools felt secure, so it was now or never.
I took a deep breath and cut both of my feet loose from the ice below the roof, swinging the right leg out and up onto a hanging icicle about ten inches in diameter. The crampon point came to rest on a tiny ledge, and I slowly stood up so I could unweight the tools and move them higher. Suddenly, the entire icicle snapped off just above my foot and I fell back onto my ice tools.
“Fuck fuck fuck!” I screamed as I loaded my tools. I was sure that one or both of them was going blow, sending me for a long, painful ride down. Both placements held though, and I let out the breath I had been holding in one forceful gasp as more cheers came from below.
“Wooooohooooo! Ride that shit, bro! Get back up there! You got this!”
I took another deep breath and swung my legs up and to the right again until my torso was almost horizontal. With my right crampon planted in good ice, I pulled my right tool out and swung it into the ice as high above me as I could. The first swing went deep, and I pulled up on the handle until I could get my left foot planted. With both feet now secure and the pressure off my arms, I quickly climbed the last few moves to the anchors and clipped the rope into the bolts with a pair of quickdraws.
“Bring me down, brother!” I yelled to Nate.
With my feet firmly planted on the ground, I looked back up at the route and promised myself that I wouldn’t hop on anything that hard or sketchy for a long time…or at least until next week. With that thought in mind, we spent Sunday working on mixed and drytool lines that, although difficult, were equipped with bolts. It’s still possible to take a pretty good fall, but the bolts reduce the chance of serious injury.
One 2015 resolution accomplished, and two more to go.