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Being first

March 1, 2009

Spring First Ascents and Satisfaction/Frustration

Spring has always been my second favourite part of the ice season. I always enjoy the beginning the most, because there is all of that pent up energy and excitement waiting for things to get going, and once they do I completely overdose on ice and mixed climbing to the point where I mellow out a bit for a few weeks. The middle of my winter then usually gets spent hiding from the cold, leading ACC events and chasing the sunny climbs or skiing. This isn’t a bad thing, since my nagging injuries and the obligatory (it seems) new ones need time to settle down anyway. Come spring, I’m ready for more action again.

Spring typically offers the most potential for new route exploring in this area. The changeable weather starts, with the occasional rain event, and lots of freeze-thaw action, meaning new seeps and drips start to freeze and offer some new temptations to the local icicle hunters. This year, we had a big thaw/rain event in mid-February, and many of these seepages are starting to arrive a few weeks earlier than normal.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been out trying to snag a couple for myself with various friends over the past week.

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On the FA of Plum Dalliance (Kyle Brooks photo).

The first of these wasn’t really just a spring route. Every season in Orient Bay, a collection of daggers and curtains forms on the cliffs way up and left of Cascade Falls. And every season, I seem to get into one of “those conversations”
about how someone really needs to get up there and climb one of them. Orient Bay is funny that way, blatantly obvious routes within a few minutes of the road, hard to believe nobody’s done it yet.  This year, I started having one of “those conversations” with Kyle Brooks, and found myself at the base of the route before I knew what had happened, courtesy of Derrick’s “Betsy Express”.

Though we had arrived a bit late in the season, and sun had definitely taken its toll on the ice, we still managed to establish an absolutely stellar moderate mixed line that I’d do again in a heartbeat, a real plum. It was a great way to start getting after it again, some easy, sun-rotted ice to get back in the groove, then a stellar, gently overhanging drytool corner with excellent pro, and some moderate ice and rock to finish. Using an appropriate play on words, we named the route “Plum Dalliance” – beta is here.

Normally, I would’ve been happy with my token new route for the season (actually, the second this year), but on the way out I couldn’t help but notice an old nemesis of mine was forming early this year. Last season, barely recovered from an attempt at separating my shoulder, I had very nearly climbed a difficult (for me) new route. After warming up on the first ascent of a new ice line nearby, Bryce and Jenn patiently took turns belaying me while I gimped my way up about 30m of exciting rock climbing, only to break a key hold 3 feet from the icicle at the top. I had been proud of the difficult onsight lead I had made, and spent nearly an hour looking for other options and getting massively pumped over questionable gear trying to find another solution. I vowed I’d return if the ice ever formed a tad lower.

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Five metres from failure on the project (Bryce Brown photo).

I expected to start sniffing around the route again in late March, but surprisingly the route was already in and the dagger looked to be lower than last season, which meant the route might actually go! Despite my general lack of forearm strength, I decided to have a poke anyway, on what looked to be the only reasonably warm day in the forecast for quite some time (I’ve always felt it’s best not to be going after the free-hanging daggers when the temperatures are cold or swinging rapidly).  After having a couple of different partners cancel, and seeing an agreeable (warm) forecast, my old friend Frank offered to be a belay slave while I had another go.  An understanding boss and some overtime hours made a mid-week attempt possible, so off we went.

And off I went!  The second attempt ended a lot lower that the first.  Not properly warmed up, I trusted a desperate, poor pick placement momentarily and then popped off the route, surprising Frank and tumbling onto a nice yellow Camalot (I swear that piece has caught more of my whippers than any other on my rack…is that good luck or a curse?).  I tried again, but only got about 30 feet up before finding key seems and cracks that offered the only pro were glued shut with ice.  Another $20 dollar attempt (pin and biner bailoff anchor).

So now, it’s back to waiting for the right conditions.  A sunny day or two should bring the rock back into shape, but for now we’re into another cold snap (-30C in Nipigon this morning!).  That’s one of the things I like about winter climbing – even though it’s frustrating at times, it’s sweet indeed when you’re in the right place at the right time and it all finally clicks.

In the meantime, my forearms apparently need a bit of training in the bouldering cave…got pumped way too easily up there.  And I gotta hope someone is willing to belay me one more time for another go (so far I owe Jenn, Bryce and Frank beers.  Good thing Jenn loves me!).

(Unfortunately, it didn’t click quickly enough for me this year, as my friend James started sniffing around and nabbed the FA on both daggers, including the one I was aiming for, via a more direct line.  Fortunately for me, he didn’t go my (less direct) way, so that variation is still open. Inevitable really, when someone like that goes sniffing around unclimbed daggers.)

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