Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The day we almost didn’t climb Sea of Vapours

(Click on the pictures for full value)

As Dave Rone drank his coffee, I drank my Red Bull as we drove the 30 minutes from the hotel in Dead Man’s Flats to the trail head in Banff.  Sea of Vapours was on our minds as Dave saw a pic on Facebook the night before of Ian Welsted climbing it the day before that.  This route was always in the back of my mind as a “someday…” and at the very top of Dave’s tic list now.  The alarm went off at 4am, and Dave was already awake. 

DR “I was up at 3am and wanted to wake you up but decided not to”
JJ “Why?!?”
DR “Oh, man. I am so Jacked right now I couldn't sleep!”

It was a long approach totaling 4 hours car to base.  Walking the road for the first hour chatting the whole time about past climbs, future climbs, and other stupid shit sped up the walk.  The road in was quick and easy, even though Dave went down on a patch of black ice in the dark.  The next bit was damn near straight uphill on “dust on crust” but this time the curst was being ice.  Well, the dust quick changed into deepening and deeper snow the higher up we got.  Thank god Ian’s trail wasn’t completely blown in and we had a path to follow up, only losing it a few times.  Dave and I both spent time at the front re-breaking parts of the trail, sometimes up to our hips swimming….

We made up and over another ridge line, another patch of trees, and another snow slope arriving with a clear view of the route above via a ridge line on the left.  Dave couldn't quite remember the path over to the little cave below the route to gear up at, so we traversed low under the cliff line and then up to the cave.  Once through the traverse we headed straight up the snow bowl until a….."Thump"….but it was a “soft” "Thump"…

JJ “Did you hear that?”  
DR “Yeah, what was that”
JJ “The slope settling…”
DR “Let’s get up and left!”
JJ “Exactly!!”


We moved a bit faster up left to get up to the higher cliff line and then headed back right to the cave.  By the time we got to the cave, my softshell pants were soaked, my gloves were soaked and I was just generally soaking wet from the snow trenching we did and from sweating hard from the effort.  I was not too happy about being wet, but I did bring a change of socks, a tee and a new fleece for under my jacket.  Dave sat down on his pack and started to untie his boots.

DR “Damn, I forgot my socks” 
DR “at least it’s warm out”

We did leave the parking at -1C, so he was right.  I began to change my socks, put on my dry fleece and eat a snack.

DR “fuck”
DR “Fuck”
DR “God Dam it”  
JJ “What?!?!?”
DR “I don’t have my harness”
JJ “What???”  
JJ “What the hell does that mean?!?!”
JJ “Is it in your little pack?”
DR “No, I checked everywhere, and I know exactly where it is, hanging on the wall at the hotel”
JJ “………”

Time goes by thinking of what to do…Dave starts to grab the bail cord and starts to attempt to make a harness

JJ “What are you doing”
DR “Making a harness, do you know how to make one?”
JJ “Shit, it’s been like ten years since I made a swami out of webbing in gym class in High School”  
DR “Well, we need to figure something out”

It’s now snowing harder and the visibility is back to low while thinking of our options.

JJ “We can stash our kit and come back in the am” 
JJ “Just hope it doesn't snow too much today to then have all our gear up here, and us down there”
DR “Exactly, and I don’t want to do that”

Dave is still thinking about how to make a harness….I am thinking he is nuts…F’n nuts.  We decide to cut one of our lead ropes and make a harness out of it.  Dave figures out how to wrap it around himself a few times, through the legs and tie it off.

DR “It actually looks pretty nice”
As he goes to test it by hanging off the hand line to climb up and out of the cave that is fixed. 
JJ “Your fucking nuts man”
DR “We are going to do this!"
JJ “Your STILL fucking nuts man!”

DR “You have an extra belay device???”
JJ “Nope”
DR “It’s ok,  I’ll bring you up with a munter”
JJ “And how will you get donw?”
DR “Ill use a carabiner brake to rap with”
JJ “Ok, you’re really F’n nuts man!”
DR “It’s all good, I did it with Kris last winter up here when I dropped my ATC off a route the day before.”
JJ “Ok, works for me”
DR “Yeah, I went to the gear shop to buy a new one that night and I quickly grabbed an ATC, bought it and left, when we got to the base of the route the next day, I realized I bought an ACT sport” 
JJ “WHAT!!!  HA!”
DR “Who the hell buys those things, they are stupid”
JJ “Dumbest thing I have ever seen, I have one seen one person use one in my life”
DR “Waste of money that was”

So, Dave is all tied up into his new sporty harness, I give him my one spare locker, and one of my two ice clippers and we call it good.  Up we go as we decided to just see how it will all work out with the harness and do the first pitch.  We pull up and out of the cave, and scramble up to the first belay bolt while pulling the ropes up behind us.  Dave takes off on the first WI3- approach pitch of ice and sets up a belay at the base of the route Postscriptum.   

DR “Finally!  Out of the F’n snow and onto some ice!”

Dave leads Postscriptum which was steeper than it looked from below.  It’s given a 5 grade and deserved it to the 4 bolt belay on the top.  Two new bolts and two rusted old bolts that we hung off of, me in my harness and Dave in his…ouch.

Dave took the rock gear from me that he never ended up placing and took off for the crux 2ed pitch which is clipping three rusted old pins along the way of an M6+ traverse with bad feet. Holy shit that was hard to follow, and impressive to watch!  Dave made it through figuring out the traverse and stoked when he found a jug at the last pin to clip from.  He then moved on to the thin ice with most of his body weight on his arms feeling the pump grow.  He grabbed a stubby, and threw it in.  He found room for a screw somewhere in those blobs of ice and clipped it off with the yellow rope, as the green rope was for the left side pins.  He finally was able to get up above the steep section and onto thicker ice where he could get a longer screw in.  A 16cm screw was started and turned out to be only 13cm thick ice  Dave looks back at me…

JJ “I see, you cut MY rope, you munch MY screws”

Dave gets a big smile and we both laugh as two days before he put one into some rock then as well…I have to admit, it was funny!  He replaces it with a 13 and moves a bit higher up.

DR “Damit!” “ Son-of-a-bitch”
I saw the next screw go flying by and down the wall landing in the snow slopes below.  Just another thing on the list to make today a good story is all I can think…

Dave continues up past a small roof on the right by climbing the steep ice on the right.  He climbs steep grade 5 ice for another 30 meters and sets a belay.  Now I have to say, until this pitch the snow really slowed down to a stop and the wind was almost nonexistent.  I have to say, until this pitch.  Just before Dave set off from the belay, the winds picked up and the spindrift started in waves.  Neither of us could have climbed without hood the whole day after that.  It was beginning to become full on fun conditions.  


I cleaned the pitch and had to take on the last of the fixed pins.  The pump was on full time, and I couldn’t risk a fall on the 8mm ropes having 50 meters out.  I would have stopped way out in no man’s land under a large roof out in space…that would not have been good.  So, I took on the pin to get my arms back, then unclipped and finished the past moves onto the ice and continued up to the belay  Frekin impressive lead by Dave right there.

The third pitch was long, almost the length of our freshly fully cut 70m rope to where Dave set a belay with his last two screws. It was steep grade 5 climbing the whole way.  I could barely look up at the belay the whole time only getting in two peaks of Dave leading because of the heavy spindrift that kept cascading down the wall.  At times looking out across the valley I could hardly see out as there was so much fine grained snow in suspension in the air. 

JJ “10 meters”
DR “How much rope???”


Some time passes and the ropes stop going out, my thoughts are Dave is making the next belay.

DR from up at the belay and I could hardly hear;
JJ “ummmm….WAHT?”
JJ “OK?!?"

A few more minutes

The ropes go tight and I decide to keep my parka on to clean the final pitch as by now my legs are shaking in the cold and covered with spindrift that I kept trying to brush off.  I followed up what I learned was then the final pitch to the belay where I meet back up with Dave.

JJ “That was freking steep!”
JJ “SOoo Pumped!”
DR “Nice job man”
JJ “Not me Dave, all you!”
JJ “What were you yelling about up here?”
DR “Oh just a little hissy fit”
DR “Those were the worst barfies of my life!”

Dave got the barfies. All I could was imagine, as my hands were cold with frozen gloves and I was on a top rope!

I moved the top belay left onto the better ice that Dave spotted to make a top V thread to begin the raps with.  When I bought Dave over, he dropped a glove as the wind took it down and out of sight.  So, one camo belay mitt from Gander Mountain on the left, and one glove on the right.

Dave drilled the holes and I tied the cord and we started down the first of what turned out to be 5 raps. I went down using my trusty ATC and Dave rigged up a carabineer brake.  I had him on a fireman’s from the bottom just in case…

DR “Are you pulling on the ropes?!?!”
JJ “No”

2 minute later
DR “Are you pulling on the ropes?!?!?!?!?”

I watched Dave make the raps stopping about every 20 meters and arch his back way out, wondering wtf.

DR “ Really hurts man”  
DR “It’s all on my waist”
JJ speechless…..

DR “Ya know, this harness isn't as nice as my other one at home” 
DR “I think I want to return it”
Both of us just laughing, as the day just got funnier and funnier as it went on.

I lead the rest of the raps, making it back to the bolted belay, top of pitch one by swinging way out right then back left a few times to stick the ice with my tool and then clip the bolts with my PAS.  Dave came down and I pulled him over to the belay with the slack in the ropes and he clipped in as well.

JJ “Ya know, we could have made the ground with full 70’s”
DR “Yeah, damn it”

One more rap down to the next thread on the WI3- approach pitch to get  almost back to the first belay bolt,  Then one more 30 m rap back to the cave. But, the green rope got stuck as we were pulling them down….

DR “The rope is stuck, I can’t pull it”
JJ “fuckin hell”
Dave was pulling as hard as he could, and he is a strong dude, so then I put my prussic on it to pull down as well.  No luck.

DR “Why don't you rap on yellow with the rope tied to you”
JJ “Good plan”

So, we pulled yellow through and I go down with green tied off to me.  Not a budge, all I did was take out the stretch of the rope, and not a millimeter more. So, we decided to leave the rope as now it is 7pm and we are both beginning to get a bit tuckered.  

So, back to the one bolt anchor that we started this all from and I wanted to rap the final 30 meters and Dave wanted to down climb.

JJ “ I am a bit tired and it will be safer for me to rap, I am going to rap”
DR “Ok, sounds good”

I take a quick look in the knot in the bail cord around the bolt and notice it is a dbl bowline and start down not checking out any other parts of the system. I get about 10 meters down, with my full weight on the rope and Dave yells.

DR “STOP!  Take your weight off the rope!!”
Not knowing whats up…
DR “This thing is almost cut through, there are about two strands holding you right now”

Me thinking HOLY SHIT”
DR  “I am going to put my bail cord around this, hold on.
DR “Ok, you are good to go now”
JJ “Thanks!”

A few seconds later when it all registers
JJ “Thanks for saving my life Dave”  “Appreciate it”

So, we make it back to the cave, repack our one rope, less a screw and a glove for the rest of the kit. We eat some food and drink, then begin the process of going down.  This time a different way. The bowl below us is even more wind loaded then we thought before so we take the high traverse back out and onto the ridgeline.  We have to cross one more snow bowl though to get out, although much smaller than the other.  So, Dave goes first as I watch, then he watches me cross safely and we begin the down back to the car.  We keep our crampons on the whole way back to the bottom of the slope as it was super fast going down over the iced up lower trail with traction and we make it back to the road to walk out not a problem.  About 10 minutes before making it back to the car I was starting to bonk and ate two bars to get me the rest of the way, arriving at the car at 10pm.  It was a long day out. Lots of laughter, lots of hard climbing, LOTS of spindrift and all in all, a super fun but slightly crazy day.