Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Black Dike, 11/6

Early season ice ascents are always interesting. Approaches, lightly dusted with snow, feel sketchy. The ice usually doesn't protect well. Hands go numb easily and the movement feels very blocky and awkward. Turf isn't frozen yet and mixed climbing feels scary. It's a good reminder that ice climbing is a challenging pastime, and that upward progress over moderately difficult or difficult terrain is hard fought and feels scary.


Erik Eisele, one of my favorite climbing partners, and I climbed the Black Dike on Cannon Cliff yesterday under beautiful blue, sunny skies. Every year I say "this year I'm going to wait for real ice to form" yet nearly every year I do manage to sneak in a few early season winter climbing days. So much for waiting for winter to arrive.

By modern standards the Black Dike is an easy climb. However, nearly every season now it's my first climb of the winter and it always feels demanding. Ambling flows and balancey climbing up delaminated, unprotectable ice on pitch 1 leads to the fixed belay below the crux.

Leading the crux in early season conditions always gives me pause. Knocking the rust off takes a little while. I stand at a safe stance before I commit to the crux. Is this doable? Is it safe? Am I going to climb into a place where there's no gear only to get stuck? I'm left with more questions than answers, and this leads to intimidation. After a few moments I find some tool placements that hold my weight, stomp out a few footholds and move up. Eventually I find decent gear, and the confidence to proceed. The process repeats itself as I work my way up the ice-free chimney. I search for hooks and use one tool to pound the other tool in at each stance. I reach the ice as I run out of rock protection. Erik packed a single rack, which is more than adequate.  I would have brought more gear though. As I've aged my tolerance for risk has decreased and I like having more gear. It doesn't matter now though, there are good sticks in pretty yellow ice just above me. I let out a rebel yell and run up to the the fixed anchor 15 feet above.

Pitch 3 has a bit of challenging ice climbing, but if you've made it through pitch 2 this time of year, you're going to get to the top of the Dike. There was even enough ice for 4-5 screw placements. Erik marched up vertical flows and corners into the beautiful snow covered trees at the top. Fifteen minutes later we were walking down in the warmth of the mid-day sun. Now we can both go back to rock climbing for another month, as real ice begins to form in earnest. Let's hope for a better ice season than the last one.