Getting ThereKitty Hawk fresh in our minds from the previous weekend we made plans to head back down to the Nordegg to try our hand on this classic David Thompson ice climb.
We hit the road at 5:30 am hoping we wouldn't be scooped by another eager party. Following the forestry trunk road south of Hinton we arrived at the parking area after 2 3/4 hours of driving and were on the trail by 8:30 am. There is a pullout on the west side of the road about 4 km south of the Cline River bridge and a trail is usually obvious heading up into the trees from here.
Google Map From Hinton
After our mistake the previous weekend on Elliot Left Hand we took the time to find an obvious trail leading out from the parking area and worked our way, with relative ease, through the trees and into the drainage below the climb. 1 hour later we were at the base of the climb.
The ClimbFollowing the beta obtained from J.Josepheson's guide Waterfall Ice and the excellent route description in Summit Post (Kitty Hawk) we chose to solo the initial 90-100 metres of easy snow and ice which brought us to the base of the steeper ice. Unsure of what to expect, the ice looked thin and a touch anemic in places but we were psyched about having a go at this beautiful line.
The route is described by J.Josephson as being about 4 pitches.
The Summit Post route description described basically 2 long pitches. We completed the route in 3 pitches. In reality it is about 5 pitches to the true top. Depending on your comfort level you may solo the bottom two pitches and/or choose to pass on the short grade 3 step at the top.
Aaron lead off on the first technical pitch of ice and quickly disappeared around a bulge. He made steady progress with significant amounts of ice coming down which was generally funnelling to my left. He eventually emerged above the bulge that was blocking my view and began working the final step of steep ice. This pitch ran out a full 60 metres.
Once the belay was established I started cleaning the route and was taken aback by the quality of the ice. The ice on this pitch was hard, brittle and of varying thickness (2-10 cm in most places). The ice condition combined with the length of the pitch lead to long runout sections of gentle hooking and precisely placed tools. The pitch was sustained at 70-80 degrees with two short vertical sections. A beautiful if not cerebral lead on less than spectacular ice.
From the belay the second pitch was looming above. 5-6 metres of grade 3 climbing brought me to the base of the mushrooms and the vertical ice above. The ice, albeit significantly thicker, remained brittle and of poor quality. In spite of efforts to avoid it, ice rained down on the belay with frightening regularity. As I worked up through the mushrooms a piece of ice almost a metre wide cleaved off and split in two just in front of the belay missing Aaron by inches on either side.
The mushrooms were technical, but offered plenty of rests. More energy seemed to be expended swinging the tools 4-5 times before finding any sort of purchase in the ice. Even then, the placements rarely inspired full confidence. This was generally the theme for the day. Above the mushrooms was about 15 metres of vertical ice that was chandeliered and manky. The relentless swinging of the tools began to exact its toll as I neared the top of this steep section. Feeling desperate and my strength waning, while pulling on less than ideal tool placements, I placed a screw fully intending to take a rest. As I got ready to sit back on the screw I swung my left tool upwards and found the first positive stick I had had in 15 metres. I was able to shake out on this tool just enough to make the last couple of moves to where the ice kicked back taking the weight off of my arms.
Once above the crux section, the ice remained brittle but was significantly more consolidated and I was able to move quickly through this 20 metre section of grade 3 ice. The second pitch ran about 50 metres.
Aaron followed behind me and proceeded to lead the final 30 metres of snow and grade 3 ice which deposited us atop the climb in the basin above.
While setting up the first rappel from the pin and bolt station to the climber's right a spin drift avalanche let go providing us with a spectacular show as the cloud of snow poured down the route we had finished climbing only minutes earlier.
After the initial rappel, we made the next two rappels off of the ice, the second of which was close to a full 60 metres. The final rappel was from a station just down the gully from the base of the steep ice on the climbers right of the canyon.
We were back at the truck almost 8 hours after leaving, exhausted but jacked about the day. The ambience and sustained nature of the climb solidfies this route as a Canadian Rockies classic.