A different way to spend Christmas Day
Jason and I are making a tradition of getting out on Christmas Day
for some ice action - last year, we climbed The Sorcerer
in the Ghost. This year, there were several posts online from people climbing Nemesis
in November, so we decided to get amongst. :) Unfortunately, the end of December brought frigid -30 C temperatures so there didn't seem to be much climbing going on - who wants to climb when it's that cold?!
The temperatures were warming up a bit for Christmas so we decided to give Nemesis a go. Since we were both climbing ice pretty much "off the couch" (I had flown in from San Francisco a couple of days before, and Jason had only 1 day of ice in November), we thought we'd go to Grotto Canyon to get a feel for the ice and see how brittle it is from the cold temperatures. We hung out on Hers
for a bit getting the blood pumping in our hands, ran up Grotto Falls
quickly and then retreated to my house for a delicious Christmas dinner that my mom had prepared (thanks mom!). We felt pretty good.
Me following the first pitch
So we were off to Nemesis
the next day. We had brought skis in the truck, but there appeared to be a donkey trail
leaving the parking lot, so we decided to leave them behind and just boot in. Of course once we reached the open valley and the climb was in sight, the trail disappeared and we were stepping down to the ground through the heavily faceted snowpack. We had brought our avy gear and spaced out but the approach slope appeared pretty safe (despite the weak snowpack, there wasn't a crust layer underneath it as in the alpine at the time). Jason was breaking trail and I was happily following along: took us over 2.5 hours to the base
during the day were -20 C
- I had a down sweater + down jacket at times and was cold. The ice had cement-like qualities
making the climbing much more challenging than it needs to be - sometimes 10 swings needed to get a tool placement in the virgin ice. If you didn't swing with precision and determination the first time, the pick would bounce right back at you - laughing in your face, in a way. Good fun!
Jason on the 3rd pitch
Jason started the first pitch and we swapped from there, making it up in 4 pitches. The first half of the climb was very featured, making for fun and technical (not physical) climbing that was much more like rock climbing in nature. Jason did the 3rd pitch off the cave which usually constitutes the crux: he traversed right to the middle and launched up sustained ground. Then he again traversed right to belay on a small ledge - this was a diagonal pitch. From there, I carefully traversed back left and finished the last 30 meters. I was getting exhausted by the time I reached the top (calves were burning with fire) and it was nice to stop, setup a belay and bring Jason up, while I was soaking up the amazing views from the Stanley Headwall. He raced up to join me as it was slowly getting dark, and got the screaming barfies
really bad as a result of rushing. My hands were freezing too, so it took us 10 minutes of fumbling around to setup an abalakov and rappel.
Time to get back to civilization!
On the last pitch!
I was surprised that 60 meter ropes made it to the mid-way cave. From there, another 60 meter rappel got us almost to the ground, and we downclimbed the last 15 feet as it got dark.
View from the top!
The trail out went much faster: we made it to the car in less than an hour, sprinting through the forest at times! We were frozen and hungry, so there was no doubt that we were stopping for food on the way back. Jason called up some friends in Canmore and we joined them at the Radisson hotel for dinner. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't just your typical restaurant - it was a buffet. Hungry climbers know what that means - 3 plates later, we crawled out deeply satisfied... life is good with a full belly. An hour later we were in Calgary shaking hands - the next question is, what's going to be the plan next year?
I also want to note that, as intimidating as this climb is, this is mostly in part to its history (an amazing feat in the days it was first done). Neither of us had climbed any ice in a long time and didn't think it was harder than grade 5/5+ in these conditions. So if you've done Polar Circus, Hydrophobia, etc. don't be afraid of the grade, go give it a go. I know I had dreams of scary free standing pillars that went on for miles (my vision of a grade 6), but instead what we found was just a very nice climb with classic history and spectacular location. What a memorable way to spend Christmas Day - thanks Jason!