|John and Dave relieved to be off the wall|
I was sharing a tent with John. That was cool. I had earplugs.
Once you mitigated against Johns snoring he was a good tent partner. He had brought all the essentials for an extended stay in a stormbound tent.
• Ipod speakers with a plentiful supply of drum and base
• Kindal with a good supply of pre-downloaded quiz games
Within the tent I lay happily cocooned, warm and dry. Out tent pitched on a section of abandoned riverbed had done its job during the previous two days of torrential rainfall. My infrequent visits outside, obligatory to perform hasty acts of defecation, had all also included a check on the river levels.
The river had risen to within a few feet of its banks but never seriously looked like reclaiming the oxbow of relict riverbed we had camped in. John and I felt sure we would get advanced warning if it did flood. Will and Reeve were camped far closer to the possible breech, and I was sure I’d hear their cries of distress.
Outside the tent Will and Reeve were mooching about in the drizzle. Roused from our slumbers we peered out to confer. Reeve related to us a sorry story of tent based water ingress.
After his initial experiences with John’s snoring when they had shared a tent, Reeve had not hesitated to bed down with Will. This decision which had seemed a good one on the balmy dry days of our approach began to look less sound when he awoke in the night to a feeling of dampness. Will initially passed off the incoming deluge as being due to slack guy ropes and readjusted the outer. This was not however and unqualified success with a persistent drip onto Reeve being a key feature of the next few weeks. From this point on bivy bags were required in Wills tent.
|Reeve enjoying the comfort of Wills tent|
Peering out of the tent flaps I could see the base of the wall, our objective, plastered in snow. Success and glory was not happening today so I went back to sleep.
Over the next few days we watched weather forecasts and the snow levels. The face slowly cleared, mini avalanches sloughing off the upper sections of the wall. It was clearly too dangerous, and too wet to attempt to push our route higher.
In the days prior to the storm we had climbed 250 meters of crackline up the prow of the tower. The super slick glacial polished granite had made the climbing much harder than the angle would imply. John and Reeve had done the initial block of leading, pushing a line up some surprisingly complex and devious ground. Will and I had followed the next day in deteriorating conditions.
I had led the last thirty meters of climbing. In the rain I'd pushed upwards, mixing aid and free moves to make progress despite the conditions, before being forced to stop. Lower on the route I'd climbed some obligatory free, run out sections but these had been on the easy angled slabs, now I was on steep ground. The crack I had been climbing had belled out. The pod it formed was devoid of gear, the narrow crack reappearing eight meters above my head. From my position I'd been able to see a good flake at four meters and by tensioning out right I had seen holds.
Mentally I’d pulled on and climbed the moves, gastoning off the holds to the right of the pod. Rocking up to gain the flake, hastily stuffing in cams before walking my feet up and going for the flatys above. Mantling on the holds led to the good crack and gear. It should go; just not with the waterfall falling down it. Will and I had then bailed leaving the kit up there ready for the big send.
The big send that never came.
Due to their damp living conditions Reeve and Will generally arose earlier. Hence it was Reeve who got to observe the big orange rock scar that later morning. From in my sleeping bag I could hear the conversation as binoculars were sourced and the face examined. From our camp we could see a new orange rock scar at approximate half height on the face. It looked worryingly close to being above the start of our fixed ropes.
From the gear stash it was apparent that a huge piece of rock had impacted upon the ledges and slopes at the base. Pulverised granite and smashed snow showed where the huge missing flake system had impacted. What were not visible were our ropes. I scrambled the initial fifty meters of easy ground to the first terrace. From here I peered upwards.
The fixed rope was gone.
Scrambling along the terrace into the zone of destruction I could see no rope. The ledge from which the rope had hung looked different, changed. Below I scanned the slabs and spotted a section of rope, five meters long hanging limply from the debris. John joined me and we discussed our options.
John had previously climbed the initial eighty meters of slabs and was not keen to repeat the exercise. Especially not in the wet with the limited gear available. My decision to cash the bulk of the climbing kit at the top of the fixed ropes was looking like a mistake.
|Dave jumaring on the lower section of wall|
The only gear we had with us was three master cams, sizes 1, 2, and 3 and the grey and purple camalots. John vetoed climbing the slabs so I turned my eyes to alternative options. To our right, an ice slope led up to a dank overhanging crack. The crack turned a lip and widened to an offwidth before continuing to the edge of a ledge system. This had been dismissed previously in favour of dry slabs but now might be the key.
Returning to the mini gear stash John and I assessed our options. One rope, no crampons, little gear, some etriers and the much-maligned stubai ice hammer. Lurking at the back of the stash was the size six cam. Unwilling to prevaricate I took the lead.
I chopped steps up the ice, good steps as my blown out running shoes offered poor edging capability. The bergschrund grew as I got closer, but the crack above still offered promise. After chopping a sizable ice bollard I was able to cross the gaping bergschrund to the crack and relax with my first real runner in thirty meters. From here I set off upwards, leapfrogging the few cams that fitted. With only a five cams I was unable to leave any behind but was mostly able to ensure I had a constant two points of attachment. Mostly. At the lip I was able to high step my last cam and shove the six into the flared offwidth above. Sinking back down parallel to my last good piece I bounce tested the suspect six, prior to launching upwards, free climbing the last twenty meters of offwidth. As it slabbed out I managed to stuff my second to last cam into the thin seam at the back of the groove. This protected my mantle onto the loose rock strewn ledge. Due to the length of the pitch John was halfway up the steepening ice.
|Typical conditions encountered|
Scouring the ledge I found a single possible gear slot. Flooded with relief I slammed in the only cam still hanging from my harness and shouted with relief.
I backed up the cam with a dubious ice axe placement and myself. Bracing myself against the rope I prided myself on the speedy set up of the good three point belay. With no ice axe or gear John was forced to jumar directly up the rope whilst I sat, feet planted firmly as possible in the loose rock taking his weight.
From here we traversed passing the top of our chopped first rope to gain the more sheltered steeper centre of the wall and the remaining fixed lines. These appeared to be fine. John jumared these first, belayed by me and placing some gear to arrest his fall should the ropes fail. The weather closed in with rain steadily falling as we worked up the wall. We tagged our high point and descended, pulling each rope through with trepidation. Compared to what had gone before it all went smoothly and we regained the floor hours later with all our gear, thankful to be out of there.
|John leading on the lower section of the wall|