Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hunting Squid on the Winter Solstice

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth;
 whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;
 whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses,
 and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet;
 and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me,
 that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street,
 and methodically knocking people's hats off—then,
 I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
 This is my substitute for pistol and ball.
 With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword;
 I quietly take to the ship.

-Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The sun bleached ice of the rarely formed Squid

The words of Captain Ahab are often the thoughts I find myself having, but instead of the ship, I am drawn quietly to the ice.  On this day of the Winter Solstice 2013 Gordon and I were fortunate enough to find the Squid and it's neighbor Tentacles in marginally climbable condition.

I had often thought about climbing the Squid but always felt a certain trepidation for the infamous steep ice route.  My fears and apprehension were quickly put to rest as I started up the line.  Although the ice was rotting on the surface, good screws could be found in the solid runnels behind.  And though the route was straight on vertical, good stems and occaisional secure hooks could be found.

Starting up the fore-shortened route

Good stemming to be had

Decent stances to place protection

Topping out the main flow of the Squid
Gordon followed the line and finished the short upper pillar to the tree anchor.  We rapped the route and discussed which line to climb next; Calamari or Tentacles.  Calamari was a bit overripe, rotted and looking precarious.  I think we missed it by a week.  However, Tentacles, though also a little rotted, looked doable.

Gordon setting up his camera for the time-lapse

Gordon starts up the mixed route Tentacles

Insecure thin ice required careful protection
Onto the hollow pillars
The right side proved to be better ice, but steep

The final steep pillar, a pulled tool and a nice save
The route looked to continue up a dry crack to a ledge system that likely reached the upper cliff band, but time was running short.  Gordon put in an anchor and lowered off, giving me a toprope as I seconded and cleaned the pitch.  I would have liked to have tried the final dry tooling, but didn't want to be scratching around in the dark, so I put in a couple nuts and rapped to the base.  

For the shortest day of the year, and in RMNP, it was rather easy-going.  Cold temps at 10F, but little wind and a short approach of under 2 hours made for a nice outing.  We each got a lead on routes that were new to us and the hike back was quick.  My appetite temporarily satiated, I could now return to the world of men...

Deep Freeze Direct

Close the doors, put out the light
You know they won't be home tonight
The snow falls hard and don't you know
The winds of Thor are blowing cold
They're wearing steel that's bright and true
They carry news that must get through

They choose the path where no-one goes
They hold no quarter,
They hold no quarter.

-No Quarter by Led Zeppelin

The Deep Freeze gully hiding it's jewel

The Lyrics of No Quarter had to be inspired by Rocky Mountain National Park alpine climbs.  Darkness, heavy snow and arctic winds are the typical winter conditions found as we search for those obscure paths where no-one goes.  My good friend Dick Stone was recently feeling the pull and enthusiastically agreed with my suggestion of Deep Freeze as a worthy objective.

With the traditional early start we marched up towards Loch Vale.  Wearing the steel that's bright and true, in this case Black Diamond Stinger's, I made my way into the cleft of Deep Freeze.  The climbing was not terribly difficult, but certainly bizarre.  Dry tooling the east wall and soft steps across a snow mushroom put me in a perfect belay position at a large chockstone.  We hauled the single pack up to the chockstone directly, as there was not room for it in the narrow chimney.

Looking into the void from the first belay as Dick dry tools to the level of the snow mushroom

Past the snow mushroom, Dick prepares for the long reach towards the chockstone
No good shot of the start of the second pitch, but Dick, pretty much off the couch, lead up the awkward chockstone and continued into the rising snow-covered rockslab gully with surprising dexterity.  With dual point crampons and leashed straight tools Dick made short work of the steep cruxes that followed.  Gear was somewhat scarce but I couldn't hear any wining from above, only a quick comment of 'looks a little thin here.'  Stopping to excavate around a snow mushroom, Dick was rewarded with the slings of a hidden anchor.  Who knew what they were attached to, but clipping them gave him the confidence to quickly move on and finish the odd runnout pitch.

Dick completing the short steep approach ice, the hidden jewel just around the corner

Leaving the lower gully behind us we simul-climbed the upper Deep Freeze gully leading to the steep approach ice.  Dick took us into the Deep Freeze ampitheater finding the brittle cold ice easier to climb than to protect.  I took the lead on the stepped out pillar.  The climbing was easier than the first time I'd been up it, but I was a bit knackered so it was still an even battle.

Dick finishing the thin steep section of the Deep Freeze pillar

Dick pulling the ropes after his rap from the pillar
We made the rap out of the gully and scrambled to the top of the Necro raps as the sun was fading away.  The wind kept blowing throughout our descent and pushed us hard from behind as we recrossed Loch Vale heading back to the trailhead.  The gusts had to have been close to 50mph as we struggled to keep from loosing our footing on the frozen lake.  The well-packed snow trails quickly brought us back down the roughly 3 mile journey to the awaiting car.  

A long day, darkness, snow, wind, cold and a place hardly no one visits.  It was another grand day in the park... and a reminder that RMNP gives No Quarter...