Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Weekend Climbing Photo Essay

The photo aboves shows what the bathroom floor should look like in my house after an average weekend in winter. That the drying gear was noteworthy enough for me to think to take a snap of it, indicates how un-average this winter has been. YLE is reporting that according to the sea ice records that have been kept for the Baltic off Finland for three hundred years, this January has been in the top one percent of least icy winters. The sea ice is a bit too horizontal for my tastes, but us obsessive ice climbers are noticing the missing ice with equal alarm to the meteorologists, just inland and about 90 degrees more upright. Nevertheless, last week's temperatures had been bobbing up and below freezing in Helsinki enough to convince me a search inland for colder temps and ice might just pay off. Tony agreed to risk it with me so on Saturday morning we headed off towards Valkeala.

Boys' toys - short walk-ins encourage the carrying of too much stuff!

All along the motorway cuttings out of Helsinki there was ice forming - but skinny new ice produced by the previous few days of frosts. About 100 kms inland as we were approaching Kouvala, suddenly the trees started looking more snowy and columns of fat, older ice could be seen by the roadside that had obviously survived the thaw and had formed in the cold weather at the start of the month. Our mood began to lift.

We went to Lintojanvuori first and were amazed to see lots of ice, although as the pic above shows at the top of the wall you could see rock and flowing water. I led the first route, 15 mtrs or so of steep-ish ice. The ice was chewy and featured making the climbing straightforward but on first strike it let of a resounding and deeply unnerving boom. The wall of ice had completely separated from rock by the thawing. I teetered up the first few metres, placed a screw, decided that it didn't feel unjustifiably dangerous, only mildly silly, and tiptoed up the rest thinking light thoughts.

Tony then picked a short but brutal little pillar and got stuck in (above), going great guns with his leashless mallets. Then after a brief interruption to recover a lost ice screw, we wandered down to the main area - said hello to another team of desperadoes before I led one more line that, whilst feeling safer at the bottom, also featured a top out on a delaminated slab of ice and a frisky span over some washed clean rock, to sink a stick in some frozen turf at the top of the cliff and an escape to victory. Then back to the ABC service station in Valkeala for tea and medals, or burgers, chips and a beer to be more accurate. I have a multi-year relationship with that petrol station, as I imagine will many Finnish climbers, that I may well write about this week if I get the time.

Five Star local accommodation

Next we had a look at Pyƶramaki but the ice there wasn't in. Being steep much of the ice had fallen down under its own weight and the forest floor by the cliff was littered with huge chunks of of the stuff. After that there wasn't much else to do besides hang the tarp and crawl into bivvy bags. The tarp was a success as it snowed through much of the night and it kept the snow from landing on your face which always stops me sleeping well when dossing without a tent. I read the first 120 pages of "Generation Kill" by Evan Wright whilst tucked into my sleeping bag. It's a great book but I was particularly amused by the parallel interests of Marines going into combat and ice-climbers sleeping in the snow with going to the toilet. It's not a very pleasant conversation but the Marines seemed equally fascinated in planning for the best time, place and strategy for taking a dump as you do when camping in cold and wild spots. There is a lot of thought that goes into the issue of pre-emption - the sort of thing you never have to think about when back in civilisation - and let's just leave it at that.

Breakfast in bed

The morning dawned gray and cold, so another visit to Valkeala ABC seemed in order for coffee and donuts. Sugar and caffeine levels raised, we headed to Linnavuori to see what was what. There are some very hard looking mixed lines there, in the M5+ to M8 range, and from the looks of them I suspect they make up with brutality what they lack in height. We decided to try some ice instead. Tony had a go at one line but backed down with concerns over ice quality. I switched on the self-denial and took over the lead. About halfway up and on the crux of a narrow and thin flow of ice, I tried to get a 17 cm screw in with no luck; hitting rock behind the ice.

A scared blogger struggling to avoid ground-fall potential

I reached for my stubby 12 cm screw and rammed that in, only to find that hit rock as well. At this the point, the self denial left me and the sudden realisation that if I went much higher and then fell, I would meet the floor before the rope went tight on my last runner. After a few choice words to the screw, ice and cosmos in general, which were something along the lines of "melonfarmer, melonfarmer, oh farm, farm", another wave of self denial fortunately washed over me and I blasted up the rest of the vertical bit to a slabbier groove where I could get a good screw in and have a little cry. After that things were more in control to the top.

Tony on the steep pillar

After Tony followed me up we decided that we had probably pushed our luck/nerve far enough for the weekend so set a top-rope up for the last climb. This was a vertical and very near vertical pillar, about 20 mtrs high. Swapping from leashed to leashless tools I was very glad of the top rope when by about two thirds of the way up my forearms just felt pumped silly and after every placement I had to shake out. I quivered up to the top by the skin of my teeth. This just makes me all the more impressed with people doing unbelievable ice like this leashless. In the linked photo Kenton is very much living up to his rather excellent surname. Tony who has spent the winter working hard on his fingerboard and at the wall, then did the same line with significantly less fuss and flapping than I had managed.

And both with family commitments to get back to, we were out of time. Just an hour and half of driving chasing an excellent sunset, and of course one more coffee and donut stop, and we were back in the metropolis. It was good to get on the lead finally this winter, but sadly I rode to work this morning through slush and over water-covered ice and it seems that another thaw is setting in which will effect most of southern Finland once again.

1 comment:

Keefus said...

"...where I got a good screw in and have a little cry."

I'm glad it's not just me then. I've done one route so far this season; on Scotland's finest honeycombed ice, covered with heavy wet snow and doused in spindrift.

No gear, of course.