Monday, March 09, 2009

Fight or flight - an ice climbing story

It is annoying to be a bit rubbish at something you love, but accepting your mediocrity in certain fields is part of growing up. I'm not as crap an ice climber as I used to be, although I'm still desperately average particularly considering that I get to climb most weekends through a decent length winter. But then, if I was better, the little icefalls of Finland would offer few challenges. At least my genetic unsuitability for my chosen winter past-time means there will always be another line that I haven't yet been brave enough to try and lead as yet.

Jody abseils back down the Ramp Route

So with this as the context, it was actually a good day climbing yesterday. We headed to Linojanvuori in Valkeala where the ice is super fat this season. Jody led the first route in good style. I then led the line nicknamed Ramp Route. I've done this before, but there was less ice that year and it made the ramp more of a feature, which helped considerably. This year, the 'ramp' wasn't really much help at all, and it felt steep and sustained the whole way, but I got to the top with out too much panic and faff.

A knackered and slightly emotional blogger heads back down to where he belongs on terra firma

We then went down to the big fall at the south end of the cliff. I've checked it out before but never tried climbing it - there aren't really any lines of weakness up what is pretty much a vertical cascade, but in the back corner the fall is split by a ledge, basically cutting it into two vertical step of about 10 metres each.

After a reasonably competent display on the previous route, I decided to pretend I was a real climber, man-up and 'ave it. I blasted up the first vert section to the ledge without stopping to place screws. So far, so Tim Emmett. From the comfort of the ledge I placed a couple of screws and clipped the ropes in. Now all that was left to do was to blast up the top vertical section to the sunshine and glory.

It was steep but featured and after a couple of metres I managed to get another screw in. This gave me the confidence to keep going despite my pathetic arms already starting to feel the vert. When that screw was below my feet, the top now looked easier to reach than any down climb, so up seemed logical. I decided to place another screw before going for glory. My left arm was wilting badly as it took most of my body weight as I fought to get the screw in with my right. Normally when climbing with leashes I have no problem holding on with my left whilst placing a screw, but then normally I can get some weight on to my feet. This route was so steep that this was hard, and a number of times I had to stop placing the screw so that I could grab my other tool with my right and relax my grip on my left tool for a seconds rest, before going back to battling the screw in. Clipping the rope into the screw was a huge relief, and I thought about just giving up at that point and lowering off. Why I didn't I'm not sure, ego probably - although it is a rather sad and self-obsessed type of ego because any half decent ice climber would piss up the route. But anyway a few more moves and my feet were once again above the screw and I had one axe insecurely in the easier angled ice of the top out. My forearms were burning out totally. My shoulders and biceps still had enough juice to swing my other tool desperately - but my forearm was so pumped I couldn't grip it hard enough to stop it twisting and deflecting. So for all the wild flailing, I was achieving exactly nothing besides wasting the few seconds I had left before the fight ended and I took flight. Much swearing, self-hate, whimpering, and pleading followed. Desperately trying to not find out how good that last ice screw was, I ended up hooking my right tool over the left and hoping like hell. This was enough to take a few breaths, and work out a better place for my feet, so that they could take some weight. Then a few desperate swings got my right tool stuck in the frozen turf at the top of the cliff and I hauled myself back onto the horizontal, arms burning.

They're still hurting now, 36 hours later.

The walk-in to Pyörämäki

Then we went to Pyörämäki and Jody led and I just enjoyed the sunshine at the blunt end of the rope. And it felt good.

The right hand fall at Pyörämäki

Jody on the mainfall at Pyörämäki

And again

Another climber on the righthand route

Moon over Rapojärvi

There isn't really a moral to this story, besides perhaps - if you're going to go down, go down swinging.


Tony said...

Fantastic report.

It's odd to hear you describing yourself as a mediocre ice climber. I guess this assigns the rest of us to sub-mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

Speak for yourself Tony ;)

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Tony. I am exceedingly aware of my own mediocrity. You, on the other hand, just aren't trying your hardest. ;-)

How was Les Calanques? Did your: "je voudrais un belay. J'ai une très longue corde" do the trick?

Anonymous said...

A veritable orgy of false modesty. Makes me queasy.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

For queasiness I suggest a sick bag, but otherwise I'll take it as a complement, in that someone reckons I'm a better ice climber than I claim to be.

Anonymous said...

Only because you claim to be so bad ;)

A good couple of routes last weekend, the best ice climbing day I have had for a long while.