When the thermometer hit -26 last night I should have texted Tony and called it off, but kidded myself thinking it will warm up during the day. Lets go local, maybe just top rope some mixed lines. Gymnastics to keep you warm. It's -24 when I wake up and Tony arrives efficiently early in the grey half-light of dawn. The sun is up when we get to the lake, but offers no warmth. As we leave the car to snowshoe across the lake to the crag, the car thermometer is saying -25. Och well, we're here now. Lets go do something.
Swing, crack, BOOM. A 25 metre high cascade of ice vibrates from deep inside to the first impact of my ice tool. Hmmmm, bad vibes - literally. The ice is dull and dense in the deep cold, lifeless in comparison the moist sparkle of new ice just a little below freezing point. The monopoints of my crampons puncture the ice but the secondary points fail to gain much purchase on it's hard shell. One foot pops when I'm just a metre or so up. They refuse to provide the secure feeling you normally find on ice that is less than vertical.
Once my feet get up to level with the first scars left by my tools I use them like foot holds, the cracked away ice giving more grip to the crampons. Looking down at the boulders below I place the first screw. Fortunately I sharpened them somewhat obsessively last weekend and they bite in dense ice, but winding in them take a lot of pressure, the cold steel finding much friction against the cold ice. The little winder handle on the scew hanger is useless, and I have to push my weight against the whole hanger itself. My finger have gone completely numb by this point. It's a dumb place to try and stop but it would be dumber still to climb on. I brace my shoulder against the rock on the left and let go of my tools. I pull my fingers out of the finger sections of the gloves and ball my fist inside the palm section of the gloves. I squeeze warm blood painfully into my finger tips, push my fingers back fully into the gloves and climb on. Another few metres, more squealing, cracking, brittle ice - its fractures fracture my cool. Another screw battled in for the nerves, another finger-warming session balanced on front points that I don't really trust. And on again.
hotaches. My fingers are in vice. Now they're in boiling water. Now someone is using a staple gun on them. I yell obscenities, I fight the urge to piss myself. The enzymes flood the capillaries in my fingers, my fingers are pulsing - the pain lessens and you tell yourself this is good thing. No frostbite today, but 12 hrs later my fingers still feel it.
We reckon it's three or four winters since we last went out when it was below -20, climbed, and then promised we'd never do anything so silly again. Perhaps that's about how long it takes to forget.