Sunday, January 24, 2010

Things that we forgot when it was warm

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.

-25 and no wind = perfect snowflakes

No soaking up the view, no leaning back out good placements, calmly shaking out one arm at time whilst enjoying the exposure. Just constant 3D risk management - is this tool good? How far did fracture line go? Read the ice. Will that dinnerplate if I use it for my feet? Hit the concave, avoid the convex. Feet up onto the slab. Balance. Stamp those points in. Rest. Fingers bad again, toes not feeling good either. One more screw and then on to the top. Tie myself to a tree. No contentment. Just survival. It's a nice little fall, but should be the sort of thing I'd happily solo. But not today, not at -25.


And then the 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.

Don't blow the ice out of screws at -25. That white stuff at the top of the hanger had until seconds previously been the outer layer of skin on my lips

Tony comes up and we discuss setting up a top rope to try one of the harder lines, but he has just seconded in his duvet and still isn't completely warmed up after getting chilled belaying me. We rap off and split for the car and café.

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.


Anonymous said...

Nice report. Had quite the same experience in Valkeala.
Bit of a frost bite in -28 C and some other damage. I did like the climbing anyway.
How did the ice stick inside ice screw? This cold it usually falls away by itself.
Happy healing.


Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Frostbite - for real!? Take care and it hope it gets better quickly. I got frostnip in one toe once, and for the next couple of winters that toe has seemed more susceptible to getting cold even though there was no lasting damage. So take real care of that digit even once it is looking normal again! I realised that I was climbing in my little Trango boots yesterday, when I have a perfectly good pair of big bulky and WARM Scarpa plastic boots sitting in my cupboard. If it's still this cold next weekend, I'm going "ol' skool" and rockin' the plastic like it was 1995... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Aa yes. It's a frostnip and not even serious one. Sorry. Just the tip of index finger is a bit numb.
After last years ice climbing trip to Lyngen it took couple of months for the same digit to heal completely.


Juha said...

Nice story, where is this nice place?