January 18, 2007

Climbing the Good, Escaping the Ghost

By the time I warmed up on Monday, I was already feeling a bit of withdrawal from ice climbing. To be honest, I didn't think I would enjoy it as much. I don't particularly like wearing four layers of clothes, monster gloves (plus hand warmers), and plastic boots that contort my normal walk into something more resembling a duck waddle, but there is something about the touch of ice climbing that is addicting. Sure, swinging around two sharp, pointy metal objects to purposefully hack away at ice is a pretty fantastic way to release aggression. You can kick away at thin, hanging icicles or watch as chunks and sprays of the thick glass fly off where the axe makes contact with the wall, sometimes in your face, sometimes just missing you off to the side. Occasionally, pieces fall so large their absense changes the face of the climb. However, the destructive and aggressive aspect of ice climbing is not its main trait of seduction. Eventually the climber swings with the perfect angle and force to lodge his axe tightly in a feature for secure anchor. Not only can you see the fit in the ice, but you can hear it being lodged in place and feel the solid hold tingle down your forearm. You can similarly hear the perfect placement when your partner is climbing, a shared feeling of accomplishment. Unlike rock climbing, you are very much in control of how solid your position is at any point in the pitch. Of course, with sticky crampons and axes dangling from your arms, slipping and falling becomes much more dangerous on ice. You can't really compare the two sports outside of a similarly wonderful adrenaline rush.

Anyways, despite a week ahead of cold temperatures, I convinced Peter to take me ice climbing again on Thursday. This time, we went to the Ghost River area, a remote stretch of glacier carved valleys north of Canmore. This drive is certainly not for the faint of heart (or four wheel drive). Lola had to get us through some large snow drifts and over 3 tiny rivers before we arrived at The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (GBU) for climbing. We top-roped The Good, the leftmost climb of the three, which was rated WI4. The climb was longer and harder than anything I did on Monday, but the real adventure began after the climb when we returned to the car.

Rewind to six days prior. Peter and I went climbing at The Stronghold and met Nayden afterward at the Ship for burgers. Then we went in search of a coffee shop to cap off the night. When we returned to the car, Lola wouldn't start. As both of her batteries (I guess the fatty needs two) were over 9 years old and Peter had been noticing a decreased voltage reading the past week, this wasn't a terrible surprise. Luckily, Nayden walked back to his apartment and stole his roommate's car to give us a jump. After we were back on the road, Peter and Nayden joked that it was pretty lucky the batteries died in the city instead of The Ghost. You see, the Ghost is not only miles off-road and pretty unpopular, but the area we were going to be climbing in was technically illegal to be driving in. So when Lola didn't start after our climb, things got exciting. Peter thought the starter might have gotten frozen from the water that splashed up after crossing the rivers, so he turned on his engine heater and repositioned the exhaust to try and speed up the warming. After 15 minutes of failed start attempts, Peter went over to put a note on a Honda Element that was parked across the river, the only other car we saw that day in the Ghost. He ended up crossing paths with the owners of the car on his way back and they offered to give us a lift. He checked once more under the hood, this time double checking the wires connecting the batteries. He noticed that one had come loose from being overly stretched when he put in the new batteries, and when he reconnected it as I turned the ignition, the car started! We drove over by the Honda and made sure they made it out of the rough parts of the Ghost before merrily driving off on our own way.

As if car troubles weren't exciting enough, we saw a cougar on the drive out! Similar to my Grizzly sighting, it was really nice doing this from the inside of a car as they are very dangerous. We saw it hop out of the trees onto the road about 20 feet in front of the car, run along the road for a few meters, and then run back into the trees once it realized Lola was coming. Cougars are a pretty rare sighting in Banff, with only half a dozen or so estimated to be living in the Banff area. In the end, we made it back to Calgary, fully intact, on our own wheels, and with only a few minor scratches and sore muscles to tend to from the day.

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