July, '02


Backcountry gear retrieval with friends on

Mount Alice




Guillaume:  Dring... Dring... Hello ? It was a tired Brad calling on Sunday evening to say that he just had an epic with his girlfriend on Mt Alice, in the backend of the Park. Rain, hail, lightning, fear and whatnot. In other words he had just left 5 cams and a bunch of stoppers on a retreat and they were mine if I wanted to go get them. Otherwise he would just give the info on rec.climbing and let them sort it out. I told him: "Hey, why not go pick it up next Saturday ?", "No fucking way I'm going back up there. Good night". Having never left more than a couple slings on a climb, I tried to let my sense of ethics towards gear rub onto him: "Gear is booty that you find, not bailing gear that you leave", but I didn't have much success with that. 

Brad:  First of all, it was ONLY 3 cams… and a few nuts… and some slings… and some biners… oh all right, it was a lot to abandon. That being said, I was in full-on slacker mode and not even $300 was enough to motivate me. It had been a fun but tough weekend. In order of significance… I had strained my relationship with my girlfriend by taking her to Alice on her first backcountry climb. We had been stormed off the mountain in what Koren thought might be the end of us. I had left more gear than I could afford to leave. The dual role of being a good boyfriend and handling all the logistics of the climb had taxed me mentally. And I had just hiked 8 miles with a hefty pack. I felt spent!

Guillaume:  No way I was gonna leave a whole bunch of Camelots up a route like that. 17 miles walk in and out? Bah, if we jog it should go fast. Jenny is still nursing her knee, so on Monday I give a couple phone calls to the FC locals to see if anyone's willing to go there in a day. Not being too successful, I call back Brad in the evening and he's more mellow: "Yeah, maybe in a month or so, after I forget what it was like...". By wednesday he's more like: "OK, we'll go". And on thursday it's: "Let's go tomorrow, otherwise there might already be someone on it when we get there on Saturday".

Brad:  During the week, I had forced myself to get excited about climbing Alice in a day. It was a struggle. I tried the "come on, you want to be a tough guy" thing and still I felt the seductive call of Lumpy and its 30 minute approach. The fact that Guillaume gave me the full-on guilt trip about leaving my gear helped. When he realized he couldn't find anyone else to climb Alice in a day with him, he refused to accept my slacker attitude. Honestly, everyone seemed to assume that I would go back for the gear except me. Even my non-climbing friends at work asked when I was going back. When I told Lisa that we were going back, she put the final nail in the coffin by immediately asking if we would like a third. No problem. Lisa decided to hike in and camp at Thunder Lake the night before so I "casually" asked her if she would take the ropes. Being Lisa, she accepted of course. (READ: Brad is lazy and Lisa rocks!) 

Guillaume:  So he manages to send Lisa up ahead with the two ropes on thursday evening (I wonder what kind of arrangement they have…), so we can start the hike very light at 2am on friday. Yawn… We wake her up two hours later, in a few minutes she's out of the bivy bag and we are all hiking up next to the lake, up the forest, up the side of the waterfall, and across the final boulder field. The snow that gave Brad some trouble last WE to get to the base is still there, and hard as ice. We start much further to the right, on easy rock, just as the sun hits the summit. Brad takes the first pitch while Lisa fixes the large gash carved into her leg by a falling boulder. We join him at the base of a slab with a closed crack in the middle. He's placed a friend 5 meters up it, and I'm already complaining that he must have backed off when he figured out it was too hard. "No, I called and you said I didn't have enough rope. Your lead." 

Brad:  The first 150 feet is only 5.5 so I solo up and place a piece at the beginning of the difficult climbing. I make some bouldery moves up into a crack and place a piece. After yelling down and hearing that I only have 30 feet of rope left, I down-climb, build an anchor, and bring up Lisa and Guillaume. It is obvious right away that Guillaume and I have differing opinions about the lower half of the route. I started up this crack because it looks like a great pitch. Guillaume wants to take the path of least resistance until we are to the route proper. Eventually, he traverses right to another easy pitch that he solos. I will feel vindicated later in the day. :)

Guillaume:  I give it a half hearted try but it looks hard, hard to protect and it also smells like a first-ascent-waste-of-time: "I don't mind doing this kind of thing, but at the end of the day". Me and my big mouth. So back down, traverse to the right, and up very easy ground. Some more grass where he recovers his first stopper and we are at the base of the route. Brad's promise was that he'd let me lead everything he'd already done last WE. Including his screw-ups. "The guidebook says to start on the right, but why don't you do the direct dihedral, it's nice". When he gets to the top of that worthy pitch he gets his second stopper and tells me that my placing the belay below the overhanging headwall is not a good idea: the route is on the slab on the right. It does look much easier than where I am. We run up the pitches. The climb is nice, all between 5.7 and 5.8, on mostly good rock, with the occasional loose block or lichen patch. And it's nice to find the belays already in place with two cams, a sling and a lock biner... Only problem is that all the pitches are exactly 60 meters and generated some rope drag. 

Brad:  Guillaume was suspicious when I told him that Koren and I had climbed the beautiful dihedral on the left instead of 5.6 chimney! After I voiced my contempt over his doubts, and he started up. After all, Guillaume was the guy telling me last week that he would "drag my sorry ass back up the route" to get my gear (all this in jest of course). I figured if I had led it with Koren, he should just get his 5.11-leading ass up there already. It really is a great pitch and should be the first pitch of the climb IMHO. Also, I should clarify that I did not think his belay was a bad idea but that the overhanging headwall looked a little difficult.

Guillaume:  When we reach their bail point I can tell Brad would like to take over the lead. But by that time I'm in full leading mode and I sound to them like a dog with a tasty bone that's not for share. We take plenty of pics on a beautiful day. Comes the last pitch where the guidebook says: "Finish up on easy ground". Hmmm. There's a poorly protectable ramp, a flared narrow chimney or a short handcrack. I choose the handcrack and traverse above a huge overhang to get there. I place my first cam for quite a while before a slab that leads to that crack. The traverse is delicate, licheny and I can tell no one's been there before. I'm only 5 meters from the summit ridge, so let's just finish this off. I get to the crack and it's filled with dirt. The left side is smooth and my foot smears off all the granite crystals. I remove the dirt with my fingers and place a cam. I look down at the ledge way down and repeat the same operation only a meter higher. By that time I'm pulling on the cam, trying to reach the only hold, a flat rock sticking out of the dirt, a meter higher. It's a good hold, but it bends under my weight. At this point the crack flares and is unusable for either climbing or protection, but hope is in sight: it's a nice finger crack higher on the left. Quite higher. I inch higher, my feet breaking off all the tiny crystals, the rock bending under my hand, my left fingers playing the piano to reach the crack. Then, snap, I'm airborne and stop shortly by grabbing the cam's sling in my right hand. I haven't taken a fall in 7 years, and apparently I'm conditioned to never have my weight on the rope... Now that the rock is broken it makes for a better hold and I finish the last meter with much less profanity.

Brad:   I gave Guillaume a little bit of a hard time for being a lead-hog, but the truth is, by this point in the day, I was enjoying the fact that I had no stress and there was a TR waiting for me before I started up the pitches. This meant that I got to climb right next to Lisa the whole route and we were having a great time talking as we climbed. Guillaume did a fine job on all the leads by the way; even the last one, which proved to be quite a bit more difficult than the rest of the route. At one point, I looked up to see little tufts of grass floating through the air from Guillaume trying to find pro. Shortly thereafter, Lisa and I looked up in disbelief when we herd him yell "falling". I will fess up here and say that Guillaume didn't really fall on the last pitch per se. Oh, he did peel off, and scraped his hand in the process, but he caught himself on a cam on his way down. I didn't feel his weight on the rope until after he stopped and I took in the remainder of the slack. Fortunately, only his pride was hurt and Lisa and I began our lament of how we were going to climb that thing. In the end, Lisa aided it and I barely managed to free it after I removed the only cam that would have caught a fall and used that hold. There are those who would have called it a "first ascent waste of time", but I thought it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Guillaume:  Brad is multiply happy: he's spent the entire day talking so much that I thought there were several parties behind us, he's got his gear back, he freed the last pitch (on second, after I reshaped it a bit) and he's seen me fall. Although I did not. Many hours and mosquitoes later I don't even have the strength to finish my beer back home, which is my definition of a good day. 

Brad:   I felt good about getting my gear back, but I was much happier about having spent a day with two good friends on a beautiful mountain route. We lounged on the summit for a little while and then headed down Boulder Grand Pass and back to Lisa's campsite at Thunder Lake. Taking our time put us back at the trailhead just over 18 hours after leaving. I felt spent!

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Lisa scrambling next to Fan Falls on the approach.

This frigging mountain is remote. We have already hike 7 miles and we're still not there.

Lisa arrives at the base of the first pitch.

Me leading the first pitch with Lisa belaying.

Guillaume scopes out a "first ascent" pitch early in the climb.

A shot looking up the Central Ramp. We followed the shadowed corner directly above Guillaume.

Lisa and I kicking it at one of the belays.

Guillaume, obviously gripped with fear, begins one of the 5.8 pitches.

Lisa and me on the 6th pitch.

Lisa cranks through the crux of the 6th.

Guillaume begins the 7th pitch. A little higher, he will find himself on a first ascent of a 5.11 pitch!

Me leaving the belay on pitch 7.

Lisa pulls onto easier ground on pitch 7.

The victory photo. The two prominent summits in the background are Long's Peak and Mount Meeker.

A standing glissade below Boulder Grand Pass takes us back to Thunder Lake.

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