Salt Spring Is­land

SHOUL­DER SEA­SON DRY-TOOL­ING

Gripped - - CONTENTS - by Sean McIn­tyre

The shoul­der sea­son is when it is too cold to rock climb and to warm to ice climb. The chalk has been put away and the ice screws won’t see ice for an­other few weeks. If a month for shoul­der sea­son had to be named, it would be Oc­to­ber. The leaves are gone; frost ices over the streets and the moun­tain­tops are dusted with snow. There are two op­tions, one is to climb in­doors, the ob­vi­ous choice, and the other is to pack the bag with ice tools and cram­pons and go dry-tool­ing.

If you have never been dry-tool­ing there are a few things you should know. The first is you are go­ing sport climb­ing, br ing the quick draws and leave the rest at home. Dry-tool routes are bolted, of­ten with fixed draws. The sec­ond is there is no ice to swing or kick into; the name of the game is hook­ing. Pick-torques, stein-pulls, tool-jams and other trick­ery is al­lowed. Find­ing the way up a lime­stone dry-tool route is like piec­ing a puz­zle to­gether. As the routes are climbed the

Pick-torques, stein-pulls, tool-jams and other trick­ery is al­lowed. Find­ing the way up a lime­stone dry-tool route is like piec­ing a puz­zle to­gether.

soft-stone is chipped away, leav­ing small holes that of­fer pos­i­tive pick pur­chase. Find­ing the path can be a pumpy en­deav­our, the rock is of­ten steep and the climbs have big reaches.

Dry-tool­ing crags are a newish cre­ation. The steel-picks of an ice tool scar the rock by scratch­ing and chip­ping it. Well-trav­elled routes re­sem­ble peg-boards; it is not the most rock-friendly of sports. That is why the worst, rotten­est and bro­ken rock is used, the crags no sport climber would want to touch. In the case of the Play­ground, a small wall, rid­dled with rat fe­ces, smelling of ro­dent pee, com­posed of atro­cious rock was used. The ef­fort to turn a heap of rub­ble on Grotto Moun­tain into Can­more’s shoul­der-sea­son crag was by no means an easy task. Moun­tain Guides Eric Dumerac and Pa­trick De­laney spent count­less hours shap­ing the routes, cut­ting trails, clean­ing bro­ken stone and plac­ing safe bolts. “What got me in­spired were the routes at Grotto and Haffner Creek. They are mainly dry-tool­ing,

“Be­cause of its prox­im­ity to Can­more and lack of ice, the Play­ground is a choice venue for prac­tic­ing and teach­ing mixed climb­ing. In the fall and on rainy days through­out the year, one can ex­pect to run into lo­cal guides with clients. The Play­ground is also a great place to get strong in the pre-sea­son for wa­ter­fall ice climb­ing.”

plus we needed some­thing to do in Oc­to­ber,” said Dumerac. Some of Canada’s best mixed climbers have trained there, in­clud­ing Will Gadd, Raphael Slaw­in­ski, Gord McArthur, Sarah Hueniken, John Free­man and dozens of oth­ers. Last sea­son more routes were added, the trail was beefed up, the be­lay stances were gar­dened and draws fixed on the hard routes. When all other climb­ing is shut down by weather there will al­ways be peo­ple hook­ing their way up the Play­ground.

It’s less than a 10- minute dr ive from Can­more and about a 45- minute hike to the cave. The ap­proach is never steep. Warm up on the Moun­taineers Route and Rat’s Nest Route which are both M5, then try Bap­tism and Prowler, both M6, be­fore aim­ing for the col­lec­tion of M7’s and M8’s. U Crazy is a near ver­ti­cal and tech­ni­cal M7 up a solid face, Mutt is a clas­sic M7 with a manda­tory stein­pull af­ter a big reach, and Jeff, M8, starts with a big few moves off the deck into an ar­ray of awkward reaches. One of the best dry-tool­ing routes in the Rock­ies is Sin­gle Malt, M9. It gains an es­thetic crack af­ter a steep boul­derys­tart. The crack is fol­lowed us­ing pick-torques and boot-jams to a bulge. Find the key holes up right and then a few big reaches on a bal­ancey wall to fin­ish up and left. Ev­ery­one who climbs it is con­vinced of its three-star rat­ing. By now the early sea­son pump has taken over, look­ing up at the steep­est line is daunt­ing. Swiss Cheese, M11, goes through the steep­est cave at the wall. Start on a jagged arête and trans­fer into the roof, find­ing the large pock­ets.The holds are big but the moves are big­ger, so it is a core-stretch­ing en­durothon. Fig­ure four’s, fig­ure nine’s, use any trick you can think of to gain the lip. Turn­ing the lip is the crux, smear­ing a knee tends to work, an­other cou­ple of me­tres to the an­chor and the arms can rest. There is a fire-pit and climbers of­ten leave ropes in a bucket at the base of the crag for the au­tumn months to lighten the pack.

“Be­cause of its prox­im­ity to Can­more and lack of ice, the Play­ground is a choice venue for prac­tic­ing and teach­ing mixed climb­ing. In the fall and on rainy days through­out the year, one can ex­pect to run into lo­cal guides with clients. The Play­ground is also a great place to get strong in the pre-sea­son for wa­ter­fall ice climb­ing.” Brent Peters, acmg Guide, Yam­nuska Moun­tain Ad­ven­tures

Dry-tool­ing pre-ice sea­son is a good way to build en­durance for the win­ter sea­son. Hold­ing onto a tool is dif­fer­ent than cr im­p­ing rock. The same mus­cles are be­ing used; the same body po­si­tions are re­peated, cre­at­ing a burn like no other. Trans­ferr ing the skills to mixed crags or climbs where ice for ms is easy. For wa­ter­fall-ice-climbers, dry-tool­ing is a great train­ing-tool for those steeper ice routes, con­fi­dence on the tools equates to con­fi­dence on the ice.

The stench of rot­ten rat latr ines and lack of sun does not turn peo­ple away, it adds to the ex­per ience. Do not bite the rope be­fore clip­ping the quick­draw, as it might be dirty. It is quiet and re­mote with a back­drop of lodge­pole pines and tower ing rock-walls. Other crags are be­ing de­vel­oped in the same drainage, which will mean more places to climb dur­ing shoul­der-sea­son.

How to Get There

It’s on Grotto Moun­tain, take the 1A un­til just past the en­trance to the quarry, the next park­ing is just off the road on the left hand side; it’s the rat’s nest cave park­ing. Fol­low ob­vi­ous trail up and 100 m be­fore power lines see flagged trail branch, fol­low this to the crag about 50 min. The trail trends up and onto the bench sys­tem, where you will walk an old road for part of the trail.–

Above: John Free­man on Swiss Cheese M9+, Play­ground

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