Once the World’s Hard­est Ice Route

A Lap of Gimme Shel­ter

Gripped - - PRO FILE - Story by David Rone David Rone is a re­tired high school teacher who lives in Eau Claire, Wisc. and has been climb­ing for more than years. He has first as­cents of many ice, mixed and rock routes in On­tario,Wis­con­sin, Min­nesota, South Dakota and Wy­oming. Hi

I looked up at the cur­tain of ice, shook my head and swore. It was over­hang­ing for about eight me­tres, thin, full of holes and just a few cen­time­tres thick. Five pitches up Gimme Shel­ter, I feared it could shut us down.

The day be­fore, Jon Ju­gen­heimer and I skied 17 kilo­me­tres from Lake Louise to Con­so­la­tion Lakes. Af­ter dig­ging out one me­tre of snow, we pitched our tent, shoved our pads and bags in­side and skied off to Mount Quadra to check out the route. From be­low, it didn’t look that good. White and grey ice, with only a lit­tle blue at the top. The ap­proach slope ap­peared to be sta­ble and there was no ev­i­dence of serac col­lapse; I was op­ti­mistic.

The cur­tain was three-di­men­sional and chan­de­liered, so there were no big swings into the ice, as it would just shat­ter. Kick­ing in front points was out of the ques­tion. Stand­ing at the base, I punched a pick all the way through and lis­tened to shards of ice fall behind the cur­tain. Pulling up, I bashed the other tool through and paused, con­tem­plat­ing the ice above. It was fierce, over­hang­ing for at least an­other seven me­tres. I raised my left foot as high as I could, leaned on the front points and pulled up. They dug in, so I stemmed out right, pulled up a bit more and punched the other pick through. As I weighted my feet, the ice on the right crum­bled and then both feet were off. I found my­self hang­ing fully ex­tended, both legs ped­dling, try­ing to find a foothold. I pulled up, leaned right and scratched away at a bump of ice un­til my front points stuck and then down-climbed to an ice mush­room. Vi­brat­ing from the adren­a­line surge, I stood there for a long time.

The an­chor at the top of the sec­ond pitch was two bot­tomed-out 16 cm screws in the same blob of snice and a stub­bie in a run­nel of clear ice. Af­ter just two pitches and still a long way to go, doubt was be­gin­ning to creep in. We talked about head­ing for the car. Maybe we had taken the route too lightly. First climbed in 1983 by Kevin Doyle and Tim Friesen, Gimme Shel­ter stood for 10 years as the world’s hard­est ice climb. Com­bine its rep­u­ta­tion for poor ice, re­mote lo­ca­tion and close calls from serac col­lapse and the route can go years with­out an as­cent. We were on it be­cause we wanted to do a big route, but high avalanche haz­ard was lim­it­ing our op­tions. When Ju­gen­heimer said, “Let’s check out Gimme Shel­ter,” the seed was planted.

We de­cided against re­treat­ing and the third pitch had bet­ter ice and pro, but it left us be­low the first of many thin­ner spots. Clear ve­neer went left and a thin, dead ver­ti­cal cur­tain was to the right. Go­ing left looked eas­ier and safer, but from the start, even stub­bies bot­tomed out. So back to the cur­tain, which was chan­de­liered and thin. Start­ing up, I punched a pick all the way through but it promptly ripped out. I bashed it higher and left and it held. Heel-hook­ing the cur­tain, I pulled up, punched the other pick through, placed my feet and con­tin­ued for about five me­tres where I reached thicker ice, a good screw and fi­nally a big ledge.

As I started up the fifth pitch, I was feel­ing pretty good about our chances, but then I came to the sec­ond cur­tain, the crux of the route. The adren­a­line was sub­sid­ing, but I was dis­ap­pointed and dis­heart­ened, not sure if I should, or even could go up. I re­hearsed the moves a cou­ple times and then stood awhile longer, plan­ning a line through the holes and bumps. Fi­nally, with some fear and trep­i­da­tion, I started up. It got se­ri­ous. No choice but to reach higher, punch a pick through, shake out and repeat. Af­ter sev­eral more me­tres, the ice eased to ver­ti­cal, thick­ened enough to get sticks and fi­nally I sunk a screw. I breathed a sigh of re­lief and climbed to the be­lay. “That was WI7,” he said with a grin as he clipped the an­chor.

I can’t say enough about Ju­gen­heimer as a part­ner. De­spite telling me his arms were dead a pitch or two ear­lier, he just kept on go­ing. It comes from his tenac­ity and his pas­sion for climb­ing. As we geared up, we talked about the grade of the pre­vi­ous pitch. We set­tled on WI7-R. It was sketchy, dif­fi­cult climb­ing with a big runout and high fall con­se­quence. The last pitch had the best ice on the route, but we were done in more ways than one when we found our­selves at the top of the route star­ing at the hang­ing glacier above, pon­der­ing how such beauty could pose such dan­ger. We didn’t hang around, we started the rap­pels right away.

The first rap­pels were easy, we found good ice for v-threads, but then the ice crapped out. When making threads for the last three rap­pels, the screw would go through a dozen cen­time­tres of ice, but then we could just push it the rest of the way. Nev­er­the­less, we hit the ground eight hours af­ter we started climb­ing. An epic day on an au­da­cious route. 40

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