How Not to Climb Sea of Vapours

A Story from the Tro­phy Wall

Gripped - - OFF THE WALL - Story by Dave Rone

I had for­got­ten my har­ness, and we got lost on the ap­proach. In­stead of turn­ing back, I de­cided to make a har­ness. My part­ner Jon Ju­gen­heimer thinks I am nuts. Once at the base, I fin­ish load­ing my cus­tom har­ness, which is 10 strands of cord around my waist with bin­ers hang­ing every­where. It’s snow­ing hard as I start up Postscrip­tum, but thank­fully the rip­pled ice is tak­ing a lot of one-swing sticks. As I near the top of the pitch, I re­al­ize that I had hardly no­ticed the har­ness. Then I get to the an­chor.

Af­ter clip­ping in, I sit back and im­me­di­ately dis­cover that two strands of eight mil­lime­tre web­bing don’t cut it for leg loops. The other ma­jor prob­lem is not con­nect­ing the front of the leg loops to the har­ness waist, it just won’t hold me sit-style. I keep slid­ing into it deeper and deeper, un­til I am hang­ing al­most par­al­lel to the wall. So with leg loops like tourni­quets and the waist loops com­press­ing my chest, get­ting com­fort­able is out of the ques­tion. That be­ing said, re­treat is not an op­tion.

It was Sea of Vapours. I’d dreamt of climb­ing it ever since see­ing the stun­ning photo of Glenn Reisen­hofer on it. But, com­ing from an ice and mixed back­ground in the western Lake Su­pe­rior re­gion, where 60 me­tres is tall, I never be­lieved it would hap­pen. Ori­ent Bay, Kama Bay and Thun­der Bay’s Mount Mcrae of­fer some of the finest ice and mixed climb­ing any­where. And since ap­proaches are short and routes close to­gether, it’s easy to get in a lot of pitches. But high on Mount Run­dle, the ex­po­sure of the mixed tra­verse to Sea of Vapours is mind blow­ing. Even though it’s not very long and a mod­er­ate M6, it’s high above the val­ley.

I soon start up the next pitch. Once the feel­ing and warmth is back in my legs and feet, I move higher, clip the Whip­per Tra­verse pins, and then down-climb al­most to the be­lay. I can’t see much for holds, but as I clean off the snow cov­ered rock, some edges ap­pear and I see a thin crack. Grate­ful to find the climb­ing eas­ier than it looked, I’m soon crank­ing on tools in the crack. As I stem out for the turf, I spot a pin. Con­cerned about the wors­en­ing pen­du­lum, I make a big reach to­ward the pin and while scratch­ing around for a hold, my tool sinks into a big hold. I clip the pin and then gain thin, in­ter­mit­tent ice, where I get in a stubby.

We’re laugh­ing as I climb higher, where the comedy of er­rors con­tin­ues as I fum­ble away one of his screws. Ju­gen­heimer watches it go fly­ing by, then looks back up with a wry smile, just shak­ing his head. I fi­nally get one in and there’s more laugh­ter while I climb blue, plas­tic ice that just eats picks and screws, un­like the bul­let­proof On­tario ice back home. I climb to an un­com­fort­able stance on the left and as I build the an­chor, waves of spin­drift be­gin pour­ing down the wall. I throw on the parka, cinch up the hood, sleeves and waist, but snow finds a way in.

I start up the next pitch, but 10 me­tres up, my fin­gers are freez­ing. By 20 me­tres, I de­cide to gun it for the be­lay. Then the barfies. I cuss, moan and cry as my fin­gers come back and then I cuss and moan some more as I set­tle in for an­other hang­ing be­lay suf­fer fest. Ju­gen­heimer doesn’t waste any time and even though he’s not climb­ing fast enough for my com­fort, he’s too fast for the Munter. While fight­ing with the twists and tan­gles, I see that we can’t rap­pel from there, we’re gonna have to move the be­lay.

He con­tin­ued to bet­ter ice and we set up the rap­pel. Hur­ry­ing to thread the cara­biner brake, I fum­ble away a glove and help­lessly

watch it float away. I pull out a cheap camo mitt to re­place it and with some con­cern about the per­for­mance of my cus­tom har­ness, I un­clip from the an­chor. The stran­gu­la­tion be­gins im­me­di­ately and I can hardly move. I make slow, painful, progress, stop­ping now and then to ad­just the loops, but the har­ness just slides far­ther up my chest, cinch­ing down ever tighter. I fi­nally get to the an­chor – abs cramp­ing, legs and feet numb.

As he rap­pels, I mess around with the waist and leg loops, but as soon as I set off, same thing. Ribs crushed, gasp­ing for breath, I’m slid­ing down the rope, par­al­lel to the wall. Ad­just­ing the cords is use­less, it’s best to just get the rap­pel over with. With no re­lief at the Postscrip­tum an­chor, Ju­gen­heimer hur­ries as best he can and fi­nally I slide down, meet­ing him at the base. I needed a few min­utes, so he start­ing pulling the ropes. Af­ter a few hard pulls they are scream­ing through the an­chor and then they jammed. Want­ing to be down more than any­thing, we pull and pull and pull, un­til I just can’t take it any­more. We un­tied the red rope and left the green one.

Ju­gen­heimer clips into a cord and started to rap­pel as I no­tice the cord was al­most cut through. We miss it. I yell at him to stand up as I thread a new an­chor. Grate­ful to be down, we qui­etly pack our gear and be­gin the hike out, each of us lost in our own thoughts, hum­bled by the day’s ex­pe­ri­ence. This is not how you climb Sea of Vapours.

Right: Dave Rone’s makeshift har­nessOp­po­site: Rone lead­ing the Whip­per Tra­verse

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