How Not to Climb Sea of Vapours
A Story from the Trophy Wall
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