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North America, Canada, British Columbia, Mt. Fay, Sans Blitz

Mt. Fay, Sans Blitz. Barry Blanchard, Rolando Garibotti, and I skied 17 kilometers into Consolation Lakes on April 13, hauling our packs on sleds and fretting over the two sets of ski tracks in front of us. There had been much talk about climbing this route on the local scene; it had been a well-known objective for several years. This year, it could be seen touching down and visibly blue-tinted from the Lake Louise Ski Area lodge. At mid-day we turned into Consolation Valley and made out two climbers on Gimme Shelter. YIPPEE! We set up a base camp at the upper lake and skied up to climb and fix the first pitch.

This was the crux (WI7), and complicated to protect (over half the gear was in rock). The ice was steep, smallish mushrooms attached to a half-inch-thick veneer of ice that was two to five feet wide. Thankfully, there was an excellent rest at halfway, under a small roof. I fixed both ropes at the top of this pitch, and we enjoyed a little powder skiing back to Consolation Lakes.

At 4 a.m. the next morning we skied from camp. Toward the base of the route, Rolando became aware of other headlamps being turned on intermittently. It was Eamonn Walsh and Raphael Slawinski. Unbeknown to Barry and me, Rolo put his head down and raced them to the base, beating them out by several minutes.

It was awfully crowded in the predawn gloom at the base of such a serious route. Recognizing this, Raphael and Eamonn bowed out gracefully. We ascended our fixed rope, and Barry led the second pitch and belayed after just 35 meters because the serious climbing had taken its toll on him. I took over for the next three pitches (all WI6-ish), and Rolo and Barry seconded with our two 20-pound packs. (We carried a titanium stove, two gas canisters, cup- o-soups, a shovel blade, and a lightweight guideā€™s tarp for survival gear. We used it all.)

The climbing was sustained, technical, and traditional; building anchors usually took me over an hour. We carried no bolts. Rolo and Barry took to seconding in alpine mode, hooking biners whenever they could. Rolo got bicep cramps from trying to follow quickly.

Barry led the sixth pitch (WI5+/6) and sat on a screw when he felt too pumped to continue without falling. Rolando linked us to our exit ice gully via a 5.5 traverse. I led two more stunning WI5 pitches into the night. This put us in the snow gully where Rolo took over by headlamp. By midnight, Barry belayed, while Rolo cooked soup, and I used the shovel blade to dig a 60-meter, three- to six-foot trench along the rock wall, through the faceted snow that topped the gully.

At 4 a.m., Rolo dug us a small cave at the top of the east face. We alternated brewing and dozing for a couple of hours until it started to get light. Feeling pretty good, Barry led off up the ridge that separates the east face from the south face at 7 a.m., but floundered in waist- deep faceted snow three rope lengths higher. We bailed from 10,000 feet, rappelling a gully on the south face that we would have downclimbed in a normal snow year.

Our descent was made by traversing the Quadra Glacier and descending the large gully at its east end. Thirty-six hours after leaving our camp, we were back. Barry believes that Sans Blitz is the hardest ice climb that he has ever done. The name is for our friend, Jonny Blitz, who had climbed with us for the week prior and would have been with us had he not had to go back to work landing jets.

Steve House, with Barry Blanchard, Canada