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North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Mt. Kitchener, Rights of Passage

Mt. Kitchener, Rights of Passage. Somehow we had appeased the Mountain gods, for they granted us Rights of Passage. No doubt a reward for being patient while still staying keen. Alpine conditions were finally setting up, and the forecast was promising. There was a magic line I had been waiting to try. I thought I had seen it all. Delicate icicle-spangled pitches so thin, so thin. Wobbling, bonging, narrow pillars, strenuous ice roofs. Not! On the far right side of Mt. Kitchener’s north face lies a beautiful gully system that leads to an aquamarine pocket glacier, notched into the constriction of a classic gully. It presents an obvious objective from the road, yet is only another of those devious alpine trickeries. Barry Blanchard and Albi Sole had tried it years ago, and others as well. I can see them now, enjoying a good day out, covering ground fast, climbing ever up in that fantastic couloir, moderate ice steps and pleasant mixed ground. Like driving your sports car up a pleasant winding mountain road. You turn into that blind corner, the car hugging the curve smartly, RPM’s screaming as you down shift, and—SHIT!— there is a cement wall in the middle of the road.

Tronc, in French, means “tree trunk,” generally oak. In France Philippe Pellet is known as “Tronc.” A humble, gentle, smiling father of three, he is also a rip-roaring, raging machine. He got to Canada, onsighted a 5.13, and we hit the road. We returned from our road trip, and it was time to “get amongst.”

We settled into our bivouac for the night, our tent sagging as the poles had snapped in the high winds. The glacier protested its hangover by disgorging seracs toward the valley.

When it comes to ice, living in Canmore has advantages. You can climb frozen waterfalls seven or eight months a year. You naturally tend to play the “ticking game,” and I had set out to tackle all the hardest ice routes. Of the ranges six ice climbs rated WI7 or WI7+, there were only two left for me to do. On Riptide, Isaac had generously let me lead every pitch, yet once we were at the top, and Grandmaster Lacelle’s direct finish was at hand (The Continuing Saga), we’d had enough. As for M-16 on Howse, well, you need perfect conditions, an excellent crew, and the brass balls of Mr. House. Still, after my own scary alpine ice ventures, all that upside-down dangling, after the silliest frozen canyon top-rope problems, I thought that ice would never challenge me beyond what I knew. Until I faced “The Marble”!

The surreal constriction glacier is layered and marbled with gray streaks of rock dust. Peeling from its base are steep, stepped roofs, then a glassy, continuously steep curvature. The only features are gently polished ripples. We affectionately called it “The Marble.” We understood why this classic was yet undone. Tronc prescribed a technique I had learned on the Real Big Drip (for one screw): one manicures the ice up to a screw and downclimbs to a stance. After resting one does this again for another screw. It creates good placements and a sequence, banks endurance, and brings courage. Tronc manicured only for the first screw, but somehow got another two in and levitated to a stance. I preferred manicuring for two screws, and, my ass hanging out in space, fear evaporated in the moment’s intensity and I almost forgot how gripped I was. Tools popping off were a given.

We climbed a narrow chimney between the glacier and the rock wall. There was a low-angle ice rink at the top, a perfect venue for a Slovenian hockey game. We finished in a daze, smiling and silent, as one feels after weathering a severe storm. Making the free rappel off, we were stunned by how distant the ropes were from the base. We both knew that this was by far the most difficult ice we had ever climbed.

WI8: An ice climb that is both physically and mentally taxing. A long, continually sustained ice formation that due to its consistent overhang requires great amounts of strength, endurance, and technical ability. Protection is scarce, as the energy required to place it takes great effort, due to its angle and its dense and/or fracturing and/or thin and/or aerated nature.

Eric Dumerac, Canada