American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Vampire Spires, Fortress, You Enjoy Myself

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

Fortress, You Enjoy Myself. On a rainy July 20 Pat Goodman and I, with financial support from a Balance Bar Grant, were helicoptered into the Vampire Spires, getting dropped off 30m from what would be our home for the next 24 days. We immediately set up camp, where we were imprisoned for the next 36 hours by rain. This set the tone for our stay.

The weather finally broke, and we were able to scope the route we intended to climb: Cornerstone (V 5.10 A2), climbed by Matt Childers and Cogie Reed in 1998. Theirs was the first ascent of the 1,500' wall called the Fortress. While scoping the line, we noticed anchors leading up the headwall via an impressive crack system. Two pitches led to a chimney, which topped out at a ledge on the third pitch of the Cornerstone. We decided to climb these pitches, so that we could further investigate the route. Although we were unable to find literary documentation, we had heard rumors about a German team floating the Nahani River, hiking in, and climbing. Climbing these two wet, loose pitches, we found anchors every 25 meters, with 1/4" Petzl self- drive bolts and aluminum hangers, as well as bolts at hard free moves, for a total of over 27 bolts. Whoever established these pitches used exceptionally light hardware, set anchors up for single rappels, and was obviously very conscious of weight, thus reinforcing the belief that it was a team that had floated the river and hiked in. We then climbed the chimney and, upon reaching the ledge, got our first look at what would be the crux of the route: a clean left-facing dihedral that eventually thinned to tips and continued through a roof-like chimney feature. However, the weather deteriorated, forcing us to retreat.

After several rainy days the skies cleared and we attempted the route via the original start of the Cornerstone. We reached the same ledge as on our previous attempt and again retreated due to weather. We made several attempts, invariably being defeated by storms, never making it more than five pitches up the wall.

Eventually the rain turned to snow, and we tried a new route on the neighboring Vampire Spire, waiting for the weather to come around. Being an aid invalid, I belayed Pat for two days on an aid route, which, at about the midway point, shallowed out into a water-groove bashy- flare. We would have none of this, considering we were on a free-climbing trip. Defeated again.

Finally, at 11 o’clock on a mid-August day (we had lost track of time), on a surge of coffee-induced manic motivation, everything from chalk to ropes to bones still damp from a six-inch snowstorm two days prior, we set off on an ill-prepared attempt, forgetting headlamps, tape, gloves, extra food, and water. Neither of us expected the rock to be dry, nor did we believe that we would make it up more than a couple of pitches. Nevertheless we found ourselves at our high point, with blue skies and virgin rock overhead. We diverged from the Cornerstone and continued for another six pitches until it was too dark and we were too exhausted to climb further. We huddled on a two-foot ledge in a rotten, wet gully, unsure of our location in relation to the summit, shivering for what might have been five hours. When we started climbing again, we reached the summit in just two pitches.

Pat and I made what we believe to be the second ascent of the Fortress, as well as the first free ascent. We climbed the first four pitches of the Cornerstone (only the first pitch had been freed) and eight more pitches, of which none appeared to have been climbed, to create You Enjoy Myself (V 5.12). We placed one bolt at the fourth belay. To be honest, I admit that after our second or third attempt we left two fixed lines, but we removed them on the following attempt, dissatisfied with the idea of not climbing in proper alpine fashion. On our final go we climbed the route in a single push, freeing every pitch from bottom to top.

Hank Jones

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