Saturday, May 16, 2020

Benchmark Training Route: Untersberg East Face (Ostgrat, "Laterndl", III-(5.3)

I could sneak in this climb as Salzburg was coming out of the coronavirus quarantine and just before a good week-long low pressure system moved in with damp, rainy weather. The east ridge route on the Untersberg (going from left to right on the photo), Salzburg's local mountain, is a well known alpine scramble and a "must do" for any local alpine climber.

The route is very well known to me. It is one of the 10 or 12 routes within a short distance from my Salzburg home that I use as a alpine endurance and sport specific training route throughout the year. In the most recent five or so years, I have usually been in Greece during April and May climbing on Kalymnos. Like everything else in the world, 2020 -- in the year of COVID-19 -- everything is different.

So, in the late spring, needing to get back in shape, I did the east ridge on the Untersberg fresh out of quarantine. As an alpine training route the full tour has about 1100m of approach and 300m of scrambling on chossy limestone. The more 'technical' parts are rated at UIAA III--. At the end of April into the start of May, the approach finishes with a steep snow slope and short gully at about 40°.

I did the majority of the hike to the snow slopes in my approach shoes. I changed over to a pair of light weight, fully crampon compatible, mountaineering boots once on the snow slopes. I used my light-weight hiking poles and had light, alpine crampons (half steel / half aluminium) that stayed in my pack. Mountaineering boots and poles are indispensable for the 150-200m to steep snow. The crampons are insurance. All is essential for doing this route in spring.

I wanted to climb the route in the stiff-soled mountaineering boots for the training benefits. The first two pitches that get you to the ridge proper are the crux of the climbing. It is a bit awkward climbing and made insecure by the rock quality. They belay stances are usually equipped with single, oversized U-shaped bolts and there are some expansion bolts and various pitons. In spring, alpine rock routes have come through the winter continuous freeze-thaw cycles. Nobody has most likely climbed the route since the past autumn. You have to assume that everything is potentially loose and untrustworthy.

The biggest concern, and what requires sustained vigilance, is the breakable rock. You are in the realm of, "don't pull on anything alpine climbing." It's not hard when you reflect on the moves, but you are aware of the exposure, the mental strain and the need to focus.

A benchmark training route is one that I can repeatedly return to and use to evaluate all the elements of skill, stamina, nutrition, equipment, etc., as I make small tweaks and adjustments in my quest to improve. The route serves as a yardstick to measure myself. The feeling and emotional sense while doing standard training routes gives me insight into answering the question of whether or not I am ready for a particular bigger objective.

Gear for the outing: approach shoes, 30m single strand half/twin rope, minimal Blue Ice harness, one alpine quick draw, one HMS carabiner, one small locking carabiner, light-weight Petzl crampons, first-aid with headlamp, helmet, one liter electrolyte drink, sunglasses, very small multitool, wind shirt, light-weight Arcteryx puffy, Scarpa 'Rebel' mountaineering boots, Z-type hiking poles (not pictured), Buff-type headwater, cap, backpack.

As I said, I know this route very well including what is already in the rock -- bolts and fixed gear -- so what I take is very minimal and is carried for any kind of emergency situation. Perhaps the conditions are different than what I expect, really wet for example. Or It could be that my mental condition is not up to the challenges for some reason. Regardless, I want to make sure I can enact plan "B," "C" or "D" if needed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Canadian Rockies Ice March 2020

In March of 2020 I had one last day to climb in the Canadian Rockies. I soloed the moderate classic route "The Professor Falls" near Banff. In the short videos I speak about some technical aspects of gear and mental aspects of soloing

The approach to the climb was about an hour of flat walking. The majority of the approach is on asphalt roads that go through a golf course (which is closed in the winter). Many climbers choose to use mountain bikes to make the approach a bit faster. Once you leave the golf course, you walk along the Bow River through the woods and passing under the famous "Trophy Wall" that holds the landmark climbs "The Replicant", "The Terminator" and "Sea of Vapours". It was comfortably cold with clearing clouds that had deposited about 10cm of new snow. 

I am using the current edition of Petzl's "Nomic" ice tools. I girth hitch the tethers through the slots in the handles as these points are stronger than the holes in the spike of the tools. First you can girth hitch the tool handles then girth hitch the other end of the tether through the belay loop on your harness by bringing the lower attachment loop over the pick and head of the tool. Now you have attached the tools directly to your harness without any carabiners or swivels that may form a weak link in your system.

Dialling in your equipment and systems is vitally important in all forms of ice and mixed climbing. The quality and performance of your equipment and material makes a huge difference in your both your level of climbing and safety. I started using Petzl "Laser Light" aluminium ice screws two seasons ago. The screws are very fast to place because they bite very aggressively in the ice. When there is a higher level of water in the ice, the screws can be 'sticky' and hard to turn. The best way to deal with this is to back the screw out a half turn or so and then spin the screw in. The weight of the screws are noticeably lighter on your harness. Most advantageous is the fact that you can place the screws in pre-existing holes from steel ice screws. The tubes of the aluminium screws are larger in diameter and the threads will set securely in a pre-existing hole from a steel ice screw.