I vowed this winter to ski less, climb more. The biggest obstacle? Finding partners (that I trust with my life in their hands). To be fair, I’m not actually out posting signs to recruit people off the streets of Vail Village, so my lack of partners isn’t that surprising. When I saw that an ice climbing class with a two-day field session was being offered just down the road, I jumped at the chance to dig my axes and crampons out of the gear closet.
I’ve only climbed waterfall ice a handful of times, and it’s been a trial-by-fire affair—me scratching my way up sketchy stuff behind guys who offer little or no instruction. I don’t regret those experiences, but neither am I content with them. So this class was a good thing. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, we hiked up to some fat waterfalls behind the East Vail firehouse. The sun was just creeping over the hills:
Even though we had a nice view of the valley—all warm and sunny—we shivered in the shadows.
But then we started hacking away while Dave T.—our fearless leader—shouted up instruction and encouragement. All of this was more helpful than anything I’ve experienced in the past, and then towards the end of our second day, I got something I needed just as much: inspiration.
These two guys showed up—one wearing what looked like pajama pants—and started delicately dry-tooling up the rock face next to the fall we were climbing on. Then, they decided to climb through this:
I wasn’t exactly sure how they’d go about it, and these photos don’t do justice to the feat, but this guy (Rob?) climbed up the icefall below the curtain, with Mr. Pajama Pants belaying. He then did some very yogic-looking stemming to place a screw and clip a bolt on the rock. He proceeded to climb along the inside of the curtain and bashed away a few icicles for an exit:
Things got even more precarious-looking as he swung around to the outside of the curtain…
…and then climbed up a few more feet before placing a final (the second?) screw.
Right. Knowing that stuff like this is possible is what keeps me from being content with my current (seconding and top-roping) ice climbing abilities. It’s a good thing that climbing is a process…otherwise I would have just chucked my axes down the gully in frustration after seeing these guys climb like that. But instead, I’m plotting ways to get out again on my next day off…