A Season For The Opportunist

Majka Burhardt heads for the belay below the cave on Omega Dec ’08 Photo: Peter Doucette

It’s probably “IN” right now–the route that you’ve been wanting to get on. This season has already displayed a wild mix of conditions with routes forming and falling off and growing back again. So far, it’s been a season for the opportunist.

Just before Christmas it was Omega with ice, yellow and alive stretching uncharacteristically to the ground! Majka and I climbed it on a bone cold but eventually enjoyable day.

Majka, high on Quartet. Photo by Peter Doucette

The next highlight of my season was climbing Quartet to the top of Cannon. Well-formed first pitches led to more mixed ground and welcome turf placements. After the first two pitches it was all new ground for me. We discovered an old fixed anchor (pin and nut) in the middle of nowhere, five or so pitches into our adventure. I took the piton out with a thumb and forefinger then replaced it with a little fresh steel. A final smear of ice and a delicate move to top one last overlap, allowed us to gain the scrubby trees crowning the cliff. The walk across to the descent trail above the Whitney-Gilman, was a bit of a “shwack” with some chest deep wallowing and sporty boulder-hopping adding to the full-value Cannon experience.

More recently, Cathedral has come into its own with Repentance and Remission both well formed. The chimney on Remission was wild before the thaw, with a lattice of ice and verglas that was better for visual appreciation than upward gain. Still, we persevered, finding gear just when things started to look desperate and topped out remembering exactly how good the winter climbing on Cathedral really is.

Just the other day, I snuck in three routes on Frankenstein- all new to me. A mixed line beginning on rock and exiting on ice in the vicinity of Widow’s Run, was steep, requiring a few balancey maneuvers above decent protection. Cocaine and Wrath of the Valkyrie (in the amphitheater left of the Fang) were also in spectacular shape. The final moves of each were a little touch-and-go but remained just probable enough to make me commit.

Peter Doucette, right of Widow’s Walk. Photo: Majka Burhardt

Majka climbing Cocaine Jan’09. Photo by Peter Doucette

*History/humor note: On the second ascent of Wrath of the Valkyries. The leader tossed a rack of pitons, attached to a rope, which tangled in a birch tree. The rope was then ascended to gain the last twenty feet. For those who are interested, there are now a few fixed pieces that can be supplemented to protect the exit dry-tooling. Though, for those feeling lucky the piton/birch option remains.

The feeling of reaching the top of these rarely formed routes or swinging into a column or smear that may only exist a hand full of days a year is extremely satisfying. As someone who waits and watches and seeks out ephemeral ice lines I’m fired up every time the conditions and my climbing days align. The good news is, the season is in full swing. Now, quality options abound and satisfaction, in the frozen form, is that much easier to come by.

The weather and cold temps seems to be stabilizing at least for a while. This should give climbs a chance to gain a little more mass and perhaps let more rarely formed routes to develop. Mid-week has been quiet at the cliffs, so if there’s a classic but often crowded climb you’re interested in getting on, give IMCS a call.

Peter Doucette – January 2009