Three weeks ago, plans to go out to Lac Sam and do some cleaning were trashed by a blizzard. Wind driving ice pellets, freezing rain and hail into my windows. I took one look outside at 7:00 am, grabbed my phone, crawled gratefully back into bed, and texted the crew from among the pillows saying, “so I guess climbing’s off.” Mornings are not my best time).
But last Saturday, the sky was an indescribable blue, buds were snapping open into leaves like popcorn, and it was 25 C (15 or so when I left the house around 7:15 to pick up Jex).
The seasons come bursting in through the door like Kramer on Seinfeld in this part of the world.
Anyway, with the gorgeous weather, we headed for Montagne d’Argent last weekend. The place was jammed: there was some sort of college group or something (identical neatly erected tents, bus in the parking lot, and the Canyon was like Times Square) and an Alpine Club of Canada group (maybe 40 people?)
We’d planned on heading for L’Antre du dragon, because leading l’Ecaille du Dragon was on Phil’s tick list of Things To Do Before Going Back to England. But by the time we got there all the routes had been staked out by some of the ACC folks, so we moved on.
We wound up at Paroi du Lac, down toward the end of the trail, which we decided was called that not because of the lake below it but because of the ‘vertical lake’ on it. It was dripping wet and mossy, with water running down the face, mud puddles below it and huge chunks of ice still slowly melting into the earth at the base. (I think they’re left over from ice climbing, and the ice climbing might be “assisted” by pouring water down the cliff, which would explain the masses of ice.)
But undaunted, we get set up and put some ropes up.
David and Phil headed off to another area to drop top ropes on some stuff: Hue, Jex and I stuck around and I put an anchor on a big laybacky crack which was blessedly dry and sunny. I had an interesting time of it figuring out the anchor, which involved three trees, one of them scooping out and over the cliff edge. It looks precarious as hell, but it’s solid enough to stand on, as I proved. The trick was figuring out, with limited anchor gear, how to run the rope so it wouldn’t run over this tree. What I wound up doing was anchoring to two trees above it, then rappeling to just below the scoopy tree and setting up a sling on that, and running my rappel rope through a carabiner attached to the sling to redirect the rope. I thought it was clever, although it took way too long to work out how to manage that. Ah well. I consider it to be “leader” practice, since I was the most experienced of the three of us at that point.
We gave the crack a run: Hue and Jex both worked really hard on it but between the burliness of the opening section and the big piroutteing swing that you went for if you fell (couldn’t be helped, given the position of the anchor) they both bailed. I fell a couple of times in the opening – and went for the big spinning swing along the wall – but muscled up it. It was a solid layback for the first few feet, then a slightly odd switch where the crack you were using suddenly took a right turn to the right and became an undercling. Feet were pretty much nothing but friction and hope.
We discovered when the boys got back that we’d been on the infamous Jos-Bras-de-fer, which is kind of known for being “5.7+++,” as David put it. The top half is 5.7ish; that bottom bit is the reason for the “+++,” and takes either the arms of steel mentioned in the name, or a whole lot of tetchy technical footwork – at least I think that second is an option. Because I definitely don’t have ‘bras de fer.’
And then we went by l’Antre du Dragon. And it was open!
We spent a couple of hours there: eventually Phil did go after l’Ecaille du Dragon, and got it. Meanwhile David put up a top rope on a 5.10b at the far left of the crag. It was a crack that ran almost the whole length of the rock. We went over to play with it while Phil set up for his run.
David, though clearly working hard, sent the 10b, and came back down panting and happy and slightly disbelieving. Watching him work as hard as he did, though, I figured I’d be overjoyed just to make it to the top.
So I tied in on it, though I was feeling a little stunned by the sun and heat and a day’s worth of climbing. It was a classic, carnivorous crack: uneven, with skin-chewing chunks of texture and bottlenecks where you could wedge a fist and grit your teeth as it chewed into your skin but held you in place. The foot jams were classically painful, too, and at one point I struggled through a section with a left foot jam that made me shout, “ow, ow, FUCK!” and then fell, and said to David, “Why do I like cracks?”
“Because you’re a pervert,” he said in response. And I couldn’t really argue.
The climb was a punishing series of varying jams, just a little off balance to the right but with no feet whatsoever on the right, then when you finally made it to a set of thank-you holds and could rest (though still a little off balance so you couldn’t quite rest) it moved into an annoyingly offwidth section that was just too big and flaring to get a fist into, but offered nothing on the face to use for feet or hands. I grunted and shouted my way up the last ten feet or so, and was pretty triumphant when I hit the anchor. I’m happy to climb a 10a in the gym: a 10b outside, no matter how many falls I take, makes me pretty pleased. And pretty tired.
Meanwhile, Phil had gone over to l’Ecaille du Dragon and slain his dragon.
And that was the day: we headed out pretty pleased and tired and sun-stunned. Felt like summer.
I find I’ll have a song that gets stuck in my head while I’m climbing: it’s a different song every day, sometimes there’s more than one, but some song or other often plays away in my head while I’m working my way up the rock. This time, this was one of them.