Although ice conditions were lean this winter in the rockies, calling it a bad season can mostly be chalked up to a lack of imagination. With many lifetimes of climbing potential across the range, we have a tendency to get focused on specific zones each season. It’s fun to get to know a different place, a little bit better, each year. Although my winter was cut short due to a climbing expedition in Nepal in the fall, and a re-aggravated shoulder injury on new years eve (karma for climbing a new route in the Himalaya), I managed to make up for lost time in the spring, mainly in the vicinity of Murchison Falls.

After a fun day choss wrangling on Continuum (M5 WI4) with Raphael, Maia and I returned to the area for a classy day on two extremely fun and moderate mixed routes, But my Daddy’s a Psycho (M5+) and Lessons of Oka (M4 WI4).

A few years ago, high on the steep, hollow, sublimating pillar of the ice climb Virtual Reality, I eyed a steep rock corner splitting the headwall between VR and the classic ice climb Murchison Falls. It was decorated with a smattering of ice, and looked well worth doing. On the two previous trips to the area this season, although the second pitch pillar of VR wasn’t formed, the first pitch of the route was fat and blue and led straight into this rock feature, which was much drier then I’d seen in previous years. Dreaming of a steep dihedral eating a double rack of cams (i.e. having been away from the Rockies for too long) I proposed to visiting Squamish friend Tom Schindfessel that we go have a look. He didn’t really drive over for spring sticks in fat blue ice, did he?

Starting up the first pitch of VR.

Without any info about the rock corner, yet given the fact that it sits between two of the most classic routes in the range, humility seemed a good approach: I assumed it had been climbed, and thus had no plans to name it, call it a variation, or bring up a drill and add bolts to something before doing my due diligence. Better to just go climbing, ya know?

Tom arriving at the belay atop the first pitch of VR.

When we rolled up to the parking it was cold, but thankfully we didn’t have a car thermometer. Minutes later another party arrived and quickly informed us it was -19. Great conditions for mixed climbing. After following what looked like feline tracks to the base of the route, we soloed the brittle approach ice and I racked up for the first pitch of Virtual Reality. It was a fun full-value 60 meter pitch of steep ice that led to a comfy ledge where we would break left into the rock corner. Although Tom had only had a few days on the tools so far this season (I told you he lives in Squamish), he opted for the first mixed pitch, which followed a loose corner/chimney to a steep overlap (M5+) and up to below the “mega corner” I imagined in my mind. As he started up the low-angle ice at the beginning of the pitch and was able to see into the chimney, he remarked “Doesn’t look that chossy!”. I thought it was quite the compliment from a visitor from the coast of immaculate granite. It was a long, cold belay, but I was psyched after his validation, which in the end proved to be more telling of his adventurous character than the actual quality of the climbing, which was horrendously loose. He did an excellent job working his way up the pitch, regretting a quick sit on the rope to place some quality gear at the steepest part. I followed uneventfully, except for the loose block I pulled out right at the beginning, half being caught by my tether and half by the rope above. A loose chimney with a short, yet tricky crux. Would be better choked with ice. At least my expectations were coming back to reality for what lay ahead.

Tom entering the chimney.

Tom emerging from the chimney.

As I reached the belay, which was already fixed by a previous party (surprise, surprise) the sun finally wrapped around the mountain and I was treated to a bout of screaming barfies while sweating under too many layers. It was a blessing, as the “immaculate corner” turned out to be a choss-ridden tower of stacked blocks of orange limestone, ready to teeter over at the first torque of an ice tool. The March sun was strong, and the path forward was clear. I promptly removed my crampons and gloves, and rock climbed the face to the left, a straight-forward piton protected ramble that took us to the top of the wall.

Following Tom’s lead near the top of P2.

Hey! Not quite the steep quality mixed climbing I was (ignorantly) expecting. But it was kind of cool, in a kind of loose, not that great kind of way: A full rope length of steep ice, a chossy (and tricky) drytooling pitch, and a bare-handed rock climb in the sun. Not bad for a spring day up the parkway while on the hunt for a little alpine flavor.

Pitch 3. Corner a no-go.

Would I recommend? Not really. Am I happy to have done it? Yeah. These mountains are magic, and the nuances of the climbing itself fade away after a luke-warm budweiser zero at the car (nice one, Tom) and an evening show of alpenglow on some of the wildest hills I know.

Unknown Something or Other (M5+ WI5, 140 m)

P0. Solo ice to the base of Virtual Reality

P1. Climb the first pitch of Virtual Reality. Belay on left of ice on a ledge to the right of a prominent chimney. (WI5, 60 m)

P2. Climb low angle ice and step right into a loose chimney. Pull the overlap and trend up a left then back right to a fixed belay (M5+, 40 m).

P3. Climb the face to the left of the horrendously loose looking corner to plateau at the top of the wall (5.7?, 40 m).

Rappel Murchison Falls.

Rack: 1.5 set of cams to 3. Optional 4 and 5. Stoppers. Selection of pitons.