BD athletes Klemen Premrl and Tim Emmett establish Spray On... Top! —one of the most epic and difficult mixed climbs in the world
In early February BD athletes Tim Emmett and Klemen Premrl made the first ascent of one of the most epic and difficult mixed climbs in the world: Spray On… Top!, a 230 meter, wildly overhanging route at Helmcken Falls in Wells Grey Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada. Spray On… Top! puts the finishing touches on a route first begun by Emmett and Will Gadd back in 2009 as 30 meters of 45-degree overhanging ice blobs. Spray On… Top! is stacked with consecutive pitches of WI 10, WI 9, M6+,M8, M7, M9+, M6, and M6, and goes all the way out the cave, which according to Emmett overhangs “nearly as much as it is high.” Below is Premrl’s report and photos from the stunning climb.
Spray cave is the wildest place for ice climbing! You can see pictures, movies, people can tell you stories, you can even go and see it from a view point, but until you walk in to it, you know nothing! You do not have the smallest idea how big and outrageous it is. It is way beyond imaginable.
As we came in this year, there were basically two routes on the main wall: the original Spray On and a project. Since there was so much more ice on the ground, the first pitch of Spray On was underground and we basically started on the second pitch. I was happy to be there with Tim and Will, so I had all the info that I wanted, besides the guys know a lot about this place, so I kind of felt safe.
We prepared both routes over the next couple of days, using the famous metal detector, crushing down big icicles... soon that place become more friendly. So it was time to do some sending. Tim and I did a first free ascent of that project (Wolverine), and on the next day I linked pitches 2, 3 and 4 of Spray On in my first go. I was quite happy with myself. Those two routes were by far the hardest and steepest ice climbing that I done so far.
But considering lots of ice on the ground, prepared routes, climbing partner like Tim; climbing felt a lot like sport climbing (But do not fool yourself, in a place like this there is no such thing as sport climbing).
What’s next: If you look at the Spray cave from a viewpoint, you might notice that highpoint of Spray On and Wolverine is not that high at all, there is still a huge amount of overhang climbing to be done, before one can reach the top of the cave. I knew what Tim had in his mind, so climbing to the top of the cave became our next goal.
Suddenly the nature of the game changed, we were venturing new ground. There were no bolts in front of us. We became explorers. We looked the wall from different perspectives trying to figure out where the line should go. But that is not an easy job. Anyways, since this is going to be the first route topping out, we must find the easiest way up.
So we started at the highpoint of Spray On, climbing towards left. Our goal was to reach a small cave under a big ice dagger. We manage to do that, climbing is not hard and technically, but Space Invaders Traverse is one of the best moderate ice and mixed climbing in the world. Climbing that pitch alone is an adventure worth taking.
Next pitch climbs steep rock with a tricky move to ice dagger and ice dagger itself. In a setting like this it is simply insane!
Lip Trip pitch climbs towards right. It is super steep, super exposed and it is not easy. It is so out there! The idea was to climb through the lip to reach the headwall. I was working on that pitch for a whole day, and it went well, until I was almost there. I ended up just 2 meters away from easier ground, unable to find any hooks for my tools... I probably spent more than one hour on that particular spot, looking for the right sequence, but I was still unable to figure out where the route should go. It was getting late so I called Tim on the radio, and we called it a day. It was time to go back down. Abseiling down on frozen ropes, over terrain that is so fucking steep, is an epic story by itself...
I already postponed my flight back home, but we were running out of time again, but this time out of bolts, too. It was the first time on that route that I was ready to surrender, but luckily I was climbing with Tim, so giving up was not an option.
We manage to get some bolts (5) but no hangers, and some ring bolts (4) that we could hand placed in drilled holes. With a small amount of remaining time and bolts we could not afford to make a mistake. Since there is no obvious line in the headwall, we would easily end up bolting a line that ends in blank rock. That would mean the end, and we really, really did not want that to happen. So, we opted to abseil from the top. We were back in the game!
So we went in from the top. Tim needed to abseil three times before he found a climbable line, and by that time, it was getting late. But Tim did not care about that so much, he just went down once more with the drill and headlamp. By the time he got down, it was dark already. Nevertheless, he managed to prepare the last pitch.
Next day it was my turn. I was trying to connect our highpoint to the very last pitch that Tim did a day before. The headwall that we considered as easy ground (and compared to the rest of the climb it really is) is still quite overhung, so there was a lots of swinging and hanging... anyways, after a whole day of working I was at the top again, having linked the missing part of our route.
We would need a rest day, but there was no time for that. We only had one more day. So we went into the route next morning and just try to do our best. Be focused, be efficient that was my mantra. I knew that we invested so much into this route that we will get some luck on our way up. I like to believe that it is hard to fail if you are so dedicated.
In the end we did it free! For sure we could do better (Lip Trip in one pitch), but we did our best! This is what it counts.
Venturing new ground, looking for new possibilities, looking beyond existing, creating new things, that was the game that Tim and I played. Topping out on the very top of Helmcken Falls for the first time, that was the name of our game. We named our route Spray On... Top!
I think that Spray On... Top! will soon be climbed in better style, probably repeaters will find it easier than we did, but I’m quite sure that anybody that will do that climb, will be surprised by the magnificent surrounding, exposure and scale.