BD athlete Kyle Dempster reports on his ice climbing trip to the Canadian Rockies
Black Diamond athlete Kyle Dempster sent us the following report after a less-than-stellar mission to the Canadian Rockies. If you travel and climb as much as Kyle does, eventually you’ll hit a bad one and it sounds like the trip definitely had more than a normal dose of epics, including a busted arm. Heal soon, Kyle!
Just back from what was supposed to be a month trip to the Canadian Rockies. We were gone 19 days total. When you top out on El Cap quicker than you were expecting then there is cause for celebration; when you come home early from what was supposed to be a month-long vacation then something is just plainly wrong. And that's our story—things went wrong, again and again.
Five years ago I was fortunate enough to visit and do some ice climbing in the mecca that is the Canmore/Banff area. At that time it was only my second season climbing ice and the voyages we took up classic routes like The Sorcerer, Nemesis, and The Andromeda Strain, were at that time major undertakings. Although my memory isn't the best, I remember that trip as having excellent weather, extremely low avalanche danger, and climbing until my forearms and my brain couldn't take any more time on steep and scary ice. After six weeks in the Rockies I felt healthy, honed, and ready for other trips to Alaska, Pakistan, and China.
This March was a bit different story.
Back in December I bought my first home, a 2003 Dodge Sprinter fully pimped with all the amenities for cush livin (ebay winning bid: $4,557!). After several shorter trips to the Utah desert, my girlfriend Jewell and I declared Pegasus, the van's official name, ready for her maiden voyage to the Canadian Rockies. We departed our jobs and responsibilities in Salt Lake City on March 1st and drove north. And on that first day of our trip the nine-year-old faucet broke. Day two in Canada was spent at the plumbing supply store trying to track down the rare broken part. Day three we got Pegasus stuck trying to access the Ghost Wilderness. Day four was spent getting Pegasus unstuck, then we drove back into town to buy chains and then we got Pegasus stuck again on the way back into the Ghost. And then it started snowing... a lot.
That first week among all the frustrations, we did get to do one great route that I'd done years ago. The Sorcerer in good conditions is a couple of easy approach pitches followed by two rope stretching WI5 pitches. After an hour-long hike in strong wind and falling snow, Jewell and I turned into The Sorcerer drainage and got our first look at the unformed route. The Utah desert was beginning to sound pretty good. The route looked all there except for a 20-foot rock section where ice had not formed this season. No reason to bail without having a look has always been my approach. I did find a way through the rock and onto to the ice and having not brought any rock gear I was happy to reach the ice and place my first ice screw in 20-plus feet. Jewell followed the pitch, took all the ice screws at the belay, and cast off in horrendous wind and spindrift on the final pitch. This year was her second season ice climbing and belaying her on that long lead was awesome to watch!
Avalanche danger this season in the Rockies has been absolutely terrifying. The Canadian Avalanche Center has released four "Special Public Avalanche Warnings" in the last five weeks and on their website they've sited conditions as hovering between "High" and "Extreme." The Utah desert was sounding even better. Consequently, the dangerous snowpack has herded ice climbers all to the “safe” zones.
Jewell and I climbed one busy day at Haffner Creek then made our way out to the Icefields Parkway and the immense Weeping Wall, both avalanche safe zones. I was really hoping to climb Mixed Emotions, a Rob Owens and Scott Semple route, but after getting to the base of the Upper Weeping Wall we realized that it was entirely void of ice. We should have gone for it anyway. Instead we turned our attention to the three pitches of aqua blue ice that comprises the upper half of the Weeping massif. There were climbers all ready chipping away at the second pitch and I was not stoked on the amount of ice that they were sending down (indication to bail), still I rationalized that the ice was so wide that we could climb to the side of their fall line (dumbass decision). I quickly made it to the anchors on the first pitch and was preparing to belay Jewell when, with no warning, BLAM! a huge chunk of ice sent down from above slammed into my forearm! Oh the Utah desert.
After a series of vulgarities not necessarily directed at anyone (lie), I managed to belay Jewell without throwing up (barely). By the time she made it to the belay stance I had determined that my arm was broken. We bailed. On the two-hour drive back to Canmore I drank booze, swallowed Loratab, and wished that we had gone to the Utah desert. An x-ray at the emergency room revealed a small fracture in my radius and I was casted. To hell with the Rockies we should have gone to the desert.