BD grassroots athlete Whit Magro reports on his coveted second ascent of an Alex Lowe testpiece in Hyalite Canyon, Montana
Black Diamond grassroots athlete Whit Magro is fortunate enough to call Montana’s Hyalite Canyon (and its extensive collection of classic ice routes) his backyard crag. Having the goods so close to home has allowed Magro to not only fine tuned his ice skills to a PhD level, but also to jump on routes that have just come in. Such was the case this in late December 2010 when he made the coveted second ascent of The Matriarch, an unrepeated Alex Lowe WI 7 fright-fest from 1996. Below is Whit's report about his demanding second ascent, and photos that his brother Sam snapped while holding the rope.
In 1996 Alex Lowe and Kris Erickson made the first ascent of The Matriarch (5.10 WI 7) on a warm, sunny spring day in Hyalite Canyon. I know this information from the guidebook Winter Dance that has a written account of the route. It tells of Alex nearly falling, run outs and tricky gear. I suppose Alex recorded the ascent before it was published in the guide, but all he had to say about the route was, “another fine treat.” When I asked Kris about it, he said with a snide smile, “It’s going to be spicy, I can tell you that.” It all boils down to the fact that you better put your spurs on because this thing is going to be a classic Montana sandbag.
It was the day after Christmas and an unusually warm day. Rumor had it that The Matriarch was close to “in.” My brother Sam and I left town that day with the special rack required for hard Hyalite climbing: one set of Camalots up to #3, blades, beaks, lots of runners, Express screws, and a Specter.
We arrived at the route and stood there staring up at the mega pitch, and the 40 feet of a conglomerate mud flow that guarded the WI 7. It’s not entirely the difficulty of the route that makes it so crazy; it’s the poor quality of rock, plus it wasn’t “in” like the photo of the first ascent.
Looking down, casually kicking into the snow, Sam, who has always been one to test his older brother, said, “Do it if you want to, it’s all yours.” Which means in brother language, “Get on it, you candy-ass.” Thus began the second ascent of The Matriarch. I placed some pins, a few beaks, a bunch of Camalots behind mud flakes, a few girth-hitched cobbled stones, and my best piece, a Specter sunk to the hilt in a particularly weak layer of the stone. We called that one the confidence builder! At one point I was 20 feet out over a slung cobblestone properly scared, yelling at my brother to watch me; whatever good that would have done.
Hours later and toward the end of the pitch I was forced to use my leftover cams as quickdraws for the screws and the rope drag was horrendous. After three hours I arrived at the end of the pitch with just enough gear left. I built a belay using the rope and a few screws with the two carabineers I had left. Sam followed the pitch quickly but still ran out of light half way up. We both stood at the belay in total darkness and decided not to climb the final 20 feet of fat ice to the top to save time.
What strikes me as funny as I write this is that we only climbed one freaking pitch, and it felt like we conquered some huge mountain in the Himalayas. We both agreed that is was totally awesome and we kept joking with ourselves from what Alex said about it, “another fine treat.” For me it was great to share such an engaging event with my brother.