Sean Isaac reports on the mixed climbing scene at British Columbia's Stanley Headwall
Sean Isaac, besides beiing the editor of the Canadian Alpine Journal and an accomplished alpinist, is a frequent visitor and devloper at the Stanley Headwall in British Columbia, Canada. He sent us the following email about the Headwall scene.
Slogging up the snow covered trail, I enjoyed the linear rhythm of placing one foot in front of the other while exploring the recesses of my own mind. I began wondering how many times I have made the two-hour trudge up this familiar trail in the past 10 years. I roughly calculated the days, season by season, by adding up how many times I have done the classics like Nemesis, French Reality and Suffer Machine in addition to the number of attempts it took to polish of the 16 new routes I had done up there. After about a half hour of simple math, I came up with an approximate number: 70. My next immediate thought was, “I should get a life.”
Ever since the 1970s when Nemesis was first sieged via solo aid by the late Bugs McKeith, the Stanley Headwall has been known for its intimidating ice and mixed multi-pitch scarefests. However, at the start of the 21st century, Dave Thomson and I discovered the sport-mixed potential of the Headwall’s Thriller Cave, a deep, dark grotto located behind the rarely (only twice) formed Killer Pillar. Our first route there skirted the main cave by sneaking up the side (still overhangs by three meters) for a quality two-pitch M9, which has now become the warm-up. There are now more than 10 sport-mixed rigs ranging from M9 to M11. In addition, the massive streaked wall to the left has become more of the focus than the cave itself. This beautiful wall of 120-degree overhanging limestone has produced incredible endurance testpieces with excellent moves on good stone and interesting ice features. We joking call it the Ceüse of M-climbing.
Our sense of rhyme is lacking, which is apparent through our misuse of poetic device in route naming. Branching out from the original Killer Pillar name, we have Thriller, Phyllis Diller, Miller Swiller, Serial Driller, Roto Tiller, Caterpillar, Miracle Filler, Distiller and so on. Some of these routes link into each other and I’m sure that’s the reason why the caption in Black Diamond's 2008/09 Ice Climbing catalog is wrong—I’m climbing Distiller, which finishes on the same last few bolts of climbing as Serial Driller. Confusing, I know.
Distiller, the route I am on in the photo, is one of the best. Good friends, Joe Buszowski and Louis-Julien Roy, opened it while I was climbing in Cuba a couple weeks before. Technical moves on overhanging rock connect a series of free-hanging icicles. The final dagger that I am on is almost 15 meters long, hence the focused concentration of getting the draw clipped.