A bit delayed, my ice season legitimately started this past Saturday with a great (albeit gong-show-y) day on Melt Out.
The ice climbing season in the Canadian Rockies started off with a bang this year for a lot of people. Some early cold weather saw a number of routes forming up early and the result was basically a gold rush of climbers mobbing whatever had formed.
Me? I decided to ignore the reports of formed ice and go look for things with a bit less traffic and as a result, I basically just wandered around the mountains with my gear. The most I eked out was an extremely contrived pitch that involved more tool swings into moss than ice.
An early season classic (waste of time)
In reality, my season started on Saturday. Katherine, Brad and I had managed to score some beds at Rampart Creek for Friday and Saturday night. After a bleary-eyed drive out Friday night, found ourselves crashing a couple of ACC trips that had the rest of the hostel booked.
Saturday we got up early enough that we figured we'd be able to take our pick of the routes the ACC hadn't called 'dibs' on in the Icefields Parkway corridor.
Being our first day out, we were thinking we'd do some mellow laps at Tangle Falls to ease into things but when we got there, we discovered we weren't early enough as two parties were just unloading from their car.
That left us with a couple of options. We considered driving out to Two O'Clock Falls, a mellow WI2-3 line out towards Nordegg, but from Tangle Falls it would be a bit of a drive and we'd almost certainly have company there too. After a bit more debate we decided to go take a look at Melt Out.
I'd heard that Melt Out is a great 3 pitch WI3 route and it was right near Tangle Falls (about 2-3km North). The downside is that from discussion with other climbers at Rampart the night before, we knew there'd be two other parties out there. Regardless, we decided that we'd wander out to Melt Out and hang out until the route was free.
The hike into Melt Out is nice and quick and it only took us about half an hour to get to the base of the route. Once there it was obvious that while a little thin, it should go. The two parties ahead of us consisted of Paul OBK and Felipe on one rope team and Nando and Keith on the other. If you're going to show up late to a busy route, knowing the other rope teams and being friendly about things makes life a lot nicer.
As I tossed my helmet on at the bottom of the route, the buckle shattered which seriously reduced its ability to stay on my head - which is sort of a key function. I tried strapping it in place with a voile strap, but doing it up tight enough to stay resulted in a lot more choking than I like. I ended up settling for trying to replace the buckle with a pile of medical tape out of my first aid kit. A seriously auspicious start to the day.
We sat back and watched the other rope teams climb Melt Out's first pitch. We wanted to let them start the second pitch before we followed them so we could assess the amount of ice fall. Our hope was that the broad bench between the first two pitches would catch the ice, but after watching the first bombardment of ice come crashing down, we decided we'd get comfy and hang out until the parties above had topped out and started their descent.
Watching the other parties climb their way up Melt Out let us snap some photos, watch the lines they took and generally just relax and hang out.
Once the traffic jam cleared and it was our turn to tackle Melt Out, I tried my best to remember what end of my ice tools to hold onto and with Brad giving me a belay, I started following the other parties up the ice climb. With conditions being a bit thin, Nando and Paul had super kindly called down some beta to me as they worked up. The transition off the top of the first pitch was a little thin so they recommended sinking a solid ice screw into the last good bulge to protect the last couple of moves of each pitch.
Stitching like a seamstress
With a nice attentive belay from Brad
Photo by Katherine Valentine
We cruised up reasonably quickly and as the other party rappelled back down the route we had a quick chat (so I could ask Felipe to stick my beer into a snowbank when he got back to Rampart).
Conscious of having limited daylight left, Katherine, Brad, and I topped out and started hustling to get out of there while we could still see what we were doing.
At the top of the second pitch, I threw down the ropes and rapped to the broad bench separating Melt Out's first and second pitches. I took a look at the rope I had left and figured I had a shot of making it all the way to the bottom of the route without re-rigging so I tossed the rope over the first pitch - looked to see that it at least mostly made it to the ground and continued back down the ice.
Sure enough, the rope made it and Katherine and Brad quickly joined me on the ground.
And then we tried to pull the rope. Instantly it was obvious that it was seriously stuck. No amount of flicking, changing our angle or just yanking the everliving shit out of the rope was going to free it.
Only one thing to do. With the sun now seriously disappearing, I started ascending the rope. A full 60 meters of super stretchy, super bouncy half ropes.
I ascended using my Mammut Smart Alpine which is an assisted locking device. I would get my feet into a good position, then using my legs as much as possible stand up while hauling myself up with one hand on the rope while the other hand dragged the rope through my belay device.
It was exhausting and probably took twenty or thirty minutes to get to the top. Once there I cleaned up the impressively twisted ropes and rappelled back down to the bench. Not wanting to repeat the fiasco of ascending the rope I pulled the ropes, re-rigged and rappelled the first pitch.
Luckily, we just had a super quick walk back to the cars before we were home free.
Overall, Melt Out was a great start to the season. I’d heard good things about the route and it truly is a fun one and a great warm up. The condition of the ice was such that there were lots of rest stances so I could really take my time finding the best line and sinking my screws.
There’s been some drama this year on crowded routes, but in our case, friendly communication, respecting that the climbers above have the right of way and being adaptable made the whole thing a total non-issue.
Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.