Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rocket Man...finally!


Multi pitch mixed climbing was always one of my most favorite activities in the Rockies. For one of the proudest lines in this genre I had to wait a long time to finally climb it. After the first ascent by Raphael Slawinski in late spring of 1999, the route never came into shape until 2 years ago, when the same man teamed up with Jon Walsh to execute the second ascent. A few weeks prior to their ascent I attempted the line with Jeff Relph, but we got defeated by a wrong weather forecast, a dropped tool, and probably a lack of fitness, which inevitably comes along in the middle of a busy heli ski season.
Last Winter the route did not form enough for a serious attempt, plus the epic snow conditions throughout the season had my interest centered more on skiing, rather than scratching my tools on loose rock.
I have almost forgotten about my desire to climb the route until I saw it this year early November already looking good to go, at least from a distance. Then I picked up a Gripped Magazine in one of our plenty coffee shops in Canmore and ran into this article about the top 10 mixed routes in the Rockies. Although I did not agree with the provided list I recognize that it is impossible to please everyone and tastes are always different. Nevertheless, the 10 listed climbs include 6 real good multi pitch climbs, and throughout the years I have done all of them but Rocket Man...another reminder that I should get my act together before I'm too old for this game.
But then the good snow arrived, and attached to it the powder "oink factor", so the ice tools got shelved at the bottom of the gear room. It wasn't until recently that I got out for a couple of cool ice days and then a phone call from a 20 year younger Austrian did the trick.
Alex Hollaus spent a good portion of this and last Winter quietly collecting pretty much every big climb the Canadian Rockies have to offer, but Rocket Man still needed the tick too on his hit list.
So now, with a real strong and fun partner, I did not have any excuse not to go and on Jan.15th we drove up a dark, moonless Icefields Parkway to try the first all Austrian - and ironically - maybe the first Winter ascent of the route.  
Approaching the Monster in first light, we skinned all the way to the base in 28 kick turns...
boot packing that day would have been a trench digging exercise.

"When you go climb Rocket Man you must double zee power!"
Alex wanted to climb the route shirtless, but since there were no chicks around
I was able to talk him into putting on some clothes.

first pitch with the Shadow and unformed Riptide visible behind.

Although we had a fairly warm day for January, the ice was still cold and brittle.
The typical alpine dry ice which formed 3 month ago and has not seen
any water since.
Sorta like a climber without scotch for a long period of time-not very confidence inspiring.

The 3rd pitch was just as dry as 2 years ago and the rock quality did not improve either.
Climbing past the last 3 bolts feels definitely harder than M7.
Following this pitch I made the same mistake as Jeff Relph on our attempt 2 years ago: I dropped my tool high up on the pitch - the first time this ever happened to me. Alex had to lower me all the way to the start of pitch two where it was luckily stuck in the snow, but this incident did cost us some valuable time and me some extra power I don't have available right now. With the little day light left in mid January the clock was ticking against us.

Therefore I passed on the lead of pitch 4, which was also a bit harder than the WI4 guides book rating.
After about 10 more meters of this picture Alex eventually got his next screw in and then committed to a thinly iced up and exposed traverse  to the right, which gave access to thicker ice and a hanging belay on good screws.
From there I could lead to the big ledge in a straight forward WI5 ice pitch about 15m right of the original line.
Since this skips half of pitch 4, and the entire 5th and 6th pitch,
we named this the " Austrian Schnaxel Meister Variation"

Above the big ledge was probably the best pitch of the route. After a run out and loose start (Jon Walsh pulled a bolt on this one 2 years ago) there was fun dry tooling to be had up an iced up corner.

A broken off pillar with a rather unusual foot rest helped us bypass the original M6 dry tooling on the last pitch.

Alex on the last steep ice before the angle kicks back.

We topped out just in time for a beautiful sunset and were able to rappel most of the way
without headlamps in the magically fading light.

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