Helmcken Falls

I recently found my Gravsports password and signed in rather then being a continual spider. I had new mail….no wait…it was over a year old…and it was from Will. Saying congrats on finally being a member and that next year I was invited to Spray camp for real. Ha…how ironic is that…cause that’s where I just came back from!

Ok…I remember Will coming back from Helmcken last year and thinking, this spray stuff is weird. I didn’t get it…ice climbing, but on bolts, on a roof, near a huge waterfall. Why?

Well, now I get it. John Freeman and I decided to take Will up on the offer to come join for the week and see it for ourselves. Considering neither of us have climbed the hardest mixed routes in the Rockies (well John, more then me that is for sure!), and both of us have spent more time being mortal working bees on Grade 4 ice, we knew that we were going more as spectators then “contenders”.

Arriving at the Lodge after our 10 hour drive, we were kinda bagged, but psyched to meet some of the other folks that made the journey there. Will had just beat us, Chris Geisler had been there a week already, and Tim and Klem had also just arrived. Andrew Q and Alex had also made the journey to capture the scene on film.

The lodge is a wonderful vacation in and of itself and next year when i come back (yes I did just write that), I look forward to having a day off there and taking advantage of the cross country ski trails they groom. The rooms are huge, the beds comfy, it is SO quiet at night, the staff is exceptionally nice, and the food is copious and wonderful. What more could you ask for?

Day one we headed to the Falls. First sight was one to take in. Some walking and rappels got us to the base of the thundering water. We were standing on a frozen cone surrounding this magnificent falls. How deep it was, we didn’t know, but deep enough to form huge crevasses! The first time I entered the cave, I must admit, I was scared shitless.

I got to the part Chris claimed to be the “safe zone” and quickly decided for myself that this would not be MY safe zone and continued my journey beyond the hangfire to an area that no longer had spray ice overhead. The spray ice was huge and copious and very unpredictable, atleast for me who had zero experience with these things! Walking under them became slightly less daunting over the days but I still gave them a great deal of respect knowing that what held them to the roof was very little, but the weight of them was very great!

The first day folks gave the new Mayo/Geisler route a go, Chris also added bolts to it making it longer and we started to recover the bolts from Spray On. After Will rode one icicle, he decided we needed to do a more thorough cleaning of the roof. This made me happy, as I did not feel comfortable being under them at all! After Tim and John got the first few bolts uncovered, I was given the opportunity. I never really have understood trundling in the mountains, but I know most of my peers love it. The act of pushing something big over and watching it collapse or fall, always kind of made me nauseous. Amazing how this changed with the few swings of a tool into huge spray ice!

Hanging from my bolt I could tap a coffee table piece of ice and watch it plummet to the ground with ease. Strangely satisfying! Ok, finding bolts with a metal detector on a horizontal roof covered with big icicles is no easy task. I nearly gave up after much ab torching hovering, but the heckling of my buddies had me persist. “Just swing your tool in the ice and hang on it so you can reach further with the metal detector”. What??? But this is exactly what it took…and after I found my first bolt, I was hooked…atleast till the end of that day!

The next day we headed back into the cave. Will and Chris put up routes on the Vertical ice, while Klem, Tim, John and I went back to the cave. John and I were so excited to just “try” some of the route. First go John did really well! He was like a kid in a candy store and it took a nice little upside down whipper to get him to come back down:)

I gave it a go and found it to be very hard! This type of climbing requires soooo much core strength. Guess that is what I will have to work on for next time!

Both John and I had a few goes, while getting some useful tips from our pro hosts Klem and Tim. Watching those guys on the roof is a real learning. Such strength and calmness in a dizzying position. That day, some mega ice was cleaned off the roof as well…impressive.

I decided to nickname Tim the human wrecking ball. Swinging from the rope, he cast his curled up body at these huge masses willing them to release from their roots. After they came down, you could hardly tell it had ever been there…just barnacle looking ice left behind. So cool.

The last day John and I were psyched to spend some time on some attainable goals…the newly established vertical ice that Will and Chris put up the day before. We climbed the first two pitch route on natural gear…spectres and some rock gear.

Felt sketchy, but so rewarding at the same time, and we were all smiles!

We did another top rope lap on another route and then decided to bolt the steeper line on the right that Will suggested. This proved to be a ton of fun and with 6 bolts for nearly 100 feet of climbing, it still felt a bit spicy and pumpy.

That night we made the journey back home and realized that a 9 hour drive after a day of climbing was a bit rough!

All in all, I am so glad that i took this mini vacation. What a trip. What a place. I would definitely like to return. I really do think Will and Tim have something here with the idea of Spray ice. I wonder where it will go…where people will find it next…how much harder it can get? Klem and Tim are still out there for another few weeks and I am sure they will continue to push the climbing in there as far as they can take it. Grades? Who knows and who cares. What those guys are doing is hard.. its unique…it’s creative…it’s innovative…and its fun..and I think the last point is really what counts! Nice work Will finding once again another way to play on ice.

2 thoughts on “Helmcken Falls”

  1. Pingback: Bits and Pieces: hand strength to Spray! « Will Gadd

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