Canada 6: The Silver Lining

The Silver Lining

by Steven van Sickle

 

The clock in Steve's jeep read 4:00 am and the data on the console said we had spent over 70 hours in the car since Steve H. and I left the western slope and headed to Canada.  It was pitch black outside as we drove up the Icefields Parkway.   Having been back and forth on the road so many times this trip, I knew the classics hiding on the side of the road; Weeping wall, polar circus, had we arrived a few days earlier we may have done them, but this trip was about the alpine and the Canadian Rockies are chocked full of that.

 

Buster, Steve, and myself were off to climb the Silver Lining, a route put up 16 years earlier by Steve, Barry Blanchard, and Joe Josephson.  Obviously a real treat to climb the route with one of the first ascentionists.  The other half of the group was leaving a little later to climb asteroid alley with Steve Swenson, another mentor friend and climbing legend.


I wasn't sure if my new double boots would work properly in my ski bindings.  So with some nervousness I placed the toe in and then carefully pressed the heal down.  No click.  All I could think about was how tedious it would be to have to walk behind people skinning.  


Not to mention how it would compromise our time frame or how annoying it would be to wait up for me.  With some apprehension I leaned forward to reset and the heel stayed in place.  So  I torqued it every way  I could, stepped the other foot in, made a few shooshes and all was good.  Though this would not be the last time my boots gave me trouble,  one of the days many cruxes was still behind us.

 

In the typical Earl style I was out of the gates hard and fast.   "Slow down,"  Steve said from the back of the line, "it's a marathon".  I began to pace myself and as a result, start to pay attention to our location.  Or timing was perfect,  just as the very first light began to refract the deep purples of space we found our selves at the base of the route.  Buster prepared to lead the first block of three inch ice, while I belayed, and Steve took pictures.

 

By the time Steve and I started to follow the first pitch the morning light was shining on the whole valley and illuminating the silver lining above us.  After following a long pitch of thin ice and a bold mixed pitch, it was now my turn to take the sharp end for a few pitches. 

My first lead was 60 meters of memorable WI4.  It started out interesting enough, steep and thin.  Then it got fat and relatively steep.  About a body length from the top of the pitch I placed the best screw I could find as high as I could manage and made motions to top out.  Kick kick, stand tall, swing swing.  My axes were over the top of the pitch perpendicular to my body.  The picks were nestled securely in that sweet sweet snice we all love so much.  Now here's where things got a little dicey.  The night before I thought the climb would have a lot of mixed pitches on it. I adjusted my crampons so the front point was at its shortest position, that combined with the extra bulkiness of the double boot and the angle that I was kicking at, I was in a sense,  rendered front-point-less.  After a few fruitless high step kicks with my left foot, my right foot popped.  In what seemed like less than a second, my feet slipped and my arms fully extended.  I aimlessly kicked my feet and stuck a previous step, whew.  Relax and execute. Two moves later I was at the end of my rope pounding a knife blade in and equalizing it with a fat cam.   120 more meters of easy snow and ice and we were ready for Busters block.

A few more pitches put us in a comfy cave where Steve and I were able to take great pictures of Buster stemming out its mouth and the top of his block.

   Having already passed the exit slopes, I found myself scraping for holds over the top of a roof, until Steve yelled up to me,  "I don't remember pulling any M7 roofs when I did this Steven!"  I looked around some more,  and noticed a traverse to the left.  Somehow the M7 roof seemed like a more inviting option, so with a trace of concern in my voice I hollered down "pretty sure we should  have traversed off a couple pitches earlier".  Silence,  I knew what Buster was thinking,  Steve on the other hand knew all along and was taking some pleasure in watching us create and solve a problem.

Route finding

 

is just a part alpine climbing, but when you start to consider going down to find a way up, it inevitably becomes time consuming.  So with a bit of apprehension I began the traverse hoping it would lead to an exit.  A few side steps and some horizontal torqueing on my tools put me in a right facing dihedral a body length from a nice belay.  I stepped up with my right foot then looked left for another foot.  I remember thinking "that's a big foot, nice!" And as I made contact with the hold, the entire microwave size block of rock came loose with a trajectory a foot to left of Busters head.  "ROCK!!!!! ROCK!!!!" I yelled.  It was more of an after thought as the rocks had already hit the ground, but its just the nice thing to do.  After a bit of equalizing, I began belaying my friends up. 


Steve followed the pitch in an impressive couple of minutes, arrived at the belay, looked around and calmly exclaimed "oh boy, off route for sure".  From this perspective it was an easy decision to go down and try to find a different exit.  And after one rap, a bit of traversing and a short loose pitch we were on our summit.  Some world class butt sliding and we were strenuously post holing, crawling, and rolling back to our skis, ready to head back to Canmore and enjoy one of Canada's fine imported PBR beers.