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    Chris Kalman Goes Ice Climbing

    Everything was still, and quiet save for the clinking of ice screws against one another, the grind of crampons and tools scraping on rocks, and a few birds chirping in the early morning light.  Then there was a “whooooosh” and then my head was in my hands, and I was cursing, and I still wasn’t sure why.  At the time, the seconds that ticked away felt like long drawn out minutes.  I went through a mental checklist as I reconstructed the events.  Alert and oriented?  Check.  Breathing? Check. No bleeding out of gaping head wounds?  Check.  Partner wide-eyed and concerned, asking if you are alright between expletives?  Check.

    Okay, so I was fine.  I took a baseball sized rock to the head, but I was wearing this badass helmet (this is not an ad for the Petzl Sirocco - but that is an awesome helmet), and the my head and helmet escaped unscathed.  A diligent EMT may have had me pegged for irritable and combative - standard signs of a head wound.  But in this case, I was just still in the process of adjusting to one of the harsh realities (apparently) of ice and mixed climbing.  You get hit in the head a lot.  Eventually, the rope pulled tight, and our rope gun belayed Joey and I up.  It was my third day of ice climbing, my first day of mixed climbing, and I was climbing Bird Brain Boulevard, the classic Ouray mixed climb first done by climbing heroes Charlie Fowler, Jeff Lowe, and Mark Wilford. 

    I’ve been rock climbing for round about 15 years - which doesn’t sound like that much to a lot of the older heads out there, but it’s half the time I’ve been alive, so it feels like a lot.  I’m pretty comfortable on a nice sunny wall of granite, cruxing out above totally bomber protection, clinging desperately to holds that aren’t going to break any time in the next 25,000 years or so.  I trust my risk assessment, know how to avoid dangerous objectives, and of late have begun to shake a bit of a reputation for rather ball-dropping runouts and free-solos in lieu of a reputation for headpointing and telling people to check their knots.  You get away with enough close-calls, and I think this is often inevitable.

    So it was with a mix of skepticism and caution that I originally decided to approach ice climbing.  Following the OR show in SLC, I caught a ride down to Ouray and Ridgway where I had a few friends malingering around town as ice-climbing bums.  Philippe Wheelock (badass ice-climber mountaineer best friend kinda dude), and Drew Smith (BFF, nickname: Dreamy Drew, superstrong Montana boy kinda dude), would be my rope guns for the next three days.

    First up was the ice park.  Drew ropegunned a toprope up from the summit of the icepark for me, handed me a couple tools, and told me to leanback (I was tied in).  I said “Wait, isn’t there like something I should know?”  “No, he told me.  It’s just like rock climbing except really easy.” And away I went.  About thirty seconds later I was standing on a frozen creek, and about two minutes later I was back at the top.  Turns out, it was really easy - whatever it was - but it sure as hell wasn’t anything I’d feel comfortable leading!  Yikes!  The entire time I was showered by ice crystals, and it felt like if I kicked hard enough I’d knock down the whole chosspile (I mean waterfall)!  This was crazy.  Drew assured me, however, that it gets a lot better.  The Ice park is really aerated, and would, indeed, make a harrowing lead.

    Day two Drew and I got out early to climb the world class Ames Ice Hose.  It’s kind of weird getting ropegunned up a world class route on your second day climbing.  People wanted to know was it like the coolest thing I ever climbed, and I thought it certainly was not, but I didn’t have much previous ice to compare it to… It was really pretty, very nice shades of blue and white, and it was great to catch the surreal sunrise over the San Juans.  The most notable thing about the climbing was that instead of getting showered in little chandelier crystals, I was continually showered in grapefruit sized chunks of ice.  They hurt when they hit, but didn’t cause any serious injury.  Still, Ice climbing was not starting to feel less sketchy.  If you lead, you risk falling with a ton of little sharp pointy things on you.  But if you follow, your angry leader will knock ice daggers on you all day long.  Sketchy.

    Day three I rested with some awesome weather, and Ouray choss climbing with my good friend Jeff Morris who was passing through.  We climbed with our shirts off, drank beers, and ate burgers shortly after climbing.  This was an awesome day, and certainly par for the rock climbing course.  My friends sent some gnarly ice mixed climbs the same day… into the same evening… They put up some FA apparently, but by the sounds of it, they almost died on the descent.  Maybe not.  Hard to say.  Anyway, they didn’t die.  And that’s awesome.

    Day four, we got the super shralpine start for Bird Brain Boulevard.  This would be my first ever mixed climb, and my first time getting ropegunned by mountain climbing ace Philippe Wheelock.  You already caught the story with the rock: that was pitch 2.  The rest of the day went pretty much without incident with the exception of Philippe reminding me over and over again that it probably wasn’t wise to weight the anchors… Awesome news after you just got belayed up on them.  I guess Philippe really trusted my 5.7 chimneying in crampon skills, because that’s about all I did all day long.  Again, not terribly challenging technically, but mentally draining.

    At the top, I hugged Philippe and my new buddy Joey, and thanked them for a rad day.  I guess Bird Brain Boulevard was my favorite ice/mixed climbing.  I still don’t know what all these damned numbers and letters mean, but they say that one is WI5/M5.  In my mind, that means 5.7X with some C1 moves on A4 placements.  I can’t help but feel like iced/mixed climbing is far more akin to aid climbing than rock climbing - at least when you’re not clipping bolts.  When I told Philippe that I had enjoyed myself in spite of almost getting decapitated by the deathrock he trundled, he was typically stoic: “Yeah, if you’re going to be an alpinist, you have to have a pretty short memory” he grumbled, as he disappeared out of sight down the first rappel.

    I lingered there for a moment taking in the view, and the first real sunshine we’d felt all day.  I don’t know if I would call myself a converted ice climber, but there is definitely something compelling about being able to bag summits in the winter.  And oh yeah, I definitely liked looking at the ice crystals and formations.  The whole sport is very very shimmery.

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    Cochamo Delivers

    by Chris Kalman

    There we were, seven pitches up a new buttress in Cochamo’s Anfiteatro, with at least two more pitches left to open before the top, on probably the last day of the season, and it started to rain. It had been threatening all day, as if Cochamo were trying to do its best impression of El Chalten. Our route featured mostly clean cracks, some loose rock, big flakes, and impressive splitters. Now, we stood upon a high crest, big drops on both sides, and only the unknown ahead of us.

    It was the kind of rain that is probably snow or ice just a couple pitches up. Cold, spitting, and faint.  Miranda and Marco were on the fence. I was on the ridge. Before they could really go into any sort of prolonged refusals, I wanted to go a little further and take a look at our next pitch. After a short scramble, and a little easy 5th class, I was at the base of a short finger crack, which pulled a small roof, and went into a perfect hand crack.  

    “It’s splitter!” I yelled to them. Right then, looking back down the knife-edge ridge at them, I saw the clouds starting to lift. During my short pitch, the rain had stopped. Now, as if in response to my only wish at that moment in time, out came the sun. “The sun!” I called, and pointed. I swear I could feel them grumble at my stubborn insisting. After all, I was the only one who brought a rain jacket, and they were already rather wet.

    Still, we all could feel the season closing on us, and we wanted to cap it off with a finished route. I brought over Marco, then Miranda - cursing myself for not bringing the camera with me. They delicately walked the narrow crest with 1000 foot drops on either side, the perfect light of the setting sun illuminating their passage. Since the next pitch was one of the only two I really wanted for the day, they gave me the rack, and up I went.

    The climbing was out of this world. The finger crack thinned out through the roof, but good stemming made it 5.11-.  After a small ledge I was greeted by a 30 meter long crack that spread gradually from .75 to 3 camalots, dead vertical, and on perfect stone.  I pushed the pitch up into some broken terrain the full 70 meters, and brought up the others.  Though a little dirty, the pitch was inarguably classic - just like most of the route up to that point.


    By the time Miranda got to me, Marco was already starting up the next pitch with the rack. By now there was now more light than that of our headlamps, and visibility was limited. The angle eased off on this final pitch, and accordingly, the cracks became much dirtier, and more vegetated. I never heard a thing from Marco, except for at one moment, he said “I found a crack. It’s a little wide. I’m gonna go for it.”Coming up Marco’s pitch, I was impressed over and over again by the difficulty and awkwardness of the climbing.  At one point, I simply pulled on the rope for 3 meters to pass a section of dirty vertical offwidth that he had done with 55 meters of wandering rope drag and a ten meter runout beneath him.  When I got to the belay, I told him it was the most impressive lead I’d ever seen - and I think that may actually be true.  He said, “Huh.  Yeah, I think the pitch is honest 5.9”. I have no idea what that means, but I couldn’t have been happier not to have led that beast!

    Miranda, who had unfortunately gotten stuck on the last two pitches hauling the drill and jugging finally came up, and we all strolled up to the summit ridge together. We hugged, ate a couple cookies, and then got right back to the task at hand. We still had 5 bolt holes to drill for anchors, and 10 pitches of raps to figure out before we’d be back in the steep gully and on terra-somewhat-firma.

    A good four hours later, we were down, safe and sound in the bivy boulder.  The next day, after our nearly 20 hour push, we rested. The next three days I spent alone under the Anfiteatro bivy boulder, while Marco and Miranda went down to the campground. It rained all three days.  On the last night, I finally saw the moon. We had had to leave two ropes fixed on the route, and a couple of cams, as the drill had run out of battery. I knew this may be my last shot, so up I went.  The gully was covered in snow, and I had trouble finding our fixed lines, but in the end, all went according to plan. I hand-drilled a single bolt, grabbed the cams, and rapped into the night.  

    Three days later, the sun finally came back out. With another week of rain in the forecast, we all hiked down together. In Puerto Varas, sharing beers and memories, everyone smiled knowing that that last beam of light through the clouds, right when things looked so bleak, was a gift from Cochamo. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the season.  Now, all that’s left to do is go back next year and send! Oh, and clean, and throw in a couple more rap bolts, and clean some more, and draw a topo. Well, I guess we’ll be going back then… Great!

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    Cochamo Update

    We just got an e-mail and photos from Chris Kalman who's down in Cochamo, Chile right now where he just finished putting up a big new route with Austin Siadak and Florian Haenel:

    Highlights of the route include a true knife edge bolted arete for two pitches that was wild to bolt on lead, a traversing pitch to a dirty dihedral which I led onsight with a 50 foot runout to a  5.9 friction stance where I handdrilled half a bolt hole just to clip a sling to a hanger to stand up in and lunge for the trees!  Florian also had a pretty epic lead with a 5.11 runout over some pretty marginal gear.  By and large, the majority of the route has gone up at 5.8X or 5.9X.  However, as is the Cochamo way, it is not so much about how you first establish the line, but what you leave to future generations.  Thus, we will be spending another couple days working on the route, bolting on fixed lines or lead where necessary to make the route safe for future climbers.

    Interestingly enough, though this will be technically the easiest route I have ever established in Cochamo, it will be probably be the most difficult to put up.  As is often the case, easier means lower angle means more cleaning and more bolting....  I have always wanted to establish an easier line, since I have had many experiences with more novice climbers coming to Cochamo and not having a nice line to climb.  This will be the longest route under 5.11 to reach the spectacular summit of Cerro Laguna, and probably very popular for that reason.

    Photo courtesy of Austin Siadak

    Photo courtesy of Austin Siadak

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