Updated: May 7, 2020
My friends and I play this game based on ice whippers. You add up the number of feet fallen on ice for a score. If you deck, you get double points. If its a safely bolted climb, you get no points. For example: my buddy once took a 40-footer to the ground while doing a traditional mixed pitch. He got 80 points. I recently took a 15 foot fall on a well bolted mixed climb, however, and was rewarded with no points. The scarier the fall, the more points. Obviously we don't intentionally score points, but everyone has some numbers on the board.
To many ice climbers, falls are looked at as a consequence of poor judgement, lack of experience, and/or a bullheaded approach to pushing yourself. Our game may actually quantify this to some extent, but really it is meant to lighten the mood in a frightening or otherwise serious situation. As ice climbers, we recognize that falling is basically unacceptable- so why bother placing screws?
A few weeks ago, I was guiding further down canyon and noticed a little more ice than usual on a rarely climbed obscurity: Rocket Boy. Climbs like these always seem to have a small window of opportunity due to a few factors. This one in particular faces almost directly South, making it extra susceptible to the sun. After working a few more days, I was able to keep it a secret and get up there for my first up close look. We bust out a short mixed traverse and cruised up a gully to the base of the business. The hanging chunk of ice was thin and slightly sun affected, but it seemed like it might go. Only one way to find out...
P2 of Rocket Boy
Three bolts protected some chossy but fun (gloveless!) rock climbing to a good rest, at which point it was possible to transfer onto the hanger. The second bolt was marginal, but the highest seemed good. I booty an old biner with the letter N carved into it and slowly begin working my up and down the ice to feel it out.
Bolt #2 needs a replacement...
Eventually, I fully commit and tip toe up the hanger. Vibrations wane as I get higher, but brittle ice and direct sunlight creeping overhead keep me hesitant. Ryan warns me to follow my gut as I round the corner onto the upper curtains. I place a screw over the lip of the rock on marginal ice and clip a screamer. Home free, I finally relax knowing that I probably won't take the ride. All that is left is just a few body lengths of steep ice; I just need to climb smart.
Topping out, post whip
Nearing the final rest, I reach out left and commit to one of the many hanging curtains of ice. With my body weight on one tool and my legs stemming from rock to ice, I reach up and swing higher into the curtain. Instantly, I'm airborne as the ice shears from the wall. "Ohhh Sh!ttt!!" My decade old screamer rips open while Ryan catches the fall. Fortunately the screw holds, keeping me off the deck. Ryan and I look at each other as if the unthinkable happened... My arms are on fire and my mind is racing. Did I make a terrible mistake? Or was that chance? Is it safe to be hanging on this screw? After a few moments of gathering myself, I swing around the dagger and hook my way back up to my high point. I place another screw and battle up the broken ice above, still tense from the previous go.
Ryan fighting up the steep final curtain
We finish and rap down in the warmth of sunlight, speculating how the blue bird day will effect the climb.
Back in town I find myself wanting another go at this test piece route, so I talk Matias into skipping some class for redemption the next morning. We get up close to the ice in record time, having a boot pack set and the rock moves dialed. The ice today was different, however.
I was looking forward to hooking my way up, but now the color of the ice was different and the hanger vibrated much more when I stepped across to it. Ryan's words were echoed by Matias: "follow your gut". Is the ice really that much worse? Or is it in my head after falling yesterday? After climbing up and down a few moves, everything feels wrong. I bail on the same bolt I found an old biner on the day before, this time leaving one with AJ stamped into the spine.
That's the beauty of ice- one day it's good, the next it's not. The fleeting nature of some climbs is what fuels the fire to push yourself. Maybe next time we'll be up to the challenge...