Names have been changed to protect the innocent and to comply with a court order.
So there I was, leading the second pitch, the crux pitch, of Guinness Gully. Normally grade 4 but today in grade 6+ condition. There was a thin veneer of ice virtually spit over the rock. More frost than ice really; like a freezer needing a defrost. Screws were out of the question. In a gallant move of grizzled bravado meant to impress my new partner Julie, I had left the screws with her. She was impressed.
I was wearing new boots. They fit like a glove in the shop, but on the ice I started to feel my heel lifting. My heel lifted higher and higher until it finally levered the rear snap buckle off and released my crampon. I had recently removed my crampon straps to cut weight for an upcoming attempt on Reality Bath, so my crampon launched out into the void. I felt a chill. I was 15 ft off the deck, no pro in sight or even with me.
“Jul-lee, Jul-lee,” I yelled (Julie is French), “jay purdoo moan crampon”. But there was silence. I thought I might have heard some mumbled cursing, but it was just the wind. I knew this was for me to sort out and not for her. In the sagacious words of Hunter S. Thompson, “Buy the ticket; take the ride.”
Down-climbing sans crampon was unthinkable on this rock glazeé. There was nothing to sink a tool into; nothing that could support body weight. I felt doomed and began to give into that despondency that always precedes illumination, but in a flash of inspired observation I realized that I was surrounded by Burgess shale. So I dug out my pocket knife and slid the blade in between two flakes of shale and pressed it in with my thumb. I tied it off with a screamer and asked Julie to take on red.
She took on red and pulled me off the route. In my momentary glee I had forgotten to clip in. The snow was soft. Now laying prone on my back I gazed up at Julie who had a look of disdain mixed with disbelief that could only be described as Gallic. She then turned away and would not look at me. Which was weird. Very Gallic-Canadien.
Gingerly I wiggled my fingers and toes. I was pleased to have survived my ordeal and the sharp pain in my back suggested that I had found my lost crampon. I knew that Julie and I would never again climb together. She was already walking away to find a rappel. She left me with red to find my own way off.
If there’s a lesson to take from this, I don’t know what it is. Sometimes a person does everything right and the mountain bites back without reason or provocation. Chance is a cruel mistress, but to someone she’ll now be generous lover, as there’s a deeply discounted pair of boots for sale in the gear forum. Used once. Just barely.