Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bad Luck Comes in 3's

I sincerely hope that my luck begins to turn around soon. If not, I'll have no choice but to take my material and begin a new career in the country music industry crooning away my woes... and nobody wants that!

In the event you've not heard my misfortune of last weekend, this is a graphic account of how I came to loose the tip of my right index finger. If that sort of thing bothers you than please excuse yourself from the rest of this blog post. There's no judging here, so just bail. This stuff aint for the light-of-heart.

I was hiking back into the ampitheatre in Welsford to help Erick take care of our previously unfinished business on Odin. We headed up the through the boulder field and scree with Ryan Murphy and Shawn Burdette, who were headed in the same direction. It's funny, as I slogged up that same slope which I'd done many times before I bitched and complained about being too old to lug gear, and I mentioned putting the ampitheatre on my Murtaugh List. Big effing mistake; don't whine in the presence of Odin! He smites down upon that kinda nonsense.

With the route now in sight ahead I looked up to see all the gear I left there the week before. My attention to where I placed my feet broke for a moment as I looked up at the piton that had caught my fall. I don't know how the next chain of events started; I heard a large boulder start to slide immediately in front of me. Without thinking it through, I just grabbed it with both hands. I wanted to stop it from sliding onto my legs, or worse still it would have rolled downhill hitting one of the other guys. I yelled 'rock' (which is climber shorthand for "get the fuck out of the way) and the guys below scattered. I actually managed to stop the movement of the rock, and I think I might have breathed a sigh of relief seeing that my legs didn't end up getting bashed. The relief was short lived unfortunately, brought to an end by Erick asking "Dude, did you just chop off your finger?". "Yep, I think so".

I only got a glimpse of the gore but it sure looked like Zombieland to me. In about a minute, the boys had me bandaged tight, the bleeding stopped, and the heckling started. In all seriousness I was lucky to receive their first-class first-aid. I couldn't have been mangled up with a better crew. Shawn even found what was left of my finger tip's meaty bit and packed it in a sandwich bag with some snow (sorry Shawn, despite this image now being burned into your sub-conscience, the admitting nurse just laughed at our trophy and pitched it out).

After stopping at the Irving for ice and a call to Jill, Erick sped me off to the Fredericton hospital... a gesture which surely consumed thousands of dollars in gas and burned a 75km long hole into the Ozone layer. Thanks again buddy, a card's in the mail!

A young Italian ER doctor (who is now the object of my mother's fancy) patched me up and treated me to my first round of morphine... on the house! Not too shabby. First thing the next morning I was in plastic surgery. Being operated on while awake and moving my finger was unnerving. Sure the freezing renders it all painless but the idea is creepy. To make matters worse doctor #1 was in the process of teaching doctor #2 the ropes so I was privy to detailed debate on how exactly they'd trim my bone back to a neat and tidy shape... and then they'd do it! After a few minutes of that deep breathing just wasn't cutting it so the nurse got my Ipod for me and I zoned out. The docs continued on without me and sculpted me a top-of-the-line, aerodynamic, stylish new stump (or so I'm told).

I'm supposed to heal back to 100% functionality and effectiveness within 6 weeks or so. I'll just be shorter. I hope to be climbing again within two months and back to leading respectable routes by the fall. I'm told that my aspirations to go back and cleanly lead Odin are history; that route is now blacklisted. I just hope I dont get too fat before my right hand is back up and running. Anyway... this post is too long... I need an editor!

Monday, March 8, 2010


Odin is an aid climb that I've wanted to lead for at least a year now. It's an exposed, sharply overhanging crack/seam in a blank, water-streaked face that runs about 140'. The stars finally seemed like they aligned yesterday: Erick agreed to sit out the long belay, I had just got myself a sweet vintage Chouinard hammer and some pins, and the weather 10 degrees and sunny.

We slogged Erick's massive aid rack and several ropes up the snowy, crumbly approach to the amphitheatre. Not an activity I recommend for a first day of the season. If you're out of shape... you're going to suffer.

By about 11:00 on was on the line but making slow progress. Odin is not A1 as the guidebook suggests. It felt pretty squarely A2+ to me. Tricky placements - Yes. Awkward placements - Check. Body-weight only placements - you betcha! Most of the route involves strenuous stepping and some top stepping on wet, overhanging ground with little in the way of face holds to help get you stabilized. A1 is crazy sandbagged. As Erick put it: "all aid is A1 until you fall". Very true.

There's a few awkward placements and traversing to get to the first anchors but most of the interesting stuff comes after the bolt ladder when the crack becomes very thin. Ball nuts, #1 knife-blades, and fixed RURPs tied off with boot laces. I probably only used 2 pieces larger than a 0.5 and I could have gotten away without them.

I was 3/4 of the way up when Erick told me that there was only an hour of daylight left and that I'd been on the line for about 6 hours. Though exhausted I sped up as best I could. Nearing the top I had only 1 more tricky section before the anchor. A horizontal traverse around a bulge and onto a slab.

Standing a rusty knifeblade I placed around a corner and got what seemed like a decent micro-cam. Weighted ok, bounced ok, and I committed to it. Took a few steps up and removed my daisy from the piton... now completely standing on the cam. As I was reaching to clip my rope in to the piton I heard the distinctive 'PING' of my cam popping and I had just enough time to think 'ahhh balls'.

I sailed over the bulge and off into outer space. I saw my pieces whizzing by and had enough time to let out a big heroic death-scream before the rope came tight. My first genuine big whipper. Looking back up, I had taken a 25-30 footer and been caught by by a lost arrow which I had just pounded in. Funnily enough I had considered a microcam in the same spot but went with the piton because I was scared that if the cam ripped... the several pieces below it would too. Good choice.

Frazzled and out of daylight, I backed off leaving an entire rack on the climb; which I now have to go back and get next weekend.

Mad props to Erick for sitting out the belay and for making a Golden Glove award-winning catch. Here's his graphic take on the whole thing:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Alberta & BC

Thought I'd post up a few things from the trip Jill and I took out west last week. We ended up having a lot of fun!

Started the week off in Calgary with a list of must-do's from a friend who lives there now. Ticked off a few good ones including MEC for some new pitons and lunch in the rotating restaurant atop the Calgary Tower.
Here's a view of the Calgary skyline from our table (word to the wise... we weren't told ahead of time that lunch is going to run you at least $80 when she's all said and done).

Next we stopped for the night in Lethbridge and headed down to Fernie for some skiing. Southern Alberta is absolutely part of the prairies... flat, devoid of trees, and completely strait gridded roads. We passed a massive wind farm (probably a few hundred turbines) and so I had to get in a picture with one.

Tom Tom (our GPS) got us slightly lost when I disagreed with it's choice of dirt roads and we ended up adding some time it took to get to the Rockies. If lost in this area of the country... prepare to end up in WalMarts chocked full of hutterites. No kidding.

The Rockies are an awesome sight. They come up like a brick wall out of the flats and they go on seemingly forever. This is a shot just entering Crow's Nest Pass.

Here's the 'burmis tree'. Several hundred years old at death... the locals have it propped up with wires, anchors, and pickets. Very odd.

On the way to Fernie you pass Sparwood, BC. An old coal town this place is home to the world's supposedly largest truck. Check this bad boy out!

Fernie is a big mountain. Seriously. Sadly however there was no powder when we were there but good snow nonetheless. The summit is well above treeline and there are 5 huge alpine bowls to ski. Awesome.

Jays's wedding went off without a hitch. I didn't lose any of the rings and I don't think I offended anyone with my toast. A great success I guess. The Mormons were really nice folks and seemed very accepting. Best yet... Terri Jo is a licensed pilot so I'll know who to call when I need a ride into the Bugaboos!

Spent a final night in Calgary out with another old friend, Cathy (yeah... the irony is thick). Went for sushi and Jill braved the sashimi for the first time and liked it! Good for her. After dinner we actually got a tour of the 1988 Calgary Olympic venue. For a cool hundred bucks... you and 3 of your most foolish friends can get a zip down the full sized bobsled track! Super cool.