A day spent at Knob Lock in the Adirondacks with Simon Catterall and Jim Lawyer, two fine climbing partners. Climb with them if you can but don’t listen to them…
So we’re standing at the bottom of this crag below Knob Lock and I’m racking up to lead “Lock and load” when Jim and Simon start giving me shit… “You’re not going to take a third tool up that are you?”, said Jim, laughing, “It’s like eighty feet”. I’m trying to tell them that I always carry one just in case I break or drop a tool. “But if you break something we can drop a rope to you” comes the retort, “I’ve never broken a tool”. Next Simon sees a spare pick hanging from my harness and that does it, the floodgates open. I’m being compared to this guy Kevin who apparently climbs with a headlamp, a backup headlamp and spare batteries for both. That’s not safe, it’s anal. That does it, I give up. It’s too bloody cold to argue and like it is “only a eighty foot route”.
Twenty minutes later I’m over thirty feet off the deck and at least ten feet over my last piece, a stubby screw. I’m trying to get a good stick with my left tool. Two or three tries and I look at the end of the pick. It’s broken off half and inch from then end and a few more attempts proves that getting a good placement in the super hard ice with it is going to be all but impossible. “You fucking assholes, I’ve broken a fucking pick”.
I just scream abuse at my “advisors” while trying to get it back together. I have my feet on a ledge but it’s really hard to stay in balance, my left leg keeps cramping. After more swearing and messing around I manage to swap hands on my good tool, throwing the broken one. Jim is belaying and Simon is too far away so I settle for aiming at a snow patch. I can hear Jim and Simon rocking and smirking below, the odd chuckle can be heard from the ground interspersed with helpful advice.
Thankfully the ice is thick enough to get in a good screw but the stance is still awkward so it’s hard to push on the handle. Once I finish setting the piece and clip directly into it and my tool things start to look a bit better. I can give my advisors, who are still safely on the ground, some serious shit while sorting myself out.
I drop a loop of rope to them so they can send up some more tools. That’s tools, as in two tools, one and one S-P-A-R-E. “What do you want a spare for?”, They just don’t get it do they? “So if I break another pick we’ll have to do this all over again. Or… I can carry a spare”. The temperature is in single digits and that’s just way too cold to play twenty (dumb) questions. More swearing. Two tools get attached to the rope and I pull them up.
By this time the psych is pretty blown. The crux is still above me. The team, to their credit, convince me that I can keep it together for the rest of the route. Maybe neither of them fancy it but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
The rest of the drip up to the icicles went OK. I even quite liked Simon’s Black Prophet although I kept sliding out of the leashes. Like most things it turned out to be a lot steeper and harder than it looked from the bottom. The top ramp was like climbing concrete and I’m pumped. I top out and yell the magic word “Safe!”.
A few minutes later I’m standing back on the ground handing back Simon his Prophet. Tragically I seem to have carelessly mangled the end of it. There is some justice. Some justice was fine but later in the day we nearly got more than we bargained for when Simon sketched off “The best ice route in the Philippines” and swung out on one tool. For a terrible moment I thought he was going to take out all three of us, but that’s another story.
So can do we learn anything from this? First off, unless you can reach the top of the route while standing on the ground carry a third tool. Second, take spares because it’s a long way back to the car. Finally, they’re your friends… but that doesn’t mean I should listen to them. After all my friends are like me… Full of their own bullshit.