I did a route in the Daks a few years back with Matt McCormick and Matt Horner, we called it Endangered Species. It blew all of our minds. The Matt’s and I had it our way and it was an incredibly rewarding experience. Then, Kevin Mahoney blew our minds again, a week or so later, when he skipped half the gear we spent hours excavating and sent the two hardest pitches in one quick, long lead. The second half of Mahoney’s super-pitch is what I lead. I talked with him about it later, he loved the climbing but we didn’t seem to see things the same way.. I remember accepting that I might break my leg while he just seemed to enjoy himself.
A bit of brilliant mixed climbing off the belay leads to the security of a fixed angle followed by a few feet of steppy climbing – giving a good head start to putting the pin well below your feet. Thunk. 1 1/2″ thick, well bonded, strong, cold, one swing ice. Nick Bullock and Matt McCormick are finally in the sun on a spacious ledge below the third pitch of Astroturf on this really cold February morning at Lake Willoughby. I’m at the bottom of the ice and realizing that there wasn’t going to be any gear for a while, but the conditions are perfect – so on I go.
It could just be that when the opportunity presents itself we jump at it, maybe we squirm out of things when we’re not ready, but in my climbing life certain pitches have come along at just the right time, and when it’s a first, the learning curve is steep and the experience is memorable.
This time through though I could see the angle was consistent, there might be some gear in thirty or forty feet and the rhythm of on-your-feet ice climbing is steady and secure. Not to say that I didn’t unload four or five pieces when the opportunity presented itself, but I felt okay. With some gear below me the rest of pitch eased a bit, finally took a screw or two and soon enough I’m strapped to an ice screw and little cedar shrub belaying my buddies – as happy as can be.
Nick, has also been getting the pitches he deserves. They just tend to have even less ice. For the past couple of weeks on his New England tour, the Llanberas, Wales based climber has been hooking his way up the thinnest ice I’ve ever seen anyone climb. I have gotten accustomed to belaying these whacky leads and now I can actually watch.
That day at the Lake, Matt and I watched him re-route a bolted mixed pitch to work with the conditions, the whole time wondering what the hell he was a doing. As a result he stole, squirmed and pulled our way into a free ascent of route that would have otherwise come down to hanging on one bolt and clearing a goalie of a dripping curtain out of the way.
I probably would have gone for a more conventional approach, but in climbing we can take it as we see it. Like Kevin, Nick just seems to see things differently.
…and, just to keep it interesting, some shots you might not have seen…