Pins, Stein Pulls and Scottish Conditions

Ryan Stefiuk high on SKYWALKER.

Yesterday, a month and two days after I got out for my first day of ice climbing this season, I went out for a second day. This time instead of heading over to Cannon for my yearly stab at getting the first seasonal ascent of the Black Dike, I was after an actual first ascent.

Just to the right of Pinnacle Gully in Huntington Ravine is a massive buttress of rock. It separates Pinnacle from Central Gully, and it is therefore known as the Central Buttress. It has a handful of rock lines up it, including two that are doable in winter — Mechanic’s Route and Cloudwalker. Last year, however, I saw another line I was psyched to try, and yesterday I lured two of my favorite climbing partners, Ryan Stefiuk and Michael Wejchert, out to try it.

The line basically starts right at the base of Pinnacle Gully, but instead of heading up the gully you march straight up the steepest line Central Buttress offers. Much of it is slabby and poorly protected, and often there is just a veneer of ice and snow. It is a mixed route similar to those rime-ice covered rock routes they are famous for climbing in Scotland — desperate and possibly dangerous but more fun than it is risky.

The first pitch has a section that is vertical with a little roof in the middle. It has a three-inch crack in the back, and when you’re on it everything feels overhung. I’d been up to look at it last year around this time twice, and I’d been shut down both times. This time, I determined, was going to be different.

Michael Wejchert at the base of
SKYWALKER preparing to launch.

Michael, Ryan and I got to the base amid stiff winds, rain, sleet and snow — again, ideal Scottish conditions. It was a Saturday, but there was no one on Pinnacle Gully. We smiled at each other, joked, and then started to get dressed for a trip to the moon.

A friend of mine described winter climbing that way: a trip to outer space. He’s a guide, and he heard another guide describe guides as astronauts. “You’re going to the moon out there,” the guide said. Yesterday I couldn’t agree more.

I launched up the first section of iced slab with no pro, but the ice was thick enough I didn’t care. I got one screw about 20 feet before the crack, and then I found myself staring up at it.

I placed a hex in the bottom and started jamming with a gloved hand. Pretty soon I was 10 feet up, my hands buried in the crack searching for feet. I kept finding gear, and even though the climbing was desperate I couldn’t think of an excuse to stop. A stein pull led to a turf shot, which led to a sideways hook which led to a flake. I got a cam and then pounded in a small pin; I jacked my feet up and kept going.

It just all seemed to work. I knew the hooks would appear, and they did. I knew the gear would hold if I had to trust it, and it did. I launched into outer space, and I found I could breathe.

At the top of pitch one.

Ryan and Michael followed, making their way up to the first belay. By now there was a party starting up Pinnacle, but no one was following us. Michael took the next pitch, launching off onto snow-covered slab without a piece of protection in sight.

The snow and ice, however, just seemed to be working in our favor. The turf sticks all held, and every once in a while a shallow crack showed up. Michael only got partially-driven pitons, but they were enough to keep him going. He picked his way up the slab, into a groove, onto a shelf, around the ridge and into some ice, eventually landing at a good belay stance.

The top of pitch two.

Ryan was then up for the final pitch, which attacked a gendarme that looked like it might put up a fight. He pounded in a crappy pin right off the belay and then just started paddling uphill, never slowing down. The terrain kept opening up for him, swallowing his picks and his gear, allowing him to meander up what had minutes before looked unsurmountable.
Michael and I quickly followed. The temperatures were now warm enough that we could hear ice falling. Every one of our turf shots and ice sticks held true, however, and we scampered up in Ryan’s tracks.

We found two old pins on the upper pitches, so we don’t believe we climbed an entirely new route, but the initial pitch, which we were guessing was M6 or M6+, didn’t have any scratches. We are pretty certain that is new terrain.

Either way, however, it was new to us, and it was good enough we think it should have a name. We dubbed it SKYWALKER because of its proximity to Cloudwalker.

And because every moon mission needs an appropriate name. And astronauts.

Ryan on pitch three.

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