Apparently I haven’t posted the Mt. Fay affair here. At least it’s about climbing this time…
Sporty and I went to Canada for my 40th birthday. I had a long list of retreats to try and clean up now that I was knocking on the door of being too old. It was a lean snow year, so after we got bombed off of the N Face of Edith Cavell we decided we wanted something we knew would be ice and no rock, so we aimed at the Center Ice Bulge on Fay. Normally this is a two or three day affair, but we were cocky bad asses in our own minds, so we decided we were going to go car to car in a day. Bear in mind you have to hike a couple of thousand feet of steep scree, climb a 300’ 5.7 rock wall, and traverse at least a mile of heavily crevassed hanging glacier just to get to the shrund below the 1600’ ice face, which starts at a mellow 65 degree angle and curves gracefully up to vertical at the top, overhanging if you go further left. We left the Moraine Lake parking lot about 4AM, and were at the base of the ice by noon.
If you just want steep, pure, massively thick alpine ice without mucking with that rock stuff it’s hard to beat this route. My last lead ended about 100’ from the top, I popped in a couple of screws for a hanging belay, and looking down at the smooth sweep of ice down to the glacier I just thought, ‘This is alien, people don’t belong here.’ But everything is going like clockwork and by 7PM we’re on top and the car to car is in the bag, so I ask Sporty, “Which way down?” and he says, “Shit, I thought you knew which way down.”
It turns out I actually did know the right way, which is to rap the W Ridge, but what we could see of it was a near vertical knife edge of loose stacked plates of especially gruesome Rockies limestone. It looked like a marvelous way to die, so we start casting about for alternatives, now acutely aware that it’s getting late and we have no food, water, shelter, or any of those other essentials. Finally we dive down a gully on the south side, which proves to be the normal route up, and by 9:00 we’re at the base on another glacier slurping melt water. Only we now have the Ten Peak range between us and the car. So it’s trudge miles down that glacier then turn right and trudge miles up another one. We’re not roped, cause it’s August and a lean snow year and all the holes are open, right?
By 1:30AM we’re near the head of that glacier trying to figure out how to get to a hut up at the col when my foot breaks through and, um, maybe all the holes aren’t open. But we’ve been on the go, hard, for going on 22 hours and breaking the rope out just seems like way too much work, so I’m going along probing with my shortie tool, sans rope. It gets a little hazy here, but Sporty says at one point the tool slid into the hilt, and I vaguely remember thinking something like, ‘It’s probably thick enough’ (because one of the keys to being really stupid is being able to rationalize it) and I take another step and pop through.
Fortunately, like SA in an earlier post, I throw out my arms and catch myself, and I’m shoulders deep in a biiiig hole. It’s really disconcerting to look down and see your legs dangling in space in the spot of your headlamp and there's nothing for another hundred feet to the rushing water at the bottom. Sporty is freaking out and trying to reach out to me with his tool for me to grab, but of course, he has no idea which way the hole goes. With my unique vantage point I can tell where the edge is and somehow manage to heave up, plant my tool and pull myself out. Pure adrenalin. Of all the really stupid things I’ve done, this is the one where I can drive in a stake and say, ‘from this point forward, every day is now just gravy.’ But it’s not the end of the story.
We get to the top of the glacier and scramble up a loose steep headwall for a couple of hundred feet and traverse to the hut, falling through the door at about 3AM. The half dozen Euros inside are very pleased, but, screw’m, they’re Euros. We just collapse on the sleeping platform in our gear, and in about ten minutes one of the Euros starts to get violently sick, heaving convulsions, only after a second I realize that it’s Sporty, who has passed out and is trying to throw up on himself (and me) while asleep though there’s not much other than bile for him to dredge up. I shake him awake and say, ‘Sporty, you’re throwing up on yourself,’ and he looks at me bleary, ‘OK’, and passes out again.
Dawn comes and we make our way back to the parking lot. Like any good drunks, err, alpinists, who have just had an ‘experience’ of some note, we don’t clean up, change, or eat. We break out the vodka. It’s 9AM on a sunny bluebird morning, and we’re sitting on the tailgate of Sporty’s truck. We look like we’ve been beat to shit, smell like puke, and are taking hits straight from the bottle. The parking lot is filling with tourists and as they scuttle past us, parents herd their children to the far side. After awhile (a very short while), we’re pretty lit and decide we want to eat the bakery down in Lake Louise. It’s a very good bakery. And as we drive into town I see that the RCMP has a roadblock at the four way stop. And Sporty isn’t wearing his seatbelt.
‘Sporty, goddammit, put on your seatbelt,’
‘Whaaa?’ And then the Mountie has his head in the window but manages to keep a straight face despite the smell, although maybe that covered the smell of the booze, and starts lecturing us about the importance of seat belts and he was sorry but he was going to have to give us a ticket because they didn’t want us to get hurt while we were visiting their country. And I just couldn’t help it, I really couldn’t, and I start laughing uncontrollably.
I thought they were going to throw us under the jail.