Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Gift WI4R, First Ascent SWPA

Laura and I made a last minute decision that based on the poor (warm) future SWPA forecast, we needed to climb whatever we could find, before it was gone!  We quickly agreed that Sunday School Crag would be our destination since it resides at a higher elevation than most other SWPA crags.  It also receives little to no sun.  If anything was "in" it would be Sunday School.  On New Year's Day Laura and I hiked in to try to climb, but poor conditions kept us off the ice.   We took note of a line that was forming just right of the line we did last year  Late Bloomer.   It looked like a lot of fun, but we figured it was better left for safer conditions.  Today was that day, although the conditions weren't much safer.  When we left home it was humid and the thermometer was reading 31°.  The snow in our yard has compressed considerably leaving us worried for what we'd find at the crag.  It wasn't much colder at the parking area, but there was still several feet of snow that required us to snowshoe the approach.

Laura snowshoeing to Sunday School Crag
    The approach isn't long, but what it lacks in distance it makes up for in terrain.  On most average days its an invigorating 30 min. hump that takes a few trips to truly "appreciate".  We made the hump at slower than normal pace trying not to overheat too much despite not wearing much at all.  When the climb came into view I was puzzled that the climb hadn't built much more than what we had seen on New Years Day.  I could audibly hear lots of running water which didn't instill much confidence, despite this we trekked onward to base camp.

Laura happy to be at "base camp"
 With a severe warm-up looming in the next few days, I looked the climb over and quickly decided it was "good enough" to at least get on and test the start.  Since last ice season was pretty much a no show, I've only climbed a few pitches of pure ice over the last several years.  I was seriously hoping I remembered how to ice climb ;)  A reasonably solid ice start provided me with a confidence building screw. 

Starting up The Gift WI4 through the ice start
The good ice quickly faded as I continued up a snow ramp pulling off eyelids and exposing underlying sloping limestone defunct of edges.  I tiptoed my way up to the next bit of "ice" that provided a few insecure screws and eventually an icicle worth slinging accompanied by a small 12" diameter column that seemed more solid than anything thus far.  This set me off right across another sloping, snow encrusted ledge which crumbled and exposed more slick limestone for my feet.  

The base of the short pillar and best ice on the route
I eventually reached somewhat solid ice a little higher up and the first good screws of the climb.  A short 15' pillar ended at more snow covered limestone which provided a very exciting, hollowed ice and rock top-out.    

Topping out the pillar
I slogged up through deep snow to the base of the lower angled ice above and found that it was melting out fast and poorly bonded.  The true climbing was over and the quickly deteriorating ice above helped me decide that the route was finished at that point.  I quickly set up the most secure belay I could muster and prepared to bring Laura up.  She progressed up the climb enjoying every move.  She found it to be boney and melting out quickly, as did I.   We shared a brief moment at the belay and snapped a few photos for memories.

Self portrait of the happy couple at the anchor 
 I gently lowered Laura down supporting most of her body weight with mine, carefully trying not to involve the anchor if necessary.  With Laura safely on the ground I quickly utilized the best ice available and built a V-thread and rapped down without sacrificing anything, but cord.  

Laura says... How could you not smile after climbing "The Gift"
The climb was a great season opener and a lot of fun, but the unpleasant sounds of ice falling off the walls around us, we knew we overstayed our welcome.  We packed up and snowshoed back to the car.  I snapped a few photos of the deteriorating ice for giggles.  We decided to name the route The Gift WI4R in current conditions.  We decided it was "The Gift" from mother nature, since she didn't offer very favorable ice seasons the last several seasons.  Hopefully this isn't all we'll get this season.  Stay tuned...

Meltdown... a common sight today
Fractures common as well
Where's Waldo?  Center of photo in the right chute

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