Beyond the Pale

“You’re the only one who didn’t know you had it in you.”

Last year I finally climbed Repentance. This was a three or four year process for me: partners bailing, unfavorable conditions, and my own fear all colluded to keep me from venturing up that pillar off the first belay ledge. When I finally did it last year, it was the right combination of weather, conditions, and partner. It was probably the best lead of my life at that point in time, and it was enough for the day. In fact, the next day we bailed off of two lesser-lines… it was apparently enough for the whole weekend, if not the whole week.

Much like I did with Repentance, I’ve had some unfinished business with Remission. One of those days I went to do Repentance a few years ago, I was scooped by some locals and ended up giving Remission a go. The opening corner was awkward, and felt considerably harder than 5.8. Nevertheless, I made my way up it, and ventured up towards the column. The column looked sun-baked, and my partner assumed we were just going to bail from the fixed anchor below, but I went up and looked at it, and feeling his trepidations, decided to let discretion win out. We bailed.

A few weeks ago, I was back to try Remission. The opening corner was still awkward and felt way harder than 5.8, and sent me for a nice 20′ whipper onto the fixed pin! Climbing back up I figured it out and headed towards the ice, only to find it much thinner than it looked from below. I had good gear in at the top of the rock pillar, and probably could have made my way to the fatter ice above and right, but I’m not sure I could have done it without risking another big whip or two. Chris wisely called out “I’m not sure this is a good idea!” Discretion won out again, but the seed was planted – Remission moved immediately to the top of my to-do list.

*****

When Kevin Mahoney and Ben Gilmore were preparing for their attempt on the Slovak Route on Denali, they linked together R2D3: Repentance, Remission, Diagonal, Diedre, and Standard Direct. That just seemed other-worldly. It still does. Last year my friend Pete and his partner George, both extremely talented ice climbers, linked together Remission and Repentance while swinging leads. Even that seemed beyond the pale for me, yet I’ve been climbing better this year, climbing more confidently, and am finally finding the headspace necessary to climb multiple hard pitches in a day. Maybe it would be possible?

Remission Direct in "Fat" Conditions

Remission Direct in “Fat” Conditions

Oh, and the rare and thin (read: “Hard”) direct start to Remission was “in”… Nevermind that I’d never tried to link up anything this ambitious before. A plan was hatched. ALL I needed was a partner.

Seemingly every one of my regular partners had plans for the weekend already. All of the guys I know who could help with taking some of the leads were busy. Secretly, I was glad (assuming I could find someone I trusted to do this with). If this was going to happen, it would all be on me – I’d have to lead all of the hard pitches.

Court was down for the challenge. Despite the fact that we both work for NEice and have known each other for years, we actually had never roped up on ice together before. We’d climbed some rock together, hell, we even lived in the same town for a few years and didn’t even realize it, but somehow we’d never swung the tools on the same pitch of ice. Nevertheless, she was keen to climb some ice for a change instead of watching others climb ice at various ice-fests across the northeast. She wouldn’t be leading any of the hard pitches, maybe just the middle of Remission and the start of Repentance, but this was perfect: if this plan was going to come together, it was going to be all on me. This plan was not about maximizing the chances of success: it was about proving to myself that I could do it. It was about redefining what I thought was possible, and making it happen.

*****

6:15am and we’re the first ones to the base. With all the traffic and press the two routes have been getting lately, I was worried that we may get scooped by a similarly ambitious (and more proximal) party. But things were working out as hoped: we’d have our pick of lines. Knowing Remission would be the one in doubt, we’d start there – no warm-up, no deferring to the second half. We would succeed or fail right then and there, before most people were even out of bed.

Remission Direct looked good. Actually, let’s call a spade a spade, it looked like shit: a thin plastering of ice up to a gap, some reaches to get tools into a small inside corner leading to an intimidating roof, and then good ice above. But by hardman standards it was in fat, and hardman standards were the order of the day.

Soloing with gear

Soloing with gear

I was definitely nervous about trying the Direct. I know of several far more talented climbers than me who had whipped on the pitch in the past. If Court was nervous or had her doubts, she didn’t show it. She was definitely the right partner for the day – cool, calm, and psyched. Her confidence buoyed my own.

*****

730am and I’m sitting pretty at the first belay above the Remission Direct pitch while Court works out the moves below. Crappy, crust on dust, ice yielded three junk screws and just enough of a solid platform to reach the fixed pin in the inside corner.

Feeling more secure with some rock gear!

Feeling more secure with some rock gear!

A small cam and surprisingly good hooks and torques in the corner to reach the ice above the roof replaced doubt and fear with confidence. I threw in a #3 cam under the roof (man, that crack is ready-made for a #3!), stepped up gently onto the curtain of ice, and all that was needed from then on out was regain the feeling in my arms, relax, slow my breathing, banter with the crowd waiting for Repentance, and climb the ice to the anchor.

Through the difficulties on Remission Direct, plenty of hard climbing still to go.

Through the difficulties on Remission Direct, plenty of hard climbing still to go.

All of the sudden, the plan seemed less a pipe dream and more of a reality. Court methodically worked her way up pitch two while I chilled at the belay ledge, basking in my accomplishment, yet knowing what lay ahead of me. I was only one pitch in and had 5 more to go. I still had to tackle the Remission pillar, the Repentance pillar, and the chockstone top-outs on each, but I think in the back of my mind, at that point, I KNEW it would happen.

 

 

 

*****

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*****

At the end of the day, enjoying a beer back in the lot, Court and I agreed that we could not climb another pitch of ice this winter and be content. Yet I’ll be out again this weekend, trying to link together more hard pitches. Linking Remission and Repentance wasn’t beyond the pale – it was well within my abilities. Apparently, as my friend Pat pointed out, I was the only one who didn’t know this. I just needed to open my eyes to the possibility.

2 comments

  1. Right on, Pat!! After your scrappy lead on the first pitch of “Power Play,” it was clear you were dialed in!

  2. Well done! Can totally identify with where you’re at in the process- but you scooped me with Remission…

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