Sport climbing and -15 ̊C/5 ̊F go together like, well, like ice climbing and +30 ̊C/95 ̊F. Nonetheless, it has become a tradition—for three years now—to attempt to go sport climbing here in southeastern British Columbia during the holiday season, no matter what the weather brings us.
That’s why, when Jesse texted, “Minus 18 here. Not happening on this end. Finger’s just coming round. Plus we didn’t get back until 3:30 last night,” my way at 9:15 yesterday morning, I completely ignored his message, as did Kevin. Then, when he called to try to bow out, he was met with total rejection on all fronts.
“Okay, we’ll see you soon!” Kevin replied cheerfully to the curse-laden rant on the other end of the phone. “Bring a stick clip!”
We all took bets on how long it would take for him to show up—start time had officially been 9:30, to “try to catch some sun on the rock.” Jesse showed up here, along with his girlfriend, Kelsey, at around 10:20.
On the drive out to Lakit, we discovered that Jesse had wisely decided to not bring his climbing gear, seeing as he does indeed have a lagging finger injury. Oh, well. It’s the commitment level and the whole freezing your bum off experience that builds camaraderie and matters in the end, right?
At the crag, it was grim. Bitterly, bitterly cold, and totally socked in with fog. Being the person who had spearheaded this expedition and mustered up team morale, though, I refused to acknowledge completely how much I absolutely loathe being cold when climbing—I mean, for real, I can’t really pull or even feel my hands on the rock when the temperature is below about 5 ̊C/40 ̊F, not to mention the -15 ̊C/5 ̊F that awaited us at the crag yesterday.
Gamely, Kevin tied in and racked up, but it was quickly decided that changing into climbing shoes wasn’t an option—fantastic for me, since I’d chosen to wear totally clunky snow clogs a size and a half too big for me with thick socks out to the cliff. Bueno. This made for some awesome footwork on my part throughout the day, as I would look down and see nothing that I could possibly place one of these stiff-as-a-board platforms on with any hope of it staying.
Added to this, uncovering the hands seemed insane, too, so both Kevin and I climbed in our Petzl belay gloves. It actually wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be...
A couple of pitches of flailing about basically doing pull-ups up the rock clad in this excellent gear along with my puffy down jacket and tons more clothing underneath, we were all ready to go. It had actually been a sort of fun challenge, these gloved-and-street-shoed ascents, plus we just looked ridiculous. But just as we were packing up, Gord and Travis showed up, Gord with his ice tools—so now there were six of us stupid or psyched enough (or maybe both) to join in on this adventure.
It just added to the hilarity, watching these two guys climb—first Travis, who bravely shed his gloves and put on climbing shoes over his socks, and managed to climb the route, regardless of his absolutely icy hands and frozen feet. Then Gord attempted to dry tool the climb, this despite having spent the last week or so sick in bed with a stomach flu. Now that’s commitment.
Even grumpy, injured Jesse eventually joined in the climbing action, picking up the tools and managing to hit himself in the head with one of them bouldering around close to the ground, right as he said, “These things are sort of scary; you never know when one of them is going to come off.”
As for me, I think I shivered for about three hours even after we returned back to a warm house, but I also realized that just being outside and climbing in such a pretty, albeit insanely cold, location had been refreshing and left me in a great mood. And the fact that six of us (in previous years it was only three) rallied to participate in this year’s holiday sport climbing expedition illustrated the truth behind the adage, “The more, the merrier.” Watching other people attempt to do something as silly and stupid as sport climbing in such glacial conditions is just plain good old-fashioned entertainment for everyone present—even if I have to do it myself, too.