The Shadow

The Shadow - WI6+R, M6, 220 meters, Mt. Patterson, Canadian Rockies

On March 30th, Caroline Ware and I skied up into the north bowl of Mt. Paterson, hoping to make an ascent of Riptide. As we got closer to the base of the route, we noticed the gully immediately to its left held a beautiful silvery blue strip of ice from top to bottom. We couldn't resist. The only problem was our rock rack only consisted of eight stoppers and three pitons. By the time we had climbed three very run out but amazing pitches, we were down to five stoppers and no pins. I started up the fourth pitch, but with no possibilities for protection, I backed off after a few meters as the risk of falling off the rotten overhanging icicles and directly onto a belay consisting of two tools and a #3 stopper in shattered limestone was too great. After 180 meters of thin climbing, the number of good screws we had placed could be counted on one hand. The climbing to this point had been phenomenal and the fourth pitch promised more of the same: about ninety percent thin ice interspersed with a few mixed moves through short overhangs and vertical sections. Crampons and picks bottomed out against stone most of the time. We equalized the stopper to a sketchy v-thread and a bad screw, and rapped off with plans to come back with a bigger rock gear and a bolt for the third belay.

April 3rd we were back, armed with 6 camelots, 6 pitons, a full set of stoppers, and a hand drill, and wound up using them all. The first three pitches went quickly with the route knowledge and the anchors in place. Having more rock gear also made it much safer. I hand drilled a stainless steel expansion bolt to back up the third belay. The fourth pitch was one of the hardest ice pitches we've ever done and I was happy to have had cams and pitons for it. Above the fourth belay, the ice turned to snow and the angle of the gully eased off but was choked with snow mushrooms.

The first two pitches, check in around WI 6 R, M6 and are both 60+ meters (we used 70 meter ropes). The third pitch is 50 meters long, and somewhere around technical WI 5 as the gully narrows to only a few inches wide. The fourth and crux pitch offered two overhanging sections of rotten icicles with marginal gear and felt like WI6+ R, M5, 50 meters. The first, second, and fourth belays consist of nuts and pitons, and we left a v-thread and a bolt, the only ones of the route at the third belay.

I think our route is similar, and probably harder than its neigbour Riptide. There are no long sections of vertical climbing, although the pitches we called grade six were at least as challenging as most others of the same grade in the range. Expect weird "onion skin" ice, with difficult protection, and at least as much mental challenge, as physical or technical challenge. I have no idea how often this gully holds ice but I did notice the ice in it back in late October. Extra hazards to be watch out for on this one include: lack of sheltered belays; many big snow mushrooms on the route; spindrift is regular; the approach (same as riptide) is a huge avalanche prone couloir and it's lower half is threatened by seracs.

We named it "The Shadow" as a reference to the book "Where The Mountain Casts It's Shadow" by Maria Coffey that Caroline had been reading to me while I drove us around to many different ice climbing venues over the previous couple of weeks.