From the Archives: 12 Months 'O Swing'n - Climbing Ice Every Month for a Year

December 15, 2023 12 view(s)

From the Archives: 12 Months 'O Swing'n - Climbing Ice Every Month for a Year

Originially posted October 24th, 2017. Grivel and Beal athlete Alan Rousseau shares photos and stories from his escapades on ice over the last 12 months.

Around March of 2017, after five consecutive months of ice climbing, I looked ahead at my schedule and thought it looked realistic to get 12-months straight of swinging ice tools.  As an IFMGA mountain guide I travel around the world’s ranges lining up trips to fill my calendar. I was working the 2016-2017 winter in my home range, The Wasatch. The spring was booked in the Alaska Range for April and May. Then the summer was spent in Chamonix for June, July, and August. To round out the year my long time expedition partner, Tino Villaneuva and I had secured the Mugs Stump Award and Copp Dash Inspire Award to head to Kashmir for September and October. This year has been my craziest schedule to date. I hope you enjoy experiencing the following images of my frozen year filled with hanging belays, spindrift caked hoods, and hot-forged-steel against frozen stone.

Fall of 2016 I felt a previously unparalleled psych for cold alpine climbing. I had a ton of mixed projects in mind and spent my fall swinging around, bolting sections of Provo Canyon I had seen smears form on in years past. My training was all ice-tool-centric; I neglected Rocktober, in hopes that I would be climbing ice in November.

This is the first of the twelve-months and it kicked off with a bang. Nikki Smith (guide book author and Salt Lake climber) called me up and told me there was a big ice route formed in the Beartooths. The route “Ice Dragons” had seen a number of ascents recently and it was reported to be in fat condition. We found 1300’ of friendly thick ice in WI3+ condition and it made for a great warm-up to the season. 

The next times on ice would proved to be a bit dicier, as they happened around the Salt Lake area quite early in the year. A normal early season destination for people chomping at the bit the last couple of years has been the “Hell Gate” area in Alta, Utah. Hell Gate’s high elevation gets snow early in the year, and then the melt freeze cycle creates some fickle frozen drips that never lack excitement. 

Pictured is Niels Meyer on “Hell Froze Over”. Alta had been experiencing below freezing temps for only 24-hours when this photo was taken.

The last day of the month, was a good one. I went down to Provo with a friend, Aaron Kurlan. We figured the ice would be too thin and we would probably just drytool. When we pulled into the lot I saw an ice smear we had bolted in the fall was formed. We were both bummed we didn’t get an earlier start but threw gear in our packs and made a dash for it. Getting to the zone we bolted involved climbing a couple pitches of the previously established “Purgatorium” M6 WI6. The ice was delaminated but the rock gear was reasonable. From the top of the second pitch, our route deviates left through a few bolts of really technical M7/8 into a roof traverse with a mix of thin ice and big moves on rock. The next pitch climbs a splitter dihedral that was choked with ice. I was stoked a route I thought would take a year or two to form went down in November! We named the route “Devine Mercy” as the climber must travel from “Purgatorium” to “Stairway to Heaven”. 

With December’s arrival the Intermountain West ice season begins in earnest. I took a couple trips to Bozeman, one of which was with Tino Villanueva as a bit of a training mission for India. We got to get on some nice routes including the Mummy IV, which was in prime condition mid-December. 

I was also able to red-point another route I bolted this fall “Scenic Byway” M9+ the newest addition to the highway wall in Provo. A four-bolt roof joins in with the same dagger “Highway to Hell” tops out on.

Photo: Niels Meyer

January & February:
Generally no-brainer months for ice and this year was fortunately no different. Guiding and teaching ice festival clinics brought me to Ouray to sample some of their reliable flows.

Also, the final yet to be red-pointed routes that I had bolted in Provo saw ascents. Two M8/9 routes in Provo’s “Fang Amphitheater” that require spray-ice came into shape.

Mark Pugliese on “Kenny Sloggins” M8/9

In addition to some days on the normal local circuit, I caught the North East face of Storm Mountain in Big Cottonwood Canyon in nice condition at the end of the month. It’s one of the true alpine ice routes around the Wasatch. Its upper elevation, and North East exposure generally cause it to form when everyone is complaining about how it’s too warm to ice climb.

Jake Current on the NE Face of Storm

April means the end of Ice Season in most places. Fortunately, April started a seven-week stint of guiding and personal climbing in the Central Alaska Range. I was able to guide two successful ascents of “Ham and Eggs” (V WI4, 5.8) to the summit of the Moose’s Tooth, as well as the SW Ridge of Peak 11,300 (V WI3, 5.8).

In May, I teamed up with another local Salt Lake climber Sam Novey. We had ambitious plans of trying the Moonflower Buttress on Mount Hunter and the Infinite Spur on Mount Foraker over a 20-day period. The weather this year in May was very unsettled in the Central Alaska Range. We attempted The Moonflower four times over 15-days. Each time we were either stormed off, or encountered dangerous avalanche conditions and bailed. Even on our best effort we had to endure four hours of intense spindrift under a tarp to get in 2,800’ of good climbing on the “Bibler-Klewin route”.

Sam Novey in the Mcnerthney ice dagger, we had both just freed “the prow” our first time on it, but the stoke turned to concern as the snow began to fall.

I arrived back home from Alaska the first day of June, and enjoyed some warm sunny weather for three weeks before the duffels were reloaded and the European Alps season began. I am based in Chamonix, France for the summer, which is a great place to climb ice during the summer months. A couple days of cold stormy weather is all it takes for granite corner systems to ice up. The day after I arrived, I decided to kick jet lag by soloing the central route on the North Face of the Triangle to the top of Mont Blanc du Tacul, followed by the Cosmiques arête. At AI3 M3 and probably ~1,500’ of climbing, the central route made for a pleasant way to reconnect with the Mont Blanc Massif.

This summer there was no shortage of cold storms in the Alps. Tino Villanueva and I managed to sneak in a good morning on some of the chimneys high on the Midi. We both had to meet clients at noon, but climbed some fun water ice and rime features. We would have sworn we had been transported to Patagonia.

When I initially hatched this plan of climbing ice all year, I was most worried about August. I got lucky in the middle of the month when a big, cold, wet system lined up with my days off. I tried to find partners at the last minute for a mixed route, but came up empty handed. I decided to solo a route I had climbed a number of times before, the Chere Couloir (WI4- 800’) located on Mont Blanc du Tacul. The flash-freeze conditions made for thin engaging climbing and an aerated 85-degree crux forced me to hunt around for solid sticks. Below is a photo from when I had guided it earlier in the season. 

The Chamonix season was an intense one. On the last day of my season, September 1 (again on the Chere Couloir), I had guided 60 of the last 67 days. I was glad to have a few down days before heading to India. We arrived in Dehli September 6, and traveled to  the Suru Valley in Kashmir to try the previously unclimbed peak “Rungofarka” (6495M). Our first attempt was unsuccessful, only climbing about 2,000’ of terrain up to AI5+M5 on Rungofarka’s North Face. After climbing as far as we could, there were no ledges for a bivouac in sight, and in light snow we retreated on September 25.  

After a few rest days, a high-pressure system moved in and we had changed our objective to the North Ridge.  

It appeared to be steppier and have options for bivouacs. On September 30th we moved up to our Advanced Base Camp for the night. Over the next four days we accomplished the first peak ascent of Rungofarka via the North Ridge, a rowdy ~50-pitch route at VI M6 WI4+. It made for an eventful end to a very cold year.   

The upper crux encountered the fourth day on route at 6300 meters

Our ascent took the left skyline of the peak September 30 - October 4 in alpine style.

For next couple weeks I plan to thaw out, and chill with my wife and our cat. I’m sure I’ll be ready to lace up the boots in November, and keep the streak alive!

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