It might not have been snowing much due to the arctic high pressure systems sitting over the west of Canada, but this has meant it has been bloody cold and when its cold things freeze! When I was on my way back from my avalanche safety training course in Whistler I had noticed a waterfall in Squamish that was starting to freeze. It turned out that this was Shannon Falls, which only rarely freezes enough to be climbed. This was exciting news and the weather was predicted to be cold for the rest of the week. A plan was hatched to go and try to climb it on the Friday before heading to Vancouver Island.
Barbara and I had the opportunity to have a second look at how things were developing on our way to go on a ski tour to Keith’s Hut. We found a couple of guys climbing it in conditions that I thought were a little too thin and wet for my liking! Still it had two more days of cold before our attempt.
So it was off to Keith´s Hut for us. We had made a bit of a late start so we were certainly going to be looking for the hut in the dark, I hoped it was easy to find! Did I mention it was cold? I`m not sure how cold, but cold enough to make you hands not work if you had a glove off for a couple of minutes. This makes getting skis on and kitted up a slow and painful process. Just as we headed off two american guys also arrived with the same plan as us and wanted to know if we knew the way….. er no! Fortunately we met some locals coming down the hill and they gave us a few pointers how to find the hut, aside from following the skin track which wended its way up through old growth forest and then followed a creek. It soon got dark, but the moon was bright which helped with navigation once we were out of the forest. Even though this was not part of the plan, skinning through snow covered forest in the moonlight was a real treat.
The Americans over took us about half way up, but I wasn`t too upset about that as hopefully they would have the fire going by the time we got to the hut… Once we came out of the forest the cold was intense and balaclavas went on to prevent any chance of frost nip. We kept right as advised and I went on ahead to see if I could find the hut, which was tucked away in the trees. The fire was indeed going by the time we got to the hut but hadn´t made much impact – the American guys´ thermometer had registered -20 Deg. F (-35 Deg. C) outside! Still, if you huddled really close round the wood stove it was just about bearable. We had some hot food and a chat with the guys before bed, and kept the fire stoked all night by people chucking the odd log on when heading to the out house.
After a good sleep Barbara and I headed up to Vantage Ridge which was a nice little tour with some good snow. It was dark again by the time we got back to the car.
I got another look at Shannon Falls on the way back which looked big and white in the moonlight, definitely on for the next day.
Bell and I got up early and picket up two other keen recruits to join the ascent. Wwe were pleased to find the car park empty when we arrived at about 7am, we would be the first on the route, always a winner…. Bell and I went for it first and the water was still flowing in the middle of the waterfall pretty strongly, but neither of the right or left lines were fully formed so it would require starting on the left and then crossing the main flow to finish up the right. The climbing was really fun and not too difficult and I was making steady but good progress. I only had a few more meters to go before having to make the traverse right.
Things were looking good then the guys at the bottom started shouting, something was not right. Then there was a thunderously loud gushing sound – I quickly pulled left away from the water flow and looking right could see the center of the icefall collapsing. I held on as I could feel the ropes being tugged by falling ice, expecting to get a big pull which thankfully never came. I looked down at the guys who had run some distance from the bottom of the route to try and establish that Bell was OK and try and find out where the falling ice had come from. Had something had detached from the top or what? Bell was fine but nobody knew where the collapse had initiated. I did spend some time thinking about whether to continue or lower off, but lowered off as the only way across the fall would get you very wet (and the chance of something else big coming off seemed quite high.)
At the bottom Bell had been saved because of being under an overhang, but the ropes had been buried and even where the other guys were standing had been somewhat buried. We gathered our gear and got to somewhere safer. We were slightly disappointed we didn`t bag the route, but glad to be alive. Mostly glad to be alive!