Christian, Adrian and I had a day for some ice climbing. I chose the destination, the Luisbodenfall in the Pitztal valley. Pretty far for a day trip, but an injection of reliable ice was much needed. I'd been there with Dan a year before, where we mostly confined ourselves to top-roping the stellar 2nd pitch of the climb (the first pitch was dominated by guides and students).
We were bedeviled by problems today. Adrian was fighting a strange stomach virus, and was 20 minutes late at our meeting point. Later, he still felt sick on the drive. I led the first pitch, an easy WI4 which seemed pretty "dumbed down" by the presence of so many previous climbers. All I know is that I was amazingly calm and relaxed for the first pitch of the day!
Adrian and Christian came up, but the virus that Adrian had picked this time to move to Christian. He felt nausea and dizzyness. He arrived slowly at the belay and, looking rather green, realized lowering off would be a good idea. We lowered Christian, making sure he had the car keys and plenty of money to hang out in a warm restaurant. I was glad the climb didn't have an approach!
We continued. Christian loaned me his great new Black Diamond leashless tools. These made the 2nd pitch feel very entertaining. It was about 50 meters of continuous WI3 and 4. I alternated between vertical towers and easier lines that snaked up for the engaging pitch. On top I built an anchor from two screws and an Abalakov ice anchor.
Adrian enjoyed the pitch a lot, and send me off for a short but steep column. There was a WI3 way, but further to the right I could push the angle to just off vertical, while still benefiting from the passage of others. This meant that often a good tool placement had already been made. Same for the feet too.
Above this column, I walked for 10 meters to another short ice step. I ran out of rope just below the top and built an ice screw anchor.
Adrian came and hiked up for pitch 3. We had a devil of a time keeping the ropes from getting tangled because we had to climb through a tree that fell across the ice. It's branches really wanted to steal the ropes! Definitely strange to crawl under a tree on 50 degree ice.
After quite a bit of hiking (10 minutes?) we made it to the upper wall, which was quite impressive. The party above us was belaying in the wall, which was dripping in full sun, though the valley was already coming into shadow. I led up the center of the wall, staying out of the path of debris from the party above. However, frozen icicles on a cliff directly above me where losing their grip. A couple of these crashed around me. They weren't that big, but carried a volley of snow and shrapnel for which I just had to put my head down and hear the clattering of ice on my helmet. Soon I could move out from under that and get above, which was a relief.
I knew I'd used about 50 meters of rope, and wasn't sure if I could make it to the top. The bad thing about ice climbs is that where the ground levels off is usually a hard place to find protection: the solid ice turns to powdery snow over rubble. So you have to expect to spend another 10 meters getting to a tree or something.
Therefore, I decided to build a screw belay. I placed three, and was not happy with the melt-out rate. I dug under watery ice for better stuff. Still, the sun quickly turned the ice to water. I packed snow over the screws. Oddly, one of them seemed to have a higher melt-out rate than the other two.
Adrian arrived and led out immediately. He didn't plan to lead today but obviously didn't relish hanging out at this "boiling" belay point. He placed a screw just above the belay, and another one just a bit higher, then made the crux move to reach easier ground. A bit of walking got him to a screw belay below the last cliff.
I found this last pitch tough. I was feeling tired, and it was dead vertical, such that it really felt overhanging. I rested on the rope after placing the first and second screws, wondering how I'd get through the very steep ground above. I went forward, often able to hook a tool securely where two icicles merged together. I measured available strength, distance to go and the amount of rope out since the previous ice screw. I decided to go for it. After a few tough but exciting moves the angle lay back enough to chop out a rest and get some protection (I was back in groundfall zone here, I think). Whew! The penultimate moves involved stemming, which provided a massive rest for the calves and arms. Thanks stemming technique!
Above, I found a tree with slings. Adrian came up, enjoying the pitch a lot. Rather than have both of us twisting around in my cramped hanging tree belay, I lowered him to the previous ledge while I rigged for rappel. I came down to him and traded places. I'd been at so many awkward belays on ice that my feet couldn't take another awkward, splayed stance. He reached an Abalakov anchor in the middle of the upper ice wall. We rappeled to the there, then one more double rope rappel got us to the scrambling terrain below the 3rd pitch. From here, we knew we could walk off to a road on the right. All this went well until the last few meters down, when Adrian slipped on some very icy trail and injured his ankle badly. He said he saw stars as he violently impacted the ground. Yikes! I carried his pack and we made it to the car. We picked up Christian in the nearby hotel. He had felt better in the early afternoon, and done some ice bouldering with my old-fashioned Black Prophet tools.
While I hiked up to retrieve another pack, Christian told Adrian to make a snow pack for his ankle. On the drive home, Adrian said that helped a lot. Hopefully he'll just have swelling for a few days and be good as new.
So, a trip not without a few difficulties, but some good things too. Thanks guys!