The Nova Scotia climbing community is a small one. Most of us know each other or are at most one Kevin Bacon removed. Our climbing is accessible but short, which means we have to travel to find anything truly alpine in nature. So when we hear about local climbers going for it we get inspired and our stoke gets stoked. Earlier this season, local climbers Brent and Amanda travelled to New Hampshire to get proper instruction on alpine techniques and attempt a line on Mt. Washington. They agreed to sit down at the local climbing gym Ground Zero to talk about their experience.
Let’s start with your origin story? Can you give us a background of your climbing resume?
Brent: I first got exposed through indoor rock climbing when I was at school at RMC (the Royal Military College) in Ontario. After RMC I bounced around a lot, landed in Edmonton where I took the plunge and bought my trad rack. I actually learned to place gear in a gym with concrete walls. After finding mentorship with some friends I started heading into the Rockies, Jasper, Canmore and Banff, where I started into ice climbing. As far as mountaineering my only true alpine experience was climbing Mount Sir Douglas (11,000er) in 18 hrs in Kananaskis, it was tough and a lot of fun. I got posted to Halifax in the summer of 2012 and have been here ever since.
Amanda: I started out hill walking in Ireland, and liked just being up in the mountains. In the first two years I moved from scrambling to ropes into rock climbing and then lead climbing. From there I took an intro to mountaineering course in the alps. I climbed in Wales and Scotland before moving to NS where I have been for the past two and a half years.
So what were your plans for Mt. Washington?
A: We went to Conway New Hampshire. Mt. Washington area – spent some time on the mountain, then some time in Pinkham notch. Aiming to get some technical ice, spend some time with a guide [Ryan] looking at more mountain skills, crevasse rescue, efficiency.
B: We wanted a few alpine starts, nights in a mountain hut. We wanted to go over ice techniques. I’ve never climbed with a guide so we knew it would be good experience to have somebody show me “This is how you become efficient”.
A: It was very interesting to see what his lead rack was while climbing ice. At first it seemed shockingly small but when you look at the pieces – everything works for multiple situations.
You mentioned before you left that you wanted to cover descents, what did you learn?
A: We did V, A, S threads.
Did you cover bollards? Did you rap off one? Did you trust it?
B: Oh yeah for sure. [Laughs] We did snow bollards and ice bollards.
A: We had to reinforce the thing with twigs.
B: A bollard is a big teardrop shape. Ryan marked a big radius with his axe then we excavated a trench from there with an undercut, the rope sits in this little tray of snow. When you load the bollard the sides pinch so we found some brush and twigs and stuck it in the snow which reinforced it quite well.
“We had to reinforce the thing with twigs.”
Did you guys do any specific training for this trip?
A: No not really, I climb as hard as I can all the time. And I do lots of other activities but I don’t train as such.
B: I climb, I run, yoga sometimes, weights sometimes. So as far as specific training plan no, but like Amanda I climb as hard as I can as often as I can. And also just getting out climbing – anytime is a good time when I’m climbing.
A: I was a bit worried about my hill fitness as I haven’t been on a mountain in 4 years. But my legs were still there – in NS there are no hills so it’s hard to know your fitness level.
It looks like you guys got back with all fingers and toes.
A: Mostly, yeah. Bit of frostbite but here we are!
What was the biggest takeaway on the course you took?
B: I learned that I don’t need to travel as heavy as I do now, only take multi-function gear. Our guide Ryan showed us quite a bit. The benefit of taking less stuff is learning how to use it more efficiently. Being comfortable and maybe running it out a bit more. Oh and less weight.
“The benefit of taking less stuff is learning how to use it more efficiently.”
A: I learned a lot about how very tiny inefficiencies can spell big problems in cold temperatures. You’ve got to have everything exactly where you need it. I wasn’t at all worried about my technical ability to do the climb; it was more like technical efficiency. All the winter climbing I’ve done has all been moving together (moving fast, not stopping) doing running belays, mountain ridges. So I’ve never had to stop and belay in severely cold temperatures. I really had to rework my layers and understand where they were stored and at what point I was going to use them- what gloves and mittens I was going to put on at certain times. Making sure that everything was in the right spot. I also learned that I have to keep food in every pocket of every layer, so that food is always 1 zip away.
“The day that we went out with the guide it was bad conditions. Really cold and windy, spin drift.”
We wrote everything down immediately that didn’t work, which really helped us. It’s one thing to know how to do things when conditions are good, it’s another to keep your head square when conditions are bad. It’s really very psychological in bad conditions; you can feel very overwhelmed in a relatively simple situation. Perhaps you can’t see because the snow is in your eyes and you’re getting bashed around with the wind, making simple things feel very overwhelming.
“It’s one thing to know how to do things when conditions are good, it’s another to keep your head square when conditions are bad.”
B: I learned it’s always worth the extra time to just get comfortable. Especially when you’re belaying in a snow gully. Take the time to hack out a stance with your adze so you can have your feet out of the snow. And also take off your pack and clipping it in front of you so you can access what you need, throw on your puffy. Take an extra two minutes to get yourself comfortable to make the next 25 minutes more bearable.
“I learned it’s always worth the extra time to just get comfortable.”
Do you have any goals or projects on the horizon you’re thinking about?
A: I want to do more alpine mountaineering, get back to the mountains, get to the alps. There are some routes there that I never got to do that I really want to. I never got on Cosmiques Arete,. Mont Blanc du Tacul traverse. We are looking to get out to the Bugaboos. I am a bit worried about backcountry climbing with respect to the logistics of it. My experience has mostly been with a descent landing you at a hut or civilization rather than hiking in two weeks of food.
B: I’m more of a cragging person. I’d like to get back to Banff and Alberta in general. I’d like to get back and lead more. Something I always wanted to do but never got to do was Cascade Falls. Maybe Professors falls, The Queen in Jasper. Work on technical skills, eventually break 5.12 but I know that is going to take a whole lot of work. Oh and one day break the 5.10 Trad barrier.
We want to thank Brent and Amanda for sharing their story, their adventure, and their lessons learned with us. It is always exciting to hear from people getting after it and pursuing personal development. We will be keeping in touch with these two and see how their journey develops!
What questions would you like to ask aspiring alpinists and climbers? What advice would you give them? What is your origin story?