Saturday, August 21, 2010

Turret's Syndrome

Andrew has that hell-bent look in his eyes. He scratches his fingers in the back of a grotty finger crack, seeking any sort of jam at all. “I don’t know how you did this!” he yells into the wind. I try to smile through chattering teeth, and belay him up to my stance: A few nuts and a undercammed TCU shoved sideways into a strange, beautiful horizontal crystalline crack. Nobody has ever been to this little cave before, and I get an uncomfortable, eerie feel from it. I’ve butted us up into an impasse. Loose and steep to the right and left, and a roof above us. Now, the weather, threatening all day, has morphed into a full-fledged hail storm. We are a stone’s throw from the top of the Turret, and I am scared.

Andrew Boyd is a legend in Squamish circles. Uncompromising and unsponsored, he consistently establishes bold, beautiful routes in the Sea-to-Sky Corridor. Since I was a kid, his lines have inspired me. Last year, we roped up together for the first time on a free bid on the East Face of Slesse. We made it five pitches up before realizing our light-and-fast tactics were no match for this 3500 beast of a face. More importantly though, I had a found a partner with a no-nonsense, go-get-it-done attitude and a similar risk tolerance to my own. I rapped off Slesse humbled, but happy.

I’ve never ridden in a helicopter to get to go climbing before. From Kinbasket Lake near Golden, I am wearing a t-shirt, shorts and a ball-cap. 10 minutes later I’m on the glacier, struggling to heft 48 Pilsners and two bottles of Scotch to our bivy, a 15 minute walk from the Turret. I am immediately sold on heli-access. This place is unbelievable, and we take a swig of booze to celebrate our arrival.
“Jesus! What are you wearing?” asks Mountain Guide Craig McGee.
“Chill out. This isn’t the Karakorum,” I reply, jokingly. I will later come to regret saying that.

As Andrew takes over the lead on pitch two of the Turret, I am again reminded that he is among the best climbers I’ve ever seen. He navigates overhanging choss, hopscotching corner systems at a steady clip, placing gear at intermittent intervals, never once hesitating or second-guessing himself. Then he hands over the rack, and it’s my turn to live up to the bargain.

After plowing through the lower dihedrals, we arrive at a halfway ledge delineating the lower-angled rock from the steeper upper half. The rock here is excellent: laser cut corners, arĂȘtes and face edges. I peer up into the corner above me. It looks too thin for fingers so I slam a couple pins and boulder out left, gambling that the next corner over is a bit wider. It is.

“Tag me my waterproof!” yells Andrew. I open the bag and delicately fish around for his jacket with wooden fingers. Andrew has found a way to escape the crystal cave by venturing down and left. His movements, characteristically smooth and calculated, have turned aggressive and punchy. We are now in a whiteout.

I can’t hear much when Andrew finishes the pitch: Just vague murmurs in the wind. I need to lower out about 30 feet or face a hideous horizontal pendulum. I’m really cold now, and not thinking very fast. I take the cam out of the crack and lower off a couple sideways nuts in the strange crystal rock. If they rip I’ll go for a terrible whip. Now, out of the cave, I’m in the storm completely. I clean the pitch and meet Andrew at the belay. I’m a jabbering mess and gear hangs from my harness in disarray. Andrew’s eyes are gleaming.

From here the angle lessens off. I throw on a fleece and burrow into a chimney for warmth. “We can stay here until it calms down!” Andrew yells at me from a foot away. I’m nodding, or shaking- I can’t tell which. The storm looks to be holding off. 20 minutes later we are on top of the Turret. We trace the edge of the south face for a rappel line but come up empty handed. It looks like our only option is to rap the north-west face and hike down 1000 feet of snow in rockshoes. We’re unbothered, though. The storm has relaxed for a bit, just long enough for us to escape.

Back on the glacier at dusk, Andrew punches up the snowcone at the base to retrieve our boots. I take off my climbing shoes and sit down on a rock. Clouds are rolling in. We hike trudge back to camp as the rain starts to spit again.

In camp we brew up some tea, mixing in some Grant’s whiskey. “How long do you think we could’ve stayed up there waiting out the weather?” we ask each other, between sips. As always, there are no answers, only more questions.

The storm doesn’t relent for four days. Finally, our heli-pilot Don braves the conditions and flies in to get us. Toni and Benno, our German friends, stay in the cirque to continue attempting a different route on the Turret.

Three days later, my girlfriend Hazel and I visit Benno in the Golden Hospital. He has rappelled off the end of his rope, taking a 50 meter plunge to the glacier. Miraculously, he has only broken his leg. I leave the hospital reminded, yet again, that this climbing game is a delicate business.

FFA of the South Face of the Turret
Via Turret’s Syndrome
5.11+ Grade V 600 meters
Free for leader
Andrew Boyd, Will Stanhope
August 2010

Big thanks to Arc’teryx for making this trip happen.
And to Peder Ourom for hooking me up with photos and beta over coffee at Starbucks in Squamish.