Switching axes in Canada

18 March, 2012
No Use in Crying takes the obvious weakness just left of centre to finish at the v-notch. © Nick Bullock

Nick Bullock's winter season got off to a great start in Scotland (Good Times and Big Numbers). Then after a few weeks R&R in Wales he recently headed out to Banff with DMM's Sales Rep, Rob 'mountain machine' Greenwood, armed with an early production pair of new Switch ice tools.

After enjoying a couple of days warming up - even though it was -10℃ - on the ice of Louise Falls and Johnston Canyon, the pair were ready to try something a bit more meaty.

Nick said: "We're psyched to get on the amazing Trophy Wall, and in particular The Replicant as I'll have then done the 'big three', Sea of Vapours and Terminator being the other two. But it's been dumping a lot of snow so we have to be wary of the avalanche risk."

"Locals Jen Olson and Sean Isaac, instead suggested we go and have a look at No use in Crying (IV M7) on Upper Weeping Wall. It's a Rob Owens and Jon Walsh route from 2008 that I don't think has seen many ascents. The first ascentionists described it as 'one of the best winter routes we've ever done.' All on natural pro and sustained for all of its 205 metres."

Nick wrote on his blog after completing the route: "As soon as I began to climb the horror of Canadian limestone flooded back. This is not Scottish. With very few torques and deep hooks and positive edges to stand it all feels insecure. Sketch the feet, drag the pick till it hooks something under the snow and pull. And squirm and thrutch and skitter while throwing as much body onto the rock as possible. And gear, well yes, there is some but it’s as spaced as Cape Canaveral."

Nick Bullock finishing the crux third pitch of No use in Crying (M7). © Rob Greenwood

You can read the rest of his account on his blog, where it sounds like their biggest concern was getting snowed in on the road, stuck in the middle of nowhere. Summing the route up, Nick said: "No Use in Crying was bloody amazing. Scotty tech 8, 8, 9, 8 and they weren't wrong about it being sustained!"

"It was really good to subsequently meet Jon Walsh, one of the first ascentionists, and he reckoned it was the third ascent."

Rob Greenwood clearly shared Nick's sentiment about the Canadian limestone, writing on his blog: "It seemed that everything could blow at any moment! Placements are thin, feet are sketchy, and good gear is hard to find – it’s pretty terrifying stuff and it would suffice to say high reserves of mental stamina were required to stay calm as were high reserves of forearm stamina not to get too pumped!"

For everyone back at DMM they've been eagerly awaiting to hear Nick's thoughts on the new Switch ice axe. Although, along with other DMM Climbing Team members, Nick has given a lot of input into its design and features, it's been his first opportunity to properly use a production pair in anger.

His initial comments were: "I really liked the Anarchists but after two days I'm sold on the Switch. They are so much lighter and the handle is a definite improvement. The angle on the upper handle feels great and solid. On hard mixed stuff they were absolutely fantastic."

He added: "To realise their full potential I'd use them with the weights for pure ice. When climbing I mainly stay on the upper index finger recess, then drop to lower pinky finger rest when hanging, placing gear, shaking out... it works really well."

Getting the ergonomics and balance of an axe right counts for little if the picks aren't reliable and secure. So far Nick's feedback on them has also been super-positive (pun intended).

"The ice picks are brilliant, super sharp and very positive. They bite into the ice really well. They're also not a pig to get out and we haven't had one stuck yet, but still give you loads of confidence in shallow placements."

He added: "I know it's only four days-in but the picks are wearing well and are easy to sharpen. On No Use in Crying we used the mixed picks, steeper and burlier, which were fantastic on the slippery limestone."

Greenwood warming up in Johnston Canyon. © Nick BullockRob