Classic Ice Primer- Chouinard Catalog 1968


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Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 30, 2009 - 11:03am PT
Welcome Gordon! Thanks for the gear tales. Any photos from your exploits back then? What did you start out with for crampons?

Ahh, the Dachstein mitts are sweet indeed! An extra pair on the outside was the little trick that got Whillans up Annapurna South Face in the bitter cold. I don't know if he shared his secret with Haston! Probably made the lad tough it out. LOL

Trad climber
Iss WA
Jan 30, 2009 - 12:28pm PT
Goggs! Sit down and share a pint!

And welcome home:) Hard to get some of my Amerikin brothers to tell a good story about alpine climbing BITD.

"I was so hungry I immediately ate it up even though it was years old!! And I didn't share it..."

You seem up to it, care to fill in the rest of the story?
Wee Jock

Jan 30, 2009 - 10:25pm PT
Sorry Mr Grossman ... too poor to own a camera in those days. Terry King took a few shots, though - one was posted here on a thread about climbing with a sack on - Gabarrou-PicardDeyme route on the Plan. I started off with a pair of stubai bent wire crampons (ha! bet you've never heard of them, but I managed to get up Vanishing Gully, Zero and Point Five in them!!) I had a pair of Chouinard rigids for a while but my boots were too bendy (Scarpa Fizroys) and they broke in the middle of the Droites NF. Did almost all my winter climbing and Alpine climbing with good old Salewa adjustables and a pair of Dolomite Major boots that weighed a TON (figuratively speaking of course)!

By the by climbing with Terrors required a very particular technique - you see videos of people thrashing with them and wondering why it took 7 smashes to get them to stick. Technique!
Wee Jock

Jan 30, 2009 - 10:51pm PT
As for you, Mr Burns, clearly you don't know how to spell ... Ameeerican is how it is spelt!! I now understand why you were calling me Gordie at UKC! I hated being called Goggs! As a climber I was always called 'Wee Jock' or Smithy. BTW I've submitted an article on my transition from climbing in Scotland to climbing in the Alps to the SMCJ called 'A Scotsman's Duty' and a complete rewrite of my article on the climbs I did with Tobin called 'The Paths to Glory' to the Harvard Review (trying to be Artsy Fartsy - so that one is not sooo much of a climbing story just for climbers)....that attorney chap Accomazzo has seen very early versions of both...You really must harp on HIM to get HIS Tobin article out - has Alpinist been reborn yet??

right here, right now
Jan 30, 2009 - 11:00pm PT
WELCOME to the Forum Wee Jock!
Great stuff ... carry on.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 31, 2009 - 01:11am PT
Alpinist is back!!!

And so is the odd couple-- YC & Layton Kor! One of my favorites from Climbing Ice.

Todd Eastman

Bellingham, WA
Jan 31, 2009 - 01:57am PT
Wee Jock - good to see you getting in your two bits. I hope all is well on the soggy isle. It has only been 30+ years since I've seen you though I did hear about a record descent off Ben Nevis that has yet to be broken...

Wee Jock

Jan 31, 2009 - 02:04am PT
Todd, you sod. Was that you that I did some rock climbing with in the Alps in 1976? Blooming heck, you must be old!! Don't you start calling me Gordie!!!
Wee Jock

Jan 31, 2009 - 02:17am PT
Oh, and Todd I haven't been on that soggy isle for many, many years ... I lived near Santa Cruz, Calif for nearly 10 years and now swelter in the Philippines jungle. Not much opportunity for practicing my Technique Glaciere Francaise oot here, ye ken. As for that record breaking descent, what record breaking descent? I don't remember any record breaking descent ... just waking up in hospital being attended to by a very cute young nurse. They had to employ that cutest of young nurses to shave my leg all the way up to the wee jock before hacking it (the leg!) all open and sticking in some big bit of steel to keep it straight as an arrow (the left leg, ye dirty brute)!! Oh the strain of it!
Todd Eastman

Bellingham, WA
Jan 31, 2009 - 02:30am PT
Gordon, great to hear from you. Stay cool in the dank mists of the Philippines. I'm sure you are up to something good.


Trad climber
Iss WA
Jan 31, 2009 - 02:50am PT
Here is a question for guys like Rick, Todd, Gordon or anyone that has an opinion on it.

What tool or tools had the most influence (how ever you define that) on your own alpine/ice climbing BITD? Chouinard (curved), Terros, Chacal or something else?

Wee Jock

Jan 31, 2009 - 04:19am PT
Terrors. Used a Chacal for one route in the alps and one winter in Scotland and loved it - would have stuck with it if I hadn't quit climbing. I was quite happy with Terrors, mind you. Never had any problems with them except a little bit for the knuckle effect and they wore out so quick.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 31, 2009 - 11:47am PT
So, how was that Super Couloir?
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Jan 31, 2009 - 03:25pm PT
You want an Alpine story? Let Gordon Smith, aka Smithy, Goggs, Gordie, Wee Jock -- must be a reason for all these aliases--tell you one about his climbs with Tobin in the Alps, the first ascent of a fine line on the west face of the Aiguille du Plan or the visionary second ascent of the Gousseault on the Grand Jorasses. Wee Jock, great to have you on ST. Slainte!

Here is an excerpt from my as yet unpublished article about Tobin’s 1977 season in the Alps. The best parts are the short quotes from Wee Jock, as you will see. This is about Smithy’s introduction to Tobin and their first ascent on the west face of the Aiguille du Plan in Chamonix.

I had to catch Freddie Laker flight back home just days after we finished the Dru, so I said a hasty goodbye to Tobin at the Montenvers train (he hiked down to save the fare).

Sorenson, however, was just warming up. He met Gordon Smith, “Smithy,” a Scottish ice climber who sported the standard Scottish attitude that Chamonix climbs were nothing compared to winter climbing on Ben Nevis—“the Ben”—in “full on” conditions. The two hit it off immediately.

"But the very fact that Tobin had arrived in the Alps without any equipment at all and was looking to go straight onto big Alpine North Walls never having climbed an Alpine North Wall before warned me straight away that here was a climber just like me."

Smith had spent two prior seasons in Chamonix with a tight-knit group of the leading British alpinists of that era, including Terry King, Nick Colton and Alex McIntyre. They had achieved repeats of the hardest French mixed routes and established a number of hard first ascents themselves, including a major new route to the right of the Walker Spur of the Grand Jorasses, the Colton/McIntyre. According to Colton, he and MacIntyre had developed a grand strategy. They had identified what they considered to be the three hardest Alpine routes in the world at that time: the Harlin on the Eiger, the Gousseault on the Jorasses, and the Voie de L’amite on Pointe Whymper of the Jorasses. All of these were unrepeated and, more importantly, had been established using siege tactics: fixed ropes and the like. The Brits wanted to repeat this trinity of routes, and in better style than the first ascents: faster, lighter, and without aid.

The year before, Smith, with Terry King, had done the second ascent of a hard route on the Aiguille du Plan, the Grand West Couloir. The Grand West is a prominent mixed rock and ice couloir clearly seen from the Aiguille de Midi telepherique, first climbed by Patrick Gabbarou in 1975.

In September of 1977, Sorenson and Smith climbed a new line in the narrow gully to the right of the Grand West Couloir. The very last pitch was the crux and Sorenson’s lead of it impressed his partner. Smith remembers,

"Horrific. A vertical rock corner, sporting an evil off width crack, encased in ice and verglass and topped by a large roof dripping icicles. Tobin led it, for it was his turn and he never was one to shy away from a challenge, with all the histrionic and noisy brilliance that I later came to expect from him."

Lindsay Griffin, former Mountain Magazine editor, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of alpine climbing, believes the route may still await a second ascent .

Wee Jock

Jan 31, 2009 - 10:12pm PT
What supercouloir? Lots of them ...
Wee Jock

Jan 31, 2009 - 10:30pm PT
Interesting reading the excerpt from Climbing Ice about doing the 'North Face Direct' on the Courtes. A couple of things seem to me very important in reviewing ascents and standards of 'long' ago - they seem so quaint, do they not ... 5 days on the 1st ascent of the 'Davaille, the Swiss route on the Courtes being a 'major' achievement, etc etc when today no doubt some juvenile would be quite happy snow-boarding down the swiss route and modern bods run up the 'Davaille and the other Droites routes as if they are easy days for a granny or a granddad to solo: the obvious one - evolution in techniques and gear in the intervening years; but just as important the breaking down of old myths. That happened (just as examples - many other 'revolutions' have occurred) in Scottish winter climbing with Big Ian Nicholson's solos of Point Five and Zero in a morning ushering in frontpointing and the 'big' routes for all and sundry, and in the alps in the seventies the young unknown riff-raff, primarily Brits at first then the continental youth catching on pretty quick (Sorry, but I class you few American imports to Alpine Climbing AT THAT TIME as honorary Brits - BTW according to Montagne Mag I seem to be an honorary American), exploding all over the old preserves of the mountaineering hoi poloi. Then the revolution in Himalayan climbing that followed ...

Social climber
No Ut
Jan 31, 2009 - 10:56pm PT
Hey, Gordon, good to see you on the Topo-sphere! Remember that fun route you and I did on Shelter Stone Crag in 1975. Out of about 50 routes climbed that winter on my one Scottish winter trip, that was the best one. I have some photos somewhere that I'll try to post up when I can find the time.

As for the OP: I was just getting into ice and big mountains when that catalog came out, and I studied it carefully and formed the basis of a technique that served well for a lifetime's adventure on ice.

Wee Jock

Jan 31, 2009 - 11:07pm PT
Young Mr Lowe, you old beast! I've been trying to contact you!! Of course I remember the Citadel! I was just a bairn in those days!!! I'd love to see photos, any photos ... you did a climb with Tut Braithwaite (having forgotten to tie on your ropes) on Indicator Wall that went unreported and then was repeated as a new route years later ... Albatross or Arctic Tern Tut thinks it was!! Now a classic hard route..
Wee Jock

Jan 31, 2009 - 11:16pm PT
Someone wanted a story about alpine climbing .... and Atty Accomazzo has furnished an as yet unpublished excerpt - so here is another as yet unpublished excerpt ...about an American climbing in the alps in the seventies ....

Tobin fell twice off the first pitch of the day, very hard rock climbing in crampons
up a beetling granite prow that bulged out in the middle and then was capped by an enormous
overhang. It was climbing made harder still by being frosted over in new snow and streaked
with thin, fresh smears of ice. It was also unclimbed; for the Desmaison, which we had thought
we were following, veers back again to ramps on the left. But instead of veering off, like
sensible folk, we had pointed our idiot noses directly up our prow, and directly for the top.
Twice Tobin flew off that overhanging bulge in the middle of the prow like a great, black winged
banshee; a shrieking shadow swooping a very long way down out of the wind riven stour and jangling
to a halt with a bang. And never once did it penetrate upon us that we were going the wrong way.
Instead my long, thin ropes stretched longer still and thinner...

'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow’

Never mind. They stopped him, those thin, long ropes of mine. Twice. And twice he went back up,
bloody, bold and resolute, until eventually, on his third try, he reached a lonely little foothold
high up on the prow, underneath the capping overhangs and past the bulge from which he’d fallen.
There the ropes ran out; and there he stopped and hammered home his piton.

It was the boldest of climbing by a true master. And there he passed the baton on to me. Not so
bold but devious as the devil, I didn't take the bull by the horns and risk attacking the great overhangs
above us direct as Tobin, with a snort and a bellow, clearly would have. At least he would have
tried to charge right over them and beggar the thought of falling off. But wee, sleekit, coo’erin,
tim’rous beastie that I am, I sneaked a couple of metres around from under the overhangs above and out
onto the left face of the prow in order to avoid the obvious, the difficulties straight ahead on the
right face. But my little detour around the overhangs took me onto a horribly dangerous wall, a kind of
arctic mush of rotten granite flakes half frozen into a paste of porridge, and collapsing as I climbed.
Above, I threw myself into the security of a deep patch of new snow covering a little blocky arete and sat
shaking in my icy hole while Tobin followed, trembling, in his turn.

Now at least we were above the overhangs, and hoping that the way to the top was clear. We
fought our way up against the screaming wind and slurries of spindrift, tiptoeing on eggshell ice
and throwing down showers of loose rocks and sweeping away the blankets of fresh snow, until Tobin fell
off the summit cornice. He came flying off that cornice, the very last moves of the climb, and those
long, thin ropes of mine stretched yet longer still and thinner. But never mind. Those long, thin ropes,
they stopped him. Again. And when he whined

‘The cornice is very soft snow. I can’t get my ice axe or my hammer
to stick’,

in my very, very impatient way I bullied him with

‘just cut the crap and flog the bloody thing down with your axe for God's sake
and let’s be done with this climb’.

I was impatient, you see, because the final pitch was even longer than the length of my very long ropes
and already I'd been forced to untie from my belay and follow him up the last runnels of snow and ice
and rock towards the cornice and the summit. Therefore was I very frightened when he himself came
swooping back down towards me out of the storm clouds, that shrieking black winged banshee again in
flight, having tried to climb the soft, overhanging snow of that cornice; and me without a belay but
still tied to him and looking at following him all the way to the glacier at the bottom of the
mountain. More than four thousand airy feet down through the swirling clouds. Fortunately he'd looped
a rope sling over a rock spike somewhere along the way and clipped the climbing ropes through it. Thus
by the grace of God, and with a little foresight on the part of Tobin, we didn't go tumbling down in a
final stotting clinch after all. And by the grace of God he did as he was told, and didn't try again
to climb the cornice but flogged it down with his axe and belly-rolled onto the summit of our dreams,
our second summit, our last summit. I followed him over what was left of the cornice, like a dog on
a leash.

Without ceremony, without words even and, for me at least, with a great feeling of emptiness
for my obsession was no more and we had nowhere left to go but down, we gathered up one of my ropes
into a giant knitting and stuffed it together with great quantities of the streaming spindrift into
my rucksack. We descended through the gale to the Italian Hut tied together with the other rope.
And thus the two climbs that fate had allotted us together were done.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 31, 2009 - 11:33pm PT
Welcome Jeff!

Can I offer you some frozen Squid memories?!?

From Vertigo Games by Glenn Randall, 1983.

To you crampon historians, what were people wearing prior to Salewa adjustables and Chouinard rigids in the sixties? Grivel hand forged ultralights? Was Salewa the first stamped and formed crampon design available in Europe?

Thanks for the fabulous excerpts Gordon and Ricky. Love to read the full pieces down the road!
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