Luke's Ice Climbing Site
.......I'd been climbing on the ice for about 45 minutes and had just climbed to precarious position
just below the final overhang which was about 80% of the full length of the climb. The ice lip
seemed insurmountable and I was getting wasted quickly.
I asked to be lowered back down. At the bottom belay area, which was ever decreasing in
area with the incoming tide, Luke was smiling and gave me the thumbs up and I asked:
"So what if I can't make it over the top?"
This possibility hadn't occurred to me before but after my tasting this bit of climbing
it certainly did now. Luke's countenance clouded. A look of surprise, and of worry, of "What
have I got myself into?" and of concern came over his face.
It surprised me that he didn't have an immediate answer as he had on all my
previous queries. He slowly turned and looked along the ever decreasing shoreline towards
the West. He then turned and considered the shoreline in the opposite direction. He said
somewhat reluctantly: "If you can't make it up we'll have a long haul in that direction"
indicating toward the East away from our vehicles. He looked up the ice face and added:
"You have to make it."
I had just met Luke about 3 hours ago in the Tim Horton's in Middleton. My daughter Taylor
had arranged for him to guide me through an ice climbing session as a retirement gift.
Today was set and I left the drive-through Tim Horton's on Wyse Rd in Dartmouth at 5:30 am
and headed to the Valley on snow covered roads in blowing snow. It was -19c when I left
and still -19c when I arrived in Middleton at 7:50. In making conversation with the server
in Tim's, I asked if it was always this cold here. She replied "It's not cold today I like
it when it's crisp"
Luke entered Tim's and I recognized him from his picture on the web site. He was about
30 years old, worked in his uncle's hardware store in Middleton and ran a small adventure
business on the side. He'd taken a six month mountaineering course in Banff a few years ago.
He was married, no kids, two dogs, a lab and a sheppard. We chatted a bit as I drank coffee
and ate a bagel and Luke chewed on chocolate chip cookies. The plan was for me to follow him
via car for 20-30 minutes to his fathers place where we would park, load up the gear and hike
for about 30 minutes up the coast to the climb site. The climb site consisted of an ice formation
created by groundwater seepage over a 50 foot vertical bank on the Fundy coast.
I followed him to Bridgetown and we turned right on Church St. which headed for 10k directly
to the coast It was hard keeping his car in site on the flats due to blowing snow and poor
visibility but this cleared up as we began our approach to North mountain and the shelter of
the woods. We parked at the end of the road on the Fundy shore in a cul-de-sac that serves
3 homes. Luke's father owns the middle home.
It was sunny and extremely cold. There was a strong bitter wind coming off the bay creating
wild conditions on the dark milky-grey water and there was a hundred foot vertical wall of
thick sea mist lining the shore over the water. Any anxiety I had concerning this adventure
dissipated. I new that regardless of the results of the climb itself, this would be a great
day. These extreme conditions made it awesome. We donned hard shelled climbing boots (pink,
very comfortable and warm) and shouldered heavy packs containing ropes, ice picks, crampons,
anchor materials, extra clothes, and other climbing paraphernalia and headed east skirting
the shoreline and the incoming tide.
We first walked along the shore where the wind slammed us constantly. Our layered
clothing kept us comfortable. We traversed up the steepening bank and continued the walk
partially sheltered by the woods. The knee deep snow showed evidence of a healthy rabbit
population. The walk through the woods skirted the bank but there was no defined pathway.
There were beautiful shore and water views, and setting high on a point was a perfect cottage
surrounded by a heavy rock wall terracing down to the top of the bank. We could just see the
ice climb from this point. Ile Haute is off to the east and can be seen on a clear day. Luke
has spent most of his life adventuring in this area yet has never been there.
There was one historic site along the trek that piqued my curiosity. About three quarters
of the way we came across a partially dilapidated structure. It was nestled about
100 yards back from the bank and Luke called it the Hippie House. It was built by draft dodgers
in the late 60s and consisted of a thick concrete floor, steel beams and columns, a boiler and
electrical room, two bedrooms and a large front room. It was about 25x30 and had a sloping 2x4
pine roof. On the floor was a beautiful tiled compass rose. The view from the front now consisted
of regrowth trees but once was clear to the bank and the water. On one side of the house
was a large concrete in-ground swimming pool and pool house. These were no ordinary hippies.
I wonder what they are doing now. The land is now owned by a local.
We arrived at our destination and unloaded the packs under a small spruce tree. It was hard
to see the ice wall as it was dangerous approaching the bank. At the top of the ice
wall there was a short eroded section of ice at about 45 degrees. At the end of this at the
top of the bank we set up our anchoring. We double anchored with rope around a 8 inch diameter
fallen birch tree and set a backup anchor with a sling around a spruce tree further back.
This was the coldest we experienced so far. The wind drove off the wild misted water up over
the cliff and into our faces. My fingers froze.
When I looked down over the beginning of the climb from the anchor area, I could only see
the sloped section then just space beyond the drop off. The wind was blasting up from there.
I was caught off guard when Luke said we were to rappel from here. I thought we would walk
around and just climb up. I suppressed a surge of fear but it remained lurking just beneath
I put another coat on (I now had five layers on top), a face mask, hat and helmet, three layers
on the bottom, crampons, glittens, a harness, and had an ice pick in each hand. My fingers were
frozen. As soon as I tied in to begin the rappel, all fear left me. I began edging down the
slope and felt a high. I wanted to savor the moment and I proceeded slowly taking in as much
of the view, the wind, the location, the weather, the ice, the wild water, the trees, the banks,
etc. I went over the edge and got into an wet area where the water steadily seeped from the bank.
I had waterproof outer clothing and was not bothered however the rope got wet and froze making
it harder to rappel and belay. The rappel was definitely a rush. I soon arrived at the boulder
strewn belay area at the bottom of the ice wall and untied and waited for Luke.
Luke arrived quickly and gave me instructions on ice climbing ie, pick placement and removal,
crampons use, arm locations, good ice bad ice etc. and I began climbing. My fingers soon thawed.
"You have to make it over" Luke repeated. "Otherwise we'll have to race the tide to get out
Luke and I debated what to do. It was decided that he would belay me from the top as it was
probably better for me to observe and learn from his climb than for him to coach me from the
bottom. There is no coaching from the top as the top belayer cannot see the climber.
If I couldn't make it, he'd return and we'd head along the coast.
I belayed him from below and observed his route closely. If I could use the same pick holes
it would help. It saps one's energy to swing the pick over and over trying set the pick. Most
of Luke's swings stuck as he knows where the ice is good. Another energy sapping problem one
encounters is swinging the left pick. It usually misses the aim by about 3 inches. If I could
minimize misses I'd have a chance.
Luke went up slowly and though I followed his progress closely, I didn't know how he got over
the lip. I missed the "trick". The rope was tossed back to me and I tied in and began not
The first bit went well. Luke's advice on using the crampons gently rather than hard kicking
seemed to work much better than before. I fell a few times but got back on the wall easily.
I was more capable now. When I arrived at the lip, I felt I had a chance but I immediately
took a big fall swinging far off to the left slightly past the ice. This type of fall can take
so much energy getting back on I thought it might end it for me. As I swung back I blindly
swung my pick high up the face and by luck it stuck firmly. This brought me about half way up
the crux and I managed to twist my left pick between two separated icicles and heaved myself
over the lip.
I laid there on the ice slope panting. I could see Luke now and he looked relieved.
I took off an ice pick and reached in my pocket and lobbed my camera to Luke. The ice on
the rest of the climb was soft and easy.
I was home by 3:00pm.