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Helena Artmann has a bachelor degree in Communications with a vast experience in PR and the online world. Before moving to Canada in 2005, Helena published a variety of articles in Brazilian magazines and websites, mostly about travel, adventure, outdoor, gear, environment and her favourite activities, mountaineer and hot air ballooning. This is her website: http://artmanncommunications.com

Athabasca – a climb analysis

On Friday, August 12th, I climbed the AA Col route of mount Athabasca, 3,491mt, with Nick Sharpe, an experienced mountain guide, and another couple. It has been more than five years since I used my crampons to climb a mountain. Ten years since my last big expedition. First time I climbed an icy/glaciated mountain since I became a mom. All these were felt during the 9hr 40min we spent on the mountain…

Alarm set to 2am, 2:50 we were starting our first steps to this ‘easy’ mountain, as they say. It was my second mountain without altitude and this was a pleasure for sure. Being able to step forward without loosing my breath is always a great feeling – one thing less to worry about. Two hours up a moraine in the dark to reach the glacier. Five hours, forty minutes to the summit, including a very steep slope, some loose rock band, and a ridge.

My mind drifted between a constant thought of my son and the alertness of the environment where I was. Crampon on ice was something that, strangely enough, always made me feel safe. And this time was not different. I found the same pleasure on the repeated movement of placing one foot in front of the other. And I was able to control myself on the way up. It was great to have Nick on the other end of the shortest rope I had ever used.

Before 8:30am, we were on top of Mount Athabasca. The day was perfect and the conditions couldn’t be better. Pause to some summit pictures and we started our short but painful descent. A meter, maybe meter and a half wide summit ridge reminded me Denali when Nick started the descent and told me to which side I should jump if something happened, making sure I was not going to mistake left from right. Déja vú feelings as I had the same conversation with Marty Schmidt on Denali’s summit ridge, back in 1998.

Summit of Athabasca

Nick and Helena on top of Athabasca, 3491mt

My problems started when we finished the first rock band (Silverhorn) and Nick bluntly pointed out the dangers not wearing my gloves. The ones I told him I was placing in my backpack as I was sweating. PMS’ing is not the time to climb a mountain, specially if you have a notable fear of heights and you have not climbed for so long. But I was there and I had to deal with it, which I (we) did. A parenthesis to mention that Nick worked as a mountain rescuer for 25 years and he probably saw nasty things out there.

I wish my problem was a pair of gloves.

The very steep slope, that I quite comfortably climbed up using the American technique (frontpoint/french technique combined), was once again in front of me and I was leading the way, as always happen on the ice, where the less experienced lead the way. French technique that is. Sided to the slope. Then I stopped. And couldn’t move. Nothing was working and my mind blocked any tentative of moving. To relax my mind, I started asking questions to Nick and his concern grew as he saw me not moving.

A side note: Nick is as experienced as he can be but we are a couple and this changes everything… 😦

At some point, Nick said as firm as he could: ‘I am guiding here and you are not my client!’ Fair enough, what Nick wanted from me was quite simple and extremely painful and hard for someone with fear of heights: facing the end of the slope, I should place my crampons as firm as I could, drop my knees and position my bum vertically on top of my heels. I did it and to trick my mind, I set up very short objectives, which I accomplished in few seconds, not even minutes.

Nick got the message that I would respond way better to compliments than to rudeness and start praising me. I kept doing it, despite my sore thighs. At some point the wall was not that steep anymore and I was walking on the debris of an old avalanche. My spirit was light and I was happy with my accomplishment: the steep slope was way more important and challenging than the summit itself!

Comfortably setting my pace through the end of the glacier, I kept walking still roped. At some point, Nick made the only ‘mistake’ during the whole climb with a harsh comment and sent me to a sea of sadness that stayed around for quite a long time after the climb. It is incredible how the hormones can act on someone’s emotions! And, no, I am not proud of them nor I like to have it. It is just way stronger than me…

I left the mountain without any desire to go back to this kind of climb again. Thoughts of selling my gear crossed my mind and I was very confused. A friend mentioned that after he had kids, mountaineering went down on his list of priorities and with his comment I started decoding my feelings about the climb.

It has been almost two weeks since I climbed Atha-B. I had time to discuss the climb internally and externally enough to propose a new climb to Nick: let’s do it when I am not PMS’ing and he is rested (fair to say, Nick was probably quite tired as he climbed Atha-B just two days before our ascent, with clients!). Let’s do a new mountain for both of us. Let’s make it fun and be partners…

I will keep you posted and when and if it happens, I will let you know how I felt and what lessons I learned. I doubt that Ian will not be part of my thoughts, though. But this is not my intention, anyway.

Athabasca is the Cree Indian name for “where there are reeds” which originally referred to Lake Athabasca. If you are curious to learn more about mountaineering and want to give Athabasca a try, contact Yamnuska Mountain Adventures.

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5 Comments on “Athabasca – a climb analysis”

  1. Liane Barcellos Pozzobon February 2, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Estou esperando ansiosamente pelo próximo post desta saga! Vou vir checar o Blog uma vez por semana! Um beijo!

  2. helenaartmann February 7, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Ai que pressao, Liane! Por outro lado, de repente a coisa comecou a fluir e tenho produzido mais este ultimo mes que nos ultimos anos todos! Enjoy… 😉

  3. Dan May 31, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Helena, I took this photo. lol I remember this climb with you guys. Awesome!!!

    Dan

  4. helenaartmann June 2, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    Dan!
    Welcome! Thanks for stopping by… How are you? How is life? Have you been climbing? This was the first and last mountaineering I did since in Canada. I have been rock climbing and hiking, not this kind of climbing again, for some reason… 😉
    Keep in touch!
    Helena

    • Dan June 9, 2013 at 9:15 am #

      Yeah, I went out last year. I’m trying to get out this year, but it’s really hard to find partners for mountaineering. I’m hiking all the time. Heading out Wed for one in K Country. Nice to see you are doing lots of rock climbing. I literally stumbled onto that pic on google. I’m like, ” I took that photo!!!” lol

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