Octopussy

. . . beneath the agony, his brain cleared. But of course! The experiment.' Somehow, somehow he mwsi get out to Octopussy and give her her lunch'.

—Ian Fleming, Octo/iiissy

Over the years, the frozen waterfalls on the limestone cliff bands east of Vail, Colorado, have provided ice climbers with a playground/laboratory on which to improve old .skills and, occasionally, to develop new ones, The Rigid Designator area is particularly good in this regard. Easily approached and in a location normally free of avalanches, the Designator stands like a Doric column, the crystal centerpiece of a 100-foot-high arc of inky rock. When it was first climbed in 1974 by Bob Culp, it was, at W15, one of Colorado's hardest ice climbs, surpassed in difficulty only by Tellurides Bridalveil Falls (W16), which Mike Weis and I climbed the same winter.

Just to the right of the Rigid Designator is the Fang (W16+), a free-hanging, 130-foot pencil of ice even more difficult than Bridalveil in the thin conditions of its first ascent, which was made by Alex Lowe in 1981. It is hard to find more challenging climbing on pure ice than the Fang in skinny conditions. But recently ice climbers have started to do more and more difficult mixed routes—climbs that marry the physicality of gymnastic sport-climbing moves to ice-climbing gear, the uncertain medium of ice-plastered (and sometimes unplastered) rock, and winter conditions.

As far back as 1980 I suggested the introduction of the 7th classification, M (for "mixed") 7, for Alex Lowe's lead of a climb called Hot Doggies in Rocky Mountain National Park. (At the time Eric Winkelman and I were suitably impressed trying to follow the climb on a toprope. i fell off the five-foot horizontal overhang at the crux, dangling in space awhile before I could get back onto the bulge of ice. Alex fished me up like a big tuna!) By 1991, there were a handful of M7 climbs in Colorado, including Secret Probation, located 300 or 400 feet left of the Rigid Designator on the same band of rock, Creg Davis made the first free ascent of this short but ruggedly athletic route up a rock overhang into a very thinly iced rock corner.

1 spent the winter of 1993-94 in Colorado, concentrating my efforts in the Vail area. In January 1 made the first ascent of the Teriebel Traverse, which traverses thirty-five feet left across rotten rock from partway up the left side of the Rigid Designator to ascend a short ice pillar with a complex move out onto a fragile, free-hanging curtain of ice that cascades over the lip of the roof above. Toward the end

Octupussy Mixed Climb Vail

Above, left to light: Clipping the protection for the first unsuccessful attempt on Octopus sy ... Beginning the roof... Preparing for the fir jt Tarzon swing .,.

Octopussy IceOctopus Climbing Over Rock

Above, left to light: Clipping the protection for the first unsuccessful attempt on Octopus sy ... Beginning the roof... Preparing for the fir jt Tarzon swing .,.

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(Photos: Brad Johnson!

of the winter I did the first ascent of the Seventh Tentacle, pushing the possibilities of dry tooling, leading up a smear of ice that licks down to within twenty rocky feet of the ground behind the Fang. This eighty-foot climb turned out to be the first pitch of my most interesting effort of the season, Octopussy,

(n April 1 went up to Vail, determined to end a good winter ice season on a strong note. After climbing the Seventh Tentacle, my belayer and fiancee, Teri Ebel, jumared up, and 1 set out on a thirty-foot leftward rock traverse until 1 was directly behind Octopussy's frozen tentacles, which were dangling from the edge of the ten-foot horizontal roof 1 had been passing beneath. With great effort, by stretching almost horizontally, 1 managed to place two good pitons in the roof. Clipping into them proved to be incredibly strenuous, but this was only the beginning of the wildest set of mixed climbing moves 1 have ever done.

Hanging from a tiny hook placement in the limestone roof, I cut both feet free and simultaneously turned my body in midair, swinging like Tarzan to stick my other pick into the nearest tentacle—which I managed after two tries. This left me dangling between my outstretched arms, wondering what to do next. Another ape swing was all I could come up with, but I missed the first stick and had to exert great effort on several subsequent attempts before 1 finally got it. Absolutely pumped, 1 pulled into a front lever with my frontpoints barely contacting a more substantial icicle five feet away and started walking my feet horizontally upward, making a few more vertical progressions with my tools before my feet slipped Unable to kip back up into position, with no strength or feeling left in my forearms, 1 shrugged my picks from their meager lodgements and dropped free into a swinging fall.

After a two-day rest we returned to Vail, entirely unconvinced I would be able to get any farther on the climb, but with a new idea. On my first attempt, I discovered a tiny, shallow vertical slot for my pick in a corner just under the higher of the two pitons in the roof. I turned upside down and threaded my left leg over my right elbow, wedging the toe of my boot under the rock roof, performing a figure 4 in ice climbing gear. I was then able to lever myself up into a high, stable position and take a good swing at the ice at the lip of the roof with my left tool. Unfortunately, just as I swung, the right tool placement popped and I plummeted into space. Shit . . , and EUREKA! This was going to work! On my next attempt 1 got a solid ice placement with my left tool, but once I unhooked myself from the figure 4, 1 was left dangling from one rapidly weakening arm, trying to do a one-arm pull-up to make a diagonal placement up and left into the ice above the lip of the overhang. I couldn't do it, and 1 felt off again!

The third time, however, was magic. This time I did a second figure 4 immediately following the first one, which allowed me to get a good stick higher up with my right tool 1 knew that if 1 untangled from the figure 4 and dropped my feet, I would still be hanging well below the lip of the roof, faced with another series of impossible (for me) one-arm pull-ups and swings before I could get my crampon points into the ice. But as 1 gazed up into the maw of Octopussy, I was inspired by a new possibility.

I disentangled from the second figure 4, then immediately inverted again and stuck my feet directly up into a space between the tentacles of ice and the gently overhanging rock wall above the roof. ! could get heel-toe jams this way, which allowed me to take most of the weight off my arms. Since I was facing upside-down and backward from the wall, I was able to do a series of inverted sit-ups, alternating pick placements until I was five feet above the lip of the roof. At this point, I dropped my feet from the slot and kicked into an upright position. Ten more feet of grade 5+ ice brought me to a good screw placement and the end of the difficulties. I yelled to Teri that 1 had made it, and she gave a whoop of joy that I am sure was heard down in Vail. I had wrestled with the eight tentacles of difficulty and, just like James Bond, had come out on top of Octopussy—at class 8, technically the hardest mixed climb 1 had ever done! ▼

Clockf. MmrI Hunt«, Alaska (Hrnte ltHlo**)

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