“I’ve noticed that in the alpine, everyone’s hesitant to rate anything harder than M6 – and then everything’s M6. Why do you think that is?” Mike wondered.
M6 is a grade given mixed rock and ice climbing. For most folks, it’s the grade that consistently feels hard, the place where you start to feel like you could fall off. I thought back to the previous day in the Clarks Fork. When you’re trolling for blind pick placements under a sheet of snow, yarding on apparently frozen blocks with the secondary points of your crampon wedged in a crack coated with ice and running with water, it really is all M6 until you’ve climbed it.
It had rolled for us, though. We had felt good after sneaking in six pitches of Broken Hearts as the climb melted around us. It was a good omen, and we had word that the climb in the Clarks Fork had looked feasible as of two weeks ago.
Beta doesn’t obviate omens when it comes to going into the Clarks Fork, though. The climb was probably there. The approach was surely there, and in the usual condition: a brutal wallow through the continental snowpack, followed by a dicey stumble down frozen dirt beside a stream bed.
It was quite a reward at the bottom, almost enough to make you forget you had to walk back up what you just came down. The morning sun shone into the gorge, tanning the 800 ft. granite walls, while the river grumbled under ice, welling in pools where the channel widened.
And there was the climb I’d fallen off two years ago. The weasel-like part of me that scampers around the base of my skull was disappointed I wouldn’t get a rematch with the mixed version of the first pitch. The more clear-thinking part was glad to see the first pitch touching down.
The climbing wasn’t too hard, it just took a light touch on the sun-baked, arching pillar. Mike accepted the ramble up the second pitch with equanimity.
The third pitch was alpine climbing, the beautiful sort of stuff made of rock and ice at once which defies any sort of rating, with a little bit of M4 (after the fact) to finish.
Mike got his karmic justice for enduring the mediocrity of the second pitch. Steep sunny ice on the fourth pitch lead to a spacious belay cave at the end of the route.
By any name, it was a stellar climb. So good, I barely noticed the quadriceps hematoma from rockfall on the way down. Hell, I’d even forgotten the walk out by the time we left the parking lot. Ok, maybe that’s a lie, but it was pretty damn good.