I read about Sisyphus Summits about 10 years ago when I started climbing consistently. The longest sport climb (600m+/2000ft+) North Of México, has been on my tick list since then.
However as the years wore on, the timing never seemed right, I didn’t have the right partner and it just taunted me every time I drove past it.
Finally the opportunity arose about a month and a half ago when a good friend of mine from BC had come to climb Sisyphus with another friend. When talking about my yearning, she instantly and happily said “I’ll do it again with you.” I remember tearing up thinking how wonderful this human was to even want to do a crazy project like this twice and with someone who just had two kids, knee surgery, and been barely climbing for the last two seasons.
I had to take this chance. Along comes this strong, competent, patient and supportive partner with the added bonus for being female! Something about climbing with another strong woman really brings on the stoke. Before we knew it we had planned the climb for Sept long weekend. Time of year is crucial for this project because you start the first 5 pitches in the sun and the rest in the shade with a potential 15-20 degree swing. Meaning you’re scorching in the heat and then freezing in the shade.
Gear. These are the things I packed.
– comfortable long day climbing shoes, harness, chalk.
– cell phone (there’s reception the whole way up- or else I would have brought a radio- can get windy for communications and when linking pitches.)
– energy snacks (pepperoni sticks, cheese, dried fruit) Sting electrolyte gummies.
– 3L water and 1L electrolyte drink for the climb, 2L for the car to hydrate before and after.
– heavy carb pasta salad for the car ride and pre climb.
-70m Mammut infinity 9.8m rope
– 10 alpine draws, 10 quick draws
– (each climber) gri, atc, 2 cordelettes, 1 metolius PAS, 6locking biners, 1 Prusik line. )
– Medela Breast pump
Route Summary/ Linked Pitches: (Belay stations 7&11 suck)
*Due to my baby brain and circumstances of being in skin foot pain for the majority of the climb my memory of each pitch is blurry. My biggest recommendation when deciding to do this route, climbers should be strong 11 climbers able to onsite low 11’s to be guaranteed success on this climb. The grades are pretty true to YDS grading and when working on such a long project, you have to factor in everything not just the ratings. You have to hike up- and down. You have to endure hot- and cold. You have to hang on belay stations for 20-40min at a time- many times. You have to due 21 pitches of mostly 10’s. It’s not just about climbing a bunch of easy/ moderate routes. It’s a long day, even for strong climbers.
Jennine is a solid onsiting 11 climber with sends on low 12’s and projecting 13’s. Climbing 3-5days at week, pushing grades. She mountain bikes regularly and does a plethora of outdoor things. She’s a fucking badass.
Melba is a solid 10 onsiter with occasional 11 on sites and 12a sends, projects low 12’s. Her current training and fitness level includes moming a 5m old and 2 year old, disc golfing couple times a week, white water kayaking a few times this season and has climbed a handful of times this season- not ideal for preparing physically for Sisyphus but providing an example it’s possible from these two ranges of climbers.
Pitch 1 (10a- Stay low, heady traverse) – Jennine
Pitch 2 (10a) Melba
Pitch 3- 4 (10c/10d- thin face crux) Jennine
Pitch 5-6 (10b/ 10c) Melba
Pitch 7-8 (10c/10d-)Jennine
Pitch 9 (10d) Melba
Pitch 10-11 (10c/5.8), 12-13(5.8/10a), 14-15 (10a), 16-17 (5.9- beautiful ledge, crimp face) 19- 20 (5.9/10b- technical roof Jennine)
Pitch 21 (5.9- slab) Melba
Last Nursing, Saying GoodBye To My Babies…
Since I just had a new baby 5months ago I was still breastfeeding, and though I prepared a few bottles for my New Little Human I wanted to give him a big boost of boob before we left.
This meant we had to stay at home in Calgary and get up 1.5hrs earlier to do this and drive to the base of the climb (versus camping in Canmore and saving the hour drive.)
I also had a mini emotional moment the night before when putting my Big Little Human to bed. I told her I loved her so much and all the wonderful things I loved about her. I told her she was smart, kind and loving and thanked her for being such a good girl and thanked her for always being so helpful and trying so hard.
I find since having children… I fear death more. Not because of death itself… but the permanence of never seeing my spouse and Little Humans again. I fear that I won’t be there to raise them and do all the things I imagined my whole life doing.
The Morning of the Climb. Sept 5, 2020. (One day after my New Little Humans’ 5th month birthday. )
Having about 4hrs of sleep thus began our adventure….
We left at 03:30hrs and arrived at Grassi Lakes parking lot at 04:30hrs. Jennine offered to drive because she’s awesome and considerate of my “mom- fatigue”. It was still dark and we had buffered a little time to get ready, eat and hydrate. We loaded up and started hiking from the base of the trail just around 05:20hrs.
Going at a slow, “Melba pace” meaning 2/3rds the time of an average person we arrived at the base of the climb at 06:30hrs. We were instantly disappointed to see another party of two already working up the first pitch. I had seen another vehicle in the parking lot and hoped it was climbers on another climb or perhaps photographers or hikers trying to get the morning sunrise shot for the Gram.
Often times when multi pitching in the Rockies it’s not recommended to climb below another part due to having a lot of choss/ loose rock.
We took a beat, watched the sunrise and discussed our options and decided to continue with the climb.
Since there was another party in front of us, we had to climb the first few pitches switching single leads instead of linking them.
We were climbing around 06:50hrs Jennine started the first 10a traverse lead. With the first high bolt and uncertainty of the traverse and climb in general I didn’t want to psych myself out too soon. So happy she did that.
I came up second around 07:15hrs. So far, so good we met up at the anchors of the first pitch and reevaluating what to do regarding possibly passing the party ahead and when we would link and swing leads.
The first 10c/d pitches.
By the 7th pitch my heels were starting to really hurt from all the friction. I realized that this was something to consider for next time. TRAIN YOUR FEET SKIN!! Since I spent most of my summer mostly in flip flops and only climbing a few times, my heels and feet were soft rather than calloused which led to a very painful rest of the day.
Pumping Milk on a Multi Pitch
Partway up- I don’t quite remember what pitch – around 11:30 so maybe like pitch 7/8, my milk bags started ringing. Imagine the feeling of one of those deep settled pimples that never pops when you really want to pop it and it’s sore.
We needed to take a break to pump some milk to alleviate the pressure. Normally my 5m old needs every 2 hours and by this point it had been nearly 8hrs since I nursed. Milk is made based on demand so it was important to keep the milk flowing it doesn’t affect production when I get back to the little human.
I almost didn’t bring a pump because I was trying to save space and weight and intended to manually milk myself if needed – but that would have taken much longer and milk would have been everywhere. Which would have resulted in a cold, wet and wasp/ bait for myself. I also could have pumped probably 500ml with how much I’ve been producing but only pumped enough to alleviate some pressure from both sides.
Jennine was also very adamant that the first time she sent Sisyphus they ran out of water and it played a huge part in us staying extra hydrated this time. I told her I got it covered… we can always drink my milk…. hahahaha.
In the end this aspect of the climb I considered pretty magical. I’m not sure how many women can say they’ve pumped milk on the side of a sheer mountain face at 200M/600ft. I mean think of how many breast pumps have even been able to enjoy these views!
I remember after enduring a couple more painful pitches finally saying to Jennine… “I don’t think I can lead the 10d’s anymore…I can’t stand up.” I stayed positive and thought perhaps I could lead the easier 10’s and 9’s, but as the day wore on so did my skin.
By the 12th pitch every small toe hold and step up on slap resulted in a cry of excruciating pain.
By pitch 17th literal tears with each step up. There was a couple sections with nice overhangs and underclings and laybacks but for the most part it was small feet or smearing, which was wonderful for those heels and toes.
It never occurred to me to bail the route. I just knew I had to find ways to mentally and physically deal with pain. Having Jennine as a partner was amazing because she knew even though I was being tortured, I was still having a good time – inside. And I knew she was strong enough and amazing enough to lead the rest of the climbs. I just had to keep going and in my head I knew if for some reason Jennine couldn’t do it I would step up (though I hoped it would not come to that.)
The Story of Sisyphus.
Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a trickster that tried to cheat death multiples times and manipulated the gods. His eventual punishment was to roll a huge boulder up a hill, upon before the gaining the summit it would roll down and kill him. Only to resurrect and repeat this for eternity.
My Mental Motivation.
I know that life happens and we don’t alway expect things to go the way we planned. To offset my physical limitations when achieving goals I regularly practice mental exercises to strengthen my mind.
In this case I knew raising two little kids, while doing life stuff and having difficulty finding climbing patterns willing to climb with kids with matching schedules… I didn’t have the time I needed to train. Ideally I would have climbed 10 climbs a day for 4 days a week for 2 months before this climb. I knew this wasn’t possible so all I did was imagine. I played scenarios in my mind of what I was capable of and what I would do if faced with certain problems.
One of my focuses was- quitting was not an option. Every climb was within my on-site grade, I’ve hiked more than 3 hours before, I’ve endured 10hrs+ of physical challenge before (not including labour). I’ve endured long belays in the blasting heat and freezing cold. I’ve endured dehydration and hunger. I’ve endured pain for more than hours at a time. Everything physically needed to complete this climb… I have done and overcome. Therefore there was no reason I would not finish this.
That was that. I focused on this reasoning when trialing mental for this project and when it was time… I Sisyphused the shit out of my feet and pushed that boulder to the top.
I lead the final slab pitch to the top. In pain, to the very last move. I joked about bailing the route and coming back another day. I waved at hikers dangerously taking selfies at the ridge and I kept rolling the god damned boulder.
We did it! I summited at approximately 17:00hrs making it roughly a 10hr project from base to peak and 18hrs from door to door. (Yes it took me 2 hrs to hike down Ha Ling) omg my knees.
Thank you to amazing friend – pretty much family – Dwayne for hiking to the top and rappelling down to cheer us on and take photos. And also carry most of my gear down!
I was so exhausted hiking down my legs were shaking and I felt like a zombie. I just needed to sit was all I could think. Had a moment to lay down while dwayne got the shuttle vehicle… nap time.
To Jennine, thank you for being so amazing, inspiring, strong and just a funtastic human that I was so privileged to share this tick with. Love you so much for enduring me and doing this again!