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"Always one hand, two feet," he says, referring to moving both feet up for every one strike of the tool. His expert form makes quick work of the first pitch.
"You always want to minimize the number of strikes, they use a surprising amount of energy and over a long day you'll be swinging hundreds, even thousands of times. It takes it out of you."
McSorley anchors himself to a nearby tree, pulls up the excess rope and gives me the all clear.
Here we go.
The first few steps seem a little strange, but the ice isn't too steep so I'm still in my comfort zone. I approach the first wall and see hardened pockets littered all over, evidence of the many climbers passing through this winter. The tools place securely, the ice sticking almost like plastic against the sharp steel picks. I aim for the concave ice, the hardened depressions being less likely to fracture or "dinner plate" than the convexities. I reach the first bench and high-five my guide on a job well done. But we're just getting started.
The next cascade climbs higher and steeper, but I'm still feeling confident with plenty of strength left in my forearms. I feel a pinch creeping into my calves, a symptom of repeatedly walking and balancing on the toe blades of my crampons, what I later learn is called "front pointing" or "German technique." I try my best to tighten up my haphazard form and give my limbs a chance to rest in between moves.
As I crest over the next bench I see my ultimate goal for today. The last two pitches were just a warm up for what lays ahead. A massive cascade with a 15-metre pillar of vertical ice looms over me, goading me with its grandeur. McSorley dances up the pillar with as little effort as the previous two climbs, his attention focused on avoiding brittle candle-like icicles formed on the outside of the column. He sets the anchor above to secure me with a top rope, meaning if I make mistake I'll only fall the stretch of the rope rather than to certain injury.
This is my first attempt at true vertical ice and I have already made the mistake of underestimating its difficulty, or perhaps overestimating my own abilities. McSorley yells encouragement from his belay position, safely out of the range of coffee cup-sized chunks of ice that rain down below me. The feeling of desperation I recall from my days of rock climbing begins to take over. Can I really do this? I repeat my mantra "one hand, two feet" over and over to conserve as much energy as I can. I wiggle the tool in my right hand to remove it for my next strike and as it dislodges suddenly, the hammer on the back of the axe glancing off my sunglasses leaving me momentarily dazzled but unharmed.
May 24, 2013, 2:05 PM
Locals frustrated by damage to village; police log 17 cases of mischief over one night More...
May 24, 2013, 2:00 PM
Course to be announced at mandatory athlete meeting Sat. 6 p.m. at the GLC More...
May 24, 2013, 2:00 PM
Eight candidates were nominated for three positions on the Board More...