Canadian WI 8 Repeated
Canada’s only WI 8 ice climb saw its first repeat earlier this year when Ben Firth, Eamonn Walsh and Greg Thaczuk climbed Rights of Passage on the north face of Mt. Kitchener. This 3,200-foot climb was established by Canadian Eric Dumerac and Frenchman Philippe Pellet in October 2002, they same month they climbed a new route on the Emperor Face of Mt. Robson with Barry Blanchard. The pair reported two pitches of WI 8 on a 110-degree overhanging headwall of hard glacial ice around 2,600 feet up the face.
The Canadian trio repeated Rights of Passage in late June. “We were intrigued by the obvious nature of the line [which locals had been trying for two decades] as well as the proposed grade of the two crux pitches,” Firth said. After racing up the moderate difficulties of the first 2,600 feet in just three hours, the three rock-scissor-papered for the first crux lead. Firth won. He found overhanging ice for 30 to 40 meters, broken by a thin ledge midway. After two hours, “I reached a belay ledge with the appetizing combination of a rock-hard pump in the forearms and a wrist-to-fingertip set of screaming barfies," he said. “Surprisingly, I had linked both crux pitches without having known better.” Easier ice led to the top.
As for the unprecedented WI 8 rating, Firth said the three weren’t sure what to think. “This was unlike any other pure water-ice line we had climbed,” he said. Firth explained that the ice was the most physically demanding he had ever attempted—his feet cut out beneath him many times as he climbed the overhanging ice wall—but the compact ice also offered excellent protection. “This begs the question if ice lines are or should be graded according to the physical ability required to climb them or the capacity to deal with minimal pro with insecure sticks,” he concluded. “I would propose that the latter be more difficult.”