Swiss Duo on a Rampage in Canada

By Dougald MacDonald ,

At the Hardwear Sessions blog, Steck wrote that he took 40 minutes to lead the crux second pitch, where, “The climbing is not that hard but very unstable. The hooks are small and slippery.” After another mixed pitch, the two faced the psychological crux, a 59-meter pitch of WI5+, with very poor protection. Another M6+ on Rocketman and two 50-meter ice pillars gained the top.

“I have never climbed a mixed route that’s so interesting,” Steck said. “You know, in Europe you have maybe three or four easy ice pitches and then a huge overhang. Here the climbing is very much from beginning to the end interesting.”

The two Swiss climbers had spotted the new line while making an ascent of Riptide (225m, VI WI7 R), a seldom-repeated testpiece of thin, hollow ice, where the difficulty is as much psychological as physical.

Before that, they snagged the second ascend of the major new route Polarity on the North Face of Mt. Snowdome, adding an extremely steep finish on bulletproof serac ice. Cory Richards, Dana Ruddy, and Ian Welsted had made the first ascent of this much-eyed line in mid-October, but had retreated from underneath the seracs. Anthamatten and Steck soloed the first 500 meters of the enormous route as snow fell steadily, and then roped up for the vertical ice. After many pitches of ice, enlivened by a huge pillar breaking off right next to the climbers, they reached the serac band where the first-ascent team had turned around.

Ueli Steck leading the wild serac roof at the top of Polarity on Mt. Snowdome, about 2,500 feet off the ground. Steck’s lead added 50 meters of hard climbing to the route, which had been established less than a week earlier. Photo by Simon Anthamatten, courtesy of

At the Hardwear Sessions blog, Steck wrote, “The ice roof on the next pitch looked scary. I understand why they didn’t want to climb it. When Simon arrived on the belay he told me he would not want to climb the next pitch…. I decided at least to try it. I will maybe not have any other chance to climb a pitch like this on a big alpine route!

“Here it was hard glacier ice. So the ice was always cracking and splitting. When I started to climb I knew exactly that everything could break and I could fall off.... But I kept going. The roof was then totally fun. It was real climbing!”

The two stopped just below the giant snow cornice on top of the wall, adding 50 meters of climbing to Polarity. “Maybe one day the cornice will be smaller and somebody will top out on the summit another 10 meters,” Steck wrote. After 800 meters of rappelling, they were back at the car at 6:15 p.m., 12 hours and 15 minutes after leaving.

Dates of Ascents: October 2007

Sources: Ueli Steck,, Waterfall Ice

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Dream team: The Swiss climbers Simon Anthamatten (left) and Ueli Steck celebrate another success in Canda. Photo by Ueli Steck, courtesy of

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