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Weekend Whipper: Falling Ice Causes Upside-Down Gear Ripper

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“The trick … is cleaning without getting cleaned yourself.” I listened to these words from the Canadian ice maestro, Will Gadd, earlier this week as he hooked his way up a rarely formed WI 6, Mythologic, in British Columbia.

Gadd, of course, is explaining the struggles of climbing newly formed ice. Before the medium is strong enough to hold a climber’s weight, icicles varying from toothpick thin to tree trunk thick can hang about, serving as obstacles to clean away—or time bombs to avoid.

If only this week’s whipper had heard Gadd’s words.

Per Sjönell was climbing near Sundsvall, in central Sweden, next to the ice route Barnbergspelaren (Child Mountain Pillar). The pillar was still growing and thus too serious to lead, so Sjönell racked up for a thinly iced corner to the right. The filmer, Mats Englund, told Climbing that the corner had been attempted several times before but remained unclimbed.

Sjönell took a small whipper on his first attempt, but a well-placed piton at hip height (the highest piece in this video) arrested his fall.

Motivated now, Sjönell lowers, pulls the rope, and ties in for a second attempt.

He holds fast through his highpoint and stabs his left foot out to a snowy ledge. With one tool firmly planted and easier ground in sight, Sjönell looks relaxed. He begins clearing away the icicles overhead…

The trick … is cleaning without getting cleaned yourself.

Sjönell isn’t so fortunate. A larger-than-expected chunk of ice breaks free from the dagger and nails him squarely on the right ice tool. His tool rips, feet blow, and he’s airborne.

Ping! Ping! His highest pieces, two pitons, rip free and he clips a ledge. It sends him backwards. Sjönell is inches from cratering when his third piece—a skinny, slung column, of all things—saves him from a broken neck.

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Lessons Learned

What did Sjönell take away from this incident? He says that placements while winter climbing can be very difficult to judge. The highest piton, for example, held the first fall but ripped on the second. He visually inspected it as he climbed past the second time “but I should have taken a moment and given it a couple of solid hits with the axe to listen to the sound.” The slung ice pillar, which Sjönell said he did not trust at all, was surprisingly sturdy.

Sjönell also notes that after his first fall he should have tied into the opposite end of his rope for the next attempt. “The rope was stretched out and some dynamic stretch was lost,” he said. And finally, Sjönell acknowledges that “the cleaning of the ice pillars should have been limited to the small ones. One ice screw could, and should, have been placed before that cleaning was done” and could have drastically changed the outcome of the fall.

Sjönell walked away unharmed, thankfully, and recorded this video further describing the fall.

Happy Friday, and be safe out there this weekend.

Readers, please send your whipper videos, information, and any lessons learned to Anthony Walsh, awalsh@outsideinc.com.

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