Ice Climbing BC – The Plum suffer trip

The Plum WI5 stands for 300m of superb ice climbing. Located in a north-facing gully and almost always in shape. It should be on your list when you’re planning ice climbing in BC.

In February 2018, I’ve come back to Whistler, BC to pursue my “career” [career of a professional mountain goat].

I went to study the Retail and Manufacturing Program at Whistler Adventure School. [I’ve described it in depth here:]

Whistler is not for serious people. Whistler is a wild ride!

No worries, you are not reading the journal of a ski bum. I’ve have something better. Ice climbing.

How has it started

I was sitting on a hostel sofa, searching for a climbing buddy. After a couple of weeks of spamming the local climbing community, I’ve found a victim!

He had 4 wheels, gear and high level of stoke. He committed to come from Vancouver for a weekend on ice with a total stranger. Dorian has a courage!

Five days later, I waited eagerly for a pickup it the hostel cafe. I didn’t know what we are about to climb however, I didn’t care. I was on fire for ice climbing.

Dorian finally came. I’ve shook his hand, threw my stuff in the trunk and springed into the truck.

During the drive, I had realized that he didn’t have idea either. We knew we are driving to Birken and that was good enough. The drive took long enough to make up the plan. When the Birken Valley opened up we knew we were at the right place.

We have arrived at the hostel. If you knew how big Birken is, you would ask me: “What? Hostel in Birken?”

Even when Birken has probably 10 inhabitants, it has a hostel called Shiloh-works. It’s quite nice. 25$ for a night and if you come from your mountain tour blue enough, the host lady will fire up the hot tub for you.

The close call

After quick registration, we were ready to jab some ice. I was a bit over motivated after a long time of waiting for this. When I’ve seen the White Blotter WI5+ in the guide book, it hasn’t taken a long time, until I made my head up to lead it.

White Blotter BC
White Blotter WI5+

We’ve packed our gear, and headed to towards White Blotter. However, we were late for a south-facing ice. Boy, we were way too late. We’ve got under the ice shortly before 1 PM. The ice was already falling apart. During my speech about ice instability, a huge truck-sized chunk of ice has fallen down. It was time to wrap up and head back to the hostel.

As we were eating our instant dinner, the host lady has called us outside. “Hey, guys do you see those 2 lights in the middle the mountain?”

“They are ice climbers on The Plum. They’ve mismanaged the time and now they must rappel in the dark.”

We looked at each other and said: “We will go early in the morning. This will not happen to us.”

That lady is watching these lights almost every night during the ice season. Next day, she has watched us.

People are terrible estimators.

Yes, we were too.

We woke up at 4:30, ate breakfast, jumped in the truck and drove towards our mission. We were at the parking 6 AM sharp. This was the last moment when we were on time. The next part of the story is chaos.

We have crisscrossed the Forrest up until we’ve reached the bottom of the climb. It took us 2 hours instead of 40 minutes.

“Prepare for the long day”, the guidebook says.

With this in mind, we tried not to waste too much time at the base of the climb. We’ve geared up, Dorian tied in and start leading the first and second WI3 pitch.

The ice was in prime shape. Fat, blue and hard. Hard enough for some “dinner plates”

“Dinner plates” occurs when the ice is cold and contracted. When you swing your axe into ice like this, it cracks around and falls apart. Directly on your nose.

Broken noses, The Plum WI5, BC
Broken noses from “dinner plates”

In the cold conditions like these, blood gets solid quite quickly, so you will not paint your new jacket too much:-]

The next step was my call. Pitch 3 is graded as WI4, pitch 4 is considerably easier. On the third pitch, you can choose your line. The flow is broad.

I don’t like easy options, so I’ve opted for the left line, which have long consistently steep section. It’s almost vertical, so you can get your desired lactic acid pump.

The Plum WI5, Birken, BC
Leading 3rd pitch, The Plum WI5

After 4th pitch, there is a fairly easy single pitch step. Dorian took his lead with a breeze.

A brief route description

The Plum consists of 4 ice steps in the north-facing gully. The entire climb has 300 meters of ice, divided into 7 superb pitches. It is a great example of ice climbing in BC.

It starts with a grade WI3 than it turns to WI4 and finishes up with WI5 grand finale.

This climb takes quite long mostly because of transitions. Switching between climbing and walking in the deep snow up the gully takes time. Once you top out, the only way down is to walk and rappel the same way.

There are secure anchors along this route. They are from trees and they are obvious.

My advice is not to use the bushy tree anchor on the left of the final pitch. Rather walk up and right, where you can see anchor from a tall tree. If you have 70m long ropes, you can rappel the final 2 pitches at once. If I knew that, our adventure would be suffer-free.

The Grand Finale

The view of the final tier has a wow factor.

The Plum WI5, Birken, BC
The Plum WI5, Birken BC – the final tier

I’ve never seen anything massive like this before. Yet, I was convinced to lead it.

I’ve slowly eaten my dinner while glaring at that massive thing. I’ve done my best not to get into the thinking process. I knew what the result will be. I’ve put on my gear, stuck every unnecessary gram of weight into my pack [including the headlamp] and calmly tied onto the rope.

I’ve climbed first pitch of this tier [claimed as WI3] fairly effortlessly. After that, I’ve tied myself to the anchor on the left and belayed Dorian to second up.

The final 50m tall WI5 pitch looked mushroomy but solid. Quite scary in my eyes, considering the fact, I don’t know where to place ice screws. In the mushroom? Under it? I had no clue, but I didn’t want to turn around.

I’ve started to climb my sketchy pitch. Looking up, looking down, climbing, placing the screws in a random pattern. Mostly to the top parts of the mushrooms as I thought I should treat the mushrooms as ice bulges. Fortunately, I haven’t fallen into my weak protection.

After a good amount of suffering, I’ve made it to the top.

Hell yeah, I’ve done it!

I felt electrified. That was an intense feeling. All my fear and worry were gone. I felt proud of myself. What an epic climb!

I’ve tied up myself to the bushy tree anchor on the left and joyfully belayed Dorian to second it up.

That damn bushy tree anchor on the left.

Now it was only to rappel down entire route and get to the Truck. That sounds easy. However, that damn bushy tree had a treat for us.

Till we rappeled down the last pitch to the anchor in the middle of the final tier, it got dark. Our headlamps were in our backpacks at the bottom of the tier. This would be no problem if our rope didn’t get stuck.

We were pulling the correct rope end down, unsuccessfully.

There was no progress at all, so Dorian started bungee jumping on one end, while I had the other end on belay. Nothing happened. Somebody had to climb up again, without a belay.

I was tired, thirsty, hungry and without the headlamp. Dorian also. However, I knew, it was my ordeal.

Always carry a headlamp with you.

I’ve taken my Reverso, hanged my tools onto my harness, laced both ends of the rope through and pushed myself up the wall by my legs. Biceps were pumped from jacking that Reverso after every squat but it didn’t matter. My objective was to get to the anchor.

After a pretty intense while, I’ve reached the drag. I’ve taken out my cell phone to use its flashlight and inspect the problem.

Surprise! One rope was stuck in a rock crack and completely peeled of the sheath on 3 meters. I was hanging in the air on the rope strings only.

Not the right time to freak out.

My survival mode has kicked in.

I knew, I can’t allow my mind to think. That might end up tragically.

Dorian was shouting at me while freezing at the anchor. “Adam what’s happening?”. I knew I cannot share what I’ve discovered. It was hard to hear me properly and my information could be understood wrong. Moreover, I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to get out from there.

So I’ve unstuck the rope, moved damaged section to hang freely in the air and rappeled down with the lightning speed.

I’ve made it down to Dorian, secured myself to the anchor and told my scary story to my buddy. It was revealing feeling to be safe again.

We’ve effortlessly pulled the rope down, and rappeled down the rest of the route. When we reached the truck at the parking lot, it was 10:30 PM. Our climb took 14,5 hours. As the guidebook says: “Prepare for a long day”

Proficient comeback

Year after that, I’ve come to climb the Plum again, but this time with proficiency.

I’ve found an experienced climber at one ice climbing group named Pascal. This guy climbs WI7. In other words, he’s another level.

I’ve improved too. For instance, I’ve climbed a lot since my Plum suffer trip. I’ve also trained in the boulder gym with Furnace Industries Dry Ice tools.

Furnace Industries training - Blockhelden

I felt much stronger.

As a result, we’ve climbed The Plum WI5 in just 7 hours, car to car. What a difference?

We’ve soloed the first WI3 step and simul-climbed the third step. I’ve led the second WI4 tier easily, and Pascal has linked two pitches of the final tier in a single climb.

We’ve rappeled down from the tall tree on the right and got back to the car around 2 PM.

Job well done. Time for a famous One Mile Burger. The preferred choice on how to wrap up Ice Climbing in BC.

Mile One Burger

To begin with Ice climbing requires good amount of effort. However, once you get onto the ice, your life packs up with unforgettable adventures and stories. Here are my first steps:

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