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New Climb Gets Elusive WI7, Here’s Some Grade History

Several climbs have been assigned WI7 over the years, with some being downgraded and a few maintaining the grade

Johannes Kehrer and Martin Sieberer recently made the first ascent of Smooth Criminal in the Floitental in Austria. The difficult 150-metre route earned the grade of M9 WI7-.

The two established the first few pitches using mostly trad with a few bolts a few years ago and returned this year to push the route to the top before returning to free it. The 45-metre third pitch gets M7 WI7- and climbs runout ground past three bolts. The first 60-metre pitch gets WI5+, the second 25-metre pitch gets M9 and the last 30-metre pitch is WI5+. For more photos of the first ascent visit here.

The ice climbing grade of WI7 is rare, but not unheard of. Gimme Shelter on Mount Quadra in the Canadian Rockies was one of the first routes ever to get a WI7 when climbed in 1982. A repeat ascent in 2016 confirmed the grade: “The crux for us came at pitch five. We graded it WI7. Not a number I have ever used in my past before, nor Dave. But I can say it with a straight face.” Read more here.

Riptide on Mount Patterson in the Canadian Rockies was given WI7R by the first ascent team in the 1980s, but has since been graded WI6 by repeat ascenders. Sea of Vapors on Mount Rundle was given WI7 by the first ascent team, but has been called WI6. The “easier” grades are likely a result of changing ice conditions and improvements to ice climbing gear and protection.

In 1988, Mark Twight made the first ascent of The Reality Bath on the White Pyramid with Randy Rackliff, which remains one of the most dangerous and unrepeated ice routes in the Rockies. They graded it WI7, but many argued the grade at the time. The route has been described by Canadian Rockies guidebook author, Albi Sole as “so dangerous as to be of little value except to those suicidally inclined.” And guidebook author Joe Josephson said, “The Reality Bath is undoubtedly the most dangerous ice route in the range,” in his book Waterfall Ice. It climbs under huge seracs.

Rights of Passage on the northwest face of Mount Kitchener is a 1,000-metre alpine ice route opened by Eric Dumerac and Philippe Pellet in 2002. It’s graded IV M5 WI 7+, and has two pitches of WI7+ (read the first ascent story here). Other WI7 routes include the seven-pitch Lion, Witch, and The Wardrobe M12 WI7 in Newfoundland, the five-pitch Solbærtoddy WI7X in Norway, the four-pitch Lipton WI7 in Norway, and the two-pitch Shooting Star M9 WI7 in Colorado.

Approaching The Reality Bath. Photo Mark Twight collection

About WI7, Will Gadd said here, “With very thin or bad ice ‘head damage’ also came into play in ice grades. Very thin pillars that could fall down were given WI7 or something, even though they often weren’t that much harder, just more dangerous.”

Famed alpine climber Jack Roberts wrote in Colorado Ice, “WI7 is vertical to overhanging ice that is thin, poorly bonded to the surface beneath it, and offers only imaginary protection from leader falls. Protection is difficult to place or non existent. Setting up belays requires a very high level of expertise, and climbing skills demand creativity. This rating might also apply to climbs who’s main technical problem is the successful ascension of curtains of ice requiring creative techniques to climb and place protection. This grade applies to only a handful of climbs in Colorado, and these have not seen enough repeats for them to be a consensus WI7. However they do represent ice climbing on the cutting edge.”

And Freedom of the Hills describes it as, “A full pitch of thin vertical or overhanging ice of dubious adhesion. An extremely tough pitch, physically and mentally, requiring agility and creativity.”

After Smooth Criminal, Sieberer went on to make the first ascent of a serious new alpine rock route on the north face of Schrammacher (3,410 m) in Tyrol, Austria, with Simon Messner. They graded the crux UIAA 8-, which translates to 5.12a in North America. They named the 10-pitch 450-metre climb Goodbye, Innsbrooklyn.