The Real Big Drip is a 200-metre mixed route in the Ghost River Valley west of Calgary and is considered a modern mixed classic. The direct ice pillar had never been climbed until this week.
It was established in 1998 by Dave Thomson, Sean Isaac, Eric Dumerac and Kefira Allen. When it was first climbed, it was one of the most difficult routes of its kind.
Over the years it has become a must-climb Rockies winter route. Originally graded WI7 M7+, the mixed pitches now go at M8 with some climbers saying soft M9.
The direct ice pillar has formed in the past but no climber has been brave enough to attempt the often-narrow standing column.
Last year, Stas Beskin was going to attempt it, but the pillar collapsed moments before he started up. This year, he succeeded.
“I have a long lasting relationship with the route,” said Beskin noting that the big first pitch had “made me to turn tail twice already.”
Despite having climbed the direct ice pitch, they didn’t finish the route to the top. “So this this time it wasn’t as dramatic as the last time, but still we bailed from like the middle of route,” said Beskin.
“When we arrived at the base we saw a perfectly solid pillar, giving way for a first ever ‘all ice’ variation to the start. The second ice part didn’t look as good, being a wild, wind twisted icicle with a little river coming out of it.
“I linked two first pitches into one 70-metre pitch, very enjoyable, very featured WI6 with some Medusas to pull over. Arriving to the top I was terrified by the size and the shape of the monster icicle above my head. I tried to build an anchor as far from the line of fire as I could, but it wasn’t possible. I was asking this dagger to stay in place and let us go. It did. I guess I’ll need to get back again.”
Beskin was joined by other climbers, including Jeremy Howey, Danny Julien and photographer Matt Westlake who took a number of great images of Beskin working his way up.
“Was it ready?” Westlake said, “Would it go? We had loose plans to go as three, bringing a tag line for the last if it was a go. The Pillar was large but stable; the water falling from the icicle above pitch three was dripping fierce but a strong wind kept it off the start.
“Beskin took the Pillar by the hand as if to introduce himself as the first person to climb it. Technical, smooth and fast was how it looked from afar. Once a belay was established in the ‘safest’ spot; Danny followed and cleaned to pitch.
“With shifting winds the pillar looked heavy and wet. The run off now falling directly on the belay. The tag was quickly turned into the other half of the 70-metre rappel.”
Beskin travelled up the Icefields Parkway the following day to attempt Curtain Call WI6, where he had a close call.
“The final pillar cracked and went down like 10 cm with me being at the top,” said Beskin. “I down-climbed like five metres from the top.”
Beskin placed only four ice screws in his 70-metre pitch. Ice pillars are often rather dangerous to climb and are sometimes best left alone. Watch John Freeman fall with a collapsing ice pillar here.
The ascent of Real Big Drip Direct is still waiting for a complete go, but Beskin’s ascent of the ice pillar goes down as one of the boldest ice leads in the Rockies in the past decade.