12-Months O’ Swing’n - Climbing Ice Every Month for a Year

Photo - Nathan Smith

Grivel and Beal athlete Alan Rousseau shares photos and stories from his escapades on ice over the last 12 months.

Around March of 2017, after five consecutive months of ice climbing, I looked ahead at my schedule and thought it looked realistic to get 12-months straight of swinging ice tools.  As an IFMGA mountain guide I travel around the world’s ranges lining up trips to fill my calendar.  I was working the 2016-2017 winter in my home range, The Wasatch. The spring was booked in the Alaska Range for April and May.  Then the summer was spent in Chamonix for June, July, and August.  To round out the year my long time expedition partner, Tino Villaneuva and I had secured the Mugs Stump Award and Copp Dash Inspire Award to head to Kashmir for September and October.  This year has been my craziest schedule to date.  I hope you enjoy experiencing the following images of my frozen year filled with hanging belays, spindrift caked hoods, and hot-forged-steel against frozen stone.

Fall of 2016 I felt a previously unparalleled psych for cold alpine climbing.  I had a ton of mixed projects in mind and spent my fall swinging around, bolting sections of Provo Canyon I had seen smears form on in years past.  My training was all ice-tool-centric; I neglected Rocktober, in hopes that I would be climbing ice in November.


This is the first of the twelve-months and it kicked off with a bang.  Nathan Smith (guide book author and Salt Lake climber) called me up and told me there was a big ice route formed in the Beartooths.  The route “Ice Dragons” had seen a number of ascents recently and it was reported to be in fat condition.  We found 1300’ of friendly thick ice in WI3+ condition and it made for a great warm-up to the season.  More details can be found on the Liberty Mountain Blog here.

The next times on ice would proved to be a bit dicier, as they happened around the Salt Lake area quite early in the year.  A normal early season destination for people chomping at the bit the last couple of years has been the “Hell Gate” area in Alta, Utah.  Hell Gate’s high elevation gets snow early in the year, and then the melt freeze cycle creates some fickle frozen drips that never lack excitement. 

Pictured is Niels Meyer on “Hell Froze Over”.  Alta had been experiencing below freezing temps for only 24-hours when this photo was taken.

The last day of the month, was a good one.  I went down to Provo with a friend, Aaron Kurlan. We figured the ice would be too thin and we would probably just drytool.  When we pulled into the lot I saw an ice smear we had bolted in the fall was formed.  We were both bummed we didn’t get an earlier start but threw gear in our packs and made a dash for it.  Getting to the zone we bolted involved climbing a couple pitches of the previously established “Purgatorium” M6 WI6.  The ice was delaminated but the rock gear was reasonable.  From the top of the second pitch, our route deviates left through a few bolts of really technical M7/8 into a roof traverse with a mix of thin ice and big moves on rock.  The next pitch climbs a splitter dihedral that was choked with ice.  I was stoked a route I thought would take a year or two to form went down in November!  We named the route “Devine Mercy” as the climber must travel from “Purgatorium” to “Stairway to Heaven”. 


With December’s arrival the Intermountain West ice season begins in earnest.  I took a couple trips to Bozeman, one of which was with Tino Villanueva as a bit of a training mission for India.  We got to get on some nice routes including the Mummy IV, which was in prime condition mid-December. 

I was also able to red-point another route I bolted this fall “Scenic Byway” M9+ the newest addition to the highway wall in Provo.  A four-bolt roof joins in with the same dagger “Highway to Hell” tops out on.

 Photo: Niels Meyer

January & February:

Generally no-brainer months for ice and this year was fortunately no different.  Guiding and teaching ice festival clinics brought me to Ouray to sample some of their reliable flows.

Also, the final yet to be red-pointed routes that I had bolted in Provo saw ascents.  Two M8/9 routes in Provo’s “Fang Amphitheater” that require spray-ice came into shape.
Mark Pugliese on “Kenny Sloggins” M8/9


In addition to some days on the normal local circuit, I caught the North East face of Storm Mountain in Big Cottonwood Canyon in nice condition at the end of the month.  It’s one of the true alpine ice routes around the Wasatch.  Its upper elevation, and North East exposure generally cause it to form when everyone is complaining about how it’s too warm to ice climb.

Jake Current on the NE Face of Storm


April means the end of Ice Season in most places.  Fortunately, April started a seven-week stint of guiding and personal climbing in the Central Alaska Range.  I was able to guide two successful ascents of “Ham and Eggs” (V WI4, 5.8) to the summit of the Moose’s Tooth, as well as the SW Ridge of Peak 11,300 (V WI3, 5.8).


In May, I teamed up with another local Salt Lake climber Sam Novey. We had ambitious plans of trying the Moonflower Buttress on Mount Hunter and the Infinite Spur on Mount Foraker over a 20-day period. The weather this year in May was very unsettled in the Central Alaska Range.  We attempted The Moonflower four times over 15-days. Each time we were either stormed off, or encountered dangerous avalanche conditions and bailed.  Even on our best effort we had to endure four hours of intense spindrift under a tarp to get in 2,800’ of good climbing on the “Bibler-Klewin route”.

Sam Novey in the Mcnerthney ice dagger, we had both just freed “the prow” our first time on it, but the stoke turned to concern as the snow began to fall.


I arrived back home from Alaska the first day of June, and enjoyed some warm sunny weather for three weeks before the duffels were reloaded and the European Alps season began.  I am based in Chamonix, France for the summer, which is a great place to climb ice during the summer months.  A couple days of cold stormy weather is all it takes for granite corner systems to ice up.  The day after I arrived, I decided to kick jet lag by soloing the central route on the North Face of the Triangle to the top of Mont Blanc du Tacul, followed by the Cosmiques arĂȘte.  At AI3 M3 and probably ~1,500’ of climbing, the central route made for a pleasant way to reconnect with the Mont Blanc Massif.


This summer there was no shortage of cold storms in the Alps.  Tino Villanueva and I managed to sneak in a good morning on some of the chimneys high on the Midi.  We both had to meet clients at noon, but climbed some fun water ice and rime features.  We would have sworn we had been transported to Patagonia.


When I initially hatched this plan of climbing ice all year, I was most worried about August.  I got lucky in the middle of the month when a big, cold, wet system lined up with my days off.  I tried to find partners at the last minute for a mixed route, but came up empty handed.  I decided to solo a route I had climbed a number of times before, the Chere Couloir (WI4- 800’) located on Mont Blanc du Tacul.  The flash-freeze conditions made for thin engaging climbing and an aerated 85-degree crux forced me to hunt around for solid sticks.  Below is a photo from when I had guided it earlier in the season.    


The Chamonix season was an intense one.  On the last day of my season, September 1 (again on the Chere Couloir), I had guided 60 of the last 67 days.  I was glad to have a few down days before heading to India. We arrived in Dehli September 6, and traveled to  the Suru Valley in Kashmir to try the previously unclimbed peak “Rungofarka” (6495M).  Our first attempt was unsuccessful, only climbing about 2,000’ of terrain up to AI5+M5 on Rungofarka’s North Face.  After climbing as far as we could, there were no ledges for a bivouac in sight, and in light snow we retreated on September 25.   

After a few rest days, a high-pressure system moved in and we had changed our objective to the North Ridge.  

It appeared to be steppier and have options for bivouacs.  On September 30th we moved up to our Advanced Base Camp for the night.  Over the next four days we accomplished the first peak ascent of Rungofarka via the North Ridge, a rowdy ~50-pitch route at VI M6 WI4+.  It made for an eventful end to a very cold year.   

The upper crux encountered the fourth day on route at 6300 meters

Our ascent took the left skyline of the peak September 30 - October 4 in alpine style.

For next couple weeks I plan to thaw out, and chill with my wife and our cat.  I’m sure I’ll be ready to lace up the boots in November, and keep the streak alive!

Alan Rousseau is an AMGA, IFMGA, and UIAGM Certified Guide, and member of the Beal and Grivel athlete teams. Learn more about his climbing accomplishments here 


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Gear Review: Beal Phantom Harness

Photo: Gustav Janse van Rensburg

Beal harnesses have yet to become a common sight at US crags, however, with some new additions to the line and easy availability, Beal is poised to be a major player in the harness arena. The newly designed for 2016 Phantom harness falls into the category of lightweight, top of the line sport climbing harnesses. As I packed for my recent sport climbing trip to South Africa, I took a gamble on the Phantom having received a new harness just days before leaving. I yanked the tags off and threw the harness in my pack hoping I wouldn’t regret shelving my old harness without ever roping up in the Phantom. And the result? This thing is not only a solid option in the market, but hands down takes the win as my new favorite harness and my recommendation to anyone looking for the best performance harness out there. Let’s take a closer look at why this harness demands not to be overlooked stacked up against the best of the best. 

Roping up 
I slipped the Phantom on, easily adjusted the stetchy ‘butt straps’ to hold the leg loops where I wanted them and went about my pre-climbing stretching and prepping routine. My turn to rope up came, and I went looking for my harness. A moment of ‘shoot I forgot my harness’ flashed through my mind before I realized ‘wait a minute, I’m already wearing it. Duh.’ That’s how minimalistic and perfectly fitted this harness is. But ultimately the comfort of a harness for ground walking is trumped by taking it into the vertical realm. 

Pitch one 
Love at first climb! As I moved up the rock I tried to pay attention to my sweet new harness to analyze whether I had made the right choice in ditching the harness I previously swore by. Well I had a lot of trouble doing so because I could hardly tell I was wearing a harness at all. At the top of the pitch I called take and weighted the harness for the first time. Perfection. The leg loops and waist belt stayed snug distributing the pressure evenly without digging in or pinching my… family jewels. But fortunately, I did not fall on my warm up so testing was left to be done. 

Photo: Aimee Belt

Catching big air 
The line I was working on my trip was not for the faint of heart as the crux demanded skipping two clips in a row and facing a 40 footer if I blew the final fierce move to clip the next bolt. I blew it. Over and over and over. Guess what? I’m writing this review now, so the harness did its job. The whips were so buttery smooth and comfy that I could just about get away with chalking up my redpoint failures to simply wanting to build up frequent flyer miles in the Phantom. Just about. 

Day in, day out 
For better or worse, I spent an awful lot of time putting the Phantom through the ringer with big whips and lots of hanging on bolts. I never once complained about my hips hurting. Even shirtless I could go all day without experiencing any of the dreaded chaffing or looking like I was wearing a red skin belt at the end of the day. Near the end of the trip when the temperatures started to rise, I got to check out the breathability of the harness and was mega impressed. I didn’t even get the sexy sweat ring on my t-shirt I’ve experienced in many harnesses. 

For comparisons I will stack the Phantom up against the lightest performance harnesses from Petzl (Sitta and Hirundos) and Black Diamond (Zone). 

I list this first as some readers may have heard enough about how awesome the Phantom is already and this final factor will put them over the edge and on the way to the gear shop. The Phantom comes in at a killer pricepoint of 69.95! The Black Diamond Zone or the Petzl Hirundos will set you back 99.95 And the Petzl Sitta costs a baffling 169.95. 

The Phantom comes in at 325 grams (size medium) compared to 298 g for the Black Diamond Zone, 280 g for the Petzl Hirundos and 270 g for the Petzl Sitta. This makes the Phantom the heaviest of the bunch by 25-55 grams. If less than an ounce of weight makes the difference between sending or falling, take one less sip of water or snip a few strands of hair off before you leave the ground. Practically speaking, the Phantom is right on par with the lightest of the light. 

Photo: Dirk Smith

This has always been a downfall of Petzl harnesses for me. The leg loops on a small are way too tight but the waist belt of a medium cinches to the buckle and could stand to be tighter. Keep in mind I’ve got the standard rock climber’s chicken legs so I’ve never quite understood this. The Beal Phantom, however, allows me to wear a size small and the leg loops fit perfect. I find the same with Black Diamond harnesses and looking at the spec sheets of each harness shows the same. Size the Phantom as you would for a BD harness and as you wish you could for a Petzl. 

Best in class, hands down. Beal attributes the comfort to ‘Web-Core’ technology meaning the loops of the harness are each a single structural component (as best as I understand). I call it the first night at home in your comfy bed after sleeping on a camping pad in the dirt. 

Gear loops 
The gear loops are the perfect blend of rigid and flexible. A plastic piece fits over a webbing loop meaning the four gear loops stay open perfectly. This is similar to the BD design but the key difference is that the plastic part stops farther from the waist belt so the loops are free to move with your body. I find the BD design good but a little clunky compared to the Beal. The Petzl loops are stiff, not as accessible and the rear loops are too small. 

To some extent durability is always going to be reduced if you want the lightest gear out there. The Phantom is right on point with the durability of the lightweight options from Petzl and Black Diamond, having worn each of those brands extensively. With this said, I do not find any of the lightweight harness to scream durable. If you are a weekend climber, this harness will last you years. Full time climbers, not as long as you might like, but again, on par with the other leading brands. 

The most important consideration, right? The Phantom is the perfect blend flashy and subtle. The gear loops are neon green for the flash factor and the belt and loops are a flat black with subtle green highlights so you don’t feel like you’re blinding people with neon but still have a touch of flare.

Wrap up 
I would list a pros and cons of the harness, but frankly, there are no cons, only pros. The Beal Phantom is the best lightweight, high performance harness on the market. Go buy one now. Enough said. 


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