La Pomme d'Or
by Jim Lawyer
So, I met this dude Will Mayo via email. He's the editor of NEice.com with his buddy Doug Millen. We got to talking and one thing led to another; pretty soon we had weekend plans to do the direct variation to La Pomme d'Or in the East Charlevoix region of Quebec.
We met at an exit south of Montreal and proceeded to get totally lost navigating around Montreal. After losing an hour, we made it to Quebec City and, once again, got lost in the downtown area. To make a long story short, I made it to Jean's place 12 hours after leaving Syracuse. This area is certainly not a place to go on a weekend.
Jean is a friend of Guy Lacelle's and runs a small bunk house for climbers. She is rare for this region in that she speaks both English and French; most of the people in this rural area speak no English. She arranged for the next leg of our journey with Roland, the guy that takes you in to the Hautes Gorge area on his snowmobile.
We got a few hours of sleep and were up at 3:45 AM. At 5:00 AM we met Roland and discovered that we were to share our ride with another climbing party that was after the same route. That makes 5 people on a snowmobile, which Roland has cleverly solved by attaching a sled to the back of his snow mobile. It's not really a sled, more like a plywood box on skis with a wood bench.
We didn't know how we were going to cope with two parties after the same route, but I trusted that something civilized could be worked out when we got there. That problem was quickly forgotten, however, as soon as the snowmobile started off. Roland drives absolutely as fast as he possibly can over endless hard packed bumps -- much like the bumps on a black diamond ski trail. Anyone riding in the tow-behind sled/box gets completely pummelled, which turns out to be the crux of climbing this route. This goes on for more than an hour, as the climb is 26 miles from the nearest road. After arriving, Jim and Evan (the two climbers that rode the box on the way in) could hardly walk. Evan thought he broke a rib.
Will and I started off at top speed through the talus and, 45 minutes later, were at the base of the route where we found a third climbing party. Doh! Dean and Mark had rented snowmobiles and arrived 90 minutes earlier hoping to scoop the route. For some reason, they were taking their time and didn't start climbing the first pitch until we arrived. Will and I solo-climbing past them and were soon droping large chunks of ice down onto the other two parties. The first pitch is 3+, the second pitch probably WI2 with some bare rock sections. We arrived at the base of the "ramp" where the hard climbing starts ahead of the other two parties. In fact, Jim and Evan had recovered from their sled/box ordeal and also solo-climbed past the first party and arrived just as Will was starting up the ramp pitch -- about 75 meters of 5-. When he ran out of rope, we started simul-climbing. I'd never simul-climbed WI5 before, and we had packs too.
At the top of the ramp, Will pulled out a baggie of pot that he had stashed at the base of the route and proceeded to get baked. The Lacalle variation had a large 4" horizontal fracture and was unsafe to climb, so we opted for the normal route. Leaving my pack here, I start off up the crux 5+ pitch and was quickly absorbed in the difficulty of the climbing. The ice was partially melted out and difficult to protect. Totally pumped, I arrived at the belay and brought Will up. I asked about Dean and Mark and how pissed they were about getting skunked. He said they didn't mind so much; I looked down to see them collapsed in a giggling heap, completely stoned. I guess we won't be hearing from them for a while.
Will started up the next 5+ pitch which, again, was a bit melted out. Will is a master of steep ice terrain...he puts in adequate protection and runs it out, always looking exceptionally smooth and confident. Lucking the belay was protected from falling ice, as tons of it went crashing down to the lower sections of the route. Jim and Evan climbed an easier variation to the left and were quickly out of the line of fire. Dean and Mark were still mellowing...I don't know how they survived the onslaught of ice being dropped by us.
I followed the pitch and, with my arms cramping, yielded the next WI5 lead to Will. This pitch led up to a rock roof which was pulled strenuously on the right into a large rock cave. One could easily bivy here, assuming one could actually hoist up bivy gear. The route led up the side of the cave, then out the mouth to a pillar that leads to the top.
We arrived at the top at 1:00 PM and decided to wait for Jim and Evan so we could rappel as a single party. Will was working on smoking all of his weed because I wouldn't allow him to bring the remainder back across the border. He smoked at each belay, then smoked continuously while waiting for Jim and Evan. Jim and Evan said they never met anyone who could smoke so much pot.
While rapping the fifth pitch, we came across Dean and Mark, who seemed to be moving extremely slow. Mark had taken some Valium and was pretty lethargic. We rapped past them, using in-place piton anchors to the top of the ramp. After that, we used v-threads.
We made it back to the river about 5:30 PM. Just as it was getting dark, Dean topped out. Will was still smoking, trying to use it all up before Roland arrived.
Roland arrived at 7:00 PM. Jim and Evan were so motivated *not* to ride in the sled/box that they traded us their ropes for the privilege of riding on the snowmobile. What a mistake that was. I can't express how much it sucked...I'll have a sore back for a week and it hurts to sit.
Arriving at the car, we packed up and drove back to Montreal. I dropped off Will at about 1:00 AM and proceeded down to Tad's place, arriving about 3:00 AM. I woke up Ade, Susan, and Simon with, "Let's go climbing"...they were amused but Yager (Susan's 80 pound dog) was not impressed.