Vail Valley mountaineers recount near summit of Quebec’s Golden Apple |

Vail Valley mountaineers recount near summit of Quebec’s Golden Apple

Erik Weihenmayer says the ice face has turned into 'a great white whale' for me

Erik Weihenmayer is one of the world’s foremost mountaineers. He also happens to be blind.

That didn’t stop him from summiting the world’s tallest peak, Mt. Everest, with the help of the Vail Valley’s Eric Alexander and a host of others. But amid all that success, sometimes the best stories begin with those almost-successes, like their second assault on La Pomme d’Or — The Golden Apple, a spectacular 1,200-foot ice face along Quebec’s Rivière Malbaie.

The ice is hard (Grade 5) and so is the climb.

Weihenmayer and Alexander are both sought-after mountaineers and motivational speakers. They had some time between events, the weather looked promising, so why not?

“It has turned into a bit of a ‘great white whale’ for me — two attempts have yet to get me to the summit, after a total shutdown in 2018 and a near miss this time,” Weihenmayer wrote in a blog post.

Weihenmayer and Alexander added Joseph Hobby, a young, fast, motivated guide from Utah with whom Weihenmayer has been ice climbing all winter.

We left before dawn, abandoning the comfort of our lovely rustic accommodations at the Auberge le Relais des Hautes Gorges,” Weihenmayer said. “It was tough to leave — the lodge is warm and inviting, serving up old-world classics like Duck Confit, hot toddies, and stick-to-your-ribs leek soups. But we had a mission, and knew our best chance of success lay in an early start.”

The clear conditions keeping the ice together were also freezing their toes. A warming hut near the climb saved their digits, Weihenmayer said.

“Poor Joseph, dealing with blisters, had to walk the road in his running shoes instead of insulated climbing boots, and his little piggies went to the market and never really returned,” Weihenmayer said.

When Weihenmayer tried this climb last year, warmer temperatures sent chunks of rock and ice “bombing down the gully with ill intent.”

This year, though, the ice was sticky and totally perfect. However, they did have to contend with the cold and unrelenting arctic wind. One of the first pitches they tackled was mostly unprotected from those elements, and also included a swinging fall.

They made that and were climbing strong. Alexander was doing an expert job calling out placements for Weihenmayer’s ice climbing tools.

They were close to the summit — just one pitch away — when the light began to fade.

“According to my sighted partners we were all out of light,” Weihenmayer said. “Finishing the final pitch would have meant a scary lead for Joseph and a complex descent in the darkness.”

Weihenmayer said he was feeling summit fever, but the crew thought better of it.

“Cooler (and more sighted) heads prevailed, and we pulled the plug, reversed course and began the long trek back to the Auberge,” Weihenmayer said.

Weihenmayer said that someday he’ll summit La Pomme d’Or.

“But the top is sort of beside the point. As with most summits, the real adventure is found along the way,” he said. “And anyway, I think the view from the top is overrated.

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