Truancy: (noun) the condition of being absent without permission.
Despite the apparent absence of mountains, New Brunswick is gifted with a few key ingredients for ice climbing; Appalachian geology, cold winters, plenty of precipitation, and most importantly diehard locals.
On a cloudy Monday in February, Lucas Toron and I had finished a day of ice in the Fundy Highlands when we decided to do a little bit of recon in a nearby gully. Years before, while attempting to find the well trodden Parlee Brook ice climbing area, I had accidently snowshoed into this smaller gully and I saw a 50 foot hanging dagger suspended perilously above a cave. I wasn’t an ice climber back then and the sight of it was terrifying and awe inspiring. It dangled 40 feet off the ground – and touch down seemed improbable. I continued to check in on the dagger over the years but never saw it form into a pillar. Very few had heard of the dagger and those who did had never seen it touch but. But 2010 was a weird season for ice and so Lucas and I thought we’d check it out anyway.
Unweighted by our packs, Lucas and I skipped up the dry creek bed into the gully and then swam through chest deep powder. As we rounded the last bend in the rock wall, the hanging dagger began to reveal itself. Bit by bit the dagger came into view, lengthening by the meter until finally our eyes followed dripping water down to its thick base. Over 30 metres of vertical ice stretched to the roof the cave. Our jaws dropped and our exclamations trailed off into the sound of splattering water in the cave. We stared at each other speechless as we stood beneath the biggest, baddest pillar of ice we’d ever seen. It felt like the immense weight of the ungainly pillar would come crashing down at any moment. It was dusk and time to get home. We walked home with a pit of anxiety in our stomachs. We needed to come back soon, the Maritime climate wreaks havoc on ice and if we waited too long it may be the last time we ever see it.
We called around to some friends. The first on the list is Cory Hall who jumps at the opportunity. Cory’s an upbeat young climber with the focus of a bomb squad and drive of a mule team. The weekend before we’d watched as he attempted one of NB’s hardest routes. His tools dinnerplated 10 feet above his last screw and he took a 30 foot whipper, stopping just shy of the rocky beach. This turned into a mini epic as we rushed to retrieve his screws and climb frozen mud to escape the quickly rising Bay of Fundy tides.
On Wednesday night Cory visited our friend and local ice hero Joe Kennedy to pick up a replacement part for his ice tool that was damaged by his fall. Cory remembers talking to Joe that night, avoiding the topic of the pillar that we were planning to climb the next day. None of us realized that we were about to steal Joe’s 20 year project and perhaps the Maritimes best line…oops.
On Thursday Cory skipped school, Lucas called in sick to work, and I shrugged off my responsibilities. Ontario ice climber Andriy Kolos just happens to be visiting his girlfriend’s family in Moncton and is able to sneak away for the day. While photographer Paul Maybee comes along to document the climb on film. We meet in Sussex giddy with excitement and wash down our anxiety with cheap coffee. Lucas and I have told the others about it, but no words can justify a pure vertical pillar of ice that has never been climbed or even witnessed in known history.
In the three days since Lucas and I visited the pillar; the weather had been warming and we pray that we’re not too late. But as we rounded that last bend in the gully, the pillar stood blue as steel.
After some inspection, Cory and Andriy agreed that they could share the pillar by leading on opposite sides. Lucas and I were less than thrilled with the idea but bit our tongues and didn’t share our morbid thoughts. Cory started first, taking the mushroomed left side while Andriy took the gargoyled right side. Immediately the challenge of lacy blobs and chandeliers became apparent. “It was definitely the hardest ice line I had led, and only my second WI 5 and I was pumping,” recalls Cory. The pump grew as he pulled out of a small chimney 20 feet from the top. “The clock was ticking. I could stop and place a screw, but I would definitely fall, or I could run it out to the lip and maybe not fall.” Cory went for it, not wanting to throw away this classic line and pulled over the lip with “jell-o arms, looking at a fifty foot whipper.” As Cory ran it out Lucas remembers stepping to the side, out of the way, in case Cory came flying towards him like the previous weekend.
Meanwhile, Andriy was in his own world leading the other side of the pillar. “As I was in the thick of things, it was re-assuring to feel the dull thud of Cory working his way up, out-of-sight, but alongside me. Weaving my way to the top a few moments after Cory topped out was extremely rewarding!” Lucas and I followed up behind, pulling the lip with lactic acid coursing through our arms.
Celebrating at the base with a bottle of whisky, Lucas suggested that we call it Truancy Falls. It seemed fitting for a route so elusive that it had tempted most of us to skip either work or school to be there.
Truancy Falls stood just long enough for most of the locals to climb it before it crashed down in solitude a month later. It’s still being talked about a year later and many climbers have been hiking in to check on it, hoping that they will find the hidden pillar formed once again. Even if it only forms once in a lifetime, Truancy Falls adds a plum to the New Brunswick climbing scene and embodies a resurgence of ice climbing in New Brunswick. It was just one of a dozen new routes to go up this season and it adds fuel to the fire that keeps us searching for new lines.
Truancy Falls (WI5+, 40m), Parlee Brook, New Brunswick. FA: Cory Hall, Andriy Kolos, Lucas Toron, Graham Waugh, February 11, 2010.