Dreaming of a granite spire in Patagonia, gear tester Katy Holm, travelled to the far reaches of South America in 2005. She and partners Katherine Fraser and Andrew Querner were hoping for the first free ascent of the 2396m southwest pillar of Cerro Pollone. But the notoriously temperamental weather failed to co-operate, and blasted across the Patagonia ice cap in roaring, clawing, full-on nasty mode.
"I thought I knew what wind was like," Katy recalled, "I came from a kayaking background, and I'd been on the water when it was blowing 45 knots. But the winds down there were insane. When we were walking in, just hiking around headlands on the trails, we'd have to hold on to not get blown over. And when we went to wash our dishes, we'd have to step on them or put them in our pockets, or they'd just be gone. It was craziness. People get blown off their horses down there. We'd gone expecting lots of wind, and that's what we got – lots and lots and lots of wind."
Katy first found herself drawn to climbing as a teenager growing up in BC. "I joined the Alpine Club when I was 16. A few years later I went on a climbing trip to Squamish, then to Strathcona where I did a bunch of mountaineering, I guess that was really the start for me." Now Katy is recognized as one of Canada's most promising mountaineers. Her involvement with MEC began in 2000 when she applied for expedition support. "A friend and I came up with an idea for a trip near the Stikine River, and we started pursuing funding options. The Canadian Himalayan Foundation provided some financial help, and MEC gave us an expedition grant. My relationship with the Co-op just grew from there; they started providing gear for us to test, and it has all worked out really well."
Back in Cerro Pollone, in a cramped nylon dome at the serrated end of Americas, Katy and her partners were battling tent fever. "It took us three days to ferry loads up to our base camp in the valley below the climb. As soon as we finished, we jetted straight up to the route, and did three pitches and fixed a few lines. It was late afternoon by then, and the summit was still all rimed up, so we planned to go for a summit attempt the next day. But the next day the storm came in fully; it just blasted, and we were pretty much immobilized."
"We had to dig the tent out every two hours, with all the wind and drift it was just getting totally buried and caving in. But other than that we just sat there getting buffeted, playing cards, hoping it would clear, and slowly going stir crazy. We were just about bonkers by the end of it, and the wind just would not let up. Eventually we decided to pull the plug. Andrew and I went back up to retrieve the lines, everything was all iced up, and the wind was raging. We were in this total whiteout blizzard, jumaring up the iced lines to get our gear back. It was craziness, but it was super fun."
Since the wind-aborted attempt on Pollone, Katy is continuing to progress as a climber, but her new interests seem to be turning to climbs closer to home. "I'm starting to really focus on my technical rock skills, I've been climbing tons in Squamish lately, and I'm really stoked on spending more time in the BC mountains. I've been into Waddington, and I've got lots of ideas for new routes there and in the Bugaboos. There's just so much right here in our backyards. It's funny, you know, I did a route by myself on Rugged Mountain on Vancouver Island, and it wasn't super gnarly or anything, but it was so beautiful; I came down a different route than I'd gone up, rappelled off trees, then walked by a bear on the way out. That was a memorable one for me; it was just so peaceful to be out there wandering around alone in the mountains."
"Based on input from Katy and other testers, we're redesigning the Spectre Jacket. We had the placement of the pockets and abrasion patches right, but we're taking out the collar, and making the fit closer. The prototype is about 200 grams lighter, but that's with standard trim and toggles; we can make them lighter."Spring, MEC Product Designer