In November of 2005, Ron Dietzman, a close friend and climbing partner had invited me to go ice climbing in Minnesota. ‘The Dietz’ had grown up, worked and raised a family in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Our goal was to embark on a twelve-day road trip hitting many of the classic ice waterfalls and mixed venues of the north shore and up into Thunder Bay. Before leaving on our tour, we stopped by Midwest Mountaineering and Ron enquired about the ice climbing conditions at the Robinson Quarry.
“Sounds good,” Ron said, his blue eyes twinkling, “we might get in a quick route in at the Quarry if I step on the gas.”
The Dietz, had long been retired as a heart surgeon, a supremely intelligent man and a true lead-foot driver. As we sped north, I hung onto the door handle with one hand and attempted to lace up my mountain boot with the other.
“Time’s a wasting…” Ron barked swerving into the quarry. “I drove, you set the ropes!” With daylight fading, we strapped on our harness, helmet and crampons and headed off toward the main flow.
“Battery’s new, I could blast some light onto the ice when it gets dark…” Ron had the fire. We climbed well past twilight, and then blasted the headlights pulling laps until our fingers froze into claws. Ron was in fine trim and I belayed and watched as a stream of thin, white hair creeped from the edges of his helmet. On rock or ice, ‘the Dietz’ was a force to be reckoned with. He had gone unwillingly into his seventy’s ,still the man could climb.
That night we stayed at the Hinckley, Grand Casino Hotel, lost a few bucks and ate a belly-full at the buffet. In the morning, Ron woke early, stretched, and did a round of push-ups before slipping into his Wild Things suit. Our plan was to drive to Duluth, but we had so much fun at the Quarry that we opted to return there. We climbed until we were so pumped that our ice tools felt like sledge hammers. Before packing it in, a handful of local climbers showed up and quickly pulled out a few rucksacks full of ropes and axes. One guy stood out from the rest and seemed to know his way around an ice axe. Bob worked at the local prison and climbed often at the quarry. He told us of the location of a special pond, which was perched near the top of the quarry.
“One day this entire wall will be farmed with ice from that pond.” He predicted. Ron and I failed to make it to that First Sandstone Ice Festival, in fact, Ron and I never had the good fortune to climb ice again together, after our north shore ice trip. ‘The Dietz’ sadly, past away in 2006.
Just before Ron died, I sent him a selection of our old climbing photos. We talked fondly about our days mountaineering in Chamonix, his bid on the NW face of the Eiger, his Ecuador and Denali expeditions and of our road trip which started and finished at the Robinson Quarry, soon to become the location for the ‘Sandstone Ice Festival’. I miss ‘The Dietz’, I miss sharing pancakes smeared with peanut butter and hearing his new insights into physics, medicine and delicate ice conditions.
“So you boys pulled in to the quarry yesterday?” Bob had asked back in 2005.
“That’s right, Lou and I managed about 20 pitches so far. From here we are off to Duluth and then, Thunder Bay.”
Bob couldn’t seem to take his eyes off Ron’s battle-worn Quark ice hammers. “Bit early in the season, it’s not even December yet.’
“I like to start the ice season early and end only when the ice is sun-baked and running with water. Life is short, if you want to climb ice, you got to get out and Chase it!” Bet Ron’s still chasing it!
Written by: Lou Renner, International Climbing Guide and Contributing MyClimb Writer