Banks Lake Ice - February 2001

The plan was to take a good day trip to Eastern Washington and do some ice climbing. Looking for a new venue, we decided to try out the Palisades. The ice there is located around the tiny little town of Palisade, about 40 minutes from Whenatchee. Many of the climbs there are hard (4+ to 5), but there are also a couple in the moderate 3-4 range.

A 5:30 start from Phil's house saw us on the road and headed down I-90. We figured the HW-2 would be the usual mess to drive over, seeing as the forecast for the West side was pretty bad. As we approached northbend it became obvious that the weather forecasted had been smoking crack. It was shaping up to be a beautiful sunny day, even at the usually ice-fog chocked Snoqualmie Pass. There was short talk of climbing some alpine ice instead, but decided we wanted real, steep ice. Of course, the minute we hit Eastern Washington, it was cloudy and snowing lightly. But the roads were still in good shape and we arrived at the Palisades road turn off after about 3 hours. Driving up the road, we were a bit worried to see that some drips that maybe should have been frozen were not. Just lower valley ice, we though, probably never come into shape. The real ice should be high up the valley, right? The road became increasingly more icy, but we pushed on.

Finally, after figuring out that the wet rock we'd passed earlier, and the wet rock we were looking at 18 miles up the icy road were the climbs. Oh well, we'd only been driving for about four hours, why not head over to Banks Lake, surely there is ice there!

The view of Yerba Buena from the road, including Hunting with written permission sign next to livestock.

There are many ways to cut strait from the Palisades over to Banks lake. One simply continues up the Palisades road until meeting up by Dry Falls, outside Coulee City. The other continues on HW 28 past the Palisades road over to Euphrata. If one was so inclined, you could drive back to near Whenatchee, then take HW 2 to Dry Falls, and then up to Banks. Not having a freaking map, Phil and I took the latter option and had to drive about 70 miles of icy winding roads!

Finally, at 11:30, we arrived at banks lake. It had taken us 5 hours to do what would be a 3.5 hour drive strait. Oh well, there was light and we had ice! Seeing as this was Phil's first time to climb at Banks, I decided to give him the grand tour. Driving from South to North on HW 155 one gets to pick out all the potential for cool lines, as well as the spectacular gems of the area. The ice was looking thinner than a month ago, but people were still climbing things. We drove up to the Devil's Punch bowl to see what was going on there. At least 10 people in four parties was what was going on there! We took one look at the crowded scene there, and decided to take our chances on some unknown routes. At the punch bowl you need to move fast, and not hang around-- the ice falls and people get creamed.

Ice along the coulee wall around mile post 10.

We decided to try out a climb I had spotted after climbing Brush Bash (3/4) a month ago. It was another brushy looking climb that perhaps posed another first ascent. After all, who would want to climb these brushy monsters?? We racked up and then set out to hike up the snow covered talus to the base. It took about 20 minutes, and as we made it up we noticed that the first step was looking steeper and steeper. Phil was unsure about leading it, so I went over to take a look. The first step was steep, maybe 80-85 degrees for about 20-25 feet, then kicking back to 65 or so before the second and final step. The ice on the bottom looked to be thick and fat and had lots of holes for hooking. The upper tier was another story altogether. The ice looked good, but the complete bramble coming out of it looked awful! This was going to be much more serious brush than any little twig on Brush Bash. Feeling the lassitude of the first climbing of the day, I cajoled Phil into leading.

Phil headed up the steep ice, feeling the same blah that I did, but held it together and lead in good form. After reaching the base of the second (brushy) step, he decided that it was my turn to suffer. He stuck in a belay and I grabbed a couple extra express screws for the battle ahead.

Dave climbing on the first step of good, brush free steep ice.

I followed up to Phil on nice ice, but kept getting my jacket caught on the branches behind me. After grabbing a nice breather and sinking a nice screw at the base of the second step, I headed up. The first few moves of climbing were very enjoyable on steep ice that wasn't as brittle as the lower section. Enjoyment soon ceased as I entered the total rats nest that ran for about 10 feet. The brush consisted of a interconnecting network of thin (1/4 in) branch-vines that came in and out of the ice. I had to literally pound my tools blindly until they stuck to get a good placement. The ice remained good, but it was exhausting work. There was no room or energy to place pro, so I had to run it out to above the brush, about 20 feet above my last screw. The ice was ending soon above, so I placed one screw left handed. It went in really easily, so I decided to back it up with another screw about a foot above it. With the confidence of gear, I stepped on top of the 4" of ice that was 4" detached from the rock at the top and tried to move up into the frozen dirt-moss above. My right tool immediately started scratching through the dirt, but I was able to check my balance and move up to a tree branch 10 feet higher.

Phil came up quickly, glad to have passed the nasty part of the lead off to me. Thanks Phil :). Seeing as most of the foliage in Banks is rotting, we decided not to trust the tree branch (4" diameter) for the rappell. Heck, we were pretty sure the ropes would hang up on all the brush too! So Phil lead out along the coulee wall to try and reach some trees off to the right. The small ledge along the cliff was about 2 feet wide and completely covered with brush. In fact, the third pitch consisted of about 25 meters of brush traverse before exiting onto snow. Phil ran the rope out to a little shrub tree and then brought me up. An easy and sometimes overhanging double rope rapp brought us down to the ground. We didn't see any indication of prior ascent, nor could we figure why anyone would have wanted to! We dubed it Brush Hell WI 3+, and it's about 30 meters long.

Phil descending from Brush Hell, note the brushy second tier!

Seeing as we had spent a lot of time climbing a little ice, we decided to go get some mileage under our crampons back at the punch bowl. We zoomed over there and walked up to have the right (best line at WI 3) side all to ourselves. Some people were still climbing around, but most of the crowd had thinned. I was eager to lead this time, so I took off before Phil could even get me on belay. No problem as the first part is an easy romp up 45 degree ice steps. By the time I made it to the headwall of the pitch, he had me on and I had placed a screw. The punch bowl right is pretty much the definition of WI 3 with about 40 feet of sustained 75 degree ice. I ran it out to easy ground, placed a screw, and then walked up to the anchors. Phil came up fast, taking a slightly harder line right next to the rock on the right. We enjoyed the pitch so much that we promptly picked up the ropes and walked around to climb it again! This time, hardman Phil lead the climb with only 2 ice screws, as compared to my 3!

Phil topping out in the fleeting light on Devil's Punch Bowl Right.

It was getting dark fast so we broke out the headlamps and walked down towards Trotsky's Folly, a nice short climb down by the cars. After a little bouldering by head lamp, and talking to a big group who was top roping in the dark, we headed out to the car. In an hour and fifteen minutes Phil and I had climbed up from the car, climbed two full pitches of WI 3, bouldered a little, and walked back out! Screamin'!

The drive back sucked. The formerly wet and bare roads had iced up and it was again snowing. Outside of Euphrata, we got a flat tire. Pulling over to the side of the two lane road, we dug out the "doughnut" sized spare tire and positioned ourselves to fix the road-side flat. I messed with the goofy little jack and Phil read to me out of the Users manual some helpful hints about changing the tire:

  • Do not change flat tires on the road side of the car.
  • Do not attempt to change a tire on an icy road

Hmm, seeing as these two were out, we figured we'd at least keep it under 50 mph later on. Tire fixed and off we went, a little slower, but hey, what's a little more driving time, right? To make a long story short, the spare went flat about 12 miles outside of North Bend, only 45 miles or so from home. We had to roll in on the flat spare the 12 miles to North Bend and ditch the car for a ride home from Phil's room mate Terry who we called at midnight! I further spent the next lovely sunny day trying to find a tire in a small town where everything is closed on Sundays. Eventually, around 6 pm, my girlfriend Emily and I got a new tire and headed home. Round trip day of ice climbing: 560 miles, one new tire, one messed up spare, two tanks of gas. Don't you just love ice climbing in Washington?

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