Ice Climbing - Part 3

February 15th, 2003

After Part 1, and Part 2 of climbing in the area last winter, I was excited to get back. Unfortunately, the Cascades were having their 2nd warmest year on record, and the ice conditions in the state had been pretty dismal. In December, spurred by some cold temperatures and the lack of snow on the approach road, Loren and I slogged through deep wet snow to get there only to find nothing more than glazed rock. So time passed, and we all but wrote of climbing there is year.

Then, the first two weeks of February enter clear, sunny and cold. People are climbing big mountain routes, and I am stuck in the computer labs. Finally my number comes up after a hellish week of midterms and projects. Alex Krawarik and I talk about getting our share of some big alpine routes. But in typical Northwest fashion, a low pressure trough arrives just in time for the weekend. It is raining Friday night in Seattle, and so we just decide to go hiking somewhere the next morning.

An alpine wake up of 8 a.m. finds us on the road to the area, with the technical gear thrown in the back seat just in case. We have very low expectations while it totally pours rain on the drive up. Sure enough, the road is still free of snow, and soon we pull in to the turnout. It is plenty light out, and we can see that there appears to be some ice formed. We load up the packs with all we have, and head out.

The approach goes smoothly, and we find an almost brush free route to the head of the valley. All the valley slabs are iced up--a good sign. We soon arrive at the base of a small WI 1 pitch that Loren and I had climbed last year. It is in good shape, so we climb up.

Photo of the same pitch from last year. This year, there is zero snow in that valley!

Alex and I stick to the boulder field, and with the low snow, make fast time up to the area. It began to rain pretty hard in the boulders, and now we are totally soaked. The sight before us is impressive with the climbs nicely etched into a dark wall which is usually plastered with snow. Alex digs around in his pack for the camera.

"No way! I totally forgot it in the car!!"

Doh! The biggest climbs don't look to be in very good shape still, with only a few inches of ice on them. We though we had been tricked again. However, some of the climbs on the far right side of the area look pretty good, so we went over to check them out.

Sure enough, there are at least three great looking climbs to the left and right of The Climatic Pillar of Kusia (which wasn't formed). The longest route, in a deepening slot left of Kusia, looked like it would go, so we geared up and headed up. We climbed quickly over the easy WI 2 ground. Three pitches fell away like nothing, and we found ourselves at the base of a relatively fat pitch of WI 3. Very nice and plastic ice lead up wide 70-75 degree slabs to the top. The route is 600 ft. tall and Alex and I called it Two Jokers and a Pair of Prophets (4p WI 3).

The route in December 2002 with snow all over it. We found only ice and rock on route.

After topping out we hurriedly walked off right, wanting to get at least another route in before the light started to fade. We went over to one of the first routes on the right side of the wall, just left of a big and rocky left-facing corner/gully. Though the route looked really short (we estimated a half pitch), it actually turned out to be a full two pitches, with a thin WI 2 start, leading to another fat pitch with a WI 3 crux at the start. The last bit of the climb splits into two paths up through the trees, with the right hand one being way thicker than the left looks. This route is 300ft. high and we called it Split Decision (2p WI 3).

Over view of the routes in a high snow year.

We walk off right again, and make our way back to our packs. Not only has Alex forgotten the camera on this spur of the moment trip, be he also forgot his food. Luckily I have packed along a Costco tin of cinnamon rolls (Ha, I wish!), and we feast on pretzels and powerbars. We are still soaked, and now totally beat from the days exertions. I convince Alex to take the direct descent down through the forest, instead of climbing back to the boulder field. At first we make good time down snow covered slopes. Then we start crashing through improbably thick brush. We take the path of least devils club, and a little while later start working our way down the slippery rocks of the approach creek. We arrive back at the cars just before dark, wet, tired, hungry, and happy.

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