Ice Climbing - Part 2

The fine clear and cold weather had drawn me into heading back to "the area" for more ice. Loren signed up for the job not wholly knowing where or what he was getting into...

A lovely 5 a.m. meeting off 405 put us on our way Saturday (3/2) morning. When we arrived at the spot where Phil and I had begun snowmobiling up the road two weeks ago, there was far less snow. We decided to try and save some time and drive as far as we could. I was worried about the huge downed tree just a ways up the road. Sure enough, the thing was still all over the place when we got to it. But Loren had a quick solution: A hauling strap! We wrapped the most offensive limb (6" diameter) with the strap, hooked it to the truck, and ripped a 6 foot section off by backing up. Yeee-haw! With some brush clearing, Loren was able to drive through... minus his antenna that is.

So on we flew down the snowy, rutted road. After about a mile and a half we came to a completely bare and dry area about 30 feet long. But hey, no need to stop and turn around here, on we go! Loren had to get over a vertical foot of snow, but gunned over it in true monster truck fashion. Then we were stuck. The truck was totally high centered on all sides. We tried to dig it out for a half hour or so, but decided to leave it until after the day. We ended up not saving any time over skiing, but it had been a proud showing of testosterone!

We skied up the remaining road to the turnoff, and went down to cross the creek. The easy boulder hopping of usual was out due to the thin layer of ice on all the rocks this morning. Thus it was time for me to tango again with... The Log. Yes, I had done this once last year too. Oddly enough, both Phil (last year) and Loren (this year) decided to take a different route while I "rode the log!"

Dave reaches a slight obstacle. 5 minutes and one broken ski pole later, and he's across!
Photo by: Loren

The broken ski pole was a minor inconvenience, and we were soon skinning up rock hard snow. We did the usual zigging around the trees and tributaries until we had to cross the valley. We soon worked out way up to the head of the valley where huge piles of avalanche debris now lay. There were car sized blocks along with entire trees that had been ripped out at the roots all over this area of mass destruction. I'm not sure, but I think that this slope should qualify as part of the "Axis of Evil".

The snow was hard so we ditched skiis and cramponed up the open slope. A recent climax slide that left a bare slab had nice 3" ice, and we decided to go and get in a pitch of WI 1+ on the approach. The ice turned out to be plastic and cold. Fun stuff!

Loren climbs up the flat top of our slab pitch.

I had noticed that the small ice down in the valley wasn't looking so thick. Infact, the climbs we could see in the area didn't look too good from afar either. But we had to just push on and see. An hour of booting brought us up into the area and Loren got his first look at the massive wall of climbs. Though nearly all of the climbs had melted out to verglass and small pillars, the sight was still just as impressive as when they are fat. I couldn't believe how much ice had disappeared in only two weeks. For one, what was once a 10 foot thick by 30 foot wide pillar was now 4 inches of mushroomed ice!

Luckily we spotted one climb that still looked blue and fat. The 35m pillar was atop a huge climax avalanche. Two weeks before there had been a big glide crack below it. The revealed slabs looked like our approach pitch: thin ice, but solid. We decided to walk over and check it out.

Our intended climb. Every thing looks so close and small. Ha! The area fools us again!
Photo by Loren

I lead off, roped and racked, up some steep snow until I was at the base of the iced slabs. Well, I was almost there. I had approached too far to the left, and a 45 degree snow-dusted slab of rock separated me from the (relative?) security of 2" ice. Unable to traverse, I headed up. I went up some easy mixed terrain, but was unable to make the moves across the smooth rock to the ice. This proceeded for 30 meters or so with out any gear at all. I had to make a couple very sketchy mantles onto snowy rock before I finally found a piton placement. Whew! I climbed up a bit farther and was able to cross over from rock to very thin ice. Eventually it thickened enough to take a 10cm screw, and I continued up the 60 degree ice up to the base of the slide fracture.

I placed two screws in soft ice and contemplated the 5 foot overhanging wall of snow in front of me. After several attempts and one near miss, I pulled over it into sugary snow above. Whew, again! I climbed a bit higher and then set in a belay just left of the main pillar.

Loren grovels over the fracture wall.

The main pillar of the climb looked awesome. A steep and solid sheet of blue ice. Loren lead off and dispatched the pitch with real style. 9 meters of 85+ degree ice lead to another 25 meters of 75-80 degree ice. All very sustained with no features or ledges to rest on.

Loren leads off on the pillar.

Loren high on the pitch, zoomed in..

Luckily, Loren had the pleasure of groveling through steep runout snow atop the pitch. (No good climb would be without a sucky topout, right?) I followed up, marveling at how solid and plastic the ice was. When I reached the belay, Loren mentioned how it had been the best quality ice he'd climbed all season! Pretty amazing for the Cascades, eh?

Instead of rapping off and perhaps dealing with downclimbing snowy slabs, we opted to walk off up and to the right. This took a little more time, but the peace of mind afforded in a safe descent made it worth it. We decided to call our route Climatic Pillar of Khusia, WI 4, 2 pitches.

The "Climatic Pillar of Khusia". Route in yellow, belays at green dots.

We were out of time for the day, but luckily there were no other climbs "in" enough to tempt us. Besides, we still had the truck to deal with! So we hiked down the valley to our cached skiis. As we predicted, the skiing was horrible. Loren and I put on a frightful display, seeing as a smooth hard crust of ice covered everything. On the way down I tired to jump off a small drop but promptly fell and landed right on my water bottle!

Once we made it back to the road we zoomed back to the truck at high speed, thanks to our skis. The last light of the day was just fading, but our work was far from over! With no playing around this time, we set in to remove ALL the snow from behind and under the car. Loren used the shovel, while I cut blocks with my ski. We could have easily built an igloo with all the snow we moved, but 45 minutes later we were out and on our way to a hot meal.

[Return to Home Page]