Alpental Ice Climbing - November 2000
Day 1 - Thursday
On Thanksgiving morning, Phil and I set out to climb some "pre-turkey" ice. Having heard so much about the ice that had formed during the two weeks of cold, clear weather, I was eager to get out and climb! So off we were from Seattle at 5:30 am, driving up to the Pass in a total downpour. However, just as the pass report had indicated, the rain completely stopped around Bandera, and we cruised up the dry road to the alpental parking lot.
Our objective for the morning was going to be the "Alpental 1" flow on the Rainbow wall, just out of the parking lot. This very popular waterfall had been ascended by a few of Phil co-workers a week or so before, so we figured it must still have some ice on it... wrong! There were a few patches of thin ice on the lower pitch, and the second pitch through the WI3 section looked thin and hard to scramble to. We moved on.
Yes, we were tempted by the talk with some other guys in the parking lot of "135 degree walls!" and "great bouldering" on the Chair Peak Glacier. Chair Peak glacier you ask? Exactly what we were thinking... they must have been Texans climbing under the old snowfields! So we hiked up the trail, found some good looking but very short bouldering ice and put on the stuff. While down climbing some extreme 30 degree water ice right below the trail our before mentioned friends happened to walk by. How embarrassing it was to be climbing ice so far below their level! Jeez, 105 degrees less steep! After more bouldering up little stream falls we hit the mother load! An astonishing thick and long waterfall, probably 35 feet high and very steep. Upon closer inspection the ice was a little less thick than it looked at the "cone" at the base. I climbed up a short mixed gully of fun thin ice to the left of the falls and setup a toprope. Phil then decided to come up and we both rapp-cleaned the big icicles off the climb. On the way down we discovered that the upper 2/3rds were an entirely hollow tube with 1-4 inches of ice on the outside. Phil climbed up the right side first by stemming and then pulling strait through the overhang formed by the icicles. Up above he "tested" the delicate ice by putting his tool all the way through into the tube! Oh well, better ice was found on the right for about 15 feet of 75-80 degree ice to the melty top. I tried the somewhat steeper (probably 85 degrees) and more solid looking left side of the flow. It proved to be really thick and after climbing up into a cave near the top I was faced with a tricky finish. This part of the falls again was of the hollow tube kind, so getting both tools in it was a bit risky. There was a slight dihedral so it was possible to move up by stemming between the rock and the ice with one tool in a crack. Pretty neat stemming brought me up, floundering in the snow to try and top out. For those of you that are "in the know" from Phil's webpage, we were actually climbing Stream Direct!
We each climbed twice and then packed up to head back into town. During the three hours or so that we'd been there, 3 inches of snow had fallen! The freeway was just a joy, as usual.
Day 2 - Saturday
Emily, Benji and I decided that it would be fun to go back and climb again on Saturday. We top roped around for a while on the same waterfall, a little more melted, left it with a few more holes in it. One highlight was that I lead the right side which was a solid WI2+ with somewhat dubious pro, but seemed good enough. Emily amazed us all with her flexibility in pulling through the chopped up ice of the top-leftside with an inverted-frontpoint-bent-crazy-drytool move. It was benji's first time on water ice and he seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. He just can't wait to return to his College town in Minnesota and climb when it's -20 F! Benji also tried out his new ice tool that he found on the way down from the West ridge of Forbidden trip this last August. It worked out, if not a bit long (60 cm?) and awkward, but the price was right.
After getting all we could out of the small 35 foot fall, we needed more! So up the trail we went, tromping with one tool in hand and our crampons on. We wouldn't want to be caught offguard if some ice came crashing down onto the trail, right??? We happened upon a crotchety "old guy" who gave us a sneer and told me that I was "Ready for Everest now." We later agreed that he must have been suped up on Kava and Mint Cake. :) Our search for ice lead us all the way up into the source lake basin where we found it! Crossing the snowy, crappy, boulderfield over to the approach gullies for the Tooth was a pain, but worth the effort. There are two cliffs here, one (upper) with a free hanging pillar (usually thin) leading to a gully, and a better lower cliff. The lower cliffs had several short climbs, maybe 25-30 meters long, some stepped, some steep. Of note was a too-chandaliered-to-climb WI3+/4 pillar about 40 feet high, and a 75-85 degree "slab" (WI3) of decently thick ice than thinned near the top. Bring two 50 meter ropes for this area to belay off the tree at upper-right, or I hear it can be dome with one 60m. Also of interest in the area is a totally dry cave to hang out in, and some serious potential for mixed climbing on a vertical smear, as well as the cave just left of the pillar I mentioned above. Can't wait to go back!