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
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
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?