Lillooet Ice - January 2002
Who: Dave and Loren
The forecast for Lillooet had been great all week long, consistent low
below -5C, and cool temps during the days. The conditions report from
the previous weekend wasn't great, but the cold air could only be helping
things. Loren and I had exchanged emails and read each other's webpages
for a while, but this was to be our first climbing trip. We hopped on
I-5 at 3:30 Friday afternoon and ran smack into MLK weekend traffic. Stop
and go drudgery lasted until Everett and then it was smooth sailing. We
avoided the masses at the usual border crossing by taking the "express
route" through Sumas. As we pulled into the gas station at Sumas,
the snow began dumping down. Our cold weather began to make its self known.
While Loren fueled up I took a stroll around the lot and noticed that
we were parked at a particularly unique pump.
Strap on the Nitro! 100 octane "racing" gas for only 4.95/gallon!
On we drove through the border where Photo ID and proof
of citizenship were required. Loren was able to get the guard to laugh,
which is a good sign when you have a truck full of "climbing gear."
The drive up to Lytton was uneventful, and just a little snowy. On the
road to Lillooet Loren decided to liven up the mood in the car by doing
some maneuvers... Little did we know he was just practicing up for challenges
to come! At 9:30 we pulled into the Rynolds Motel/Bar/Restaurant and got
our self a nice small room for the measly amount of $35can. per night.
You gotta love small towns... at least in that respect.
We weren't quite sure what to do the next day because it
was going to be my first water ice in 11 months. Loren had already logged
several pitches this year so far, so we decided to head to Marble Canyon
early the next day and hit up Icy BC before the crowds arrived. We got
to bed late and I couldn't sleep, too warm and nervous. The alarm came
soon enough, and we picked up our gear and headed down for breakfast in
the restaurant. After some friendly chat with some retired locals and
an excellent grease ball breakfast, we were off into the dark snowy morning.
With Loren driving, I was free to space out and look at the unusually
snowy landscape along 99 towards Marble. Soon enough we pulled up to the
pullout by Crown Lake and parked. We quickly took note of the tent setup
by a car, and wondered if ice tool clad guys would burst out and start
running across the lake to get on stuff first. Lucky for us, they had
frozen to the ground, and we were able to easily pack up and head out
before they could extract themselves from the tent.
The first pitch of Icy BC looked pretty chandaliered, tricky
pro but bomber (though delicate) steps. I opted to let Loren start things
off and lead the first half of the pitch up to a ledge. He dispatched
it like a pro and was soon reeling in rope for me to come up.
Loren leads the first pillar on Icy BC.
I followed, marveling at what nice steps those mushrooms
of icicles made, and what crappy tool sticks I got in them. Glad I didn't
take that pitch on the sharp end "off the couch" as it was.
But, now that I was warmed up, I was psyched to lead the next 30m section
of Grade 4. The ice on the second half of the pitch was far more substantial
and turned out to be nice and plastic. I lead up, fully enjoying the exposure
that this kind of ice gives. The top came far sooner than I expected,
and so I rambled on the low angled ice to the base of the freestanding
pillar that is the 2nd pitch.
Dave leads off on the second half of pitch one. Photo: Loren
The second pitch was also very chandaliered, as well as
hollow in the center. It looked pretty grim, but Loren spotted a solid
line on the inside right of the pillar and lead up. With very little ice
cleaning and lots of good sticks, he was soon up the 20m pillar of grade
Loren tackles the second pitch of Icy BC.
Loren climbed up to a belay up and left below the final
pitch of the climb. I came up and we contemplated climbing this spectacular
hunk of ice. Much of the route above was again chandaliered, but there
seemed to be sections of good solid ice with nice rests here and there.
Loren looked at it a while... though about it... then strapped on the
Loren pulls through crux #1 on the third pitch of Icy BC.
Loren climbed up to an alcove and set a screw. He then traversed
up and right through some super mungy ice. He seemed to be standing on
glorified ice cubes when he struck his tools a little too close together.
The block of ice holding them moved, and he though he was coming off for
sure. Luckily, he was able to remove one tool and set it before the ride
began! He climbed up to a bomber ledge and took a much needed rest.
Meanwhile, the voices we'd heard walking up on the bypass
trail were now coming from the top of the climb. It sure would suck to
take a wipper when you caught a top rope in the face, so I decided to
yell up to the people to hold off until he finished his lead. They were
cool, thankfully, and Loren soon took off onto the second half of the
climb. He had one more crux to climb through, a 15 foot steep section
that started with a buldge. He moved up, set a screw, climbed higher,
and promptly had both feet blow on him. What a head trip of a lead!
Loren on rotten ice crux #2!
He soon made it up and was reeling in the rope. Following
the route was pretty pumpy due to the overall steepness and the tricky
ice conditions. It was generally hard to find good sticks, which made
his lead all the more impressive! Remember, one bad-stick leads to another.
I topped out to find part of the UW climbing club regiment
setting up a super-top rope on the pitch. After taking a suitably long
rest, I rapped back down on our ropes and setup a short top rope on the
small pillar to the right of the climb. This short route had a cool mixed
start up a crack to a ledge, and then onto the ice. I tried several times
to tool up the rock, only to make it to the ledge with both tools heavily
weighted. I'd try and lift one just to come winging off the wall. My arms
were still a little pumped out from our morning's exercise so I opted
to let Loren have at it. After he was done we packed up and headed down
to check out "the scene" on the lower pitches.
It was a typical weekend day at Marble down below. All common
routes had top ropes, and the dihedral was hacked to bits (though it was
being lead while we walked by). The first pitch of Icy BC was, as usual,
the horror show of 10 guided clients bashing the delicate icicles to bits.
Glad we got on it early! You really have to wonder how well these climbs
can recover when they get this treatment 2 days a week.
Not really wanting to wait in line, we decided to drive
and scope out climbs for the next day. We ended up heading to Phair creek
off 99 with the info that the road had been ploughed but was icy. Sure
enough, the road to the B&B was ploughed, but there was 6" of
fresh on the road down the hill. No prob, kick into 4wd, down we go. We
cross the bridge and get our first look at the imposing pitch of road
that switches up the hill from the river. Maybe 20 degrees or so!
Loren is feeling confident after his triumph on Icy BC,
so we gunn it up the hill. Progress is good until we start slowing down.
Foreword progress halts and things began to go down hill fast. Literally!
Before I knew it we had exceeded "bail out" speed, not to mention
that we were traveling backwards. With the creek bed quickly approaching
Loren pulled the masterful stupid-human trick of safely turning us back
onto the bridge. We skidded a good half way back across. Whew! We then
spent the next hour of daylight (the last too) trying to get back up the
hill with chains on. We made it to the top of the "pitch" but
had to turn back. By some stroke of luck, we made it back to the highway
in one piece.
We got started Sunday with another superb breakfast from
the Reynolds. I ordered a stack of 3 pancakes and eggs, but the waitress
suggested I try the "Hungry Man" breakfast which was the same
but less one pancake. Is this a subtle hint? It was too early for subtleties
so I blazed ahead with the full on breakfast. Let's just say that in the
next 9 hours I ate one candy bar and was totally satisfied! We were ready
for some more mellow climbing than yesterday, so we headed out to Bridge
River in search of Salmon Stakes (a long rambly WI2 & 3). As the climb
came into sight, it was not convincing when Loren said "That can't
be it, that's a snow slope." Sure enough, the binocs showed that
most of the easy ice was under fresh snow and that the steeper pitches
looked thin. Right about then Jim Nelson and friends showed up with the
intention of doing the same route. We indicated that we were interested
in doing it, but then got in our car and drove off. They must have thought
us some strange characters!
We pulled up below Night 'N Gale and decided that our day
was going to take on a more serious nature. Night N Gale seems to be the
Drury Falls of Lillooet. Big terrain trap approach/climb/descent, steep
and hard climbing (though not as much as Drury) and up to 4+ ice. Loren's
stories of backing off earlier last year due to steep and scary ice was
not super encouraging, but the climbed looked good from the road. The
river crossing here is also decidedly easier than Drury, but though provoking
Dave crosses the Bridge River with Tevas and garbage bags. Photo: Loren
We slipped along the bank for a while until heading up through
thick nasty trees to the base of the avalanche runout. Going was incredibly
laborious without crampons on, but who has time to take weight off their
back?? After a while of slogging through icy avie debris, we made it to
the start of the rambly grade 2 ice. Immediately we heard voices off to
our right. Shit, other people! Loren cached his poles and we quickly and
quietly cramponed up. Not knowing if they were cutting in higher than
us, we flew up the snow and ice to the base of the 30m WI3 gully pitch.
Would they just solo past us if we lead? Well, we weren't going to be
forced into flying up this climb, so I broke out the rope and setup to
The nice WI 3 pitch in the approach gully.
The ice was a little wet and I was glad to have a rope on when I climbed
through the 20 ft crux section of 75 degree ice. Loren came up quickly
just as the other party came into view. Below us! Loren just lead by and
we simu-climbed up some more WI2 until it flattened out into snow again.
We unroped and continued at a slow run up to the base of the climb. For
some reason the we-figured-soloing-hardmen of the party behind us hadn't
materialized, and we had the climb all to ourselves. It had taken 2:15
from the car.
Night N Gale's crux two pitches: both stretching 60 meter pitches.
The age old adage of "Looks hard from the road, easy up close, and
hard when you're on it" began to apply in my mind. The book lists
the first pitch at Gade 4+, but it didn't look so bad. Steep sections
interspersed with ramps. "Hmm... Maybe I'll strap this one on Loren."
Dave heads off onto the first real pitch of Night N Gale. Photo: Loren
The ice was in superb shape. One swing sticks everywhere!
After some steep climbing on the lower half of the pitch it eased off
into 70 degree ramps up towards the exit pillars. I was still feeling
good, having placed solid screws throughout the pitch. The right hand
exit pillar looked easiest, and there appeared to be a rest just before
it, so I traversed up to it's base.
The right hand exit pillar. Looks like a romp huh? Turns out this view
is very foreshortened! Photo: Loren Campell
I climbed up under hanging tenticles of ice and kicked in a little platform
to rest up at. The ice here had turned manky and I could only manage to
get hooks with my tools. Setting a screw was equally problematic and only
after the third location was I able to sink a solid 22cm into thick ice.
I stood there for a while, contemplating the mental crux of the climb.
Mungey ice always sucks, but it's worse when you're 50 m off the belay.
"The only way off this ledge is up." I pulled around a buldge
and onto the 80 degree ice on the face of the pillar. The tool sticks
were still mostly hooking, and it was a bit scary until I hit the solid
70 degree ice just a little higher. I pulled over the lip of the climb
and started up some grade 2. Loren hollered out in encouragement, but
I was too gripped still, being 30+ feet above my last piece, to celebrate.
I mauled my picks a few times against shallowly buried rocks, but was
soon setting up a belay at the base of the second pitch. Whew!
Loren leads off on the second pitch. You're typical butt shot. :)
Loren lead quickly up the last pitch, a rope-streching grade 3, without
knocking very much ice at all down on my exposed belay. The only two big
chunks he knocked off happened to either hit me or nearly miss me, though!
The rope soon ran out and it was a long time before the rope had the characteristics
of a belay from above. But the tugs came, and so I followed up the very
fine and long pitch. As I topped out, I saw Loren was sitting in the snow
with not much ice around him. I also noticed his clipped off tool sneaking
off into a hole in the snow. "How's the belay, Loren?" "Hey
Dave, let me get a picture!" But just before he could take the shot,
Loren single handedly arrested the movement of a sizable sluff avalanche.
Yikes, the winds were picking up and it was begining to warm as well.
Let's get out of here!
I lead off up some snow to a tree and then brought him up. We traversed
the top of the cliff that is the climb until we found the needle in the
hay stack: the rap slings. Situated on the edge of a cliff, the double
rope rap ends with a free hanging drop down into a narrow gully. We climbed
down the edges, paranoid about avalanches. Then we heard some more "airplane"
sounds. "Whew, it must be an airplane, it's gone on for too long."
Then we noticed the plume of powder that had risen 300 feet up in the
air in the main gully of the climb. We hurried down and right to the climb
to check on the party behind us who had recently started up the first
The other party was on the climb when the avalanche hit. Notice dusted
packs at the bottom.
The party was ok, but they were ready to bail big time. Loren and I packed
up quickly and began our descent down the gully. We climbed down the edges
and went one at a time through exposed areas. A short downclimb to the
top of the approach pitch and a rappell brought us into relatively safe
ground. We booked it down and made it back to the river just as dusk was
settling in. Not wanting to take my boots off I just slapped the bags
over my boots and ran across the now-higher water of the river. Back at
the car Loren and I thoroughly enjoyed his flat of cheese danishes and
A totally amazing weekend for sure. I can't wait to get back!