Banks Lake Ice

Ice around mile post 10. Brush Bash is the climb just left of center.

On the January 13/14th weekend, Len, Silas and I decided to go climbing out in the Banks Lake area. We had heard that the ice was there, so we gambled the 3.5 hour drive that it was. Driving over the pass and then through an unusually snowwy eastern Washington was a little unnerving, but we persevered and arived at Soap lake in just over 3 hours. What we saw was not pretty! The Absent Minded Professor (WI 3/4) was our first hopeful climb of the day. We found wet rock. On we drove, looking up valleys, scoping little bits of ice. At one point Len said, "Not much ice up in there," of an intriguing looking area. Silas quickly corrected with, "There isn't ANY ice in there!" Not to worry though, for farther up the road we began to see more and more impressive flows that seemed in pretty good shape. Finally we arrived at the farthest North ice of the area: The Devil's Punch Bowl.

The Devils Punch Bowl, right side.

There were already two parties gearing up, so we hustled to pack our gear before more came. We were soon to learn that this is probably the most popular place in Banks Lake to climb. A short walk in lead to a very wide and very thick WI 2 - 3 flow with menacing looking icicles hanging overhead. The two teams were just starting thier leads as we arrived at the base. The climb was wide enough for all of us, so Len lead off on the far left side (WI 2), intending to bring Silas and I up to setup a toprope on the WI4 climb next door. The guy on our right was obviously new to leading ice, for he began climbing before Len, and Silas and I beat him to the top!

While Silas and I walked over to setup an anchor on the farther left ice climb, we heard some crashing sounds. Must have been some of those icicles breaking off, we though, scarey, good thing no one was climbing right then. And on we went making a v-thread for our anchor. About 5 minutes later I heard another crack and looked over to see a HUGE 30 ft icicle falling in what seemed to be slow motion down towards the belayer of one of the "right side" parties. Their belay was not under the roof like Len's, a poor choice. The thing exploded not 10 feet from the belayer, and then its debris went rocketing down the route. Now we were concerned. The follower of the slow leader should have been about mid climb-- right in the path of all that ice! Luckily, he was just below the final steep lip of the climb, so the ice shot right over him. We then understood that Devil's Punch Bowl wasn't just a cute name for the shape of the climb! It was pretty warm that day, and a fair amount of water was dripping down from above. I would only recomend climbing there under cold conditions in the morning. (Either that or bring a shotgun to knock those suckers down!)

Silas on Phase Transition in fat condition.

Our route on the left did not have said running water on icicles, so we felt reasonably safe in continuing to climb it. This climb, Phase Transition was a nice long and steep climb. The first 25 meters were rampy/buldgy and plastic WI3 which lead to a softer WI4 vertical pillar for another 15 meters. Climbing this was just pure joy with the safety of a top-rope. The ice took our tools quite nicely and the softness of the ice allowed for very secure foot placements. This being Silas's first time waterfall ice cragging, Len and I were amazed with his quick application of steep ice techniques to fly up the climb. No doubt it was just second nature for such an experienced alpinist!

Bouldering on Trotsky's Folly.

We spent the rest of the day bouldering on the first half of Trotsky's Folley (WI 3) back down by the cars. The ice here was at a perfect angle (~80 degrees) for practicing the monkey hang and trying out new tools. Len also pioneered a steep dry tool route up the 15 foot wall to the right of the ice, which I later repeated with a minimum of flailing! Wondering what to do next we proceeded to drive back and forth along the highway. We had heard that the Soap Lake bar scene was "live" from a few climbers at the punch bowl, but we were skeptical... Fun times in Euphrata? Alas, after scoping out cool looking climbs for tomorrow, we headed North towrds the infamous Grand Coulee Dam. Coulee Dam, the actual city right at the dam looks like an oversized Newhalem. Cookie cutter 1940's houses closely line the road as you drive through the surprisingly narrow town. At the end of the city we found just what we were looking for: a casino!

Seeing as it was just starting to dump snow, we went into the eerie confines of the Coulee Dam casino. This strange place hosted Coule Dam's finest slot machine addicts. People mindlessly pushing buttons and dumping fake coins into losing machines. The place reaked of ciggaretts, but at least it was warm. Len was surprised to find that they didn't have any black jack machines! The lady behind the customer service counter tried to ease his pain with, "I guess it is just a loss of interest in the market." Still unsatisfied we worked our way over to the Electronic poker machines.

My theroy on these poker machines is that they present the user (read: sucker) with a very expensive game of poker where you can't do any fun stuff like wild cards, pairs under jacks, etc. And at .25 cents a play, you could probably pay someone to play poker with you all night! Alas, Len was strung along with short gains and bigger losses until his initial $10 investment dwindled. With his last two chips on the way out, Len casually dropped both in two empty machines along the wall and pulled the arms. All of a sudden quarters start flying out of both machines like crazy! When it all stopped Len had won enough to take us out to dinner. Later that night we watched The Grinch with half of the town in the local movie theater. We had had our fill of Coulee Dam by 10 pm, so we headed back down towards banks lake and found a place to camp for the night.

Sunday brought sunny skies and colder temperatures. We drove towards the climb we had spotted just south of MP 10. The hike up to it was easy and the three of us were racking up not 25 minutes from the car! The climb we had piked out looked a little brushy, but because it was slightly North facing the ice was very thick.

Close up of Brush Bash.

It was my turn to lead today, and I was excited to get back onto the sharp end. I ran out a 15 foot section of near vertical ice to place a screw on the lowerangled and increasingly brushier ice above. Above it was pretty easy, except that the lower angled ice had a rotten crust-ice layer on top. This was great for climbing, but sucked for ice screws. After swinging through a fest of not-too-bad brambles, I found myself at the final headwall of the pitch. This imposing 35 foot section looked like the crux even from the road. The angle increased back to 85-90 degrees and with it the ice became hard and brittle. Focusing on using good technique and not the run-out, I slowly worked my way up to a perfectly placed tree right at the top. Whew! I managed to put a sling around the trunk with my pumped out arms and clip off with my daisy.

Len following the upper tier of Brush Bash.

Amazingly, I was only at half rope so I was able to lower off! It is strange how much longer pitches can feel when you're leading. Silas and Len then took their turns with the brush and cleaned things up a bit. Due to the total lack of a walk off and the absence of slings on the obvious tree, we were pretty sure that we'd just done the first ascent of the route. We decided to call it Brush Bash with a grade of WI4 and 25 meters long.

The first step.

Silas climbing topping out on the first step.

Len found a hard looking thin pillar near by, and we ended up top roping it for the rest of the day. Climbing the chandaliered ice was remaniscint of working on pullups back home! Stick, scrape the feet uselessly at icicles, pullup, lock off, stick--hang. This repeated until we had all pumped ourselves out and were ready to call it a day.

Dave looking really goofy trying to climb the "pencil"

All in all, we had a spectacular weekend of ice climbing over at Banks Lake. There are tons of routes right off the road, most of them hard but not all, and many topropeable. You can also get away from the crowds at devils punch bowl pretty easily, as there are many more seldom and un-done climbs along the coulee walls.

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