Banks Lake Ice Climbing

January 10th, 2004

Brent, Chris Stevenson and I went over to the Banks Lake area in Eastern Washington to see if we could find some roadside ice. The temperatures on the East side had remained somewhat colder than the West side, so we were hopeful. Driving in, we noticed what would prove to be our nemesis all day long: the fog.

H202 looking good.

Agent Orange.

Zenith... not quite living up to its name.

Soon after the first climbs appeared the Coulee wall arched back away from the road, obscuring the rest in a nefarious blanket of fog. The next ice we saw was at the Devil's Punch Bowl. Things looked pretty in and fat, but there were several cars parked and people all over the climbs. However, when we took a closer look, most parties were just finishing up, so we racked up.

Trotsky's Folly in excellent conditions.

Trotsky's Folly, the first climb up from the road, was in great shape. I had wanted to climb this one back in 2001, but the topout of the pillar hadn't formed that year. As Brent was so nice to provide Chris and I with his truck, ropes, and rack of screws, I figured I'd take the first lead. The ice was incredible: plastic, a little soft, and steep.

Dave leading Trotsky's Folly. Photo by Brent.

Brent and Chris followed no problem, and soon we were up checking out Trotsky's Revenge and the Punch Bowl. Trotsky's Revenge looked almost there. The bottom steps were formed nicely, but the final pillar was still all pencilly and wet. Judging from the only 'ok' screws on the previous pitch, I figured that leading the upper pillar on Revenge would have to wait for me.

Itching to lead, Chris strapped on the right side of the punch bowl. The "death icicles" were impressively large this year, but most of them had snapped off already. Regardless, the right side is the safest line on it, and we climbed quickly.

Chris leading the Devil's Punch Bowl Right.

After walking off right, we headed back out to the truck. The devilish fog had not lifted a finger, so we drove down the road to the geographically well defined Pee Wee's Playground area. These climbs are located directly across and south of the entrance to Steamboat Rock State Park. No sign of the climbs yet, so we ate lunch in the rig. Brent's wife had packed him a huge lunch of all sorts of things. Chris and I, being the savvy alpine-light-is-right packers we are, decided that all we really needed was a flat of Costco muffins, some cliff bars, and a bag of cashews. The coconut-sugar-encrusted cashew variety is greatly preferred, though those came from Brent's lunch too.

Just as we were heading out, the fog lifted enough to show us that I was about to lead us up the wrong talus cone. Wooo, as mutiny in the fog had been narrowly avoided, we began the incredibly demanding and physically GRUELING 20 minute hike up the hill. Unfortunately upon closer inspection, most climbs were either spewing water, weren't touching down, or were too short. However, about the 5th climb from the left seemed to have very thick and plastic ice. It was Brent's lead, and he tackled it strait on and in great style.

The first pitch.

Brent leading.

There appeared to be a few more steps up higher, so Brent brought us up, and I set off on the next pitch. It started up about 40 feet of WI2 gully ice, then climbed a short but very steep 20ft pillar with a sketchy picks-in-the-mud top out. That seemed like the end of the ice, but I kept walking up, and sure enough a little ways up through the trees there was a final little headwall/amphitheater of ice. The place looked like topout hell, with most lines kicking back to near vertical near the top and detaching as they met the wet rock. Hoping for more of that spectacular mud climbing, I lead up the WI3 finish, just making the top with our 50 meter ropes. The ice was a bit brittle but took good screws. The rope drag from "walking through the forest" sucked though, and made the anticipated mud climbing all the more challenging.

Brent gingerly hooking his way up at the top of the climb.

The final ice at the top of the climb on my way down. Yes astute observers, night had indeed fallen!

The first pitch of this climb had slings on top of it, but I couldn't find any slings in the obvious topout trees on the second pitch. My guess is that the upper pitch of this one hadn't been climbed before, as it is of lower quality, lower difficulty than the first pitch, and because the upper amphitheater can't be seen from below.

A double rope rap brought us just exactly down to the top of the first pitch, and we were lucky enough to have the ropes pull cleanly through the forest on our first try. One more short rap down, and we were at the packs.

After thrashing down the hill back to the car, we began the long and fateful drive home. We took a wrong turn near Dry Falls, and ended up driving half way to Spokane on Hw 2 before realizing our mistake. The fog was so dense (10-20 ft visibility) that we didn't notice the mistake until looooong after we should have. It just goes to show that fog is evil, and Bank's Lake is the Bermuda triangle of Washington driving (for further proof, see my last drive to Banks Lake).

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