Ice Climbing - Part 4

February 23. 2003

Loren recruited Jens for some ice climbing, and we left early Sunday morning. Our aim was to try something challenging, so we were loaded down with a full on rack of screws, pins, cams and nuts. After a week of heavy snowfall, we weren't expecting the joyous snow-free ice that Alex and I found the weekend prior, but rather what could be best described as "Survival Climbing" conditions.

It was very cold in the morning, and there was snow and some ice on the boulders lining the approach creek. We slowly worked our way along the river bed, fighting the heavy load and lack of sleep. At one point while crossing the creek one of my feet slid off a rock and plunged into the icy water. I instinctively caught my balance by plunging my other foot in right after it. I had gone in calf deep, and even though it was only for a second, I could tell that my leather boots were totally saturated. Loren then promised me a cinnamon roll for every toe I lose to frostbite. How gracious!

The approach continued to be slow and arduous. We arrived at the "approach" pitch, only to find that it had melted out over the past week, no doubt due to all the fresh snow. This forced us to continue up the boulder field into a nest of snow plastered alder. I just put my hood on, looked down, and started yarding on branches. Loren starts to laugh because he knows how much Jens really loves scrumbling through brush and munge, and we try and convince him that the nasty approach is worth it.

Jens emerges from the brush.

We finally arrive at the area, but the sight is not encouraging. The climb we had intended to do is even more melted out than last week, with no ice through the crux section. The rest of the climb, along with most everything else, is also plastered with snow.

After a short debate, we decide to head over and check out the far left hand flow as it looks to have the most ice. Breaking trail is a tiresome affair through the foot of heavy snow, and we rotate leaders often.

The far left hand flow in March 2001. Photo: Phil Fortier

Loren approaching in much thinner conditions with our belays at the dots.

We dug out a huge platform at the base of the climb, and racked up. We figured that we could do the route in two pitches, one up to the ledge at 2/3rds height, and one short one to the top. To be expected, the scale of the area would deceive us again! I decided to lead the first pitch, and brought along two pins and a few long screws just in case I got lucky.

Dave starting off on the first pitch. Photo by Loren

The ice on the initial slab was thin and my tool sticks wouldn't hold full body weight. I just tried to focus on climbing with my feet, and not think about the exposure. I placed two mediocre screws at a short steep step and climbed up, topping out into consolidated snow. The pitch continued in a similar fashion. At half rope I sank two crappy screws, and climbed another 20m of steep 1-2" ice-slush over rock. At that point Loren came on over the radio and said that I wasn't going to make it to the ledge. The only possible belay was on a pillar 30 ft. to my left, and I was starting to feel really sketchy. I worked left and found a little better ice. I placed a 17 cm screw that promptly bottomed out half way in. I clipped it and kept on traversing. Just before the pillar was a little rock outcrop, and I found a perfect lost-arrow placement. I whacked it in, but it didn't ring back with a solid tone. I took it out, and then promptly dropped it. Shit! I tried my other pin, and found that the blade would fit in a tighter constriction in the crack. After searching around more, I figured that with the rest of the rock gear I could form a bomber belay. I hauled it up on one of my lead lines, and then brought the guys up.

The belay was cramped, and Loren set himself a mini-anchor closer to the pillar. Jens and I rearranged gear and ropes for him to lead the next pitch. Thankfully, for it was a constant 23 degrees, Jens had packed up my down jacket for the belay. We ended up leaving a baby-angle fixed here.

Jens lead the next pitch is great style. The pillar was funky aerated ice, but he zoomed up to the top of it in no time. Above the ice tended rightward and positioned him right above Loren's little slot. For almost the entire pitch Loren just crouched into the wall while rivers of spindrift and chucks of snow/ice pounded down on him. But fear not, for Loren would seek his revenge on the next pitch!

Jens starts up the pillar on the second pitch. Photo by Loren

Following at the same time worked out pretty well, with only a minimum of waiting for the person above. The next pitch was again, totally different ice from the last. Snow capped mushrooms lead up a steep final section, so we elected our frozen fungi expert (Loren) to take the pitch. With enough mushroom climbing to last a lifetime on Drury Falls earlier in the year, Loren has his doubts. We tell him that this is a Costco sponsored climb, and that there is one of those sample stands at the top with free cinnamon rolls. With that, Loren tackled the pitch and dispatched it. In fact, he meticulously cleaned snow off of every move such that Jens and I could fully enjoy the climbing! I guess we're just dirty rotten liars.

Dr. IceShroom works his magic.

The pitch had some steep and fun climbing on relatively thick ice. At the top we rejoiced with a quick session of the dreaded thaw and then rapped off a convenient tree. This easily brought us down to the ledge at the start of the 3rd pitch. From there we traversed off to the climbers left and made another rap off a tree into the snow gully left of the climb. From there it was easy snow downclimbing to reach the base.

The climb was 400 ft. tall, and our three pitches were: Pitch 1 (50m) - WI 3 X, Pitch 2 (40m) - WI 4-, and Pitch 3 (40m) - WI 3.

The finicky conditions caused us to climb slowly, so we were pretty much out of time, not to mention that my wet feet had had enough! The deproach back the the car went pretty well. We made good time down through the boulder field and followed a new route down a dry creek in the valley bottom. It got dark, and as we were approaching the final river crossing, Loren and I started making a series of small turns in direction. Soon we crossed a creek that was flowing in what we considered to be uphill. Yes, we were pretty much lost. We then came across the biggest freaking tree we'd ever seen in the cascades. This giant cedar was maybe 15 ft. in diameter and rivaled some of the Sequoias in Yosemite!

So.. Seeing as we didn't bring a compass, Loren and I tried using the digital compass on our Suunto watches. As I rotated around, my watch read off: NW - N - NE - N - NW - N -... and so on. Loren's was being equally usefull, reading that every direction was S. Too bad we couldn't have combined them, we'd almost have a whole compass! Jens wasn't buying this technology crap, and started using his head. He figured out that we had totally turned around and sure enough, 5 minutes of walking in the opposite direction brought us right out to the log.

We all hopped on the log that bridges the creek, bouncing across it cowboy style. Unfortunately for this cowboy, I accidentally hopped my "frank and beans" right onto a big ass knot in the wood. Luckily the truck was not far!

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