Lillooet Ice Climbing

January 3-4, 2004

Cold weather had been sweeping down from the north for days, so Loren and I decided that we wanted to know what climbing ice at the North Pole might be like. We hit the road after work Friday, and arrived in Lillooet after a relatively easy 5 hour drive. We hop out at the Reynolds to claim our reserved room before unloading the gear. When I ask about our room the clerk says,

"Heh, the really funny thing is we just gave your room away like 2 minutes ago!!!"

"Oh really? Heh, that's funny. Ok, so what is our room number?"

"Uhhh, we actually did give it away two minutes ago... I don't know how this keeps happening."

I had an idea how it 'keeps happening', but I kept it to myself as the 11pm hour was drawing near and there were several nervous looking folks behind me wanting to buy beer before the store closed. We waited while the beer sales were completed, slightly annoyed that they had triaged us to the back of the line. Eventually amends were made with Loren and I getting two rooms... ah yes, we were living large!

Canadian waitresses, with their pre-dawn lethargy, could not have turned over the coffee cup too soon for Loren. Early rising robots that we are, we sat in our silent morning stupor, waiting for the grill to heat. The local gave us the usual "ice climber" oogling, but like the grill, eventually warmed up for us. As both Loren and I are rusty on our ice skills, we signed up for a day of climbing at The Rambles, a good area for moderate climbs.

Darkness and an unfamiliarly biting cold met us as we geared up. Jens' spirit of maximal climbing time was with us, and thus we began hiking up the hill with our headlamps on. I had always wanted to climb the "central" line at the Rambles, as it looked like several pitches of enjoyable WI3s. Racking up at the base was frigid... sure enough, Loren's watch read 0F.

Dave leads the first pitch of The Rambles Center. Photo by Loren.

The mercury drop had caused the ice to be brittle and shatter into spectacular dinner plates with every swing of the ice tools. Many of these chucks of ice simply spewed on down the climb, hoping for a little belayer-pegging action. Every now and then though, a chunk would attain a veritable coup de gras by smacking me in the eye or knee. Good sticks and a healthy dose of The Dreaded Thaw saw me to the top of the pitch before Loren had completely frozen. Unfortunately my camera's battery was not quite as lucky. A short easy pitch lead up hill towards a nice set of pillars.

Loren styling up the brittle ice as I learn that two down coats are indeed better than one!

After following the right hand side, we setup a top rope on the delicate central pillar that had just touched down, as well as the mixed corner to its left. Some goofing around on these finally warmed us up enough to consider some more leading. We descended by rappelling and started working our way over towards the far right climbs at the Rambles. These are located really far up the right hand gully. Even though we were hiking, the constant breeze reminded our bodies that sitting in front of a raging fire might be more natural.

There was a short and moderate hunk of ice that lead up towards an amphitheater of impressive looking climbs. We soloed on up to find the people who's tacks we'd followed. They were a local guide and client pair climbing some burly looking stuff.

"As you can see, just tap.. tap.. tap that tool on in there."

As they were on the nice looking WI4 in the background when we arrived, we decided to check out the corner climb. This neat looking feature started out steep then continually eased and thinned as it approached a mixed problem at its top.

The corner after my lead, and blunder...

The guide said the mixed slab at the top was M6 in iced conditions, and MHard if there was no ice. It sure looked hard from the ground! The ice route was fun though, and I lead up on a mix of brittle and soft hero ice. When I arrived and looked up at the dirty, slabby corner I decided that I wasn't into flailing my up it today. Save that crap for a warmer day! Others had come to the same conclusion this season, as there was a perfectly set v-thread anchor right at the end of the ice. As I rapped off, I setup the ropes for a TR for Loren. Unfortunately I left both strands of rope running through one screw! The end result: both of us at the bottom with two fixed lines. Loren tried to re-lead the pitch but ended up being too cold already, so I lead up again on the other ends of the ropes. Combine this with me dropping a screw on the first lead, and you could practically hear the guide whisper to his client, "Take a good look there son, those guys are what we call gumbies!"

Beer and heat met us at the car... thanks guys. Soon the long showers back at the motel rewarmed our cores enough to go in search of food. In town, you basically have two choices: the Greek place or the pizza place. We went for pizza, and ran into my friends Steve and Elaine Ramsey who had been up suffering (err.. climbing) for a couple days already. After taking the other's orders, I informed the waitress that "I'd like to Savour the sizzle of Beef!", as the card on our table tempted. She then pointed out that the back of the card makes no sense...

... as compared to what?

That night, the Vancouver Kanucks wooped ASS on the Calgary Lionesses (?). Loren was kind enough to explain the rules of hockey to me... as he does every year. Soon though not even the icy fist fights or full on board-checking could keep us awake. The alarm was prudently set to a later 5:30 start.

We arrived at Marble Canyon around 9am, amazingly as the first ones there. Climbing vertical ice was a mere walk in the park compared to stepping out of that warm, comfy car into -5F. Well, except when that ice is also in -5F. It sounded like we had picked a "warm" spot today, as Steve and Elaine were experiencing -15F at the Rambles that day! We walked across the lake as a determined ice fisherman, who had left his van running, geared up for a little morning on the ice.

The deeping wall at Marble Canyon as fat as I've ever seen it.

We top roped a rather picked out incarnation of The Dihedral before packing it back to the car to heat back up. Let's just say that when things "downtown" start to freeze, it's time to go!

One burly dude leading Icy BC while his partner becomes a popsicle.

The cold had gotten to me today like it had to Loren yesterday. There is really something to never getting totally frozen... it just makes you want to give up and go. We tossed around ideas on what to climb on our way back. I spotted Car Wrecker Gully (WI2+?) and we decided to scrog down the scree and climb it. This unusual climb forms below the highway in a drainage just past the bridge where the train tracks go over the road.

Brrrr... oh yeah, it's still cold out here.

Car Wrecker's main pitch.

The gully lived up to its name as there were tires and strange pieces of metal all over. There is a main tier a few hundred feet below the road followed by a short step near the end. We rapped in from a tree and then solo'd back out. The ice was very unusual. It looked like it would be wet but it was actually frozen solid into these wild mushrooms, chimney-like slots, and blobs.

Coming up the first pitch.

Loren vigorously attacks the long and dangerous final pitch!!!!!!

With none too much sun left in the sky, we decided to check out the approach for Small Creep before heading back home. Loren had me drive all the way home, as he had him some devious plans in his head. First, there was more roadside ice to look at along the Frasier Canyon to make margaritas for the entire world. Second, well...

Oh no, how to go from a WI4+ leader to WI0 in one sitting.

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