Lillooet Ice - January 2002

Who: Dave and Loren
When: 1/19-20

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 Campell

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 4.

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 Nitro!

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 nonetheless!

Dave crosses the Bridge River with Tevas and garbage bags. Photo: Loren Campell

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 lead.

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 Campell

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 pitch.

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 Pyramid SnowCap.

A totally amazing weekend for sure. I can't wait to get back!

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