Sunday, January 30, 2011

Silver Creek Ice Revisited

I returned to the Silver Creek Ice yesterday with friends Ian and Ralph. I was psyched to get some more mileage in after the Ice Instructor Course and Ian and Ralph were eager to check the area out and test themselves against some steep ice. 

I didn't have any intention of leading the pillar until we arrived at it's base. Although taking some heat with the morning sun, the ice looked fat and plastic. I was inspired and soon decided to lead it.

When Drew and I top roped this about 5 weeks prior, I had dry tooled up the rock on the left side which was now completely buried in ice!

I took my time on lead and placed a number of screws where the ice was good. This was my first sustained WI5 lead and for the most part I felt good. I began to get pumped near the top, but continued to shake out and stem my feet which allowed me to stay relaxed and de-pump.

The ice was in good shape except for the top out, which sees more sun throughout the day. I have always been told good ice is cold, clear and dry. The surface of this ice at the top was warm, wet and granular... I was glad to have saved a couple longer screws for the top!

After topping out, I hauled up the drill and place a stainless steel rock anchor. This is above the ice, on the climbers right side and easily accessible from the top (although one might consider a belay if setting up a top rope).  This will allow climbers to belay safely without having to build an anchor in marginal ice on top of the flow. My goal is to place a few more anchors in the area to build a local ice venue where folks can come and climb safely.

Ralph and Ian ran several laps on the ice while I checked out the drip left of the belayer. I think there could be two mixed routes here: a steep one that starts right of the drip and an easier, blocky/vertical line to its left. I hope to return this winter and complete these lines!

Ian saying good bye to the ice and hello to a fun filled descent of sun crusts and isothermia!

Although our local ice climbing options are minimal, I feel grateful that we have what we have!
Thanks guys for a great day!

Silversun Pillar WI5 100'+
(proposed name)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

AMGA: Ice Instructor Course

I recently returned from Ouray, Colorado where I completed my AMGA Ice Instructor Course. New to the AMGA curriculum, the IIC will become a mandatory component of the Alpine discipline starting next year. Although not required, I chose to take the IIC before my Alpine Exam in September because out of all the disciplines, ice guiding is what I've done the least of. 

We arrived in Ouray to cold temps (highs in the teens) and a lot of picked out ice. The Ouray Ice Festival had just wrapped up the weekend before with success, despite a late start to the season. Generally we had great conditions with warming temps (highs 34* in town) and a skiff of snow later in the week.

Ouray is the perfect venue for such a course with easy access to the Ice Park and lots of backcountry ice to choose from. We spent a couple half days in the park, but other then that we were climbing multi pitch ice within the Ouray/Silverton area. A big thanks goes out the instructors: Keith Garvey, Dale Remsberg, Doug Neidever and Peter Doucet for putting a good curriculum together and pulling off a great course!

The Ice Park.

Gary, totally gripped! They had some issues with the dam and we had high water in the Park throughout the week.

Chilling at the cave belay.

Get some!

The approach to Whorehouse Hoses, which is just visible in the cliffs above the ski pole.

Heres the first pitch of Whorehouse Hoses WI4/5, 70 meters. I lead this pitch with two single ropes and a head cold... Hacking up a lung, I was worked.

Justin on the nice third pitch of Whorehouse.

Just beyond Whorehouse is Stairway to Heaven, a classic long route of Colorado Ice.

Here's some of our team on the last pitch of The Ribbon WI4+, 3 pitches.

And lastly, a wide angle view of The Ribbon (left) and Birdbrain Boulevard. If you zoom in you can see our party on The Ribbon and Vince Anderson and his client on Birdbrain.

Thanks to all the participants and Colorado for having such good ice!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Making Waves

This photo from several years back really stirred things up. 

These guys don't look like they've starred death in the eye...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Silver Creek Ice

Drew and I headed into Silver Creek today to climb some steep ice. Last year we bought a snowmobile together and then Drew promptly blew out his knee. So today was the first time he'd ridden it after purchasing it almost a year ago! 
We rode tandem about 3 miles in with Kaya dog surfing the seat between us. It was pretty comical, but we managed to stay on the sled and not get stuck. Next time we'll have to get some helmet cam footage of the approach! 
After shutting the sled down, it was still about an hour approach on skis to the ice. I climbed this steep pillar about 10 years ago with the Leidecker brothers, and had always wanted to come back. The ice was in, but was very "chandeliered"... not so good for placing screws! So we scampered around the backside and set up a top rope and gave it a few burns.

Sorry for the crummy photos... it's difficult to belay and take pictures at the same time!

We gotta get Drew to wear something colorful! That "rock" colored jacket isn't cutting it!

Pumped! It's steeper than it looks!

We each gave it a burn, then I tried to dry tool up this steep face to the left. I did pretty good, but when I came winging off near the top I swung under the wettest part of the ice flow. It was as if I was dangling on a rope in a cold shower wearing only soft shells... I was instantly drenched to the bone! Dry tooling? More like wet tooling! Last time I climb ice without a hard shell.

All in all we had a good day. I'd like to get back out there and put some rap anchors in and have another go at the dry tooling! Let's hope the snow keeps coming and the ice keeps building!

Thanks for fun day Drew and thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dry Tooling in the Big Cave

Erik and I headed down to the big cave with Cody Doolan the other day for a session of dry tooling. We had been talking about giving this a try for years, but had never committed to it. Cody has spent a number of winters in New England ice and mixed climbing and was keen to give the Big Cave a try. I know that ethically dry tooling on rock routes is frowned upon, but we figured what better place than the lava choss piles of south central Idaho!

Erik, winning the ro-sham-bo, was first up!

The Big Cave in all it's glory!

Cody pointing out some finer techniques of dry tooling.

Yours truly getting the rope up on "Stoner Boy".


Once the rope was up, we each gave multiple TR burns. It didn't take long before the tanks were out of gas!

Thanks Cody for some great pics and both you guys for a fun day dry tooling! 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cascade Climbs Part 3: In Deep on the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart

With success on Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan, Drew and I were eager to keep the send train rollin'. Little did we know that the North Cascades were going to hand us an extra large serving of Humble Pie!

After drying out in the hotel in Bellingham, Drew and I decided to head in to Boston Basin for a brief weather window and climb the Torment - Forbidden Traverse. We got absolutely soaked and muddy on the approach into Boston Basin and it wasn't even raining! If you have done this approach, you know exactly what I'm talking about. We slept through a wet night only to hear rain on the tent as the alarm went off at 4am. After sleeping in, we had a casual breakfast with multiple coffees as the wetness continued. At 11am we changed our objective and decided to try the popular West Ridge of Forbidden. We navigated the glacier approach in full whiteout conditions and standing at the base of the route, staring into the mist we determined that the forecasted weather window wasn't coming and we were tired of being wet! 

We bailed, packed up, sketched down the trail and checked in to the hotel in Bellingham!

 I was getting tired of the rain. Nothing was drying out. We only had three days left before my Advanced Alpine Guides Course started and we needed another objective. After checking the weather forecast and brainstorming with guide books, Drew and I decided to climb the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart.
Mt. Stuart dominates the southern end of the North Cascades. Being on the southeast side of the range means that it generally gets less precipitation. The North Ridge is a long committing alpine climb a days hike in from any trailhead. We chose to approach from the south, camping at Lake Ingals the night before. The full North Ridge is Grade V, 5.7-5.9 with up to 30 pitches of alpine ridge climbing. The standard descent is down the Cascadian Couloir to the south. No matter how you approach the North Ridge, you're going to have to walk around the mountain either to get home or get on the route. 

Lake Ingals and our camp south of Mt. Stuart.

We chose to climb the popular upper North Ridge (grade IV, 5.7-5.9) which crosses the Stuart Glacier and climbs a small couloir to gain the ridge at about half height. Here you can see the upper ridge in profile as we crossed the Stuart Glacier. The approach couloir is visible on the lower left, and the Gendarme is on the skyline at about half height. The Gendarme has two pitches of 5.9 climbing and requires a bigger rack. Our plan was to avoid the Gendarme by climbing around it, moving with a lighter alpine rack and climbing in mountain boots instead of rock shoes. Little did we realize when planning for the climb that all the precipitation we experienced in Boston Basin would translate to a significant amount of snow and ice on the north side of Mt. Stuart.

Some perspective on the scale of things... here I am approaching the "small couloir" which provides access to the upper North Ridge.

Drew and I have done a number of alpine ridge routes and I think we figured this would be a fairly straight forward ascent of one of the 50 Classic Climbs. I was a little surprised when the terrain and conditions dictated that we pull the rope out in the couloir. I had anticipated cruising through this unroped and moving quickly. Was this a sign of things to come???

Once on the ridge we removed our crampons for a stint and enjoyed the sun.  

Pitch after pitch fell away as we climbed splitter granite with snow on the ledges and some wet rock here  and there. The higher we climbed, the more wet rock we encountered. After several spicy leads it became clear that we were going to have to put crampons back on.

Here I'm leading a wet and snowy crack that would be easy fifth class when dry. The crack widened beyond the size of our gear and I had to run it out another 50' to the next belay. Like much of the wet climbing below, I found this pitch a demanding lead. 
The Gendarme looms overhead and our anxiety was building. Due to the conditions we were finding on the ridge, I began to question whether or not we were going to be able to bypass the Gendarme. The route around requires a rappel off the north side of the ridge into a gully, and then several more pitches of easy fifth class rock. 

The conditions on the north side of the ridge did not look inviting at all. Occasionally I would sneak a glance over the edge as we continued to climb towards the Gendarme. I pushed all thoughts and fears away in hopes that our route around would be obvious and less intimidating. 

Several more pitches landed Drew and I at the base of the great Gendarme... our fears were realized. Here we were 12+ pitches up the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart. Climbing along the ridge was blocked by 5.9 climbing on the Gendarme. We had neither the protection nor rock shoes to attempt to the route; not to mention the cracks were visibly iced up. A descent down the ridge would mean essentially loosing our light rack as we would have to build rap anchors the entire way way down. This would take all day and would be, at the very least, complicated. Also, our camp was on the other side of the mountain and a retreat down the north side would mean retracing our approach to the south. The other option was to commit to the snow and ice gully. We had no ice protection, only crampons and a single snow axe each. Up to this point the climbing had been made more difficult by the snow. Looking into the gully and seeing only snow, ice and rock we were reluctant to leave the ridge...

Drew and I discussed our options. We decided that he would lower me into the gully to test the conditions. If they weren't good, I could potentially climb out and we would start our descent down the ridge. If the conditions were good, he would rappel to me and we'd continue up the gully. 
Constant sluffing had firmed up the snow so that I was front pointing every step. This was much better than I had imagined. I pictured shallow, weak, unconsolidated snow covering steep rock. I built an anchor and shouted up to Drew that it was a go. He rappelled and pulled the ropes. We were now committed to the gully, with retreat back to the ridge not too feasable.

I lead a run-out traversing pitch, slinging icicles as I went. Although the climbing was not difficult, I only managed three pieces of protection in 160' - two of which were slung icicles and more mental pro than anything else. The thought of a slip rang in my mind as spindrift and ice occasionally showered down from above. I kept telling myself that if I did fall, curl into a ball to try and prevent a crampon from snapping an ankle!

Drew followed the pitch and lead another demanding snow and rock pitch that brought us to easier terrain. We began to feel that the difficulties were behind us, but it was getting late and we still had 400'+ to the summit.

Through out the day I kept hearing what I thought were voices. I would scan the north side and determine we were the only ones on the mountain that day. Initially Drew did not hear them, but as we climbed higher, he too thought he heard something. There are lots of mountaineering tales where climbers talk about hearing voices or feeling a presence of another high on some remote peak. I began to wonder if we had pushed ourselves to the point where the spirits of the mountain had begun talking to us!

As the summit grew near, a clear and distinctive voice rang out: "Holy Sh*t! There are climbers down there!". We looked up to see someone standing on the summit block, silhouetted in the afternoon light. He gave us a wave and watched as we climbed steep snow and ice. Only a few hundred feet separated us, but we were a world apart in the shadow of the mountain.

Drew and I summited at 4pm, 10 hours after leaving camp that morning. Our initial plan was to return to Lake Ingals, pack up and hike out. On the descent, it became apparent that although possible, it would be better to sleep another night at camp and return to the trailhead in the morning. We had some food still and a restful sleep sounded a lot more inviting than hiking 4.5 miles at night just to get to the car. 
We began boogying off the summit towards the Cascadian Couloir. Route finding was made easy by the  scramblers who had ascended that way earlier. We caught up to them, chatted a bit and learned that there were several parties who had ascended or attempted to ascend the Cascadian Couloir that day. We blasted by several folks in the couloir on the way down, and after 4000'+ we hit the trail and had to hike back up to Lake Ingals and our camp. We arrived at camp just as the light was fading and collapsed in exhaustion. As we took off our boots and rummaged through gear we heard the distinctive sound of a helicopter approaching. We watched as a rescue helicopter hovered around the base of the Cascadian Couloir for about 30 minutes. We could see lights on the hillside signaling to the helicopter, but it soon grew dark and the ship flew away. In the morning, as we hiked out out, the helicopter returned and hopefully were able to complete their rescue.
Drew and I both agreed that our ascent of the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart was one of the more committing climbs we had done. I felt fortunate to have succeeded and humbled by the conditions and terrain we encountered. We have not heard about the rescue that day but my hopes are that everyone is OK. 

Thanks Drew for sharing the rope with me (and the great photos), and Thank You Mt. Stuart for the experience and allowing us to summit and return safely!