Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. A Week of Washington Ice

I love climbing ice in Washington. When temperatures plummet, my mind relentlessly computes aspect, temperature, elevation, and snowpack into a vision of what might be in. Each day I drive the canyons of Leavenworth and watch the routes I'm interested in. They start as a sliver of ice amidst a crashing water fall or a veneer of snow stuck to a rock wall. Days later, with the right conditions, these routes develop into something climbable. It happens fast and you have to be ready when it all lines up.

This December's cold snap produced some great ice around the Northwest. More snow would have created the perfect scenario, but I wasn't complaining. With a bone dry fall behind us and very little snow on the ground, I shelved some mixed projects and focused on pure water ice climbs instead. Drury Falls, a beautiful formation just a few minutes away from my house started to come together. Each day I would stand on the highway and check it's progress. Soon the blotches of ice became more cohesive. It started to look climbable. Then, the temps fell another ten degrees and dense clouds obscured the sun for three straight days. It was go time.

I called Craig Pope and Vern Nelson Jr. These guys are my ice partners in crime. Long before others  have even began thinking about ice, these guys are prowling the state, envisioning the future and dreaming of the day it all comes together.

The crux of climbing Drury Falls comes before the first pitch. One needs to cross the Tumwater River, a rumbling, powerful stretch of water, just to reach the climb. We found our place amongst those who have struggled with this crossing, nearly losing control of our boat on attempt number one. We rethought our strategy, headed down the road to a safer crossing, and finally made it across. After that it was all gravy.
Crossing the Tumwater in the right spot...this kind of boating I can handle!
photo by Craig Pope
The approach to Drury is a terrain trap if I've ever seen one, but the low snowpack made it as safe as it could ever be. I relished being in such an awesome place at the right time. It's neat to find yourself in places that are usually off limits. After some precarious boulder hopping rambling ice forced us into our crampons and we hooped and hollered our way upwards. 
Craig and I rambling
Photo by Vern Nelson Jr.
The ice got a bit steeper, but was still dead easy and we continued the super fun group solo.
Craig and I climbing
Photo by VNJ
We came to the steepest portion of the climb and decided to rope up. Three fun pitches of featured ice brought us to the top of the falls, an amazing place that offered a perspective I had never had before. Thousands of feet below headlights snaked along the highway. I felt close to home, but far away at the same time.
Myself leading our first pitch of roped climbing
Photo by VNJ
Vern leading our pitch two
Photo by Craig Pope
After Drury, I took a few days to work, but couldn't help but ramble around the Icicle each afternoon. Leavenworth ice is a lot like its rock. It's usually low angle and the lines, while in a beautiful setting, aren't necessarily mind blowing (there are exceptions). Still, they are fun and I look at it like going for a run. It's just nice to get out.
Out for an afternoon ramble in the Sword Gully. This gully is super fun with about 600 feet of stepped ice to WI3
Photo by Max Hasson
An afternoon or two later, Max Hasson and Jon Pobst joined me for a route that I had eyed for many years. Just right of the Warrior Wall, we connected often thin, but sometimes thick ice runnels for three 80 meter pitches of spicy fun. Our first mixed pitch was especially thin and bordered on the limit of what I was willing to risk on a Monday afternoon after work. When I drove by the next afternoon, our climb was nothing more than a wet slab. The definition of "here today, gone tomorrow".
Climbing in the Warrior Wall zone
Photo by Max Hasson
A few more days of work and rambling had me itching to get on something steeper. Last season, Kurt Hicks and I had visited the Entiat, a quiet canyon outside of Wenatchee that offers aesthetic climbs in a peaceful setting. We didn't climb as warm temperatures and unstable ice conditions signaled the end of our season. Despite not swinging the tools that day, my eye spotted the "fang like" pillar of What Do Ardenvars Eat?  It was a line that inspired me with all the right ingredients: A beautiful position, an elegant form, and engaging climbing. Last weekend, Blake Herrington, Chad Kellogg, and I headed back to see if WDAE was hanging in there. It was (I think it's gone now...), and we had a great time climbing the steep, shimmering tube of ice. We soloed up a beautiful second pitch too. What a route!
Myself leading What Do Ardenvars Eat?
Photo by Blake Herrington
Another perspective of What Do Ardenvars Eat?
Photo by Blake Herrington
After rapping off of WDAE, we hopped over to Tyee Falls. It was the wettest ice climb any of us had ever done. For once, I was able to see through my blinders, telling Blake that "I guess I understood why some people don't like ice climbing." Soaking wet and shivering we rapped off and ran for the car. Temps were rising, the season was slipping...time to go to Patagonia!

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