Tag: ice climbing

Ice Climbing First Tracks

I got a message from my climbing buddy Ryan, from http://www.climbingreport.com suggesting we go ice climbing up Provo Canyon to our favorite spot, Stairway to Heaven. He said it was early season and thin, but that a few days more of freezing should solidify it enough to get in some decent climbing.

Sadly the next few days were on the warm and rainy side. On Friday night he messaged suggesting we shoot for Pricecicle (Dirtcicle) which at a higher elevation was in better condition overall. I had some family events to attend to over the day, and didn’t have time for the 3 hours round trip drive, so that was out of the question. We settled on going out before dawn prepared to run a mixed line if needed, just to get in some climbing before my family event deadline.

At the base of Stairway to Heaven, in the dark, with Mount Timpanogos behind and the highway below.
At the base of Stairway to Heaven, in the dark, with Mount Timpanogos behind and the highway below.

We met at the Nunn’s Park lot at just a few minutes before 6 AM, and hiked in the dark the 3/4 mile to the fork in the trail heading up the gully to the base of Stairway. I had misplaced my good headlamp, so borrowed one the kids’ and it was really dark heading up the steep gravel in the dark. Remind me to dig out my good headlamp and keep it attached to my helmet at all times.

Thin ice indeed. Darktime view of the route at Stairway to Heaven
Thin ice indeed. Darktime view of the route at Stairway to Heaven

The route was really thin looking, but doable. There were thin slicks of ice over rock with some tiny pillars like melted candle wax hanging over rock depressions. It would be interesting. I had brought some slings and lockers for setting the toprope. Ryan went up with his rope and my pro and was gone for quite a bit longer than expected. I assumed he was having trouble crossing icy patches on the sloping shelf at the top of pitch one traversing the 50 or so yard to the chains for this route. I assumed he stopped to put on his crampons. He had his TNF Ice Project backpack [HERE] and I love the top crampon pocket. Envious.

Ryan rappelling over the falls at Stairway to Heaven
Ryan rappelling over the falls at Stairway to Heaven

I heard some rocks tumbling down to the right of the route and ducked out of the way just as he rapped over the edge. The rope was slightly to the right side of the route, but that’s where the best ice was, so it would do the job. I was really frozen standing there, so took first crack at the route to warm up. It was 23 with a real-feel of 17, but there was a really cold humid damp wind that made it feel more like 5F. Dang it was cold. I went up in my OR VERT gloves [HERE in a newer version] instead of my thinner climbing gloves. I also kept my puffy jacket on. Did I say it was cold?

It's not often I get to climb this dressed up.
It’s not often I get to climb this dressed up.

My hands froze really good, but the ice was decent. More decent than I expected. I got in some good sticks, a few good hooks, saw some sparks fly from the ends of my tools and popped out some really brittle toe points. One spot in particular felt off balance, backwards leaning slightly clearing a small bulge over some candlesticks. It had bad hollow sounding feet. But I was on toprope, so it’s all good.

Ryan climbing up the right side of the one doable route at Stairway to Heaven
Ryan climbing up the right side of the one doable route at Stairway to Heaven

I went up again on the right side as soon as Ryan was thawed out enough to belay. I went up much faster and my hands were warmer, having gotten that blood rush post-screaming-barfies. If you’ve been there you know what I mean. Ryan again booked it up the right side. We were both really stoked and while the ice wasn’t that great, the climbing was.

Ryan climbs another line slightly left of our first line
Ryan climbs another line slightly left of our first line

I took off again, as far left as the thin flow of ice would allow. It was much worse ice, with small blobs of ice to stick and thin smears to scratch. I did one of those “6 inches at a time” toekick ascents, breaking off the candle I was climbing with each kick. It was tough. Ryan followed that same line and afterward said it was really good fun.

Ryan working his way up the left side at Stairway to Heaven
Ryan working his way up the left side at Stairway to Heaven

I decided on the next lap to push it even further. I tried only hooking and placing. No swings. About halfway up I felt like my right tool was bomber, my right foot bomber. My left foot was nothing and my left tool was sketchy. I tried standing up on my almost nonexistent left toe point, and popped off. Solid pop. One split second moving up, the next split second hanging ten feet lower. In that split second I realized my left tool was following me so I ducked my head low and slammed my forearm over behind my neck. Sure enough it hit my helmet and dragged along my forearm for a split second. I wondered if it had hung up there or not. I heard the clatter a few seconds later, and turned to watch it bounce into the gully about 100′ below.

Dripping ice freezing instantly on our boots, tools, gloves, clothes. Water in our bottles freezing.
Dripping ice freezing instantly on our boots, tools, gloves, clothes. Water in our bottles freezing.

Ryan lowered me and thought maybe he could lower me into the gully and I could get a boost from the rope on the way back up. I looked at my watch and it was go time anyway. We could get it on the way past down to the car. Ryan said he’d rap down after cleaning. After his last lap I started putting my gear away and helped clear the rope for his descent. We hiked down the gully to the tool, and I hung it on my backpack waist belt. I don’t recommend that on a steep gravel descent, by the way. You don’t want pointy things interrupting your tumble down the scree.

That little tiny white stripe of ice to the left of center is where we were climbing at Stairway to Heaven
That little tiny white stripe of ice to the left of center is where we were climbing at Stairway to Heaven

At the bottom I paused for a photo and gosh did it look bare. Really bare. Had I done the approach at daylight I might have turned around. So glad we had this first day of climbing Stairway to Heaven for the 2015-2016 winter ice climbing season. Hope we get plenty more really good memorable days climbing this year.

Ice Climbing Lincoln Falls Part 2

Todd Gilles and I had a great time Ice Climbing on Lincoln Falls, an area at about 12,000′ elevation on Mount Lincoln, a Colorado 14er. The approach and walk-off are part of a hiking route to the summit of Mount Lincoln called “The Amphitheater”. I don’t think there are too many ascents of that route in a given year, according to the reports on 14ers.com HERE.

I posted a photo gallery of some of the photos I took while climbing the route most often called “Scottish Gully” HERE and now I can share some of the photos taken by Todd Gilles [FACEBOOK PAGE]. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Ice Climbing Lincoln Falls – 5 Apr 2014

Ice Climbing in Ouray

Todd Gilles and I haven’t had a chance to climb for a few months, so at the prompting of my wife we arranged an ice climbing trip to Ouray Colorado. Todd, if you might remember, was the star athlete I coached to a 3rd place finish at Elbrus Race 2013 [Book of the same name]. We arrived late on Thursday night. Actually very early Friday morning. We stayed at one of my favorite hotels, the Twin Peaks Lodge [CLICK HERE]. If you book online you can get a huge discount. The breakfast is decent and the pool and spa are good. It’s also right at the base of the trail up the canyon.

Ice Climbing in Ouray Colorado with beautiful sunrise
Ice Climbing in Ouray Colorado with beautiful sunrise

We set the alarm for 7:30 to try and get at least a little shuteye before heading out on our ice climbing adventure. The breakfast was decent and we enjoyed watching the little tourism video playing, noting that the skiers were the only sportsmen portrayed as proficient. We packed up for a day of ice climbing. I took the rope and Todd took the bag of pro. We took off up the canyon trail. The little ice rink by the fee building was buried in snow. I was wanting to climb in the Five Fingers area, but parts of it were roped off and closed. The park was almost empty.

Todd tossing the rope down our ice climbing route in South Park
Todd tossing the rope down our ice climbing route in South Park

As we passed the Scottish Gullies we saw a few ropes and heard a few climbers. We weren’t alone after all. We walked around to the road to see the Fingers, but it looked really beat up. We decided to head up to the School Room to see what it looked like. We put on our crampons at the base of the Kids Wall. We didn’t really need them though. The path was pretty solid. The ladder down into the bottom of the School Room was closed. We saw some groups ice climbing and a few of the routes were free. Todd wanted to take me to the South Park area where he’d climbed with friends the week before.

We kept going past New Funtier, where there were a lot of people ice climbing. We got to the South Park area of the Ouray Ice Park. There had been several inches of snow the last couple of days and we were happy to see someone had dug out the bolted anchors for the route Todd wanted to do. I set up a couple of long 6-mm and 8-mm static cords and equalized them. I’ve gotten a lot faster at that over the last couple of years. Todd flaked out the rope and found the middle. I clipped that into the twin opposed lockers and Todd tossed the rope. I let him have the privilege of rappelling down first. That way I could watch the anchor and make sure it was equalized. In ice climbing you might wander a bit more than in a rock climb, since you don’t have to follow the line of the available holds. You make your own.

Todd rappelling in to our ice climbing area at South Park
Todd rappelling in to our ice climbing area at South Park

We climbed for several hours, pacing ourselves pretty evenly. With only two climbers it’s possible to climb too hard too fast without enough rest. We alternated turns and took an extra ten minutes to eat and drink between each set of laps. That allowed us sufficient recovery time so that we didn’t burn out on ice climbing. We walked down the canyon (North) and found another route we wanted to try with a lot of variety. I climbed out with my pack then belayed Todd out with my Petzl REVERSO set in Auto-Lock mode. It was a bit of a struggle as the bolts were on the ground so I tied in a little below the anchor so that I stood with the Reverso at about knee height.

South Park wasn’t too busy that day so we were able to get on one of the ice climbing routes we’d found from the bottom. I did a backed-up anchor on a tree with 8-mm cord and a 13-mm sling. Todd stacked the rope, then tossed it down and rappelled in while I watched. I don’t like tree anchors so much. That’s why I back them up, probably more than I need to. We had a blast climbing. Todd has only been ice climbing a little over a year, but he’s gotten really good in that time. Probably because he pays attention to good climbing and tries to emulate it.

Ice Climbing Video: Todd Gilles Tops Out in South Park

I saved for last a short stretch of slightly overhanging ice at the beginning of the route, where a curtain formed over a large rock. I climbed it in my pack on the way out. This time I belayed Todd from the tree with a Petzl Grigri, which is a lot easier to do one-handed or no-handed. I took that short video of Todd topping out once I could see him where he transitioned off the vertical ice into the narrow chute at the top between the ice-making nozzles. I love the happy look on his face.

We hiked out then after a great day of ice climbing and talked about dinner on the walk down. We decided to go to Buen Tiempo for Mexican, then head to the motel hot springs. On the way into the parking lot we saw some deer that were walking in the little dog park in the middle of the motel courtyard. That was pretty neat. Since we arrived in the middle of the night we had to go to the motel desk to recode our keys. Just to make sure it’s me I suppose. After hanging out for a few minutes we walked the few blocks to town.

Apres Ice Climbing Activities in Ouray

Deer in the middle of Ouray Colorado is a common site
Deer in the middle of Ouray Colorado is a common site

Buen Tiempo was closed for another half hour so we walked to Ouray Mountain Sports to see if there were any ice climbing toys that we didn’t own yet. Nope. You can dream though, right? We walked back to the restaurant and they were open. After, we went to Mouse’s for hot chocolate and a chocolate treat for a midnight snack. It was getting late and we were pretty tired. The hot spring pool was very hot and felt great after our day of ice climbing. We soaked for about a half hour. Just long enough to feel really cooked. We went back to the room and crashed.

Rainy morning in Ouray Colorado
Rainy morning in Ouray Colorado

The next day we woke to rain. We drove through the park and saw that School Room had only one rope set up in it. I’ve never seen it that empty. The routes in the Fingers area had fresh snow on them from overnight. I imagine they’ll be gone soon. In the Gullies there were horizontal cracks. The season is wrapping in the Ice Park. I think a couple weeks more at the most, depending on the weather. A few cold days should prolong it. But for me it’s over now. I won’t be going back to Ouray for ice climbing until January 2015 most likely. I will miss it until then.

Ice Climbing Stairway to Heaven – Cold

I am going to be ice climbing at the Ouray Ice Fest 2013 next week, so I’m trying to get my groove back on by ice climbing as much as I can in between work and family activities. I climbed solo on Thursday Because of the weird wet dripping ice coating the rope I experienced gear failure in my self-belay system so bailed after only one lap.

hiking to the ice climbing routes on Stairway to Heaven
On the Provo Canyon Trail toward Stairway to Heaven

I had decided to climb every other day if I can until I leave Thursday. Today (Saturday January 5) I was going to go up to climb solo again. My usual ice climbing partner Ryan had other plans that day. My wife suddenly decided she wanted to go again. It’s been a while since I’ve been out with her, because of her figure skating competition training and injuries. It was great to hear she was going to go ice climbing with me.

ascending to the ice climbing routes near Provo Utah
The ascent gully to Stairway to Heaven

We had a new babysitter to tend the kids, so we were free to both go ice climbing for about 6 hours. We took off for the Nunn’s Park parking area, put on our boots, harnesses, and packs, and walked to the gate on the trail. It’s a wide access road for Provo City Utilities, but unmaintained so it’s snow covered. We put our crampons on, and I handed her one of my trekking poles to ease the stress on her knees and back. I set a very mild pace up the steep access gully. There were plenty of other groups ice climbing today, but there is plenty of terrain. We’ll be fine.

preparing for ice climbing
What next? Ice Climbing in Provo Canyon

Ice Climbing in Provo Canyon

I raced up the ramp to the shelf and set up a toprope anchor on the same chains I used on Thursday. This time I used a sling to extend the rope away from the chains and hopefully divert some of the water runoff. I also brought a super-duper-dry rope (in climbing terms a dry rope is one that’s treated to repel or shed water – if you do a lot of ice climbing you’ll need one). I found the black ink mark for the center of the rope, clipped it into the lockers, passed it into my belay device, and tossed the rope down. A lot of rope. Oh. That was the “Twenty Feet Left” mark. I grabbed the end of the rope where it lay by my feet and tied in to my harness and undid one side from my belay device. Instead of rappelling I’ll just lower myself [note this is a technical rope application and unless someone has shown you how to do it and approved your technique you should never try this at home folks].

ice climbing on a crowded wall
My wife ice climbing amid the crowd at Provo Canyon

I let my wife try her hand at ice climbing first, since she’s been off the ice for a couple of years. It’s fun watching and belaying her. A great family togetherness thing. During the summer I take the kids out rock climbing, and now one is about old enough to try ice climbing, but I’d like to wait for it to warm up a little bit first. A funny note. While belaying, I heard the yell “HELMET” and looked to see a white helmet plummeting from a few shelves up and land on the ice uphill and skittering between the belayers toward me. We all made a grab for it, hopefully with full attention on our climbers. I managed to kick it into my rope pile. It was a white construction helmet. We talked about it off and on for the next couple hours. No one claimed it. You wouldn’t want to be ice climbing in it. For sure.

Ice Climbing Photos

We each did some laps. It was a ton of fun. I got to experiment with different footwork and tool placements and sticks. Ice climbing is really a mental game sometimes. It’s good to know a lot of different pieces to the puzzle. I climbed out the top on my last lap and tossed the rope down. It stayed pretty dry overall. The slings I used for the anchor were stiff and coated. I had to chip ice off the lockers to get then to unscrew. I had to dig out my back-up ice screw. But the rope stayed dry.

done ice climbing for the day
Packing up the ropes and gear

While climbing our water bottles had frozen shut at the lid and required work to open. They were full of slush. Some of the people ice climbing near us also had issues with their bottles too. It is cold! We packed up, said our goodbyes, and hiked down the steep gully. There’s a pretty good trail right now for access to the ice climbing. A few weeks ago it was still dirt and rocks and a bit tougher going. We hiked down the road to the Nunn’s Park parking area. A car was stuck in deep snow and revving the engine to get out. Be careful parking here. While the different pull-off areas and wide spots are flat enough they don’t always plow them out well. Also there are signs in front of the gates for no parking and the city trucks do use the road now and then.

hiking out after a day ice climbing
Hiking out after a day ice climbing

We took off our crampons and walked out onto the pavement. It’s always a weird feeling to make that transition. We walked down the road to the car, unlocked it, and set our gear into it. I drank a protein shake. I’m in “training to suffer” mode at the moment. Very limited food and drink on these adventures. On the way past I noticed the car was gone so they obviously made it out. I would have stopped to push otherwise. It was a great day ice climbing. I’m looking forward to more.

ice climbing couple
Happy after a great day ice climbing

Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing

On Thursday December 27 I took my friend Todd up to Hoosier Pass for Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing. He’d never been ice climbing before and had been curious to try for a while. In his real life, Todd is a figure skater and coach. He’s my wife’s choreographer for her upcoming competitive ice skating program. That’s how we met.

Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing by figure skater
Todd is an ice skater and coach when he’s not climbing

I’d never been to the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing area before, so a few days before our scheduled climb I took the family out for an adventurous drive. We crossed over Hoosier Pass from Breckenridge to the fork of HWY 4, about a mile South of the Pass. We stayed on the main road all the way to Montgomery Reservoir. There we took the right fork and found the parking area just after a wooden bridge crossing.

Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing area from the parking
Lincoln Falls – ribbons of ice to the right, as seen from the parking area

The Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing area was pretty obvious, ribbons and fangs of ice on the cliffs below Mount Lincoln, a Colorado Fourteener. We let the kids run for a bit in the parking area then returned home to send Todd the pics and directions to the trailhead parking. Hwy 4 is essentially a private road with no parking. It’s important to avoid conflict with local homeowners so reduce your impact if you climb here. In the winter the road isn’t guaranteed to be plowed or accessible to smaller vehicles, just FYI.

Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing area above Montgomery Reservoir
On the trail to the Ice Climb above Montgomery Reservoir

We met at the parking area and I passed out the rope, crampons, harness, tools and helmet I was loaning him. He had some Goretex hiking boots without a welt. I loaned him a pair of glacier crampons with straps to fit them [Black Diamond Contact Strap Crampons]. We wouldn’t be doing any WI4 anyway, since it’s his first day.

Scottish Gullies at Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area
Close to the climbing area. Scottish Gullies prominent thick ribbon of ice on the left.

The morning was cold, windy and cloudy. The car thermometer read zero. Occasional icy flakes blew from the clouds. We packed, then hiked around the lake on the gravel road and then crossed the concrete and steel canal gate. After that you head uphill through the trees on a steep trail. With a foot of loose new snow on the trail it was a bit slick in spots with loose footing. I had trekking poles, but Todd did not. The last 500′ or so of uphill was in a boulder field with very loose footing in the snow. Hard to see the holes between the rocks. Finally we were at the base of the Scottish Gullies, on the left side of the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing area.

Strapping on crampons at the foot of the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing area
Strapping on the crampons at the bottom of the climb

Climbing at the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area

There were a few parties ahead of us, so we got in line. I spotted a good looking WI3 band about 60′ tall to the right side. I told the other parties our intention to top rope that, and they said it would be no problem to them. This part of the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area has an obvious good belay spot near a tree to the right of the base. After the last belayer took off up the left side of the route we got our gear on. Seems like the normal way of doing this climb is the left side. We’re just toproping so we want to stay out of their way as much as possible. I set up our belay above and left of the tree, to allow other groups to pass us as they climb.


Approach from end of road above Montgomery Reservoir. Parking is at a gate at Northwest Corner of the lake.

Todd doesn’t climb much, so I set him up with a Petzl GriGri Belay Device and demonstrated the auto-lock by yanking it hard. I told him:

“If I fall, just let go of the rope…”

I led up the right curtain at the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area called Scottish Gullies and had Todd just feed me rope as I needed it. I set two screws for just in case. At the top of this bulge at about 50′ was a wide shelf of broken crust over deep powder. I was walking on talus and hoping it wouldn’t shift and slide. I set three screws vertically on a thick solid ice flow over a boulder. There were hollow sheets of ice on the surface all over the route. Todd unhooked the GriGri and I lowered myself through the top anchor to the bottom.

Topping out to the right side of Scottish Gullies at Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area
Todd tops out on his first climb of the ice falls

Todd made it up with a little coaching. The crampons flexed quite a bit and the boot heels barely stayed in. I lowered him and had him adjust the straps tighter then sent him up again. I had enough fun on my lead, first one in a couple years. I let him go up five or so times, giving him more and more refined instruction as he improved. There were a handful of other first-timers we ran into that day at the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area. It’s a great place to take them.

Learning is great at Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area
Todd got better with each lap of our route. Here keeping his butt out over his heels on a bulge.

Finally we ran out of time and had to leave. There was no decent way to lower myself from the right hand side and keep all my gear. I had considered doing a V-Thread with the rope and rapping off that. I’ve done that before. Fortunately just as I tied in, a couple came up and the guy offered to go up and bring our gear down. He was teaching a friend to climb, and wanted to toprope a bit and our rope looked just perfect to him. As he ascended our little route at the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing area, his friend started asking questions about the failure rate of ice screws. Good luck.

Great day at the Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing Area
Happy after a great day ice climbing

We packed up our gear while he climbed, and then the rope when he tossed it down. I retrieved my pro from him and we said our good byes. The hike down was a bit slick and treacherous on the way down. We slipped and slid, doing some boot skiing in the ruts between the boulders. Be careful anyone who follows in our footsteps. At the canal gate the route became just a gravel road walk. We returned to our cars, and sorted and stowed our gear. We decided to go out to eat, and Todd had a taste for Mexican.

After our Lincoln Falls Ice Climbing adventure we eat at Fiesta Jalisco in Dillon CO
Fiesta Jalisco in Dillon had good Mexican Food

We stopped at Ready Paint Fire in Breckenridge to pick up my wife and her friend, then we went to Fiesta Jalisco in Dillon for a long evening of eating and sharing stories. Great day. Yes, a great day.