Winter Climbing

  • FritzRay and SCole (what does the "S" stand for?) have both recently posted stories of winter ascents. I'll post another here, but would also suggest to Toby that we gather all the winter adventures under one heading. But, whether we can or not, here's one...

    Most of my real stupidity has been on (or flying off) my bicycle. But I've been around when some fairly dumb things that happened on climbs, though. And most of them involve my friend Tami. Yeah, her.

    The best of them had to be when we made the first winter ascent of Yak Peak, about 100 km NE of Vancouver. I wanted to spend the day climbing ice. Tami hated ice climbing but agreed to come anyway. Fortunately for her, we never did see the incredible ice lines that I'd been told were waiting to be climbed in that area, and rather than waste the day we decided to climb Yak. The main southeast face overlooks the highway. Lots of rock routes on good granite, up to about 15 pitches.

    Steep granite slabs partially covered in powder snow wasn't really on our list of things to do that day, so we headed up the left side of the face to the col as shown in the summer photo below.

    Yak Peak - line of winter ascent.jpg

    It was a gorgeous sunny day in early February, colder than a witch's tit, but calm and beautiful. So we chugged up to the col where we were met by a screaming windstorm blasting in from the north. We put on fleece layers, windsuits, goggles, and scarves, and angled up and right, staying below the ridge whenever we could to avoid the wind, then angling over to the base of the headwall.

    The headwall is mostly fourth-class in summer, but has a lot of short steep ice steps in winter. So we put on our crampons and got out the second tools. We debated roping up, but it was so incredibly cold and windy that we were unwilling to sit around and belay, and decided just to solo to the summit. Most of the little steps were just one or two moves and the ice seemed good, so we weren't too worried.

    And then, about ten feet up a fifteen-foot ice runnel, Tami popped a crampon off her boot.

    I had the rope, but was below her, so couldn't do anything other than offer to try to get a screw in and then climb up and tie the rope onto her. But she decided she could sort things out on her own.

    Looking back twenty-five years later it's pretty funny to picture her hanging there by one tool in a Force 8 gale while trying to re-attach her crampon (it was dangling from the ankle strap) with one hand, with her goggles constantly fogging, her scarf getting in the way of both breathing and seeing, all while looking at a 2,000-foot screamer if the tool popped. There was some serious cursing.

    I offered to come up and deal with the crampon from below while she hung off two tools, but she just said "Nah, this fuckin' thing comes off all the time. I'm used to it."

    Since she posted regularly on ST, y'all know that she must have managed to get the crampon back on and finish the climb, but at the time it seemed kind of serious.

  • Thanks for sharing the adventure!

    Tami! I miss her wit, wisdom, & fun stories. I likely have her email, but David, can you invite her into this blog?

  • @FritzRay said in Winter climbing:

    Thanks for sharing the adventure!

    Tami! I miss her wit, wisdom, & fun stories. I likely have her email, but David, can you invite her into this blog?

    She ain't gonna post up. Already discussed with she and Phil about participating. They lurk on occasion, but after the BS went down on the taco (and off the taco), she won't likely get on another climbing forum again.

  • @David-Harris S stands for Scott. My nickname, thanks to Mike Brown, has been scole ( like the Scandanavian toast) for the past 50 years

  • @Scole I used to play guitar with Mike Brown back when he worked the gas station in Tuolumne Meadows. Good to know he gave you your nickname.

    Andy T

  • @Alfalfa Mike Brown plays guitar really well. You must too if you played with him.

  • "Funny, Mike Brown may or may not have been the love child of Buster Brown and Jayne Mansfield."

    -James Brown

  • OK. Maybe, I had better share a winter climbing photo. Dragontail in the Cascades.

    No! I did not climb it in winter, but I did climb the north face of it's adjacent peak, Colchuck.

    Dragontail winter.jpg


  • Spud Russet.JPG

    Spud Russet on a winter ascent of Crystal Crag

  • 00001254.jpg

  • I love winter climbing! was hopeing to do some on sunday but we had a bad thaw this week.. Here is some from last year ๐Ÿ™‚





  • @NickG
    Whoo Hoo!!!! What it's all about.

  • C'mon folks. It's winter. Let's see some stories or photos of what you did when you were out there in the cold season.

    The Lion in winter.jpg

  • There is snow in it; does it count?

  • In the early 1980's drought winters, I did my best to bag some winter ascents of Cascade summits.
    Mostly, the Mountain Gods caught me in the act, & blew my sorry ass off of their summits.

    I had climbed the 18 pitches of the NE Buttress of Mt. Colchuck in the Cascades with Mike Paine in the summer of 1981. The adjacent to our right (north) big funnel of snowfields descending from the loose & rocky Northeast faces of Colchuck into a huge couloir, did not seem at all attractive as a summer climb.

    However, in early January of 1982, with another drought in progress, that route suddenly seemed reasonable, since all those rocks would be frozen into place & the little snow in the mountains was frozen into stability. I found a willing younger companion/employee named Steve & we apparently were found worthy by the Gods that rule Dragontail & Colchuck & bagged the Northeast Face of Colchuck in perfect conditions.

    The road up Icicle Creek from Leavenworth was snowless to where the road starts up Mountaineer Creek. From there, to where we turned off to go up to Colchuck Lake, the snow was never more than shin deep. It was cold & we were carrying about 65 lbs each of climbing & camping gear. Somewhere along the way I paused & looked around at Steve who had a big happy, goofy smile on his face. I indigently snapped: โ€œSchist! Are you having a good time?โ€ Steve looked puzzled & replied, โ€œIโ€™m having a wonderful time.โ€ I muttered more to myself than him, โ€œsure you are, your sweating like a sow, panting like a racehorse, youโ€™re getting blisters, but your feet are cold, & your nose has grown a snot-cicle Think about it!โ€

    The icy log across Mountaineer Creek on the trail up to Colchuck Lake was interesting with a 65 lb pack. Me enjoying not rolling off the log & dropping 10โ€™ into the creek.

    aRay Wind_02 023 small.jpg

    From near that spot, Dragontail, Colchuck's adjacent, but steeper brother, frowned down at us. Colchuck Lake sets in the cirque below Dragontail & Colchuck looms out of the clouds at right..

    Dragontail winter.jpg

    By the time we got to Colchuck Lake, the early January sun was down, but we got our tent up & enjoyed hot fluids & freeze-dried meals before crawling into our bags for a long night. We got up at first light & reached our route before the sun came up over Dragontail.
    View from Colchuck Lake up to Mt, Colchuck. Our Couloir goes up between the two highest peaks.

    Wind_02_023.5-small Colchuck N. face.JPG

    We rapidly got up to where we could see up the couloir. It looked like all the unavoidable rock steps had snowy, or icy ways over them.


    We finally got to look down-canyon & see the sun coming up on the far side of Mountaineer Creek.


    And then, after a final view down to Colchuck Lake, from just under the glacier, I stopped taking photos & applied myself.


    We roped-up at the start of the Couloir & I mentioned to Steve I was used to climbing this sort of stuff, but let me know if you want to lead. After that we moved up rapidly. The snow was hard, there was no ice & there was no reason to stop & belay until I found a short vertical frozen waterfall step. The vertical part was good & I got in a couple heartening ice screws, but at the top of the step, unconsolidated snow kept me floundering for a solid hold.
    Right then, I finally realized an alpine fantasy & enjoyed that Godly creation, spindrift, much like our departed hero Doug Tomkins enjoyed in the famous 1970's Scottish climbing Chouinard poster. After a couple seconds of enjoyment, while my soul sang "HALLALEUAS," I noticed the spindrift was rapidly building up between me and the snow, as I was desperately trying to find something solid to sink my axe into. The Mountains Gods soon winched me up, & all was well.

    Next thing I knew, I was on the summit ridge taking photos of Steve, with Colchuck Lake far below, on the last pitch.



    Just left of Steve in the below photo, the area that looks a little blurry has spindrift coming down from above. The stuff was just really, really wonderful, so long as you didn't stop in a steep spot & let it start building up on you.


    Pretty nice view off SW to Rainier & nearby Argonaut Peak, from up there.


    The only bad part of the climb was the moraine below the glacier on the way down. The jumble of huge boulders with 2โ€™ -3โ€™ of snow over them was just ugly. But we of course made it.

  • @FritzRay said in Winter climbing:

    The only bad part of the climb was the moraine below the glacier on the way down. The jumble of huge boulders with 2โ€™ -3โ€™ of snow over them was just ugly.

    I hate that. Leg-breaker holes completely hidden under a blanket of snow that wouldn't support the weight of a squirrel.

  • Here are a few photos from one of the happiest winter climbing times of my life. I was lucky to have a couple of friends who lived in Golden (the one in BC, not the stupid one in Colorado), and who had somehow acquired a decommissioned caboose and had it transported to their yard, where they fixed it up as a guest house. So when Fred, a friend who lived in Texas, expressed an interest in ice climbing, the game was on. We enjoyed two memorable trips to the Canadian Rockies in winter, based out of that caboose.

    Couple of caveats, though. First, I don't remember the names or locations of most of the climbs that are now in my photo library, and second, the photos from that trip were taken on Fred's "Digital Camera". An entirely new thing back then, and long before resolution and image quality began to catch up to film -- so don't try to blow these up.

    Home Sweet Caboose:


    Something we saw one day:


    Getting ready:


    Starting up:


    Looking up:


    Coming down (I'm hanging in space in the middle of the seriously lo-res photo):


  • Fritz/David- Good stuff. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  • Finally got out winter hiking Saturday.. Isa has a foot problem that is keeping her out of her ice climbing boots ๐Ÿ˜ž so the plan was to ski in together, I would go solo something while Isa skied a bit more and then ski out together. Unfourtunatly my 50yr old binding broke just as we were leaveing the parking lot..
    Isa took off skiing and I hiked in. Stupid cold and windy out.. Ice was almost as hard and brittle as it gets. My shoulder is very tender from a construction injury so I felt super insecure. Completely throws off my whole game . shoulder is weak and don't have confidence in it which makes me not have confidence in my feet which makes me worry about my shoulder.. anyways I scrapped my way up a 150ft grade 3..
    with a nice view.


  • @NickG said in Winter climbing:

    Unfortunately my 50yr old binding broke just as we were leaving the parking lot.

    Only 50 years old? WTF? Send it back and demand a replacement!

    Or do what I did with my 40-year-old Ramer bindings last year -- donate them to a skiing/climbing museum.

    Some of you must remember Ramer bindings. They had a lock-down heel with full alpine release, but you could also unlock the heel. And, as the uphill angle steepened, add a heel plug (choice of two heights) to allow you to climb to the very limit of skin/snow adhesion.

    Baffin uphill.jpg

Log in to reply