Uintas - Hayden Peak - Kennedy Route first ascent - October 2017

Park at the Highline Trailhead and follow the summer trail to the Iron Hayden Wall or follow the directions from Beehive Ice to Stymingers Fink. Once at treeline, follow the edge of the trees and talus, avoiding the largest talus patches. The route is at the far left end of Hayden Peak. Expect 1-1.5 hours.


Less than a week after Hayden Kennedy's death, I headed to the Uintas to scout for ice. It had been a good fall and I'd already climbed ice a few days in September but haden't climbed any October ice yet. I've been watching Hayden peak for years as there are many potential lines on it but they come and go, sometimes within a few days time. This time I was lucky enough to catch a series of smears that linked together would offer up to 900' of ice.
 

A few days later Julien and I were hiking in the pre-dawn. Perfect temps and conditions and low snow on the approach made for fast hiking and we were at the base in a little more than an hour. I took the first pitch, 45' of almost vertical ice with a short M4 topout led to a traversing shelf heading right. Julien took pitch two, a full ropelength of WI3-. Pitch 3 was more WI3 to a snowfield and outcrop for the belay.

We traversed left from here to reach an icy smear in a corner. Thin ice pretected every few feet by bomber gear in the quartzite. 35' of M4 lead to a snowfield and a tree belay 160' above me.

Pitch 5 was a low angle gully. Starting narrow, just more than body-width, the gully opened up wider after 40' to rambling ice steps. I made the belay at 150' and brought Julien up. From here, the ice continues but looked like it did not go far. Wanting to check it out, I solo'd 200+' of WI2 until it ended in tallus above.

We decided not to continue up the tallus slope to the summit and headed back down to see if we might be able to find another hidden corner full of ice. Unfortunately it was not to be, but we were happy to have put together a fun, easy moderate ice line that only seemed fitting to name for a great American alpinist and friend, Hayden Kennedy.

 Bald Mountain and Reids Peak at sunrise.

Bald Mountain and Reids Peak at sunrise.

 Bald Mountain and Reids Peak at sunrise.

Bald Mountain and Reids Peak at sunrise.

 Nathan Smith on pitch 1.

Nathan Smith on pitch 1.

 Nathan Smith on pitch 1.

Nathan Smith on pitch 1.

 Julien Baudrand on the traverse above the ice on pitch 1.

Julien Baudrand on the traverse above the ice on pitch 1.

 Julien Baudrand starting up pitch 2.

Julien Baudrand starting up pitch 2.

 Julien Baudrand starting up pitch 2

Julien Baudrand starting up pitch 2

 Julien Baudrand topping out pitch 3.

Julien Baudrand topping out pitch 3.

 Julien Baudrand starting up pitch 4.

Julien Baudrand starting up pitch 4.

 Julien Baudrand finishing up pitch 4

Julien Baudrand finishing up pitch 4

 Nathan Smith on pitch 5.

Nathan Smith on pitch 5.

 Tribute to a friend, Hayden Kennedy.

Tribute to a friend, Hayden Kennedy.

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Uintas - Siren Song - Ostler Peak, Amethyst Basin first ascent - October 2017

The sounds echo’d off the cliffs. Intermittent yet consistent. I kept hearing it over and over but could not place it. Natural yet foreign. It sounded like whales talking. Matt finally reached me, and I asked if he heard the sounds as well. “I don’t hear it…wait, I do now. What is that?” We tried to place it until it dawned on me. “It’s the lake.” Amethyst Lake more than 1000’ below was just coming into the sun. Partially frozen over, the ice was reacting to the heat and started to sing. The lake kept up its symphony for over an hour while we climbed before stopping.

A few days earlier I had hiked 13 miles into Amethyst Basin to scout for ice. I’d thought there was something on the peak for a while, but the views from the road blocked the gully systems from view. At first, it looked like another long hike for nothing, but as I traversed the base, I could start to see into the corners. Ice flowed down narrow crevices only to end 1/3 of the way up the mountain. Continuing left, I found another gully with ice starting a little above where the first one ended and went all the way to the ridge. A small ledge would allow a traverse between the two gully systems linking them into what looked like a fun moderate line.

Once I got home, I got a hold of my friend Matt, one of the few partners willing to go back out for a long-distance FA in the Uintas with me. We made plans to climb two days later.

We met in the parking lot at 4:30 am and started the 6-mile approach. We reached the base of the wall much earlier than expected so built a campfire to stay warm while we waited for the sun to reveal our route.

 Early morning campfire

Early morning campfire

 Ostler Peak and Lake BR-24

Ostler Peak and Lake BR-24

Low snow coverage made navigating the talus slow and tedious, but we still reached the route in decent time. We decided to simul solo as much of it as we could and set off swinging.

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 Nathan Smith on pitch 1

Nathan Smith on pitch 1

 Matt Tuttle on pitch 1

Matt Tuttle on pitch 1

 Matt Tuttle on pitch 3

Matt Tuttle on pitch 3

 Nathan Smith on pitch 3

Nathan Smith on pitch 3

The first 400’ went quickly, fun alpine ice in gullies and corner systems. Once I reached the steep pitch 4, I started up, intending to solo but brittle ice dinner-plating caused me to back off and pull out a rope. The steeper pillar had blue plastic ice, so I switched to the left and brought Matt up. The route could continue up the same gully system, but there would only be 100’ more of mixed technical climbing before it was all hiking to the ridge.

 Nathan Smith on pitch 4

Nathan Smith on pitch 4

 Matt Tuttle on pitch 4

Matt Tuttle on pitch 4

We unroped from here and traversed a ledge to the left to reach the other gully. Unfortunately, the first pitch wasn’t quite in enough. Matt was sure it would go in its current state, but it would be difficult. I was certain he could send but not so sure about myself, so we decided to do a mixed variation to the right I had spotted on the way up.

 Nathan Smith on the traverse between pitches 4 and 5

Nathan Smith on the traverse between pitches 4 and 5

 Matt Tuttle checking out the direct option for pitch 5

Matt Tuttle checking out the direct option for pitch 5

It looked like 5.2-3 on rotten rock but ended up more like 5.6-7 on HORRIBLE rock. Matt took the pitch and did a great job weaving in and out of stacked blocks ready to fall and crush us. Once I followed, I realized just how bad this section was. Almost no pro and a fall as a follower would result in significant damage if not death. Luckily, neither of us fell.

 Matt Tuttle on the pitch 5 variation

Matt Tuttle on the pitch 5 variation

Pitch 6 continued up the gully for 100’ before transferring onto the left wall.  Matt took pitch 7; a fun vertical pillar leads to lower angle ice and snow before a final ice step.

 Nathan Smith on pitch 6

Nathan Smith on pitch 6

 Matt Tuttle on pitch 7

Matt Tuttle on pitch 7

 Nathan Smith on pitch 7

Nathan Smith on pitch 7

Pitch 8 went up firm snow and ice to a short vertical pillar then low angle ice in rotten shale rock.

 Nathan Smith on pitch 8

Nathan Smith on pitch 8

We unroped for the final pitch, scrambly 5.1-5.2 terrain leading to the summit ridge at almost exactly 12,000’.

 Nathan Smith topping out pitch 9

Nathan Smith topping out pitch 9

As neither of us had summited Ostler before and any good new route should go to the summit, we left the packs in the talus and continued to the top at 12,718’.

 

The descent was agonizing snow covered talus, one slow and careful step after another, thankful to still be in the last of the day’s sun. We reached the trail just before complete darkness, happy to switch back into trail runners for the marshy slog out. 2 hours later we were back at the cars. Tired but psyched to have completed one of the longest alpine routes in Utah.

 Matt Tuttle and Nathan Smith on the summit of Ostler peak after the first ascent of Siren Song WI4 M4 1600'

Matt Tuttle and Nathan Smith on the summit of Ostler peak after the first ascent of Siren Song WI4 M4 1600'

With summit included we were 15.8 miles round-trip. 

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Ogden - Great Amphitheater Gully - December 2016

I started climbing in the Ogden area in the early 1990’s, and the Lowe’s were legendary figures in local lore. I didn’t know anything about them at the time other than the more experienced climbers would point out the difficult or scary looking lines and say “The Lowe’s did the first ascent of that line” in a tone that emoted awe, fear, and respect. It was only years later that I came to realize that the Lowe’s were more prominent players in the world of climbing than just in Ogden.

Although Jeff is the better-known Lowe, it’s often Greg’s routes that reached the pinnacle of myth. Often the most difficult and rarely repeated, Greg was far beyond almost EVERYONE at the time. Greg not only dominated the climbing grades, but he developed gear that would propel the sport forward in leaps and bounds.

"Greg had this explosive strength that was just so...it was almost hard to assimilate, because it was his own approach that was kind of a martial arts approach. He was way into martial arts. George (Lowe) was just hardcore solid, a mental solidity. I could emulate George. I didn't have the tools to emulate Greg. No one did. Greg had strength, both physically and enviably that few people had. I can relate to George in that respect. George and I were closer in terms of physical abilities than Greg and I were. I enjoyed climbing with both of them, and I learned a lot from climbing with both of them, but George became my mentor during that period of time because I couldn't relate to what Greg could do."  Jeff Lowe

In the ice realm, some climbs, in particular, have reached what I like to call “Unicorn Status.” Super rare and mythical. When you find a unicorn, you hop on and take the ride! The Great Amphitheatre Gully.

In 1995 this line was rumored to have had only three ascents, and most climbers in the area had never seen it form or even knew exactly where it was. 

Facing west and receiving sun from mid-day to sunset, the orange quartzite cliffs above Ogden, Utah radiate heat, quickly melting any chance of ice formation on its low elevation crags.

Luckily for us, a short window in late December 2016 a deep cold set in on the bench above town just after a week of warm temps and above average snowpack. These conditions quickly built and a beautiful sliver of ice started from the rim of the cliffs, 100’ wide and in over 400’ tapered to body width at the bottom.

A friend of a friend reported that the Gully was in and I took the day off work to go check it out. Zooming in on the ice from the town below with my telephoto lens, it was indeed in, but not sure how well attached it would be…or for how much longer.

I immediately called a few friends, and we all took the next day off to ride the unicorn.

We started hiking by headlamp, but the temperature already higher than expected. The lights from the city made it easy to spot the cleft in the cliffs we were aiming for. We walked uphill, directly towards the cleft, our headlamps illuminating the eyes of deer, glowing like highway reflective strips staring us down.  The slopes were bare of snow until we reached the mouth of the gully. Traversing in from the right, once we reached the bottom of the gully we were surprised to see boot prints with Vibram® in reverse etched into the snow. Was another team ahead of us? We continued, scrambling up rocky steps, avoiding the icy sections until we arrived at the base just as the sun came over the ridge above. The footprints had ended at the base, but nobody was above so they must have climbed a few days earlier. 

Jake Hirschi also grew up in Ogden and started climbing the same time I did. We both were excited to do the route and decided to roshambo for the first pitch. Jake won, so I asked Matt to belay as I scrambled up the Cliffside to get in position to take photos of Jake.

As he started up, he was a bit worried. “This ice is shitty! It’s barely even attached to the wall.” I told him to “stop complaining and just climb!” “I don’t see any sign of the other party,” said Jake. “I don’t think they climbed the route.” Slowly Jake made his way up the first pitch, sparse gear placements and sections of ice collapsing on him made for tenuous work, but finally, he reached solid ice more than 100’ above. This only lasted a short bit and then thinned out again, and the gear disappeared. We heard the sound of a pin ringing into the rock, bouncing off the walls of the amphitheater and Jake occasionally swearing as he kept trying different spots for a good purchase. Finally, we heard “off belay, ” and I just looked at Matt and smiled. This is what I came for.

Matt and I started up 15’ apart, now almost an hour into daylight. The temps had continued to warm, and by the time I got to the vertical sections of ice, entire sheets of ice sheared off, leaving a space of more than 5’ below me just bare rock. Delicately we climbed through the rotten ice, hooking and drytooling as much as possible to not have another sheet collapse. 

We reached Jake, and I looked at the next pitch. Rolling WI3 steps that looked fat. Not as classic as Jake’s pitch but still looked fun. We exchanged the rack, and I started out. Bomber sections of ice led to detached, hollow sections every 10-15 feet but the climbing was comfortable, and there was good pro along the sides. The pitch went quickly, and I found a great belay ledge and brought the two up.

Jake again racked up as Matt was content just to climb, having no sentimental attachment to the route. Pitch 3 started with a fun stemming pillar and went through numerous 15’vertical pillars. Matt and I followed the pitch, grinning and joking as we climbed just feet apart, psyched to be on this improbable line. 

Pitch 4 was again rolling WI3, and I jokingly cursed Jake for drawing the two best pitches. I cast off, trying to choose the most exciting line amid many options. The ice was still hollow but plastic so easy swinging. Just before the rim I encountered a short band of chossy rock then I was standing on the edge of the cliff, looking down the route. 400’ of fun terrain, not difficult by today’s standards, but I tried to picture Greg in 1971, making his way up the route with straight shafted wooden piolets and crampons designed for glaciers, not vertical ice. Their gear consisted of pitons, heavy oval carabiners and an extreme sense of adventure.

There were rumored to be “5 large, ugly” pins for the descent. Unfortunately, the rappel from the pins was also described as super loose and dangerous so looking for alternatives, we spotted some old webbing on a tree to the climbers left, so old and rotten we pulled it off by hand. We added some new cord and headed down, aiming for a tree 100+’ below. Again, there was some old rotten tat that we cleaned and replaced, but the next tree had been destroyed by rock-fall, so crossed over the route to the right side to see if we could find some of the old pins. Two 60m ropes tied together barely made it to a decent ledge where I went off the rope and started looking for existing pins or cracks where I could build a new anchor. The initial search revealed neither. Most the rock was fractured and loose. After digging through the snow, I found a few decent cracks and pounded in two pins and built a new anchor. Matt and Jake joined me on the ledge, and I started down the face. 40’ below our anchor I found one of the original pitons. The webbing was cut through, and the pin was just sitting in what must have once been a tight fit, but now plucked out by hand. Homemade, these pins looked like they were cut from a leaf spring of a car. Oversized and weighing about the same as my rack of cams, I could not believe they carried these up the climb.

 

Continuing, I found one more pin 100’ below, again just sitting on a crack, plucking it out by hand. I finally reached the ground psyched not only to have climbed a classic Lowe route but to have come back with two 46-year-old history pieces. Jake and Matt joined me at the base, and both marveled at the pins and our luck. Nobody had rappelled this route in at least 10-15 years. There is a walk off, but it would require 2-3 hours of talus and scramble into another drainage to get off making it unlikely that anyone would have elected to go that way.

We had hopped on the unicorn and ridden it to the end, and in the process re-discovered on of Utah’s oldest and least climbed classic routes. Thanks to the Lowe’s for their vision, boldness, and talent.

Little Cottonwood Canyon - Hellgate Cliffs, Ice Giants first ascent. December 2016.

Lots of snow followed by warm sunny temps, then a quick drop in temperatures put more ice on the Hellgate Cliffs than I have seen so far. In the fall of 2016 I established a new four pitch route, Walking With Giants 5.8 on the Main Wall at Hellgate. The route is mostly bolted with a mixed second pitch. The route was named after Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson who were lost in the Pakistani Karakorum while attempting the Ogre II. In December there was ice on half the route, so I called up Jewell Lund and suckered Tom Adams into coming along for his birthday. "It will be a casual day on the ice. You'll have lots of fun. I don't think it will take too long and the conditions will be warm and sunny. Perfect for your birthday." Turns out I lied...

 Tom Adams at the base of Ice Giants.

Tom Adams at the base of Ice Giants.

We skinned up to the base of the wall and I set off on a meandering route, bypassing the official first pitch as it had no ice and following rampy ice to the base of the 2nd pitch. The pitch was not to difficult which was a good thing as I could not get in any gear.

 Jewell Lund following pitch 1 of Ice Giants.

Jewell Lund following pitch 1 of Ice Giants.

 Nathan Smith at the belay.

Nathan Smith at the belay.

Jewell took pitch 2, a mix of bolts and gear up a right facing corner. Technical stemming and mixed climbing led to the base of the ice where she found the whole sheet hollow and detached. Luckily Jewell was able to find some decent gear in the chimney before pulling onto the ice. Right before the transition from vertical ice to techy mixed climbing she was able to find a bolt making the moves much more relaxed. Ice rained down as the delaminated sheet kept crumbling under her axes and crampons. 

 Jewell Lund starting out on pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

Jewell Lund starting out on pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

  Jewell Lund starting out on pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

Jewell Lund starting out on pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

  Jewell Lund nearing the ice on pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

Jewell Lund nearing the ice on pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

  Jewell Lund realizing that the the ice on pitch 2 was not going to be solid for screw placements.

Jewell Lund realizing that the the ice on pitch 2 was not going to be solid for screw placements.

  Jewell Lund going for it on pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

Jewell Lund going for it on pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

  Jewell Lund at the belay for pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

Jewell Lund at the belay for pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

Jewell made quick work of the tricky mixed climbing and belayed Tom and I up.

 Tom Adams following pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

Tom Adams following pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

  Tom Adams following pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

Tom Adams following pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

  Tom Adams and Jewell Lund at the belay on pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

Tom Adams and Jewell Lund at the belay on pitch 2 of Ice Giants.

 Nathan Smith on pitch 3 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

Nathan Smith on pitch 3 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

I took pitch 3, an awkward left facing corner that starts out narrow then widens above. There was ice in the cracks but as below it was all delaminated and kept peeling off the wall. The ice above looked better, so punched it to a sheet of thin ice leading to a short pillar. Unfortunately, this ice was detached and thin, offering no protection but covering all the bolts in that section. Thinking the pillar might be attached, I kept going only to find out the pillar was rotten as well. almost 40' above my last real piece of pro, the transition from the pillar to the slab above was tricky and took a bit to figure out a safe way to make the transition. Finally making it through with a well attached piece of 1/2 thick ice to pull on, the anchors were a huge relief.

  Nathan Smith on pitch 3 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

Nathan Smith on pitch 3 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

  Jewell Lund on pitch 3 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

Jewell Lund on pitch 3 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

  Jewell Lund on pitch 3 on the first ascent of Ice Giants. Psyched to have the Grivel Twingate draw on that bolt to protect the 40' fall to the slab below.

Jewell Lund on pitch 3 on the first ascent of Ice Giants. Psyched to have the Grivel Twingate draw on that bolt to protect the 40' fall to the slab below.

  Tom Adams on pitch 3 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

Tom Adams on pitch 3 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

Tom opted for pitch 4, a low angle technical slab with super thin but well bonded ice. Tenuous, this pitch was much more difficult than we anticipated, keeping us engaged even following. At this point Tom was already late for his birthday dinner with his wife Gwen, so we rapped as quickly as possible.

  Tom Adams on pitch 4 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

Tom Adams on pitch 4 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

  Tom Adams on pitch 4 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

Tom Adams on pitch 4 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

  Tom Adams on pitch 4 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

Tom Adams on pitch 4 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

  Jewell Lund feeling the cold at the pitch 3 belay on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

Jewell Lund feeling the cold at the pitch 3 belay on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

 Jewell Lund  on pitch 4 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

Jewell Lund on pitch 4 on the first ascent of Ice Giants.

Thin ice lead to tenous pick placements.

As the summer version was named for Kyle and Scott, we had to name the winter one as well, so called it Ice Giants, a nod to two Utah ice legends. 400' WI4 M4 5.8 R.

Uintas - Reids Peak, Northeast Face, New Ice Routes 2. October 2014

Jake and I headed up to the Uintas to get in another ice route. The plan was to repeat a line that Scott and Angela had done a few weeks earlier, Golden Spike WI4 M5 (440’). Scott and Angela had put this line up right after we established The One Who Knocks on the 4th. I needed to get home so left while they stayed and blitzed the route in the dark. We were going on the opening day of the Deer hunt, so not wanting to get shot, we took a late start and hiked in around 11:00

  It was summer conditions for most of the hike until we hit 11,000'.

It was summer conditions for most of the hike until we hit 11,000'.

Reaching the base I realized that the 1st pitch I had climbed a few weeks earlier was no longer climbable, so put up a new mixed start. 

 Nathan Smith starting the first ascent of  Richochet Rabbit.

Nathan Smith starting the first ascent of Richochet Rabbit.

 Looking down on  the first ascent of   Richochet Rabbit.

Looking down on the first ascent of Richochet Rabbit.

20’ of ice lead to a pillar that was completely detached from the wall and ready to fall. I pounded a pin and started up the rock face to the right instead. At least one of my 4 points of contact at any give time was a loose block and there were not many gear placements, so ended up pounding 4 more well space pins as I continued on. The climbing was not too difficult but a fall would not have been pleasant. Finally I regained the ice and made a few moves to the left before reaching a good shelf I could traverse over to the belay at the top of the original pitch 1. 

I belayed Jake up and he trundled rock after rock which ricocheted in the narrow chimney and inspired the name Richochet Rabbit for the new pitch. 

 Jake Hirschi starting on  the first ascent of   Richochet Rabbit.

Jake Hirschi starting on the first ascent of Richochet Rabbit.

  Jake Hirschi following the first ascent of   Richochet Rabbit.

Jake Hirschi following the first ascent of Richochet Rabbit.

After Jake reached the belay I decided to check out pitch two and found it in decent shape. Starting to detach a bit but still holding enough to be ok.  The ice was anywhere from 12” to 24” wide and 1/2” to a few inches thick. 

 Nathan Smith on Pitch 2 of  Golden Spike .

Nathan Smith on Pitch 2 of Golden Spike.

100’ of fun ice and mixed climbing brought me to a single piton Scott and Angela had used to rappel from and built an anchor.

  Jake Hirschi following   Pitch 2 of  Golden Spike .

Jake Hirschi following Pitch 2 of Golden Spike.

Pitch 3 was more of the same, thin ice and rock in a chimney. I found pretty good gear on this pitch though. A #3 Camelot protected the 1st crux.

  Nathan Smith on Pitch 3 of   Golden Spike  .

Nathan Smith on Pitch 3 of Golden Spike.

  Nathan Smith on Pitch 3 of   Golden Spike  .

Nathan Smith on Pitch 3 of Golden Spike.

The ice ended after 50’ and then turned to mixed climbing up a vertical face. Good cracks provided bomber gear placements and pick cams from the Machine Tech.

 The mixed face just before the top out on P3.

The mixed face just before the top out on P3.

  Jake Hirschi topping out on Pitch 3 of   Golden Spike  .

Jake Hirschi topping out on Pitch 3 of Golden Spike.

This was Scott and Angela’s highpoint but we were still 100’ below the copout on the ridge line. Jake wanted the lead, and ran it out to the top on snow and rock.

  Jake Hirschi on Pitch 4 of   Golden Spike  .

Jake Hirschi on Pitch 4 of Golden Spike.

 Looking down pitch 4 of  Golden Spike.

Looking down pitch 4 of Golden Spike.

After topping out, we continued on to the summit. Not bad for a sunny day in October. Our summit is the left of the two shadows.

Uintas - Reids Peak, Northeast Face, first ascents. October 2014

 Reids Peak, Uintas, Utah

Reids Peak, Uintas, Utah

On October 4, Scott Adamson, Angela Van Wiemeersch, and I established a new ice and mixed line, The One Who Knocks (550’, WI6 M5 R/X), on the northeast face of Reids Peak (11,708’) in the Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah. I scouted the line in the fall of 2013, but conditions were never right for it to fully form. Although visible from the Mirror Lake Highway, the line is difficult to see and has a short window of accessibility when there’s enough snow to form melt-freeze ice in the chimney but before there’s too much snow and the road closes for winter. The shadow of Bald Mountain (11,942’) keeps the ice itself out of the sun.

 Nathan Smith leading the first pitch on the first ascent of The One Who Knocks.

Nathan Smith leading the first pitch on the first ascent of The One Who Knocks.

I drove from Salt Lake before work on October 3 to check out the route, then called Angela and Scott to see if they were interested. Both initially may have thought I was nuts, but once I showed them photos of the line they were in. With a week of snow in the Uintas, then rapidly warming temps, we found the right mix of conditions, with fully formed ice on three out of four pitches. It’s about an hour uphill hike to reach the climb. 

The first pitch presented two options, only one of which had decent ice: the leftmost corner. I took the initial lead up this thin, verglased wall, which gained an ever-narrowing runnel of ice (80’, WI4). 

 Scott Adamson leading the second pitch on the first ascent of The One Who Knocks.

Scott Adamson leading the second pitch on the first ascent of The One Who Knocks.

Scott claimed the second pitch, the crux, where 50’ of frozen drips and blobs on shallow ledges, with poor to no gear, led to a decent shelf where he could finally access a rotten ice pillar. Scott bear-hugged this pillar, afraid to swing, and then pulled around to the right side and gained a good stem, where he placed the first solid piece of protection on the pitch, a knifeblade piton. As he continued up the pillar, the chimney made swinging difficult, which was just as well as swinging might have brought the whole thing down. The final 30’ of ice led to a good, sheltered belay in a corner on the right (80’, WI6 M5 R/X). 

 Angela VanWiemeersch following the second pitch on the first ascent of The One Who Knocks.

Angela VanWiemeersch following the second pitch on the first ascent of The One Who Knocks.

  Nathan Smith following the second pitch on the first ascent of The One Who Knocks.

Nathan Smith following the second pitch on the first ascent of The One Who Knocks.

The third pitch was Angela’s, tackling a 100’ stemming chimney on rotten ice and rock. Technical and tedious mixed and ice sections led to the end of the ice and a 100’ snow-filled gully with easier climbing (200’, WI4+/WI5- M5 R).

  Angela VanWiemeersch leading the third pitch on the first ascent of The One Who Knocks.

Angela VanWiemeersch leading the third pitch on the first ascent of The One Who Knocks.

I took the final pitch, with easier climbing for 190’ to the ridge. In the alpine spirit, we continued up the northeast ridge to the summit of Reids Peak before descending. Although much of the route was ice, our ice screws functioned merely as decoration.

 Scott Adamson,  Angela VanWiemeersch and Nathan Smith on the Summit of Reids Peak, Uintas, Utah.

Scott Adamson, Angela VanWiemeersch and Nathan Smith on the Summit of Reids Peak, Uintas, Utah.

This is a unique route for Utah. So far, there are not many alpine ice and mixed routes, and ones of this length and difficulty are pretty rare. 

Not having had enough, Scott and Angela decided to try for another line in the fading light while I bowed out. Scott reclimbed the first pitch of the One Who Knocks and then continued up a leftward-leaning corner system with thin, golden-colored melt-ice (230’, WI4 M5 R).

  Angela Van Wiemeersch on the second pitch of Golden Spike (345’, WI4 M5 R) on Reids Peak in the Uinta Mountains.

Angela Van Wiemeersch on the second pitch of Golden Spike (345’, WI4 M5 R) on Reids Peak in the Uinta Mountains.

Angela took the second pitch: 115’ of verglas to gain thicker blobs of ice, and then good three-inch-thick ice until it all faded back to pure rock. They left two pitons and slings on a block to rappel the route and called the route Golden Spike (345’, WI4 M5 R). Again, rock gear and no ice screws.

Uintas - Reids Peak - May Showers. May 2015

The rain keeps coming. The crags are soaked, roads and trails too wet to ride or hike and the thought of another weekend in the gym was too much. The forecast shows rain everywhere. St. George, Moab, the West Desert. But one place is different. Scouring weather sites and cameras I finally found a spot in Utah that would have perfect climbing conditions for a rainy Saturday in May. As usual, my phone calls to friends resulted mostly in laughs when I told them I was certain we could ice climb first ascents in May. Fortunately, Jake was willing to take the drive…although he kept trying to get out of it even up to an hour before we were supposed to meet. "Looks pretty desperate out there.” "Raining monsoon here". Whatever…

The drive was wet, the landscape soaked as we kept winding our way up the mountain. As we got higher, slowly the landscape changed. Pines dusted with snow, the roads getting slicker and slicker. We finally arrived at the area I wanted to scout, and we miraculously had about 30 min of clear enough skies to scope 3 different peaks for ice. High up on one of the 3 was a glimmer of ice. It was impossible to tell how thick it was or how well bonded to the rock it would be, but that glimpse was enough. 

reidstopo

Off we went, and right away the storm came back in and reduced visibility. Deep powder and the 11,000’ elevation made for slow but steady progress up the hillside.

We finally reached our objective and found the ice in great shape. The start was a bit thin but the ice got thicker the higher up we went.

1” thick ice lead to delicate taps up the wall at the start.

May Showers WI4-,  115’. Perfect for a May first ascent adventure. 

Not having had enough, we decided to do a harder variation with a rotten pillar start and steeper line on the upper headwall.

A week later I returned with my wife Cheri and a few friends to finish off additional variations.

Joi and Matt each added a line to the right of May Showers and I put up a mixed start in the overhanging corner to the left.

Hiking out after a bluebird day.

Here is a short video featuring our May Showers FA.

Salt Lake City - Mount Olympus - The Great Chimney - March 2016

The normal Utah ice season ended in early Feb but the recent March snowstorms and cooler temps brought some renewed hope for alpine climbing. Hoping for decently cold conditions I convinced Jake Hirschi to go up Mt. Olympus with me to check out the Great Chimney rather than climbing rock in the sun…big mistake.

 

The thermometer in the car showed low 20’s while driving to the trailhead. We started at the trailhead for Neff’s Canyon, hiking a well packed but icy trail for about 1/2 an hour before locating the couloir heading up the mountainside. The snow was pretty firm allowing us to move reasonable quickly up 2,600’ of steep snow to the base of the technical climbing. Somewhere around 3 miles of hiking. And by reasonably quickly, somewhere around 2 hours.

  Jake starting up the avalanche gully leading to the base of the climb.

Jake starting up the avalanche gully leading to the base of the climb.

  Still another 3-400’ of snow to the start of the route.

Still another 3-400’ of snow to the start of the route.

  Booting up while Jake drags the ropes. This photos shows the steepness of the snow. Falling would not be good…

Booting up while Jake drags the ropes. This photos shows the steepness of the snow. Falling would not be good…

I took the first pitch, a tight chimney that had what looked like decent ice in the back. While being 6’ 4” might be beneficial in some spots, tight squeeze chimneys are not one of them. The chimney narrowed enough that I had to turn sideways with my left side up, back and chest compressed against the tight, claustrophobic walls, and slowly inched my way up, all the while being pelted by spindrift from above. I found a decent crack for a yellow C3 and wormed my way above. Once my feet were high above my last piece, I found some great alpine ice and I thought I was home free. Unfortunately the ice was only good for a few feet then another overhang left nothing but air and rock to swing into. Sparks flew from the tip of my axe as I unknowingly swung into rock just dusted with snow, the smell of gunpowder from the metal striking rock filled the air. 

A series of committing dry tool moves on the tips of my picks with crampons scratching onto rhime-covered rock lead me to firm snow and frozen dirt. Ecstatic I pulled out of the last vertical section and started a rhythmic swing, kick, swing up 60’ feet of unprotected firm snow until I found a fixed piton to clip. Unfortunately when I clipped it, the weight of the rope and quickdraw caused it to shift. The crack it was sitting in had widened from years of freeze-thaw and it’s holding power was useless. Oh, well, what’s another stretch of unprotected climbing at this point? The only way down now is to go up! Another 90’ of snow wallowing lead to a tree and a bad case of the screaming barfies as the blood returned to my hands. 

  Jake nearing the belay at the top of pitch 1.

Jake nearing the belay at the top of pitch 1.

  Jake quickly made his way up, frozen from having endured too long of a belay as I tried to figure out the moves on pitch 1. Taking the rack, Jake started up the steep pitch 2, a series of overhanging stacked chockstones in a wide chimney. 

Jake quickly made his way up, frozen from having endured too long of a belay as I tried to figure out the moves on pitch 1. Taking the rack, Jake started up the steep pitch 2, a series of overhanging stacked chockstones in a wide chimney. 

  Jake stemming his way up the chimney.

Jake stemming his way up the chimney.

Luckily, this pitch took great gear and had good rests after each overhang. Not much ice on this pitch but a bit of fun frozen dirt and moss helped out. Jake moved slowly but steadily up, cleaning so much snow off the pitch that his boot tracks in the 30’ of steep snow leading to the rock from the belay completely filled in. 

Watching the warm and sunny valley below while I was experiencing the coldest day I had in the mountains this year, I couldn’t help but think “I’m an idiot! This is so dumb!” Jake finally reached the top of the chimney and I started to climb, warming up as I moved. The three-dimensional climbing in the chimney was a blast and helped to erase some of the memories of the suffering I had just endured at the belay.

  Nathan at the top of pitch 2.

Nathan at the top of pitch 2.

This short video clip shows just how steep the chimney is. The snow falls straight to the base of the route.

I took over again for pitch three, a mostly easy pitch with a cool transition from the right side of the chimney to the left via a steep chockstone in the middle. 

  Looking down at Jake with another 30’ to go to the anchors. Jake psyched I brought a second jacket for us to trade out wearing at the cold belays. It was in the 60’s in town, but freezing on the mountain.

Looking down at Jake with another 30’ to go to the anchors. Jake psyched I brought a second jacket for us to trade out wearing at the cold belays. It was in the 60’s in town, but freezing on the mountain.

Belaying Jake up from the top of the climb, I couldn’t help but think: “This is so RAD! I love alpine adventure climbing!” While I might not be the best alpinist, I seem to have enough of an ability to quickly forget how miserable/scary/difficult/dangerous a situation was and somehow look forward to the next chance to put myself in a similar situation. Probably not a very good trait in a normal person, but it’s a key one to have if you want climb ice and alpine routes.

Mark Twight summed alpine climbing up well: 

"Alpine climbing is hard. The fear up there is more intense than anything short of a drive-by down here. It's not beautiful. It's f@$king war. The struggle is glorious in its own way, but beauty is for the ground, for postcards and for glowing prose written long after the fact.” 

 

Big Cottonwood Canyon - Storm Mountain Falls - Left Chimney. Jan 2016

 Tom Adams on  Storm Mountain Falls .

Tom Adams on Storm Mountain Falls.

A cold holiday found Storm Mountain Falls in decent shape. Having already climbed Storm Mtn a few times, I decided to try the mixed line into the chimney on the left with Tom Adams. Previously unrecorded, this line has undoubtedly been climbed as evident by the many pitons leading right into it. The chimney is completely hidden unless you go up the hillside to the left to look into it.

 The  Left Chinmey  with  Storm Left  on the right.  Storm Mountain Falls  proper cannot be seen in this photo.

The Left Chinmey with Storm Left on the right. Storm Mountain Falls proper cannot be seen in this photo.

 Starting to just to the left of Storm Left, the route followed natural weaknesses with ok pro and lots of fixed pins along the way. I had hoped top go straight up through a narrow runnel of ice but my first swing separated the ice from the wall. Heading left to a nice handcrack I found another piton and a good line of hooks for the tools. The traverse right to the chimney was a little unprotected but not too difficult. The chimney was barely wider than our bodies and super fun to climb.

 Nathan Smith reaching the ice in the chimney of  Storm Mountain Left Chimney .  Photo ©Tom Adams

Nathan Smith reaching the ice in the chimney of Storm Mountain Left ChimneyPhoto ©Tom Adams

They chimney is about 20' of narrow ice then ramps out onto the face above. Another 30' of traversing on icy blobs leads to a short down climb to the bolted anchors of Storm Mountain Falls.

 Tom Adams nearing the anchors of  Storm Mountain Falls - Left Chimney

Tom Adams nearing the anchors of Storm Mountain Falls - Left Chimney

 The view from the top of Pitch 1.  Photo ©Tom Adams

The view from the top of Pitch 1. Photo ©Tom Adams

Having already climbed the upper pitches we decided to just rap from here but you can link this into pitches 2 and 3 of Storm Mountain Falls for a longer outing.

 Nathan Smith rapping off the top of P1,  Storm Mountain Falls . Photo ©Tom Adams

Nathan Smith rapping off the top of P1, Storm Mountain Falls. Photo ©Tom Adams

  #3. Storm Mountain Falls - Left Chimney  WI4 M4 *  160'. Singles to #3 and screws.   FA: Unknown  #2. Storm Left WI4 M4 *  #1. Storm Mountain Falls WI4+ ***

#3. Storm Mountain Falls - Left Chimney WI4 M4 *

160'. Singles to #3 and screws. 

FA: Unknown

#2. Storm Left WI4 M4 *

#1. Storm Mountain Falls WI4+ ***

Joe's Valley - Spear of Fear. February 2013

Spear of Fear WI5/6, the most coveted line in Joe's Valley. It's a 3 pitch line that only forms ever 3-4 years and even then is only climbable for a couple of days when it does. 

  Spear of Fear is a rough 1/2 mile hike up this side canyon and hidden on the left side of the photo. You can just catch a glimpse of white ice through the trees.

Spear of Fear is a rough 1/2 mile hike up this side canyon and hidden on the left side of the photo. You can just catch a glimpse of white ice through the trees.

  The first 2 approach pitches are only partially   visible.

The first 2 approach pitches are only partially visible.

  Jake Hirschi on the first pitch of the Spear of Fear.

Jake Hirschi on the first pitch of the Spear of Fear.

  Jake's proud lead to the base of the main cone on the upper tier follows the right side of the ice. Only one of his screws were any good.  A fall from the upper half would have been a deck-fall.

Jake's proud lead to the base of the main cone on the upper tier follows the right side of the ice. Only one of his screws were any good.  A fall from the upper half would have been a deck-fall.

I first got on the Spear of Fear in 2002 with my wife Cheri and a friend but was shut down 20' from the top as the ice was slush and could not get anything to stick.  We had waited until too late in the day to get on it and it had melted out too much to climb.  This time Jake Hirschi, Nate and I went much earlier and found the first two approach pitches super easy and in much better shape…although Jake was still crying about having to lead the "scary" WI2 second pitch. I'll give it to him though as his only good ice screw was placed below the bottom of this photo and he had to go all the way to the ledge without gear.

 

On the way up, water was running heavily on the pillar and we thought we would get drenched.  In 2002 I got so soaked late in the day that I became hypothermic and had 1" of ice form on the top of my helmet and my glasses were totally covered in ice.  Amazingly once we racked up at the base, the water completely stopped. Not sure what happened. My best guess is that the sun had melted a channel into the ice that morning that funneled the water inside rather than on top of the climb. 

After giving Jake a quick overview of my camera and fixing the settings for the light, I spent over 40 min working my way up the shady side, having cauliflower ears break , large sections of pillar hit me in the head and face and finding mostly bad screw placements in the steep crux. Luckily Jake and Nate were patient and did not yank me off the line while I shook out for 5-10 minutes at a time before moving to the next stance. I might have taken in a couple of spots but my screws were so bad that I could not trust them to hold bodyweight so had to continue on. I then tried to place as many bad screws as possible hoping that multiple screws might at least slow my fall or give me the confidence to go on. Seemed to work…

  Nathan Smith working up the Spear of Fear.   The sunny section to the left would have been much easier but was so sun rotted that the only climbable line was the shade line.

Nathan Smith working up the Spear of Fear. The sunny section to the left would have been much easier but was so sun rotted that the only climbable line was the shade line.

  Nearing the top only to find a large horizontal fracture right above my helmet.

Nearing the top only to find a large horizontal fracture right above my helmet.

 

I made it through this section pumped out of my mind and clipped the chains another 30' above the top of the photo. 

After back hiking down we grabbed lunch then started walking into the Donorcicle for another few pitches when Nate slipped on some black ice and broke his leg in 3 places. Luckily we were not too far from the car and we were able to carry him back down the dirt road to the car. It could have been much worse. 

Little Cottonwood Canyon - South Face of Mount Superior. - December 2015

The low snowpack combined with sun and lowish temps have continued to reveal some interesting climbing in the Wasatch. Normally buried under the snow, ice on the South Face of Mt. Superior in Little Cottonwood Canyon has recently revealed itself after years of hiatus. Jumping on it, I headed up this weekend with Matt Scullion and Louis Arevalo for a fun adventure. We had originally planned on carrying up skis and boards but the snowpack was too low and just booted up to the climb. 

  The route from the road. 

The route from the road. 

  Early starts have their advantages..

Early starts have their advantages..

  The peak of the light show.

The peak of the light show.

  Nathan climbing the first and crux step of ice. Photo © Matt Scullion

Nathan climbing the first and crux step of ice. Photo © Matt Scullion

  Matt topping out after the first step.

Matt topping out after the first step.

From here almost 700’ of low angle ice, snow and rock took us to a shelf where we traversed right into another gully.

  Louis at the start of the 2nd gully.

Louis at the start of the 2nd gully.

 Matt following the steppy ice.

Matt following the steppy ice.

  Above the ice, in the no so fun snow wallow.

Above the ice, in the no so fun snow wallow.

 Louis on a short and thin step of ice.

Louis on a short and thin step of ice.

Louis leading the final section of ice before packing away all the gear and postholing to the top of the ridge at 10,505’. Almost 2500’ of gain from the canyon road.

  The posthole to the top.

The posthole to the top.

  The long descent in crappy conditions. We would have destroyed skis…and ourselves in these conditions.

The long descent in crappy conditions. We would have destroyed skis…and ourselves in these conditions.

 


Little Cottonwood Canyon, Hellgate - Hell Froze Over - November 2014

Last November, Jake Hirschi and I headed up to a line I had been watching for the last few seasons hidden in a gully at the Hellgate Cliffs (between Snowbird and Alta) in Little Cottonwood Canyon. You can only see the top 20’ from the road. The rest was a complete unknown but I thought it was worth checking out. 

The snow was much deeper than we expected and took about an hour to reach the gully. Even at the entrance we could not quite see the line but halfway up the narrow cleft I saw that the hike had been worth it. There was a thin drip on the right-hand side of the gully, 25’ of thin ice drips and blobs on a vertical wall led to a easier 70’ ramp of thin verglass ice on the left hand side of the wall. 

After getting established in the gully, I tried to pull onto the ice and quickly pulled half the thin drip down on top of me. Luckily I had brought a drill, so started to chimney up the wall, crampons on rock and tool in 1/2” of ice placing 3 bolts on lead until reaching a large chockstone at the transition.  

  Nathan Smith chimneying up Hell Froze Over.

Nathan Smith chimneying up Hell Froze Over.

Switching sides of the wall was a bit tricky and unprotected for a bit but the ice was bonded just enough to make the switch. The final 70’ only has 2 bolts and the screws (custom modified 7cm Grivel Helix screws) were junk but just enough to get to the top. All the bolts were placed so that in fat conditions they would be completely covered.

   Looking down on Hell Froze Over WI5- PG.

Looking down on Hell Froze Over WI5- PG.

 Jake Hirschi following Hell Froze Over

Jake Hirschi following Hell Froze Over

Later I found out that the line had been climbed in 1997 by Mike Kempt and Matt Scullion in fat conditions. Two parties climbed the route in the fall of 2015 without much ice and both called it M5 X with the runout to the anchors. 

Nathan Smith

Little Cottonwood Canyon, Hellgate. The Bone Collector, first ascent.

For three years now, I have obsessed with a line just above my home and work. Hidden in plain sight this line has been ignored over the years. The avalanche bowl above, the fleeting nature of the ice and the Hellgate's reputation for rockfall and poor rock quality have kept most winter climbers away.  

In the early or late season, the conditions can align and for a brief moment the line is perfect and beckons to those ready to pounce.

Last April, a late storm brought cold temps and the line seemed perfect. Recon drives up Little Cottonwood Canyon for lunch all week showed that by the end of the week, the line would be ready for an attempt. Friday's lunch recon showed 32° and ice on all the pitches. The forecast for Saturday looked warm but with an early start I thought things would be perfect. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

The deep snow approach took longer than we anticipated and the temperature was already high even in the pre-dawn. 

 Jake Hirschi hiking to the base of a project.

Jake Hirschi hiking to the base of a project.

Racking up, the gully above was already showing signs of falling ice due to the warm temps but it was not too bad at that point, so I racked up and decided to go for it. I reached the ledge with the ice dagger and traversed left but even from the corner I could already tell it was too detached to make an attempt. The ice was separated from the wall over an inch. While this was the feature that attracted me to the line, there was still more climbing above so I decided to continue on in the corner system. Frozen moss and since lead to a spot below a roof. By the time I had a good stance for a belay, the gully above was coming alive with rock and ice fall. Large chunks of debris was flying overhead and Jake made his way up the gully.

 Right after bailing on the detached ice dagger. Photo ©Jake Hirschi.

Right after bailing on the detached ice dagger. Photo ©Jake Hirschi.

Jake reached the belay and we decided to head down before things got any worse. As we rapped, chunks of ice the size of footballs rained down from above, small bits of shrapnel exploding into us. Safely on the ground and out of the fall line, even bigger chunks started to fall. The temps had reached the 60's° and did not seem to be going down anytime soon. We had made the right call but bailing was not a decision I was happy with.

7 months later, the early season ice climbing has been pretty spotty but a straight week of snow in the Wasatch and cold temps with spotty sun lead to conditions aligning again so I emailed Chris Thomas and with no info other than me mentioning a potential FA, his quick response was "I’m in!" 

This time we started even earlier making it to the base right as the sun was hitting the tops of the surrounding peaks. Joining us for the start was photographer Louis Arevalo. The ice was thin on the approach pitch but still in good shape so we solo'd up to the base of the technical climbing. Knowing the route, I quickly reached the ice, clipping a lone bolt I had added earlier, expecting a dry tooling traverse to reach the dagger. This time the dagger was bonded to the wall as well as the shelf, making for a solid pillar. 

 Nathan Smith on the ice pillar during the first ascent of The Bone Collector. Photo ©Louis Arevalo 

Nathan Smith on the ice pillar during the first ascent of The Bone Collector. Photo ©Louis Arevalo 

Only slightly wider than me and no thicker, I gingerly tapped my way up until I reached a spot where the ice met the rock and tried to put in a screw. Early season jitters caused me to drop my first screw only to watch is tumble hundreds of feet down the steep slope below, disappearing from sight. My second attempt went much better and at least slightly relaxed, continued on. The rhythm was now there and what should have been a short stretch took longer than I expected. Swing, shake out, shake out, shake out...shake out again, then another swing. What seemed like an hour later I was standing on top, but the cracks I hoped would make a gear belay were not present, so I hauled up a small pack with a drill and added two bolts for the belay. Louis jugged up and I headed back down to belay Chris so Louis could get a few photos from above before heading out and we committed to the gully above. 

 Nathan Smith nearing the top of the ice pillar. Photo ©Louis Arevalo

Nathan Smith nearing the top of the ice pillar. Photo ©Louis Arevalo

Re-climbing the pitch was much easier following and felt like I was finally decently warmed up. Chris took pitch three, a "old-school" grunt of a corner system. Not too difficult but very physical and delicate at the same time. 

 Chris Thomas not looking too happy he drew P3.

Chris Thomas not looking too happy he drew P3.

 Chris Thomas navigating the first roof on P3.

Chris Thomas navigating the first roof on P3.

Pitches 4&5 went quickly with fun alpine ice, snow and rock continuing up the gully. The weather was splitter and we watched parties Speed Flying off Mt. Superior, skis still attached to their feet after skiing into lines that would mean certain death without the parasailsail. Conditions and climbing-wise, we could not have asked for a better day. I had originally planned on taking the line to the top, but as the day went on, the snowfields above started melting out and were raining rocks down from above. This combined with deteriorating rock and the end of the ice made us rethink our plans. The final blow came when 30' from the anchor I discovered a large femur bone sticking out of the snow. Chris's crampon must have uncovered it as he climbed. Just visible below the protruding bone was a bit of cloth, and instantly I knew what we had found. 

In May of 2012, a hiker disappeared in the area and searches had yet to reveal any info on his whereabouts until the summer of 2015. Two climbers discovered a shoe at the base of the Hellcat Cliffs, looking inside they discovered the remains of a foot. Search and Rescue scoured the area and found more remains and were able to identify him, but a good portion of the man was never recovered. 

Using my ice axe, I dug the snow and ice away from the femur only to reveal more bones, clothing and a boot still attached. A metal plate and screws from a previous injury gleamed in the afternoon sun. Chris and I discussed briefly but there was only one option. We needed to bring him down. I stuffed everything I uncovered into my pack and we started rappelling.

 Chris Thomas approaching the belay on P4.

Chris Thomas approaching the belay on P4.

 Chris Thomas on the fun alpine ice of P5.

Chris Thomas on the fun alpine ice of P5.

 The view from the final belay tree. The South Ridge of Mt. Superior directly across from us.

The view from the final belay tree. The South Ridge of Mt. Superior directly across from us.

 Chris Thomas rigging the first of 5 raps.

Chris Thomas rigging the first of 5 raps.

 Speed Flyers landing on the road.

Speed Flyers landing on the road.

Rapping down, the sun was rapidly deteriorating the ice and sections we had just completed were already running with water, rock exposed. We had just completed a 3-year long goal only to see it start to melt away immediately. Arriving at the base of the wall and gathering our gear, I had an awkward conversation with the person on dispatch, and they arranged to have an officer met us at our car to hand over the remains. 

Thanks to Chris and Louis for an amazing day, one I will not soon forget...for many reasons. 

Nathan Smith

Uintas - Henrys Fork Basin - Trivium

Attempt 1 - October 24th, 2015.
The last 3 weekends I have been hiking into Henry’s Fork Basin on the trail to King’s Peak searching for early season ice first ascents. The trailhead is on the North Slope of the Uintas, and you have to go up I-80 past Evanston, Wyoming then enter back into Utah. Not sure if anything would be in, I decided to go scouting alone. No snow on the trail but the peaks around 11,000’ had snow. About 8 miles in I saw ice at what looked like 1 mile away. Not quite climbable yet but one good storm would change that. Pretty psyched, I planned the next weekend to go after it. 

  Henry’s Fork Basin with the top of King’s Peak in the background. The ice is in the middle cliff-band halfway up the mountain in the sun. October 24th.

Henry’s Fork Basin with the top of King’s Peak in the background. The ice is in the middle cliff-band halfway up the mountain in the sun. October 24th.

Attempt 2 - November 1st, 2015.
I managed to talk Keese Lane into joining me and we left Salt Lake City at 4:30am and arrived at the trail-head about 7:00am. The trail was still mostly snow free but water was frozen along the way. With the added weight of 50lbs of the lightest ice and rock gear around we went much slower than I anticipated. The climb was also 3-3.5 miles further than I expected. The final hour of the hike we were postholing through a foot of snow and finally made it to the base of the talus leading up to the ice. It was almost 1:00, we had already hiked 10 miles and we were hours behind schedule. Realizing that we still had 4-5 hours to go to get to the ice, climb it then descend to the same point then tack on the 10 mile return trip on and we knew we were too late to make it work so returned without climbing any ice.

  One of 6 moose we ran into.

One of 6 moose we ran into.

  Keese on the hike in. November 1st.

Keese on the hike in. November 1st.

  Still not there…

Still not there…

  Disappointment.

Disappointment.

Attempt 3 - November 8th, 2015.

I suckered two new partners into going with me, Angela VanWiemeersch and Matt Tuttle, and left Salt Lake at 5:00pm Friday night. This time the dirt roads leading to the trailhead were covered in snow and we did not reach the trailhead until after 9:00pm. It was 7° F outside so we knew we were in for a cold night. We had planned to try to hike 7-8 miles Friday night but with 6-8 inches of snow on the trail and temps dropping to –3° F while hiking, we decided to camp at about 5.6 mile in and finally crawled into our tent at 1:00am. We expected cold but not this cold. Temps plummeted during the night and we had to put on all the clothing we had inside of our 0° bags in order to stay warm. A sleepless night caused us to skip the alarms and we stayed in camp hours longer than we should have. Finally the sun hit camp and we reluctantly made our way into the snow and started hiking around 9am.

The snow was getting deeper and deeper and the climbs on the far side of the basin never seemed to get any closer. We were exhausted from postholing but finally made it to the same spot I turned back from the week before at 1:30pm. Later than the previous week.

 Happy to see the sun.

Happy to see the sun.

  Base Camp.

Base Camp.

  More snow…Matt and Angela, November 8th.

More snow…Matt and Angela, November 8th.

  The slog up the talus with our route directly above.

The slog up the talus with our route directly above.

We had put too much into it already so continued on. The hike up the talus was only .5 to .75 miles but gained 1000’ and took us well over an hour to ascend. Finally at the wall about 12,050' in elevation, the ice looked great! I racked up in the late afternoon light, glad to feel the warmth of the sun before heading into the shady corner to start the climb. While racking up, heavy bouts of spindrift were coming down the ice every minute or two. This was going to be fun! The ice started out brittle and remained a mix of brittleness yet sticky the next swing almost the entire way. Passing through the first vertical crux, I felt the accumulation of the last two days effort plus the elevation, lack of sleep and not enough food or water hit me. Standing on a sloping ledge before the second vertical crux with wave after wave of icy cold spindrift enveloping me, I debated whether I should bail off the ice screw and cam I placed in the rock? I'd come too far to fail but I could not afford to fall here either. We barely made it through the night with a tent and sleeping bags, a night up here in the open could be deadly. There was nobody within a day's walk and we had not seen anyone on the 30 miles of dirt roads to the trailhead. Pushing aside the doubt, I went for it. Swing, kick, swing, kick, swing kick. The spindrift was becoming oppressive. My face was frozen, my jacket soaked and hands numb. The cam and screw below were bomber, I just had to get off the vertical step to a slight ramp where I could rest and get in another screw. I kept thinking back to advice a mentor had told me: "Often it's faster and safer to place gear where you need it, NOT where you want it." 

I finally made it to the ramp and quickly slammed in a screw. Another 40' of narrow and thin ice remained but it was lower angle and had lots of spots to rest. The rest of the climb was a blast, although at that point I was done with the spindrift (Imagine snow crystals the size of salt pouring over you for 30-40 seconds at a time, every few min. The cloud is so think it coats everything. You cannot see. When you breath in, you choke a bit and it works its way into ever gap in your clothing, quickly melting and running down your body in cold rivulets. At least it keeps you awake!). My sunglasses were so coated I could no longer see so took them off and stashed them in my jacket. The climb had been in-your-face, even in the easier sections. Full value! I reached the transition from ice to snow, placed a screw at the lip...just in case, and pulled over. I had only taken two steps when I heard a "whoomph" and was knocked off balance by a heavy slab of wind loaded snow collapsing and avalanching around me. Luckily I had one tool buried deep and the slabs 5' to 6' in diameter and a foot thick rushed passed. I yelled "ROCK" (it doesn't matter what you knock off a wall while climbing, always yell ROCK!). Matt and Angela braced below, seeing all the snow cascade down the wall, expecting me to come down with it. Once the slope stopped, I moved on, mindful of the hangfire (more slabs of snow ready to avalanche) above and to my left. It was a small section but still a risk. Finally I reached a short section of ice and was able to drill two holes to place some cord and a rap ring in a V-thread. I backed them up (Always back up a V-thread, just don't fully equalize the backups so you can test the strength of the anchor.) with another screw and a nut and headed back down. In a longer climb, I would have belayed Angela and Matt from above, but this was just under 100'. Both Angela and Matt wanted to lead the route rather than follow. We had come so far already, why not? 

  The view from the base of the ice climb. Photo ©Angela VanWiemeersch

The view from the base of the ice climb. Photo ©Angela VanWiemeersch

  Nathan Smith just before the first wave of spindrift. Photo ©Angela VanWiemeersch

Nathan Smith just before the first wave of spindrift. Photo ©Angela VanWiemeersch

  Photo ©Angela VanWiemeersch

Photo ©Angela VanWiemeersch

 In the 2nd crux.  Photo ©Angela VanWiemeersch

In the 2nd crux. Photo ©Angela VanWiemeersch

 Angela nabbing the 2nd lead.

Angela nabbing the 2nd lead.

 More Spindrift.

More Spindrift.

By the time both had finished climbing the sun had set and we still had to get off the mountain. The talus slope had a short easy 5th class section that was hard enough going up unroped in the light. Trying to down climb in the dark was not a good option, so I rigged an anchor, leaving a few stoppers behind and we rapped 200' to get over the short cliff. From there we just had to put our heads down and punch it back to the tent. Matt left his headlamp in the tent so we had him go between Angela and I, hiking through the starless night for almost two hours before he noticed a glow coming from inside his backpack at a water stop. His headlamp was actually in his pack and had turned on somewhere along the hike back. This allowed us to speed it up a bit and we hiked along, grateful our tracks from the hike up weren't completely filled in from the wind. Falling stars and the howl of coyotes punctuated the night and we trudged along reaching the tent at 9:00pm. 

We crawled inside the tent, covering ourselves with warm down bags and started boiling water to cook some dinner. Angela needed to be back to town to go to work at 7:00am the next morning so after a 2 hour rest, we packed up and pushed through the forest to get back to the car. A little after 1:00am we arrived at the car, 23 miles round trip for a single 95' first ascent. Trivium WI4. Now just another 3 hours drive until we get home...

Was it worth it? F@&k no! But at the same time it was totally worth it. The climb was a classic and close to the road it would get climbed all the time. But more important than the climb was the time out with friends. Each of us wanted to give in at some point but as a team we were able to keep going, pushing past what we thought we could do. We made it back safely and had a big mountain-type adventure not far from home. The perfect way to start off a new season of Beehive Ice! 

 Trivium WI4. FA: Nathan Smith, Angela Van Wiemeersch, Matt Tuttle. November 8th 2015

Trivium WI4. FA: Nathan Smith, Angela Van Wiemeersch, Matt Tuttle. November 8th 2015