The Iceman Cometh

A week ago I was out sport climbing in a T-Shirt Nate Farr, an old friend from WWU who was one of the first people I ever climbed with. This week things were a little different. A big scary mass of Canadian air was on its way down (we send them acid rain, they send us arctic air, free trade at its finest!). With local TV forecasters hyperventilating about the chance to fire up the storm-tracker Doppler-8 infra-red mach3 Gillette Schick-Quatro weather radar, I knew I was in for a week of accessible waterfall ice, and unavoidable weather hype. While the later soon grew hyperbolically comedic, the former provided the chance for three days of climbing ice only 20 minutes from Vancouver, WA.

On Tuesday I skipped out on work at Cilogear and met up with Tim Holscher, to investigate a few flows in the Columbia River Gorge. We found 2 routes, each two pitches long, featuring solid WI3 with fat ice and little wetness.

After that, we did our best Somali Pirate impersonation, by hijacking a barge and motoring over to the Oregon side of the river. Here we went on a wild goose chase looking at more routes that weren't in condition yet, and not finding any wild geese either.

We did come across an amazing flake of ice that seemed to defy gravity, and eventually climbed at "Mist Falls" which is a pretty little amphitheater completely coverd in thick ice. This made for a fun, if very mellow end to the day.

On Friday Tim and I met up again, this time to investigate a series of flows that form off the Columbia River beach, on the Washington side. We came across 6 different routes, although only 3 of them were in climbable condition. Local TV reporters, high on overtime pay and truckstop coffee, gave dire warnings and prognostications of certain death to anyone crazy enough to venture out. We ignored them and found calm conditions, occasionally sunny skies, and an awesome 4-pitch linkup that put us 1000' above the river, clamoring over a guardrail onto highway 14.

The first pitch started out steeply, rising directly off the beach. As Tim climbed higher, he bemoaned the ice's decreasing thickness. The ice screws may have been crappy, but hey, at least the rock was total garbage!

After 60m and a little extra, Tim belayed from a tree and I followed the pitch before leading up a WI3 jungle for a short top-out pitch.

From here we collected our bearings, battled three rounds with blackberry bushes (sticker bushes 2, humans 1) and eventually reached the base of a 2-pitch flow which lead the next cliff band. I took the first pitch, which was mostly fun WI2, with a vertical step toward the top.

Tim led up the final pitch, which was featured and beautiful.

From the top we tromped up to the highway, overcame the afore-mentioned guardrail, and began to hike back toward our car. It had now begun to snow, and it took us to while to realize that in order to reach our car we'd have to catch a ride or walk back 3 miles along the highway, and descend about 1000' back to the base of the route. Past experience has shown that one's success in getting a ride is inversely proportional to the number of sharp pointy objects he or she is carrying.

Given a pair of crampons and two ice tools each, I pegged our chances of success as commensurate with the likelihood that local tv newscasters wouldn't finally be wetting their pants about the arrival of actual snow. However, my pessimism was unjustified, as we were soon given a ride, avoiding all but a mile of walking.

On Saturday we headed out one final time, although this time the feds had stepped in, with the National Weather Service issuing a blizzard warning for the area. Given the weather of my upcoming climbing destination, I figured getting out in the wind might be useful training. I kept thinking this until we went to make our first rappel, off a small promontory of land. I waited between gusts before throwing our rope over the edge, only to see the wind blow it back up at my face and shoot it out sideways at 40 MPH, leaving the ends of both strands 100' to our left, and uphill of where they'd started.

We eventually made it down to the wall, and were rewarded with a steep mixed (mostly rock) start and interesting ice features on the rest of the route.

Today I pulled my randonee skis out of the bag and did a lap around the neighborhood. The roads were covered in snow, nobody was driving, and the absolute quiet was astonishing. I could only stand it for about 10 minutes before I had to run inside. After all, the dopler-8 storm tracker had updates to report!

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