Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Escape from Winter - Joshua Tree California

It was -27 degrees when as we drove down Highway 2 heading for the USA border at Sweetgrass Montana. This terrible temperature confirmed that we were making the right choice, bailing out of winter for two weeks of rock climbing in the desert. The highway was empty, it was Christmas Day and nobody was on the road. There was a line up at the border crossing however. We waited for almost an hour without moving before turning around and heading west to the next closest crossing, Del Bonita. The internet and phones were down at Sweetgrass and there was no estimate on how long we could have been waiting. Our detour added another 45 minutes, then we crossed into Montana. Soon, the pavement turned to gravel and we were driving down range roads with deep snow drifts. Needless to say, it was not a very efficient detour. Even when we finally reconnected with the I15, the main interstate that we would follow all the way to California, it was slippery and snowy. We drove through the blizzard for hours and into the darkness.
Butte Montana at 7 pm on Christmas Day - not a soul in sight, or an open restaurant!
Traveling on Christmas is great as there is no traffic, until you want something to eat. The only thing open was gas stations (fortunately), so we munched on chips, Christmas chocolates and chicken wraps - the only thing that looked mildly appetizing. We drove straight through the night, stopping for gas and trading off frequently so we could get a bit of sleep. We arrived in Las Vegas at 8 am and collected supplies before the completing final 3 hours of the drive through the Mojave Desert to our destination: Joshua Tree, California.
Made it to Joshua Tree!
It was such a relief to have made it to our destination after 30 hours of travel. Our next challenge was to get our travel weary and sleep deprived brains to make a decision on where to stay, all the campgrounds in the park were full! We drove around aimlessly before leaving the park and camped out on BLM land just outside of the town of Joshua Tree. The next morning, we got up early and went to check out the campgrounds again. Lucky for us, we found a campsite at Jumbo Rocks, right before a line of vehicles arrived also trying to find spots. Most were unsuccessful. We had been hoping to stay at the Hidden Valley Campground, the dirtbag climbers hangout next to many of the popular climbs, but there was no way we were getting a spot there. Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year in Joshua Tree. We just had to accept that Jumbo Rocks was going to be our home for the trip, and that was just fine by us.
Yucca Trees and piles of rocks near the Jumbo Rocks campground
Every day followed the same approximate pattern; get up at 6:30 as the sun was just coming up, have breakfast then drive out to whichever climbing area we had picked from the book the night before. We would climb until mid-afternoon/dusk, then return to camp for a beer and a beautiful desert sunset before making dinner in the dark. It was dark around 5 pm and the temperature would drop rapidly. After checking the guidebook to plan the next day's adventure and a bit of reading we were both happy with an early bedtime of about 8:30 pm.
All smiles tying in on our second day in J-Tree
 Kyle has a book called the "Trad Guide to Joshua Tree," which has 60 select routes 5.5-5.9. We had ticked off a few of the lower grade routes on our last trip in 2014, but there were plenty of routes left to check out. We also had the new Miramontes Joshua Tree book which helped us figure out where everything was. Kyle suggested that we try to complete all 60 of the select routes in the Trad Guide book and I got pretty competitive about it. Every day we would try and climb a few of the classics, which meant that we were often climbing at more than one area each day. It gave us a goal to work towards and was a great way to climb some highly recommended routes at a variety of crags.
Kyle leads "Becks Bet" in the Rock Garden Area
Sunset beers after a good day of climbing
Kyle leading Mr. Misty Kiss, a splitter 5.8 at Dairy Queen Wall
We managed to climb almost everything in the book! By the end of the trip, we only had a few of the 5.8+ and 5.9 routes left. We are much stronger climbers than our last trip to J-Tree and were able to get on some really fun routes in the 5.8/5.9 range. I still find Joshua Tree to be quite sandbagged, but in the 9 days of climbing, I felt my confidence with crack climbing as well as leading improved immensely.
Evening highliner
Joshua Trees and unique rock formations around the Lost Horse Area
Climbers Access trail marker show the way to the crags
Headstone Rock - Southwest Corner
Wonderland of Rocks
Sandy desert approaches
Down-climbing the patina, a typical "walk off" in Joshua Tree
Leading the classic "Double Cross" 
Another amazing desert sunrise at Jumbo Rocks
Joshua Tree
Kyle leads "Pope's Crack" 5.9+ in Echo Rocks
Fun in the sun. Can't complain about 22 degrees in January
Colourful evening skies
Kyle on the crux pitch of "Dappled Mare," a three pitch 5.8
Top of "The Swift" in Lost Horse Valley
Many more areas to explore
Awesome holiday with Kyle
Sunset tourist
Last sunrise of the trip
Jenny's Top 10
1. Mental Physics 5.7 +
2. Funny Bone 5.8
3. The Swift 5.7 (3 pitch)
4. Double Cross 5.7+
5. Frosty Cone 5.7
6. Diagnostics 5.6
7. Life's a Bitch, then you Marry One 5.7
8. Gem 5.8
9. Rainy Day Woman 5.7
10. Granny Goose 5.7

Kyle's Top 10
1. Bambi Meets Godzilla 5.8
2. Pope's Crack 5.9+
3. Touch and Go 5.9
4. Southwest Corner 5.6
5. Feltoneon Physics 5.8
6. Colorado Crack 5.9
7. Dinkey Doinks 5.8
8. White Lightning 5.7 
9. Dappled Mare 5.8 (3 pitch)
10. Sail Away 5.8

Monday, November 27, 2017

Cline River Gallery Ice Climbing - David Thompson Highway

Cline River Gallery: "the approach is as difficult to describe as the climbs are to find," - Cyril Shokoples. Well, it would help if the description started you off in the right direction... We spent about an hour wandering around on a mossy hillside in search of ice before backtracking. Ignoring the directions from the Jo Josephson book that sent us left up a hill, the opposite way from the river and any sort of ice, we found a set of bootprints that we decided to follow. Shortly after we saw a party of climbers far below us who actually knew where they were going, which was lucky because I don't think we would have found the climbs otherwise, even though we were very close. We descended a steep hill and arrived at the climbs, making a mental note to not go back the way we had come. We returned the following day on the trail that we found on our hike out (read on for approach instructions).
Taking a nice mossy detour up the "hill to the left with a faint draw"
Cline River Gallery Approach
Park at the Pinto Lake parking area just south of where the David Thompson Highway crosses the Cline River. There is a gravel pit with lots of space to park. Follow the double track up a hill from the gravel pit, past a sign that says "no motorized vehicles beyond this point." 

The trail passes through a number of campsites (and a well hidden backcountry toilet to the left) and continues along the double track on a flat bench for a few hundred metres before you reach a fork. Take the right fork on a single track that is marked by orange/pink flagging and yellow duct tape. This trail descends steeply to a lower bench on the southern bank of the Cline River (left side as you walk up the river). Continue along the bank, passing occasional flagging for about 20 minutes, eventually passing a few ice flows on the other side of the river, until the Cline River Gallery comes into view. 

Keep following the trail to yet another fire pit. Here the trail forks again and you can descend right down an easy gully to the edge of the river and the bottom of "Pure Energy." Alternately, keep left and contour the hillside to access the top of the climbs where you can set up top ropes off various trees.

Approach time: ~30 mins in low snow conditions.
Double track up from the gravel pit. Sign visible from parking area
Wide "double track" along an upper bench. Small trail marker on the tree - there were a few of these (inconsistent)
Fork in the trail marked with flagging and tape. Take the right fork down the hill
Single track down the hill - orange flagging on tree
Cline River Gallery comes into view from the bank of the river (Sentinel Mountain rises up above the river on the left)
We spent two days doing laps on the climbs at the Gallery. Our first day was spent on some of the short, steep upper flows on the left side, and we had a few ropes going to give us lots of mileage. Day 2 was spent on Pure Energy, climbing different lines and waking up the ice climbing muscles after a nice long summer.
Kyle on the short, steep ice pitches on the lookers left of the Gallery
Connor rappelling into the ice, Mt. Stelfox in the background
Jenny just hanging around
Connor is so excited to be ice climbing again
Views of the Cline River from the riverbed below the Gallery
Connor on Pure Energy (the icicles of the unformed "are you afraid of the dark" to the left)
Kyle on the hard left line of Pure Energy (WI 4+ vs WI 5?)
Sopping wet and having fun ice climbing in the rain
View looking over the gravel pit and Abraham Lake in the distance
We really lucked out. I don't think there was much ice anywhere else this past weekend. Despite some rain on Sunday afternoon, we had a great time! There was plenty of ice to play on and it was in great shape. It was also super fun to check out a completely new area that I knew nothing about. I will definitely be back for some of the classics in the area, once the temperatures drop and things start to form up again.
Hungry ice climbers in their natural habitat

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Cascade Falls Ice Climb WI 3

After a great time at the Night of Lies in Canmore on Friday night, we were psyched to get on some ice. The plan was to go cragging at Bear Spirit with Tiff and Kevin, but we had also tossed the idea of Cascade (WI 3) around so we pulled over to check it out on the way by. I was so excited and really wanted to climb it. This is such a prominent route that I check out every time I drive through Banff, but there have been so many times when conditions were not quite right with its southern exposure and overhead avalanche hazard. On Saturday however, there wasn't too much snow in the bowls above, it was cool and overcast without too much sun or snow in the forecast, and to top it all off, there was nobody on the route! Needless to say, we decided to go for it. 
Looking up at Cascade Falls from the airstrip
Since it is still early season, we were expecting some areas of thin ice. We roped up at the first ice pitch and split into 2 teams, me with Kyle and Kevin with Tiff. Kyle and Tiff got to practice their guiding by leading all the pitches for Kevin and I! The initial pitches of ice weren't very steep but it was thin and we were hitting rocks with tools and screws. Flowing water out to our left made it hard to hear our climbing partners, and increasing wind through the day made for a very introspective climb as it was difficult to communicate much beyond a few tugs on the rope back and forth.
Kyle starting up the first pitch beside running water
 We pitched out the first 120 metres as two pitches of low angle, thin ice. We passed bolted anchors near the top of the first pitch but kept going to use all the rope. Next, we walked up the snow through a semi-frozen creek to the bottom of some more ice that also wasn't particularly steep. We climbed this as two more 60 m pitches. It was a good warm up for me as this was the first ice I had been on this year. It was thin and you could see water flowing under some of the ice. It was pretty spectacular and spooky at the same time. Fortunately, the route wasn't wet and we were able to make good time through the lower sections.
Thin ice on pitch 2 with the upper pitches in sight
On my way up pitch 4 to the bottom of the steep ice
By the time we had arrived at the bottom of our 5th pitch of ice (a station protected by a single bolt) a few other parties had started up the route below us. Tiff and Kevin were a bit behind us and another party of two was right behind them. Kyle led out onto the crux pitch of the route and two more parties arrived! It was a busy day on cascade and I was thankful to be out in front despite our leisurely 10 am start. Pitch 5 and 6 are the real money pitches of Cascade. They are both long WI 3 pitches with great exposure over the highway and there were bolted stations at the top of both pitches. You would need 2 ropes to rappel off from the stations as the pitches are close to 60 metres each. The top of pitch 6 appears to be the top of the waterfall from the highway. There was a large bulge that you had to pull over and water was flowing right below a thin layer of ice. It was pretty nerve-wracking looking at the water below your picks and trying not to break through on the last steep moves below the anchor!
Kyle starts up pitch 5 - the crux of the day
Getting into steeper ice on the crux pitch
Pitch 6 goes up through the narrow notch
Sun was low in the sky by the time we got up high
Looking down at Tiff from pitch 6 and the route we had climbed down below
Tiff finishing off the crux pitch
Either we had been really sheltered on the route, or the wind picked up a lot when we reached the top of pitch 6. Kyle was frozen and we threw all our layers on to warm up. We had briefly considered waiting for Tiff and Kevin who were a pitch and a bit behind us so that we could use the two ropes to rappel.  We quickly decided against it because we knew the walk off and didn't want to be dealing with passing the 3 other parties on the way down. Plus we figured the walk off would get us into the trees and out of the wind and that it would just maybe be faster than rappelling.
Cold but happy in the canyon
To access the walk-off, you have to walk up the gully for about 5 minutes then climb one more pitch of ice. The ice was actually quite sustained and steeper than it looked. Kyle was getting really tired after leading all day and freezing at the belays but he pulled off one more awesome lead up the left side to top us out.
Last pitch before the walk off (pitch 7)
Looking up the gully to top of Cascade and Kyle at his tree belay
Tiff and Kevin were still below us so we started walking down along the descent trail on lookers left of the gully just below Kyle's tree anchor. It was well trodden and easy to follow, with the one short rappel about 2/3rds of the way down. After that, it was smooth sailing back to the trailer where we fired up the stove to celebrate with some hot food and cold beer. The route had taken us just under 7 hours.
Strong winds were blowing snow and clouds over Rundle all day
Descending the walk off from Cascade (same as the walk off for Rogan's Gully and Mother's Day Buttress)
Tiff and Kevin showed up a while later in the dark. They had also suffered from the cold wind and Kevin was a bit delirious from the long day. He muttered something about how we shouldn't have taken someone onto the ice that wasn't meant for the ice, before having to rush off for dinner with his family! But after a warm meal and a good sleep, I think he was feeling a bit better about the whole experience!