Zeroeth Annual Crane Ice Fest

When Saturday looked to be a day off, I suggested to a bunch of climbing cronies that a day on Crane Mountain’s Waterfall Wall would be a good thing to do. At 9am sharp this morning, a squadron of vehicles pulled into the driveway: the stars aligned and a whole lot of people were able to attend the occasion.  Val & Kevin, Bruce, Neil, Mike P. & Cheryl, Mike G., and Jaysen packed into our humble abode and began sorting gear for the event. It took awhile to organize ourselves enough to begin marching. Work had made it impossible to break trail the day before, but fortunately there wasn’t a lot of snow on the ground yet. With nine people tromping through the woods, we were certain to make it easy to follow, a good thing since one more person would be joining the party later.

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Gearing up at the base of the Waterfall Wall.

Arriving at the base of the Waterfall, it was obviously fine for climbing, though not as fat as I had hoped. No ice adorned the steep crack of The Tempest, which would have made an excellent WI3+ line if it had; but otherwise, the flow looked wide enough to hold two ropes easily and a third without much overlap. People began donning harnesses and helmets, and Neil, ever-psyched for good ice, was soon pecking away at the left verge. I headed toward the right edge and began climbing. Neil reached the belay ledge and brought up Mike P. as I neared the top, which cleared the way for Bruce to add another rope to the collection.

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This has to be a first: three leaders setting out on the Waterfall!

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Captured on (virtual) film: the author leading the Waterfall. Photographer: Kevin Heckeler

I set a TR for the newbies, which we had four of today: Kevin, Jaysen, Cheryl, and Chris (the late arrival) were here to swing their first ice tools. Jaysen geared up and took his first run, then Cheryl gave it a go, by which time Chris had arrived and could tie in. In the meantime, Kevin followed Bruce for his first ice route.

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Chris takes his first whack at ice climbing.

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Bruce finishes leading the second pitch, avec sweet new tools.

After getting the freshmen inducted, Bruce, Jaysen, and I headed up the second pitch. I had spied a series of steep cascades about 200 yards north of the Waterfall, but being uncertain as to how hard they might be, wanted to TR them first: way too early to try leading hard stuff. We reached the top of the Waterfall’s second pitch, then walked north along a bench, dropped down along a large right-facing rock corner, and traversed farther north to an obvious drainage gully running down to an abrupt drop. Grabbing a tree and craning out for a look, I could see ice, could tell it was steep, but couldn’t get any detailed information beyond that. Setting an anchor on the tree, I began rappelling down. In moments, it was obviously not the best position to work with. Ice ran down a nearly vertical face for about fifteen feet, then hung across a huge overhang, with only a few emaciated threads touching the ground another fifteen feet lower. To the right, a pillar, firmly planted in the ground, offered more realistic amusement, so Bruce and Jaysen shifted the belay before joining me.

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Jaysen works steep ice with vintage equipment. Love those fuschia boots!

We commenced doing battle with this short, pumpy flow. Jaysen was the first to find out how different climbing really steep ice is. He made it to the top, then Bruce and I took our turns flaming our grips. It was great fun, an excellent contrast to the relaxed climbing of the Waterfall, and it had turned out to be pretty easy to get to, as well.

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Bruce styles his way up the pillar.

We were however, still quite high above the base of the mountain. Our large ledge sloped down to yet another short, steep wall, with another glint of ice, just out of range of inspection. We affixed another anchor and rappelled down, inspecting the steep pasting of ice as we descended. Reaching a functional ledge, we set a belay and once again prodded the acolyte into tying in first. Jaysen worked hard, made it up, but those gripping muscles weren’t used to this prolonged exertion, and since it was growing late anyway, he lowered straight down after topping out and headed back toward the Waterfall. Bruce took a run, climbing well all the way back up; then pulled the belay and rappelled down.

We wound through the talus back to the Waterfall. No one was there. Several packs remained; two were ours, but it looked like Val & Mike G, who had set out to climb the entire Waterfall, were still somewhere above us. My rope was still on TR, so Bruce belayed me while I ran up to see if I could spot them. Sure enough, they were just arriving as I topped out, having done the whole enchillada. They stowed their rope, we rappelled on my line, and we packed up in fading light.

Bruce & I headed out a bit ahead of Val & Mike, plodding the long trek home (why does it seem farther coming out than going in?). The last ten minutes should have had headlamp assistance, but we managed it without serious injury, and soon entered the woodstove-warmth of home. Jaysen and Kevin were relaxing inside, and a few moments later, the last of the day’s climbers joined us. Gear was sorted, wet clothes removed and dry ones put on. We chatted awhile about the day’s events, then everyone that wasn’t already there headed for their homes.

Ten of us, including several beginners, managed a day of ice climbing with minimal organization and planning. No one got hurt: no frostbite, nobody got lost, no parties benighted on that dark and windswept mountainside. Everyone had a good amount of “climb-time” and a good time in general. That makes it a perfect day of climbing.

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Neil tutors Cheryl on the finer points of ice climbing.

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