Visit to Fifi

The morning dawned overcast, cold, and damp; but by ten o’clock, the sun was poking through the frosty haze. I donned a medium-sized load and headed to the Waterfall Wall. My plan was to make a quick reconnaissance of conditions on that route, then wander over and drop a top-rope on Fifi’s Frozen Fingers. If it was in good enough shape to bother: I thought the warmth and drought would have reduced it to unclimbable verglas.

The inspection of the Waterfall Wall went quickly, and well. While the Tempest variation isn’t in well enough to lead, it is probably safe enough on top-rope; and the rest of the route is OK. First pitch is in fine, a bit skinny at the top, but no worse than it often is. Second pitch is fine. The corner of the third pitch is fine; the face to the right is showing rock in a few spots; I climbed up it about seven feet to the right of the corner without ill effects. The fourth pitch is a walk, of course. The fifth pitch is very emaciated; climbable but not protectable for most of its length. The last pitch was so baked and starved I didn’t bother. The sight of it didn’t bode well for my next inspection tour.

I walked left and down the steep ramp leading to the base of Fifi, then cut up a gully to reach the route’s top. From that vantage, I couldn’t see anything except the last thirty feet of low-angle stuff, which was snow-covered; its ice condition was hidden. With a shrug, I began rappelling for a hands-on inspection. That low-angle finish is almost bare, but as I came around the bend to the main course, I was pleasantly surprized.

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No doubt, the warm spell took its toll, but apparently Fifi’s Frozen Fingers gets her fair share of meltwater and runoff. A seven to eight-foot wide swathe of thick ice lay on the face all the way to the ground, surrounded by even wider patches of thin ice and verglas. Enthusiastically, I arranged my TR set-up and began climbing.

It’s hard to grade this line. From below, it looks ridiculously steep, on par with Crystal Ice Tower up near Chapel Pond. It is steep, but somehow it climbs so smoothly it doesn’t seem that difficult. After first doing it, I gave it a WI4- rating, and that is probably where it will stand; but for those ready to break into the low end of four, this seems a prime target.

After top-roping the line, it was getting late enough to hustle back down, stash gear, and begin the odd combination of walking, downclimbing (and alas, one more rappel) to regain the regular walk-off ramp leading back to the base of the Waterfall Wall. I did stop to take a picture looking up at Fifi’s lower pitch.

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This goes at WI3/3+, and is really a series of short, steep walls separated by large ledges. It’s a nice way to reach the meat of the route, and it does save all that climbing and descending to do so via the Waterfall Wall, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the second pitch. To reach it, walk climber’s left from the base of the Waterfall Wall, staying on the Crane-side of the ravine. After passing next to a short, steep rock wall, walk up and right, toward a large boulder on the slope above. Walk to the uphill side of this boulder: above and slightly farther right, the lowest tier is visible.

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