Measles Wall Ice

With very little time to spare, I wanted to sneak some ice climbing into the day. My general fall-back is a quick run to the Waterfall Wall for a first pitch sprint and back home, but today I decided to check out the conditions at my rock-climbing fall-back, the Measles Walls.

This small crag is not much of a destination in the summer; even less so when ice climbing is the name of the game. However, there are four short lines worth soloing, and it isn’t a long walk from there to Wedding Cake, a slightly taller route with enough variety to provide grade 2 to 3+ climbing; so for those times when two or three hours is all that is available, it fills the bill.

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The left flow of the Lower Measles Wall. It’s 10′ to the top of the ice pillar.

My first chore was breaking trail: the BAW path hasn’t seen a lot of traffic since snow started falling hard. What takes about ten minutes in summer took me about twenty today. I finally arrived at the Lower Measles Wall, and scoped out my first option, the left flow. This is only about twenty feet high, with starts of WI2 on the left and fairly interesting WI3 on the right. Both quickly join on low-angle ice ten feet up. The thick snow and cold temps have combined to make that upper slab a tad skinny, though not bad; I quickly climbed up the right side and downclimbed the left, then moved on.

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The center flow of the Lower Measles Wall, ~20′ tall.

The corner that is always dank and slimy in the summer usually ices up very well. For some reason, it wasn’t in great shape today. Good enough to climb, but it seems thinner than usual; unexpected considering it lies on the main drainage of the cliff. In any case, it wasn’t difficult to climb, perhaps barely grade 3.

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Looking toward the left side flow of the Upper Measles Wall.

I plodded higher, to the Upper Measles Wall. There is one flow of ice on the extreme left, but it leads disappointingly into a cave under the cliff, where it apparently issues directly from the ground beneath it. The face to the left of El Muerte Rojo has more useful¬†ice. It did today, though its lower extremity faded out before quite reaching ground level. And it was thin: I had to hunt for a couple small pick placements strong enough to do a pull-up on while searching for divots my crampons would stay in. That start made it interesting to continue: I wasn’t certain I could reverse it if the need arose. Where the face turns onto a slabby ledge, I had to traverse right eight feet to follow what ice there was. Once up, I descended climber’s left, downclimbing that cave flow.

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The ice by Hydrophobia, about 30′ tall.

A good flow issues from the top of Hydrophobia. Once again, I found its bottom nonexistent, and had to plink away for some time before finding viable pull-up spots for my picks. The angle of the slab here is low enough to hold snow, and this cover made the underlying ice very suspect, styrofoam-like in texture and strength. It took some time to work my way to the top, sweeping off the thick snowcover and scratching around before finding good placements. As always, the ice dies out just before the angle eases, and I spent some anxious moments looking for adequate patches of ice or dry-tool placements¬†before hitting the crowning lump of ice and moss that marks the route’s end on the ledge above.

With easily 100′ of accumulated climbing in, I decided to continue to Wedding Cake anyway. Postholing up the BAW path another 200 yards, I cut off and down just before reaching the trail’s high ground. I knew there was a good descent gully to climber’s right of the ice formation, but from the top, I couldn’t traverse straight over into it. Or could I? I gave it a go, crossing a snow-covered slab along the way. At first, this was easy enough, but as I stepped toward safety, my feet shot out from under me, and I began sliding down a now bare rock slab. I came to a halt at a small ledge above the last thirty foot drop. Whew. Tiptoeing much more hesitantly now, I reached safety and climbed down the gully to the base of the route.

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Wedding Cake, all forty feet of it.

Wedding Cake isn’t in as well as it was last year, but it is in well enough, at least the left side is. The right side is still a bit skinny, though well within doable range, and certainly better than the first outing of this season. The first tier of the “cake” on the left side is slabby, the second tier is steep for a short bit, and then it’s more or less over, just a small upper bump to negotiate.

That would be enough for today. The sun shone bright in the sky, but a bank of dark clouds was about to engulf it, advance scouts of the bone-chilling air mass predicted for the weekend. Already, a cold breeze was whistling around the mountain. Saturday and Sunday might be rough for us outdoor types.

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