Exploration Day

Lousy ice here on Crane; too warm for the steep stuff, too cold to climb rock. What’re you going to do? I chose to explore an area that has been on my hit list for quite some time. I figured if I found viable ice in these conditions, it would be dependable stuff. I also figured it was time to take the fancy camera for a walk, so today I lugged the behemoth over hill and dale.

My destination isn’t far from home, so it wasn’t long before I parked the car and began walking into the unknown. I couldn’t find the trail, but knew it would show up once I got to the river; sure enough I stumbled onto it after five minutes of easy bushwhacking and one creek crossing. The trail ran along the river, which wasn’t quite what I had in mind, so at first I veered off, walking up a narrowing hollow. Soon, the right flank of the ravine steepened, and sure enough, I spied ice flows running down it. They are about 50 – 60′ tall, short for ice routes, but adequate. The most interesting, steep ones looked anemic, but there was one fat one tucked between rock buttresses that looked to be in good shape. I hadn’t walked long, they are only fifteen minutes from the road. Not exactly a gold mine, but a decent find.

The first flows I found. They’re about fifty feet tall.

The ravine began slicing upward; although I suspected it ran toward my destination, I didn’t want to miss anything down low. Instead of ascending, I returned to the river to see the sights along it, and to find out if the steepening hillside held anything else. The river narrowed as I entered a tight-walled gorge. Across from me, great slabs of ice issued from the banks about ten feet above the water; had they poured forth from higher promontories, they would have made excellent climbing. They were picturesque, at least.

The ice slabs across the river.

After perhaps an hour of casual walking (interspersed with occasional foolishness, like slithering down the icy ledges to take pictures), I passed the falls I had hoped to see. They were not nearly as large as I thought they were, and they were completely hidden under ice. I could hear them, but couldn’t see them. Above them, the river quickly widened, as did the surrounding terrain. Opposite me, a small mountain, set back slightly, rose up quickly. I could see ice on its flanks, but nothing large; perhaps one worthwhile flow in a notch between two of its summits, but of course, the river betwixt me and finding out.

Ice flows high on the mountain across the river.

My goal lay on top of the mountain I had just walked along the base of through that gorge. Although I saw plenty of ice along the riverside, there were only two or three that made it to thirty feet tall or so. I thought I might find something bigger along the steep flanks higher up. As it became apparent that I was nearing the far side of that mountain, I finally began cutting upward.

It was steep going, and very icy. Soon, I walked up through an old-growth hemlock grove, the ground a veritable jungle of ice flows, every one of them too short or too easy to make worthwhile climbing. After weaving back and forth for closer investigation of several deceptive lines, I gave up on the chase in this particular spot and made for the top. The summit of the mountain is a hodgepodge of knobs and ravines; after wandering around awhile, I found the one that looked most likely to bleed ice. The northwestern slope turned out to be a dud: far too short, and not steep enough; but when it turned and began running south, I was happy to see glistening bands running down the face. Once again, they weren’t tall, perhaps forty feet or so, but there were several good-looking options. This high, many of them were not in good shape: the sun was tearing them up, but several were sheltered enough to be climbable still.

Short ice near the top of the mountain.

They’re getting taller…

I continued downward, to a point where the ravine merged with another one heading upward to my right. That looked intriguing, so I followed it to its end in a small box canyon. There, I scrambled up to a level ridge, hoping for a glimpse of something on the river side of the mountain. Tantalizing bits of ice, but nothing definitive was visible. After awhile, I cut back to my original ravine. At the junction, I could see a small rise separated this drainage from the start of another, so rather than go straight down, I cut up and along the ridge to have a look at the slopes across the way.

Lousy picture, good ice. Trust me, it’s there.

Bingo! This was the sort of thing I was looking for. Several emaciated lines lay on the face across this ravine, and they were tall enough to make a long pitch, perhaps a hundred feet or more high. Not all were sun-spoiled. One in particular caught my eye: a steep thread running down a narrow cleft in the cliff. Except for the very last few feet, the ice there looked very healthy.

What lured me back to the original ravine, I’ll never know. I keep wondering what else might be along that taller flank; doubtless the question will annoy me until I go back. In any case, I did turn back to the first ravine, following it downward, where I soon stumbled upon the ice I had first seen on my way in. I hadn’t planned to, but decided to don the gear and climb that fat line, taking the opportunity to climb one short pitch, then make my way back down, pack up, set the timer, and head out, reaching the car fourteen minutes later.

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