Second Coming at the Wild West

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Yep, another expedition to the ice cliffs Mike Prince and I climbed 2 weeks ago.

Jamie McNeill and Lukasz Czyz stepped into the victim shoes, following me for that hour-plus approach which this time, had us negotiating near-technical terrain just before reaching our destination. I have to admit, it wasn’t my best offering, and these two suffered greatly. Their woes would be joined later by a third sacrificial lamb, as Tom arrived late and followed our erratic footsteps every inch of the way. The happy ending is that we found out how not to get there.

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In any event, we managed the feat, arriving at the top of the formation, handily making TR setup easy and eliminating any glimmer of insanity about leading anything. The ice looked steep when we first caught sight of it, but not overly-so; however the rappel cleared up all delusions: this place is steep.

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Note that this picture should be tilted a bit more steeply – see horizon in background?

Our first runs were on the obvious main attraction: a steep fat ribbon among the verglas on the tallest section of wall, with a handy big spruce tree at its top. Jamie and I were both a little hesitant to tackle it, so Lukasz gladly handled the ribbon-cutting ceremony, tying in and taking off. We traded turns climbing, belaying, and photographing as we worked through the options available on this rope.

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Which were three fat ribbons interspersed by bands of thin ice about 3m each. The leftmost flow has a good-sized pillar of fat ice flowing over an overhang near the top, the second line begins on thin ice but reaches thicker stuff by halfway. I thought it was harder, Lukasz and Jamie thought it easier than the first; but both are WI 4+. The third line is thin for most of its length, only approaching screw-thickness on the bulging last three meters of the flow. And it is quite hard; I would peg this at WI 5.

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About the time we were finishing up on these upper three routes, Tom’s weak voice could be heard above us. He was the third victim of my approach, and sardonically asked me if I could possibly have found a worse one. What could I say? Probably not. Lukasz promptly put him on that rope while Jamie and I moved down to the line Lukasz had set up earlier.

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This was the second line we climbed on the upper section.

This was easier than the other routes. It started out with 25′ of very thin ice on a steep face, but then followed pleasant WI 3 terrain to the top. While thin, the bottom ice was admirably tacky, soft enough to allow easy sticks but hard enough to make them secure. On a TR at least, it was almost recreational compared to the pumpfests uphill.

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Tom tackles Line #3 

Tom got his turns on those first two steep lines, and meanwhile, Jamie and I ran Lukasz’ route. Jamie managed to lap it three times before Tom and Lukasz finished their higher helpings. We then swapped again, so they could sample the other rope while Jamie climbed the first one and moved it yet again, to that third option. Everyone took a swing on that one, too; but then it was time to go. I had an appointment to keep and everyone seemed content with the thorough burn we’d accumulated on the four lines we did.

We took the low road home, reaching the trailhead in under an hour, even though we spent some time gawking at the vertical scenery enroute.

If You Go:
My route intended to gain a level bench above the Whaling Wall. Unfortunately, the bench that exists there vanishes a quarter mile north of the Wild West Wall, replaced by a rubble-strewn, slabby cliffside. If you plan to TR the lines here, you may as well head to the top of the entire ridge, then walk along the eastern edge of it. It may be best to stick with the trail until it levels off, but I’m still not sure. I think our inroad started out right, but should have slanted to the ridgetop before hitting the chaos. Tom thinks it will be easier to stick to the Hadley Mtn. trail to the height-of-land, then ascend the ridge and walk along it. We shall see.
In any case, if you plan to lead routes, our exit strategy may be your best approach. After hiking up the trail for 15 – 20 minutes, cut off south, staying on the easiest ground and gaining elevation when easy slopes allow, until you reach the Whaling Wall. Walk past this a few minutes, then cut upslope along the right edge of a short cliff with a large overhang at its base. At the top of this, head up and south on moderate terrain until you see the ice.
Also be aware, Jamie and I spotted more ice about 100m south and slightly below the Wild West Wall. And there are smidgeons and such along other cliffs on the way in (such as Scot’s Gully at the top of the Whaling Wall slope).
The routes run from 30′ or less to almost 100′ tall; most are 40 – 60′.

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 Thanks go out to Jamie and Lukasz for manning the shutter while I climbed or belayed. Jamie, I will get some pics to you!

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