Outlet Falls 2016

Jason leads up the left-side option of the Outlet's first pitch

Jason leads up the left-side option of the Outlet’s first pitch

For the first time since 2010, we climbed the entire Outlet Falls. Back then, I’d dragged Bruce Monroe with me, this time Jason Brechko made the trip.

The Tall One made it up yesterday, for what has become an annual event. In the “old days” – before a burgeoning family population and mid-career politics outpaced Jason’s schedule for such flippancy – we would get together a half dozen times a year to climb. And it seems we would always do something edgily crazy. Bushwhack to the routes high on Snowy Mountain. Drive to Cascade Pass after work, in blizzard conditions, for our first ice climb of the season, in the dark. Suck it up and tackle a hard FA (Torcher, Side Show, Anthem, P8tience to name a few). Sticking our necks out in strange places was the norm for our adventures. While we’ve had to set our sights lower for the sake of a certain aging body and not-quite-rusty skills, we still manage a tamer sort of craziness. This certainly proved true for this outing.

Jason pulled in the driveway at 12:15pm, we quickly readied ourselves and our gear then drove up to the top of Ski Hi Road. A mile and a quarter of easy walking, a minimal snow cover on the ground making it even easier, we wound through the final boulder pile to reach Crane Mountain’s Outlet Falls.

The sun had shone as we began, but clouds had blanketed the sky completely by the time we reached the flow, and as Jason set out upward, it began to snow. The weather was changing again, thankfully, since the previous days had kept well below zero; but the forecast looked glum for Tuesday.

This was Jason’s first ice climbing outing of the season, but he hadn’t any of the squeamishness I typically emit during such moments. He quickly dispatched the first pitch, 100′ of mellow ice with a grade 3 top-out. It didn’t hurt that the ice was incredibly soft, in places almost slushy wet, despite the frigid temperatures of the previous three days.
Once up, Jason thought it over and decided to continue up the Outlet rather than check out other things near the base. I was happy to do either, but given the low amount of snow, thought it best to grab the opportunity to climb the entire thing. So I grabbed my pack, stuffed in some extra gear, and climbed up to join him.

Typical terrain on the climb: mostly low-angle, grade 1 ice.

Typical terrain on the climb: mostly low-angle, grade 1 ice.

The great majority of the climb from the first pitch is grade one ice, a sinuous band of blue threading upward. One could walk alongside the flow (as we did on the way down) with only occasional need for crampons, so the climb is more for training or enjoyment than necessity. But it makes a fine outing.

One of the wide, low-angle ice pitches along the route.

One of the wide, low-angle ice pitches along the route.

After I’d led a pitch above the first, traversing right to join the right-side flow before heading upward, we simulclimbed most of the walk, once or twice slinging a tree just in case, and at the only reasonably steep spot, an 8′ high vertical step, Jason plugged a bomber ice screw while I belayed. Other than that, it was easy ice all the way up to where the Outlet Trail crosses the outlet flow itself.

Looking across Crane Mountain Pond toward the Northern Knob

Looking across Crane Mountain Pond toward the Northern Knob

We dropped the pack and climbing gear and walked the last five minutes up to the Crane Mountain Pond. Here, the weather was decidedly alpine: a fitful wind blew snow devils across the ice, and the temperature was definitely closer to ten than the predicted 20s down in the valley. Still, looking across the pond, we spied a band of ice dropping off the crags of the Northern Knob and wondered if a hidden gem might twine down to the base, waiting to be discovered. That was enough to seal our fates, at least for the next hour. We hesitantly began walking across the ice, slowly gaining confidence as it was obviously plenty thick enough. Reaching the far side of the jutting peninsula, we turned along the tongue of ice leading to one of the pond’s inflows, then hacked our way through dense conifers below the cliffs. Eventually, this led us too low, luring us up to a bench draped in nearly-impenetrable balsam and spruce.
Long and short: we spent a long time thrashing to reach a short thread of ice, perhaps fifteen feet tall, smeared to a twenty foot face. The bottom would require a bit of drytooling, and the upper ice would probably shatter off the wall if poked much. We turned from that, worked our way up a ridiculous bit of vertical vegetation, and reached the open ridge on top of the Knob.

After enjoying the view and the stiff, cold breeze a few minutes, we turned our backs on adventure and headed down the path back to the pond, back to our gear, and back to the bottom of the mountain. Darkness overtook us as we packed our bags for the walk out. Following the dim band of white that marked the trail, we returned to the car and then to the warmth of home, where Robin had a wonderful dinner waiting for two famished adventurers.

If You Go

  • First, the lower pitches of the Outlet Falls are on private property. While not posted, seek permission first if possible, and be careful to leave no trash. Don’t posthole along the trails leading to the flow itself, these are frequently groomed for skiing.
  • The first pitch is often much thicker than its condition on this trip. It usually has a short vertical stretch at the top, making it a solid grade 3. However, the flow splits into two sections at the base, and the right one is always easy grade 2.
  • With the exception of one or two steep spots along the way, the rest of the flow is grade 1, though make no mistake, a fall while on the ice would be disastrous.
  • Don’t bother with anything but the first pitch if there is deep snowcover, which renders the rest of the climb a tiring slog.

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