Climbing is dangerous! Every year many climbers are broken, maimed, and killed. Don't be so foolish as to trust your life to what you see here. I'm not a guide and neither is this web site. If you don't know what you are doing or where you are going, please take a course or hire a guide!
The Climactic Pillar of Khusia
March 2, 2002
"Wow, a lot of the snow has melted off the road, Loren. Maybe we can cut down some of the approach. And maybe someone has cleared the tree."
"Cool. Let's go for it."
Dave informed me well ahead of time that the approach was longer than it sounded. He estimated four hours, but that didn't seem to jive with the distance and elevation gain. But it was, after all, his 'secret' ice stash. So I trusted his estimation of the approach and felt pleased that we would save some time.
Driving in snowmobile-packed snow and bare patches of road we soon arrived at the dreaded tree. Far from being clear, the big tree completely blocked the road. I stop the car and we step out to inspect.
"I think I have a solution, Dave."
I grab the long yellow tow strap out of the back. Dave ties a super-mother-friction-hitch on the tree and I attach the other end to the seldom-used hook under my front bumper. Half expecting the hook to tear off the front of the truck, I put it in reverse and drop the clutch. The offending section of the tree snaps off effortlessly and I foolishly start feeling smug.
We load back up and I drive through the opening. Only later did I notice that my antenna had been mashed over by some vengeful branch. Continuing up the road, the snow becomes deeper and more consistent. Still, it is well packed by snowmobiles, so we could continue. Finally we arrive at a melted out section. I pause. Where the snow begins again there is a 18" vertical lip.
"Should I hop out and dig a ramp?"
I was about ready to park, but Dave's optmism rekindled mine. "Nope, I can make this."
And I did. But I hadn't counted on the fact that the fifty foot section of gravel road was enough to stop many of the 'bilers: The snow on the opposite side was not so nicely packed down. The car came to a halt ten feet into the snow. Despite 45 minutes of half-hearted digging, all we manage to accomplish is bashing the hell out of our hands.
"Dave, I'll be a lot more motivated to dig this thing out after we've climbed some ice. Let's go."
So we did. We skin up the road for an hour, then cut off and come to the creek. Dave hadn't really mentioned the creek crossing. Conveniently, all the big rocks above the water line are covered with a thin layer of ice. Dave mounts a deadfall while I slip and slide on the rocks. In the end he broke a ski pole and I dunked my right foot into the creek over the top of my boot. Across, Dave notes that we are on the same pace as he and Phil two weeks earlier.
"Cool, so we're right on the money?"
"Yep, you could say that."
Dave astutely repairs his severed pole with a branch and, regrouped, we skin off into the brush. Eventually we climb out of the brush to the side of a large avalanche. Peering up I can't quite tell where all the debris originated, but it is certainly an impressive pile, including some large, wholly uprooted trees. Faced with skiing the death-cookies, we opt to ditch our skis and continue up the firm snow with crampons. Dave leads across the debris to a beautiful and unusual low-angle ice flow. We swap poles for tools and solo up.
Thirty more minutes and the stash comes into view. My jaw drops to the snow as I try to comprehend what is before me. Dave's words finally jar me back into reality.
"Wow, it is really thin."
I actually hadn't noticed how thin the ice was, I was distracted by the number of lines and their length. Many are easily 150 meters or longer of steep, sustained ice. But today there is only one left that is blue. After some conversation, we head toward it. We stop at the edge of more avalanche debris to rack up.
"Do you mind if I take this one, Loren?"
"Not at all. I'm just happy to be here."
At Dave's suggestion we rope up, and he leads up what looks like the end of the approach. Soon though, it becomes clear that this is the first pitch of the route. Dave starts plugging in gear and moving deliberately. I move up to a good stance and put him on belay as he works rock, thin ice, and nasty snow to the base of the blue ice. He sets a belay and brings me up.
"Nice lead, Dave. Pulling over that lip was thought provoking."
"Thanks. I think I'll let you take the next one."
I felt kinda bad: Dave led the nasty, scrumbly pitch with little pro, then hands me the pitch of fat, blue ice.
"Are you sure?"
"Yep, it's all yours."
I switch into my thin 'leading' gloves and rack up. Then I traverse right and start up. The ice is the best I've climbed this year: Thick, smooth, and plastic, but firm enough for bomber screws. The bottom is the steepest part, but less than vertical. My already bruised and bashed knuckles scream out as I rework my swing for a new set of tools. As usual, I get scared and cuss a blue streak, but I feel solid and comfortable the whole way and place plenty of gear. Ten meters up the ice lays back to WI3 and I start wondering about a belay. More blue ice draws me up until I am twenty feet above my last screw on a 55 degree snow slope. I traverse right toward trees, wondering how much rope is left. I reach the trees with five meters to spare. I make a belay from two smallish trees and bring Dave up. It was a sweet, if short, pitch of ice.
Dave leads through and past the steep, exposed slope, then brings me up with a hip belay. We opt for the longish walk-off rather than rapping into the unknown.
Back at the gear I am again drooling over the lines. Maybe that one would still go... I think there is enough pro on that one... That one doesn't look too steep...
We eat and pack and slog down to the skis. The ski back to the creek is an exercise in advanced wedge turns; I impress Dave with my extreme beginner-level ability. The creek crossing is easier now, the ice has melted off the rocks. Back at the road we rest and eat and ponder whether we'll be able to make it down the road without skins. In the end, we have to do a good bit of poling and skating, which Dave especially enjoys with his broken pole. Another 45 minutes of concerted digging frees the truck and we hold our breath hoping not to get stuck again as we drive out. The Mountain Gods decide we've paid our penance for the day and let us escape from the snowy road without more digging.
Over a large dinner we consider possible names for our route. In the end it becomes "The Climactic Pillar of Khusia".
Want to read more? Dave's trip report is here.
This page was last edited on
Wednesday, February 23, 2005