Lillooet, BC Ice Climbing
February 10-11, 2001
<more pictures coming...>
Our original plan was to depart from Issaquah at midnight on Friday, drive through
the night to Lillooet, and start climbing. Saner heads prevailed though, and we left Issaquah at 8:00 PM instead. The traffic was nil and the sometimes sketchy roads in Canada were in great shape, so we pulled up to The Reynolds about 1:15 AM. Check in, unload, crash. The alarm went off at 5:00 AM. It seemed like I’d just closed my eyes. I thought about our objective for the day:
"Night N' Gale", a climb requiring a river wade and one which we’d bailed off in early December. As I lay there, foggy-headed and feeling slightly hungover, the thought of wading across that cold river seemed like a much worse plan than going back to sleep. Fortunately, the thoughtful folks at Suunto equipped the Vector with three alarms, and by the time the third one went off at 5:15 I was ready to get up.
Remarkably, we were dressed, loaded, and driving at 5:45. The problem with our efficiency is that there is no place in Lillooet to get coffee on Saturday before 6:00 AM. We found a shop that opened a bit early for us, and we got the first cups from a fresh pot of coffee. With caffeine coursing through our veins, we sped out of town, toward Bridge River and the Terghazi dam. We parked in “our” spot and broke open the fresh box of Hefty Steel Sacks. What has happened to Steel Sacks? I remember these things being almost bullet proof, but what came out of the box was not much more substantial than the
cheap Costco bags we’d used in December. That’s okay though, we’ve wizened up since December and brought Tevas to wear
over the garbage bags. No wet feet this time!!
As we were preparing our feet for a dry crossing, another pair of climbers came past and headed down to the river.
Aw, shit. The last thing I wanted was a foot race to the base of the climb. Oh-well, what could we do? We went down and crossed the river. The other climbers were still changing out of their garbage bags.
“Hey”, they said.
“Hey”, I said back, not wanting to give too much away.
“Where ya’ll headed?”, Jens asked.
“Shriek O’ The Sheep. Where are you going?”
“Night N' Gale”
Whew. No racing to the climb. No sharing the route. No worrying about trundling ice on the party below, or dodging chunks from above. The tension evaporated.
Jens and I were ready to go before them.
“Have a great day. Climb safe.”
“Thanks. See you guys.”
And with that we walked off along the river bank.
The bad news about the approach is that it kinda sucks at the beginning. The good news is that it gets more fun up higher. So we stumbled upstream through the snow-covered rocks until we’d had enough and then headed up into the brush. The brush is think, rude, and nasty, but
mercifully short. In less than ten minutes we broke into the creek bed. A few hundred yards above we stopped to cache some gear and put on crampons.
We rambled up the snow-covered ice. The approach has two pitches of steeper ice. In December we’d soloed the first, shorter one, and belayed the second, longer one. The increased ice volume and our (my) experience in the intervening months enabled us to solo both pitches this time, though the second was at the limit of what I’m willing to solo.
Jens finishing a solo pitch high on the approach to Night N' Gale
Soloing did save us some time, though and we arrived at the base of the climb before 10:00. It was remarkable how much it had changed since our last visit. It looked mostly less steep, but more sustained.
Loren near the base of Night N' Gale. Route in red, belays at Xs.
The lead of my discontent is the short (but steep!) section between the first
and second belay.
I led the first pitch last time, so Jens took it this time. He went up the slab and started the business in a steep, chandeliered dihedral. Below, I was really enjoying watching him lead the pitch that had so thoroughly skull-fucked me in December. He reached some easier ground and continued up to the foot of a steeper section. He set a belay and I followed. I’m still amazed at how much easier it is to follow an ice pitch than lead it. At the belay we looked at the two options for finishing the lower falls: A vertical and somewhat chandeliered pillar above us, or a shorter, lower angle, but running wet pillar on the right. I wanted to go right, on easier terrain, but I knew I’d get soaked and the pro would be worthless. So I took the rack and started up. I stopped just eight feet above the belay to put in a screw. This was clearly going to be my hardest lead yet, and I wanted to protect the belay. I made the mistake of starting in a bad position: Poor feet, right tool too high, and I was trying to place the screw at my right hip with my left hand. The screw wouldn’t start and my right wrist started hurting. My calves were screaming. I’m sure I was muttering a constant stream of expletives, though I don’t remember it. Finally the screw was in and I was able to clip the rope.
“Take that Jens! Jesus. Shit.”
I hung there like a limp doll as the pain drained out of my body and I tried to regain my mental composure.
“I’m not sure I can do this Jens.”
“Do you want me to lower you?”
“No. Just give me a minute.”
I focused on my breathing and how it would feel to climb the terrain on a TR. After several minutes I pulled back on and continued up. I knocked a big piece of ice loose. I heard Jens groan when it hit him.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, just keep going. I’m okay.”
With visions in my head of knocking my belayer cold while I sketched up my hardest ice lead, I carefully moved up a few more feet and put in another screw. Again left handed, but from a better position, this one went in with less melodrama. I clipped the rope and hung again.
“Rest up Loren, and then sprint to the top.”
The end of the business was only twelve feet away, but I was mentally thrashed. After shaking out I pulled back on and started moving up. I felt like I was moving in slow motion, the top didn’t seem to be getting closer. Then I was pulling over, trying to get good sticks in the slabby ice above. I put in a screw ten feet past the lip and then moved up another twenty feet where I set a lovely “John Long” style three-screw belay. It felt great to call “Off belay”. It was easily my hardest ice lead.
Jens came up and was quite gracious. He complimented my lead and didn’t mention my whimpering. He said he was winded and pumped from following. We reracked and he continued up. The upper falls was huge, but most of it was running wet, so Jens stayed to the left. Now it was my turn to dodge ice. The belay was in the fall line, though it was very strong and I was able to crouch down and hide from much of the falling ice. I took one shot on my thigh and another chunk whizzed between my legs, narrowly missing “my boys”.
Jens called “Off belay” and I broke down the belay and followed. I was impressed by his lead: Though the terrain was more moderate than the lower falls, he placed only two screws on the full 60 meter pitch. He wasn’t quite at the top, so I climbed past and gave him a hip belay past the last little step.
We coiled up the ropes and continued up the snow gully. Far above two more pitches beckoned (have they been climbed??), but we were done. After 200 feet we ducked into the trees on the right and started a descending traverse. We came across some older tracks and followed them through the krumholtz to the edge of the cliff marking the descent gully. We consolidated the rap slings from several trees onto one where we thought we could make one rap and hit the gully. Jens went first and had loads of fun clearing the tangle-prone 8.1mm doubles from the myriad of trees, rocks, and brush. He called “Off rappel”, and I followed down. We pulled the ropes and quickly proceeded down the heavily loaded and avalanche-prone gully. Ten minutes later, at 3:25 PM, we arrived back at the packs. Above us another party was working the final pitch.
We packed and ate and drank some water, then took off. Above the longer of the two pitches we’d soloed we rapped from a v-thread, but because we only used one of the ropes, we had to make another rap from a tree. I commented that one of the slings on the tree looked pretty good.
“It should, Loren, since we left it here in December.”
My mind is like a steel trap. Not.
In no time we were retrieving our cached gear and pulling off our crampons. We crashed down the creek bed and through the brush. We walked back along the river to our bags and shoes. The gear from the Sheep Party was still there. Properly equipped in Steel Sacks and Tevas, we crossed back over the creek to the car and a single cold Snow Cap
Ale, It was a little before 5:00 PM.
The drive back to Lillooet went quickly as we talked about the buzz you can get from
six ounces of beer after a long climb. We landed at the Reynolds, hung up our wet gear, and each took a nice, long shower. The Reynolds has to be one of the best deals going: $25 American/night for a hot shower, warm bed, and plenty of hooks to dry gear on. I would’ve paid my half ($12.50) just for the shower. Dressed and polished, we headed out for dinner.
In the lobby the employee working the desk, a nice young lady greeted us.
“Well there you are. I was beginning to think you’d gone up there and died.”
“Nope. We just smelled that way. Where should we go for dinner?”
“Well the best places are Dina’s for Greek and the pizza place. I like Dina’s better.”
“Thanks, maybe we’ll check it out.”
We ended up going for pizza. While we waited for the food, Jens suggested that we not leave until we’d finished the whole pizza. As it turned out, he set the bar far too low: We polished off the pizza easily. From there we cruised “uptown” for a couple pounders of beer at the bar. As always, there was hockey on TV. As a Midwestern boy, I love
hockey (go Wings!), and since it is always on in Lillooet, Jens is becoming a fan, too.
With only three hours of sleep the night before we were fading fast. After one beer we headed back to The Reynolds. The young lady was still there.
“So what are you guys doing tonight?”
“Sleeping”, I said without hesitation or thinking.
“Oh. ‘Cause some of us are going out later and I thought you could come along.”
“Sounds like fun, but we’re pretty wasted. Maybe next time?”
Back in the room I thought a little about this.
“Jens, my twenty year-old self would be embarrassed by my thirty-two year-old self.”
“Well, a nice looking woman just asked us to go out drinking with her and I’d rather sleep.”
“Yeah. I can barely keep my eyes open.”
And that was pretty much it until the alarm went off at 5:30 AM.
In the morning we packed our gear for the day, then threw everything else into our duffels. We checked out, grabbed coffee and headed out of town in search of Phair Creek. We aced the navigation and got into the canyon without one wrong turn. Four wheel drive, while not mandatory, made getting in a lot easier. At the 7.5km marker, just before a bridge and a bend in the road, we parked at headed up to
"It’s Only Phair". The very short approach was nice, since we were both feeling a little hammered from the long day on
"Night N' Gale" and lack of sleep (just imagine if we’d gone out drinking!). We debated about who would get the lead, finally deciding that I would take it. It looked fun to me, and I think Jens was anxious for me to get back in the saddle after my previous lead. The first section was fun, steeper, picked out ice.
Loren enjoying a WI3 lead on "It's Only Phair"
I put in two screws, so I could relax some and so I could practice getting a better stance before starting them. The rest was rambly WI2. I ran out the whole rope and came up just short of the top. I spied a sling in the trees to the left and waded through the snow to get there. There was just enough rope to clip off, but not enough to get any in the belay device. Jens, who had walked right to the base of the climb and finally pulled the rope out the belay device knew to just start. Once I had a handful of rope, I put him on. When he got to the belay he had on two different gloves.
“I had to walk to the base of the climb to keep you on, but I left one glove and couldn’t get back to it.”
We got down in one rap on the 60 meter doubles.
At the car we decided that moderates with easy approaches seemed like a good plan for the rest of the day. We went looking for
"Nectar of the Gods", hoping to link it with
"Airy Phairy". Per the description, we passed the 4km marker and started looking for a bridge. The first bridge was in sight of the 3.5km marker. It didn’t seem
right*, but we saw ice above and headed up. We climbed directly up a gully in existing tracks to the base of a short WI2+ pitch. We ditched some gear and continued on, solo. Above, I continued up some rambling snow-covered ice to the base of another short step. While I waited for Jens to come up, I crossed the base to some exposed rock and, yes, SUNSHINE!! I was standing there, laying back on the warm rock with my eyes closed when I heard it. Wumpphhh! I knew what it was before I opened my eyes and immediately yelled down.
“Jens! Jens! Look out! Heads up!”
The snow had spontaneously released from the ice above and slid several hundred yards down the gully. Luckily, Jens was able to get out of the way, in fact, I’ve never seen him move so fast. I crossed back under the ice, on my tracks which the slide had buried, and quickly rigged a belay.
“I think we should belay this pitch, Jens.”
“Yeah. That seems like a really good idea.”
I put him on and he led up until the rope was gone. I followed up the fun, rolling ice. Perfect for the day: Lots of climbing, low stress. I led past his belay and traversed around climber’s right looking for any sign of
"Airy Phairy" or the telltale “impressive icicles” near it. Nothing. I went back to Jens and we descended back to the car.
We had time for one more adventure, but we’d run out of moderates in the area.
“Let’s go over to Loose Lady, Loren, but if there are more than two cars we’ll skip it.”
“Okay, sounds good to me. As long as you are up for the hard leads.”
Well, there was four cars when we got there, but our standards crumbled in the face of just going home. So we geared up and started up the well trodden path. We soloed up the first short approach pitch and
soon arrived at the upper, larger approach pitch. We’d already passed one team going down, but here we had to wait for another group to finish their lead. We geared up, they finished, and I led off.
As I was placing my first screw. Someone called down from above.
"If you climb on the left we can rap down the fall line."
This didn't sound like the best idea to me.
"I'll be there in three minutes. Please wait."
I started up, hurrying and intending to climb the rest of the way without
placing any more screws. The it occurred to me that this is precisely how people
get hurt, and I slowed to a comfortable pace and fired in one more screw.
"Okay, so maybe it was five minutes. Thanks for waiting."
"Why don't you go ahead and rap before he follows."
"Really? Thanks a lot."
At Jens' suggestion, I rigged the belay with enough slack so that I could
watch him. While the first of the descending pair rapped I asked the other where
they were from. It turned out that they were also American, and the other is a
regular poster on cascadeclimbers.com,
Dane. It is getting to be a small world.
I helped them pull their rope and Jens started up. As I cleaned the belay, he
headed up to check out the route. As I rounded the corner I saw that the party
in front of us was leading the first pitch. It looked hard up high.
"Looks like I got the easy pitch, Jens."
We got to bullshitting with the belayer. It turned out that he and his
partner are also from Washington, and that he, Ray, is also a regular poster on cascadeclimbers.com.
Geez, really small world.
It was getting dark and above us the leader was really working the route. He
finished the first pitch and yelled down that he wasn't going to try the second.
He set a v-thread and rapped down. Ray took a lap up the slab on TR and then
they left the route to us. By this time Jens and I had been there about an hour,
trading one down jacket back and forth.
Jens went up the slab and set a couple screws. After the second he said he
was cold, tired, and mentally spent. I agreed that our chances of finishing the
route were minimal, given our physical and mental states, and the late hour and
lowered him down. I took one screw up to set between his two to protect a
downclimb. Then , on a whim, I grabbed one more. Thirty feet up I heard
something falling and looked down in time to see a screw skitter down the ice.
It pays to listen to that quiet little voice.
I went up and successfully cleaned and downclimbed back to a v-thread partway
up the slab. I backed it up with a screw and set a TR. Jens lowered me off.
We were tired, but the slab looked a little boring.
"Watch this Loren. I'm going to try it without my tools."
He holstered one tool and started up.
"No way. No way you can clear the bulge."
"If I do it, you buy me a beer."
"Okay, same deal for me?"
He made it to the crux bulge, then fell. He finished with one tool.
Then it was my turn. I made it to the bulge and made some tenuous moves,
inching my feet up and using pick holes and natural features in the ice for my
hands. I had my hands over the bulge and was making the last difficult move with
my right foot when I fell.
"No beer for you either."
"Damn! I was there. I had it."
I climbed back on and was able to do it the second time. I cleaned the screw
and rapped off the v-thread. Some downclimbing and a rap landed us at our poles,
where we put on head lamps and walked back to the car.
On the way back to Lillooet we added up all the pitches of ice we've climbed
this winter: 41. We stopped at Subway in Lillooet for dinner. Good news; They
have Garden Burger subs even though they aren't on the menu. Bad news: They take
Mastercard, but not Visa. That meant that Jens had to pay for dinner.
It was 7:23 PM when we left Subway and 12:20 AM when we hit Exit 15 off I-90.
Another respectable five hour drive. So why drive four hours to Banks Lake?
*We subsequently discovered that the climb we were on
is called "Just Walkin' the Dog" <back>