Drury Falls, Jan 11-12
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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!

Drury Falls

January 11-12, 2003

What do you call two days of crappy weather preceeded by five days of sunshine? In Seattle we call it a weekend. Dave and I watched the weather all week. Our plan was to head north to Lillooet for some long-awaited ice climbing. But as the week progressed, and the good weather persisted, we started talking about something closer to home, like Rainier.

But, true to form, on Thursday the various local weather experts began the gloom-and-doom talk about the upcoming weekend. Fresh off a thorough soaking in the Tatoosh the weekend before, I wasn't all that interested in battling a storm to the top of Rainier. On top of that, the ice reports from Lillooet were still gloomy. It wasn't until Friday night, after spending a good bit of time analyzing the weather forecasts, and the weather trends from the last ten days (conveniently available here: Turns All Year Weather Page) that we decided to give Drury Falls a go.

"It's east of the crest, it's been pretty cold at the weather station in Tumwater Canyon, and the avalanche danger isn't going to get much lower."

"True. Unless we get six inches of snow on Saturday night, like the National Weather Service is predicting."

My first experience on Drury Falls was mid-January, 2001. Jens and I climbed it in good style at the limits of our abilities. We spent a lot of time on the route, and ended up making the last few rappels and returning to the car in the dark, including the ever-scintillating raft across the Tumwater 'creek'. So I campaigned for another overnight attempt, with lots of rest time. And so it was that Dave arrived at my house at 5:15 AM on Saturday, January 11.

At 5:30 we're on our way to Leavenworth. I'm excited, and a bit anxious. In a day where route conditions are often available almost to a move-by-move level, we have no idea what shape Drury is in, if it has been climbed at all this year, or if it will be nothing more that a spitting, slushy mess. I'm quietly hoping that two additional years of experience and a couple gear upgrades will enable me to lead the pitches that were beyond my abilities (and left to Jens) in 2001. I know there is other, less challenging ice to climb in the immediate area, but I also know it would be hard for me to look up at Drury for two days and not try to climb it.

At 7:30 we arrive at the Waffle House (aka Der Vaffle Haus) in Leavenworth, where we proceed to wolf down large quantities of hot, greasy food. Stuffed and satisfied, we drive up Highway 2 , gawking out the driver's side in hopes of getting a good look at the Falls and at the creek, which we will soon float across in the Good Ship Klubberud (graciously loaned to me by Jens).

The creek (really, it's a river, regardless of what the maps say- creeks don't have class 4 rapids in my book) looks manageable, and Drury looks, well, not bad. It seems a little blanched to me, and definitely lacking the thick blue ice I'd climbed two years earlier. But it looks to be continuous, so we park and proceed with raft inflation and packing.

Dave divides the group gear while I pump, then I pack while he pumps, then he packs while I finish pumping. Or, at least, I try to finish. The outer, and largest, chamber of the Good Ship Klubberud doesn't seem to be filling up nice and plump like the other two compartments. Upon closer inspection, we find a hole the size of a pencil, which we promptly plug with duct tape. Then we find another and another. Uh oh. Flush with confidence from my previous crossing, we forge ahead, carrying the raft down the road 200 yards to the put-in. Dave hops in the front and I hand in the packs and paddles. Lastly, I buoy our prospects by pumping some additional air into the once-again sagging outer chamber, and we shove off.

The upper falls from the approach.

The float across and disembarkation do without incident, and by 9:15 we've stashed the raft (actually, Dave did this after losing rock-paper-scissors, two out of three) and are snowshoeing along the river in a lovely trap-crust over boulders. Eventually we start up the ridge, climbing 1000 feet above the river before entering the gully. This gully gives me the creeps. Lower down the steep rock walls sluff snow down to their surface, and the gully runs over 3000 vertical feet. So conditions that look perfectly safe low down can actually be a death-trap due to deep, unstable snow far out of sight. But today I'm feeling reasonable safe, after the recent stable weather. Thought the gully is choked with avalanche debris, it is old, with no new accumulation.

Dave high in the approach gully.

After a lot of huffing and sweating on my part, we reach the short approach pitch, which is spewing water. The Scottish-style gully to the left is in good shape though, so we solo up and traverse into the bowl below the lower tier of the Falls.

Me huffing up the approach pitch with an overly heavy pack. Photo by Dave.

Dave and I traverse over and drop our packs at our bivy site, then, with tools and crampons, walk out under the falls. The middle section, which had been fat and blue two years ago, is a gaping open hole with a large volume of running water.

The main section of the lower falls looking mighty wet.

"If it's gonna go, it'll be on the far left, and there isn't going to be gear."

We debate fixing the lower falls, but decide against it, as the running water and predicted overnight precipitation would leave us with frozen cables for ropes. As we walk back toward camp, I'm feeling intimidated.

The remainder of the day is spent eating, staring up at the climb, and eating some more. The snow starts shortly before 5:00 and we're in the tent by 5:45. As we lay there listening to the snow hit the tent we agree to at least start up in the morning. If it's too hard, or the snow continues, we can retreat.

I spend the night snoring like a chainsaw, and Dave spends the night poking me to wake me up, first gently, then not so gently, then finally giving up and wishing he'd brought the industrial-strength ear plugs. I'm quite surprised when he finally says, "Loren, it's 6:30."

I feel like I've been asleep for about three hours. It's still snowing lightly, but we lethargically get ready anyway, neither of us willing to be the one who calls it off. I'm the last one ready, and we head over to the falls at 7:45 AM.

Dave patiently waiting for me.

Dave generously allows me the first lead. I look up once more and take most of the screws off my harness and grab the rock gear from his. The lead is scary, but not hard. Gear is for looks only. My three-screw belay is not confidence inspiring, as air whistles out of two of the screws. Dave follows cleanly and continues up another eight meters to the upper bowl.

Me starting up the lower falls. Photo by Dave.

We take a straight line to the base of the upper tier and take a few moments to eat and rerack. The first half of the first pitch looks bad for gear. I start up toward a large, exposed rock band, meandering through features on the easiest possible route. Again, there is little solid ice, and what there is is thin. Cauliflowers and cheese-ice are the order until I exit right from under the rock. Here the ice is steeper and incrementally better, but still nothing close to the thunker blue hero-ice from two years before.

Dave with the upper falls looming above.

Me low on the first pitch of the upper falls. Photo by Dave.

My right foot feels funny and I look down to discover that the crampon is loose: The bail has somehow flipped 180 degrees and is loose, but still holding the crampon on my boots. I put in a bad screw yell down to Dave to let him know what's happening and, with my left tool still in the ice, reach down to reaffix the crampon with my right hand. To my relief it goes back on without a lot of fussing.

The sun is out now and the ice is getting wet. Dave yells that the rope is running out and I angle into a shady corner to set a belay. Three equalized screws with a screamer at the power point look good until water starts dripping off one of the hangars. Dave comes up, clips off, and takes the rack. Then quickly leads up and left.

Dave on the first pitch of the upper falls.

Dave leading while I order a crampon sandwich.

Snowcone for dessert.

We've agreed to take the easiest line to the top- I feel no need to make this any more difficult than necessary. As Dave leads the sun is snuffed out by clouds and I get cold. I notice that when I am leading, I always feel like I am moving at a good pace, regardless of how long the lead takes, but when my partner is leading, and out of sight, and I'm cold, I always wonder what is taking so long. Dave's pitch is a right-to-left traverse over WI3 terrain. Based on what I experienced on the first pitch I imagine that he is find a lot of mungy ice/snow and a dearth of gear. I can't hear him anymore, but then rope stops for a long while, then starts running fast. Too fast for climbing and too slow for falling, so I know he's at the belay.

I take him off, break down the belay, and follow the pitch. It is much as I imagined: Mungy and awkward with largely imaginary gear. It's a nice lead across nasty terrain and Dave has set a nice belay.

Two years ago from this point we climbed two pitches to the top. Jens led both and they were thin and technical, but not terribly steep. From the belay most of the pitch looked like a rambling WI3 ramp with some opportunity for gear. I told Dave I wanted to stretch it to the top, even if it meant some simul-climbing. As usual, the pitch is steeper than it looked from the belay. The ice is crap, where there is ice. A lot of it is snow on top of cauliflowers. I place a few screws on the ramp, mostly because I feel better when I look between my legs and see a screw, but I don't figure than any of them will hold a fall.

Me leading the third pitch of the upper falls. Photo by Dave.

Placing a screw for emotional support. Photo by Dave.

Exiting the ramp turns out to be the scariest part of the climb for me. My left tool is high on aerated, sun-baked ice, and my right tool is scratching around the corner for something other than loose snow. I eventually work my left tool and feet up high enough that I can get a reasonable stick with my right and step over. Thirty feet above I can see better ice and easier terrain. But in between is a steep section of very thin ice with water running behind it. I climb up gingerly- tools easily poking through to the running water, and feet breaking through too. Remarkably, I feel good, unless the whole section falls off with me on it. 

I focus only on the my current position and the next two moves. I think about placing a screw, but realize the safest course is to just get to better ice. My first swing into the thick, well-bonded ice above the tube is deliciously sweet. Twelve feet of steep terrain and I'm on easy ground, only 25 more feet to the top. I stop to catch my breath and savor the moment. I get a decent piece of protection and wonder aloud to myself if I can make it to the tree before the rope runs out. I take my time with the last bit, both to enjoy and to ensure I don't make a mistake. As I wallow up the snow I hear Dave yell. That means ten feet, and I have 15 to the tree. Somehow the rope just reaches, I sling the tree and clove in, with a sigh of satisfaction and relief. We made it up, I'm safe. I yell down to Dave, "Dave! Off belay!"


"Off belayyyyy!"


"Woooooohooooooooo!", I hoot.

"Woooohooooo!", Dave yells back, getting the picture.

The belay stance is comfortable, though I can't see Dave until he is close to the top. I pull in rope and enjoy the view. I'm happy with our teamwork and my the improvement of my abilities over the last two years. Dave follows cleanly and quickly and we're soon slogging over the ridge to the first rap station.

Dave near the top.

I'm surprised that I can't find any slings at the first rappel, even after excavating a lot of snow. So we add one and rap down past a route that is begging to be led.

Dave on the first rappel.

The second rap is short, and we could have downclimbed. With the beta from my first Drury climb, I know to head hard right (skier's right) after the second rappel and find a not-so-obvious tree with ancient webbing and cord, all of which is stark white. We add a piece of cord, looping it through the rap ring, and slide down to the base of the upper tier. Two years ago we'd rapped (at dusk) from the obvious rap station and ended up downclimbing twenty feet of the upper tier.

The upper falls from the descent, showing most of the second and the third pitch.

One more rap lands us at the base of the lower tier. The spewing hole in the middle of it is noticeably larger than in the morning. Dave generously drags the ropes to the rap station for the approach pitch and then we walk back to camp, eat, drink, and pack up.

I'm glad that we're doing well on time. I want to get down the avalanche gully before dark, and it looks like we'll make it. Packed up, we traverse around the basin under the falls to the rap station, pausing for one more picture of the lower tier. As Dave raps down I hear a loud crash and look over to see a large section of ice crash down where we'd stopped for a picture. Timing is so important...

Dave under the lower falls on the way out. Our ascent line in red.

At the base of the approach pitch we coil and pack the ropes, quickly, as we are now in the shooting gallery. Dave leads off down the gully like a man possessed. And I guess he was: A man possessed of the nature of the gully after watching slides go down it for two days. We stop only to pick up our snowshoes, which we'd stashed under a large boulder, and not again until we are far below the last of the avalanche debris and across Falls Creek. We put on our snowshoes and headlamps and continue down. The fresh snow makes following our tracks somewhat challenging, but that serves to distract me from the trap crust which we've re-entered.

Back at the river I fetch the sadly deflated raft, oars, pump, and roll of duct tape, then prep gear as Dave pumps. The Good Ship Klubberud, short of a full supply of air, rides a little low across the river, but we reach the shore dry and happy.

Me loading up the Good Ship Klubberud. Photo by Dave.

Dave single-handedly drags the raft out of the river and halfway to the road before we take out our packs and lug it up the last slope to the road. We find the car adorned with a full complement of green check-marks. As we pack up a WSDOT "Incident Response" truck and the driver gets out. He gently admonishes us for leaving the car parked in the pullout, warning that it could have been towed. "Next time", he says, "leave a note on the windshield so we don't tow you away."

We thank him for the explanation, finish packing, and head into Leavenworth for a large dinner. The drive home is uneventful, and we arrive at my place at 9:45 PM.

To sum up:

The approach took us 2.5 hours with overnight packs and some tedious conditions down low.
We were 5:45 up the climb and about 1:15 down.
The fat approach pitch of two years ago was not in at all. We climbed the gully instead.
The lower tier went at WI3R or X, with a short WI2 partial second pitch.
The Upper Falls went in three pitches: WI4R on the right, WI3R traversing right to left, and WI4X to the top.
With two sixty meter ropes you can make it down in four raps, or three if you want to do some downclimbing.

Now. I told you that story so I could tell you this one:

All the way up the approach we followed a single set of tracks. As we came up the approach pitch a climber was rapping down to us. He said he'd intended to solo the climb, but turned around because of wet ice and because he forgot his knife and couldn't cut down his v-thread cord (needed because he carried only a single 60 meter rope). I loaned him my knife so he could make a v-thread to rap the approach gully and he rapped down while we continued up.

As Dave and perused the lower tier (after we dropped our packs at our bivy site) he appeared next to us.

"I figured that since you guys were here, and you let me use you knife, I'd come back up and give this a go."

Dave and I stand there like a couple of super-gapers as he calmly and quickly solos up the lower falls. Then we return to our bivy spot, a better vantage, and watched him solo the upper falls, all 500 vertical feet. Fifty minutes he took on the way up, seventy-five down, including at least four v-threads. He was smooth and efficient, and an inspiration to Dave and I on our climb the next day.

Soloing the lower falls. We climbed the same line.

Soloing the upper falls. The ascent line in red and our belays in blue Xs.

Cheers to you, Adam!

Want more? Dave's trip report is here:

Dave's Drury Falls TR


This page was last edited on Wednesday, February 23, 2005
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