Lillooet Feb 2-3, 2002
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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!

Lillooet BC Ice Climbing

February, 2-3, 2002

Two more days in Lillooet for us. This trip was mostly about climbing some 'classics' that we hadn't been to before.

Pulling in after Midnight, I was tired. Especially so when the alarm went off at 4:45 AM. Still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I found myself sitting in the Reynolds restaurant shortly after 5:00, sucking down coffee and wolfing down pancakes. The cast of characters in the restaurant have become a part of the fun of the trip for me: The waitress who also doubles as cook until 6:00 every morning and the crew of retired folks meeting ad-hoc for coffee, who remind me so much of my Grandfather, who had a similar routine during his retirement. We chat with them, listen to the local gossip, and stuff our faces, then bolt out the door and on down Highway 99.

In the pre-dawn we make a couple passes to ensure that we are looking at the right climb, then park midway between the bridge and the curve in the road. We follow older tracks up the road, and start down the slope where they do, only to climb back up after twenty feet to don our crampons. The frozen dirt and gravel was slippery.

Down the hill and through the flats, still following the step, we go. In just a few short minutes we come to rushing Cayoosh 'creek'. It seems like it deserves junior river status to me. The hip boots I'm carrying on my pack are useless for the chest-deep water. Luckily, some highly industrious quasi-engineer has been very busy building a make-shift bridge. Jens goes first and gets a scare when some of the ice on the bundle of logs breaks under his weight and quickly disappears downstream. A convenient handline dangling from above eases the transition onto a boulder and soon we're both across with dry feet.

Jens at the base of the route.

We ditch extra socks and rubber boots and start up the gully. At 7:45 we're at the base of the climb with just enough daylight to comfortable start up. We consider soloing, but decide that roped climbing won't be significantly slower. Jens takes the sharp end and is soon out of sight. When the ropes comes tight I follow. A full 60 meters got Jens to a nice belay tree. I take the rack and continue up, but my lead is just a snow slog up and around the corner to the right. I draft an older screw hole and bring Jens up.

Jens on the short 2nd approach pitch.

Jens at the base of the third pitch.

Swinging leads again, he climbs up a short ramp that is easier than it looks and up more snow to the base of the first 'real' pitch. I follow, enjoying the moderate, plastic ice. We can hear people coming up behind us, so I quickly take the lead up the rambly 70 meter pitch. I make it past the crux near the end of the ropes, then put in a screw and we simul-climb for ten meters until I reach a rap station/belay. As Jens climbs up, I stare at the beautiful upper pitch glistening in the sun. It looks to be pretty wet and I know that sunshine can quickly reduce solid ice to slush, even if the temperature is well below freezing.

Me starting up the third pitch. Drop those heels boy! Photo by Jens K.

Me cruising up the third pitch. I got kinda sketched at the topout fifty feet above. Photo by Jens K.

Jens scrambles up the snow, past me and up to the base of the next pitch. I follow and set a quick one-screw belay as he prepares for the lead. We debate about whether it will go in one pitch and agree that he'll start up and make a belay if necessary. The wet, 'hero' ice makes for good sticks, but poor protection. The pitch is moderate until the final five meter 'ice hose'. Jens sends it as one pitch and clips the anchor with me ten feet off the deck. I follow up past two good screw, then two bad ones to the base of the finishing pillar. There he has discovered and clipped a v-thread and added a screw at shoulder level from a nice stance. I climb up and past to the base of a short, final pitch in the trees.

Jens, in the shadow of a tree, starting up the fourth pitch.

Jens belaying from the top of the 'ice hose' atop the fourth pitch.

He joins me at a tree belay and I finish the route with one screw on a short, steep pillar and a slung tree amidst a jungle-gym like mass of cauliflowers.

Finishing up: The short fourth pitch. Photo by Jens K.

The party behind us decides to skip the final pitch and raps down in front of us. We follow, with rope stretch allowing up to touch down easily. The second rap is also no problem with the double 60s. From there we watch a group on The Synchrotron. The leader is doing battle with an awkward-looking mixed pitch. Jens comments that it looks fun. Scary was the word in my head, though. The third rap is the most sporty; it goes right of the ice, free-hanging off a lip and just touches down with rope stretch. If the rap station was moved from a sickly looking fir to the healthy and robust cedar ten feet below it would be no problem. One more rap down the approach pitch lands us at the top of the approach gully amidst a Marble Canyon-like crowd. Eight people are milling about including us: Four on their way down and four headed up. It is 2:15 and I'm glad to be going down. Crossing the creek in the dark doesn't seem like much fun.

Climbers on The Synchrotron.

We snack and chat and pack. The two people waiting to climb took an accidental tour of the Serendipity approach (was that you Colin?). They report that it isn't complete. We finish packing and crampon down the snow/ice/frozen dirt slope to the creek. There I'm happy to see that, since our passing in the morning, someone has added a bright yellow handline to the logjam. I cross first so I can take a couple pictures and a short video of Jens. Click here for the video (5Mb file!). At 3:30 we're back at the car, drinking a beer and watch the climbers with binoculars.

Synchronicity (red) and The Synchrotron (blue) from Highway 99. A climber is circled low on Synchronicity (the 'approach' pitch). I think The Synchrotron goes to the trees, but we didn't see climbers any higher than where the blue line stops.

On the way back to town I look over that the Phair Creek road and notice that it looks plowed. Excited about the possibility of climbing there on Sunday and anxious to slay some demons from two weeks earlier, we go exploring. Sure enough, we find that the road has been plowed. At the bridge we put chains on the rear and in four-wheel low I creep up the road. Up and up and up. Until we reach the point where the gate used to be. There we find a survey crew and the end of the plowing. Defeated again, but better informed, we retreat to the Reynolds for hot showers, and then to City Pizza for face-stuffing.

After much conversation about possibilities for Sunday we decide to hit Marble Canyon in the morning followed by Oregon Jack. After another hot breakfast at the Reynolds, we arrive at Marble in the dark at 6:30 AM. Across the lake we can see headlamps shining on the ice. We pack up and walk over. Sure enough, a crew of three or four is busily setting up TRs on Waite for Spring and Deeping Wall. They are ask if we want to lead either, but we decide to walk up to the second pitch of Icy BC instead.

It's my lead, so I look around the pillar and opt for the left side. I'd already led it three times this year, but always on the right. The left looks to be easier climbing with poorer protection. Full of confidence I start up. Only to be quickly returned to my usual state of fear by amazingly brittle ice. I cuss and sweat and fumble my way up the pitch, placing three screws and bashing the hell out of my knuckles. I've never seen such huge pieces of ice fracture from an ice tool.

Me getting sketched by shitty sticks on the second pitch of Icy BC. Photo by Jens K.

Jens follows and joins me at a tree at the base of the third pitch. There is a lot more ice on it that two weeks ago when I led it. It is noticeably steeper and more sustained. It is also a mass of dripping pencil chandeliers on one side and weird sublimation-eroded cauliflowers on the other. It looks hard and scary. Jens boldly launches up, discovering that it is also as brittle as the second pitch. He manages to fiddle in two marginal screws, then decides that discretion is the better part of valor. He lowers off and I walk around to set up a TR. We each climb it cleanly on TR, then drop the ropes and hike back to the car.

Jens working for a decent screw placement on the third pitch of Icy BC.

Me TRing the third pitch. Photo by Jens K.

Looking though the guide book Jens notices a shortcut from Marble Canyon to Oregon Jack. "Passable when the snow isn't too bad.", it says.

It seems a little vague, but would cut the 50+ mile drive down to 25, so we go for it. Like the previous day, we're doing great until, at 20 miles, the plowing stops. We backtrack 13 miles and drive around through Cache Creek. Perhaps the guidebook should say, "Passable when there is no snow."

We park at the first switchback past the end of the plowing and follow a footpath in the snow to the base of an impressive overhanging limestone wall. Turning left, we walk along the base of the wall until the fresh footsteps end. As there were four cars in the parking area, we know that we're not on the main track. But we forge on, following an older snow-covered set of tracks. By and by we hear people and the sound of tools on ice. In plain sight of everyone I embarrass myself by slipping and sliding on my ass part way down the steep slope to the base of the climb.

We're relieved to find out that the three people not climbing are leaving, not waiting. So we only have to wait for the two people currently on the route. We unpack and then employ separate strategies for staying warm: I sit on my backpack and put on all my spare clothes, while Jens goes off exploring. The climb is quite impressive, a beautiful flow of ice, and I enjoy watching the other folks climb it. It is only the third climb for one of them, and I'm impressed by her slow, but clean and very steady ascent. She takes a solid hour, but never pauses to rest and takes no hangs.

The "Unknown Climber" making her way up Oregon Jack.

Jens, anxious to 'get back on the horse' after Icy BC is ready to launch up as soon that they touch down. He climbs clean and smooth, making it look easy, though I can tell from the base that the final pillar is stout. With daylight waning I follow up, with headlamp clipped to my harness. It is a great route, thoroughly enjoyable, with good ice most of the way. The final pillar is hard. Harder I think, than anything on Synchronicity. As we prepare to rap off, Jens and I discuss the imperfections of ice ratings. On this weekend, Synchronicity, at WI4, is an easier climb (I think) than Oregon Jack, a 3+.

Jens on Oregon Jack.

Back at our packs we hurriedly pack up, hoping to make the car before dark. Following the main trail out, we reach the car in time to crack a beer before dark. I'm pleased to have completed the weekend of climbing without getting hit by any ice. But then I nearly cold-cock myself with the car door, opening up my eyelid and producing a nice little mouse. Go figure, the most dangerous part of the weekend is getting into the car on Sunday night.

The road is mostly dry and the weather pleasant (no torrential rain or snow). We stop in Hope for dinner at Subway. The border crossing is painless. I recognize one of the agents from two weeks ago. They are both curious about ice climbing, asking us if we can climb like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.

After dropping Jens off, I'm home by Midnight. I fall asleep with visions of one-swing belay sticks in fat, plastic ice dancing in my head.


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