Lillooet Feb 20-22, 2001
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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 Ice

February 20-22, 2001

This was our last trip to the ice capital of the West Coast for this season, and we wanted to do it up right. Jens was off for spring break and I took a couple days off work. We left Issaquah on President’s Day, February 20th at 3:00 AM. The drive was as good as it gets: No traffic because of the holiday, and dry roads. At 8:30 in the morning we were parked at Crown Lake, racking up for a day of play. There were two other cars in the lot, both with Washington plates. As we pulled up, the tailgate of a pickup opened and climbers piled out. Apparently they’d spent the night in the back of their short-bed pickup. Not my idea of fun, especially when the Reynolds is all of $25/night and includes clean sheets, a warm bed, and a hot shower, not to mention the chance to dry out wet gear.

Anyway, we were feeling a little smug as we started off across the lake as they made breakfast. “Hey Jens, that’s pretty cool: We drove all the way from Issaquah this morning and we’re still going to have first choice of climbs at Marble Canyon.”

And so we chose Icy BC, which has to be considered the classic of Marble. Two pitches of WI4 topped by a pitch of WI5. I drew the first lead, so I racked up and started climbing. The ice was in great shape, if a bit picked out. This area is getting a lot of action this year: The first pitch actually has stair-like footsteps in it. Between the pick holes, the plastic ice, and the steps, I felt like Captain WI4 and sailed up to the intermediate platform.

Loren leading on the very picked out first pitch of Icy BC

I took a good rest and then started up the second half of the first pitch. It was a bit more challenging, but still within my comfort range. Jens came up and we rambled up to the second pitch. It was in much better shape than during our December visit. Jens dispatched it with minimal effort and I followed. The third pitch was steep, long, and wild. Gothic blobs protruded from the near vertical ice and a small chimney bisected the right side. While I probably could have dogged my way up it, getting completely sketched on the first day didn’t sound like much fun, so I demurred. Jens looked it over and decided that a TR was just the ticket. We hiked around to the top, set it up, and rapped down to a large shelf at the base of the business. From there we were able to TR on double, rather than single, strands of our PMI Verglas ropes. Jens went first and easily cruised up the heavily featured ice. I went next and climbed cleanly, though not as easily as Jens. In retrospect, Jens could have led the pitch, but we both enjoyed the security of a TR.

We coiled and racked our gear, then walked off. After a short break at the base, Jens decided he wanted to try to lead "Waite for Spring", which I thought should be called "Waite for Next Season". He tied in and started up moving on hooking and thin placements for twenty feet until he found ice think enough to place a 13cm screw.

Jens gingerly proceeding past a 13cm screw

He continued up another thirty feet to the base of the final steep section where he mental endurance was reached. Though he didn't complete the lead, I was thoroughly impressed with what he did, especially since he had led through the most desperate section.

Jens leading on thin ice and steep terrain on Waite for Spring

I walked around and set up a TR while he rested. Back at the base I tied in and started up. The moves were challenging down low: Balancy hooking with multiple lock-offs. 

Delicate moves with the security of a TR

I carefully moved up until I reached thicker ice, then on to the spot where Jens ended his lead. Here the ice was fat, but not the best quality. I started up, but after several moves I popped a tool and both crampons. I hung mostly from one tool, but did weight the rope some. I pulled back on and finished. Jens lowered me off and took a lap, making it look much easier than I found it.

Jens pulling over the top of Waite for Spring

The daylight wasn't gone, but we were done for the day. We walked back across Crown Lake and had a couple beers at the car while we packed up. Then we raced off toward Lillooet and hot showers at the Reynolds.

We ate dinner at Dina's Greek place, where I discovered that they have lots of vegetarian fare, they just don't have it on the menu. From there we went up to the bar at the far end of town where we both struggled to choke down a pounder of very skunky beer. It reminded me of that line from "Good Morning Vietnam":

"You lika da beer? I adda litta fomeldeehyde fo flava."

We retired to the Reynolds and conked out for the night after agreeing that 6:00 AM was plenty early to get up.

Our plan for Tuesday was to return to Phair Creek to scope out a line that Jens spotted on a previous trip. We made good time up the snow-covered road, thanks to a lot of traffic from the previous weekend. At one point we had to plow through a small avalanche that crossed the road, but again previous travelers made it easier for us.

A second look at the line Jens had in mind revealed no ice. But just past the 3.0 km marker, high above the right-hand side of the road we spied some ice that we thought might be unclimbed. After some debate about whether climbing the low-angle flow would be worth the effort to get to it, we racked and packed and started hiking.

Jens approaching the route

My estimate of a thirty minute hike turned out to be inaccurate. It took us about an hour to climb 1200 vertical feet to the base of the ice. Since it was Jens' idea to go looking for a first ascent, I declined his offer of "rock-paper-scissors" to determine who would get the lead.

Jens beginning his lead

I took the belay and Jens led off up the WI2/3 ice. It felt good to be up there climbing something new under sunny skies. Jens ran out the whole rope before calling "off belay". I grabbed my tools and started up the pitch. 150 feet into it I felt my right foot pop off a placement. I pulled my foot back and, to ensure a good placement, looked down before kicking back in. What I saw was a loose crampon fall off my boot and down the pitch. I watched, stunned, as it tumbled down and stopped on a bench just fifteen feet above the base. I called up to Jens and he lowered me back down. I was amazed at how difficult simply lowering down was without the crampon. Continuing up would have been extremely challenging.

I replaced the crampon and reclimbed the pitch. Unfortunately, I still don't know what caused the crampon to come off or how it fell off my boot with the strap intact. I'm just glad it happened on a low-angle, single-pitch climb and not on the last pitch of Drury Falls.

We made one rap from a large, but dead snag, to the base of the climb, then another to bypass some WI2 we'd soloed up. 

Jens on the first rap

We tromped another 1000 vertical feet down to the car and admired our work as we ate lunch. We are still trying to confirm that it was a first ascent, but if so, we will call it "A Phairly Phast Tick".

Jens leading Phair GameAfter a break we headed up to "Phair Game". Again we benefited from a busy weekend and cruised up a well-packed trail. At the base I eliminated the usual negotiation by saying in no uncertain terms that I was not going to lead the WI4/5 route. So Jens took it and did a great job. It was right at the limit of his comfort range: Scary, but not that "I going to die at any moment" kind of scary. Jens set a belay at the top and I followed. I used all the available rests and was glad that I hadn't tried to lead it. The belay was a little disconcerting: A fixed cordelette attached to three separate branches of the same shrub, none larger than three inches in diameter. Nonetheless, I came in and tied in so that Jens could take another lap on TR. He chose a more challenging line directly up the main pillar, and took no rests. We switched places and I climbed the same line, also in good style. Jens lowered me and rapped. At the base we debated about the fastest way back to the car: Traversing back the way we'd come in or flowing tracks directly down the fall line, crossing the creek, and walking back up the road to the car. I traversed and Jens went straight down I got back to the car and the beer three minutes before him. Tired, we headed back to the Reynolds for showers.

That night we had dinner at City Pizza, which has nice ambiance and great food. We had no trouble wolfing down an entire large pizza. From there we went back to the Reynolds for beers in the bar. "What can I get for you?"

"What do you have on tap?"


<long pause while we wait unrequited for the rest of the list...>

"Huh. Well, I guess we'll take a couple pints of Canadian."

We chased then with a couple bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade. That stuff is the most subtle delivery tool for vodka that I've ever tasted. In fact, we both got enough a buzz that we decided to strap on something wild the next day.

The alarm went off again at 6:00 AM. We'd been getting enough sleep, so getting up wasn't too difficult. We packed our packs and threw everything else into our duffels. This was our third trip to Lillooet this season, and we have a routine now. We loaded the car and dropped the key at the desk. We gathered all our remaining Canadian currency and  went in to the store to get coffee. We arrived at the counter with a collection of coffee and breakfast stuff. "That'll be seven eighty-five."

"Hmmm, we have  six forty-three. We need to get down to that or you'll have to take some of that funny American currency."

We put some stuff back.

''Okay, that's six twenty-five."

"Great. That leaves us with just a little change left over."

"How about a pretzel? They're on sale for fifty cents just for you."

"Hmm, we have eighteen cents."


And so we bombed on down toward Bridge River with an eclectic combination of breakfast food and no remaining Canadian currency.

We passed "Old Dogs, New Picks", a possible objective for later in the day and continued on until we were directly across the river from "Silk Degrees". We grabbed the binoculars and stepped out of the car to take a look. It was cold in the canyon, certainly single digits. We looked across. It was not in great shape. Thin icicles hung down only six feet below the first platform. We'd have to climb the rock on the right. Above, the second pitch looked sporty and fun. The third pitch looked marginal, perhaps wet or chandeliered, but we couldn't tell for sure.

"I think the rock will go, Loren. And look, there are a couple lines we can climb over there when we are done*."

"Okay. Let's see if we can find a way across the creek."

We found lots of tracks along the road, but no place where people seemed to be crossing. Still, "Salmon Stakes" is nearby, so there had to be a way. A couple hundred yards up the road we found a spot that we thought we could wade. Since we've had more than a little experience with water crossings this winter we quickly went back to the car and started suiting up in plastic bags. Unfortunately for me, I'd forgotten my Tevas, so I was obliged to use my spare boot liners instead.

We stumbled and slid down the steep bank to the river and started across. It was a more difficult crossing that for "Night N' Gale", but we made it across without incident. Somehow though, Jens punctured his plastic bags and his feet got wet. He wisely brought extra socks and quickly changed. It was cold enough that his wet socks froze solid while he put the dry ones on. Brrrrr.

Jens at the car with Silk Degrees hanging above

The climb looks close from the river, but it took some work to get to it. I made the mistake of going up the gully directly under the climb. Jens went to the next one and was able to walk up on snow while I struggled on steep, frozen dirt. We were still cold and we were slow to get ready to climb. I somehow convinced Jens to take the rock lead, so he started up with a light rack, tools holstered, and crampons off.

Jens searching for gear low on the pitch

The pitch was not long, but the combination of bad pro, climbing in plastics, cold bare hands, and atrocious rock made for a sporty lead. His gear consisted of two bad pins, a marginal cam, and equalized mess of two bad cams and a slung rubble pile, and a small tree.

Jens still searching for gear at the overhanging notch

At the tree I took his weight so he could put on his crampons for the traverse to the ice. At the ice he set a two-axe, one screw belay in the ice and I followed. On good rock with some pro and rock shoes this could almost be solo terrain for us. As it was, though, it was a desperate, loose 5.6x lead. Neither of us fell, but lots of rock did.

My best side: An unconventional stance to clean a screw protecting the traverse

After his impressive lead, I felt obligated to take the ice lead. It took us a while to sort the rack and beef up the belay, time for me to work the mental side of my upcoming lead. I felt pretty good by the time I started up, but it was short lived. Six feet above the belay I placed a screw. The ice was near vertical and WI4. Above the screw it got pretty thin and shitty.

Loren making tentative moves low on the second pitch

I had a hard time getting a good stick and I didn't trust my feet. Below me Jens was wondering what my problem was. As I reached to top of the first step I swung into the platform above and my tool bounced. Rock. Another swing and another bounce. Bounce, bounce, bounce. I think I started muttering at this point. I finally got a couple good sticks and pulled over in good form. A short WI2 ramble led to the base of a slightly easier, but longer step. I placed two screws at the base and clipped a rope to each, then started up. Twenty feet past the screws I traversed to some rock and placed and #2 BD Stopper behind a flake. There wasn't enough ice for a screw. Twenty feet above me the step ended in a section less that two feet wide.

The ice was a little sparse in places

I was actually in a decent groove now, despite the thin ice. I started up and got two sticks on the platform above. Normally I wouldn't have moved on either one, but given the conditions, they were pretty good. As I started to pull over both my feet blew out and I was left hanging over the top of the step from two bad sticks. I did a fast pull-up and yarded the bottom half of my carcass up. I stood up and started hollering, just gibberish, but I was expressing fear and the joy of having survived the scare.

Loren frantically swinging at the narrow spot. This is just before my feet blew.

I thought about setting a belay there, but the terrain eased above me so I continued up after placing a screw. A WI3 section led to one more sketchy top out and then I was standing in the small amphitheater below the final pitch. Now, to find a belay. Nothing looked very good. Finally I walked up to a couple large rocks, found a constriction, and threaded a runner through. Far out of earshot, I pulled up the rope until it stopped and then put Jens on belay.

It took longer than I expected for him to follow the pitch. Finally his head popped up above the last step.

"Nice lead, Loren. I guess we both got an x-rated lead today."

"Thanks. Did you see my feet pop?"

"Yeah, I though you were off for sure. I was ready to start yarding in rope."

The route was now getting blasted by the sun. I had gone from cold in my down jacket belaying the first pitch, to hot in just fleece. The pillar above us was running wet and nothing more than a collection of ice pencils at the bottom.

Jens inspecting the third pitch. It was longer than it looks in this picture.

Jens walked up to it, took a couple swings and said he wasn't going to try it. Neither was I. We'd intended to rap from v-threads, but the ice was turning to slush. So we rapped from the rocks back to the tree, and from the tree to the ground. It felt good to touch down.

A free-hanging rap from the tree on the first pitch

The thought of leading up another pitch on the sun-baked wall was laughable. We packed up and headed back down to the creek. Putting those wet bags back on was not much fun, especially for Jens, since his were full of holes and water.

Back at the car we decided to go looking for Boulder Creek Falls, past the Terghazi dam. Despite two slow passes we didn't see anything that looked like WI3. A bit disappointed, we headed back to "Old Dogs, New Picks" for some bouldering. We spent about an hour there, making up boulder problems and posing for the last few pictures left on the roll.

Jens bouldering on "Old Dogs, New Picks"

Loren hamming it up on "Old Dogs, New Picks"

As usual, we stopped at Subway for dinner. At 6:27 PM we left Lillooet for the year and headed for the border. We pulled off I-90 onto the Exit 15 ramp at 11:28, for another five hour trip.

It has been a fantastic season of ice climbing. We climbed exactly fifty pitches of ice together and I'm now comfortable leading up to 4- and Jens is at home up to 5-. I already can't wait for next season.

*We seem to have a habit of underestimating things from below. More than once we've had long days on routes that we prematurely called "fast ticks" from below, hence the name for our new route, "A Phairly Phast Tick" <back>

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