Nisqually March 10, 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!

Nisqually Moraine Water Ice

March 10, 2002

Our initial plan spoiled by the weather, Jens and I once again found ourselves sitting in the restaurant at Longmire, waiting for the quick-as-molasses road crew to finish their work and open the gate.

We only landed in the restaurant after being unceremoniously thrown out of the Gift Shop. We'd been minding our own business in the back corner, engrossed in the "Basic Alpine Mountaineering" video, which we'd put in in place of some droll worn-out cross country skiing tape. Suddenly a rather put-out gift shop employee nudged me out of the way and turned off the tape. "I'm taking control of this now. Besides, I have to leave the store and lock it up."

Sufficiently chastened for daring to fuck with his space, Jens and we retreated to the restaurant to drown our sorrows in grease. At the crack of 9:45 the gate opens. We pay our bill and, chains on as required, head on up. Our plan is to scope out the much-talked about, but still somehow enigmatic ice above the Nisqually bridge, with the Tatoosh as a bail option.

Thankfully, there is some bit of visibility at the bridge. As Jens drives slowly across I spy that magical blue color on the eastern cliffs of the moraine. Jens turns around, parks at the lot, and we start re-packing (we both figured the ice would be a bust).

"Should we cross the bridge or drop down on this side, Loren?"

"Let's drop down on this side."

I had two reasons two say this: I thought I saw a complete snow bridge over the Nisqually river; and I'd been told that there was an easier flow that was hidden from the road. Approaching from the west side of the moraine would provide us with a better view. As it turned out, I was justified in my second reason. But the first turned out to be an optical illusion. Nonetheless, we made it across the river with only slightly dampened feet and enthusiasm.

Jens crossing the Nisqually.

Once across the river, the ice looks to be on a couple hundred feet above. Wrong again. We skin up slope until it is steep and narrow enough that carrying the skis through the trees is easier. In the end, it was about 700 vertical to the base of the easier route (anyone know if these things have names??).

The hidden ice.

Meanwhile, the snow is still coming down hard. We're both wet in that Cascade-style meaning of the word. We strip off our top base layers and put on something dry. Jens flakes the ropes while I change boots. He offers to go rock-paper-scissors for the lead, but I let him have it, since I'd enjoyed a nice lead on Khusia the week before.

So Jens racks up and launches up. Chilled from the wet and standing around, he endures a deeply moving case of the dreaded thaw, but continues moving up through the crux first 25 meters. He does his fair share of cursing and encouraging himself, which actually makes me feel a bit better for the Tourettes-style constant string of expletives that I dished up while leading the second pitch of Khusia.

Jens starting up.


Jens battling spindrift and the 'dreaded thaw'.

With only ten feet of rope left, he calls off-belay. Shivering, I pull the rope from my device and immediately climb up ten feet to the first screw. I clean it while he takes out the slack and puts me on belay. The beginning of the route is fun, pleasant, but thinner that it looked from below. I bounce my tools off underlying rock several times before pulling onto the WI2+ slab that is the second half of the route.

The slab is less frozen, even slushy in places. Thankfully the climbing is moderate, since the screws and mostly for looks only. I join Jens at the belay, snap a couple pictures, and lower off. He raps down and we each take a TR lap on the direct line to the slab, which is vertical, but fairly short.

Looking down to the Nisqually river from the belay.

Me working my feet on TR.

Ready for a short break, we hike ten minutes around the corner to check out the harder line. Though it looks like something we could climb, it also looks very thin (little gear), fairly sustained, and long. "Hey, how about another TR lap over there?"

"Good idea, let's go."

The second line, looking evil.
Click here to see a 15 second video ( Windows Media, 750 kb).

One more lap each on the steeper variation and we pull the rope. Jens starts down to his skis, cached in the trees below, while I get ready to ski from our belay platform. The snow, which seemed powdery on the way up is decidedly heavy. I make my usual lame turns and fall down a lot. Despite walking and stopping to pick up his skis, Jens beats me back to the flats above the river, though I did finally manage to link some turns at the bottom. It's a quick skin back to the east side of the bridge and soon we're packing up at the car.


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