I had been thinking about where I was going to explore next. Since the rock climbing season is just about at it's end, that meant ice climbing was on my mind. I wanted to go somewhere close but not to far away. I also wanted a alpine experience. The thought of just parking and walking to the climb that's close didn't appeal to me at the time. With that, me and my partner, Jeff, were excited to go to the Lincoln Icefall. We planned to winter camp so we could get two days of ice climbing in. The plans were set for December 26-27, 2009. I had a plan for which climbs we would do but as you may know, climbing usually never goes according to plan. I was very excited to get on the ice though.
The Icefall is right below a huge avalanche chute. A day before the climb I checked the weather and avalanche forecast to see what was forecasted for the weekend. Due to the large amount of snow this year, I was quite afraid that are climb on Mount Lincoln would not work out. I looked at the avalanche forecast and it was very high. Next to extreme. At that instant I talked to Jeff and we made backup plans to head to Vail if the conditions were not right. At one point we were going to head to Vail but we thought we would just go see what the conditions were and then decide. We were very glad we made that choice.
The weather forecasted a wind chill of around -35 during the day. It also mentioned that it would be colder during the day then the night we were going to camp in. Still, that temperature put a chill on me when I was looking at it in my warm house. It called for paradise on Sunday with a temperature of around 18 degrees. I gathered all my cold mountain gear and started packing.
The Lincoln Icefall
We headed out of Denver at 5 o'clock in the morning. We then arrived at the beginning of the hike at around 7 or so. We got our glimpse of the climb and there was hardly any snow up there! So much so that we camped on top of the Icefall. We put on our heavy packs and started our way to the climb. We agreed that whoever carried the rope up, the other person had to carry it down. This process took forever. Even though the approach is not extremely long, carrying a heavy pack and rope was hard work. It wouldn't of been bad if there was more snow so we could just climb up there. There was enough snow to cover all the holes in the talus field. You would walk hoping the snow was firm. If it was not, you would drop in the hole between the boulders. It was very hard trying to balance along all this with a heavy pack. We both found ourselves getting pissed when this happened. From a spot halfway up the approach, I carried the rope. The terrain was getting quite steep and I just could not carry it up this section unless I had less weight. We both had 50-60 pound packs. With the rope it added a lot of weight. I left the rope in a secure spot and went ahead to the top of the icefall in search of a good camping spot. I was then going to come back down and bring the rope up.
When I got to the spot, I started to feel the cold. Out of no where, I instantly had a bloody nose. It just would not stop! After a few minutes I started making the platform for our tents. Jeff wanted to try out his new tent while I just loved my roomy North Face tent. In a bit I rigged up a bunch of different anchors to anchor my tent down. When I was done someone came to talk to me and it was not Jeff. He warned me that I had a bloody nose. I laughed and admited that it would freeze. His girlfriend had returned to the car after hitting the not so comforting talus field. She did not like it at all. He was alone and I offered him a place to climb with us. He said he would go down and get the rope.
The Camp spot in the morning. This is not how Jeff slept, with an upside down tent. :)
I talked to a group of two on the ice fall. They were packing up and I asked why? Some of the ice was slushy. This amazed me because it was brutally cold! The slush got on there rope and froze making it impossible to belay. The ice was also quite brittle. I knew I could not lead and it would just be better to top rope.
Jeff was coming up still but took a "lunch" break. It was starting to get late and this poor fellow that came up alone wanted to ice climb and return before it got to dark. We went to top rope the third pitch of the Bowling Alley. This climb has many names. The Bowling Alley fits it most though. We set up the top rope anchor and soon were top roping the 3rd pitch. The ice was just beautiful on this WI4. You heard the "Thunk" with just one slam into the ice. We both finished this pitch pretty fast and headed back to camp.
Trying to relax and get warm
In the cold, everything goes slower. Towards the end of the day it was the windiest with a wind chill of around -35. I just wanted to head to bed and get "warm". Jeff soon came up and set up his tent. We set up the stove, had some hot choclate and food and enjoyed the beautiful night. We then went to bed at around 8. I slept okay but woke up 4 or 5 times. I told Jeff we would top rope the same pitch of bowling alley tommorrow.
A little cold eh?
We woke up at 7:30 and were warm. I didn't want to get out of the sleeping bag though! I finally did. We had to get back to Denver at around 4 so we decided to stop climbing at around 11:30 to pack up and head down. Speed up things a little bit and we were top roping the pitch. I just enjoyed it so much. It was all worth it just for that pitch. By the time we were done with that we had to start packing up.
What else can I say? It was hell going down. I carried the rope down with my pack and it took a while to descend. It was one of those times I wished I could just glissade all the way down. Even though we did not get a ton of ice climbing in. I was happy to get on some. There is nothing like feeling a solid placement in the ice. It was just amazing.
Jeff Rapelling Down