Up until 2008, our past endeavors were retained only as memories and on 35mm slides. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the slides haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring a bit of our past into the 21st Century. The photos below are from a few of those old slides.
In the early 1990s, when we were living in Denver, I went ice climbing with a couple of sportsmen who had a different take on what “sport” entailed. In the summer months, they played golf. No hiking, rock climbing, mountaineering, etc. – just golf. In the winter months, they did extreme ice climbing. No skiing, snowshoeing, mountaineering, etc. – just ice climbing. I went along on one of their milder winter excursions.
We started with a simple “warm-up” climb (literally and figuratively) of a 30-foot frozen cascade in Rocky Mountain National Park, then moved on to a 75-foot frozen waterfall. This was an essentially freestanding frozen column of water – anchored at the bottom by gravity and at the top by ice entwined in some tree roots at the lip of the fall.
This stack of ice seemed precarious to the point that even these ice wizards decided to top-rope it lest it collapse beneath us. Or on us. I was admonished to climb carefully, using only the tips – if at all possible – of my crampons and ice tools. No heroic axe swings or crampon kicks. Every time I moved up – no matter how carefully – this column of solid water vibrated ever so slightly. Hit it just a little harder and it twanged.
My chance to ever reach geezer-hood was hanging by an ice crystal. Oh rapacious joy! This was a long, long 75-foot climb, top rope or not. While topping-out, I noticed the ice enmeshed in the roots had cracked…ever…so…slightly. This was the last time I ever went ice climbing. Never developed much interest in golf either…
A few years before my Colorado cavalcade on ice, I had gone ice climbing at two locations in California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada – Rush Creek (June Lake) in February 1985 with Alan and John and Lee Vining Canyon in February 1988 with Alan and Dave. Unlike the extreme ice climbers, the three of us were climbing ice primarily to hone our skills in case we needed to climb a little ice on a mountaineering trip.
The ice in both these locations is the result of leakage from Southern California Edison (SCE) penstocks running across the cliffs above. As a result of this source, the ice flows and cascades in sheets down the cliffs at angles between 45° and near vertical. Rush Creek was a good place to practice, while Lee Vining was the place to try your axe at 2-3 pitches of real ice climbing.
RUSH CREEK (February 1985)
After spending most of the day on the sheet of ice, Alan and I did a short climb of a frozen creek just to the north of it. After that it was back to our small, but warm, rented room in June Lake – a room suspiciously close to the nearby restaurant and bar. 🙂
LEE VINING CANYON (February 1988)
Alan, Dave, and I basecamped in June Lake, then drove to Lee Vining Canyon. There we parked and then walked up to where ice coated the cliffs. While sun graced the peaks above, the deep canyon with its wall of ice stayed in perpetual shade.
We had a lot of fun in these two places. Both are still hugely popular locations in California for ice climbing but one can’t help but think that the consistency and longevity of the ice has declined somewhat as the climate has warmed. And the routes at Lee Vining now have names (e.g., Zippo’s Frozen Booger) and ratings, features that hadn’t yet come into being (at least formally) back in our days of yore. 😉BACK TO BLOG POSTS
Your photos are always great, but I think some of these are really outstanding! Especially the one with the other climbers from a distance, in Lee Vining Canyon.
Thanks! It was. You don’t always know how magic a moment was until you look back.
Wow!! What an incredible experience!