Monday, September 12, 2016

Ice climbing in September? - North Peak

So you can go ice climbing in California? In September? Even though its 100 degrees outside in Fresno? Yes! That's right! 

Fall is alpine ice season. If there is a good snow fall, it sticks around in couloirs, melts in the summer, and with the cooling temps in the Fall at night, freezes and turns into ice!

With global warming, and years of drought most of the alpine ice in California fails to form anymore, but with last years regular snowfall, there was some hope. I have been waiting patiently to see if the NE couloir on North Peak would form ice. This year, for this first time in several years there was ice!

NE couloir of North Peak. See that blue ice?
While I am psyched for alpine ice, it has been difficult to find partners who share that interest. Luckily, Michael is becoming increasingly stoked for alpine climbing in general, and was very excited to try his hand at some ice climbing!

We drove up to Touolmne Sat night, bivied on the side of the road, and were up at 4am on Sunday, and on the trail by 5-5:30. The approach starts at Saddlebag lake, and is pretty easy, most of it being on a well maintained trail. We had splendid views of North Peak and Mt Conness on the approach in the early morning light. 

North Peak. Our route lies below those snow patches
Mt Conness in the early morning
It was not long before we had nice views of the couloir, from a distance it looked intimidating, but up close looked like nice moderate angle ice. Similar to some easy waterfall ice I have climbed in Thunder Bay.

Base of the couloir
We pulled out the ice screws, cams, pitons. Put on our crampons, pulled out the ice tools and oped up. I lead up the snow cone to the base of the ice chute. The snow was steep neve, really hard, un-protectable, but easy. We simul-climbed until I popped over the bergshrund, and was able to build a cam anchor on the wall. I then belayed Michael up.

Michael popping over the bergshrund. 
Then it was time for the real deal. I led out left into the couloir. The first part was more neve, but then turned into rock hard alpine ice. Yeeee haw!

Heading over the bergshrund again to gain the couloir
Stoked to be ice climbing in September!

I built an ice screw anchor, and brought Michael up. The next pitch was the money pitch. A full 60 meter rope stretching pitch of rock hard ice. Calf-burning fun! The positioning of my ice screw anchor below was not the best, and I showered Michael with ice debris while I climbed (sorry Michael!, but I am still an ice n00b). I placed about 6 ice screws for pro, then traversed across the couloir to a rock feature. I could not quite make it, and Michael had to simul climb a bit. 

I constructed a rather dubious anchor consisting of a snow-picket, 2 small cams in crumby rock, and tied off my ice tools.

Dubious anchor?
Michael coming up the money pitch
The next pitch consisted of a short section of ice that was like butter (sooo nice to climb), then back into the neve for 1.5 pitches.

Looking up at the butter ice. Of so nice.

Soon, we were at the top of the couloir.  Super fun, I wish the couloir had another thousand feet of ice. I bet when the entire thing fills with ice its even more amazing. 

The climbing was easy, the hardest thing about it was dealing with the burning calf muscles!

I even placed a KB
Once we were at the top of the couloir, the weather was taking a serious turn for the worse. A Thunder storm had enveloped Mt. Conness.

Approaching weather
We decided to forgo the 200 feet of 3rd class to the summit, elected to avoid the risk of a lighting strike, and headed down the scree back towards the car. 

Mega-fun climbing! Three weekends in a row for me of terrific alpine climbing. I love living here. 

No comments:

Post a Comment