Monday, November 14, 2005

Deep Freeze

I had always wanted to climb Deep Freeze in Rocky Mountain National Park, and on Thursday I learned that Greg Sievers was keen for it too. The road to the Glacier Gorge was closed Sunday morning because of black ice on the pavement, but a certain well-known Boulder ice climber opened the gate, and four cars full of climbers reached the parking lot at about the same time. All hoped to climb either Deep Freeze or Necrophilia, the classic mixed route below Deep Freeze, but Greg and I were first out of the lot, and, as it turned out, we were the only ones who made it to the cliff.

The crux of Deep Freeze is a super-steep column through a roof about 800 feet above the talus, high above the Loch. (The route takes the obvious gully in the center of the photo at left; the crux column is hidden below and left of the huge roof near the top.) To get there, you either climb a grovelly chimney with a desperate chockstone, climb Necrophilia and then traverse left to the Deep Freeze gully, or climb the Northwest Gully and then traverse right to Deep Freeze. We chose the latter for speed: Necrophilia was barely in (the bottom would be desperate in this condition), and we still thought we were racing other parties for the route. The Northwest Gully is about 500 feet of loose rock and snow, followed by a short but fun WI 3 exit. A sketchy downclimb (scary for the second) led to the easy traverse ledge and eventually the gully. Another few hundred feet of snow gained a ledge below the climb: a WI3+ chute to a big amphitheater and the business.

The weather had been OK until now — high winds, but we were sheltered in the gully — but as Greg racked up for the crux pillar snow began to fall, the Loch disappeared from view, and spindrift began pouring over the giant roof. Greg did a fantastic job leading the column. It was touching down but wobbly at the base, and he had to climb about 25 feet to get his first good piece.
The column is superb, with good stemming rests now and then and protection in the rock face to the left. Amazingly, this once-feared route is so popular that it was somewhat picked out, and good hooks were frequently available. (I was still afraid.) At the exit through the roof, the ice narrowed to about 8 inches and 4 inches thick, but a hole on the left allowed relatively easy chimneying moves. At this point, spindrift was funneling through the slot at the roof, and Greg shouted, "I feel like I'm in a Chouinard poster," referring to the great old shot of Yvon on Ben Nevis in full conditions. By the time we began the rappels, we were in full blizzard and the descent was frosty. The walk out was tiring, with deep drifted snow to punch through, but we agreed that it was worth the cold and difficulty to climb all day on a Sunday in a national park without seeing another soul.

1 comment:

George Bell said...

Great job guys! I attempted Necrophilia years ago but we were turned back by the grovely chimney. Thanks for the pix too!