Saturday, February 10, 2007


This has been an unusual and fantastic season for ice climbing along Colorado's Front Range, as heavy snows and persistent cold brought numerous rare visitors into condition and even allowed some new discoveries. This week temperatures climbed into the 60s, and the best of the new climbs all vanished. But it was a treat while they were here. I got a late start and missed some of the early action, including some cool-looking steep verglas climbs along summertime sport routes, right by the road in South St. Vrain Canyon. But when word got out that a significant new climb had been done in Deadman Gulch, Greg Sievers and I got out there and bagged probably the third or fourth ascent of Dead Men Chipping, a beautiful 175-foot smear of golden ice discovered by Bernard Gillett, who climbed it with Topher Donahue. Nothing but stubbies and a few rock pieces on this one. Greg and I then peeked around the corner to the right and found an even thinner line up a vague groove system, which Greg led in a 200-foot pitch, with some serious mixed climbing and steep ice. We shattered some key ice at the second crux, and subsequent ascents have had to do some offwidth moves in a crack on the right side of the groove—not your usual ice-climbing moves. Greg called it Vrain Strain.

The Flatirons above Boulder have been climbed in winter for decades. I did two nice three-pitch routes almost 20 years ago on the Goose and an unnamed formation on the east side of Bear Peak. (The latter comes in almost every November or December, but it's a long walk!) These low-angle, thin, and scratchy climbs are really fun alpine simulators.This year an old climb called Silk Road came into superb shape on the First Flatiron, just 30 minutes from the trailhead. I climbed it one evening, escaping where it bumped into the First's North Ridge by climbing a tree to the ridge; roped parties sometimes continued up a short steep pillar and mixed climbing all the way to the summit—something like 1,000 feet of mixed climbing, overlooking the city of Boulder. Not bad!

Last Monday night, a friend and I talked about doing Mouse-Ka-Teers, a multipitch WI4 on the back side of the Mickey Mouse Wall, high above Eldorado Canyon. But Monday had been in the 50s, with a strong wind, and the forecasted high for the next day was even warmer. I demurred. However, someone went up there that morning and later posted this pair of photos on Mountain Project: the first was taken at 7 a.m., the second around noon. They barely got away with it!

And so, unless we get another big dump of snow and a cold snap, the lowland climbing is over for the year. Back to the mountains we go.

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