Above photo: Viren Perumal leading up Roadside Left (12/2/2016) – A. Barber
Welcome to December Early Season Ice.
We are excited about our first of many Ice Reports for the 2016/2017 season. Keep checking back for updates and photos and videos throughout the season.
The days are getting short meaning long nights with below freezing temps. Throughout the country we have been seeing posts of early season ice climbing in places like the Canadian Rockies, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado….But for Californian climbers ….the Ice Season is finally here!!!
Many of our east side friends have been out in the past week or two scratching their way up thin ice and Yesterday I got to go out with SMG guide Mark Shelp to do a quick tour of local ice conditions. Overall – there is fun and climbable ice at all the areas but ice is thin and not all lines are formed up. Some approaches are easier and some are better now than later in the season. Climb delicately on thin ice as it is still forming and will form quicker if climbers are not hacking at ice that is not well bonded.
The June lake loop road is snow free and not gated at the SCE powerplant making roadside ice probably the most convenient and accessible ice climbing in North America. Approach is less than 10 seconds from the car unless you don’t mind your vehicle being hit with ice….then it is a shorter approach. The Left side is formed and taking screws. I was able to get two 10cm screws in the 1st pitch. You can also sink a longer screw in the horizontal ledge halfway up the 1st pitch. Water is running over the midway anchor so if you are climbing here please do some community service and continue to break ice away leaving these convenient fixed anchors exposed for the season. We toproped the smear to the right of the flow and bolts can still be clipped making it feel like an M4 lead…currently you may want to lower off the ice line first and clear ice from the bolts prior to leading. The right flow is still all dry at the bottom but is starting to form good ice at the top.
Caution for climbers wanting to Toprope!!! … be aware that access to the top of this cliff involves more difficult moves than when it is buried by snow and you can boot up.
ACCESS WARNING!!! Remember Roadside Ice is on Southern California Edison (SCE) property and access is fragile. Please be aware of your impact at this area and please do not do anything that may threaten access, like get hurt, or impact the site. Climbing here is considered trespassing by law, and is posted as such. We do not know of anyone who has been asked to leave the premises, but if you choose to climb here then you should realize that you are doing so illegally on private property. All of the local SCE employees we have talked to so far seem supportive of climbers there, but SCE is a very large corporation and the opinions of local employees are relatively inconsequential.
Our recon of Horsetail falls gave us the climbable but “wait a week or so” condition. The right side is in and climbable but this time of year the upper part can be poorly bonded and with so much exposed rock in the middle the dark rock can really warm up in the morning sun creating dangerous conditions. In addition the lack of snow bridges means dangerous running water at the base of the ice. That can lead to wet ropes and a cold hike down. The north gully is probably in but I would expect mixed conditions at the top so bring some rock pro.
Tatum looking fat right now….but needs shorter days to reduce the sun exposure. Photo V. Perumal
Tatum falls is fat and this low angle drip is not covered by any snow right now. It looks fantastic but gets a “good from far but far from good” conditions rating for now. This gem is going to need longer nights and really cold temps – which are coming soon. This climb will be best timed close to the solstice but before a big snow dump that will bury much of the lower angle ice. A pre-dawn approach is a good idea for this route that gets cooked in the sun at first light. Our friends hiked in to climb it yesterday but found it wet and sun rotten by mid morning
Parker Canyon is in and the road is in good shape currently to allow you to get close to parker lake with a higher clearance 4wd vehichle. We had friends climbing ice there and it is in great shape right now. Low snow and decent approach conditions so keep checking for updated photos and conditions
Lee Vining Canyon
Several friends have been into LVC already this year both to dry tool as well as to climb ice. The last snow filled in parts of the approach and there is now a good boot pack with mostly consolidated snow for much of the snow. (Thanks Ian – I’m buying your next round for putting in a rowdy looking snowshoe track in…it made our approach super easy). I’m sure the snowshoe track was not fun to beat in, but it is now consolidated and we were able to hike in on snow that supported a boot in some of the better early December approaches. The last part above the narrows is not as friendly and a few more big storms will help fill in the gaps of the approach.
The mixed climbing lines in the Narrows do not have any ice drips that often form this time of year, but the Eastside drytoolers have been scratching their way up some of the many fine lines in the Narrows. Bard-Harrington is dry and Main Wall is forming up nicely but needs some more time to have the bottom form up enough to take screws. Chouinard Falls has good ice on the right side and it is in very “steppy” condition. Ice lines both on the far right and left of the falls are in “mixed conditions” right now and require an assorted rock rack to protect. As you can see in the photo the ice in the upper part of the canyon is formed up nicely and actually taller now than later in the season with snow and is worth checking out if there are parties on the limited ice early in the season.
Other Sierra Ice Climbing Venues…
Given our temps and long nights these past few weeks, things like “Thor Falls” above Upper Boyscout Lake must be in great shape, and Lundy Canyon is probably in as well. We have friends heading up that way tomorrow and will hopefully have more real time info on these areas in our next report.
If anyone has photos, trip reports, or conditions updates please comment on our posts if you are willing to share information for our ice climbing community.