21 Dec Eastern Sierra Ice Report – Lee Vining Canyon // December 18-19, 2021 “To be or not to be?”
One week later and our ice climbing venue in Lee Vining Canyon is starting to come alive, but it still has a decent way to go. “To be or not to be?” That is the question!
Ice climbing and California, two words that not many people often use in the same sentence. Unless you’re hanging around a unique group of folks that somehow find joy in scraping up frozen waterfalls in the middle of winter and also call the Golden State home. Yep, I call myself an ice climber who happens to live in California too! And Lee Vining Canyon might be one of the best venues in the state, but when will we see it come alive?
The approach has certainly come alive since last weekend with a nice storm that dropped about 6 feet of snow, filling things out very nicely from the trailhead all the way to the cliff. Saturday we hiked using flotation following a day-old track all the way to the narrows until it disappeared due to wind-transported snow. Putting in a new track from there was taxing and we were glad to have some help from fellow guides and their guests. Sunday we decided to use flotation again, and were pleased with our decision as we could see many holes where folks had punched through in their boots ahead of us. I would imagine the track is nicely packed down now and should go smoothly without snowshoes until the next big storm.
Chouinards Wall definitely looked and climbed better than last weekend but it’s still extremely lean. The center left flows have the majority of the ice and are taking good screws all the way to the top but you’ll have to be selective. Not all of the ice will accept good screws. Be smart and pay close attention when placing protection. The Tree Route is starting to come in and saw its first heads up lead of the season. The far right corner has a new two bolt anchor and was getting some action this weekend as well. Comrad’s Corner was seeing some top rope action on Sunday and could be in soon but leading would be bold as it sits now.
The Main Wall saw its first lead of the season by a local Bishop crew and even a couple folks rappelling in from the top. Speaking to the leading party they said “it wasn’t hard, just very emotional!”. Protection down low looked grim to none for a ways. Higher up on the face the ice actually is starting to look pretty good. Once the bottom fills in a bit, this will be a fun adventure.
Summary: With Lee Vining’s first successful weekend of guided and general public groups, I found myself wondering how the rest of the year was going to go for the Eastern Sierra ice climbing venues. Last year we had one of the scariest accidents I’ve ever seen out there and thankfully it had a happy ending. This past Sunday I was seeing things that were making me cringe a bit and wondering if we’d be dealing with another rescue that very day. It should be obvious that ice climbing is NOT the same as rock climbing right? So why do so many people come out and treat it as such? Know your limit, keep your ego in check and do not take the sharp end until you have the requisite experience and knowledge to do so. The smallest lead fall in rock climbing could easily be catastrophic on the ice. Ok, enough of that. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for things to fill in quickly. This week is full of below freezing temperatures as well as up to 50 more inches of snow by Saturday. Keep on coming Winter!