Eastern Sierra Ice Report // Lee Vining Canyon // Feb 13-14

In Eastern Sierra Ice Report, From the Range of Light & Fast by Michael O'ConnorLeave a Comment

Dave and Peter on Chiouinards Wall

Well it has been a heck of a weekend out in Lee Vining Canyon. I had four spectacular guests for an Ice 101 program and everyone totally rocked! 

Saturday- February 13th, 2021

Saturday morning we broke trail up to the Chouinards Wall in Lee Vining Canyon, which had already been filled back in from the previous day’s climbers. (Thanks for all the beta Forrest and Elise!) We employed snowshoes and let me tell you, it was a life saver! Even with them on we still found waist deep powder in a few sections. Adding to the mix of breaking trail in the deep pow, we enjoyed 40+ mph winds with intense blowing snow. In the back of my mind there was a voice telling me that we might have just decided to take our gear for a walk and that there wasn’t going to be any climbing happening today… But we charged on! 

Upon arriving at the base of the Chouinards Wall there wasn’t a soul in sight! None of us wondered why, and we got geared up. Leading up the Center Left Flow I found really good ice with great sticks and good protection all the way to the top. The anchor seems to have been buried again, so I set a screw anchor. The next route we set up was just climbers right to the top with the chains just barely exposed. There’s a good chance this will get buried in a few days.  Glad my jacket has a nice hood that fits over my helmet because I was getting hammered with spin drift the entire time. My mustache pretty much turned into an ice climb in its own right. 

Chiouinards Wall Overview

After each guest took a lap the sky started to break, but it wasn’t over quite yet. This windy dragon was’t finished with us yet. I glanced back down at our track that we put in, and I could barely make it out. The snow had just about filled it all back in. And then finally we could see the Sun peaking through the clouds. Could it be? Would this storm actually break? The forecast showed some precip hitting us in the afternoon so there was a chance we had just received it a little earlier than expected. And so it was. The rest of the day we had bluebird skies with not an ounce of wind in the air. I was sure we’d see some lonely ice climbers hiking up the trail now! But no one showed up. We had the entire canyon to ourselves. We celebrated by putting the track back in on our descent. Day 1 was complete and my guests had just survived their first day of Ice climbing in some pretty for real conditions. Great job team!!! 

My guests: Dave, Richard, Chelsie, and Peter

Overall the ice at the Chouinards Wall is really good right now. Comrades Corner is still not in and the far right side route that leads up to the pin anchor is looking thinner and thinner. As the base of the wall has been more filled in with snow picking safe belay locations will be crucial to avoid falling ice.

Hiking out on Saturday

Sunday- February 14th, 2021

What a difference one day can make!  We decided our plan would be to head back out into Lee Vining Canyon and explore some of the flows that we had not been on yet.  We were pleasantly surprised in the morning to find the same bluebird/windless conditions, just the way we left it the day before. We carried snowshoes again and were glad to have them. Our track was still in, but the snow was still very soft and breaking through in many sections. As we neared the ice I observed one party already out on Chouinard’s Wall leading up the Center Left Flow and another party hot on their tails leading another line right next to them. My plan was to head back to the Chouinards Wall and climb on the right hand side and get my guests on some ice that hadn’t tried yet. But when I glanced back down the canyon I could see 3-4 more climbers on their way up. I discussed the option of the Main Wall with my guests and they were stoked to try something harder and potentially not deal with the ensuing crowds that were about to embark on the Chouinards Wall. Typically this zone is a bit too steep and challenging for newer ice climbers and not the best selection for an Ice 101 program but I had a feeling after watching everyone crush on the first day, that this option might actually be just what they need. We took a hard left and broke trail up to the base of the Main Wall.  

Main Wall Overview
Photo: Richard Bae of SMG Guide Mike O’Connor leading the Main Wall

We spent the entire day here  and encountered just two other climbers who shared the wall with us. To start the day I led up the Center Flow and set a top rope anchor in good ice with two 17cm screws about 35 meters up. I did have to excavate quite a bit of aerated ice to get down to a solid layer before building my anchor. Lowered off, cleaned the pitch, and then led up Caveman and set another top rope anchor about 35 meters up in good ice with a 21cm and 17cm screw. The lead protection for both routes was heads up. Excavating the bad ice to find good placements was crucial, or just inspecting the ice well before placing screws. There were many sections that had shelled layers on top that seemed good at first but soon found screws punching through air. On the thinner sections I would have placed a stubbie or two if I had them but my shortest screw was a 13cm, and they must have barely missed the rock in several places. 

Chelsie crushing the Center Flow
Richard toping out P1 on Center Flow

Our friends, Tin and Billy who we shared the wall with today lead the Main Wall all the way to the top via the Center Flow and Caveman. Watching them up high, conditions looked variable and the sound that their tool placements were making in a few sections could have made grown human cry. I would venture to say that only the most experienced ice climbers would have any business on the upper reaches of the Main Wall in its current conditions. Upon their arrival back to their packs I asked how Chouinards Wall looked. Billy said he might have seen at least 30 people climbing… 

Peter shaking out on the pumpy finish to Caveman
Dave after a successful lap on Caveman
Dave, Richard, Chelsie, and Peter after two days of crushing some ice!

Of Note:

With the increase in Avalanche Hazard over the weekend our team carried Avy Safety equipment both days. Yes, as a guide service providing a professional climbing experience for our guests, our threshold for risk is much lower than the average recreational climber, but I would urge everyone to take a hard look at their backcountry decision making skill set and be honest with what you see. Are you traveling in avalanche terrain? Do you have the necessary skills and equipment to rescue your partner if they were caught in an avalanche? If you’d like more information on Avalanche Education Courses please contact our office online or by phone at (760) 648-1122 and get registered for an AIARE Course today!

Summary:

If you had purchased LVC Ice stock prior to today you’d be rich! When we arrived back at the parking area there must have been over a dozen cars parked, filling the main lot, forcing people to park along the road. I’m glad folks were getting after it this weekend! Decompressing outdoors is one of the most important things humans can experience (in my opinion) and I hope the conditions allow us all to keep crushing this Sierra Ice for several more weeks! If you’re interested in getting our for an ice climbing program with Sierra Mountain Guides please contact our office via email: info@sierramtnguides.com or by phone: (760) 648-1122. Thanks for tuning in to another Eastern Sierra Ice Report!

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