21 Feb SMG Ice Report 2.21.2023
Presidents Day is a holiday most Americans look forward to in the year 2023. Gathering with family and friends to buy deeply discounted furniture and mattresses from wholesale distributers, while others escape on mid-winter vacations to ski and recreate in the mountains. This is exactly how this holiday was intended to be celebrated when established in 1885, to acknowledge George Washington’s birthday. It’s understood that George Washington is known for his excellent skiing and ice climbing abilities and also had a side hustle pushing recliners and sectional couches. If you happened to be around the 395 corridor this President’s Day weekend, you were able witness the joy in celebration of this sacred holiday.
In Lee Vining Canyon the ice climbers were in full force this weekend. We were even fortunate enough to witness the occasional backcountry skier descending from Ellery Lake in what sounded to be edgeable conditions. I believe by midday on Sunday, we counted approximately 15 ropes setup between Main Wall and Chouinards, impressive. In all honesty, it was a joy to see so many individuals out on a beautiful weekend, enjoying the pleasures that come with climbing frozen water. It was pleasant to see how well individuals worked to be accommodating to one another at such a busy crag. I am happy the weekend passed without any serious incidents.
In our last ice conditions report, it was mentioned that Zippos Frozen Booger was in stellar condition. Well, just like Honest Abe Lincoln started his Presidency in hardy and healthy condition, this climb has become quite anemic with the stress of time. Zippos may still be climbed, but appears to have delaminated quite a bit recently. It may be useful to bring some rock gear (#.5 to #2 Camalot) for this climb to set up a bomber anchor in the cracks on top, opposed to a screw anchor on the thin, often sandblasted ice at the top of this climb. Similarly, Womp Rat, C3PO and R2D2 are all falling out of condition and could use some moisture and cold temperatures to start being brought back to life. These climbs may be like William Henry Harrison this season, lesser known and very short lived.
The Bard-Harrington wall does have bits of ice that are hanging on. This wall did see an ascent in the past few weeks by a party of 3, that included SMG Guides Michael O’Connor and Bernd Zeugswetter. The party climbed a combination of Chimney Route and Photoshop to the top of the wall. For those that enjoy mixed climbing and are preparing for alpine objectives near and far, this wall is a great training ground and provides excellent opportunities to challenge your mixed skills.
Just like US President William Howard Taft, most famously known for getting stuck in the bathtub, the Main Wall is quite hefty right now. From Spiral Staircase on the left, to Caveman on the right, all routes on this wall are climbable and in excellent condition. There is no time like the present to be climbing here.
Sandwiched between Main Wall and Chouinards lives the lesser traveled, but very rewarding Heel-Toe Wall. This past week, the wall saw a rare ascent of the very thin, ultra rare ice line Passion by SMG Guide Michael O’Connor and Chelsea Sanford. This climb served as the original start for the classic LVC mixed climb Heel-Toe. The two met up with myself and fellow local guide Jessica Olson after we climbed the Heel-Toe start ramp. Then as a party of 4 enjoyed the final pitch of HT with a leftward exit. Talking about this rare ascent of Passion, one of the FA team members remarked climbing the pitch as “bold and proud.” Our discussion ended with myself holding the tools that the first ascent of this climb was done with. Picking up these heavy archaic tools, one can quickly recognize the true boldness and grit early ice climbers had. It’s similar to comparing the grit of FDR to Bill Clinton, one helped manage the country through the Great Depression and most of World War II, with Polio, while the other played the saxophone.
As one may expect, Chouinard’s Wall is holding steadfast and the climbing is great. After the pummeling it received this weekend by dozens of climbers, it may be climbing a bit easier with more kicked in foot placements and being battered by ice tools. From Comrades Corner on the left all the way to Larry, the climbing is in good condition and ready for more enjoyment. The Tree Route is looking the thinnest I have seen in years, but don’t let that deter you from a good time on the most reliable piece of ice in California.
Although Presidents Day has digressed into another extended 3 day weekend in the middle of February, I wonder if it ever had deeper value and meaning to the masses. I doubt that it has ever been celebrated with the same vigor and passion as this climber feels for ice and mixed climbing in Lee Vining Canyon. Although the masses can be overwhelming at times, it’s a treat to see so many people enjoying this incredible sport with so much passion.
Author: SMG Guide Kevin McGarity