Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Alpental Falls - 01.04.11

Finally weather, schedule and partners cooperated for ice this season. We had been experiencing high pressure, and the temps did not rise above 20° at Alpental for nearly five days. Surely there had to be ice.

Adam and I had a casual start and arrived in the Alpental parking lot before nine. We donned snowshoes and headed up to the falls. Upon scoping out our options, we once again went to Alpental IV, or the farthest on the left in the clearing. Adam took his snowshoes off for the last bit before we geared up and found himself wallowing. I didn't fare too much better on snowshoes, but mostly because I didn't have a balancing tool out, like a trekking pole. Last winter this lower tier was never climbable. This time I was going to give it a go.

We geared up and I headed off on the lead. I was slow, concerned with the running water behind much of the ice. Surprisingly, the ice took screws well and I even tied off a tree branch at one point. Then I stalled for a while trying to figure out how to proceed. It seems some bit of ice had come off and now there was a window with a thin pane of ice to the running water. I needed to not be brutish around it and contemplated going left of it on a steeper bit, or going around right on lower angle terrain that had plenty of water behind it. After exploring both options, I finally decided on the left steeper bit. The climbing was a bit easier than I expected it to be once I committed to it. Due to the snowy top, I used my left hand to grab a few branches on the way over. Once over this short section the going was fairly easy on lower angle ice with water behind it. Then I got into snow and exited the falls to a tree to belay. I brought Adam up.

We eyed the remaining portion of the climb and decided that it did not look fat enough for us to continue. We scouted around in the woods for something to climb and saw a few items, but I really didn't feel like breaking the rope out again for 25' of ice. So we checked the next gully. That didn't pan out and we started to head back to our packs. On the way we passed the ice we climbed back in November. It was fatter still, and I gave it a go on lead. The climbing was alright, with a bit of a sketchy top out. After I brought Adam up we returned to the packs.

We ate lunch and chatted with another party who were packing up after having climbed Alpental III. They seemed to have a good time and we decided to get on it. The sun came out for a bit and one of the fellows leaving warned of high temps. But his buddy dismissed him saying he was from Alaska. Having checked the telemetry when I got home, the air temp never rose above 28°, but I'm sure it was a bit warmer in the sun. That gave me pause to leading it, but once I got on the lower section, the ice felt more secure than the first route of the day, and I kept going.

After the initial steeper section was a scary unprotectable slab with less than a 2" thick sheet of ice over the rock. I high dagger tip toed up the slab and stopped at a convenient tree to belay Adam up. When he arrived he asked me what I thought about the next section. I told him I'd have to be at the base to get a feel for it. Just because I see running water behind ice doesn't mean I automatically can't trust it. I like to tap and poke it a bit before I make a decision. Adam thought there was an easy bypass on the right of the main fall. He offered to lead up and we would top rope the ice. After going about a body length or more up and not finding any protection, Adam came back to the tree. We swapped leads, and I went to check out the ice.

While there was considerable water running behind the ice, it was thick and fairly solid (for Washington ice.) I poked at it a bit, and scouted a route. I wanted to stay where the ice was thicker, and where there were some ledge type features to ease my lead. I took a few swings and really liked how they stuck. I told Adam I was going for it. I sunk a 19cm screw and was on my way. A bit higher I placed another screw and was even able to get another in a little higher. Then I was struck with a decision. Climbing left of my position meant steeper ice with some good ledges, but more tricky protection. Climbing right meant thinner ice at a lower angle closer to the main flow of water under the ice. Since I seem to prefer less steep to steep, I opted to go right. At the last great stance I contemplated the terrain above me. Adam suggested sinking a screw. I didn't think one would go, but I pulled out a 13cm and sank it. I clipped it and cruised upward.

Adam said I climbed the last bit better than the earlier part. He found it funny as he thought that was the more difficult section. I guess I just focused for that section and felt good about the screw I placed. After Adam reached me he offered to lower me and for me to top rope the section again. He lowered me, and then I took the steeper line to the left which was also enjoyable. I cruised the whole portion a lot quicker and felt good to finally be on top rope.

Adam lowered me to the packs, and set about doing two rappels to get back to the ground. It was around 3:30 and the sun had gone behind the clouds making the air noticeably cooler. At the packs we packed up and took the ten minute hike back to the car.

This was a nice outing to get in before the temps warmed up the rest of the week. Hopefully some ice will remain. Otherwise it will be skiing for the rest of the winter.

My pics are here.

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