After spending the last couple of New Year's weekends ice climbing in Bozeman, MT, and after hearing about the epic, multi-pitch ice found on the South Fork of the Shoshone outside Cody, WY, the decision for this year was clear. Ryan, Dale, and I convened in Buffalo Bill's town, provisioned ourselves for 4+ days in the backcountry (at a plush cabin), and headed out for the end of the South Fork road.
The Flying H Ranch started renting its cabin to ice climbers this year and we were some of the first ice climbing occupants. The ranch has a beautiful spot on the South side of the river, close to much of the classic climbing. The manager, Dean, was a really nice guy, with a booming western voice reminiscent of Sam Elliott.
Bryan met us at the trailhead on our first day and we headed up to Broken Hearts as two groups of two. The climb was in the sun and provided 4 pitches of awesome WI3-3+ climbing. The Carotid Artery and My Only Valentine weren't in yet, so we hiked up and around, set up a top rope on the Artery and had a great time messing around on the first 60-feet or so of overhanging M7 below the incomplete ice pillar. After pumping ourselves silly, we did the walk-off descent at dusk, reaching our cars as darkness set in.
Staying at the Flying H meant only a 15 minute drive back to warmth, dinner, and whiskey. We enjoyed all three and headed to bed early. On our second day, we decided to take even more advantage of our location and do the couple of climbs that were in right behind the ranch. We started on Festering Ice, which wasn't completely formed and thus required a top-rope to be safe enough to enjoy the long pitch of WI4+ ice. The start was especially delicate and steep, which was quite fun, especially since it wasn't picked out from other climbers.
From Festering Ice, we descended and headed up the next drainage to get to Ice Fest. None of us were feeling quite up to leading the ~80 meters of WI5, so we hiked up the gully and set up another TR. With one 70m rope, we took turns lowering down the climb and and making our way back out. It was the best pitch of ice I'd ever done--consistently steep with varied features, high on a wall above the aesthetic canyon during sunset.
Ryan's turn on Ice Fest unfortunately involved a falling chunk of ice smacking him on the bridge of the nose and eye. He finished the pitch without much fanfare, but revealed that he was having trouble seeing clearly out of his eye. We quickly descended to the ranch and made some calls to find out if we should make an ER trip. Thankfully, we had our resident helicopter paramedic, Bryan, in the group. His contacts suggested that we shouldn't mess around, so we drove to the clinic in Billings about 2.5 hours away, spent the night at the Motel 6, and had Ryan looked at. The prognosis was thankfully good, so we headed back to Cody early in the morning.
Eben had joined us in Billings and, with a sick Dale and pirate-eyed Ryan, the two of us decided to try and make it up a climb that day on our own. We drove back from Billings, hit the local coffee shop in Cody, and were at the trailhead for the Schoolhouse Route by 11am. The approach was pretty quick and the climb was only two pitches, so we were hopeful that we wouldn't get caught in the dark despite the late start. I won the rock-paper-scissors match and led the first pitch, which was an incredibly fun WI3+ for about 80 feet. After following the frozen stream up a ways, we reached the second pitch where Eben took the lead and cruised past cauliflower formations to a tree belay. No pitches higher up were in, so we made our rappels, hiked out, and were at the car by 5pm. The following pasta feast and beers were awesome, but resulted in a food coma which put a damper on any New Year's Eve festivities. We were out cold by 10pm.
Dale still didn't feel well on New Year's Day, so Eben and I headed for Mean Green--a route that Dale and Ryan had done the year before. Reports were that the crux 4th pitch wasn't in, but the first three pitches were reason enough to make the approach. We drove to the end of the South Fork Road, past the Majo Ranch, and hiked across the frozen river, trying not to fall into the open sections. The wind was howling and it was especially cold that morning. Neither of us warmed up until we turned the corner into our drainage and hiked up the frozen stream to the base of the climb. The first pitch was huge--a rope-stretching 55 meters or so of WI4. Eben won the ro-sham match this time (stick with rock--rock is strong) and took to the sharp end. The ice was a bit more brittle with the cold temps and I hunkered down to the side to avoid the falling chunks of ice. After we'd dispatched with the first pitch, the second and third went by quickly. The second was pretty short and low angle, so Eben graciously let me take the leads on both. The third pitch was much steeper and had a bit of a faucet running on the right side. By the time I pulled over the lip and set up the belay, by shell had frozen to my helmet and I had a thin film of ice covering the rest of me.
We soon discovered that the 4th pitch was, in fact, not in. It was anemic and brown, with no places for gear, so we turned around, made our raps, and drank victory beers at the car. It was a great start to 2013.
- Broken Hearts - WI3+ (P1-4)
- Carotid Artery - M7
- Festering Ice - WI4+
- Ice Fest - WI5
- Schoolhouse Route - WI4
- Mean Green - WI4 (P1-3)