Cody's South Fork of the Shoshone River is a veritable icy playground, with multi-pitch routes spilling down drainages and fanning out as curtains across cliff bands on both sides of the beautiful valley. For the third New Year's in a row, Dale and I headed back to this playground, only this time with two additional friends in tow. We stayed in the Absaroka cabin at the Double Diamond X Ranch, which was a phenomenal spot to come home to after a long day of ice climbing and trade stories of our adventures over hot meals, cold beers, and room-temperature whiskey.
Snow was the crux this year. While it appeared spotty in the valley, the light snow had blown into deep drifts on the approaches and resulted in quite a bit of wallowing anywhere from shin to waist deep. Nevertheless, the goods taste better when you have to work for 'em. And that we did.
Day 1 - The Moratorium
After a heinous travel debacle, Dale arrived at about 10am on the morning of New Year's Eve. We'd found great success on the Lower Bench last year and wanted more. Moratorium (WI4+) was an obvious choice, so we headed out as quickly as we could and didn't see a boot pack in the gully, so we thought we were all alone. Unfortunately a different party had beat us up there via a different path and were roping up at the base. We hemmed and hawed for a bit, considered traversing over to a different climb, and then eventually decided to wait until they finished their first pitch before starting and ideally traversing to a different part of the climb, right of them. The strategy worked well and we only were pelted with a bit of shrapnel. I hadn't swung a tool in a while, so Dale took the sharp end and brought us to the top, via a steep right-hand finish variation, in style.
Day 2 - Sendero Illuminoso
Looking for something new to tackle, we decided that Sendero Illuminoso (WI4) seemed like a worthy objective, especially if we could pair it with something close by. Unfortunately our insufficiently quick reading of the guidebook saw mention of the Boulder Basin Trail, so we errantly parked at that trailhead and proceeded to endure a long approach in deep snow, traversing for some time to reach the climb. Since it was relatively short and sweet, we each put in a lead on the fun smear, tucked between rock walls and consisting of only one short section of WI4 in the middle.
We checked out the gullies to the East and found one promising drip that hadn't touched down yet. We'd later learn from Aaron Mulkey that it was "Stick in the Mud" and had solid bolts to get to the dangling icicle. Too bad—we should have given it a whirl. From below, it looked like kitty litter scratching to get to a tenuous pillar and we weren't channeling Alex Lowe enough for that.
Since we hiked down to the Lower Bench parking area, we still had to walk the road back to our car. Thankfully it was a gorgeous sunset and we enjoyed an easy saunter back, with lots of wildlife watching—bighorn sheep, antelope, and deer were all out in force.
Day 3 - Animal Rights Activist & Hunter Creek Falls
Knowing that we'd set a boot pack a good ways up the Boulder Basin Trail already, we decided to try out some new climbs for us up there. Our first objective was a WI4 curtain called Animal Rights Activist. It was to be our appetizer for the more difficult and longer Hunter Creek Falls (WI5) in the afternoon. Animal Rights Activist was quite fun, if short-lived. We each put in a lead on it after suffering through the wallow, making like a bear up and left from the first switchback of the trail.
From there, and after a healthy sandwich break to fuel up, we began the undertaking of getting up to Hunter Creek Falls. It seems deceptively close from the Boulder Basin Trail, but, especially in the snow conditions we found, it was decidedly far away. We took turns breaking trail, stubbing toes on snow-covered rocks, and traversed across some suspect slopes, to finally reach the base of the route.
The first bit was an easy rolling curtain and then the business kicked in. The pillar of WI5 was in great shape—nice and fat and plastic, wet even. It was a great climb, but perhaps not quite worth the long approach in and of itself. We rapped off and checked out Spotted Owl briefly before deciding to call it a day at about 3pm. We trudged down the drainage for a while in deep snow before cutting back to our boot pack and heading down to the car for victory beers. Our legs were smoked.
Day 4 - Joy After Pain
Dale and I debated about what to tackle on our last day. Every day of the trip so far, we'd been staring at a route that we'd both done a year earlier—Joy After Pain (WI5+). It was clearly in, long, and aesthetic. We searched the guidebook for another route to dethrone Joy. Kelsey and Brittany had experienced lots of sunbaked and wet routes on the South-facing side of the canyon. Dale and I had stuck to the North-facing side and had been rewarded every day so far. We considered Moonrise and High on Boulder as well as Spying and Flying and Ro Sham Bo, but the river was running and the approach via the Flying H with these snow conditions looked nearly prohibitive from a time perspective.
So we decided Joy After Pain was the ticket and we were not disappointed. We met a car full of hard-charging (and cute!) climber ladies at the parking lot and discussed plans. They mentioned a possible attempt at traversing to the top pitch of Joy from the end of Moratorium. We weren't sure of their reason for this until we finished the approach and discovered that the first 20 feet or so of Joy was a thin, un-protectable curtain. We stared at it for a while and Dale summoned the gumption to give it a shot.
After traversing in from the right and putting in a suspect screw, Dale nearly bailed. I could see his body language gravitating back toward the entry ramp, but he stopped himself, looked up, took a deep breath, and fired it. It was inspiring to watch. He soon got two more screws in which were above the hollow curtain and then methodically cruised the rest of the pitch, stretching our 70m lead line to a belay. I did what I could to warm back up (it was in the low teens or single digits) and started to second the pitch. What looked intense from below felt even more rowdy while on the ice—well met, Dale. My hands never warmed up after the belay and I got to the point on the pitch where I had to hang and shake out my clipping hand for a minute or two to have the dexterity to open the carabiners and pull the screws out. When I finally pulled over the bulge below the belay, I had to take a moment and let the warm blood from the rest of my body thaw out my fingers. Ah, ice climbing.
After recovering from the almost-screaming barfies, I decided to take on the steep pillar above us. The blood was flowing now and I felt great. While the pillar wasn't incredibly long, it was the steepest ice I've led to date and I was really happy to feel solid on it.
From there, the route rambled up the drainage and we pitched out a coupe of sections that were steeper or had steep variations to make things more fun. Eventually we were at the base of the Joy. Almost a year ago to the day, the two of us had stood there with Dale's crampon having just failed, and me deciding to swallow hard and lead the long WI5 pitch. Given the history, it was clear that this would be Dale's lead and he did it in style. The curtain was a bit more cauliflowered and brittle this time, so I'd say he had a harder lead on it.
All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better 4 days of climbing, better company, or a better setup to make the whole experience unforgettable. See you soon, Cody.