Read Dale's Take here.
With a new route going up on Colfax Peak two weeks before and a perfect freeze-thaw forecast, Dale and I decided, despite it being May already, that we'd try our hand at the Polish Route on Sunday. I've wanted the line since my first trip up the Coleman-Deming route when I knew nothing of the peak or the route—it's just so aesthetic and prominent. After climbing the Cosley-Houston and seeing three Polish Route ascents get pulled off earlier this spring, it was an easy call as our objective. We had taken Friday off work, based on the forecast, to climb the NW Ice Couloir on Eldorado Peak, so Saturday was spent recovering a bit and getting up to the trailhead.
We left the car at 3:30am and enjoyed fantastic booting conditions, including a veritable stairway up to the Coleman-Deming camp, reaching the bench below Colfax in a little under 3 hours. We geared up there, left our poles and one pack, and headed for the route, which looked fat except for the free-hanging dagger looming above.
Reaching the route proved to be one of the cruxes—the bergschrund was large and overhanging, so we ended up traversing in from the right as it seemed others had. A few questionable steps across the void and tunneling through overhanging snow with the aid of a picket gained access to a traverse leftward to the route. Gear was sparse and a few mixed moves were required to get to the base. We nearly bailed and headed for the new Ford's Theatre route at this point—it was tenuous and Dale burned some serious energy trying to go high through the mixed traverse before it was my turn to try and I found an easier way staying low, employing my full wingspan to reach a patch of ice. Just as I was pulling through this section, an invigorating spindrift shower began and kept falling throughout our time on the first pitch.
Dale took the first true ice pitch, which was incredibly fun, consistent AI4+ with a bit of dinner plating, but generally awesome sticks for a full rope length. That one pitch was so good that I could have called it a day at that point and been happy. From there, I led the last step of the first pitch with a steep lip at the top and continued up snow to the base of the crux where I was able to get a decent belay platform just right of the ice, out of the line of fire from the dagger above.
We'd decided beforehand that Dale, the man with more experience leading steep ice would take the crux. He headed up what began as dead vertical for a bit before easing off below the curtain. The shenanigans of our mixed start and lack of eating or drinking much during the day to that point, combined with that steep bit, hit him hard and he decided the crux wasn't in the cards for him. He installed a v-thread in the ice below the dagger and lowered off to the belay. "Well, shit," I thought to myself, "here we go."
Drafting Dale's pick placements and cleaning some of the screws on the way in case I made it onto the dagger, I was able to get to the crux feeling pretty fresh. I traversed as far left and as high as I could, plugged in a screw, and gulped. I'm 6'4" with almost a +4 ape index and the dagger was a long reach away. With my left tool and feet on the main wall, I was able to do a backwards swing over my right shoulder and into the dagger. It reverberated a little, but seemed much more solid than I was worried it would be, given how it looked. Levering up on that tool, I got my feet high, spanned the gap with my right foot, shoved my right shoulder into the dagger as a chimney move and tapped my left tool high into the dagger until I had a good stick as high as I could reach.
This was the point of no return and I yelled something silly down at Dale like, "What do you think? Should I go for it?" Dale replied with the only sensible thing to say as a belayer, "I've got you, buddy." I was able to back-step on the main wall, hang off both tools, and then transfer fully to the overhanging inner face of the dagger. A series of moves brought me around the edge and onto the face of the dagger, which was vertical to slightly overhanging, but eased off after a couple of body lengths. I went as high as I could before using my last two screws for an anchor right at the lip where the sun was beginning to hit. Pulling the slack up to put Dale on belay caused both forearms to cramp—I haven't been that pumped in a while.
Dale seconded the pitch in style. Once he was past the free-hanging section, I breathed a bit easier and we whooped and hollered a bit, knowing that we'd pulled it off. He headed past me at the belay and finished the technical portion of the route in the right gully with a couple of steep ice steps. From there, Dale sacrificed his toes by kicking steps in the steep snow through an icy crust.
The view was stellar and the snow on the sunny side wasn't as sloppy as we were worried it might be. The descent went smoothly and we couldn't wipe the grins off as we walked back down to our poles and second pack which we'd left at the base. This was the hardest ice lead I've ever done and it was an unforgettable experience with breathtaking ambiance and awesome company. Thanks for one hell of an adventure, Dale.