Test Your Mettle on California Ice
Let me get started by saying that ice climbing is not for the faint of heart. But there is something about getting bundled up and venturing off into the wilderness, often to remote places where people generally do not even go in the summer months, in order to scale a vertical sheet of ice that gets the blood going. One of the best ice climbs I have ever experienced is in the East Rosebud Valley. I briefly mentioned the climb in my post last year about ice climbing, but I didn’t get into specifics of this amazing climb.
What makes this climb so amazing is that you don’t just start at the bottom of a frozen waterfall. In fact, the adventure begins in the parking lot as you begin the mile long approach. Looming on the side of the cliff is a giant, blue, sheet of ice. As you steadily hike towards it, it just gets bigger. And bigger. Scrambling up the creek drainage you lose site of the climb for a while, but as you round the corner it bursts forth. If you thought it looked big from the valley floor, it looks huge now. About sixty feet wide, the ice falls are big enough for more than one group to get started climbing at the same time.
The first two pitches of California Ice are nearly vertical. That means you have almost 400 feet of climbing straight up a WI4/5 ice climb (WI stands for Water-Ice and many climbers struggle on climbs over a WI4). So if you plan to attack this climb, make sure you have a good lead climber who is confident in their abilities.
After the first two pitches, the climb gets “easy.” That is, there are no more huge vertical sections, instead a number of rolling pitches that just keep going up and up the side of the mountain. Since the area between these pitches is relatively flat, it is a great time to regroup, exchange gear, and even sit down for a little lunch. When you finally reach the top of the climbable pitches, you are about 4,000 feet higher than when you first started climbing (and a couple thousand more than that off the valley floor). Getting down is simply a matter of reversing the process and rappelling down the face of the climb. If it is a busy day, you might want to do one of the “walk off” descents to avoid knocking another climber off the ice.
So for those of you wondering why there is a climb in Montana named “California Ice” there is a story behind the name. Back in the 1970’s the renowned climber Chad Chadwick enlisted the help of two famous ice climbers out of California. Together they went on a two day expedition to conquer this massive climb (while in today’s standards the climb may not be that huge, you have to remember that climbing equipment has come a long ways in the past 40 years). In honor of these pioneers, the climb was named “California Ice.”
If you do decide to brave the climb, swing by Steep World first. There you can get some good beta on how the ice is this year, and talk with the locals who have made the trek before (you can also see if anyone has posted on Montana Ice as well). Remember, ice climbing is a dangerous sport, and if you do not know what you are doing mistakes can be fatal. Be sure to pack appropriately, know your surroundings, and remember that there is nothing wrong with bailing off a climb due to inclement weather. If you do want to tackle this climb, go with someone who has been to the area before. That way you can be sure to have as much fun as possible, while taking as little risk as possible.
blog comments powered by Disqus