Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Best Of Both Worlds, by Chris Thomas

I was truly torn on what to do for the weekend.  On the one hand I had just been to a stellar limestone crag in NE Utah for the first time and was desperate to go back and finish up a couple of routes I had tried.  One the other hand it was mid-august, 100 degrees in Salt Lake, and the idea of going ice climbing at 12,000 feet in the Tetons seemed super worthy as well.

I think that’s one of the reasons climbing has captivated me for some many years now.  Ice climbing in the mountains and sport climbing at the crag are worlds apart in terms of the experience they offer and the skills required.  I would most certainly be better at one or the other if I could just focus and commit myself to one discipline.  But the variety and unique but related challenges of doing both are just too much fun.

  After talking with my friend JT, it was decided.  We’d drive to the Hoop and hopefully send our sport projects.  After that we’d pack up, drive to the Tetons, catch a few hours of rest and then start hiking.  I was set on soloing the Black Ice Couloir, JT had his sights on Middle Teton’s NW Ice couloir.

Conditions at the Hoop were perfect!  At over 9,000 feet and shady, it’s streaked and pocketed limestone walls offer a perfect summer retreat while the rest of Utah is blazing hot.


The rock at the Hoop is razor sharp – you only get a couple of tries before you’re bleeding from your fingertips.  By mid-afternoon we had finished up and hiked back to the car.

Next up was the 5 hour drive to the Tetons.  We got some dinner in Moose and waited till dark so we could grab a couple hours of sleep.  The trick is to time your start so you arrive at the base of the climb at first light.  I left at midnight, JT decided to sleep in until about 3AM.

The approach to the lower saddle went quickly.  As I navigated the Valhalla Traverse via headlamp I started getting really excited – the Black Ice Couloir has been on my to do list since the year I started climbing.

I guess I got up a little too early – it was still pitch black when I got to the base of the route.  I waited in the dark for about an hour.  At first twilight I started up the rock pitch, and by the time I got to the ice in the couloir I could put my headlamp away.

The climbing was easy and low angle, but the ice was bullet hard!  Front pointing up a few thousand feet of gully ice is a hell of a calf work out!

After topping out on the lower saddle I jogged back to the car.  Running down the steep trail is hard on the knees, but I was ready for tacos and beer.  JT met me in the parking lot – despite his later start he had crushed his objective and was already relaxing and taking in the views.

All in all a great weekend.  Variety is the spice of life!

Chris Thomas

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