The North Face Ice Project Pack

Some folk built like this, some folk built like that
But the way I’m built, Don’t you call me fat
Because I’m built for comfort, I ain’t built for speed
But I got everything, oh, that a good girl need
Howlin Wolf:  Built for Comfort

The North Ice Project is definitely a pack that is built for comfort, not speed.  It’s not “light and fast” it’s heavy and slow.  It’s a pack that is made for ice climbing at your local crags.  I first saw the Ice Project at last year’s Summer Outdoor Retailer show.  The pack was designed by Conrad Anker, and I was fortunate enough to get to chat with him about the pack’s various features at the North Face booth.   I got a sweet deal on it, and couldn’t resist the purchase, in spite of the fact that I usually buy stripped down, lightweight packs.

This pack keeps things organized and easy to get to, unlike my top loading pack that I previously used for ice cragging.  Instead of just dumping everything out in the snow when I get to the climb, with the Ice Project, I can unzip the pack and have access to all my gear and clothing.

North Face Ice Project

A place for everything. Everything in its place

There is a large top pocket of waterproof fabric that holds your crampons, and a smaller top pocket that’s good for sunscreen, sunglasses, and snacks.  Your ice tools go inside the pack, secured by sleeves and straps.  There’s a snap-out row of sleeves to keep your ice screws in, and a pouch that holds various items.  There’s even a sewn-in sleeve to hold your file.

The zip off clamshell section has a big mesh pocket that’s perfect for storing extra clothing.  You can flip this section out, and have a soft, insulated place to sit while you’re adjusting your boots and putting on your crampons.

Ice Project

Storage for extra clothing, and a file pocket, so you can find your file easily when it’s time to sharpen your picks or crampon points.

The pack is listed at 2746 cubic inches, but it seems bigger to me.  Perhaps it’s just because the design allows for better organization and more efficient use of space.  There’s room in the pack for pretty much everything you would need for a day of ice climbing.  I carry rope, rack, helmet, tools, extra clothing, snacks, and miscellaneous stuff.  Also, unlike other packs, where I’ve got crampons and ice tools strapped to the outside, everything fits inside the pack itself.  There’s no pokey things on the outside that are going to rip holes in your car seats when you toss this pack into your back seat of your car.  If you absolutely must have more storage, there’s daisy chains you can use to strap stuff the outside.

The construction is bomber.  It’s built like a base camp duffel bag, with heavy fabrics, big zippers, and reinforced stitching.  You would have to work really really hard to wear this pack out.  It’s got grab handles on the body, so you can man-handle it like you would with luggage.

The pack carries pretty well, and is comfortable for hiking.  One thing that I appreciate is that it comes in two back sizes.  I have a longer than average back, and am glad that it’s available in a long back length.  While it’s comfortable for hiking it really isn’t a climbing pack however.  I’ve climbed with it on my back a couple of times, and it’s way too stiff, and the top of the pack interferes with your helmet when you look up.  This is not a pack to take with you if you plan on doing any actual climbing while wearing the pack.

What this pack is perfect for, however, is a trip to Ouray, or any other ice climbing venue where you hike in, drop your pack, and then climb without the pack.

The pack is kind of heavy.  (Mine weighs 5 pounds, 1.6 ounces in a size large.)  However, that’s the price you pay for the burly construction and multitude of features.

The only real complaint I have about this pack is the number of ice screw sleeves.  The pack has 10 sleeves, but I sometimes use 12 screws.  I wish the ice screw carrier had a couple more slots.   One other nit pick is that the beefy zipper can be a bit of a chore to operate, especially when the pack is cold.

Overall, I really like this pack.  The North Face has made a niche pack that’s specialized for ice cragging.  However, I suspect that it will be fairly popular, because, my guess is that there are more folks that go ice cragging than people who are doing hard core alpine climbing.  The Ice Project is a perfect pack for the days at the local ice fall that constitute the majority of my actual ice climbing days.  It’s a niche product that fills its niche very well.

 

Alaska!!! Ham & Eggs on the Moose’s Tooth

The Moose's Tooth.  The Ham & Eggs route follows the prominent couloir up the center

The Moose’s Tooth. The Ham & Eggs route follows the prominent couloir up the center

In 2014, I had a trip to Alaska planned, to climb the Ham & Eggs route on the Moose’s Tooth.  However, icefall closed down the glacier landing access, and the trip got cancelled.

I scheduled another trip to Moose’s Tooth for May of 2015, and kept my fingers crossed, hoping for good conditions.

The trip was a guided trip, through Skyward Mountaineering, the guide service owned by Steve House and Vince Anderson.  The participants were me, another client named Joe, and our guide, Buster.

The three of us met May 4th at the airport in Anchorage.  We rented a car, bought a bunch of food, then drove to Talkeetna.

Food and supplies for our Moose's Tooth Climb

Food and supplies for our Moose’s Tooth Climb

Talkeetna is a small tourist town that owes its existence mostly to the fact that it’s the jumping off point for Denali and other mountains in the Alaska Range.  It’s home to several air services that fly planes into the mountains, including our service, Talkeetna Air Taxi.

View of Denali from Talkeetna

View of Denali from Talkeetna

We spent the night at the Talkeetna Air Taxi bunkhouse, and then packed up and went to the Talkeetna Air Taxi office at the airport, where we loaded up our stuff into a beautiful 1950’s vintage Dehaviland Beaver and flew to the Root Canal Glacier at the foot of the Moose’s Tooth.   As the prize for winning an epic game of Paper Scissors Rock, I won the opportunity to sit in the front seat next to the pilot.

Our ride to the Root Canal Glacier, a vintage Dehaviland Beaver

Our ride to the Root Canal Glacier, a vintage Dehaviland Beaver

Approaching the Root Canal Glacier

Approaching the Root Canal Glacier

The flight was amazing.  Once we got over the Alaska Range, the scenery was breathtaking in every direction.  I was a little bit nervous about the glacier landing, but it turned out to be more smooth than most landings on a runway.

The Beaver, with the Moose's Tooth in the Background

The Beaver, with the Moose’s Tooth in the Background

We emptied our stuff out of the plane, and a group of folks who had been on the glacier traded places with us and the plane whisked them away, lifting off of the glacier in what seemed to be a very very short distance.

We set up camp, ate dinner, and prepared for the climb.  The weather window looked good for the next day, so we planned on waking up at 4:00 and heading out to climb the route.

Buster and Joe in the Cook tent Megamid

Buster and Joe in the Cook tent Megamid

View of Denali from our Camp

View of Denali from our Camp

It never really got very dark that night, but I slept pretty well anyway.  We woke at 4, and left camp at 5.   We short roped up the initial snow sections, and then began pitching it out beginning with a mixed section that was mostly rock.  The climbing was fun here, scratching up granite with ice tools and crampons, occasionally using gloved hands to grasp rock features.  After the mixed section, we traversed down and right and established ourselves in the main couloir.

Buster, heading up the initial mixed pitch

Buster, heading up the initial mixed pitch

Traversing into the Ham & Eggs couloir

Traversing into the Ham & Eggs couloir

 

The climbing from here on out was a relatively straightforward mix of neve and water ice of varying steepness.  There were a number of bulging sections of steep ice that presented a good challenge, particularly for Buster who was leading them, because the steeper sections of the ice tended to be somewhat aerated and rotten.  In a couple of spots I worried that if he fell, the screws might not hold his fall.  However, he pretty much crushed everything, cruising up the steep ice in a fluid, controlled style.

Buster, Cranking up a steep corner feature

Buster, Cranking up a steep corner feature

Lots of spindrift mixed with ice poured down on us as we climbed.  We pulled our hoods up over our helmets to keep our jackets from filling up with snow.  On several occasions, I would pull up over a lip, and get a steady stream of snow and debris in my face.  In spite of the perfect weather, the spindrift gave the climb an alpine feel.

Joe and Buster on one of the ice steps

Joe and Buster on one of the ice steps

The view looking across the valley from high on Ham & Eggs

The view looking across the valley from high on Ham & Eggs

We were making good time, and had reached 9000 feet, having passed the two crux sections, when I got hit by falling ice.  Joe was belaying, and I was just hanging out and relaxing when I got whacked.  The ice glanced off my helmet and impacted my neck and upper shoulder.  I blacked out for just a moment, and my whole body felt like it was being poked with pins or electricity.   Joe asked me if I was OK, and I told him that I didn’t think I was OK.   I was dizzy, and was having a hard time moving my neck.  I could turn it to the right and look down, but looking up or turning it to the left hurt a lot.  I was having trouble with my left arm too, and couldn’t use it very well.  I felt like I was on the deck of a moving ship, and things around me seemed to be moving up and down a bit.

After a short while, Buster rappelled down to check on my condition, and by the time he got there, I was nauseous.  I kept retching and dry heaving, but my stomach was pretty empty and I didn’t have anything to throw up.  I took a sip of water.  (And later found out that I had put my water bottle back in my pack without the lid on.)

I felt pretty awful, and Buster wasn’t keen on dragging me up an Alaskan corniced ridge while I was dizzy and shaken up, so we decided to head down.  It took us about 4 hours to rappel to the base of the route.  By the time we got to camp, I was feeling somewhat better, but had a really really sore neck and shoulder.

I felt pretty bad that we hadn’t been able to tag the summit.   I felt especially bad for Joe and Buster, as my injury had messed up their chances to reach the top.  It was the first time that an injury had prevented me from continuing on a climb.  If we had been able to get to a sheltered spot and allow me to rest and recuperate for an hour or so, I might have been able to continue, but there wasn’t really any good spot to do this out of the line of fire from more falling ice.

We got back down to camp about 12 hours after we had left, only to find that it had been ransacked by ravens.  The crafty birds had opened the zippers on our duffel bags, and had spread the contents about.  After dealing with the raven damage, I took 4 ibuprofen tablets and crawled into my sleeping bag.  We figured that after a rest day, we’d have another shot at the route.

Snow, and more snow

Snow, and more snow

However, the weather did not cooperate.  It started snowing that night, and snowed heavily and continuously for most of the next five days.   We spent our time sleeping, talking, eating, and digging a snow hole.

After days of snowfall and watching sluffs avalanche down the route, we realized that we were not going to get another shot at climbing Ham & Eggs.  We turned our efforts towards getting off the glacier.  We’d go and stamp out a landing zone runway for the airplane, only to see our work covered up by more fresh snow.  We dug our tents out, ate, and tried not to get too bored.

Finally, the weather cleared enough for the planes to fly again.  We stamped out a runway and were rewarded by the sight of a Dehaviland Otter coming to rescue us from our basecamp existence.

Talkeetna Air Taxi Otter below the Moose's Tooth

Talkeetna Air Taxi Otter below the Moose’s Tooth

Dehaviland Otter, landing on the Root Canal Glacier

Dehaviland Otter, landing on the Root Canal Glacier

We stowed some of the Skyward Mountaineering equipment at the Talkeetna Air Taxi gear stash, then we had dinner and a night at the Talkeetna Air Taxi Bunkhouse.  The next day, we drove back to Anchorage and flew home.

Gear Stash at Talkeetna Air Taxi

Long term gear stash at Talkeetna Air Taxi

Overall, it was a great trip, in spite of the fact that I didn’t make it to the top of the Moose’s Tooth. Several weeks after the trip, my neck is still a bit stiff, but I’m otherwise fully recovered from my injury, and ready to do some more climbing.   The trip really whetted my appetite for Alaskan climbing, and I hope to return to the Alaska Range some day.  Until then, I will have to satisfy myself with objectives closer to home.

Winter Climbng Gear Update: Petzl and Salewa Ice Screws

Ice Screws:

Salewa Quick Screw and Petzl Laser Speed Light

The winter of 2014-15 was something of a disappointment for those of us living in the Mountain West.  Temperatures were warm.  Precipitation was scarce, and often fell in the form of rain instead of snow.  Here in Utah, the ice climbing season was short and inconsistent.   As a result, I only got out for a couple of days locally, and took a couple of trips down to Ouray, which also was suffering through a relatively warm winter.

I did get to try out some new ice screws by Salewa, and also got to use my aluminum Petzl Speed Light screws a bit more.  Here are my impressions:

The Salewa Quick Screw is a screw that incorporates a number of interesting features.  It has a compact head with a fold out crank.  The head is some sort of composite that supposedly makes the screw less prone to melting out when placed in direct sunlight.  The most unusual feature of the Salewa Quck Screw is that it comes with an integral racking system.  The screw is permanently attached to a quick draw via a sliding hanger, and the quick draw attaches to the screw by means of a plastic clip.  This makes them very easy to carry.  There is no need for racking on a separate biner, caritool, etc.   Biners and screws are color coded by length.

Salewa Quick Screws

The racking system is very convenient, however, it does require a few extra steps when placing the screw one-handed on steep ice.  Here is the sequence:

1:  You grab the carabiner that the screw is racked with.   you’ve got hold of the carabiner, but the screw is still clipped into the plastic carrier, and the head of the screw is dangling down.

2:  While grasping the carabiner, you use the heel of your palm to whack the screw up against your body (or the ice) to break the grip of the plastic carrier and release the screw body.

3:  You’re still holding the carabiner, but you really need to be grasping the head of the screw.  So, you give it a little jerk, and let the hanger slide up towards the head, so that gravity helps the screw get oriented correctly.  Then you work your hand up onto the head of the screw.  (This can be a bit tricky wearing gloves and worrying about fighting a pump with big air beneath you.)

4:  Once you’re grasping the head of the screw, you punch it into the ice and start turning it in.  When the teeth catch, you deploy the crank handle and crank it in.

5:  Clip your rope into the biner, and you’re good.

Once you are grabbing the head, the screw goes in very nicely.  It bites as well as any other screw I’ve used, and the shape of the head makes it very easy to get pressure on the screw when you’re starting it.  However, moving your hand grip from the biner to the head (step 3 above) can be a bit tricky, and certainly requires more dexterity than placing a normal screw because when you remove a normal screw from your rack, you’re already grasping it by its head.

I bought 4 of the Salewa screws.  I think that’s all I’m going to buy.  They are nicely made, and I will probably carry a couple of them on most climbs because they rack so easy with their integral biners and don’t take up space on my caritool.  The long size in particular is a great option as I can use it for V-Threads and not have to worry about racking it.     However, the fiddly nature of the sequence of placing them one handed means that I’m always going to want to have some more traditional screws with me for steep panic placements.

Petzl Laser Speed Light Aluminum Ice Screw

Last fall, I posted my first impressions of the aluminum Laser Speed Light screw HERE.

After using them climbing water ice this winter, my first impressions have been mostly confirmed.   I love the light weight, and their aggressive teeth make starting them very very easy.  Although I bought them primarily as a light weight alpine ice screw, I find that I’m using them as a go-to all around water ice screw as well.

However, the binding issues I encountered when I first used the screws have continued to occur.  These screws tend to freeze into the ice when placing them in temperatures near freezing.  Colder temperatures seem to result in less freezing/binding.  I have seen other people posting on the internet with similar experiences, so my conclusion is that this is not my imagination, but is something inherent in the aluminum design (probably related to aluminum’s conductivity.)

The bottom line, however, is that the binding/freezing issue is relatively minor when compared with the excellent traits of these screws.  Their light weight and high performance have earned them a place on my climbing rack both for water ice and alpine ice.

Mount Helen, Tower 1 Gully

Tower 1 Gully on Mount Helen is considered the premier alpine ice climb in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.  It’s a long, moderate alpine ice route that has been on my hit list for a while.  Opportunities for climbing ice in the fall are not that common in my area of the country, so I was stoked to finally get this one checked off.  Here’s what the guidebook has to say about this route:

“Tower 1Gully (IV Al 3+). The north-facing couloir between Towers 1 and 2 appears especially fearsome when viewed from Dinwoody Pass. With ten pitches and steepness up to 60 degrees, Tower 1 Gully is the Wind Rivers’ classic ice route. It is comparable in length and difficulty to the Grand Teton’s Black Ice Couloir, though never as hard as the Black Ice’s crux.You can anchor belays in adjacent rock.”  

(Joe Kelsey. Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Mountains, 3rd Edition)

I didn’t get a decent picture of the entire climb, so here’s a photo of the climb taken from space (via Google Earth.)  The red arrow shows the start of the actual climbing on the route.  This photo was taken early season.  Our conditions were quite a bit less snowy.

Google Earth Image of Mount Helen's Tower 1 Gully

Google Earth Image of Mount Helen’s Tower 1 Gully

Mount Helen is located in the Titcomb Basin part of the Wind River Range.  It’s about a 17 mile hike from the Elkhart Park trailhead just outside of the town of Pinedale.   We decided to break up the approach hike into two days.  I picked up my partner, Dallen, at 4:00 a.m. Thursday morning, and drove from Salt Lake to the trailhead, stopping in Pinedale for breakfast along the way.  With our early start, we were hiking before 10:00 a.m.

The trail to Titcomb Basin is pretty pleasant, with relatively gentle gradients and beautiful scenery.  We stopped along the way to fish a bit, but we didn’t catch anything. We ended up camping Thursday evening between Seneca Lake and Little Seneca Lake, about 10 miles from the trailhead.  We fished a bit that evening, again without any success.  Weather was beautiful, with clear skies and mild temperatures.

Friday, we continued our approach hike in to Titcomb basin.  We hiked about five and a half miles, and set up our camp between the upper and middle Titcomb lakes.  It was a beautiful spot, with a great view of the towers, including Mount Helen’s Tower 1, our objective for the following day. (Although our particular route was on the other side of the mountain.)

Titcomb Basin, Tower 1 on the right

Titcomb Basin, Tower 1 is the big buttress on the right

We spent the rest of the evening reconnoitering the approach to the route, fishing, and relaxing.   Dallen caught a big, beautiful golden trout, I caught a small rainbow, and we packed up for the next day’s climb.   The most exciting thing, however, is that we saw a wolverine walking along not far from our camp.  I’ve never seen a wolverine in the wild before.  It was really cool to see it there, moving along with its odd, bounding gait.  It kept its distance from us, and I wasn’t able to get a decent photo because of how far away it was.

The next morning, we woke up at 5:00 ate some food, and hit the trail to the climb.  The approach hike was steep and unpleasant, with lots of boulder hopping and shuffling up scree slopes.  I was really happy when we reached the tongue of the big snow slope that leads to the Tower 1 Gully, and I could use my crampons.  Moving up the steep neve snow was much better than groveling up the scree, and putting on my crampons made me feel like I was climbing at last.

We cruised up the snow slope unroped, and roped up when we reached the base of Tower 1 Gully.  From the base of the route, we couldn’t really tell how long the climb was going to be.  The guidebook says it’s ten pitches.  From the bottom, with foreshortening, and no real way to judge scale, it didn’t look nearly that long.  We wondered if it was really only going to be 2 or 3 pitches in length.

At the base of Tower 1 Gully

At the base of Tower 1 Gully

From the bottom, the climb doesn't look very long.

From the bottom, the climb doesn’t look very long.

We began climbing, and it soon became apparent that the route was much longer than it appeared from below.  That was a good thing, as the climbing was a lot of fun.  The conditions were excellent.  The route was mostly solid neve that took axe and crampon placements very securely.  The neve alternated with consolidated snow and patches of water ice.  The lower pitches were at a relatively low angle, and climbing went quickly.  Although ice screw placements were not very common due to the fact that there wasn’t consistent sections of hard ice on the route, it was generally easy to get protection in the rock walls on the margins of the climb, where there were cracks for nuts, cams, and pitons.

On the 2nd pitch of Tower 1 Gully

Dallen on the first pitch of Tower 1 Gully

The climbing got steeper as the route progressed, and by the 4th pitch, it felt like real climbing, although it wasn’t particularly difficult due to the “thunker” ice conditions that provided for really secure tool and crampon placements.  It was really enjoyable climbing, and we were both having a grand time of it.

Low on the route, on easy terrain

Low on the route, on easy terrain

Solid neve conditions

Solid neve conditions

Looking up the 3rd Pitch of Tower 1 Gully

Dallen, getting ready to take the lead up the third pitch of Tower 1 Gully

About the 3rd or 4th pitch, the weather began to change, and we started to get pelted with precipitation, first in the form of graupel, and then changing to snow.  It wasn’t bad, however, and just gave the climb a bit more of an alpine flavor.

Starting to wonder about the weather

Starting to wonder about the weather

After 6 full pitches of neve, snow and ice, and one short pitch through the easy rock band at the top, we finished the route and topped out on the saddle between Tower 1 and Tower 2.  By this time, the snow was falling hard, and the wind was blowing hard.  When I pulled up over the top of the saddle, I got hit by icy wind driven snow.  Our climb had been pretty sheltered, but this side of the mountain was getting pounded hard.  Our plan for the descent had been to either continue to the top of Mount Helen and descend by the snow couloir, or rappel down the back side, or rappel down the climbing route on V-threads.  The snow made continuing to the summit on rock much more challenging than we were interested in, and the thought of trying to rappel down the other side in the wind driven snow was also not appealing.  We decided to descend back down the climbing route.  We couldn’t use V-threads because there wasn’t sufficient water ice, so we used nuts hammered into cracks as our rappel anchors.

Setting off on the final pitch

Setting off on the final pitch

At the final rock band just below the top

At the final rock band just below the top 

Nasty weather on Tower 1 Gully

Nasty weather on Tower 1 Gully

When we got the base of the route, we descended down the big snow couloir by a combination of down climbing, rappelling on a bollard, and a couple of rappels on some fixed gear we found in the (climber’s left hand) side of the couloir.

As we descended the route, the snow turned to sleet, then to hard driving rain.  By the time we got back to our camp by the Titcomb lakes, we were both soaked.  I was wearing a full waterproof hard shell jacket, but my pants were a water resistant soft shell (Patagonia Knifeblade.)  These pants would have been fine for fending off a typical thunderstorm that only lasted an hour or so, but their water resistance was finally overwhelmed in the face of several hours of heavy wind-driven rain.  As a result, my long johns were soaked, my socks were soaked, and my boots filled up with water.

The weather was unrelenting, with constant wind and heavy rain all night long.  We spent a long, uncomfortable night in wet clothes, and damp down sleeping bags.  I didn’t freeze, but I was just cold enough that whenever I started to fall asleep, the cold would make me shiver and wake me up again.  I was just happy that it wasn’t 10 degrees colder.  Had the temperature dropped a bit, I would have been really really cold, and we would have been facing a hike out in several feet of snow.

Next morning, we hurriedly crammed our soaking wet gear into our backpacks and began the 16 mile death march back to the car.  It continued to rain all day, and the trails had turned into creeks, and the creeks into raging torrents.  The only good news is that we started off with soaking socks and boots, so when we had to wade through calf-deep water, we weren’t getting any wetter.

After a really long, wet, exhausting day of hiking, carrying packs made even heavier by all the water weight, we finally reached the trailhead at a little before six in the evening.   We changed into dry clothes, drove into Pinedale for a terrific dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and then headed back to Salt Lake.

Overall, the trip was very rewarding.  The scenery was great, the climbing was fun, and the nasty weather gave us a generous dose of suffering that made us feel like we’d done some real alpine climbing.

Gear Notes:

2 ice screws are all that is really needed for this ice climb because of the plentiful opportunities for rock protection on the sides of the route.  We didn’t place more than two screws on any pitch.  We generally followed the left hand margin of the climb and found adequate cracks for running protection and belay anchors.  A half set of Camalots (#.75 green to #3 blue)  and 3 smaller Metolius cams, a set of stoppers, and 3 Tri-cams, along with a piton (#3 Moses Tomahawk) were more than enough for us to protect the climb and establish belays.

We left fixed rappel anchors along the route (varied between left and right hand sides) consisting mostly of stoppers “welded” into place by hammering them into the rock.  If you use these anchors, make sure they are secure before you trust your life to them, as nuts can loosen over time.

Desert Ice Climbing: Hidden Haven Falls

Hidden Haven is a red rock canyon in southern Utah.  It’s not far from Parowan, on the road to Brian Head ski resort.  In winter, the falls at the top of this narrow canyon freezes up, providing one of the most aesthetic ice climbs I’ve ever experienced.  I’m used to climbing frozen waterfalls, but climbing frozen falls in a sandstone slot canyon is a visual treat.

The climbing consists of 4 distinct steps, separated by some walking up the canyon.  The first three are all pretty short and relatively easy at WI 2 or 3, and the last pitch is the longest and steepest, about 110 feet and WI4.

The first ice step, at the entrance to Hidden Haven

The first ice step, at the entrance to Hidden Haven

I climbed this in March.  The ice in Utah’s Wasatch Range to the North had all pretty much melted out due to unseasonably warm temperatures, but because of the narrowness of the sunless canyon and the elevation (a bit over 6000 feet) the ice here remained climbable (albeit kind of wet.)

Climbing the first step to get into the canyon

Climbing the first step to get into the canyon (Photo:  Dallen Ward)

Once you get into the canyon, it’s very beautiful, and you traverse from one pitch to the next along the gentle frozen creekbed that flows along the canyon bottom.

Walking along the canyon

Dallen, walking along the canyon

Climbing the 2nd Ice Step

Climbing the 2nd Ice Step (Photo:  Dallen Ward)

The real payoff of this climb is the fourth and final pitch.  The final falls is set in a tall amphitheater of red sandstone, with a ribbon of ice ascending to a narrow slit of sky above.  It’s a gorgeous setting.  The ice is steep in places, but not particularly difficult.  Like all ice climbs, the difficulty varies depending on conditions.  When I climbed it, it was probably WI3+ or 4-.

4th pitch of Hidden Haven

4th pitch of Hidden Haven (Photo:  Dallen Ward)

 

The view from the belay, looking up the 4th pitch.

The view from the belay, looking up the 4th pitch. (Photo:  Dallen Ward)

I really loved this climb.  I’m definitely going back next season, but this time, I will bring some more friends so I can set up a photography perch on top of the 4th pitch and get some better pictures of this outstandingly beautiful route.  Gear Notes:  I brought rock gear, but didn’t use any of it.  Ice screws are all that’s needed. The descent is simple.  There are fixed slings and rap rings on trees above all of the steps.  A single 60 meter rope will get you down the rappel on the 4th pitch.

The view from the top of the 4th pitch.

The view from the top of the 4th pitch.

 

 

 

 

 

E Climb Klau Aluminum Ice Screws

The E-Climb “Klau” ice screw is not widely available in the United States.  As of this date, I couldn’t find a single U.S. seller.  I ended up ordering the screws directly from Spain, where E-Climb is headquartered.  E-Climb Website HERE  The E-Climb Klau screw has a couple of features that make it different from most other screws on the market.  It has an aluminum body, and removable/replaceable steel teeth.

E-Climb Klau Ice Screw

The aluminum tube body makes the Klau screws marginally lighter than all-steel screws.  This is a nice feature for gram-shaving alpine climbers who obsess over gear weight.

Some weight comparisons:

19 cm Black Diamond screw  5.7 ounces;   22cm Black Diamond screw  6.2 ounces

16 cm Grivel 360 screw   6.2 ounces

14 cm Klau screw 4 ounces; 18 cm Klau screw 4.4 ounces; 22 cm Klau  4.7 ounces

The per screw weight savings aren’t really huge.  Average savings of less than 2 ounces per screw.  However, with a 10-12 screw rack, you could save about a pound or more with aluminum Klau screws compared with traditional steel screws.  For weight obsessed climbers, a pound of savings may well be worth it.

The teeth of the screws are steel, and can be replaced if they are damaged.  Changing out teeth is pretty easy.  You just screw off the teeth, using the crank handle of another screw as a wrench.  The replacement teeth then just screw back on.  The replacement has some dry adhesive (think  “loctite”) on them to keep them from unscrewing when they’re not supposed to.  Replacement teeth are about $13.  The instructions for the screws say that conventional sharpening can mess up the interchangeable facility of the screws. I don’t think that a little touch-up with a file here and there would ruin it, if you stayed away from the little threads that secure the teeth to the tube.

Replaceable tips/teeth for E-Climb Klau screws

The most important characteristic of an ice screw for me is how quickly and easily it can be placed.  The Klau is comparable to other modern screws in ease of placement.  It bites into the ice and gets started just as easily (maybe a little bit easier even) compared with my Black Diamond screws.  Starting them seemed about the same as my Grivel 360 screw.  I could place a Klau screw with my left hand, which is a good test, as I am pretty clumsy with my left hand.  The folding crank gives good leverage for turning it into hard ice.  The crank doesn’t have much up and down wiggle room, however, so on featured ice, you will need to chop away lumps and bumps that impede rotation of the crank, as there is very limited ability to maneuver the crank over such obstacles.   In my completely non-scientific tests of these screws, they do seem to be slightly more difficult than steel screws when trying to clear ice out of the tube after use.

screw-1

E-Climb Klau (left) and BD screw (right)

The threads on the E-Climb screws are not quite as tall as the threads on other screws in my arsenal.  I have no idea what effect this difference might have on holding power.  However, I think that I might place the screws in a more horizontal position compared with the slightly down-facing position of other screws with larger threads.

Overall,  I like the Klau screws.  I like their light weight, and they place easily in hard ice.  I don’t think that they will replace my steel screws for every day ice cragging, but for alpine climbs where weight is an issue, I will definitely use the Klau screws to lighten my load.