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Chasing ice in The Valley

Original Post
Josh Hutch · · State of Jefferson · Joined Dec 2008 · Points: 90

How an attempt climbing Silver Strand turned into the best and worst day of climbing I have ever had.

I had been watching the "Yosemite Ice" thread on Super Topo for the conditions of the ice in Yosemite Valley. I knew Silver Strand had been In for about a week and was only going to get better with the current cold snap we were in. I sent a text to Pat asking "So serious question... Silver Strand the 27th or 28th?". He replied that he had plans those days but could make it the 30th. I was stoked! ICE CLIMBING in the iconic rock climbing capital of the world? Woohoo!!! We made plans to head down to the Valley, Wednesday the 30th. The plan was to scout out the approach Wednesday, spend the night in Camp 4 and get an alpine start the 31st so we could both be back home and celebrate the new year with our wives.

Silver Strand 12/30/15

I left Chico at about 530 in the morning to meet Pat in Sacramento. We got to the valley at about 1200 and were completely astonished of the amount of ice, it was EVERYWHERE! The possibilities were endless, if you didn't mind the unprotected thinness on most of the virgin lines. We got out first view of SS and it was FAT! Then we got our first view of Widows Tears, an ice climb that rarely forms and is even more seldom climbed. We continued around the Valley looking at all the ice. We decided to go up to the Wiwona Tunnel to get better eyes on Silver Strand and try to figure out the best approach for the following morning. After heading up the trail to Inspiration Point we continued cross country, side hilling towards SS. After about 30 minutes we realize there must be a better way. We decided I would hike down to an old, out of use road, (now the trail that leads to Artist Point) and see if there was already a boot pack put into SS. I hiked down the trail and found the approach for SS. I marked the spot where the trail splits and continued down to the Bridalvale parking lot where Pat was going to meet me with the car. On my way down, I passed directly under Widows Tears. I couldn't resist. I had to go look at it from the bottom and truly see the route up close. I texted Pat that I was going to go sneak a peek at Widows Tears. I had never seen this climb in person until today and it had been a dream of mine for a few years.
Widows Tears from Hwy 140/41

Backtracking 5 years ago. I saw my first picture of the Widows Tears and immediately became infatuated by it. Notorious for being one of the longest water ice climbs in the lower 48 along with having questionable gear placements, and the climb itself being "in" one day and falling down the next. It is THE ice climb in California. Parties that have climbed it in the past have given it a rating of WI5 with the caveat of, Windows Tears is either climb able or it's not. There is no in-between. I printed out a picture of it and taped it to my desk at work for motivation to not sit there doing "work" and to get up and go workout, just hoping there might be a day I was good enough to even TRY it.

After finding my way up the drainage that leads to the climb I came around a corner and was blown away by just how big Widows Tears really is. It is massive, surrounded by a beautiful granite amphitheater. I couldn't even see the top pitches, it looked like an elevator shaft going right up to the rim of the Valley. The bottom pitch was in much better shape then what I had previously thought it to be. After taking a few pictures I was back down the trail to meet Pat at the parking lot. Halfway to the parking lot I came across Pat hiking up towards me, he had gotten bored just waiting and decided he would meet me. Earlier in the day we had been talking about all the ice around and that we needed more than one night in the Valley. His first words to me were "I got the ok for another day". I said "awesome, because the Tears look to be in and I think we should give it a go". We made it back down to the car talking about the climb. He looked at my pictures and we decided to try it the next morning. If we don't like it, we can bail at anytime. We ended up grabbing pizza for dinner at Camp Curry even though we had both brought food for the trip (this would end up being a life safer for me). We spent a long, cold, restless night in Camp 4 that involved throwing shoes at a raccoon that stole my jetboil at 3am.
Looking up the slabs from the bottom of Widows Tears

We left Camp 4 at 530 and left the Bridalvale parking lot at 543. There was already a car parked there, damn. On the hike up, our fears were realized when there were headlamps up the drainage from us. We would not be the first ones on the route...

At the base we met Mike and Sarah. Pat and I discussed pulling cord and bailing over to SS. Neither of us liked the idea of climbing below another party. But because Widows Tears rarely forms and who knew when it might be back in I wanted to go for it. Mike and Sarah were using an 80m rope and we had 60's. Having different length ropes between the 2 parties worked out well, we were able to stagger our belays and "sorta" stay out of each other's way.

Pitch 1-4
I'm saying pitch 1-4 but I really down know how far it was. Pat and I soloed the slabs at the bottom up until the main falls. I would guess it to be approximately 600'

Pitch 5 - Josh's lead, WI3R
After taking a look at the bottom pitches we decided to give it a go. We can always bail we told ourselves. The ice was thin 0-2" thick. After a few tool swings, it was very apparent that the ice was not only thin, but it was hollow and not bonded to the rock very well at all. I ended up being able to get 3 pieces of pro in the entire pitch, 2-13cm and 1-10cm (stubby) screws. There were times that I tried to place pro and the 13's would hit rock 2/3's of the way in. Luckily it was easy climbing. I ended up going the full rope length and setting up an anchor. I had to spend about 15 minutes trying to find good ice or a crack I could use to build an anchor. I ended up down climbing and using one stopper and tying off around a horn. Pat followed the pitch not happy at all. The entire time the other party was knocking ice down on top of him.

I sat there contemplating if it was worth being up here. The gear was complete crap, the anchor was complete crap, I was cold and shivering, and we had just completed the first real pitch of the climb. We could rap from here and only leave a sling... I didn't say anything to Pat about this.
Our first pitch of roped climbing

Pitch 6 - Pats lead, WI5
Pat had a good lead with thicker ice, it was still hollow in places though. After his 3rd screw he was having trouble pulling over a head wall and actually fell. One tool came completely out. Luckily his crampon caught at the last second keeping him on the ice. I could tell the semi fall got to his head but he finished up the pitch in good style. I followed with no issues.

Pitch 7.0 - Josh's lead, WI1/snow slog
I made it to Pats anchor and Pat said he did not want to lead the upcoming ice curtain. So I went up about 70 feet and put another complete shit anchor in.

Pitch 7.5 - Pats lead, WI3
Because I knew it was going to be a hard next pitch for me I had Pat continue up a half pitch to the bottom of the business section. This pitch is referenced in other trip reports as the traverse pitch. We stopped here for a break. I drank some water and we both had our left over pizza from the night before. I told Pat that my calves we starting to cramp and his reply... My forearms are starting to cramp as well... Great, we are 3-4 pitches from the top and our bodies are not happy with us... Pat tells me he had the same thoughts about bailing at the top of pitch 5 for the same reasons as me but he also didn't say anything. The thought of bailing at this point was not on my mind, at least now, it wasn't an option. I knew we would have to leave screws/gear because there was no way we were getting in a V-thread with this junk ice. The only way off the route for me was up.
Pat Leading 7.5

Pitch 8 - Josh's lead, WI5
We finally made it to nice solid hero ice! This pitch took any screw I could throw at it and it was glorious! About half way through the pitch I was starting to get tired. I did stop and hang off one of the screws. I was ok with this. Just being up here and doing this climb was amazing, I was fine with not doing the route clean. I got the full rope length out and set up an anchor at a hanging belay. It was the only anchor I made all day that I was not concerned about.
Josh leading P8

Pitch 9 - Pats lead, WI5
Pat finished out the steep section for another 50 feet. The steepness eased up a bit but the ice returned to being a snow/ice mixture that would not take any solid gear placements. I'm glad I was not on the sharp end for this section, I am sure it was a heady lead. Pat did find some solid ice for an anchor though.

Pitch 10 - Josh's lead, WI5
Back to steep, wet ice with water running over the top and behind it in places. I led up through this little awkward notch placing good screws. The ice was not letting up with its steepness and again, I had to hang from some screws. (I'm ice climbing in Yosemite Valley!!! Who cares, is what I thought to myself) A few spots on this pitch there was so much water coming down that after removing my picks from the ice water would immediate start squirting out of the hole. Somehow I managed to keep myself somewhat dry. 2/3 of the way up the pitch I started to watch how many screws I had placed. I ended up placing too many down low and had to ration myself so I could get the full rope length. You could tell the light was starting to dim, and day was turning to night. I need to go faster. I wanted off this route. After running it out about 50+ feet I came to the best ledge that I could see. It still turned into another hanging belay. The only screws I had left were a 16cm and the stubby... Crap. I got the stubby in no problem, I had to try 5 different spots to finally get the 16 to go in and not hit any rock. I NEVER want to belay off an anchor that was built with a stubby and a 16 ever again. Pat cleaned the pitch very quickly which I was stoked about. In the process of belaying Pat up, I blew out my thumb on my glove. Awesome I thought, now I get to finish the climb with my thumb sticking out... That's ok, Only one pitch to go.
Looking back down P10

Pitch 11 - Pats lead, WI4
Pat again led the pitch in great style moving quickly. It was a mixture of hero ice and wet ice with water running down all over it. Pat stretched the pitch out to a full 60 meters. He said we were almost there... Damn it! I thought that would be it. My fingers are frozen, my body hurts, and I need to put my head lamp on before I follow the pitch because it's dark. Cleaning the pitch was beyond difficult for me. I could not feel my hands, ice screws had to be chopped out of the ice (remember the water flowing over the ice? Well, it was freezing things to the route). Carabiners gates were freezing closed, runners were frozen solid, and my gloves were frozen solid. I finally made it up to Pat, somehow not dropping any gear. I then begin to have the worst case of screaming barfies I've ever had in my life. It felt as if someone threw lighter fluid on my fingers and lit them on fire. I ask Pat how much more? Because I will be unable to place ANY gear, my hands no longer work. About 30 ft was his reply. At that moment we both look over and about 8 feet to our right is another exit to the climb... Thank god!
Approximate route in red, belays are the yellow dots.

I get to the top and set up a belay at a tree to get Pat off safely. I look at my watch, it's 5:43pm. Exactly 12 hours since we left the car. Luckily Mike and Sarah made it up before us so there are post holes to follow for the decent. Thank you guys! We owe you big for that! We ended up staying close to the rim, making our way to the top of SS and around towards Inspiration Point. We finally met up with the main trail and made it back to the car around 8:00pm 15.5 hours car to car. Not bad for two average ice climbers that had planned on climbing a 4 pitch climb the day before. I told Pat, if I ever go to look at another route, just for a peek, punch me in the face. He agreed that he most definitely would.

We decide we were too cold and tired to spend another night at Camp 4 and we head for home. Pat made it back just after the new year and I finally made it back to Chico at 3:00am. It's 5 days later, 6 of my 10 fingers are still tingly and I hope i get full feeling back in them soon... But... I am still smiling ear to ear, I climbed the Widows Tears in Yosemite National Park!

Ocalslay Onlyyay · · Not That Into Climbing · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 1,170

Great story Senor, glad you made it off safe and sound.

You should share your tale over at ST on the Yos Ice thread as well.

Josh Hutch · · State of Jefferson · Joined Dec 2008 · Points: 90

Thanks Burchy!
After watching all the poo flinging over there as of late, Its hard for me to get involved with those folks.

dan mcdevitt · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2014 · Points: 138

Great job guys! way to hang in there. excellent writing! and pics!

jackkelly00 · · new hampshire · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 295

Thanks for the TR. Impressive!

Ocalslay Onlyyay · · Not That Into Climbing · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 1,170
Josh Hutch wrote:Thanks Burchy! After watching all the poo flinging over there as of late, Its hard for me to get involved with those folks.
Yeah. You might be right.

That said, the poo flinging is part of the charm ;)
csproul · · Davis, CA · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 330

Pat...climbingcoastie Pat?...nice job, proud climb!

SirTobyThe3rd · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 1,855

Hell yeah! :)

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65

Good for you! Great TR!

vincent L. · · Redwood City · Joined Jan 2005 · Points: 560

Nice work and thanks for sharing ...

Klimbien · · St.George Orem Denver Vegas · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 480

strong work bro... proud send, which I could say the same. Guess I'll just have to leave my photos hanging for a few more years until the next one coms in. How long do you think it took to do the lower pitches and do you think you could have covered this area faster?

tahoe tom · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 30

Awesome! Great to finally read a detailed report on such a climb that doesn't get many ascents, much less talked about.

Josh Hutch · · State of Jefferson · Joined Dec 2008 · Points: 90
Klimbien wrote:strong work bro... proud send, which I could say the same. Guess I'll just have to leave my photos hanging for a few more years until the next one coms in. How long do you think it took to do the lower pitches and do you think you could have covered this area faster?
Yes and no...

Yes, NOTHING against the other party that was up there. But, we probably waited around 30 minutes to start at the lowest point. Trying to give everyone enough space. Again waiting about 30 minutes on the actual route leaving our belays because we didn't want to be directly under their follower. It's something that we knew we would be dealing with and normally neither Pat or myself would be climbing under another party but... It was in, and who knew when it was going to fall down.

No, because we already soloed the lower slabs. We were moving really quickly and caught the other party. (so much for our 30 minute buffer) The first pitch was easy enough climbing to Simu-climb but... With the situation I ran into trying to find a quality anchor I'm really glad we didn't.

The time we lost waiting for the other party was probably made up on the descent. We didn't post hole or have to route find, thanks again Mike and Sarah!

I hope that answers your question.

Pat...climbingcoastie Pat?...nice job, proud climb
One in the same.
Brian Prince · · morro bay, ca · Joined Mar 2010 · Points: 1,963


Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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