AAC SNS ICE weekend at Coldstream Canyon
The American Alpine Club Sierra Nevada Section held its annual ice climbing weekend at Coldstream Canyon the last weekend in January. It was my third year helping organize, and I can attest that it’s an event not to be missed!
As usual, most of the 34 participants arrived either at noon on Friday to have their gear hauled in by the snow cat or during the afternoon to hike in by sunlight to the Lost Trail Lodge. My ragtag crew, this year including John Gray, Jim Wilson, Gulnur T and her canine companion, Lucky, arrived late as has also become customary. We converged on the trail head around 10pm. Our concerns that we’d be dragging our sleds across rocky ground instead of snow were allayed when we arrived. The snow was low but there was plenty of coverage.
Given the late hour, the snow was firm and most of us chose to forgo the snowshoes. The trail is tough to find at night. You need to have a good sense of direction as there are numerous trails and dirt roads to lead you astray. The folks that come in during the day wand the trail which is very helpful. The terrain over those four miles is not particularly challenging, but the going is usually slow at night trying to figure out the route. It’s highly recommended to be self-sufficient and prepared to sleep out if you cannot find your way!
Friday evening is the big pizza and beer night, which is great for the late arrivals. There is always pizza left over to quiet the appetite that builds from dragging sleds for several hours in the dark and cold night.
Saturday morning begins with a bustling breakfast in the large communal kitchen. A group of volunteers prepare coffee, scrambled eggs, bagels, and bacon. It’s important to fuel up because this crag is still another two miles away!
Once again, the early birds wand the route to help the stragglers find the way to the Coldstream Canyon climbing area. There is one long moderate hill (one participant referred to it as “suck a$$ hill”, but otherwise the terrain is rolling and not very strenuous. If you aren’t going with folks that know the way, a map and strong compass skills are extremely important (one poor soul took a wrong turn and gave up after several hours!). The two mile trek takes around an hour and a half at a somewhat leisurely pace.
We were also concerned that the ice would not be in due to the low snow levels. Indeed, Code Red was completely out of shape, but Code Blue was fat, Walk on the Wild Side, and one we were calling “Way Right of Walk on the Wild Side” were in. Their was a fair bit of ice melt which made for a few sections with the potential of drowning the climber in a downpour.
My crew arrived late at the climbing area, fit in a couple of climbs as the sun was setting behind the cliff and then the temperature plummeted. We stayed until we got too cold and set back out for the Lost Trail Lodge, watching the sun set, the moon rise, and night fall.
One of the highlights on Saturday night is the Lost Trail Lodge owner’s, blue grass band that comes to play at the lodge for the climbers. Dave Robertson and his group play for over three hours and their energy is infectious! Dave’s granddaughter, Kylie, is now 6 and her fiddle skills are continually improving.
I wouldn’t have guessed that Saturday night could be improved, but it was with the addition of Geljing and Ang Seri Sherpa’s catering. The Sherpa couple prepared a feast of chicken curry, dal bhat, basmati rice, savory string beans, and steamed broccoli. All that the meal was missing was a hearty Chang, the Sherpa version of moonshine!
I turned in early as the festivities raged on because I had a secret agenda…Saturday usually isn’t the best day for getting in a lot of climbing due to the lines that queue up for each climb (all but the most brave top-rope these climbs). Many people leave early on Sunday to get back to the Bay Area, and that provides the best opportunity for climbing. My crew was planning to get up early on Sunday and head back out to the climbing area to log some time on the ice.
After another hearty breakfast, this time pancakes and sausage, we hit the trail by 8am. I did a couple of laps on Code Blue and Way Right of Walk on the Wild Side. It felt good to get some time on the ice, especially since this year I came with much better gear. I used the same ice axes, Black Diamond Reactors, but replaced my boots and crampons.
Last year I climbed in my Scarpa Invernos with Intuition liners and Black Diamond Sabretooth 12-point crampons. I had a lot of trouble trusting my feet and dropping my feet because my heels would slide up dramatically inside the Intuition liners (you can’t lace them down and they’re made of space-age wicking material).
This year I tested out a pair of single-wall La Sportiva Nepal Evos (women-specific single-wall ice climbing boots) and Black Diamond Stinger mono-point crampons. The difference was remarkable! My feet were less tired, I was able to drop my heels, I kicked less and worried much less about my foot placement. All my focus on more efficient swings (plus some work in the gym on an exercise I call “wrist flicks” with dumbbells) paid off as well and for the first time I felt like I was climbing instead of flailing. It’s an excellent feeling!
If you would like to give it a try, save the date for the 2013 climbing weekend from Friday, Jan 25 through Sunday, Jan 27!