11/16/2016

Ice Climbing in the Beartooths: November 2016

Alan Rousseau at the belay of Pitch 5 of Ice Dragons.
The Fall of 2016 will go in the books as one of the warmest and driest on record for the intermountain west.  Which for some user groups has been preferable:  Mountain bikers, rock climbers, and trail runners have been shocked about the ability to still get up high and find dry conditions into mid-November.  It has, however, left the ice climbing community pouring over photos, forums, and searching long range forecasts for somewhere within a days drive that has below freezing temps.  Around the Salt Lake area one climber, Nathan Smith, is more vigilant than the rest.  When I got a message from Nathan suggesting heading to the Beartooth’s (a remote range in Montana) to climb an ice line, of course I was interested. 
East Rosebud Lake. The trail starts on the left-hand side of the photo and winds it’s way up to the ice line on the far left.

The Beartooth range is one that is generally kept quiet, people seem to keep information close to the chest.  I had heard of it as this kind of mystical place, reserved for the hard, with flurries of development of long routes in rugged terrain.  Which of course added to the appeal, but makes finding information regarding our planned route, Ice Dragons, not all that easy.  Fortunately, Nathan spoke to someone that had recently climbed the route.  However, we still had a wide range of ambiguity regarding technical difficulty.  One guidebook suggested a grade of M6 WI4, while one trip report suggested WI3, lengths of the climb also varied from 1,000’ to 1,500’.  Either way we were interested in climbing something frozen so we packed up the car and started the nine-hour drive to the East Rosebud Trailhead.  Arriving with a couple hours of light we caught a view of Ice Dragons:  A stunning ribbon of ice splitting the large north face, which forms the shoulder of Mount Inabit.  Our binoculars confirmed that the line was very much in.  


Alan in the “five-mile basin” nearing the cirque holding Ice Dragons.

We began to read through approach information, and found two viable options.  The first was less distance overall, but more mileage through unstable scree and talus fields.  We opted for a second option that had a bit more mileage but less off-trail time.  After plotting some waypoints into our maps we set off into grizzly country at 4 am, hoping our big four legged friends were deep in a winter slumber already.  The first six miles of trail flew by in under two hours.  We found ourselves under a large rock face known as “the Bears Face” from here we located a deep slot, filled with loose rock where we would gain 1300’ of elevation.  It was classic one-step-forward-two-steps-back terrain, and was pretty time consuming.  Eventually we popped out on the pleasant treed shoulder of Inabit and then dropped down and contoured into the talus filled “five-mile basin” where Ice Dragons can be found.
Navigating the talus leading up to Ice Dragons, the largest ice flow in the center of the photo.

We arrived at the foot of the route in five hours.  We were told that the ice would get fatter and fatter with an Indian summer, but were still surprised at how much ice was there compared to conditions the first ascent party found.  Instead of looking at a pitch of primarily rock, we were looking at a pitch of WI3 with maybe a move or two on the rock.  
Alan Rousseau on the first pitch of Ice Dragons.

The climb for us was mostly rambling WI3 and all pitches were around 60 meters in length.  The ice was in great condition, not quite plastic but the majority was one hit sticks.  The position and nature of the climb, up the obvious weakness in the wall, gave it a distinctly alpine feel.  After 1,300’ of climbing we hit the plateau of Mount Inabit.  We rappelled back down the route building two rock anchors and the rest were v-threads. 
Alan Rousseau on the third pitch of Ice Dragons.

Looking back just a few miles to summer conditions lower on the trail.
Nathan Smith on the fourth pitch of Ice Dragons

Alan at the top of the ice climbing. 300’ of snow and mixed lead to the plateau from here.

Alan punching his way up.

For the descent we decided to take the more direct option that involved more off trail time.  It also involved some undesirable scree fields but was not nearly as steep as the notch we climbed through that morning.  The descent took around 3 hours from “five mile basin” to the car.  We arrived at the car at 5:30 pm and had to turn on headlamps as we sorted through gear.  Just as soon as we arrived we loaded up the car and started the long drive back to Salt Lake.  Nathan took the helm all the way back, arriving back at in the city at 3:30 AM the same time our alarms sounded 24 hours earlier.  The stats were 18 hours of driving, over 18 miles of walking, 5,300’ of elevation gain, 1,300’ of ice climbing, 45 and half hours Salt Lake to Salt Lake, and two climbers stoked for winter to show up in their backyard. 

Alan hiking out after a fun day in the Beartooths.

Thanks to Nathan for motivating, the Beartooth’s for being rad, and as always to Liberty Mountain for the continuing support.
-Alan Rousseau

10/27/2016

Grivel Lambda Twin Gate Carabiner Reviewed by Alpinist Magazine

Photo: Alpinist.com

The Mountain Standards review team at Alpinist Magazine recently put the Grivel Lambda HMS twin gate carabiner to the test. While it didn't get the highest all around scores, it did prove to be excellent at exactly what it was designed for, building anchors and belaying with a tube style device. 

From the review: 

"In a tube-style belay device, the Lambda's roomy curves and auto-locking assurance performed beautifully"

"The bent gate made it easy to clip the rope to crucial pieces of gear, and the 11 kN minor axis rating means the 'biner could hold the biggest fall I might ever take, even cross-loaded. It brought some highly sought-after peace of mind while I was building the anchor for a hanging belay from a tenuous stance."

Read the full review here


9/28/2016

Gear Review: Grivel G10 Crampon

Photo: Dirtbag Dreams blog post
Zack McGill, a guide for Outward Bound, recently had a chance to review the Grivel G10 crampon while guiding teams over some Alaskan glaciers. The G10 is one of Grivel's classic crampons that is designed for all around mountaineering. The crampons are fully adjustable, making them great for use by guide services, and feature Grivel's patented active anti-balling system to shed snow and ice from the bottom of the foot.

In his review, Zack says "they performed well on everything from dry glacier, frozen sun-cupped snow, and the mashed potatoes of the afternoon sun." He later adds "The anti-balling plates were clutch and one of the best features on the G10. They shrugged off unwanted snow so well that I didn’t even notice the struggle bus others were boarding until people were yelling for me to stop so they could angrily whack at their heels with their ice axes."

Read the full review from Dirtbag Dreams here

9/01/2016

Gear Review: Grivel Shuttle


The gear squad from the outdoor blog Dirtbag Dreams recently tested the Grivel Shuttle plaquette style belay device in the Flatirons and Boulder Canyon. The reviewer, Sean Smith is a guide for Denver Mountain Guiding. 

From the review: "All in all the Grivel Shuttle is a reliable belay plate. Its design allows for big wallers to combine pieces of kit to cut down on harness clutter, as well as offering the fast and light alpinist to have a solid belay on wet and icy ropes. The multiple orientations create some much-needed diversity in use for a single plate, allowing the leader to adapt to the speed of the situation that is not offered in the average belay plate."

Read the full review here

7/28/2016

Gear Review: Beal Booster 9.7mm


The Beal Booster 9.7mm rope recently received some love from UKClimbing.com. In their review of the rope, the British review site called the rope "easy to flake," "resistant to kinking," "an extremely hard wearing rope that will take a lot of punishment," and "a sport climbing workhorse."

The Booster is part of Beal's Mountain Line of ropes that features dry treated cords for all-mountain applications. The rope excels as a sport climbing rope, but performs just as well in trad or alpine climbing. This rope weighs in at only 63 g/m, has a low impact force of 7.3 kn, and is rated to 9 UIAA falls. 

To read the full review of the Booster 9.7mm, take a look at the UKC site

7/25/2016

Valandre Lafayette Recognized by Spanish Climbing Magazine


The Lafayette expedition sleeping bag was recently recognized as the gold winner in the sleeping bag category by Spanish climbing magazine Desnivel. The award is given for products that incorporate innovation as well as top of the line quality and function. 

The Lafayette Sleeping bag by Valandre is a super light bag that is perfect for fast and light alpine climbing missions. The bag packs down small, weighs in at just over two pounds, and uses 850+ fill goose down as insulation. 

To learn more, take a look at this post by Valandre, or visit the product page here

7/22/2016

Cypher Vesta Sport Draws Featured in Climbing Magazine


The latest issue of Climbing Magazine features the Cypher Vesta Sport quickdraw in the gear review section of the magazine. The review features new and innovative products that Climbing Magazine testers have used and abused on the mountain. "Simple. Affordable. Durable. Lightweight" were only a few of the adjectives used to describe these draws from Cypher. Reviewers loved the fat dogbone for times that they had to bail while clipping, but also the fact that the nylon sling got skinnier at the ends in order to save a little weight.

To read the full review, and hear some rad stories from the climbing community, check out the July / August issue of Climbing Magazine.