Lincoln Falls WI2 Slab

Today I went up to Lincoln Falls near Hoosier pass. It’s at the base of a route called “The Amphitheater” on Mount Lincoln, 14,295′ (4,357 m), 8th highest in Colorado and 11th highest in the Continental USA. We had a bit of snow yesterday so the going up Hoosier Pass on Hwy 9 was slow and slippery, but Hwy 4 just south of the pass was snow packed and good. You probably don’t even need 4×4, right now anyway.

Lincoln Falls 11-11-2014
Lincoln Falls 11-11-2014 – Slabby WI2 left of center below fangs

While I was getting my bags transferred around (I went rock climbing a few times in the previous weeks) a couple of guys pulled in and we chatted for a few minutes while we all got ready.

I hiked up the road to the inlet to Montgomery Reservoir and crossed the bridge and headed into the trees. The trail was slick with powder snow over ice on ground that was just barely frozen. Just as the trail forked into the boulders I ran into another soloist and we discussed our gear and previous incidents. Tons of fun.

The climbers from the parking lot caught up to me, which was great because I really had no clue how to get up there. The other soloist was lost on the way down and said not to follow his tracks.

Boulders covered with ice and powder snow on the approach to Lincoln Falls, with Montgomery Reservoir below. No ice there.
Boulders covered with ice and powder snow on the approach to Lincoln Falls, with Montgomery Reservoir below. No ice there.

I went pretty slow to keep my heart rate and sweat levels low. Finally I got the the base of the route near Scottish Gully where the other guys were setting up. We talked about what our plans were. Since this was my first solo in a while and my first outing of the year I planned on getting onto a nice slabby WI2 and just having some fun and getting back into the groove. I walked around and found one that looked good just around the corner from the sled. I think in a “normal” year or later on anyway, it’s a steep snow ramp up to the pillars and mixed routes. Now though it was a great fun looking roller coaster slab with a few feet of low 3, but mostly 2. Good enough.

Slabby WI2 from the side near the base. Maybe 60' of mostly ice.
Slabby WI2 from the side near the base. Maybe 60′ of mostly ice (goes out of frame at top left)

I went over to the right and up a gully of boulders with poor footing and managed to ding my shin. Ouch! After the guys disappeared up to the chains on Scottish Gully I broke out my gear and set a bottom anchor in good solid plastic ice. The rope was a mess since my kids had put it away, but a few minutes later I was tied in as was the anchor.

Lead Solo Anchor - a stubby in plastic ice
Lead Solo Anchor – a stubby in plastic ice

You can’t see it in the pic but that 8 is backed up with a fisherman’s knot. So is the one on my harness in the next pic. I don’t usually tie in when soloing, lead or toprope. Wanted to mess with it some today. It bit me in the butt, which I should have known it would do. I clipped in with a GriGri and tested it. It held. I usually test the GriGri – because it’s so hard to remember which end is which when you’re lead soloing.

GriGri and tied into the rope on the harness
GriGri and tied into the rope on the harness

Gotta love that rat’s nest of rope there. I stepped over it. I went up about 15′ and put in another stubby. Not planning anything really serious, I brought two stubbies and two 16mm screws. I brought four wiregate draws. I had to strip my rappel rig of a locker for the bottom anchor. I have an extended rappel pre-rigged on my harness most of the time.

I went about 20′ and with no obvious bulges that would take a longer screw, I went on. About 5′ more and Karma got me. The loop of rope I was trailing had become wrapped around the anchor below me. I didn’t see anything thick enough to put in a 16mm screw so I got stable and untied. Then I carefully pulled the rope up and stacked it below my feet, and kept going about 15′ toward a good stout 8″ tree, but I didn’t have a sling with me. I guess I was going a bit more minimalist than I should have. After a few minutes of looking for a good rock to loop around nothing stood out so I decided to downclimb.

Looking down the route while heading toward a tree. But I didn't have a sling.
Looking down the route while heading toward a tree. But I didn’t have a sling.

I angled back over to the plastic sheet of ice and worked my way down. It was pretty interesting because I’d never downclimbed that far on the sharp end before. Also, it wasn’t all climbed out, so I had to actually swing, kick, and stick. I kept pulling in rope through the GriGri as I descended, leaving it lying along the route as I went. I got to the anchor and cleaned it and finally was at the base. I took that anchor apart and pulled the rope down and stacked it at my feet.

I got a little pumpy downclimbing and I needed to get the kids from school so I decided to call it a day. It was fun getting in my first route of the year. It was fun essentially free soloing a slabby WI2. It was awesome downclimbing it from about 35′ above my pro. The ice was about 60-70 degrees and that boulder field below it was a good 45 degrees. It was great imagining that impact. Over and over. A lot.

Going down the slick boulders was very slow going, and I was glad for all the pointy bits sticking out to hang onto. Later in the year when it’s in waist deep packed snow it’s a lot better going.


  • Bring along more gear and pro. Slings, lockers, etc.
  • GriGri sucks using it this way. Doable, but sucks.
  • Bring my Edilrid Eddy next time to see if that works better.
  • Bring more stubbies in early season.


On the dirt road above the reservoir with Lincoln Falls behind me
On the dirt road above the reservoir with Lincoln Falls behind me


Don’t do any of this. Ever. Nope. Never.

Ice Climbing Stairway to Heaven Toprope Solo

Ice Climbing season is finally here in Utah. I climbed some in Utah before Christmas with some friends. I climbed in Colorado at Lincoln Falls with another friend during the Holiday. Since I’m going to Ouray for the Ice Fest next week I decided I needed to get in some more ice climbing practice.

approach from the parking area for Provo ice climbing
View from the Nunn’s Park parking area approach to Stairway to Heaven in Provo

It’s been really cold this past week, with temperatures around 5-10 degrees F. I was told by a friend that Stairway to Heaven was in good condition. Stairway is a classic route that sometimes is over 5 pitches tall. It’s near the Bridalveil Falls climb in Provo Canyon. I was working a half-day and had the afternoon off. I decided that I could do some toprope solo ice climbing. I took a bag of my clothes and gear to work and changed when my shift was over. I drove up the canyon to the Nunn’s Park parking area where there were a half dozen cars already. I could see it being pretty busy on a sunny but cold day. I used to be a lot more shy about rope solo ice climbing, but now not so much.

Stairway to Heaven Ice Climbing
Stairway to Heaven Ice Climbing in Provo Canyon

Ice Climbing Stairway Approach

I walked up the snow and ice covered road for nearly a half mile to the ascent up the gully to the ice climbing area. I saw crampon tracks the whole way, and stopped to put my crampons on before going up the gully. It is a steep climb of about 400′ to the foot of the frozen falls. Last time there was hardly any snow on it. This time it was a very good thick packed snow ramp and easy in crampons. Well, easy footing but steep. As I hiked up I rested a bit to keep my heart rate down. I moved slowly and scoped out a line a little to the right of where we had climbed over two weeks ago. The ice looked very thick there.

approach gully to Stairway to Heaven Ice Climbing routes
Ascending the gully to the base of Stairway to Heaven

I stopped at the foot of the falls and put in a screw to attach my water bottles to the ice climbing wall so I wouldn’t have to haul them up with me. I had two water bottles, one with electrolyte mix [my favorite right now is Camelbak Elixir 12 Tablet Tube], and the other with water. I also had a shaker bottle of protein mix, since I hadn’t eaten in a while. I put on my insulated jacket, holstered an ice tool and using the other as a pole, hiked up around the right to the first shelf.

ice climbing routes at Stairway to Heaven
Fat ice climbing conditions at Stairway

There was a pretty good flow of water at the far right side. I stepped carefully over the ice and gravel bridges then onto the ice and snow shelf. On the way up I had eyeballed a landmark to tell me where to set the anchor on the chains over the route. Sometimes they’re buried in the ice and hard to find. Sure enough they were buried in the ice, but the pipes marking them were sticking out. I used my ice tool to chip them out. Water was loudly gurgling behind and around the chains, and dripping down the surface of the ice. It seemed weird to me to have running water at 5 degrees Fahrenheit. I guess it’s sunny enough to melt the snow and ice up higher in the sun, even though the ice climbing down here is cold in the shade.

ice climbing solo anchor setup
Toprope Solo Anchor System based on Petzl System

Ice Climbing Solo Anchor Setup

I clipped into the anchor to protect myself in the unlikely event of a slip and fall. The edge of the world here is about 8′ from the anchors. Not really much time to self-arrest. I took off my pack and clipped it in, stowed my tool in a deep slot in the ice someone else had used and made an anchor. I usually use two short ropes in a system I learned from the Petzl website. It’s pretty well doubled up and redundant and all the important things. I flipped the ropes over the edge of the world.

rapping down the first pitch to begin ice climbing
Ready to rap down over the first pitch of Stairway to Heaven

I set up my rappel using my handy-dandy Petzl Reverso 3, then unclipped my tether from the anchor. The locker was covered in a thin layer of ice. The webbing of my tether was totally stiff. Water had soaked into it and turned into ice in the webbing. I bent it around my neck without thinking too much about it, then rappelled over the edge and to the bottom of the route I’d selected. Sometime while I was up setting my anchor a couple of other climbers had started lead ice climbing about a hundred feet to my left. No biggie. I straightened up the ends of the rope and tied in knots about 2′ off the ground. I clipped the water bottles to them for weight to help the system feed. I set up the most recent toprope self-belay version on the Petzl website using a GriGri and an ascender, but the GriGri wouldn’t feed with just the water bottle weight.

toperope solo ice climbing rig
Toprope Solo Rig based on Petzl Instructions with some modification YMMV

Ice Climbing Solo System Failure

I switched to the Shunt trailing about 18″ off my harness. I doubt I’ll reach for it in the middle of a fall and disable the cam [see article about Petzl Vague Shunt Warning]. I’ll try hard not to anyway. Just a quick aside. This is actually very dangerous in spite of any light I might make of it. Please don’t ever do this. I started up the route then. The ice was very plastic to the right side, and a bit brittle to the left. Weird. The ropes fed really nicely. It was awesome fun climbing. Suddenly the rope seemed a bit tight and heavy. I looked down to see the pink rope from the Shunt looping and the water bottle coming up after me. The Shunt was coated in ice. I reached down to shake it free, but it was down between my knees courtesy of the 18″ of webbing. I was about 25′ up the 60′ route. The ascender was feeding nicely though.

at the top of my ice climbing solo
At the top. Whew! That was a tough solo. (note frozen rope loops under feet)

For a while. For about 10′ actually. By then I had a frozen loop of stiff pink rope maybe 20′ long. The Shunt rope. Now I had a loop forming of the yellow rope. I pulled on the ascender and fed some rope in. I decided that I only had about 20′ of ice climbing to go. If I were leading I would probably just top out without any more pro. That was the logic of the moment anyway. In fact, a few years ago I was leading a little to the right where the cliff was 50′ tall and had set only two screws. I was sinking my right tool perfect on every swing. My left was off the mark a bit and took a few swings. In the interest of safety I began switching. I stuck it with my right hand, grabbed it with my left, then took the other tool in my right and stuck that. I did that for the last 10′ of ice climbing. As I crested the bulge my feet came off the ice and I did a pullup over the lip. I made it to the top. And I was really wasted.

toprope solo ice climbing on frozen ropes and gear
Water soaked and frozen ropes

I clipped in and pulled up the frozen ropes. They were stiff and the ice climbing self-belay system was frozen up. I unclipped the gear and stowed it on my harness. Both ropes, yellow and pink, were frozen for most of their lengths. I realized then that if I had fallen going over the bulge at the top I would probably have taken a 40′ whipper. Maybe more with rope stretch. I did have really good sticks with the tools though. I set up my rappel. It was difficult getting the rope to fold into the belay device. As I passed over the edge of the world, the rope began to slide through my hands. It was covered in an icy layer all the way down. Fortunately the ice had to peel off passing through the Reverso, so that slowed me down a lot.

icy rappel after ice climbing solo
Ice on the rope, my glove, and the Reverso while rappelling

Partway down I decided that one lap was good enough for ice climbing under these conditions. I put on my insulated jacket and drank my protein shake. About that time another solo climber came up and I chatted with him a bit. I went to the top to retrieve my ropes and pro, taking my backpack to load it in. I walked around the far right again. I had to chip out my stuff and bang the ice from it. I had to dig out my ice screw. The ropes were really stiff and wouldn’t go into my backpack very well. They took up about half again as much space.

frozen ice climbing ropes
Frozen Ropes after ice climbing solo on Stairway to Heaven

I managed to squeeze everything into the bag and exchanged information with the other solo guy, in case we decide to do any ice climbing together in the future. I hiked down the gully and left my crampons on all the way to the road.

hiking back to the car after ice climbing
Hiking back to the car after my ice climbing adventure on Stairway

Ice Climbing Aftermath

At home I dumped out my pack to start thawing and drying out my gear. Overall it was an amazing and educational ice climbing experience. From now on I’ll have to carry an extra screw, sling, and set of lockers as an emergency measure. If my rope and system get junked up with ice again I can just quick set a screw, clip in, and hang while straightening everything out. I can also go old school and tie in to the rope with a sliding clove hitch rig.

frozen rope at home after ice climbing
Stiff rope after ice climbing in running water on a freezing day

Stairway to Heaven Toprope Solo – January 13

Me at top of approach gully
Top of approach to Stairway

I decided after my fun at Ouray last week during the fest that I would toprope solo on Stairway, and try to do a few laps at least. I hiked up the really bad condition approach gully – there is no snow so the scree and garbage rocks are just sliding all over, and down to the dirt in places. Really bad footing. Going down will be pretty tough.

I paused around the corner of the first shelf and put my crampons on, getting out a tool for self-belay on the way over the steeper spots, and headed over to the chains. I passed the usual chains over the little WI3 I normally set up on, and kept going to the next set, over the taller section left of the rock band. From what I remember seeing from the bottom, this was either high WI3 or low WI4 (Water Ice Ratings Explained).

Anchors at top of route
Anchors as per Petzl

I set up a real live official Petzl style toprope solo anchor (they sometimes have an intermittent link on the microcender page about toprope solo systems). I’ve messed with it some in the past, but this was the first place it just worked out (the two side by side bolts helped). I tossed the ropes down the route and rapped down. At the bottom of the route is a large sheet of ice runoff steep enough you don’t want to fall, going down about 100′ of trail, and I didn’t want to lose my pack, so I put in a screw, hooked my pack to it, and then suspended my somewhat empty pack on the ropes to weight them so they’d feed properly in my system.

looking down at the pack
looking down on gear and pack

I had some minor issues on the way up with the ropes being pulled under my feet, but my Microcender and Shunt fed nicely. Based on the amount of rope left over from each strand, I figure the route was about 90′ long. A bit longer than what I was doing in Ouray. At the top I had serious issues getting enough rope free to set up my old-school Petzl Reverso. The first 20′ or so of rappel was also very tough, but once I got firmly over the edge and vertical, I managed to slide down nicely enough.

rappel rig
rappel rig - shunt hanging

I unclipped the pack from the rope, and instead clipped in my Nalgene and bag of anchor gear. Maybe about 4 pounds of stuff. Warmed up for a few minutes, then took off again for a second lap. This time it was much nicer. Fed well, and I could switch from ascend to descend mode in only a few minutes, and sliding down the rope was nice and smooth. I decided to do a third lap, warmed up, then up I went. Had an audience for most of my climbing. A group came up during my first lap, and an unroped soloist came up during my third lap and said “Hi” on the way past at the clifftop.

looking at gear from side
Microcender and Shunt - close enough

There’s the promised gear pic from the side to more clearly show the Microcender attached to my belay loop, and the Petzl Shunt trailing on my rappel rig. You might see the Shunt hanging on my rappel pic above – faster transition to just let it hang out of the way as I descend. On my third lap I got really pumped in my left forearm. At the top as I crested the edge I actually swung with the right, matched and hung, swung with the right, etc. Really tired. Guess without the extra rest of belaying someone it’s pretty intense – need more workout sessions for my arms and hands I guess.

looking up the rope
route up the rope

At the top I freed myself from my system, then tied the two strands together with the classic Euro Death Knot, memorized a few times which rope to pull, then flew down. When I pulled the rope for some wild reason it decided to smack me in the face, knocked my glasses off, and they slid down about 30′ on the ice sheet. I pulled out and put on my sunglasses, packed up, then went down to get my glasses. They were exactly where I last saw them sliding. Nice.

route from the trail down
route just to right of belayer

On the walk out a group came around the corner (Millers Thriller?) and knocked some huge rocks down, and started yelling. I turned to look at it, and it was awesomely huge looking from my perspective. I was going to stand still and wait it out, but managed to slide down the scree and ended up on my face. Nice ending to the day. The rock stopped a ways above me.

Since I’m so slow sliding down scree that they passed me on the way down, and I talked to one of them who was in Salomon hiking boots. He recommended I try to get LaSportiva to replace my Batura with the new version, since I have a zipper tooth missing. Dunno – might do that if they still have the same last. The Evo last does not fit at all.

Anyway, tons of fun, nearly 300′ of vertical in about an hour. Good day.

Petzl Shunt Vague Warning HUH?

Petzl statement on a special use of the Petzl Shunt

In the article above, you’ll most likely read some very confusing double-talk about not using the Shunt for certain backup procedures, primarily in industrial situations.

My guess, without reading the whole ISO manual on it, is that it refers to a situation very similar to that used for backing up a toperope solo. I dug around in my Old Ropesolo Blog on Blogger but couldn’t find a picture to show you what I’m describing. I’ll see if I can take one later.

The system I’ve been using lately has been a Petzl Microcender as my primary self-belay on one strand of rope, and the Petzl Shunt as my backup on the second rope.

I have tried to let the shunt trail a bit lower, with some success, and there are some different schemes that you can come up with from digging around on the Petzl website, but if it doesn’t make sense, then it’s better to not get into it at all. Right?

Anyway, bottom line, from my own miserable understanding of the Petzl article, is if you think you’re falling, you don’t grab the rope, either above or below any device that auto-locks, like either of these. That could impede the locking function and cause you to fall. That could cause you to be injured severely. That could cause your heart to stop. Think about it long and hard. Please?