Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 3, 2010 - 08:41pm PT
This note is a couple of days late.
AAC had a trip to Cold Stream ice cliffs last weekend. About 20 of us climbed on Sat and Sunday.
Code Red was climbable and pretty good conditions right to the top. I made it about 2/3 way. Several topped it by staying on the pillars
Code Blue was climbable but marginal ice. Open bergschrund. Lots of running water. Lots of snow over rock. Lots of thin ice. Routefinding required to stay on the good ice. A river after the last bulge.
Walk on the Wild Side to the right of Code Blue was nearly unclimbable. Thin pillars on the vertical start. Thin ice over the bulge. Crampons and picks scraping granite. Only 3 or 4 people climbed it.
All three climbs were in much better condition on the same date last year.
Snowed all day Saturday. Light snow just at freezing. About 4" accumulation. Clear Sat night but not very cold. Clear and cool Sunday.
We made a really good trail up from Lost Trail Lodge.
The three main routes which I mentioned in 2010 vary from year to year (as does nearly any ice climb).
The main variable is air temperature and it's surprising how each of the climbs changes.
The climbs are all easily seen from the large open area at the base. From left to right:
Code Red is a dramatic series of ice pillars. If you want a top anchor you need to bring a long rope and snow flukes/stakes and hike up the long obvious ramp to the left (snowshoes recommended). You can also go to the right of the cliff band but that's tougher. Plenty of good places to anchor on the route if you're leading it.
Can be very wet as it is so steep.
I'd call it WI4
Code Blue is a steep gully with a prominent notch at the top. More or less in the center of the cliffs. Often has a snow covered bergschrund just below the ice so be careful. There are chains just above the top of the ice in the notch. On the right hand wall. I'd have a good look at them before committing.
Code Blue is technically the easiest. Steep and interesting at the start. Usually wet in the gully. WI3/4
A good lead if the ice is solid.
Walk on The Wild Side is to just to the right of Code Blue. This is either the easiest or hardest depending on the ice. It starts as a short cliff with ice pillars leading to a rounded cliff/slab. If it's too warm/wet the ice pillars are unstable and difficult. After the ice pillars you get to scrape and scuff at the thin ice covering the slab. If the ice is thick, this climb is about WI3 or 4 if not "in good nick". If thin or soft you can't get far above the pillars without seriously dulling your tools.
Top anchor back in the woods.
If "in good nick" the steep slab at the right end of the cliff, just at the obvious chimney, is good. Steeper and longer than WOWS with thin ice. But it gets less sun than WOW so can be more solid. Again, anchor in the woods with a long rope.
I wouldn't try to lead this one or WOWS. Go for it if you're really into mixed.
Double ropes required for Red and Blue unless you want to walk off.
I'd guess they're all in pretty good condition by now. I've climbed on all of them in cold-dry seasons and warm-wet ones.
However, for sure wait for the avalanche threat to go down. In a couple of heavy snow years I've seen considerable old avalanche debris at the base.
It's about 6 miles from the trailhead behind Donner Lake state park starting in a labyrinth of dirt roads. Follow the signs (carefully) to Lost Trail Lodge until you walk across the RR tracks then stay on the main forest service road. NEVER cross the creek until you get about 200 hundred yards from the RR tracks.
At the RR tracks LISTEN for oncoming trains. Downhill trains are coming around a blind curve surprisingly quietly and going pretty fast! If you hear a downhill coming don't even think about crossing.
From the tracks the road is moderate uphill most of the way. After the road tops a steep switchback hill and crosses the only open slope, turn left off the road just as it re-enters the woods. Unless you're lucky you'll be breaking your own trail from here and the best route is definitely NOT obvious. Lots of meadows with willow thickets, small creeks to cross. You can't often see the ice cliffs until you're there.
No overnight parking at the trailhead! Unless you're a guest of Lost Trail Lodge. Reservations required.
You could try getting a ride from Truckee.
You can also get there by coming over the pass between Donner Peak and Mt Judah and following the old wagon road down Coldstream Canyon but I have zero experience trying that in winter.
Camping in the lovely open (exposed) area at the base of the climbs would certainly be possible but I've never done it. You could also camp in the woods a little before the cliffs near the creek. You're likely to be the only ones in there.
The hardest part of the day is retrieving the anchors.
Snowshoes or skis? Your choice. I've used both.
Stay at Lost Trail lodge, have warm cozy nights, a shower, dry clothes in the morning and a great kitchen for cooking. Very nice staff. It's worth it if you can afford it.
If you're into a day trip, go early (obviously) and unless you're in a big storm, getting back out at night isn't too difficult. It just seems to take forever.