Trip Report
Birthday gift to myself
Saturday March 23, 2019 6:12pm
There was one ice climbing season in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s where I had been doing a lot of climbing in the Vail area, and had climbed the Rigid Designator several times on succeeding weekends. (For those folks unfamiliar with “The Dez”, it is a 120 ft. tall icicle with about 20 to 40 feet of fluted cone at its base topped by 80 to 100 feet of vertical to locally overhanging chandelier ice – its steep and challenging.) This was also a year where I had been doing a fair amount of solo ice climbing on easy WI 3 and WI 4 routes, and led virtually everything else I climbed. Each time I went up “the Dez” I felt better and more confident on it. By March of that year I was both mentally and physically as strong on ice as I had ever been. On March 25 (my B-day) I decided to take the day off of work and drive over to Vail and solo the Dez. I had been thinking about a possible solo of this climb each time I went up it, and as it felt easier each time the thought of soloing it had greater appeal. There had been occasions on other years where I had climbed it with a partner and way under protected it with only one or two screws, but on those occasions I always had the option to put more pro in. On my birthday ascent I elected to leave the rope and rack at home and just hike in with my tools and a water bottle. The day was pretty moderate by ice climbing standards, with clear skies and a well-trod path for the approach. This particular year the left side of the Dez was the dry side (that varies from year to year). Historically, the left side forms up a bit steeper than the right side and it is not unusual for things to be overhanging just out of the cave that always forms about 30 feet up on the left side, and this year was no different. That said, the Dez had been climbed so much that year that it was really pocketed out and easy hook moves were the norm. However, there had been a spate of real cold weather during the previous week and much refreezing had occurred, which had the effect of filling in most of the pockets with new ice that I would otherwise had used for hook moves. As I left the cave and embarked up the overhanging stretch, I had to swing harder for each placement, thus putting more effort and more thoughtful planning into each tool placement. At a point where this line is at its steepest an uncomfortably large mushroom had formed during the previous week’s refreezing event, which forced me out over the void even further. It was here that I elected to stem backwards onto a free hanging icicle that had also grown a bit longer and fatter than it had previously been. Although this put me in a way overhanging position, it also put me in a position of perfect balance over my feet and afforded a rather graceful way to get past the overhanging bulge of that new ice mushroom. Once past the ice mushroom I was able to swing out onto the outside of the Dez and continue to the top. Interestingly, this had been by far the most technically difficult ascent of the Dez I had had all season long, but also the one where I had felt in the most complete control. Once on the top of the climb I drank my fill of water and walked around to a place where I could safely down-climb the snow-covered rock band that forms the cliff the Designator hangs from and get back onto the access trail. I met a climber on my way out who had seen my solo ascent and gave me thumbs up for it. However, the real reward was the intense feeling of victory and accomplishment that stayed with me for the rest of the week. I was truly tripping the lights fantastic. Without a doubt this is the most memorable ice climb I have ever had, and remains one of the most crystalline memories in my head.

Post script: Over the years I have third-classed the Des a couple of times, trailing a rope for my partner, but only ropeless soloed it this one time. Tried to third class the Fang once but my partner was so totally freaked out and pissed off at me (she had lost a dear friend to a fall) that I ended up clipping the cable through the crack near the top with a long runner. After marriage I had a “come to Jesus” meeting with my wife about soloing ice so had to let it go. Still have been known to boulder around a bit on easy stuff up Clear Creek though.

  Trip Report Views: 875
Nick Danger
About the Author
Nick Danger is a ice climber from Arvada, CO.

Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
Author's Reply  Mar 23, 2019 - 06:19pm PT
Lads and Lasses, I keep getting an error message every time I try to load the photos that go with this trip report. I am really sorry about that. I don't know if it is due to the remote (from my usual home web address, or because I am trying this with my apple lap top (all previous trip reports were posted using microsoft operating systems). If I ever get this figured out, I will post the accompanying photos. This is rather embarrassing.....sorry.

Trad climber
  Mar 23, 2019 - 06:24pm PT
That sounds scary as hell to me. How do you judge how solid an icicle is to stem out onto it when you've got little chance for recovery? Or do you just always have 3 points in and know you can hang off of whichever 2 don't blow? Maybe it seems worse to me because I've never been ice climbing and don't have a sense of the basic security of each placement.

I can at least relate to the part about feeling solid and comfortable when going ropeless on a familiar climb. I've also felt scared imagining it during subsequent ascents of the same climb with a rope.
Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
Author's Reply  Mar 23, 2019 - 06:29pm PT
I had two solid tool placements and one solid toe placement when I stretched out to that free-hanging icicle. It was rather knobby like melted candle wax so finding a placement for my front points without kicking too hard was fairly straight foreward. Once the front points were in I felt in perfect balance.

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Mar 23, 2019 - 06:51pm PT
Nick! thanks for sharing, what I consider, a very scary ice climbing story.

Per photos. I've had it happen to me on ST.

Ice climber
  Mar 23, 2019 - 11:09pm PT


A picture is worth two words


I think

What is the file extension

Also Apple drops a lot of file location info

Try saving the files first

Then use the st upload function

Social climber
  Mar 24, 2019 - 01:35pm PT
hey there say, nick danger...

just got on line, fast, last night and saw this...

won't be online for a few days, so, i wanted to say:

'wow, and oh my!'

and, of course, HAPPY MOST WONDERFUL new birthday year...

and, as to you and your wife, and your qute:
After marriage I had a “come to Jesus” meeting with my wife about soloing ice so had to let it go. Still have been known to boulder around a bit on easy stuff up Clear Creek though.

good for you... after all, she IS your partner and loves you...
nurturing love, really IS worth something... you will see...

happy god bless, and happy good spring... :)
lars johansen

Trad climber
West Marin, CA
  Mar 24, 2019 - 02:31pm PT
Happy Birthday Nick-lars

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
  Mar 25, 2019 - 04:02am PT
Great job Nick. I have a friend who has an agreement with his wife that he is not supposed to solo grade 5 ice. He is pretty good at down grading 5s to 4+.... Seriously zero ice soloing does seem like a pretty unreasonable restriction. Grade 3 is perfectly safe in the big scheme of things...
Tom Patterson

Trad climber
  Mar 25, 2019 - 04:45am PT
My wife and I had one of those chats years ago about soloing on rock, and what I'd done wasn't even very bold.

Great TR of what sounds like an amazing day! Thanks for bringing us along.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
  Mar 25, 2019 - 10:56am PT
Now I know why you're called Nick Danger!

Wonderful to be that confident on steep ice.

Great TR.

Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
Author's Reply  Mar 25, 2019 - 05:26pm PT
Hey everybody, thanks for the positive feedback and the good B-day wishes. I just got off the phone with my wonderful wife (I'm off at a conference) and she just made a contribution to my birthday Ducati fund. God how I love that woman!

By the way, all you river rats out there, the snow pack in Colorado and Utah is up to 130 to 150 % of what is normal for this time of year, which opens up all kinds of possibilities for April through June boating. I expect to be posting up some wet TR's later this spring.

Be well, People, and thanks for everything.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
  Mar 26, 2019 - 04:00am PT
Jesus H god blasted Christ. A Ducatti is way more dangerous than soloing ice! :)
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Mar 26, 2019 - 04:18am PT
Thank you Nick,
I always enjoy your adventures.
You have a way with words!
Happy birthday and cheers!

Ice climber
hartford, ct
  Mar 26, 2019 - 04:50am PT
Jesus H god blasted Christ. A Ducatti is way more dangerous than soloing ice! :)

So is Class 4+ boating... I found out long ago that Cl4 Colorado whitewater is much different than "Cl4" East Coast whitewater...

Boulder climber
  Mar 26, 2019 - 06:34am PT
Excellent Nick! The memory of a day in the mountains is a great birthday present indeed.

Birthdays seem to bring a bit of introspection- how better to introspect than a proud solo?


Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
  Mar 26, 2019 - 12:23pm PT
Did you give up on the pics Nick? We want to see.
Cheers! Moss

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
  Mar 26, 2019 - 02:49pm PT
Must see proof of the Duck :)