Cody South Fork Ice - A Trip Report
January 20-26, 2013
On November 17th I receive an email from BMcC
, "Subject: Any interest in the Ouray Ice Festival?"
to a group of local ice enthusiasts. I had attended last year's festival (the 17th, and wrote a trip report
). That was a lot of fun, getting back into ice climbing after a 10 year hiatus, with most of my ice climbing being in the Northeast during the "pre-leash" epoch, with the exception of the necessary trip to Lee Vining in 2002 to tick off the route that appeared on the back cover of Chouinard's Climbing Ice
The stoke from that trip to the Festival was immediately quenched by Jack Roberts' death the following weekend, which had hugely affected my thoughts on ice climbing, and the calculation of risk we all perform. While I greatly loved this part of our sport, it seemed that if someone with Jack's experience could die on a climb he had done countless times, whatever the cause of that event, then really was it something I should be doing, could I justify the risk for just the personal gratification?
I wasn't going to be advancing the sport, at this tender old age.
So I was surprised that my response in BMcC
's email was, "hmmm, that might be fun." And while I might have slightly rationalized this in spite of my bittersweet feelings of last year, I also know that none of us climbers would want our fellow climbers to stop climbing because of our own demise. We all know this stuff happens, it is an important aspect looming in the background of this pursuit of whatever it is that drives us to such a superfluous activity. So I resolved to go…
But an immediate practical problem asserted itself: gear. I learned of the tremendous advances of ice tool technology over my Chouinard Equipment X-Tools… and I wasn't going to climb ice again without modern tools, but dropping $500+ on a pair of tools for a week-a-year activity didn't seem in the cards either. I was talking aloud at Sunrise Mountain Sports
and my very generous friend Sasha enthusiastically offered me a loan of her Vipers
for the trip. I've known Sasha for many years now, and I was honored at her unconstrained trust and enthusiasm. I told her that I would acknowledge her equipment sponsorship of my trip.
had opened the discussion about the Ice Festival, but I knew that he often had a trip itinerary that extended beyond the event. I had "done the Festival" and wasn't sure that I was up for that scene again this year. I truly enjoyed last year, especially meeting the top ice climbers who attended to compete and to instruct, and the climbers who had gone to receive instruction. My climbing history was decidedly independent, and my instincts are always amateur. Anyway, I replied, in time, to BMcC
's email, "what's on the schedule after the Ice Festival?"
This started a back and forth that eventually included rhyang
and settled on a week of climbing on the South Fork of the Shoshone River outside of Cody, WY. In fact Decko
had replied to my Ouray thread that ice climbing out there was closer to the wild forms I had enjoyed in my youthful exploits in the Northeast, before the concept of a "picked out" route existed.
So the plan was set. While BMcC
made their way up to Cody via Joe's Valley
by car, I'd fly in and meet them on Sunday at the "Yellowstone Regional Airport" in Cody. I think there is one United Airlines flight in and one out a day, (evening in, morning out) through Denver.
My exhortation not to let the NFL dominate my life paid off as my team went down in defeat… and my only satisfaction was that I didn't loose time in the matter…
The weirdness of air travel is that you walk through an aluminum door in one place, and walk out of that same door in another. In this case, that other place seemed to know something about ice climbing.
If you want to know more about Cody Ice, there are lots of good resources out there. The first is Joe Josephson's guide book Winter Dance
. Mark Twight wrote the Forward
There is also the website of Aaron Mulkey, Cold Fear
with lots of great images, videos, stories and timely beta. I met Aaron at the Festival, though we didn't talk about Cody then.
Another resource is Mountain Project
, and it was an inquiry
there by rhyang
that found our "base camp" accommodations at the Flying-H
ranch. The "ice climber's" rental can be arranged through Footes Mountaineering
which has a FB presence
The South Fork is within the Shoshone National Forest
and the "usual" climber accommodation is the Deer Creek campground
There are advantages to camping, of course, the primary one being that not much recommends sitting in the tent any longer than necessary… so you are motivated to get out climbing sooner in the morning, and longer in the day. This week would be rather moderate, however. We had passed a weather station on our drive into the Flying-H
so I searched and found it's reporting presence on the web.
NAME: SHF2 - PORTABLE
ELEVATION: 6390 ft
The NOAA website is an amazing resource (click this link
A Google Earth
overview shows the relative locations of things in the valley.
and the weather station provided the climate information that informs our trip, that is, warm weather:
The weather station is "portable" so I don't know if or when it will move, but it should be reporting for the rest of the season, and is located in as good a spot as you could want to give you local information on the conditions.
had been out on the Northside of the valley and reported melted-out conditions on their sojourn to The Outdoorsman
. The plan was developed after finding little to climb to concentrate our attention on the Southside (the dark band at the bottom of the overview image).
The ranch caretaker, Dean, described the route to the far end of the ranch where we could park the car and take about 3/4 of a mile off our walk. The Flying-H
is optimally located for climbs on this side of the valley. We had approaches that were roughly 1 hour of hiking, first on flat terrain, then on steeper hills.
After driving out to meet Dean at 9am, exchanging information with the departing climbing team from Colorado (whose names I have forgotten, sorry guys), we headed out to do High On Boulder
, WI4+ in 3 pitches.
The formation was in and while not all the variations were fat, the main route was.
took the first lead up to a bolted ledge on the right side of the formation.
I followed (I didn't lead on this trip, maybe next year, I'm still learning). And the belay had a wonderful view
and a surprising hostess
lead up the variation on the left of the formation, going up from the belay at first than traversing to the base. I was belaying so I didn't get pictures. Here is rhyang
dancing up the final feet of that variation
We had started late, and were getting used to the finding the drainages, and so were treated by a lovely sunset
rappelling in the dusk
and a moonlight walk back to the car, and drive back to the ranch.
The next day we opted for Bozo's Revenge
, WI3+ over 3 pitches. This is located further east from the Flying-H
across from the Kestrel Ranch.
Another great approach which required delicate hiking up the frozen creek bed.
got the first short pitch (which might have been easily done scrambling), and the third pitch. rhyang
got the 2nd pitch.
Another satisfying hike back to the car with the setting sun.
We were settling into the climbing. Our choices of moderates dictated by conditions. The fat ice was in drainages that saw no sun during the day. The other climbs had melted out. For day 3 we opted for Mean Green
which is WI5 over 7 pitches, where pitch 4 is the WI5. However, the Colorado climbers had warned us that pitch 4 wasn't in shape good enough for them to climb it, and it had only gotten warmer since, with night time temperatures above freezing.
you can see the long first (WI4) and second pitches in the picture, and pitches 5,6,7 (WI3) up the drainage… if you look carefully you might see pitch 3, but pitch 4 is hidden in the drainage.
Here is BMcC
's great lead of p1.
nearing the top of p3.
We had a bit of an epic on p2 because the communications are not so good, and the rope freezing on the wet ice prevented "rope tug" communications. Probably better to put the belay for p2 close to the top so voice commands can be heard (or bring radios). We eventually worked it out, got to the hiking/scrambling to view p4 and found it wasn't going to go.
Here is a view looking down the drainage enroute
to the lower pitch rappels.
We were getting the hang of the place and getting back earlier every day. On our walk out on Mean Green
we saw that Duck Soup
was still in so that would be day 4.
Funny that Mountain Project has a picture of "Jim and Julie" smiling on the approach. I was in that same position and was not smiling, it is a DFU ascent on unconsolidated rubble, BMcC
took another path up, as delicate and consequential, and arrived after me… it was the crux of this WI3+ 1 pitch climb (we did in 2 pitches).
at the belay of his p1 lead, and coming up over the top on p2:
a distinctly alpine setting
and the definition of "huge" from the Cold Fear
Friday had arrived already, and we were departing the ranch, trying to get one more climb in and then stay in Cody proper for our (me and rhyang
) early flights back to the Bay Area.
The Bunkhouse Cabin which was our posh basecamp
with Dean and Molly
to whom we said our "good-byes" and really wishing to return next year.
Off to the Deer Creek drainage to see what was in…
a first look reconnaissance to Too Cold to Fire
Which was in, especially the approach scramble, and fat ice. This image was taken in the short time the sun's azimuth aligns with the narrow canyon.
What I learned, however, on the recon, was that my left knee was still complaining from the epic descent from Duck Soup
the day before. Another few hours of kicking into ice was not in the cards. It was a good place to be, "leaving it all on the field" so to speak, my body was telling me that I was at my limit for this trip.
I hung around taking pictures and exploring the road's end while BMcC
played on that last, sweet pitch. I saw the vanguard of the weekend's climbers showing up at the campground and hoped them luck on their endeavors. Saw a team on Mean Green
This is a terrific place to ice climb. I can only imagine what it is like in better conditions, slightly more water and colder temps. And this is only one part of "Cody Ice."
Thanks to all of you who helped to make it happen. I especially want to thank BMcC
for his infinite capacity to stoke, and to rhyang
for his "can do" attitude. They lead everything, I was happy to join their rope on this trip.