In my back yard lies a remote glacier that has been on my short list to check out for a while. Everything came together a few weekends ago for a looksee when my friend Patch came up from Bozeman on a Saturday morning. We do a quick scramble to decide what gear to bring opting for a full tent as we decide we will have a base camp rather than to do a carry over. We head to the nearby trail head for an 11:30 departure. The next few miles we have both hiked so many times it is almost monotonous. We pass the miles quickly arriving at a lake in time for the afternoon thunderstorm. Wanting to camp at the higher lake we don rain jackets and keep hiking. The rain quickly transforms to hail that quickly transforms the tundra to a white landscape in the classic storm we have seen so many times before. At the next lake it takes a while to find the perfect campsite as Patch and I are very picky about our sites. Not to close to water but easy enough access with flip flops. A few trees are struggling to survive that provide minimal shelter. Our hands barely function from the icy cold as we struggle to set up the tent as it starts to rain again. We crawl in soaked and shivering. There is nothing to do except settle into our sleeping bags and warm up. An hour later the rain is done and the sun comes out again. We sit on rocks near the tent and cook dinner.
Patch brought a freeze dried meal we decide to try. It is some kind of BBQ chicken dish. When I pour the hot water over it there is a big clump of red powder that takes multiple crushes with my silver spoon to break up. After a few minutes I try a bite and say huh? We choke it down slowly as it starts to taste worse and eventually it tastes down right horrible. We are both worried about puking so we make a Top Ramen brick full of MSG broth to wash it down. It was the absolute worst freeze dried meal either of us have ever had. I should know better than to trust Patch with food. On a winter trip years ago he hands me a cliff bar that is harder than a rock. I try to take a couple of bites and finally look at the wrapper for an expiration date. The cliff bar is older than his children and before the century change if I remember correctly.
We set an alarm and tidy up camp with me making a hot water bottle to sleep with in my 40 degree bag. Patch has a new twenty degree bag and is not worried about being cold.
The alarm wakes us up to an ice covered tent. Coffee tastes good with a quick breakfast. We pack our 8 ice screws and assorted rock gear and crampons. We each bring two technical tools as we have both been on hard ice this time of year when a classic axe won’t do.
The path fades into nothing as we cross boulders into a drainage following a chain of lakes up valley. The snowfall was good last winter here so there is still a lot of snow that won’t melt this late in the year. It is nice to see for change. We climb to the last lake and find a snow field that will lead us to the pass we need to drop down to get to the glacier. The snow is so much nicer than boulders. We take a break at the top of the pass and get a good view of the climb. I try not to get too concerned from my first view as we are looking right at it and it looks steep and formable.
A thousand foot decent of soft scree leads to another snowfield were we walk out to look at the glacier towering above. It has four tongues and we glass it trying to decide which is best for an exit.
It is after 12 noon as we gear up for the climb. The left side has had a recent rock fall event so we chose the right side. We solo up firm snow to the ice and put in a screw for a belay. The ice is wildly layered and hard old dinosaur ice. I work up to a runnel that we follow for three pitches. There is a trickle of water running down that makes the picks stick like a dream in the water soaked ice. It is real ice climbing! Our hands become soaked again but we are never as cold as we were the day before trying to set up the tent. The angle tapers off and it becomes that low angle ice that is hard to climb while the sun blinds us shining between towers on the ridge above. The glacier makes a sharp crack as it releases tension somewhere deep in its bowls. An occasional rock wizzes by for spice. A 400 foot simul climb on hard snow up and across the bergschrund eventually leads to a safe belay in a moat were I finally feel comfortable taking a piss. A gust of wind comes up and blows my urine stream uphill. Patch yells ”You just pissed on my face!”. I reply with “You needed a shower anyway you smelly bastard”.
The higher we get the safer it gets in terms of rockfall.
The tongue above narrows as we follow it finding an occasional section of blue ice for screws. The last pitch of snow steepens with more ice and becomes really fun.
The last two pitches are loose rock with snow and hail covered ledges between steps. I crest the ridge with cation testing every hold. It is a stack of tipped plates ready to fall. I throw a couple down because once you touch them they will fall. As Patch comes across a traverse the rope pulls a giant block loose which Patch sends down carefully. It is impressive to watch as it disappears from view a thousand feet down. I am also keenly aware of all of the other rocks that have left gouges in the lower snowfield on their way down recently.
As Patch crests the ridge in the setting sun I shout” Hey take a look at that”. It is another climb for a later date that appears to be in condition?