Why go? Well, ice is ephemeral and this seemed like my last chance for the season and I had to get some (more) before it's gone.
Sean and Vito were hot to get on ice at least once this year. Vito had climbed N Peak gully ice and Lee Vining water ice with me years ago; whereas, Sean had yet to climb ice. And Frank always wants to get out. Both Sean and Vito had wanted to get out on ice with me earlier this year, but could only go locally and I was already pretty far away ( http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Ice-climbing-in-Joes-Valley-Ouray-Silverton-and-Cody-South-Fork-January-2013/t11873n.html )
Given the warm temps in the Bay Area and in the Sierra, Vito asked the obvious question about even considering ice climbing. I emailed him: "Ice will still be good. It's less than vertical and lies against the rock cliff which has ledges and features which help support the ice. Cold would be better than warm, but there'll still be fun climbing..." I was (mostly) pretty sure since I've climbed in Lee Vining late in the season before.
The long and short of it?
Long: drive - longish; boulder field and talus approach - longer than preferable; and days are getting longer.
Short: crowded and the ice is limited to the Chounaird Falls and shorter stuff to its right (the Bard Harrington was dry and the Main Falls looked sunbaked and desiccated).
Great topo/pics with route names and ratings here:http://aboutmyadventure.com/directories/shared_photos/lee_vining/72-75.htm
Some pics and a link to a short-time-lapse vid that Sean made:
Here's the link to a time lapse video (1 frame each 10 seconds) that Sean made - sort of funny to see bug-sized climbers on ice: http://gnarlydog.tumblr.com/
Temperature and crowd summary:
Friday - Temps: 42 degrees at trailhead at 7:20am; 48 at trailhead at 5pm; 58 at Murphey's Motel in Lee Vining at 5:30pm. I had little interest in getting on or under the Main Wall with temps like those...
Crowd - 4 of us plus 9 or 10 others including a guided party.
Saturday - Temps: 37 at the motel; 27 on the drive from town; 29 at the trailhead at 7am; 46 at the trailhead at 5:11pm; and 54 back at the motel.
Crowd - 4 of us plus almost 2 dozen others - guided gang plus a handful of CMC (California Mtn Club) folks
Sunday - Temps: 27 and 46 at the trailhead at 6:45am and 3pm, respectively.
Crowd - Frank and me with 15 or so others guided and with the CMC
It was great - somewhat brittle first thing in the morning and morphing to wet and plastic, hero or ego-ice by mid-day; reforming at night with the below freezing temps. We climbed on the Chouinard Falls all 3 days getting in lots and lots of laps and variations, and practice on technique. Ice and rock fell off the sunny side of Lee Vining Canyon throughout the day, but there seemed to be no naturally falling ice on the N-facing side of the canyon (though, lots of climber generated projectiles)
Not pretty - boulders and talus with postholing until the narrows; "decent" snow above that. Largely melted out from just above the power station to the narrows. Adjustable ski poles were quite handy.
Great fun hanging and climbing with Vito, Frank, and Sean!
Chouinard Falls could be silly fun for weeks. Watch out for crowds and falling frozen stuff. It's going, going and soon to be gone. Climb Safe!