Trip Report
Lee Vining ice - brief report on late season conditions (3/15-17/13)

by BMcC
Wednesday March 20, 2013 5:18pm
Ice? Yosemite rock is happening - Chris McNamara, Mark Melvin, Sean Leary, Vitaliy M., Alix, Daniel, and others have been dashing up El Cap; Indian Creek has been busy; Red Rocks Rendezvous is around the corner; I was just in Joshua Tree the week before last; and it was over 80 degrees last week when I went for my hiking workout in the Livermore hills before I finished packing for a quick trip to Lee Vining. Ice?

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:

Main Wall and Chouinard Falls (3/15/13).
Main Wall and Chouinard Falls (3/15/13).
Credit: BMcC

The Main Wall ice is steeper and much more fun than the Chouinard Fall...
The Main Wall ice is steeper and much more fun than the Chouinard Falls, but looked a little too fragile (warm temps, some baking by the sun, and somewhat too desiccated) for me to want to lead it...
Credit: BMcC

Chouinard Falls - looking fat (3/15/13).
Chouinard Falls - looking fat (3/15/13).
Credit: BMcC

Vito and Sean hiking up canyon on pretty well filled-in and fairly pac...
Vito and Sean hiking up canyon on pretty well filled-in and fairly packed snow - we were first up to the ice, so I led a couple of side-by-side routes and set up our top ropes where I could provide some basic instruction and we could do lots of laps.
Credit: BMcC

Others coming up the canyon - snow coverage is thinning...
Others coming up the canyon - snow coverage is thinning...
Credit: BMcC

Fun lead (pic courtesy of Sean Burke).
Fun lead (pic courtesy of Sean Burke).
Credit: BMcC

Not too crowded.
Not too crowded.
Credit: BMcC

Frank getting after some steep fun.
Frank getting after some steep fun.
Credit: BMcC

Frank nearing the top and making the air sparkle a little with some ic...
Frank nearing the top and making the air sparkle a little with some ice chips catching the sunlight.
Credit: BMcC

My turn - taking a lap near the rock margin (pic courtesy of Sean ...
My turn - taking a lap near the rock margin (pic courtesy of Sean Burke).
Credit: BMcC

Main Wall in the distance and Chouinard Falls in the middle (3/17/13).
Main Wall in the distance and Chouinard Falls in the middle (3/17/13).
Credit: BMcC

A parting glance at Lee Vining ice (3/17/13).
A parting glance at Lee Vining ice (3/17/13).
Credit: BMcC

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

Ice?
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)

Approach?
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.

Creek crossings?
Trivial.

Partners?
Great fun hanging and climbing with Vito, Frank, and Sean!

Prognostication:
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!

  Trip Report Views: 2,646
BMcC
About the Author
BMcC is a trad climber from Livermore.

Comments
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Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Mar 20, 2013 - 05:58pm PT
Thanks for the report! I have a few friends who are going this weekend, will forward it to them! Seems like bottom of main wall lines is melting away...but 'Caveman' looks a bit thicker than it was a month or so ago..
Roots

Mountain climber
Tustin, CA
  Mar 20, 2013 - 07:17pm PT
Thanks for posting this up. I was out there 2 weeks ago and it was not so great. Almost seems like it's improved since then!
BMcC

Trad climber
Livermore
Author's Reply  Mar 20, 2013 - 09:07pm PT
Thanks, Vitaliy and Roots.

Access to the Main Wall looked to possible on the left. I've gone up the left and traversed to access the right pillar on other trips to Lee Vining. Don't know about Cave Man - I've climbed it with thicker ice on the slab start and it was thin then - bottom bit seems thinner now. The warm days and barely freezing nights, the appearance of the ice, and the Chouinard Falls ice which we climbed, causes me to question the integrity of the Main Wall ice up high (which gets afternoon sun). Caution suggested...

Main Wall (3/15/13).
Main Wall (3/15/13).
Credit: BMcC
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Mar 20, 2013 - 09:22pm PT
Love the time lapse. I would love to climb some ice put there some day. Looks like you had a great day.
johnokner

Trad climber
NJ
  Mar 20, 2013 - 09:33pm PT
looks like good plastic ice. good for picks
BMcC

Trad climber
Livermore
Author's Reply  Mar 25, 2013 - 03:48am PT
mike m - agreed on the time lapse vid! It would have been longer, but a chunk of ice slammed into the camera's tripod, putting a large dent in one of its legs (light tubular aluminum), and knocked the camera over. Sean tells me his knocked over camera caught some pretty clouds blowing by.

johnokner - the ice was already super plastic on Friday when I started up (Th night temps may not have gone below freezing). On Sat and Sun, the ice started reformed and got more plastic as the temp rose.

On Friday, leading and then setting up topropes on the 2 leftmost sets of anchors enabled us to toprope a variety of almost-steep lines near the left corner AND to toprope some lower angle lines to the right - the latter being perfect for Sean's 1st pitch of ice and Vito's return to ice. We were also able to use the right for single-tool climbing and no-tools climbing exercises. With 2 ropes and 4 climbers, we each got maybe 7-10 laps on the ice.

On Sat (with Sean and Vito leaving in the early afternoon) and Sun, I only led 1 line and set up a toprope, so that other climbers (weekends are more crowded) could get on the nearby ice where we'd had our 2nd toprope on Fri. With a single toprope, we were still able to get in lots of mileage by doing 2 or more laps each time we tied in and simply getting after it!

It was a pleasant way to wind down my water ice climbing for the season - with great fun on all 3 days.
hossjulia

Trad climber
Carson City, NV
  Mar 21, 2013 - 06:36pm PT
I think March 20th was the latest I climbed there one year. Once the sun starts hitting the ice, it goes fast.

Looking good!tfpu
Brian Biega

climber
Truckee, CA
  Mar 21, 2013 - 08:20pm PT
Thanks for the report BMcC!

Get it while you can, it does not look like it will going to last a whole lot longer…

Cheers, Brian
BMcC

Trad climber
Livermore
Author's Reply  Mar 21, 2013 - 08:51pm PT
hossjulia and Brian B - thanks! Pretty darn mild this year. Checked in an old calendar and saw that I did the Bard Harrington on 3/25/10 (a Thursday) in blowing snow. Plastic ice. One party of 2 hiked by - otherwise it was just my tools, rope, gear, and complete solitude. At 4pm, it was 36 degrees fahrenheit at the trailhead and, a few hours later, less than 22 as I drove over Carson Pass. Quite different from this March.
BMcC

Trad climber
Livermore
Author's Reply  Mar 21, 2013 - 09:08pm PT
hossjulia - flipped a couple pages further in my 2010 notebook calendar and saw in my notes that Vito (his 1st time on ice) and I climbed Chouinard Falls on April 10 and 11 (Sat and Sun). Mild temps overnight, so we deigned to not do the BH. He's a good rock climber and after 8-10 laps on each day, he had gotten pretty competent for future follows. Blizzard again on that drive home... Different year, different conditions.
johntp

Trad climber
socal
  Mar 21, 2013 - 10:57pm PT
Nice Ice!
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Mar 22, 2013 - 11:05am PT
You are a good man for keeping the stoke going!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  Mar 22, 2013 - 11:59am PT
ice on the brain? most of it was on the knee... but that's ok now... and the stoke builds for the next opportunity!
gnarlydog

Mountain climber
Concord,Ca
  Mar 22, 2013 - 01:38pm PT
Awesome trip report Bill. It's always a blast getting out with you and harnessing a bit of your kindling. T'was a perfect weekend for climbing and learning. I'm definitely looking forward to getting out again. French is too. She's pretty jealous, and I know won't miss out on another adventure with us. Thanks again.

ps
This is my favorite pic of the weekend.
This is my favorite pic of the weekend.
Credit: gnarlydog
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Mar 22, 2013 - 05:05pm PT
very cool, thanks!
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