Trip Report
Sub Zero Zen in the Land of Furry White Asses - South Fork, Shoshone River - Cody WY
Tuesday February 18, 2014 3:46pm
Main Vein
Main Vein
Credit: Tvash
Trip: Sub Zero Zen in the Land of Furry White Asses - South Fork, Shoshone River - Cody WY

Date: 1/28/2014

Trip Report:

Main Vein

There are three steps to assessing an ice pitch:

1-The Approach: “Oh God, that looks terrifying”

2-The Base: “This doesn’t look so bad”

3-Halfway Up: “Oh God, this is terrifying”

But you’ve gotten yourself treed on something that is shattering and fracturing in great, skritchy columns that c*#k for an inch and come to rest on a thumb sized nubbin of frozen dirt. The ice is blue-brittle, the feet imaginary, the rock you seek refuge on crumbles beneath your front points, and the cruelest irony of all: despite the Enceladusian temperatures, the sun is melting your screws out, one by one.

Not that they’d hold, anyway.

There’s nowhere to go but up, so up you go, using every trick, every cheat, every breathing technique, every appeal to an indifferent universe you can muster.

And suddenly, both crampons are crunching through low angle snice, and your self-inflicted battle with the universe’s most ubiquitous and fickle medium is over as quickly as it began. You exhale. Gravity releases a growing smile.

It's your belayer’s turn.

The first pitch of Main Vein is seldom in. It’s still hard to say whether it was in or not during our final day of climbing in the South Fork of the Shoshone River. There is a rock bypass, which reputedly offers up its own set of horrors. I suppose a pitch like that does serve a purpose – to let you know that it’s time to go home.

Carter Mountain

Save a brief visit from our host Matt of the Double Diamond X Ranch, we saw no one for our first two days in the South Fork of the Shoshone River. That’s not to say the place is devoid of life. It’s a frozen petting zoo of bighorns, white tail deer, elk, eagles, red tail hawks, ravens, ouzels, magpies, ducks, great horned owls, lynxes, coyotes, foxes, rabbits – I’m just naming what we saw or heard – to that add grizzlies, mountain lions, pronghorns, moose...I’ve never seen wildlife density like it anywhere. The mountains surrounding the valley are stunning – and full of ice.

“Hey there, Ice Climber”

“On second thought, think of the children”

Matt and Jenine own and operate the Double Diamond X Ranch, our home for the week and the clearly superior alternative to staying in some dumpy motel in rotten-egg reeking Cody - an hour commute each way – if the road is clear, that is. Staying in the valley allows one to become immersed in its silence and solitude – even more so if sub zero temperatures and snow conspire the keep other ice pilgrims away.

Home at the Double Diamond X

High on Boulder

The river crossing to High On Boulder was mostly frozen; only a couple of punch through slushies. The climb itself was in excellent condition save some delicate and brittle crux ice (shown).

Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever, as I discovered on lead, was not quite as solid as our previous objective. I knew something was up when water spurted out of my pick strike like a struck artery – then it snapped into focus – the entire flow save some WI6 icicles to the right was only an inch thick and visibly flowing on its inside surface. It certainly wasn't going to take screws - and probably not me, either. Fortunately, I was only 15 feet up and could easily back off of it and save it for another day.

Temperatures were, indeed, low. I led with 4 merino layers, a micropuffy, and a windshirt, and was barely holding my own with that. The amphitheatre, far from protecting from the spindrift laden wind, acted as a wind scoop. Still, it’s a spectacular place and the posthole in and out provided a scenic workout.

Postholing down from Cabin Fever

After our experience on Cabin Fever, we were ready for a sure bet, and we got one with the wonderful, moderate butter ice on Bozo’s Revenge. It didn’t come hassle-free, however. Snice and sub zero temperatures provided challenges that the climbing itself did not.

Snicing up to Bozo’z Revenge

Bozo’s Revenge

Post Bozo’s Revenge saunter


I should mention our vehicle – the Snow Shark, complete with a full set of Craigslist acquired I’Zen Studs and world’s dimmest low beams. That thing really ate up the snowy roads, though, even if it had to burn a bunker’s worth of fuel doing it.

Snowshark sighting

The Special Love I Have for You (Main Vein)

Sunday afternoon

Cold crescent

For me, the South Fork was as much about its beauty and solitude as the climbing. I fell in love with the place. A frightening final climb effectively pushed me out of that nest, but I have a feeling I’ll return - winter and summer, for the rest of my life. After Cody, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to tolerate the tourististan that is Canmore, but to each his or her own, I reckon.

Parting shot: South Fork, Shoshone River

After a tough drive, DougD and his gracious wife Catherine were kind enough to put us up, feed us a wonderful dinner and breakfast, and provide excellent company and conversation in Spokane – which logged impressive 4 F temperatures the following morning. Thank you both for that.

Scenic Montana

Gear Notes:
Feet: large fitting Scarpa Mont Blancs with two pairs of thick Smartwool socks worked well for me, Scarpa Phantom Guides with 2 pairs of thinner wool socks were a bit too chilly for Nastia.

Hands: Seirus neoprene liner gloves inside and XL OR Vert gloves for leading, OR Alti mitts for approaches/belaying.

Pants: I used Icebreaker boxers, the thinnest Smartwool long johns, and REI ACME pants. Nastia went with a merino baselayer and primaloft pants.

Top: I wore the thinnest Icebreaker short sleeve T, Ibex Indie Hoody, a $10 merino sweater from Goodwill, a Montbell UL hooded down puffy, and a light windshirt. Added an extra merino midlayer for the really cold day at Cabin Fever - plus a big assed puffy for standing around that day.

My gear kept me comfy enough.

Approach Notes:
Snow shoes would have come in handy for the Cabin Fever approach. Not so much for any of the others. Skis not recommended. Not enough coverage, too many rocks.

  Trip Report Views: 2,205
About the Author
Tvash is a climber from Seattle.

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Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Feb 18, 2014 - 04:06pm PT
Oh sh#t, there is Anastasia!! We climbed in Hyalite last year! Was that her car? Looks like it, but I remember FEISTY was her license plate. LOL

Here is our TR:

Author's Reply  Feb 18, 2014 - 04:16pm PT
Are there two such vehicles in all of North America?

  Feb 18, 2014 - 05:48pm PT
Just beautiful, I thought I could hear drumbeats, what a magical land full of wonderful history. Thanks for the gear list, I wish folks would do that more often. Ice was surely brittle, what was your choice of screws?

Author's Reply  Feb 18, 2014 - 05:56pm PT
Love those BD Turbo Expresses. Didn't wind up placing any stubbies on this trip.

  Feb 18, 2014 - 06:28pm PT
Like. . . ummmmm. . . out of the blue, you post up 3 of the best TRs, EVER. . . so. . . like. . . welcome to TheTaco!



Author's Reply  Feb 18, 2014 - 08:40pm PT
Well, thank you for that kind greeting! Much goodness here, been meaning to post something. I'm also doing a lot more interstate/country road trips these days as my interests shift and senility looms, BC, WY, UT, and CA lately, so broadening the geographic perspective is a great way to keep it all fresh.

My interests have moved towards big walls, gonna hit some desert towers, back to BC skiing, with some renewed dabbling in ice to keep it real in that certain way. Still doing a few alpine routes to finish off some PNW danglers - Joberg, Bear, a few others. I've got 5 cascadian volcanoes left to ski. Gotta collect the whole set there.
Jim Clipper

from: forests to tree farms
  Feb 18, 2014 - 09:38pm PT
way to get it done!
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Feb 18, 2014 - 11:07pm PT
Nice car for winter backroads

Social climber
  Feb 19, 2014 - 04:46am PT
hey there say, Tvash... wow, i'll second ekat, on the:

welcome to the taco...

these are wonderful reports... i remember when i first came here, i loved these! sadly, now, the dial up stuff is messing up a lot!

i AM working on some ideas to get past this...

man oh man, i am missing some wonderful pics here...

KEEP UP the great shares, though... very FINE! STUFF!

and happy good eve to you, as well...

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Feb 19, 2014 - 06:15am PT
heck, just the thread titles reek of goodness and taco newness, and the content backs it up! Thanks for sharing!

  Feb 19, 2014 - 06:29am PT
Another great TR! A cool place, interesting writing, good photos... what more could we ask for? ... another one?

Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Feb 19, 2014 - 07:48pm PT
You're on a roll Tvash, great writing and wicked sense of humor ,
Welcome to the Taco fo sho!!!!!

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
  Feb 20, 2014 - 12:09pm PT
Nice trip report. Glad you enjoyed the best ice venue in the United States. We climbed the Main Vein in Jan. on a 50 degree day. The first pitch was probably the steepest pitch of slush I've ever led. Looks like it has turned back into water ice again.

Also glad to see Bison Willy's back up and running. (albeit under a different name)

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
  Feb 20, 2014 - 12:14pm PT
Now that is something! Beautiful ice, beautiful trip report…what a breath of cold (refreshing!) air! Love it Love it


Trad climber
The state of confusion
  Feb 20, 2014 - 06:26pm PT

Wuunderfull. . . brrrrr!!!!

But I think I'd drive in a 4x4. Grrrrraaaate place@!
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