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Old 12-10-2015, 08:54 PM   #1
mudrat
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Join Date: Mar 2007
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Khyber's Slide - The Search for Ice on 2015 December 5

Had a great day out with Devin Farkas (Assistant Director of the Outdoor Program at St. Lawrence University). The primary goal was to find ice during a season that’s warmer than normal. But where? My best guess was at higher elevations on the northern/northwestern aspect of the mountains. There’s a few slides that run wetter thus increasing the odds. Khyber’s Slide on Lower Wolfjaw seemed like the best candidate.

With a moderate itinerary, a single slide and bushwhack to Lower Wolfjaw’s summit, there was little need for an alpine start. We left the Garden at 8:00 am. and hoped for the best. The sun illuminated the haze with morning light so it was difficult to assess Bennies Brook on the way in...it would be an indicator of conditions on Khyber’s. With mud underfoot all the way to the base of Wolfjaw’s Brook, it was difficult to feel positive about the conditions. Slowly, I changed my mindset to that of simply enjoying the walk and climbing a slide even if it was only rock underfoot. Devin had never up LWJ, so it was worth the trip regardless.

We gained a companion named Skip at the Interior Outpost. He was walking in to check on his adopted lean-to—the Wolfjaws Lean-to. He walked up the runout with us as verglas slowly built under foot. Could we hope for more higher? Beyond the lean-to, the runout is a rubble strewn streambed for several hundred yards before the slab begins. It was covered with a dusting of snow. Eventually the ice got a little thicker on some small cascade. The “2 steps” came into view and I let out a sigh as I saw grey...continuous ice!



FIRST SIGNS OF ICE-STILL FRAGILE


ANIMAL PRINTS ON THE SLIDE

We’d still need to assess it as we climbed, but there was hope for some technical climbing. We
changed into crampons below the first step. It began with a 70 degree pitch that tapered off to about 45 degrees. In all the steepest climbing was over about 130 feet with a couple hundred feet of lower angle ice leading to the next step.

The climb this past February found the steps heavy with ice—feet thick in places. Today it varied from about ½ inch to 3”. Some areas had water running underneath, others were bonded. It would require a bit more technique than with the heavier ice. Hard hits or kicks would simply dull the crampons and tools when they hit the rock—which they did on several occasions.



ABOVE, BOTTOM OF THE FIRST STEP. BELOW, WIDER ANGLE VIEW.




VIEW OF BIG SLIDE FROM THE TOP OF THE FIRST STEP


The second step is considerably steeper though a bit shorter. It’s sustained ice at about 75 degrees with a short nearly vertical section. It held even thinner ice than below. With heavier ice there are multiple ascent options. This time there was only one “safe” option, up the center on a narrow band of bonded ice. It was delaminated to either side of a 5 foot strip. Devin climbed first since I climbed first earlier.

This is where I side-step for a minute and say that this isn’t slide climbing as most people know it when there’s a big snow-pack. It is slide climbing with technical pitches on thin ice. The consequences of falling are high when the slides are like this.
It was a thrilling climb with just the tips of the gear in. Three placements at all times and continual assessment of the ice was critical. I felt no adrenalin (it’s bad if I do feel it), just focus and inner relaxation as I climbed. I simply enjoyed the beauty of the ice, the feel of the tools and the scenery.



ABOVE, DEVIN ON THE SECOND STEP. BELOW, PERSPECTIVE OF KEVIN CLIMBING FROM ABOVE.



The top of the second step was roughly halfway up the frozen section of slide at this point (about 1,200 feet total). The rest was a series of smaller ledges and 45 degree bulges. This passed quickly and ended at the headwall, a final steep bulge of thin ice before the bushwhack.

The bushwhack to the summit was moderate. There was only about an inch of snow on the ground. It took 40 minutes in all. The clouds spilled through the valleys to the north—an inversion. I believe it was about 1:40 pm. when we reached the summit so we had time to take a relaxing stroll back down to the valley.

We did, however, stop to climb a small slide between Upper Wolfjaw’s Skinny and Wide slides. It’s only a few hundred feet long in total, but the top had a thin coating of ice. It would have been a ridiculous climb as a stand-alone venture, but why not since we were walking by it?!

To see last February’s climb as a contrast and the mosaic click here.



ABOVE, UPPER SECTION OF THE SLIDE. BELOW, DEVIN ON THE HEADWALL.



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