Self portriat by Jens Werner
Redstone ice: the Litmus test for my maturity
March 9, 2008 —
I’m not a skier, but as I read "Boyd's Blog" the other day about the avalanche deaths in East Vail, one thing really stuck out. It was Louie Boyd’s saying about how, “all the real avalanche experts are dead.”
That struck a chord with me. It reminded me of a saying that I’ve tried to stick to in my recent years as an ice climber: “There are old climbers and there are bold climbers, but there are very few old, bold climbers.”
That leads me to a recent trip that I took with my partner Mac. After Cody we wanted more new ice. Not the same routes that we had done year in and year out; a new and hard Colorado route to add to the 2007-2008 climbing resume. We thumbed through Roberts’ Colorado Ice and chose The Drool (WI5) in Redstone. The great thing about The Drool was that if we couldn’t find it we had solid back-up plans intact. Avocado Gully (WI3) and Redstone Pillar (WI4) are Redstone classics and we could fall back on either.
We got to Redstone and right away realized that they had not suffered from the cloudy Seattle-effect we had been enduring in Vail. It was warm, so the ice on the West side of the Crystal River Valley looked pretty manky from obvious exposure to sun. For a moment I wished I could trade my ice tools for a 5 wt fly-rod, but winter is fleeting and there will be plenty of trout fishing in a few months.
We located the The Drool and thought it looked “reasonable” through the binoculars. It was unanimous, we’d hike to it and if at least check it out.
The hike was more of a crawl - no exaggeration. No one had been there in a while and while they had warm weather now, our first few post-holing steps in the trees made it apparent that Redstone had not had a lack of snow this winter. We ended up crawling for more than half the approach, distributing our weight as best we could to keep from plunging into the waist-deep snow.
On first glance, The Drool looked sweet, even a little easier than I had expected, but as we got closer it was obvious that it was honeycombed from the warm weather. The question was, how bad was it?
The first 20 feet revealed that The Drool was merely a ghost of the ice climb that it had been a few weeks before. While climbing it may have been possible, protecting it was out of the question. It had the consistency of a snow-cone. I down climbed and we hiked out towards Avocado Gully. We knew that the mellow approach to its Northeast facing gully would not be rotten and would still allow us to get in a route before we went home.
A few years ago I might have tried to climb The Drool in that condition. I’m sure I could have. I probably could have a few days ago, but a fall would have been catastrophic. Sixty-foot ground falls are not a chance I’m willing to take these days. I imagine Louie’s saying could translate to ice climbing too. “All the experts on climbing rotten ice are dead,” he might say.
I’m looking to be an “old climber” and trading in the thoughts of being a “bold climber”. I’m not afraid to climb hard routes, but climbing them without solid protection is a thing of the past for me.
We hiked down from Avocado Gully and back to the truck, a cold bottle of Budweiser and our swim trunks.
Yes, I said swim trunks.
Another thing that I would have done a few years ago was walked passed the natural hot springs on the Crystal River and mutter something about “dirty hippies”. Not this year. I premeditated bringing my swimsuit and damn was that a great beer as the sun sank low with snow capped Mt. Sopris in clear view and hot water rushing into the bath-water warm pool we sat in.
I’d like to think I’ve matured.
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