Ice climbing at Cascade Pass a solid start for beginners
By Sierra McGivney
The sun hit our sleepy eyes before the alarm went off. Our bags were already packed from the night before. Ice tools were strapped to the outside. Inside harnesses and ice screws were packed away careful under lots of jackets. It was one of the first days of 2021, Jan. 5. What better way to spend it than Ice climbing.
My boyfriend and climbing partner, Jacob Furr and I set out to climb Buster, Bowser and Boozer, a set up three climbs next to each other in the Cascade Pass area. Jacob is starting to lead ice this year so we decided to spend the day climbing outside of the crag; him leading, me following.
As we approached Buster I felt out of breath and almost wiped out. The approach was steep and slippery without crampons on. I looked up at waves of ice cascading down from between two trees about 10 feet apart. Jacob pulled out the guidebook. We couldn’t figure out if this was Buster or Sisters Left. They looked the same from the base in pictures.
After some debate and inspection of the other climbs around us we decided we were at the base of Buster and that if we were at Sisters Left we had enough gear for a multi pitch climb. I flaked out the rope while Jacob grabbed all his ice screws. I kept repeating in my head “don’t forget to shake out the ice screws.”
Jacob had been leading ice right next door at Pitchoff the past couple weeks. I would follow and clean the route, removing the ice screws he placed for protection. Each time I did it I forgot to shake out the ice screws, causing the ice to freeze inside the screws once I reached the top. At Pitchoff it was no big deal. The climb was only one pitch and we were going to set up a top rope after anyways. If it had been a multi pitch climb that mistake could end us in deep trouble.
“Don’t forget to get the ice out of the screws as you follow me,” said Jacob.
I nodded, “I was just thinking about that.”
We said our climbing commands after tying in and Jacob was off. I watched as he gilded easily on the ice, feeling confident in every movement, or so he made it seem. He placed once screw and then another, crushing the climb. Just like that he was over the lip and I couldn’t see him. I waited for him to yell down “off belay.”
I kept repeating in my head “don’t forget to shake out the ice screws.”
He yelled down but asked how much rope was left.
“You’ve got a little more than half,” I yelled as loud as I could. His rope had a change in pattern half way so I could easily see how much was left.
A breakdown of what’s needed to get started with ice climbing
Unfortunately, cars and trucks kept passing by below on Cascade Pass. Walkie talkies would be perfect right now. We struggled to hear each other but after about 10 minutes I heard a clear “OFF BELAY.”
I took the grigri off the rope because soon he would be pulling the rope up. I tied in to the bottom of the rope and checked everything once over. The rope started disappearing upwards. I studied the ice seeing where Jacob had decided to go. I am a beginner and just beginning to feel confident when climbing.
“That’s me!” I yelled up as the rope tugged on my harness. A couple seconds later I heard a faint “ON BELAY” and swung my ice tool in. It stuck nicely. The ice was sticky today. Milder temperatures, low-30s, high-20s, caused the ice to become wetter and stickier, perfect for ice climbing.
I reached the first ice screw in five minutes. Excited, I unscrewed it and hit it against my leg. I looked inside the screw and found it empty. Perfect! I smiled, clipped the quickdraw attached to the screw to my harness and continued up.
Buster is rated WI 2 to 3 so it’s on the easier side. Unlike lower-rated ice climbs that resemble stairs, buster is a nice balance of vertical climbing and steps in the ice. Before I know it I have all the empty ice screws hooked on my harness. I look up and see Jacob belaying me by a tree up the streambed. Unfortunately, once over the crest of the climb I have to place my axes and crampons in partially frozen mud and ice.
I reach the tree with ease focusing on foot placement since I’m walking on flat ground. Jacob explains to me that we could continue climbing up another 30 feet, the climb is considered two pitches. “Up” is a strong word. We would just continue walking on flat ground until we reach a short, maybe 10-foot climb up to an anchor.
We both agree it’s not worth it.
“Here are your ice screws, I was going to come up here and pretend like I forgot,” I say, smiling.
“I wasn’t worried about it; I knew you were going to get it.”
More to Explore
For just $10, you can dive into all the fresh content
from our print magazine, plus the annual Outings Guide
After rappelling down, we walked over along the path to our right. The trees opened up to a short climb, according to the book “Blue Lines 2,” only 50 feet. The ice formed on this climb like diagonal shelves. The climb was rated WI 2 to 3, it sounded short and sweet.
We got into a rhythm, I flaked out the rope, Jacob tied in, I checked my grigri and then “Climb on.” I watched Jacob place his crampons on nice holds. He zoomed up the whole climb in a matter of 15 minutes, placing gear here and there. There was an anchor at top that he could drop the rope through for me to top rope.
Bowser’s ice was brittle. Every time I swung into the ice hard my tool would either bounce back at me or feel like the axe was only in by the tip. I was getting frustrated. The climb was so short but it was frustrating. Ice seems like such a silly thing to get mad about but once you’re on the ice hacking into it, feeling the cold hit your face, so determined to get to the top, you’ll want to yell out, Adam Ondra style.
After a few awkward moves I made it to the top, no Adam Ondra yelling necessary. I clinked the anchor with my ice axe and yelled, “I’m done.” and then “Ready to lower.” I wanted to see what the next climb had in store for us. I coiled the rope and we headed farther down the path to the right.
We looked up at Boozer, and noted a light dusting of snow covered the ice. Jacob started his final lead for the day with ease. Boozer looked steeper than Bowser but the ice seemed super solid. Ice bits came flying down as he soared up the wall. I moved slightly to the side to avoid getting sprayed by ice. About 50 feet up he called down: “It’s super weird up here, you’ll see when you come up.”
Then he climbed up the last ten feet. The top looked bare, mostly trees and shrubs, not much ice. Jacob traipsed through mud and dirt in search of the anchor. After traversing over the top of the climb he found it. I lowered him down.
“I’m not sure if we climbed the right part, I watched a video last night and the anchor was on the opposite side,” he said.
I shrugged, “At least it seems like a solid climb regardless.”
He nodded his head and smiled. “Your turn.”
I swung my axes into the ice next to each other above my head. My arms ached. I climbed reaching a ledge about 20 feet up. I stopped, shook out my arms and looked around. The Cascade lakes were blanketed in snow. I wondered if anyone had skated on them this year.
Farther up I saw what Jacob was talking about. There was practically no ice up here. Dirty leaves and brown grass showed through. I was a bit disappointed; I wanted another 20 feet of ice. The climb had been solid and fun. Boozer is rated WI3. The climb was more challenging and vertical than Bowser.
Once down I pulled the rope and began coiling it. We both smiled, excited to go to the Mountaineer to stock up on more gear. The day had been filled with great ice and successful leads. We followed the trail down to the car and I thought maybe next time we will bring walkie talkies.
Sign up for “Backcountry Journal,” our weekly recreation newsletter, with news, information and trip ideas