Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fish Outa Water

2 - 26 - 08

The Big Fish himself running it to where the water ends and showing the High Angle Tech Rescue boys how to pull down. The conditions were ideal for a technical ice rescue with thin ice, wet rock and rain, who says training can't be fun?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Dreamsicles and Death Weather

I, Chad Heddleston am the guide who upkeeps this blog and I am currently on a two month road trip. The Big Fish was gracious enough to allow me the time during our slower winter months so I jumped at the chance. After six weeks on the road skiing and ice climbing I find myself in Utah's Zion National Park in search of ice. Why, one might ask did I choose one of America's hottest, driest climates to chase ice? "Because" in the words of George Leigh Mallory, "it's there."

Yesterday I tried to skin (backcountry ski) to the ice flow I came here to investigate but turned around early. The day was spectacular and even at 8,000 ft the temperature rose to just above freezing. With a very long approach and some concern of avalanche I bailed in favor of a safe run down on the skis. I am by myself this leg of the trip and choose to take no chances, but climbers are determined and I couldn't give up that easy.

Half the thrill of the kill is the chase and I am always on it. I crave fresh ice, whether it be some thing no one has climbed or just a line I personally have yet to experience. I know of what might be a possible flow on the West Rim Trail and set out early. The thermometer reads 22 degrees F and I hope that although I know it will reach well above freezing on the 4,000 ft canyon floor I hope it will be below the freeze point several thousand feet above.

A well packed snow trail leads to Scout Lookout and starts toward Angel's Landing. I continue on the packed trail, breaking for a time from the goal of the day. The tracks I'm following become fewer and fewer on the steep, narrow, snow covered trail as the many hikers before me found their respective limits and made the smart decision to turn around. I too find my ropeless limit and return to where the West Rim splits from the Angel's Landing trail. Looking up, the trail is unbroken and I set out as the snow begins to get heavy and the temperature creeps up.

Small snow slides begin high on a cliff somewhere and cascade down becoming air born then misting into nothing as they are engulfed in the vastness of air and glistening sunshine. Days like this I am so thankful; thankful to be here, thankful for the deer whose hoof prints brake trail on and off for more than a mile, thankful to the creator that such a wildly imaginative place even exists. Then I see it, my dreamsicle, it's easily 400ft and looks within my ability level. I break through the snow up to my knee most steps but am moving pretty fast. I'm thinking about how I'll ask my brother to jump a plane so we can climb it this weekend. "How fast can you get to Vegas?" "I can pick you up in three hours." Or maybe "you know the guidebook shows no established routes in southern Utah, want to establish one?" I start to break through to my thigh more often and realize that there is definitely a persistent weak layer where the snow must have thawed and refrozen for a while before Sunday's storm dropped the top 16 inches or so. It's something to look out for but I'm not in any avalanche danger. There is a little slope up there I'll be cautious with but it really looks very safe.

I head off the trail below the small slope to stay in the safest flatest zone. I do have a bad feeling and if you've been in the mountains you know you DO NOT ignore that feeling. Thhwwoouuummp, geerrraacaackk!!! I feel the entire area in a fifty foot radius of me drop as air rushes out from underneath and the cracks spread every which way in the ice underneath me. My heart races and I instinctively look up. I'm safe, in a flat zone and there's nothing coming from above, just settling below. A deep breath and I'm off, back down the mountain. I've seen enough and although I would like to get a closer view of the ice, next time I'm here I'll be with partners and beacons. I race back in my tracks and it's twenty minutes before I look back at the dreamsicle. What? A gigantic chunk is now gone from the base of the climb! I didn't even hear it come off. I am again thankful, this time it's that I was not climbing today!
Headed down the mountain I'm thinking about going south. Rock climbing's good down south this time of year! The trail becomes packed again and I relax as a large snowball slips silently from the cliffs high above. Phhhafwwappp, it narrowly misses my head and explodes on my pack sending cold snow to my neck and back.
Snowmelt waterfalls sparkle in the air, dampening rocks which rarely ever receive moisture. The world's largest sandcastles are being made too brittle to climb today and besides, I'm headed off the mountain.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Onward and Upward

Looking onward at the McCall, Idaho ice festival.

Feb 4th sunlight in Utah's Wasatch after the biggest snowfall Jan on record and a 24 inch in
24 hours storm.

Mountain goats overlooking Salt Lake City as seen from the top of the classic Little Cottonwood Canyon ice climb Scruffy.

Testing out the Avalung before a deep morning backcountry run in Utah's Wasatch mountains.

A morning ski sees morning light on the Wildcat Canyon trailhead in Zion National Park Feb 7th.

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