When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
I had made plans with my friend Zac (Check out his instagram @zacst.julesclimbing) to climb Shoestring Gully on Mt. Webster. I was stoked because Shoestring is a classic that’s been on my to-do list for a long time. It’s a nice long route with varied difficulties and at a high elevation. However due to a nasty snowstorm during my drive north my commute time nearly doubled. This ate up valuable climb time and Zac had to be at work by 1pm.
I pulled into the parking lot to meet Zac. In true climber fashion he was taking a nap in his car while waiting for me. After my lengthy apologies for being so late Zac said “Let’s head over to Standard Route and make the most out of the time we have”. Sounded good to me.
The beauty of Standard Route is that it’s so easy to get to. It’s only a few hundred yards from the parking area and the approach is all on easy railroad bed.
We geared up at the car, and began the hike in to the base of the climb. The weather was pretty mild at around 25 degrees. There wasn’t any views to see, all of the surrounding peaks were socked in. We made conversation on the approach. I got to know Zac a little better. Zac is a solid climber, accomplished, tough as nails, all while being incredibly humble and an overall nice guy.
Frankenstein Cliff Standard Route
We veered off the railroad tracks and up a short steep climber’s path to the base of Standard Route. Much to our surprise we appeared to be the first climbers on this usually very popular route. We put on our helmets, crampons, harnesses, and pulled out our ice tools. Zac would be leading the climb today so he began to rack up with screws and slings. We’d be climbing on my equipment today including my rope, screws, slings, biners, etc… This would help me get a feel for it. Eventually I’d like to start leading climbs. Getting comfortable with the gear is important!
Just as we tied in, another pair of climbers approached the base of the cliffs. Zac started climbing, From my perspective the first pitch looked pretty tame, and Zac made it look easy. In just a few minutes he had made his way up to a ledge adjacent to “the cave” a large rock feature in the middle of the climb and built an anchor. He yelled “I’m off belay!” letting me know he was safe. Moments later he tugged on the rope and I started climbing up to where he was.
Standard Route is an incredible climb, it’s so wide that there’s a lot of ways to tackle an obstacle. I tried to follow Zac’s route but found myself wandering off a few times. The bulge in the middle of the first pitch is near vertical and offers a quick gut check.
I slowly made my way up to the first belay and eventually tied into the anchor Zac had built. I wish I could say the view was amazing but it was still very foggy and socked in. Still, the view of the surrounding cliffs covered in ice was quite spectacular. Looking down at the other climbers below us was pretty wild too. This was my first time belaying off a steep wall. I was essentially hanging from my harness, tied into the ice anchor… This took some getting used to but it was pretty exciting.
We transferred the rope over to my anchor tie in and Zac began to lead the second pitch. He immediately exclaimed “Yuck, this is wet!” and continued to climb up along side of the cave I was belaying next to. Chunks of ice and splashes of water rained down from the fragile thin area he was climbing up.
A while later I heard a faint shout from Zac “Dave! I’m off belay!”… I could barely make it out as he was so sheltered by ice and rock above. He tugged on the rope to give me a secondary confirmation that he was safe and tied into an anchor. I took him off belay and he pulled up the slack. I disassembled the anchor we were tied into and clipped it to my harness.
Just as I was getting ready to start climbing again… I dropped my glove. “GREAT! What a rookie move Dave!” I said to myself. The glove slide down about 6 feet right to the edge of a vertical drop that would surely mean it would be gone for the rest of the climb. Luckily the pair of climbers below us noticed my distress and helped by nudging it a little closer to me. Zac had me on belay and the rope was taught so I couldn’t down climb to it. He was also too far away to explain the situation to. I reached the pick of my ice tool as far as I could and managed to hook the leash of the glove… That was a relief. At this point Zac had to be wondering what was taking me so long. I started to climb and zac continued to pull up the slack as I made my way up along side the cave.
The second pitch was a lot harder than the first, it was very wet. The section next to the cave was near vertical and was full of delicate ice that flaked off as I tried to kick my crampons into it. This pitch was an adrenaline rush. I found myself stemming over large voids in the ice with water flowing beneath.
Once past the cave the grade became a little less steep. I moved right, around a large rock feature and Zac came into view at the top of another steep section of climbing. I made my way up to his position at the belay and tied into the anchor with a clove hitch. This ledge was much more comfortable than the last. There was room to stand and give the calf muscles a break.
We flaked the rope out next to us, and Zac got ready to lead the final pitch. The first move was tough, he stemmed over a large open flow and pulled his way over the first bulge. He looked back at me and said “Yeah! have fun with that one.”
Zac setup the final belay and yelled down that I could climb. I made the first bulge but it wasn’t as graceful as Zac made it look. There was more snow up here and tool placement was a little trickier than the areas below. It was truly beautiful up here, pillars of ice and snow everywhere!
Now it was time to pack up and hike out. My rope was soaked and frozen, it was a solid 5 pounds heavier than it was when we walked in. I guess the dry treatment is a bit worn! We packed everything up and left our crampons and ice tools out for the hike out. It’s short but there are some steep spots.
Once we reached the railroad tracks Zac handed off the rope he was carrying and started to run down the tracks back towards the car. He was late for work! Woops. I decided to take my time and hike back up to the base of Standard Route to get a view of the other climbers. After that I decided to solo some of the easy slabs alongside the railroad tracks to practice building anchors and placing screws.
Despite the terrible commute in the morning, today was still awesome. I felt confident on WI3 ice and climbing with Zac was a pleasure. I learned a ton from him today. This hobby is terribly addicting and I cannot wait to get out again.