First ice climb of the season: Direct North Face

Just returned from a short road trip doing a little climbing and put the new Columbia Sportswear goods to the test!

Gary and I decided we needed a little sun and warmth before the winter really sets in so we headed off to the desert.  Before leaving our sweet home in the San Juan Mountains, Gary decided we had to get out on the early season ice at least once.  Reluctantly I agreed and we started out our adventure in South Mineral Creek, just outside Silverton, CO.  As we left the truck for the shaded Direct North Face of 12,579 peak, the nagging feeling of dread of being cold and miserable lingered in my mind.  “Why do I like this ice climbing stuff again?” I pondered aloud to Gary.  Fearful of being chilled, I left the truck with all the layers on – starting with the Women’s Baselayer Midweight Stripe top and bottoms, then the “Windefend” ½ zip and the “Reach the Peak” Hybrid Down Jacket, topped off with the “Key Three” softshell jacket.  Needless to say, I didn’t have to go but 40 meters and I was starting to shed layers.  Down to the “Windefend layer” we tip-toed across the barely frozen creek and trudged through the snow up to the base of our ~300m climb.

As we approached, it appeared the first pitches were going to be pretty straightforward, whew!  Tucked in next to the wall at the base of the first vertical ice, I threw the Hybrid down jacket back on as I strapped on my crampons, and sorted gear.  Nice and toasty warm and ready to climb, I packed the “downie” away, put the softshell back on and tied the rope on my back to solo the first few pitches of WI3 ice.  As I climbed and warmed up, I unzipped the neck and sides vents on the shell to regulate.  To my surprise, that was enough to keep me from overheating.  Added bonus – they overlapped just enough to prevent snow getting in as I scratched around for ice underneath the foot of powder snow covering the scary, thin, top-outs.  Once the initial ice steps were past, we stacked the ropes out for the “real pitches”.  As we transitioned, I kept warm by zipping back up the ½ zip and the shell vents and throwing the hood over my helmet.  While not designed to fit over a helmet, the hood did stay put and kept me comfy.

I won the toss for the first pitch.  With excitement and trepidation, I stepped around onto the pillar and started the dance.  Part way up the first pitch, that question was arising again “why do I like ice climbing?”  I fumbled for the zipper-pulls with my gloved hands as sweat started to build underneath and the burn in my hands intensified.  As usual, first climb of the season I was over-gripping the tools and working much harder than necessary.  With a bit more effort, I topped out the pillar, quickly placed a nice long ice screw for an anchor and shouted “off-belay” to Gary.  Zippers and hood back up to keep the precious warmth in, I quickly built a solid anchor and drew the rope in to bring Gary up.

He made fast work of the pitch that seemed to take me forever and was off on his own adventure on the lead.  While he tapped and tip-toed up the delicate ice above the chill started to set in again.  With that, the dreaded feeling of being cold started to occupy my mind.  Remembering my advice to clients to “keep moving”, I started shrugging my shoulders and tapping my feet.  Quickly the “Omni-heat – Make Your Own Heat” layer started its magic.  Cold staved off and mind relaxed I started up behind Gary.  As I danced around the delicate ice I remembered why I love ice climbing – it’s one of the few times I feel graceful in this world.  As warmth grew across my smiling cheeks, I noticed a few flakes of the silver inner liner – the “Omni-Shield” – had rubbed off while putting the shirt on that morning.  I was wearing glitter with out even trying!  An even wider smile grew across my checks and I was back in the flow of the season.

Danika Gilbert has made the San Juan’s her home since 2002 and is passionate about sharing her love of the outdoors with others, whatever the activity. She has traveled around the world both as a scientist and climber.  She makes her living as a full-time guide now, leading people on adventures from rock and ice climbing to mountain biking and skiing. Danika lives above Ridgway, CO with her sweet dog Avellana who is a constant companion on runs, bike rides and ski adventures in the San Juan Mountains.