The Painted Wall Icicle

Kevin Mahoney working the 100' of M9 drytooling up to the base of the ice.

People have been looking at this route for years and and it was a multi-party effort just to get up to the ice. Dave Moore and Jay Sterner were the first, they put in an aide route with the goal of eventually reaching the ice. They ended thier line at a hanging belay roughly half way. After some hairy aid climbing and a string of hand drilled bolts, the pair left behind a perfectly bolted stretch of rock climbing and drytooling up to a chain anchor. They didn’t get out unscathed however, a RURP popped on Dave, and he took a twenty foot fall and seriously hurt his ankle, leaving Jay to carry out two backpacks while Dave slid out a couple of miles on his ass. They called their effort Borrowed Time.

Two seasons ago Doug Madara got the ball rolling again on trying to get up to the icicle. We had all been thinking about it, but it took someone like Doug to break the ice on this intimidating project. Eventually, Peter Doucette, Kevin Mahoney and I hauled a drill up to the Painted Wall to try and get all the way there. I aided and drytooled to the previous highpoint on Borrowed Time, then bolted the remaining unclimbed 50′, aiding off ice tools, to gain the ice covered ledge at the base of the free hanging pillar, and installed an anchor.

A slew of people tried this first pitch as a mixed climb that season, but tricky sequences, small footholds, hidden holds and a deep pump kept us all from climbing the pitch with no falls. Last year the ice only briefly came in, and I don’t think anyone had a chance to get on it, so when it formed this year Josh Hurst and I quickly headed out to give it a try. We had a great day in the sun, stayed relaxed and I surprised myself, sending the pitch on my third try. I was psyched, but it was still only one of two pitches.

Josh followed, almost sending it, and we reconvened at the foot wide belay ledge at the base of the icicle. Unfortunately, the ice was in awful condition. It was poorly bonded, candled, and tiered in a series of overhanging icicles and curtains; not the more solid column of two years previous. The icicle’s right hand sister flow offered the best chance, but was detached from the wall, although the climbing looked like straight forward grade 5 ice. As the sun started to set and the temperature dropped, we started to rig a rappel as the ice began to make very strange hollow, popping and creaking noises, affirming that bailing was the right decision. There was still one last option though, the only problem was it would take a bolt to get from the ledge to the first piece of gear.

After a rest day we went back out to finish off the route, this time carrying the drill. Still feeling the effects from the effort a couple of days earlier, I started hanging the draws for Josh to try and send the first pitch. When I got up to the base of the ice though, things looked different. The day before had been warm and the ice had taken a hit. The little ice ledge where we had belayed was falling apart as I swung into it. I tried to get on it one last time, high stepping my frontpoint, and a huge chunk of the ledge feel off on my other thigh, not leaving much behind. The ice above looked worse. I lowered off the pitch’s last bolt, having been within five feet of the belay.

I drove past the route yesterday morning and half of the right hand sheet had fallen off in the sun. So it goes, at least nobody got hurt. A couple of years ago we couldn’t climb the rock, but the ice looked relatively good, this year, the opposite. We’ll see what next time has to offer.


Take a look at this shot of the route from Peter Cole’s website taken in 1978, photo 2857. Look for a pair of huge icicles visible on the far right hand of the photo of the Painted Wall. Those years in the late seventies saw the biggest ice ever, and the route looks huge!

Big Expedition for Cancer Research

From left to right: Matt Farmer, Bayard Russell, Kevin Mahoney and Dawn Glanc just below their highpoint on peak 8290', Glacier Bay National Park, AK.

This past June, after a year of preparation, Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center launched its first Big Climb to Conquer Cancer. This is a unique and unprecedented PR tool for raising awareness about the challenges of cancer research which was built on the similarities between cancer research and, not just climbing, but climbing an unclimbed objective. The unknowns, tedious hard work, sometimes overwhelming challenges and occasional successes all combine with the broader simile of knowing right where one wants to get, but not exactly how to get there. Whether the goal is finding a cure for cancer or standing on a virgin summit the path is full of dead ends, unsuspected complications, surprises and you may end up somewhere you didn’t anticipate.

The climbing team consisted of four guides, two whose home base is in Washington state and two from back east, Madison, NH. Dawn Glanc, who just won the Ouray Ice Comp, and Matt Farmer, an IFMGA mountain guide and rock solid climbing partner comprised one rope team. Kevin Mahoney, another IFMGA guide and accomplished alpinist, and I formed the other. In the end, we bailed off our route due to snow conditions, loose rock and lack of anchors. We had gotten to within a few hundred feet of the pyramidal top of the mountain known only as 8290′, and although we would have loved to stand on that summit, realty set in and we had to adapt. As is the case for cancer researchers, who in their massive task of finding a cure for cancer are faced with unforeseen complications and simply must, on occasion, start over. In either case, however, lesson are learned that may help in the future.

Breaching humpback whale.

Getting dropped off at the head of the Reid Inlet, Reid Glacier in the background. The beginning of the 16 mile approach to base camp.

Dawn hauling one of three loads up onto the ice on our first day.

Grizzly bear tracks.

More grizzly tracks, this time eight miles from the beach.

Taking a break with our objective, 8290', in the background. Its the pointy summit directly above Dawn's head (pink hat).

Farmer skinning up to the col that separated our basecamp from 8290'.

We climbed in relative darkness, so the only actions shots are of the descent. Bayard and Kevin down climbing, Kevin is in the background.

More down climbing, Kevin and Bayard.

The base of the ridge we attempted, 3/4's of us assembled.

Heading home in perfect travel conditions.

Our last night on the glacier was beautiful, Glacier Bay in the background.

Kevin and Farmer relaxing on our way out of the Reid Inlet, starting the fifty mile boat ride across Glacier Bay and back to civilization.

Neighborhood Craggin

On the most blustery of days its time to go mixed climbing. It just works out that a surprising amount of the single pitch mixed crags we frequent are sunny, and sheltered from the NW wind that tears across NH this time of year. Its perfect. Hike out in a pair of warm Sorels, slip on some “fruitboots” and have some fun in the sun, knowing full well you could be shivering in the wind while your partner rains down hunks of brittle ice.

Neighbors Kevin Mahoney, Freddy Wilkinson and I spend a lot of these days at the local crag, tucked into the hills of East Madison, NH on Kevin’s family’s own land. Today, down there in the sun, the climbing was comfortable and the ice was growing, despite the single digit temperatures.

Freddy Wilkinson on an unamed mixed route, Toko Crag.