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!