Summit County ice climber attempts high-elevation Pikes Peak climb
FRISCO — A recent ice-climbing trip to Pikes Peak was supposed to be the cherry on top on a great ice climbing season for Summit local Reid Kalmus.
Ice climbing this late in the season above 13,000 feet on the north face of the state’s most famous 14,000-foot mountain was something Kalmus was eager to accomplish. But he and his buddy Sam Sala’s somewhat successful, somewhat unsuccessful trip is a glimpse into the fickle element of ice climbing in Colorado’s continuously changing conditions, especially in warmer months.
After a season for Kalmus that included memorable ice climbs in Ouray, the greater San Juans and even the desert of Unaweep Canyon, he and Sala got word that recent rainstorms in the Pikes Peak region had helped make the melting and refreezing of winter’s runoff at 13,500 feet ideal for waterfall climbing.
“It’s a very, very hit-or-miss area,” Kalmus said. “You have to get it in the right conditions.”
The duo soon learned that firsthand. In their best attempt to avoid warming temperatures and as much melting ice as they could, the duo ascended in the early morning via a boot-pack hike through steep snow along a 200-foot stretch of a couloir that led to the first anchor. From there, Sala led the first pitch. It was one that got steeper and steeper with any remaining snow turning to waterfall ice once the slope reached a 50-degree pitch.
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From there, the duo ascended what Kalmus said graded out as WI3 in terms of waterfall ice grading, which is generally a sustained ascent in the 60–70 degree range. As the duo ascended this 100-foot portion into a belay cave, Sala went first, hooting and hollering enjoying the climb as runoff came down in all directions via a narrow gully.
“But then I started looking higher up on the mountain, seeing enormous amounts of water coming from several points several hundred feet above him,” Kalmus said. “He couldn’t see what I saw. By the time I got to the ice, there was a constant 1-2 inches of water coming down. The ice was beneath a river, basically.”
Soaked in Pikes Peaks’ runoff, Kalmus and Sala decided to call it a day with temperatures rising at 9 a.m. They chose to play it safe and avoid any chances of hypothermia. They made the decision after they found some protection in a little belay cave with a huge stone above it.
“It was basically pouring water everywhere,” Kalmus said. “It didn’t really freeze the night before, and that was the major problem. There had been a lot of moisture in the Pikes Peaks region the week prior. There were good hard freezes the week prior, and the conditions were good all week long. But when we were there, the soft freeze didn’t really lock up the night before, and it was pouring down water all day. By the time we got to the first pitch, we were in an ice cold shower and, basically, it was more and more intense by the minute.”
Such is a day in the life of a High Country ice climber, when respecting the ice, the mountain and Mother Nature is always paramount — especially come spring’s uncertainty.
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