Sunday, January 4, 2015

Potatoes, hops, and . . . ice???

Idaho is known for its potatoes, and amongst connoisseurs of strong DIPAs for its hops, but it turns out it also has good ice!!!

Since the first time I swung an ice tool with a bunch of friends at the "Children's Wall" in Ouray Colorado, February of 2008, I've been a bit obsesses.  The fact that large waterfalls freeze at all is pretty cool, and then you add in the fact that you can climb them???  It doesn't get much better!

For years now I've driven up to 15 hours just to climb waterfall ice.  When I moved to Boise in 2011 I heard rumors about local ice that would form with just the right conditions . . . but for 3 1/2 years the right conditions never quite seemed to line up with my time off . . . until now!

Hidden Falls

The temperature had not risen above freezing in a week.  I went outside to get the mail and noticed that ice-o-meter (a bird sippy thing that was here when we move in) was completely frozen over.  The weekend after new years was coming up, and the low temps were supposed to hold.  It was time to rally the troops!

My friend Paul just finished Chemo therapy a couple days before, and despite not having exercised at all since September, was super eager to get out!  Paul is a badass, so a little thing like just having finished Chemo wasn't going to stop him!  We made plans for Saturday Morning.

The first place we headed was "Hidden Falls".  I got some vague beta on where to go from my friend Pat.  That, combined with some research on Google Earth, helped me figure out where I needed to be.  After about an hour drive from Boise, we were parking the car on a snowed over dirt road.  As we unloaded our stuff, we noticed another call pull up and park about 1/8 mile away, and four guys get out and shoulder packs with ice climbing gear!  Apparently "Hidden"  didn't mean "secret"!  We had a bit of a head start and hiked fast.

As we started the approach we got a glimpse of the top of the falls, and then all sight of it vanished.  We hiked up an improbable drainage for awhile, rounded a corner, and the then we saw it!

Our first glimpse of Hidden Falls
We got to the base, flaked the rope, and racked up.  Just as I was about to take off to lead the climb, the first of the other four climbers showed up.  It turned out it was one of the Jims from the Idaho Summits Forum.  We both knew of each other, and Jim was a very friendly fellow.  He seemed to know the local ice pretty well, and provided us with some additional clues of how to find our next stop, Poisen Falls.  

The other three climbers in Jim's party showed up.  Among them was Taylor, who I also recognized from some internet posts.  He raved about all the good ice in Twin Falls . . .  Another place I need to check out.

Eventually I started up the climb.  The ice was good, and the climbing felt secure.  

Me leading Hidden Falls
The whole climb was about 120 feet, and either WI3+ or WI4.  Given the fact that we were only a 1 hour drive and 15 minute hike from Boise, I thought the ice was stellar!  It got steeper and more interesting on the upper 1/3 of the route.  

We trailed a rope up for Jim's group to save them the trouble of walking around and setting a top rope.  

Paul following with Jim's rope in tow
After Hidden Falls we headed about 2 miles southeast to check out Poisen Creek Falls.  After driving around a bit and checking the topo, we eventually figured out where to park to access Poisen Creek.  After hiking over a small saddle the impressive Poisen Creek Canyon came into view.  The walls on either side must have been 500 feet tall!  As we hiked right up into the gut, we soon needed to don crampons to negotiate the frozen over stream.  

Eventually the approach turned to fairly exposed class 4 on snow covered rock.  Paul went ahead, and encouraged me to brave the scary approach with statements to the effect of, "this is one of the coolest frozen waterfalls I've ever seen!"

Eventually I made it, and I have to say, he wasn't exaggerating!

Me, checking standing on a frozen pool while checking out Poisen Creek Falls.

The falls were spectacular, but they looked a bit thin and chandeliered.  The possibilities for placing screws clearly existed in the upper 1/3 of the climb, but possibilities for protection before that looked unsure.

I decided to climb up and check it out first hand.  I climbed about 15 feet to where it looked like I might be able to fiddle in a screw . . .

Me, investigating the lower reaches of Poisen Creek Falls.  I downclimbed shortly after this.
Unfortunately, the location I had seen from below was hollow behind.  Looking up, I could see that I would need to get WAY off the deck before my first gear.  Yet the climbing felt solid . . . What to do?  I decided to play it safe and downclimb.  I'd leave this climb for another day.  Yet even as we recoiled the rope, I knew I wouldn't be able to get a good night sleep until I came back and gave this route another go.  Too aesthetic, and too within my abilities!

After rapping out and hiking back to the car, we were running short on daylight.  We decided to drive over to Jump Creek just to check it out.  The road was good all the way in.  There was a bathroom at the parking lot, and the hike took all of two minutes.  This climb was delux!  Even better, it was in!!!

Jump Creek Falls
On the dark drive home, I mentioned coming back the following day, but Paul had already made plans to go hiking with a buddy.  As soon as I got home I called up my good friend Reggie.  I raved about the ice an hour away, asked him what he was doing the next day, and he said, "climbing ice with you!"

We got a bit of an earlier start on Sunday.  Reggie and I pulled through Los Betos in Nampa for some excellent breakfast burritos, and headed for Jump Creek Road.  We pulled up, hiked out, and flaked the rope.  Reggie seemed keen and asked for the lead.

The climbing was very secure, but options for screw placements were few.  That said, Reggie found enough to keep the climb reasonable.

Reggie taking off to lead Jump Creek Falls
At the top of the climb we decided to hike up-canyon a little ways just to scout it out.  There was another flow back there, but it looked like it needed to be a bit fatter for a reasonable climb . . .

Looking up Jump Creek Canyon after hiking about 5 minutes from the top of the falls.  Note the flow in the center of the photo.  If it were a bit fatter it just might go . . .
The downclimb from Jump Creek Falls was a bit tedious, but not too bad . . .
After Jump Creek, we went to Poisen Creek. It was time for my rematch!  I led up the funky mushroom ice to my previous highpoint.  I stopped and thought for a minute.  I was 15 feet up, and had at least another 15 to go before my first protection.  I felt calm and in control, and the climbing felt very secure.  I decided to climb one more step up, and then another.  Eventually I was committed.   Right as the mushroom ice on the left wall started to get thinner I was able to transition my right tool and foot to the curtain in the center.  By stemming and moving very carefully I was able to distribute my weight between my limbs without weighting any one of them too much.  Eventually I reached a spot where I could place a screw.  I knew the screw was junk, but I was in a good stemming stance and figured at the worst case I was making my harness lighter.

Another 8 feet and I reached a slightly less than vertical bit that actually contained good ice!  After delicately chipping and hooking my way up the ice below, I swung greedily into the thick ice in front of  my face.  THUNK.  God I love one-swing-sticks!

I placed a good screw in the short section of good ice.  Then another screw 6 feet higher, just to make sure.  Another 8 feet and I found myself standing under the final crux, the chockstone.  Thin, chandelieriered ice greeted me on both sides.  I thought I might be able to place a cam between the chockstone and the wall, but alas, the crack was too icy.  I tied off a 12" diameter partially aerated icicle, and placed a short screw that stuck 1" out of the ice.  "I wish two shitty placements equaled something good, but I think they just equal a bigger pile of shit!" I yelled down to Reggie.  Oh well, I had two good screws below me that should keep me off of the deck if I fell . . .

 None of this mattered, since I didn't plan on falling.  I hooked one tool around the icicle and leaned out.  I took a step up and swung my right tool into the ice cascading from the right side of the chockstone.  I stemmed between the two walls of the slot canyon, worked my feet up, and then swung my left tool in the smaller portion of ice coming from the left side of the chockstone.  With two good tool placements I simply worked my feet up.  The ice ran out for my feet on left, but I stemmed between the ice on the right and rock on the left.  A few more swings and a few more steps and I was on top!

Reggie seemed to have fun following.  What a great route!

Reggie on the sketchy approach to Poisen Creek.  He ended up down climbing and we climbed up a rock groove and airy traverse to our right.

Reggie just below the final chockstone on Poisen Creek Falls
After Poisen Falls I was pretty thrilled, but the day was young yet, so we decided to finish off with a trip back to Hidden Falls.  The warmer weather seemed to be melting the climb out quickly.  Ice that easily took a 19cm screw the day before was no longer thick enough for 16cm screws in places.  Fortunately I brought a couple shorties!  Also the warm weather made for some excellent one-swing-stick plastic ice that was super fun to climb!

Overall it was a fantastic weekend!  I managed to locate 3 of the mysterious Owyhee Ice Climbs, and had fun climbing and laughing with two good friends.

Paul getting (vertical?) on the ice at the base of Poisen Falls


  1. So you never found my parking spot and cairn leading to the Poison creek climb from above? 5 minute walk. Great to see you!

    Jim Pace

    1. Hi Jim, no we couldn't find it. There were some power lines by a house, but that would have been a long walk in! You say from "above" . . . Does that mean you came in from the top and rapped down? If so, that might explain why we didn't find it. We entered from the bottom of the canyon and had to do a bit of exposed class 4 to get to the base of the falls.

    2. Our approach was about 15 or 20 minutes to the base of the class 4. On the bright side, not rapping the falls first made the lead exciting since I didn't get to see the upper part before climbing it.

    3. Yup, we drove up the road to the top of the plateau first, then my directions are from the small power line up there.

  2. Nice pics! Climbed Hidden falls in the early 2000's, great to see it's still getting some love.