I enjoyed a great day out today with my good friend Steve and sent a “new to me” climb I have thought about for years. Our original goal was Cocaine, one of the ephemeral South Face of Frankenstein Grade 4+’s that had seen quite a bit of traffic over the last couple weeks. Unfortunately when we got there it looked a bit like a giant slush puppy and we decided to fall back to plan B, First Ascent Gully.
I have been looking at First Ascent Gully since I started climbing at Frankenstein 12 years ago. If you study the south face as you approach the parking lot from the south on Rt 302 you’ll easily recognize routes (from right to left) like The Fang, Wrath of Valkyrie, and Cocaine… If you look just a bit further to the left, around a large buttress, up in a drainage high above the rail road tracks, you’ll spot the top of First Ascent Gully. It is the farthest left ice climb in the guidebook at Frankenstein.
The approach currently is pretty straight forward. Leave the upper parking lot and walk north along the tracks for about 2 minutes. Take the first obvious trail up the slope you come to. A moderate pace will get you to the base of the south face in about 20-25 minutes. Traverse left following the path of least resistance through a nice open hardwood forest. Start working up hill as you enter a major drainage. You should be able to see the route through the trees within about 10 minutes of traversing from the Cocaine area.
We doubted we would run into anyone in this rarely visited area but wouldn’t you know we ran into our good friend Bob A. and his partner David just before reaching the route.
The climb has great belay spots on the right and a bit of a recessed cave on that side. The business starts right away with about a 30 foot grade 4 section before it eases up considerably.
Once Bob joined David at the top of the first pitch they waited while we got on route. The sticks were solid but the ice was a bit soft to the point where my feet did not feel quite as solid as I would have liked. Regardless I got through the business without any shenanigans and enjoyed the mellower terrain above reaching the birch tree anchor 100 feet up on the left and joining Bob & David. They decided they would rap and explore the area a bit more so down they went, then I belayed Steve on up.
From this anchor we could have just barely rapped with our 60m rope, but I had an assumption that the Frankenstein Cliff Trail, a usually well packed hiking trail, would not be far from the top out. A quick check on my iPhone Topo App seemed to confirm that a horrendous bushwhack did not await us, so Steve took off up the 140 foot “2nd pitch” which was pretty much Class 3 “steep tree swimming”. I followed with just one axe hooking from tree to tree, and when I arrived at his selected anchor I spotted a mileage trail sign only 50 feet away.
We coiled our rope and checked the trail, which was packed and not slick, so off came the crampons and down we hustled out to a few very nice outlooks and then into the Amphitheater. While we were not “running” per say we were moving at a good clip, and I was stoked to see we could make it from our top-out to the bottom of the Amphitheater in just 20 minutes!
Steve had not lead the Pegasus ice finish before, so we went over to look at that. It was fat, but was also extremely wet, soft, and “showery”. We opted for the Rock Finish via the beginning of a much drier Hobbit Couliour.
After topping out we headed back down the descent trail and saw a couple guys climbing the upper pitch of Hard Rain. The first pitch was not in so they had moved into it from Chia.
We got back to the car at 3pm, 5.5 hours from when we left. Felt like a pretty solid day so we were off to the Moat for those ridiculous Longhorn Nachos and a pint of Imperial Stout.
Days like this, moving through the mountains in fair weather with good friends around… well… we all need more of days like this!
Hope you got out today or have plans to get out this weekend!
See you in the mountains,
P.S. 9 more days left to enter the contest to win two brand new ice screws. One entry for liking North East Alpine Start on Facebook, and one entry for following/subscribing to the blog (link at the top right of website)