Photographs by Dennis King.

Steve drove up for an ice climbing trip to Banks Lake, in Central Washington. This area near the Grand Coulee Dam stays quite cold during the winter, with temperatures regularly in the low twenties. Many local climbers have discovered the ice climbing over there, feverishly posting the results of trips on cascadeclimbers.com. Of course, I eventually had to grapple with ice myself. Alex Krawarik extended an invitation to Steve and I for a three day ice climbing trip. We could make it for two, and after borrowing some gear from Alex we were set.

We made the long drive over interstate 90, then north on smaller roads until reaching the dramatic cliffs above Banks Lake. A thin layer of snow covered all flat surfaces, and the environs had an arctic look.

Steve at the Devil's Punch Bowl - the climb is behind him Close-up of the climb - the blue dots are ice screw placements, and the green line is the approximate height of a person.

We found the Devil’s Punch Bowl near Steamboat Rock, and suited up for some climbing. While I walked steeply up-slope to the base of the climb, Steve had his picture taken by the owner of a nearby frame shop. He promised to send Steve a copy.

Steve joined me and we bouldered around with our ice tools on very low angle ice, having been suitably intimidated by the 15 foot vertical step at the base of the climb. Soon, Alex and Maurice arrived, and straightaway, Alex began a “mini-lesson.” His tips made it possible to climb the vertical step without too much drama. The ice was formed into bulges and pockets, creating good placements for hooking. Perhaps the best tip was about footwork. Look for a stance to place your foot, rather than immediately front-pointing into blank ice. Use every opportunity to rest your feet by stemming.

Steve put me on belay while Alex climbed (solo) alongside me, and off we went over the vertical bulge. At the top, suitably coached, I placed a screw, and then another at the base of the next off-vertical step. Alex hurried me along, and my mind was racing, so I don’t remember the climb very well. It was very much like my first rock climbing on lead: totally absorbed in the tiny patch in front of you. I placed a screw at the mid-point of the 2nd step, from a decent rest position. Then I angled right, trying to use Alex’s placements rather than creating my own. One more screw as a directional, and I was finished! The climb was a full 50 meters, but half of that was low angle walking terrain. I said thanks to Alex, and he took off - Maurice had been very patient and they were eager to tackle something harsh.

Steve began climbing, taking to it readily. I wanted him to benefit from everything Alex told me, and I think he heard a lot of it. As he climbed, I became increasingly aware of the ice chandeliers above the climb. They were dripping water and small chunks of ice steadily. With the warming temperatures (it was now above freezing), we realized this was becoming a dangerous climb. Steve knew this, and climbed the second step in record time, stopping to wait for a climber converging on our line. At the top, we said “wow…so that’s ice climbing!” and made the walk down. Without even discussing it, we knew it was insane to continue with the icicles melting above, so we made for the car.

The frame shop owner had left a beautiful color photo on the car, apparently he had rushed home and printed it from his digital camera! This is where the pictures are from in this report.

We drove down the road and found Alex and Maurice trying to get to the ice halfway up a rotten cliff. Alex placed a few manky pitons, and moved brutally past a crux, 200 feet above us. We took some pictures, then started the drive back to Seattle. We had talked about waiting for morning to climb the Devil’s Punch Bowl again, when the icicles were frozen, but we didn’t want to lose a half-day hanging around. We decided to climb something in the Cascades on Sunday.

Anyway, this climb gave us confidence to explore further with our ice tools. It wasn’t as hard as I expected, nor was the climbing as dangerous as I had thought. The tool placements and ice screws were reliable. A very special thanks to Alex and Maurice for the introduction!