Golden Tears (tiers?) may the “most classic” waterfall ice climb in the greater Jackson Hole area, with 500 feet of terraced WI4/WI4+ climbing above Lake Louise and the sleepy town of Dubois, Wyoming. Finding the beast in suitable attire can be finicky business, as some years the lower pitches don’t form at all, but on Thursday February 2nd, 2023, Jorge Hedreen and I scored big in full ice conditions.
Jorge represents my second Instagram relationship that morphed into a day of stellar ice climbing. We shared mutual friends, even met briefly on a ski descent of the Grand Teton in 2022, but had never formally connected until I jumped into the cab of his truck at 5:00AM on Thursday morning. The plan was simple: Drive three hours to the northern foothills of the Wind River Range, hike three miles to Lake Louise, penguin slip across a substantial frozen alpine lake, punch a trail through an isothermal boulder field and waist deep wind pockets for a few hundred vertical feet, climb four pitches of grade four ice, navigate a few precarious rappels and retrace steps back to our respective pillows – all with a brand new partner. Six car hours, seven foot miles, 3,000 feet of vertical gain, 500 feet of steep ice – and herein lies a recipe for an interesting day, and a good night’s sleep.
By the power of Jorge’s beefy 4WD pickup we reached the trailhead in expedient fashion. We departed the truck with a light mixed rack, prepared for the worst if Golden Tears happened to be unformed. Clear skies afforded early views of the monstrous terraced yellow flow, which looked foreboding amongst a chilly headwind blowing off the shores of Lake Louise. We hiked and boot-skated the lakeshore until directly below the Tears, and were happy to see beefy ice well formed to the ground. The slog to the base of the climb is best abbreviated to four words – isothermal, arduous and soul crushing. I offer no advice other than packing a good attitude, but luckily the business is only a few hundred feet.
We tied in around noon, about three hours after leaving the car. I took the first pitch to grow accustomed to my brand new BD Stinger crampons, which bit like a viper with factory sharp points. Mostly trivial WI3 terrain and the occasional rotten bulge of steeper challenge led to the base of the first vertical ice “tier” where I set a sheltered belay.
Jorge followed in a jiffy and quickly swung through for the first real difficulties. Unlike the larger consistent multi-pitch flows of Hyalite Canyon and Northern Utah, Golden Tears is a fascinating formation of several small cascading curtains broken up by low angle slabs. If you’ve climbed in Hyalite before, imagine a half-dozen G1’s stacked on top of each other, in the distant northeast corner of the lower 48’s most remote wilderness area – something special. I was pleased with Jorge’s technical prowess, weaving up the steep virgin ice with commendable fortitude and setting a second belay below the final pitch of three terracing curtains. 80 some meters into our outing we seemed acclimated as partners and well on our way.
The final pitch, as mentioned above, is a lovely triple pancake stack of near-vertical curtains, each about 10-15 meters. It had been a while since I’d climbed untouched grade four ice, and my Hyalite seasoned arms were surely craving the few effortless hooks I never found. The higher we climbed the thicker the ice became, but also the harder – far from plastic, we worked for our sticks. With two of three curtains in the bank and one final push to go, I decided to bring Jorge up for his own glory dance on the upper headwall, even though I could have easily topped out with 15M of cord to spare. As opposed to the lower two pitches shrouded by a dramatic easterly rock wall, the upper pitch is unabridged and dangling 1,000-some feet above Lake Louise below – I knew the man would appreciate one last lead.
Watching Jorge lead the the final 10M of Golden Tears represents everything I love about alpine climbing. The setting was sublime – a pink-orange duotone hue adorned the sky, and views east of Dubois and further ranges stretched beyond the frozen shores of a half-mile diameter alpine lake. Jorge’s gratitude and subsequent prowess for and on the final pitch was commendable. The feeling of tremendous accomplishment after tackling a route we both reserved a margin of silent trepidation for was reassuring, and last but not least, connecting with yet another new partner for a such a beautiful day of recreation in the hills was well… divine in a way. After topping out the steep ice we traversed off the formation in the name of daylight, shorting ourselves a few rumbles of WI2 terrain. Two 60M rappels and bit of easy down climbing through a narrow rock and ice gully skier’s right saw us to the packs, but with plenty of deadfall and loose rock ready to snag ropes or impale a partner, I was left wishing we bailed off threads. Though I cannot conclusively confirm this, I believe two full 60M rappels from the top of the steep ice would reach the ground.
A Short Reflection
Terrain and commute statistics are listed in the first paragraph – fitting, as the beauty in this trip lied outside the physical challenge. Dubois is quite simply a special place to climb. Unlike the Tetons, where skis are mandatory kit and approaches often involve several hours of deep powder navigation, Dubois has a more traditional alpine ice feel. The scenery is an incredible contrast from Grand Teton National Park – green grass still shines, the trees look ever more alive and the feeling of dry trail beneath a pair of mountain boots provides affirmation that spring really does exist, even if you are currently headed to harass a wall of frozen water. Besides Golden Tears and the classic Lake Louise Guly (WI3), several other routes of lesser magnitude adorn the sprawl of Lake Louise begging to be explored. In Jorge I found a partner who also appreciates the beauty of natural wonders often discarded as trivial – the defining whistle of warm wind, galaxy-esque matrices of air pockets beneath a frozen lake-surface and the obvious incredible uniqueness of Golden Tears’ tiered yellow flows – only to name a few. Last but not least, four pitches of steep ice on the widely regarded “most classic” waterfall ice of Northwest Wyoming doesn’t hurt one bit. This day was nothing short of memorable, and serves as deep inspiration for future frozen adventures to come, and the benchmark for a solid alpine partnership.
Rack and Route Recommendations
When touching the ground, only screws are needed for a climb of Golden Tears. When the first pitch is unformed, as it often is, a mixed variation ascends climber’s left at the grade of M6. More information can be found on the mixed variation in Garrick Hart’s Teton Ice guidebook. The recommended descent follows a narrow rock and ice gully skier’s right, with at least two 60M rappels from exposed trees through loose choss. Though I am not often one to contradict age old wisdom, I believe a safer descent can be made via threads down the main flow. Two 60M rappels, or at the very most three, would be needed to reach the ground from the top of the steep ice.
Ten Thousand Too Far is generously supported by Icelantic Skis from Golden Colorado, Barrels & Bins Natural Market in Driggs Idaho, Range Meal Bars from Bozeman Montana and Black Diamond Equipment. Give these guys some business – who doesn’t need great skis, gear and wholesome food?
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Ski mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing and all other forms of mountain recreation are inherently dangerous. Should you decide to attempt anything you read about in this article, you are doing so at your own risk! This article is written to the best possible level of accuracy and detail, but I am only human – information could be presented wrong. Furthermore, conditions in the mountains are subject to change at any time. Ten Thousand Too Far and Brandon Wanthal are not liable for any actions or repercussions acted upon or suffered from the result of this article’s reading.
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