The Eagle Scout Pillar, a.k.a. Mack-Tyson Pillar, is perhaps the gem of steep waterfall ice in the Teton Range. Tucked into the deep recedes of Teton Canyon, “the pillar” provides a consistent 35M of vertical or overhanging climbing ranging anywhere from WI5- to WI6R. On a fine snowy Sunday, Jorge Hedreen and I both led the Eagle Scout in WI5 conditions for each of our proudest ice leads to date.
The Eagle Scout Pillar (FA: Ty Mack & Andy Tyson, WI6R) stands as a monolith to Teton Canyon winter users of all disciplines. Visible from the widely popular groomed nordic track, the 35M dead vertical neon-blue flow oozes from the trees underpinning Hanging Canyon, bisecting the 100-300 foot, and some quarter-mile wide limestone cliff-band that bridges the vast expanse between Treasure Mountain and Treasure Bowl (USGS 10,122′). To my knowledge, Eagle Scout is the steepest and most consistent waterfall ice in the range, forming anywhere from WI5- to WI6R. For decades the big rig was notoriously elusive, reluctant to form for years at a time, but now “local climbers believe the drainage has changed” (1), resulting in a more consistent showing. Last winter, and even earlier this winter, sights of the dazzling dagger conglomerate brought nothing but trepidation en route to easier faire, but after 50 some pitches and a few grade five leads, trying my hand at the west side’s finest was beginning to sound more appealing.
After a mighty successful day on Golden Tears 72 hours earlier, I was excited to once again partner with Jorge Hedreen. Jorge and I hover around the same ice grade, both leading our first WI5’s this season. Originally we’d planned on sampling the mixed climbing on Shadow Peak south, but pivoted late in favor of sleep. Our first views from the nordic track brought a mix of excitement and caution, a feeling that grew with every gaining glimpse through the dense canyon floor overgrowth. We rumbled across the old Boy Scout Camp bridge and up a well traveled skin track towards the outflow of Hanging Canyon. Easiest passage appears to be just above the primary drainage on climber’s right (west), until a vast amphitheater is reached with clear views of the Eagle.
As compensation for cutting the approach through knee deep wet snow, Jorge offered first lead to me. Staring up the steepest and baddest piece of ice I’d ever taken sharp end for, I felt neither confident nor scared, simply open to the experience. The crux was distinct, a pronounced roof feature about two body lengths off the ground – atop the overhang a no hands rest, and seemingly straightforward, well-traveled vertical ice thereon. A brief bought of nipple deep wallowing and I was on my way.
I know I will probably receive some flack for this, however, I did manage my first lead fall on ice, right at the aforementioned roof feature. I reached the roof, slotted a high screw which I deemed “good enough” and began up a series of steep hooks and blobs. I swung with my left tool, got a good stick in chunk of white-ish ice, then proceeded to swing a little too close to the previous with my right. As soon as my second tool contacted the ice I felt both dislodge, barely catching and wobbling on the rim of the roof. With my second tool pinned and tensioned against the back of my first, I knew I was off should I move either. My previous screw was about knee height, and instead of advancing with a lurch, I began down climbing as low as possible to shorten the fall. My tools ended up popping somewhere into this down-climb, resulting in a controlled two foot fall onto my second screw, which accepted some pull but ultimately popped. The next screw in line, my first, arrested the fall as I gently sagged into the neck deep slough cone that is the base of the Eagle Scout – completely unharmed.
Deposited back at the base of the climb, tail between my legs but physically unharmed, I immediately told Jorge I was heading up for round two. The error was one of carelessness rather than ability – don’t swing too close to another tool in delicate ice – and despite being slightly ashamed, I knew beyond a flicker of doubt I had learned my lesson and was up to the task. Jorge, being the perpetual optimist he appears to be, offered nothing but encouragement. On my second tango with the crux bulge I took care to place two high screws before committing to the mantle. Instead of matching tools over the roof in the same questionable ice, I swung into a protrusion of blue ice high left. The mantle itself was still far from routine, but with tools well spaced in independent ice I felt confident in their security and climbed into the no-hands rest with relative ease. I took a healthy five minutes to decompress from the crux and prepare myself for the back 80 percent of the route, which though still steep, boasted a plethora of features and blobs for creative resting in difficult sections. At times quality ice for screw placements was limited, but ultimately the remainder of the lead felt comfortable and well within my wheelhouse. Looking down from the lower angle ice on the very top of the route, bathing in over 100 feet of vertical waterfall ice exposure, I had a “pinch me” moment. I was actually there, on the sharp end, and better yet – I felt like I belonged.
It wasn’t until I rappelled and cleaned the route I appreciated it’s true unrelenting verticality, and how proud I was for sticking with the challenge despite the early bobble. Jorge followed suit with his own lead, also struggling with the crux overhang, but ultimately holding tight for the on-sight. In the good graces of Mac Miller we rejoiced in the power of sharing such an experience together – it’s not often two climbers of the same ability get to tandem send their hardest routes to date, holding each other’s ropes – a special day. I returned to the Boy Scout Cirque for the adjacent mixed climbs four days later, and ended up leading the Eagle again – still pumpy, and the roof still tricky. I look forward to the day where vertical water ice doesn’t feel so serious, so exhausting, so hard to establish fluidity – but for now I’m going to celebrate the little victories, like the fact I can even haul myself up 35M of vertical ice at all. Two years ago I was little more than an ultra-runner who couldn’t do a single pull-up – times have changed.
Route Summary and Beta
The Eagle Scout Pillar is a worthy piece of ice that would stand as a four star classic in any of North America’s finest ice venues – over 100 feet of vertical or overhanging climbing with little more than the odd cauliflower or ice chimney to rest, no low angle business. Views of Grand Targhee, Table Mountain and the rolling expanse of the Teton’s west keep the atmosphere as photogenic as they come. Conditions can be lightly assessed from the Teton Canyon nordic track (or summer road in early winter). The pillar has been known to fall multiple times in a single season, and should be assessed carefully before climbing. Pictures from this trip report represent a “very fat” WI5 offering.
Tree anchors are available ~5M above and east of the ice. An 80M single rope is the absolute minimum requirement for lowering/top-roping from the trees – otherwise, double ropes are considered standard. Ice screws of all sizes should suffice in healthy conditions. In thin years, Blue Smoker (M6, picture below) might provide easiest access to the upper ice, well protected by bolts and optional screws. A handful of other mixed climbs adorn the cirque, information on which can be found in Garrick Hart’s “Teton Ice” guidebook.
- (1) Eagle Scout, Mountain Project (https://www.mountainproject.com/route/115184461/eagle-scout)
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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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