The Moratorium (WI4) is the longest continuous waterfall ice climb (~100M, 300 feet) in the South Fork of the Shoshone River. High On Boulder is a three-pitch true classic at the WI4 grade, and when connected with the Pillar Of Pain, forms a five pitch alpine style route with two additional pitches up to WI5/6.
On February 17th, Chris Hackbarth and I set sail with a fully loaded pop-top camper for the waterfall ice Mecca of the Northern Rockies, Cody Wyoming. This would be my first trip to the South Fork Valley, land of long approaches, remote wilderness and picturesque multi-pitch ice climbs on the eastern fringe of Yellowstone National Park. “Big” is a simple word, but really, there’s no better way to describe this area. The energy driving into the South Fork is commanding, the valley bounds are large enough to house a small city, and the craggy red-orange peaks appear multi-thousand foot battleships walling either side northeast and southwest. Chris had climbed in the South Fork before, and as such, assumed the role of tick list engineer. Up first was Moratorium, which Joe Josephson’s Winter Dance guidebook describes as the longest continuous waterfall ice in Cody, at some 100M tall – two pitches, WI4.
Moratorium (WI4, II)
The approach to Moratorium involves a few flatland miles and about 1,200 vertical feet, probably two hours, provided reasonable snow conditions and fitness. Beginning at a logical pull-off from Hunter Creek road (GPS coordinates) , where the climb is directly visible, we proceeded with line-of-sight tactics – eyes on our gem the entire way (more specific approach information in Winter Dance). Low snow conditions brought typical high-desert hiking on dirt, hardened brush and shallow crusty snow, accompanied by pleasant whiffs of fresh sage with every wind kick. Moratorium is comprised of two distinct pitches. The first follows a wide off-vertical smear that can range from thin reliable ice to verglas spiked with ice cobbles. Often difficult or impossible to protect, pitch one earns the consensus grade of WI3R, though when we came along the covering was generous, and adequate protection was available with 10cm stubbies before thicker ice ~10M off the deck. Chris lead pitch one in a jiffy and belayed me up to the obvious ice ledge below the steeper second pitch, about 40M in all, a great lesson in delicate swinging, hooking and footwork.
My share was pitch two, where the ice steepened but thinness was no longer a concern. Fresh off a full rest week and a seven hour commute, this standard 60 meter WI4 punch felt harder than it should have. The ice was brittle and I struggled to establish my flow. A cold wind whistled up the climb and the sun was nowhere to be seen. As I topped out, runout beyond reason after poor screw management, I wished dearly for extra protection. Overall, the experience could actually be considered unpleasant, though the pure aesthetics of this 300 foot flow, and subsequent summit views of the South Fork Valley, promoted gratitude. Every climb can’t be the best, and after a brief moment of feeling sorry for myself, I reveled in the accomplishment of persevering through fear and discomfort. If I want to continue with winter climbing, surprise pitches of fright and unexpected difficulty will be around every corner – a necessary evil worth making friends with. We made two rappels to the ground off a tree and v-thread with 70M double ropes. For aspiring climbers, it should be noted that a 70M rope will only reach the pitch two belay tree with centimeters to spare (depending on climbing line), and an ice anchor atop pitch two, with v-thread descent, is probably more practical.
All in all, Moratorium provided a superb two pitch climb of four-star caliber, a perfect South Fork acclimatization mission, with the approach serving as the crux. Upon descent, we attempted a cliff-line traverse up canyon to Pillars Of The Community and/or Joy After Pain, but were remised to find them both out of condition. The second pitch of Pillars had completely fallen, and the first pitch of Joy After Pain wasn’t quite touching. With The One Hitter, north of Moratorium, also not touching, we decided to cut our day short and focus on recovery for the next day ahead, bounding back to the valley with sunlight to spare – an excellent day in the books.
Pillar Of Pain (via High On Boulder & Save It For Later) (WI5, IV)
After a night of good eats and deep sleep we were back on trail by 5:30AM, headed for another valley classic, High On Boulder (WI4, II), with continuation to the Pillar of Pain (WI5, IV). Approaching from the main Cabin Creek Trailhead, the first crux of our day was crossing the shoddily frozen Shoshone River by headlamp (see resources below). Several boots were plunged into ice water before eventually manifesting a suitable crossing, waddling across the river like penguins. With Moratorium as my only reference point, I was blown away to see the commanding mass of High On Boulder (HOB) – three girthy and complete pitches of steep blue-green ice, maybe 100 feet wide, ripe for interaction – reminiscent of Mummy II in Hyalite Canyon. Adding to the scene is Moonrise, a gigantic two pitch WI5 that joins the second pitch of HOB, spewing in from climber’s right. The two devise a Y shaped formation unlike anything I’d seen before, and as point man for the first three pitches, I was renewed with energy and beyond ready to tie in.
There was nothing particularly unique about the first three pitches of HOB, just classic steep frozen fun in an amazing setting. The ice was fat, gobbling as many screws as I fed it. The crux was pitch two – the steepest and most continuous ice. Passing up the foreboding vertical yellow mushrooms of Moonrise was bittersweet, but after such a fraying lead on Moratorium, I was inclined to play my cards gently. For the third pitch, which is traditionally a straightforward WI3, I climbed Save It For Later, a harder WI4- variation on climber’s left – a steep initial curtain to a narrowing prow, ending at a nice exposed belay ledge with a tree. This pitch was probably my favorite of the climb, and is recommended to anyone trying to nudge the ante on HOB, without tackling Moonrise.
Save It For Later took us above the main HOB/Pillar Of Pain (POP) drainage, beckoning some trickery to regain course. We mangled a few steps of dry kitty litter slabs that warranted a short belay, and traversed climber’s right on a treed ledge ending in a short but very exposed step of grade three ice, which we also belayed. We continued above HOB with several short steps of ice bouldering between long snow slogs, approximately 500 vertical feet, until encountering a surprise nugget of WI4 barring access to the POP, which now loomed ever slightly out of view up drainage. The base of this climb was an interesting place to eat lunch, the confluence of POP and another monster pillar pitch, No Bragging Rights, to the south, which only supplied enough ice for imagination.
I tied in for a final unexpected lead on the WI4 guardian to the Pillar Of Pain – less traveled, just as steep, major cumulative fatigue pump. I belayed Chris up on screws and we simul-soloed one final ramp of WI2 to the base of the POP. The monster 40M pillar looked eerily similar to Eagle Scout, Teton Valley’s resident WI5 pillar climb. As the far stronger climber, Chris took point on this imposing hunk of ice, picking an aesthetic WI5+ line up the right side on gently over-hanging succulent-like pedestals. The crux was pulling out of an awkward cave rest onto the steep translucent headwall, with neon blue water flowing just beneath the surface, basking in 1,500 feet of stretching exposure over the Shoshone River below – one of the more magical places I’d ever climbed.
“Southforking is it’s own sport” claims my buddy Jorge Hedreen, which I learned in spades while descending this monster five pitch outing. Between six rappels and an abundance of down-climbing on choss and low-angle ice totaling some 1,500 feet, another foot soaking creek crossing and a dark ankle mashing return on uneven iced over trail, I was crushed when we reached the camper. With a rest day on the horizon I inhaled tacos by the fistful, steeped in gratitude after back-to-back successes on world class ice routes. The South Fork was unlike anywhere I’d climbed before, a maze of waterfall ice strewn in every direction, twisting around every corner – an ice labyrinth.
Winter Dance by Joe Josephson is the most comprehensive guidebook for South Fork ice to date. This CalTopo map provides useful approach beta and information, and was used for metrics in this article.
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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
Wow, the Moratorium sounds like an incredible climb! Personally I don’t have the physical ability to climb, but I can appreciate the technical skill and dedication required to tackle such a challenging route.
It’s impressive that the Moratorium is the longest continuous waterfall ice climb in the South Fork of the Shoshone River, measuring in at around 100 meters (or 300 feet). Climbing ice is a unique and demanding discipline that requires a high level of physical fitness, mental toughness, and technical proficiency.
I can imagine that climbing the Moratorium would be an unforgettable experience, both for the physical and mental challenges it presents, as well as for the stunning natural beauty of the surrounding area.
Well done and greetings from Greece!
Thanks for the love! It was quite the adventure. Greetings from Idaho!
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