On March 25th Liam Wylie and I connected for a quick lap in the Lake Louise Ice Gully – my second time climbing this classic and aesthetic four-pitch moderate outside Dubois, WY. Spoiler alert, Liam racked up his first lead!
Considering I have climbed The Gully before, we’ll adjust this article for redundancy. In typical Lake Louise fashion, the drive from Teton Valley was longer than expected, but despite heavy storms of days’ past, there was little accumulation on the road. Temperatures were in the single digits, and with a cold down-canyon wind the air felt bone chilling. We left home at 5:10AM hit the trail around 8:00. The approach to the lake was the same three miles of rolling trail obscured in six inches of low density snow. Birds were chirping – spring in the air – but as soon as we reached the alpine cirque home to our route du’ jour and Golden Tiers, moods shifted back towards winter.
We post-holed through up to a foot of windboard across the lake, amazed to see the first pitch and a half of Golden Tiers reduced to almost bare granite. It’s hard to tell from a half-mile away, but the big boy might just be done for the year, at least for full ice ascents (see picture below). Determined to make straight of an approach that so punished me twelve months ago, we followed a faint track further climber’s right towards a notch in the small cliff-band bisecting the ~500 foot talus slope guarding the climb. We found a third class way through, but not without pulling on many trees and ripping my puffy open on a particularly aggressive thorn bush – I digress. 2.5 hours from the car we were kicking out a belay stance at the base of the climb, which looked to be in great shape.
I have been working a lot recently and feeling cumulative fatigue in the mountains, especially sans skis. Frankly, I thought my ice season was all but over, until pow-pocalypse returned to the Tetons and postponed my spring skiing dreams. Neither high avalanche danger nor low angle pow are my scene – so here I am, with tools in my hands like it’s December again. I was excited to be out with Liam, who only recently went ice climbing for his first time, threw down the big bucks on a full kit and was eager to learn the dark arts. In classic crusher style he was interested in in leading too, on only the second ice climb of his life!
I took the reins on pitch one, which was substantially more filled in than March 2022. I was able to protect the pitch adequately with screws alone and climb almost entirely on ice, a far cry from the two stubbies and fixed angle that saw me through last time. A few rotten sections showed signs of springtime degradation, but were ultimately trivial – 60M rope stretcher, WI2+. The slot-canyon-esque walls on this pitch never cease to amaze me – oh the beauty!
Pitch two was completely plastered with new snow – hardly any ice visible – but since we had the ropes out we decided to simul-climb instead of coiling and re-flaking the line. Liam sprinted the rope 60M before I unclipped and provided a running belay. He continued through the third pitch, and looked remarkably comfortable on the bulgy and brittle WI3- terrain. For a first lead, 60 full meters, with only 9 screws, I was beyond impressed. He took the line of general least resistance, reached the middle grove of trees with style and belayed me up in expedient fashion. This pitch is the meat and potatoes of the climb – about as perfect as it gets for a first ice lead, or experienced glory romp, in the high alpine.
Sun poured over the high gully walls, equally gracing our third belay with euphoric warmth, as providing solar bullying to the final crux pitch. It seems most people do not climb this final vertical step, as I have never seen a piece of tat or v-thread evidence on top – but at least for me, if I spend five hours reaching a climb from my doorstep, I’m almost certainly going to squeeze every last inch from it – plus, after rolling up 180M of low angle fare, it feels nice to tip onto some vert! This finishing curtain climbed far more difficult than last year, heavily chandelier’ed and extra technical over than the standard 15M of WI4 I was expecting. I placed liberal protection as no individual screw inspired much confidence, all while getting plastered in ice water which quickly encased my goretex in a veil of rime. Technical foot and axe placements on a fragile, slightly hollow curtain, with screws in a recessed ice cleft, characterize this unique “cherry atop the sundae” – far more difficult than than last year – WI5 if it wasn’t so short!
After a round of hugs and selfies we set a no-thread and prepared for descent. After hiking The Gully in somewhere around three casual hours I remained brimming with energy, and tried talking Liam into an additional off-shoot thin ice pitch intersecting pitch two from climber’s left. I was a pinch disappointed when he flashed his cold inspired desire for egress, but ultimately the pitch was probably no more than a half-rope of sun-affected WI4 – I wasn’t going to fight. Our original plan involved an additional mixed chimney pitch on climber’s right, a new pitch I was excited to lead, but this year’s ice devoured the blocky crack almost entirely. Ultimately, with a long retreat still at hand, it was time to fold cards and savor a stunning climb well had. 200M of ice with Wind River views ain’t too shabby after all.
With updated knowledge, climbing skill and savvy, Liam and I shaved four-some hours off Connor James and I’s March 2022 outing. On retreat we found possibly the best approach/descent beta which I will share in an attached picture. The Lake Louise Ice Gully still remains the gold standard NW Wyoming moderate, a four star outing in nothing less than a world class setting. Kuddos to Liam for throwing down a commendable first lead!
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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