By Jim Hornibrook
I do most of my climbing in Yosemite Valley which means I'm a fair weather climber. Ice climbing with its numb fingers and toes is not listed on my resume. But my climbing partner, Akiko, and I never waste any chance to climb, so we go rain or shine. We merely switch mode to aid climbing during poor weather.
Last year, I was teaching aid to Akiko on Lazy Bum during a particularly nasty rain storm. Afterward, looking like drowned rats, we warmed ourselves at the fire in the lodge bar. Across the room we spied mountaineer-climber extraordinaire, Jimmy Chin. After politely confirming that it was indeed him, he asked if we had been climbing in the torrential rain. When he said that we were 'hardcore,' we laughed, knowing the crazy situations he had endured over the years...but we happily received the compliment.
On our most recent visit to the valley, the forecast was for a low of 18F and a high of 35F. Heavy snow had fallen the past several days, so we knew there was likely to be snow and ice in cracks and on ledges. But, it was going to be sunny for the first half of the day so if we climbed quickly, we could be sort of 'warm.'
Serenity/Sons is always crowded, so we figured this would be a good time to find ourselves lonely on a classic line. I've climbed the route nearly a dozen times, and I always get the first lead. It's only 5.8 for the first 30' but there's no good protection till one gets to a solid .75 Camalot. In Spring, this first section is often wet, making it a bit more spicy. This day, however, the crux was getting past the icy crack above this part. There were probably 20 feet of icy crack to deal with here. I had no qualms about pulling on gear past this section. I just hoped the cams would hold against the ice which lined the finger crack and filled some of the pin scars. Akiko seconded the pitch cleanly, fingers numb from the experience.
The second and third pitches were mostly dry, and went quickly, just a few moves where ice or snow had to be negotiated. The 10d crux was passed with a few aid moves on my part. I've led it cleanly a few times in the past but I usually chicken out and yard on pro. Akiko, however, got it cleanly. She was very happy as this was her third attempt on this pitch. We stopped here for a moment and drank some hot cocoa. So nice!
The next pitch is usually the easiest on the route, cruising up a 4th class gully and then heading up a 5.4 corner. On this day, however, the gully was choked with snow that was a bit too hard to kick steps in with my rock shoes. I asked Akiko for the nut tool and began chopping steps up the corner. Even the 5.4 sections felt a little difficult with wet frozen shoes. I found it funny putting so much protection on such an easy pitch.
The rest of the route was pretty dry, making the climbing more straightforward. But the weather forecast called for a cloudy afternoon, and now the sun was hiding and the wind were picking up. I threw on my wind shell and we kept going. Almost-numb hands kept the stellar hand cracks from being as delicious as they normally are and the 'walking the plank' section was wet, making progress a little unsettling. But soon we were on top of the cracks (like many I never do the final face pitch) and rapped down. The descent was uneventful and we soon found ourselves in the bar, enjoying a beer and looking for Jimmy Chin.