January 12, 2015

Parker Canyon Ice Climbing

I got a text from Ryan the other day. He had heard that the Parker Canyon Ice was in and wanted to know if I was interested. I definitely was. If you look carefully, you can see the ice in Parker Canyon from 395 between June Lake and Lee Vining. I find myself on that stretch of highway frequently in the winter and have often looked and wondered. It was time to go find out.

Ryan leads the warm up.
Like the ice in Lundy Canyon, Parker is best climbed early in the season, when it's been cold but there's been no snow. The roads that lead to the trailheads for both these areas are gated and not plowed in the winter. Usually mid-January would be too late, but we were hoping the dry winter we've been having thus far would make a visit possible. SP Parker's Eastern Sierra Ice lists two routes to the trailhead, one for 2wd vehicles and one for 4wd. The 4wd approach saves 1.7 miles of hiking and 550 feet of elevation in each direction. We hopped in Ryan's truck and took the 4wd approach.

Persistent snow ended our drive about a mile and 500 feet of vertical short of the end of the 4wd approach. So right away we were only saving 0.7 miles of hiking and pretty much no elevation. While the extra hiking wasn't that big of a deal, the persistent snow was. Parker Canyon runs southwest to northeast and it's floor and southern walls don't see much sun. Those aspects, where most of our approach lay, was mostly snow-covered. The snow was unconsolidated and a few inches to just over a knee deep in places. A little post-holing isn't really that much to complain about, but it in this case it was coupled with bushwhacking through alders and willows. In all we post-holed and bushwhacked for about 3.5 miles and up about 2100 feet to get to the ice.

Parker Canyon ice looking nice and fat.
While the approach might be the toughest of any of the winter ice climbing area in The Eastern Sierra, the ice is pretty fantastic. There are two main flows on the left (north facing) side of the cirque at the head of the canyon. We climbed both and they were nice and fat. The left one was over 30 meters high and offered a few different lines. The right flow was a bit taller and wider. All the lines we took checked in at about WI 3+. It looks like it's possible to walk off from these climbs (and SP's guidebook confirms that) but we brought 60 meter twin ropes so rapping off of V-threads was pretty expeditious. There are several other flows to the climber's right on a more southerly aspect that we didn't climb, including a line called "The Cleft".

The head of Parker Canyon with two main flows over on the left, "The Cleft" stands out on the right.
The ice was really good, but the access was a bit of a pain. If I was going back I would plan to go when there was less snow, probably earlier in the season. Though this wouldn't improve the bushwhacking, it would eliminate the post-holing and enable us to drive to the end of the 4wd approach road. These improvements would take a lot of the sting out of the approach. With less snow, I would make sure I had either a 70 meter single rope or two ropes. If you're looking to save weight on the approach by bringing less rope (say a single 60 meter) I would plan on figuring out the walk offs.

After prepping the site, Ryan onsights another V-thread.

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