BETA PHOTO: James Loveridge FA
photo by Evan Johnson
Ice and mixed climbing at Sandstone can be a truly rewarding experience. Walden-esque, at times, in the winter after a quiet fluffy sow cover and somewhat removed from the masses, it can be a nice climbing retreat situated roughly half way between two urban cities. Although it's not really a place suitable for cutting one's teeth, per se, it does afford some easier moderate lines mixed into the vertical and thin moves that define the climbing for those looking to move on from Grade 3 fat ice conditions. After this introduction to moderate ice the climber can venture onto moderate mixed lines and then onto the very challenging routes offering thin, friable smears and blobs of ice and plenty of micro-sill rock moves that demand unwavering concentration, immense strength and major high stepping flexibility. These same sills are an endangered feature, however, and heavy-handed, unskillful use (or overuse) can quickly erase a thin mixed or dry tool route. Hone first, send last.
Of MAJOR IMPORTANCE is for everyone to know where to use ice tools and where not to in Sandstone. Ice tools are allowed, as of 2010, from well right of the Historic Stage area, all along the “Matrix” wall and “Reservoir Dogs “ areas and onto the last mixed line to the north, “Soggy Bottom Boys.” Historically, folks warmed up to the ice season by dry tooling the Diagonal Wall and Muskrat Wall (what has been recently referred to as Sax Wall). This trend continues. In general, crampons are frowned on outside of the winter season, so stick to ice climbing boots or rock climbing shoes in other seasons to reduce scratching of the rock surface. There is ABSOLUTELY NO ICE TOOL CLIMBING ALLOWED ON SIGMA WALL, THE RELATIONSHIP WALL, OR ANY ROUTE DESIGNATED A ROCK CLIMB OTHER THAN THOSE ROUTES ON THE DIAGONAL AND MUSKRAT (SAX) WALLS.
In general, or, historically, before any ice farming occurred, ice was ephemeral, only forming one to two times per year on average. Main flows centered on the Matrix Wall from the far left corner (“Quick Silver”), across the main flows on “Matrix” and “Wahtusi Crack” and then more sporadically across the wall to the north until it reaches “Turf Wars” in the Reservoir Dogs area. From time to time, less reliably forming routes pop up to the south of Matrix Wall and to between Reservoir Dogs area and the last mixed line at the junction of Sigma Wall (“Soggy Bottom Boys”). There were two years in recent history were ideal condition sled to well over 20 distinct and continuous ice pillars along the entire east-facing walls. Most of the first ascents of the now ephemeral, thin, or non-existent ice lines were claimed in those years (mid 1990’s).
As far as the mixed scene goes, when the main flows grew thin, or when the 20 plus pillars didn’t form, every inch of sandstone from “Quicksilver” down to “Soggy Bottom Boys” were either top roped or led – and you’d be very surprised, and maybe a little nauseous, looking up from the bottom of some of the mixed routes that have been led on natural gear at Sandstone in the winter by the likes of Mike Dahlberg, Scott Backes , their rope mates and a few others over the decades of climbing in this area. Mixed trad-leading at Sandstone doesn’t leave a lot of options for anyone other than the absolutely honed, however. For starters, one might have a go at “Quicksilver,” but you’d better have plenty of trad M6 under your belt to safely lead this runout and somewhat un-dependable gear route (and in the Midwest that’s a tall order). After that, maybe consider “Wahtusi Crack.” But be forewarned, at least two folks have ripped off near the top onto gear in that iced up exit crack: Scott Backes and Myself. Even these two moderate leads have their tricks and regardless of your current talent and fitness, be careful selecting trad mixed routes here. Rock breaks, ice shatters, turf rips…all independent of how bad-ass you feel that day.
Not all routes are included on this page as so many variations exist with so little to reliably count on for defining ice from year to year, that it becomes silly to even try to begin. There are a few obvious lines not yet mentioned in this guide that have been climbed in winter: the obvious, glorious, vertical seam rising off the pond and also the gulley to its left, for instance, but suffice it to say that you can drop a line just about anywhere above the pond, to its right or left, and find moderate to seemingly impossible routes.
Sandstone Ice and Mixed climbing can be the absolute hardest un-steep climbing you’ll find. Enjoy it responsibly.
Weather station 7.3 miles from here
10 Total Routes
['4 Stars',0],['3 Stars',8],['2 Stars',2],['1 Star',0],['Bomb',0]
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