Location: Emerald Lake Trail
Route: 85 meters, WI4
Access to climbing routes in Hyalite canyon is traditionally done by boot packing on well worn climber trails. The main fork of Hyalite canyon welcomes all climbers with an amazing trail system from climb to climb. From the G1 area to the Unnamed Wall, any climber can keep themselves busy climbing many unique grades of ice within 30 minutes of the parking lot. That being said, after a couple seasons of enjoying the entry level climbs and classic routes popular to locals and visitors alike, we start looking elsewhere for new adventure and the unfamiliar. Seeing people out in the woods has its place and is socially a great time when paired with a bluebird day and a nice dose of vitamin D, yet, for myself, getting outside has always been a way to disappear and simplify the complex environment of day to day routine. Better summarized, exploration seems to encompass looking for what is just beyond the bend. Bringing this full circle; I purchased Marker F12 ski touring bindings so I could start going further into the backcountry in search of new climbs less accessible and far less traveled. Time to start breaking trail.
Every winter, the Palisade Falls and East Fork access roads are closed and open strictly to foot traffic as snow begins to accumulate. Once past Hyalite Reservoir park at the fork in the road heading left opposite Grotto Falls. From here, 3 miles of skinning on mellow snow covered road will brings us to the Emerald Lake trailhead and the gateway to the Flanders cirque. What is better than skiing and climbing in the same outing? Although fruitful, our packs are heavy and our approach is long. Ice climbing boots and ski boots are two different things with different working attributes. I am carrying a 45L Mystery Ranch Swift stuffed to the brim with a 70m rope, climbing boots, harness, crampons, ice tools, ice screws & quick draws, extra layers and 3 pieces of pizza. The road is easy to climb and is done in an hour or so before beginning to trek the Emerald Lake trail towards Horsetail Falls. This WI 4 is a classic two pitch with the second pillar drawing attraction.
After about a mile of breaking trail, gaining a few switchbacks and entering a clearing, the second pitch of Horsetail Falls is visible. We continue on until in direct sight of the entire climb and traverse a creek plush with pillowy walls of freshly fallen snow. The weather is beautiful and the sun has just breached over the tree line creating an obvious water break opportunity. Pitch one looks spectacular and the approach getting there will be a great ski decent on our way out.
Once upon the base of Horsetail Falls, we can hear the water flowing beneath the thin ice curtain. Even under the snow is running water. We take off our ski boots and transition to our ice climbing boots and begin harnessing up for the ascent. Pat racks up to lead pitch one. Belay is on. After a few swings towards the center of pitch one, the ice cracks opening up the 'straw like' ice flow and brings running water into immediate view racing down the cliffs wall. After delicate moves to avoid fully breaking through, Pat leads the pitch and traverses to the anchor. I follow and gaze enamored at the view of two elements in different states of matter. Pictured above: the clear looking section 2/3rds up is where the thin ice broke in on itself.
Moving on to the money pitch, we traversed a short gully and free climb a small but very thin WI 3 to gain the amphitheater. Full of snow, we post hole slowly to the base of the pillar. It is my turn to lead. The climb is awesome filled with steep sections and easy chimney stemming utilizing the cave wall as you climb. After an interesting and awkward series of moves to get out from behind the pillar and onto the face to finish the crux, a small avy path awaits. I quickly hammered in an ice spectre and did my best to dry tool up to the anchor avoiding the uncertain snow conditions.
Skinning into the climb makes snow travel quick and easy and skiing out makes snow travel really quick and a blast too. Cant wait to keep getting out in the backcountry and skiing to climb.