EMPLOYEE FAVORITES: Chris Thomas, Broken Hearts (WI5), Cody, WY
Here at Black Diamond, the inspiration to innovate is driven from within. When we're not at the office, our dedicated crew of employees is out cranking at the crags, putting in miles on the trails and questing around the mountains in search of untracked descents. In this ongoing series of posts on the Journal, we'll be highlighting some of our employee's favorite rock and ice climbs, ski descents and trail routes.
This month's installment comes from our Warranty Service Development Manager and all-around crusher Chris Thomas.
I have a lot of memories of ice climbing. Although they're almost all positive in some nebulous, holistic, or wishful thinking sense, even in my twisted little mind, many are far from being categorized as "fun." Going deeply hypothermic at the 3rd pitch belay of Positive Thinking in the Adirondacks. Getting frostbite on my toes on the Moose's Tooth, Alaska. Taking a whipper onto a screw and busting my shin wide open on Stairway to Heaven in Provo, UT. Cratering into thankfully deep-enough snow on the first attempt of Gold Rush Direct at Avalanche Lake. Fighting wind, spindrift, and nipple-deep snow up miles of gully in Wyoming only to find that the hoped-for objective, a steep free-standing pillar, wasn't even close to being formed. Losing almost all of our gear and narrowly escaping with our lives while outrunning a massive avalanche in Santaquin Canyon. Foolishly thinking we could climb Winter Dance in a raging blizzard. The list could fill this whole page...
When I think of climbing Broken Hearts, however, I can't help grinning from ear to ear. It's an all-time line, in an all-time location, and every time I've climbed it I've had an absolute blast. Thinking about it makes me giddy. This thing is what ice climbing is supposed to be all about. Located on the sunny side of the South Fork of the Shoshone River valley outside Cody, WY, it has all the features of a top-notch route: a short approach, easy descent, moderate but interesting terrain, stunning scenery, sunny exposure for cold days, and if you're feeling ambitious, the chance to spice things up a little with some harder variations.
Cody isn't known for its short approaches. But as far as Cody standards go, the walk to Broken Hearts is a pretty easy one (<45 mins), giving you just enough time to warm up the legs and lungs. Most of the time in Cody I like to hike across the tundra in my sneakers. The persistent wind has usually blown or sublimated all of the snow away, and until you're actually up in one of the drainages you don't have to worry about postholing or putting on crampons, conditions depending of course. Eventually, you'll have to change into boots and stash your shoes somewhere, but it's a nice way to save your knees and stay nimble.
The first four pitches of Broken Hearts follow easy but interesting bulges and short pitches of ice up a twisty and turny drainage. Several hundred-foot rock walls line the sides, giving it a classic alpine feel. The first two pitches are easily combined, and after the third pitch either pack up the rope or simul-climb until you reach the base of the fourth.
The base of the 5th pitch is where things really start to get interesting. After rounding a sharp corner in the drainage, you're greeted by a spectacular amphitheatre presenting two shockingly steep pillars: My Only Valentine on the right, and Carotid Artery on the left. Carotid is somewhat rarely forming, so if it's in, you don't really have a choice, you gotta do it. If it's not, My Only Valentine offers sunny ice-bashing up a vertical pillar.
Carotid Artery is intimidating from below—when I climbed it, a series of hanging ice fangs led to a massive roof. Scary looking, for sure. But once you get up on it you start to find all of the rests and tricks that make it, actually, pretty damn easy. Ice blobs to rest your calves. Stemming between pillars to rest your forearms. Stances to drop a screw in just when the run-out is starting to make you nervous. After a long stemming rest I committed to the roof, which was amazingly well protected and strenuous for only a few moves. 10 or so more meters of steep ice and turf sticks and you're on top!
Even more of a treat is when the 6th and 7th pitches form. Massive and long freestanding pillars surmount deep overhangs and caves. Basking in the sun while de-pumping and bringing your partner up offers the perfect venue for reflecting and remembering just how lucky we are to be a part of this strange pursuit we call ice climbing.
Although the towering 7th pitch was touching down when we climbed the route, the circumference of its second tier looked to be less than 12 inches around. Stripped down to T-shirts in the blazing sun, Jesse and I knew that regrettably, this was one we'd have to walk away from. I'm guessing here, but I bet that the 7th pitch only comes in once every 10 years. There are only a few instances per lifetime when conditions, psyche, fitness, mental calmness, and timing culminate together to allow an ascent of such an audacious frozen drip. Today wasn't our day, but we'll be back for it, no doubt.
Speedy rappels and down climbing got us back to the car and cold beers in no time flat. On the drive out there's a particular point where you can see all the way up to the 7th pitch. It was knawing at me. It's always hard to make the decision to retreat, but it was especially poignant to walk away from such a perfect pitch. It seemed to be almost laughing at me from afar. I looked away for a second, just slightly spiteful. But when I looked back, it was gone! The entire pitch had collapsed in the sun! As I took another slug of beer I felt a wave of relief take over me. Not only had we so obviously made the right call, but since it fell down I wouldn't have to spend the rest of the trip convincing Jesse and Chris to go back up and have another look...
Beta: Get a hold of a copy of Joe Josephson's Winter Dance. The pullout for Broken Hearts is on South Fork Road, about a 45 minute drive from the town of Cody, WY. Bring two 60-meter ropes and a rack of screws. A walk off from between the 4th and 5th pitches is possible, but if you have the route to yourself rappelling is much easier and faster. If you only go to the top of the 5th, a single 70 is all you need. Most important of all - treat yourself to a couple of margaritas and a buffalo ribeye at the Chop House back in town. Perfect way to end the day!