IDAHO'S MASSIVE NEW ICE AMPHITHEATER

Posted on: February 7, 2007


Barely visible in red is Dean Lords on Indulgence (M9+ WI6). Lords and Mike Howard established the climb on February 3 in the Perrine Amphitheater, Snake River Canyon, Idaho. Although the greater Canyon area has undergone heavy development for nearly thirty years, this is the Amphitheater's first line due to the steep rock, fragile ice and long pitches (Indulgence required a 70m rope). [Photo] Mike Howard

On February 3 Dean Lords and Mike Howard took advantage of fat conditions in Idaho's Perrine (pronounced "Prine") Amphitheater in Twin Falls's Snake River Canyon to establish Indulgence (M9+ WI6), a mixed line that bulges out volcanic rock to hanging daggers of ice. They had equipped the anchors and rock section with bolts only a day before.

Studying Indulgence (M9+ WI6). Lords and Howard had equipped the climb only one day before their ascent. [Photo] Mike Howard

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Locals have eyed the Amphitheater, visible and one minute's walk from the road, since the early 80s, when Paul Potters and John Warning began ice climbing in the Snake River Canyon. Not as well known as the ice in Hyalite (MT), Cody (WY) or Salt Lake (UT)—all a few hours away—the cragging area of the Snake River Canyon is blessed with over thirty ice climbs (WI3 to WI6), some up to four pitches, and a growing mixed offering, right in the city of Twin Falls.

"We're super excited about the line," Lords says of Indulgence, "and the untouched mixed potential in the Perrine Amphitheater." Indulgence ascends the far left of the feature, which is certain to house another eight or ten distinct lines. The center ones, steeper with more friable ice, will require delicate climbing and ideal conditions, Lords says. Conditions were just right on Saturday to attempt the line, one Lords wanted to climb since he first drove by it in 1994.

The Canyon's first introduction to mixed climbing began in the late 80s on traditional gear. Frequent dry conditions in the last five years have forced many climbers to go mixed near ground-level to reach the ice drips. After mastering these sections, Lords had the confidence to go for his long-time dream. "Dwarfed by a massive amphitheater of overhanging ice... that's what the evolution of modern ice climbing has become."

Lords moving from the "extremely difficult, technical, hard to read drytooling over two roofs, and onto a beautiful hanging dagger." [Photo] Mike Howard

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Comments
reboyles

I can comment about ice climbing in the Twin Falls area since we were down there many times beginning in the mid-70s. We did most of our climbing in the Rock Creek Canyon but were game for almost anything we could find. We had spent a couple of winters searching out and climbing frozen vertical seeps along Highway 21 and the SF of the Payette River between Banks and Grandjean but most were only a single pitch or less and we were ready for something bigger. Late one winter while we were hanging out at Sawtooth Mountaineering, word went out about a big frozen cirque in the Twin Falls area. Soon after, Mike Weber and I geared up and headed down to Twin where we found that the entire Rock Creek cirque had frozen into solid ice, maybe 10 feet thick. The wall was dead vertical, mushroomed capped and spilled all the way down into the canyon where we found lower angled ice to practice on. A few lines had belay shelves on them so those are the ones we climbed. Since our ice screws usually required a second tool to twist them into hard ice, we often looped the shrub brushes with a runner instead. We also found that you can’t hang onto the handle of a tool with your hands over your head for very long so we drilled holes in the handles of our alpine hammers for leashes. Those weren’t much better and would cut-off the circulation in your hands in short order. We did not climb the overhanging routes since it did not seem possible at the time and the gear we were using left us no doubt that this was pretty extreme climbing compared to anything else we had done. Our basic ice climbing rule was “don’t fall” and luckily I only saw it happened once and no one got hurt. The absolute crux of every climb was the finish over the mushroomed top or the moves onto the benches where you’d get stuck with your feet and legs on vertical ice or overhanging ice and your upper body bending over 90 degrees to get on the flat ice or rock shelf. All of our climbing was done from the ground-up on lead so it was pretty serious business to say the least.

We (Bob Boyles, Mike Weber, Curt Olson, and Dan McHale) visited the canyon every winter for several years until the early 80s when the entire West was stricken with persistent drought conditions that especially took its toll on the groundwater flows in the lower desert areas of the basin. Year-after year no ice would form in the lower canyons so we lost interest in this form of “extreme” climbing. The last time Dan visited the canyon in the 80s he was in the bottom of the canyon where he witnessed the collapse of the entire 300’ sheet of ice in front of his eyes and almost got nailed by the debris. It scared the crap out of him and after hearing the story we never went back.

What really made this kind of climbing possible was the availability of the bamboo shafted piolet, rigid crampons like the Chouinard/Salewa, “tube” ice screws and our stiff Galibier boots, all of which was available at our local climbing shop, “Sawtooth Mountaineering”. Some of the gear we used like the Chouinard Climaxe proved to be almost worthless due to the shallow pick angle and light swing weight. Also, the pick angle on our tools was so shallow that grabbing the heads could result in the tool popping out of the ice like it had WD-40 on it. I still have almost all of my original gear sitting here on a shelf and if I really think about it, I can readily make my palms sweat by thinking about that strung-out lead where I teetered on the brink for a few seconds and almost toppled over backwards.

Bob Boyles

2010-11-08 23:39:02
Curtis

I've been perusing comments for some time now about origins of ice climbing in the Twin Falls Canyon and at least wanted to point out that the origins of ice climbing in Twin Falls Canyon and indeed the Malad Gorge and other side canyons dates at least back into the mid 1970's. I thought little more history might provide some interesting perspective.

Full free standing pillars and dozens of waterfall 'seeps' originating from horizontal fractures mid-cliff height were ascended on bamboo shafted Chouinard/Frost and Lowe Hummingbird equipment at that time. Although I'm not certain of the naming, the water flowing in the photo of this amphitheater has frozen completely and was ascended during that time frame. Often, the anchors were multiple scrub bushes/sagebrush equalized, too poor to leave pins and bolting unheard of. At least one group from Boise pushed into these canyons lead by Frank Florence who, with his father Lou, owned one of the early mountaineering shops in Boise called Sawtooth Mountaineering. Congratulations on the new routes!

2010-02-13 22:31:11
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