It took a few hours for the bad news to sink in before we were making alternative plans. We decided to climb Pingora the next day via the South Buttress Route (left crack of k-crack variation; 4 pitches, 5.8, 500ft). We only brought rigid boots, so the crux pitch that goes from a hand to finger crack was a little saucy. It was a really fun route, though, and the weather was very nice.
On the way down from the climb, Phil noticed an ice line on a smaller mountain (not sure of the name; it's the lump of a peak just below overhanging tower in the picture below)
This ice line became our objective for the next day. It didn't look too difficult or very big, but it was, as far as we could find, the only climbable ice in the whole cirque.
The next morning we woke up to very strong winds (approximately 60mph gusts) and cold temperatures. It was very difficult to want to get out of our sleeping bags. When we finally got ready and skinned across the cirque to our new line, the wind had calmed a bit and the sun would occasionally peek out from the clouds. We thought the ice section of the climb looked about 200ft tall, but when we got up to it, it was only about 115ft or so.
Because Phil had led the majority of the rock pitches the previous day, I got the honors to lead this pitch. The ice was pretty thin, only taking stubbies in most places. The ice started out with about 20ft of lower-angle steps until it steepened up to about WI4 difficulty for about 100ft. The climb narrowed near the top and required some exciting, slightly trickier footwork to climb up and around a final rock bulge to a decent belay.
The second pitch was a 200ft gully of 65-degree unconsolidated snow. We decided to stay roped and protect it with rock gear just in case the snow slid. The first 15 feet was 10 minutes of wallowing before I wisened up and decided to use the rock to make progress. There were nice cracks in the rock all the way up the gully, allowing for rock gear placements every 40 feet or so. I climbed about half on the rock and half on the snow. Every time I would commit again to the snow, my progress stopped. I finally reached the end of the gully and my rope and found a good rock to sit on for a hip belay. Phil and I scrambled another 200 vertical feet to the summit and decided that was probably the only first ascent we would have in the cirque this year. We then headed back to our skis and skied back to camp.
The trip was totally worth the effort (I say that now that I am home, rested, and have eaten a good meal), but there was a lot of effort involved. To approach the trailhead involved two snowmobiles and about 15 miles of riding. This wouldn't have been difficult but we had many problems with the sled we were pulling and we occasionally got one of the snowmobiles stuck (Neither Phil nor I have much experience with snowmobiles).
Upon reaching the trailhead, we put our skis on and started the 10-mile slog into the cirque. My pack was about 60 pounds (I brought way too much food) and Phil's pack was about 20 pounds and was pulling a 50ish pound sled with most of the climbing and group gear. It was a long, slow hike full of blisters and sled frustrations.
Good rock climbing and the discovery of this small ice line saved the trip for us. We are still crossing our fingers that the other ice lines will form on another, wetter year, but it is a long way to go just to be disappointed. Who knows, maybe next year.
I'll post pictures and videos of the trip soon.