Killer Pillars

7 must-do pillar climbs, from New York to British Columbia
Sue-Nott-Rigid-Designator

Sue Nott on The Rigid Designator (WI4/5) in Vail, Colorado, with the famed Fang in the foreground. Photo by Kennan Harvey

The Rigid Designator (WI4/5, 30m); Vail, Colorado

This pillar is perhaps the best-known ice formation in Colorado, forming reliably every year and lasting well into early spring. The easiest of the many routes in a broad amphitheater that also holds the 120- foot Fang pillar, the Designator is quite challenging in early season, and then becomes a hook-fest as dozens of climbers chop their way up the route. There are several climbable lines, with the right side offering the easiest path. Beware of falling ice from other parties—it’s a very popular climb.

Guidebook: mountainproject.com has the most up-to-date info. For conditions, search “2012-2013 Colorado Ice Conditions.”

Chiller Pillar (WI4, 30m); Whiteface Mountain, Adirondacks, New York

“Unassuming in nature, but a deservedly popular ice climb,” says New England guide Emilie Drinkwater. This route goes up an old quarry wall, with steep and straightforward climbing. It forms reliably, and in fat years has several lines up pillars and steep flows, with “ample opportunities to stem between columns or rest on occasional ledges,” says Drinkwater. Its south-facing nature makes for a great climb on especially cold days, but be careful at the topout: It’s often hollow.

Guidebook: Climbing in the Adirondacks, by Don Mellor ($24.95, ems.com) Conditions: neice.com

Terminator Pillar (WI4, 15m); Terminator Amphitheater, Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

It’s short but sweet: This aesthetic, 50-foot climb sits in a large limestone amphitheater and has been called a miniature version of The Fang, Vail’s WI5/6 testpiece. “I’ve climbed the Terminator Pillar a bunch of times,” says local Andrew Gram. “I had a poster of The Fang on my bedroom wall [in the early ’90s], and climbing Terminator over and over again was my way of dreaming that I would [climb The Fang] someday.”

Guidebook: mountainproject.com

The Dryer Hose (aka Life’s a Pitch; WI4, 20m); Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising, Michigan

A two-minute approach and freestanding formation make this one of the most classic routes in the area. Usually cauliflowered at the base, The Dryer Hose forms in a typical Pictured Rocks sandstone bowl. Local Bill Thompson says the ambiance helps make this climb a classic: “With an abundance of snow and high winds blowing across the lake, climbing this pillar can feel like a true alpine experience.” For a greater challenge, head to nearby Dairyland (WI5), considered the premier climb of the region, with 150 feet of climbing on an unusual, bat-wing-shaped formation.

Guidebook: An Ice Climber’s Guide to Munising, Michigan, by Jon Jugenheimer and Bill Thompson, will be available in December 2012 ($29, downwindsports com)
Conditions: michiganicefest.com

Professor Falls (WI4, 270m); Mt. Rundle, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

One of Canada’s best long, moderately difficult ice routes, Professor Falls consistently forms early and lasts late into the season. Three steep pitches with short, 85-degree steps lead to easier fourth and fifth pitches, followed by a snow slope. The business lies in the crux last pitch: A sustained 130 feet of 85-degree ice that brings you to the top. Bring extra gloves, because the climb is often wet.

Guidebook: Waterfall Ice: Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, by Joe Josephson and Margo Talbot
Conditions: gravsports-ice.com; check avalanche.ca for avalanche conditions

Carlsberg Column (WI5, 70m); Beer Routes, Field, British Columbia, Canada

A short approach and dependably fat column justify this climb’s appeal. Situated on the northwest side of Mt. Dennis with the numerous other “Beer Route” classics, Carlsberg Column offers straightforward and steep climbing. In January 2012, hardman Erik Schnack’s fruit boots malfunctioned on the approach to Carlsberg Column—preventing him from using crampons—so he led the climb in down booties.

Guidebook: The fifth edition of Waterfall Ice: Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, by Joe Josephson and Margo Talbot, is due in fall 2013.
Conditions: gravsports-ice.com; check avalanche.ca for avalanche conditions

Dropline (WI5, 70m); Frankenstein, New Hampshire

Considered one of the biggest ice prizes of New England, Dropline forms nearly every year. “It’s the kind of climb ice climbers aspire to: steep, exposed, and pumpy,” says Drinkwater. Most of Frankenstein’s classics went in around 1970, after Yvon Chouinard introduced his revolutionary ice tools to the climbing world, but this yellow icicle spit off would-be first ascensionists until 1976. Pitch one climbs the thin, slabby ice below the obvious drip to a protected belay stance at left. Pitch two is the business: a steep, exposed column, normally only a few feet thick, and sometimes hollow at the bottom.

Guidebook: An Ice Climber’s Guide to Northern New England, Third Edition, by S. Peter Lewis and Rick Wilcox ($29.95, ems.com)
Conditions: neice.com; neclimbs.com


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