Famed Widow's Tears Ice Climb Soloed

Enormous Yosemite Valley climb rarely forms

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Vitaliy on Widow's Tears
Vitaliy Musiyenko soloing Widow’s Tears (1,000 feet, WI5) in Yosemite Valley.

Vitaliy Musiyenko, a Ukrainian-born Californian, soloed the Widow’s Tears ice climb in Yosemite Valley on New Year’s Day. The rarely formed climb near the west end of the Valley is more than 1,000 feet high and is generally graded WI5, with thin ice in places.

The route was soloed by at least one other, unidentified “Valley local” one day later, and was climbed by several roped teams during the first 10 days of January. No other free solo of the route has been documented before this year, though it’s possible it had been done earlier.

Widow’s Tears was first climbed in 1975 by Mark Chapman and Kevin Worrall, who spent three days on the route. About 400 feet of low-angle ice leads to the main waterfall, which is more than 1,000 feet high. It only freezes during periods of high snowfall and sustained low temperatures in Yosemite Valley. The last time it is known to have been climbed is January 2013.

Since he began climbing in 2010, Musiyenko has devoted much of his free time to exploring the High Sierra, putting up numerous long new routes. Last year, with a partner, he climbed the Silver Strand, a shorter, more commonly formed ice route just to the west of Widow’s Tears.

Widow's Tears
The Widow’s Tears. Photo by Vitaliy Musiyenko.

“I attempted the Widow’s Tears three years ago,” Musiyenko said. “My more experienced partner started leading but backed off, leaving a screw about 50 feet up in the only good ice. Giant bummer, but it led to Widow’s Tears becoming a dream route for me. Since than I have trained and improved, and soloing it was something I dreamed about but didn’t think it was gonna happen, as I had a few friends who said they would skip work to climb it if it formed.”

When the route formed at the end of December, however, Musiyenko couldn’t find a partner. The 29-year-old had Friday off from his job as a registered nurse and so he drove from San Francisco to the Valley alone to check out the climb.

“My plan was to hike in the gear to the base and check on the trail and ice condition,” Musiyenko said. “I was at the base, feeling calm and confident. I set a song I like on repeat, placed a headphone into one ear, and started climbing. I brought no rope or belay device, just a few screws and a few slings in case of an emergency and a cell phone. I onsighted the whole route without knowing anything about the conditions and did not hang on any screws.”

Musiyenko said the cruxes of the route had steep, cauliflower ice with relatively insecure sticks and technical footwork. He said he climbed the route in about 2 hours 40 minutes, starting at 8:15 a.m. “Speed was not at all my aim,” he said. “I took like 100 photos, enjoyed the views, took a more direct finish than the roped parties the day before, and made sure to take long rests between sustained sections. All I wanted was to climb the route! If there was a party at the base willing to climb roped with me, I’d probably have roped up with them.”

Vitaliy on top of Widow's Tears
Musiyenko on top.