South Fork Ice

18 Feb 2003 - by Dalene Russo

South Fork in Cody is RUGGED. South Fork is a vast valley surrounded by mountains with water ice showing up all over the place. Some of the ice is still awaiting first ascents. Wildlife is prolific. The locals were spotting grizzly up until mid to late December. A reliable local source informed me that there were 9 human maulings and 1 human fatality in the 2002 season. So much for bear management. I saw several wolf prints while I was hiking. They look like dog prints, but are about the size of a large human female hand. The pads are very pronounced. I hiked a lot and did some solo tooling around. Anyway I am back in one piece. I plan to return next year with the usual suspects. I think a guide may be appropriate. The average approach for me (moderate hiker plus a ton of gear) I would estimate to be about 1.5 to 2 hours. The first day visibility was poor. The valley was socked in with low hanging clouds. You could barely see the ravines from the South Fork road. The terrain is rugged and once you approach the target ravine and get into the trees good luck. One ravine looks like another. The map I was to rely on and I paid 10 dollars for was poorly marked. I stupidly went without a topo. Next year I'll be mentally prepared, armed with a topo and a .357 for critters. I am not sure I could put anything down, but at least I will feel safer with a firearm. Go figure ... I had a hard time finding partners. It seems few people are willing to climb with a 1st year ice person. The one day I had a good partner we wound up post holing for 8.5 to 9 miles. We over shot our 2 pitch WI3-4. We turned back, hiked for over an hour and then hiked 150 yards or so down into a river bed. It was 2 pm when we got to the base of the best looking piece of ice I've ever seen. My partner was getting worried about time. We wanted to follow the river bed out, but we had cliffed out on an area that would not be down climbed. That meant back tracking along the river. There were cliff bands over us and we were not sure how far back we would have to hike to exit. Luckily we did not have to go far. We found an avalanche shoot. LOL. The thought of it makes me laugh. It had slid not long ago. The snow was in big chunks. The appearance was like snow talus. Since the avalanche the snow had consolidated. It felt solid enough. We hiked up frozen kitty litter mixed with kitty litter talus and snow until we reached the shoot. We post holed up the steep 150 yards back to the trail we had followed in. The evenings entertainment was good to very good. The sponsors were good. The weather was warm with a low of 20s and a high of lower 40s. The food was good. Breakfast started at 6:30 am. You were provided a bag lunch. Supper was at 6 pm. Food was left out for those still climbing. Beer flowed. Most importantly the people were great. I met some 8000 meter climbers, many guides and slender women with impressive forearms. I stayed at the Double Diamond X Ranch. The lodging was clean and heated with good plumbing. I was gl! ad I had brought my sleeping bag as blankets were not included. I made the full drive to the ranch in under 8 hours. There is no shortage of ice in South Fork Reportedly the drought has taken a toll, yet there is plenty of ice. You just have to work hard to get to it and have an excellent idea of how to enter and exit. It was a true back country experience. Darn I hate to miss the Valdez festival in March.

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