What is it about shiny, sharp dangerous objects that is so appealing? Perhaps it’s knowing they are powerful tools that demand respect. Or that if used incorrectly, they can hurt us, giving us a sense of living on the edge.
Wielding my sharp object of choice, the ice axe (for ice climbers specifically called an ice tool), brings about intense focus and puts me in the much sought-after flow state.
Using ice tools to climb ice—whether frozen waterfalls, glacier seracs or cliffs smeared with ice—is not a new sport. But it’s quickly gaining more popularity.
In Washington, finding ice can be a tricky pastime. It must be cold enough temperatures to freeze water, without too much snow to cover it. And ice climbers are not guaranteed to find climbs that are “in.” That is part of the fun! Yet as an avid ice climber and new father, I gravitate towards areas with quick access and minimal avalanche risk.
Here are five recommendations for relatively easy and safe ice climbs that consistently form and can be climbed without taking an entire day.
Tucked under I-90, not far from Snoqualmie Pass, Franklin Falls is a top roping paradise. The waterfall itself doesn’t freeze over completely, but the adjacent cliffs do.
Leading these climbs isn’t for the faint of heart as the ice is hard to protect, so the easiest thing to do is drop a rope down from above. Being just a mile from the trailhead, this is also a popular winter snowshoeing destination, so be sure to respect other adventurers and call out falling ice.
Alpental Falls and Source Lake
Further up the interstate, two of the most reliable ice climbs are located near Alpental ski area. Directly across from the main parking area, Alpental Falls is easily recognizable.
A 10-minute hike takes you to the base of this climb. Depending on the day, there may or may not be running water behind a frozen curtain of ice. When it’s good, it’s some of the quickest ice you can climb near Seattle.
Up the valley, following a popular winter trail to Source Lake, a small but consistently formed piece of ice lies at the base of the Chair Peak basin. This is a good destination when the avalanche danger is low and when you’re ready for your first ice lead.
Just outside of Leavenworth, in Icicle Canyon, rock climbers flock to climb pristine granite cracks in the summer. The canyon is also home to one of the biggest pieces of ice that is easily accessible from Seattle.
Hubba Hubba is a short walk uphill from Bridge Creek Campground. There is no way to set up a top rope, so leading is necessary. But the moderate grade makes it a good lead for a competent ice climber.
If you’re looking for mutli-pitch ice, Skookum Falls is the climb for you. The only problem: it rarely freezes solid enough to try. When it does, this waterfall on the highway towards Crystal Mountain resort is a gem.
Figuring out the timing to climb Skookum Falls is likely harder than the climb itself. And for the lucky few that do each season, a badge of honor as a true Washington ice climber is earned.