Mt Helen Ice Couloir
NW Arete of Ellingwood Peak
I don't remember when my good friend Kyle Williams first contacted me about his plans to organize a week long trip into the Wind River range in Wyoming through the Wasatch Mountain club. I do remember looking forward to it for quite a while. The trip took place in August of 1996.
I was unable to start out with the group, so I left a bunch of gear with Kyle to get onto the horses the group had arranged through a local packer. A couple days later I hiked in to Upper Titcomb basin where the group was camping. It was a long trip, about 20 miles including two resulting from a wrong turn.
On the way in it seemed like everyone I met asked if I was the "ice climber" that the group was waiting for today. It seemed a strange identity, particularly since it was not exactly an ice climbing trip. It was also strange that everyone seemed to know me in this capacity.
At the camp I found a large group of probably a dozen or so people. Their experience and objectives were varied. The first day after my arrival Kyle and I taught a basic class for some of the others in the group. This afforded me the opportunity to rest a bit from the trek in.
The next day Kyle and I planned to climb the Mt Helen ice couloir, which is supposed to be among the best in the range and on a par with the Black Ice Couloir. Another climber, Brooke, decided to join us. I led the entire climb, with Kyle climbing second and Brooke last. I was able to climb with only one general purpose ice axe, so I think it is less difficult than the Black Ice Couloir. Brooke had flexible leather boots and had never climbed anything of this nature before, so he found it to be a bit of a challenge. It was a really nice route, and Brooke made it up ok.
After another day of rest in camp (sitting out a brief eye infection) Kyle and I went off to climb the NW Arete on Ellingwood peak. I had to hike out the following day, so I took most of my gear with me. We left in the evening and hiked a few miles to a bivy site near a trail junction at the lower end of the Titcomb lakes. A couple hiked to the base of the peak with us but decided to bail out and returned to camp.
The ridge on Ellingwood was 5.6-ish and long. A few parts seemed harder than 5.6 and we suspect we varied a bit from the route in those spots. We got to the summit late in the day but with a few hours of light left.
The descent from Ellingwood is supposed to be a bit tricky. We did not traverse off the summit far enough before heading down since we saw what appeared to be a likely descent route down after a couple rappels. This was a mistake. I no longer remember the details, but it turned into a lengthy descent involving numerous rappels off of less-than-ideal anchor systems and a falling rock which damaged our rope. It was probably midnight or so when we returned to our bivy site, and our rope was about three meters shorter than when we began.
Despite the descent the climb of Ellingwood was excellent as well, making the trip to the Winds very memorable indeed.