This is, at its core, just a short ‘conditions’ update on Polar Circus…
The plan was hatched like many others between Jeff and I, a late evening phone call to discuss our so-called ‘climbing plans’ for the next day. Jeff hasn’t been climbing much this winter, so I proposed something relatively easy, Polar Circus.
Neither of us had done the route since 2010, the first year I had started climbing ice, and Polar Circus was my first ‘big’ climb. It took us a long time — 12 hours if I recall correctly — but after all I was pretty new and moving rather slowly. I’d been wanting to go back with Jeff, and it sounded like this was our day.
“We gotta get on it early, and get off before the sun hits. Leave at five?” I proposed.
“It’s a full moon.” Jeff replied. “Why don’t we leave now?”
I mulled over the idea. There is something intangible to climbing at night, illuminated by the light of the moon, guided by the stars. We’d done if before, on Cascade, and, again, I’ve ever since wanted to climb something else by moonlight.
“Sure. Leave at eleven?”
Plans made, then.
Jeff picked me up — on time, of all things! — and we headed up the Parkway.
At 0330 we were at the base of the upper tiers, sipping tea and discussing the ice. The approach pitches had been a wet, snicy, mostly unprotectable, mess — we nicknamed one the ‘slush pitch’. It was much warmer than the forecast -10, and the ice was seeping freely. We were questioning the viability of making a usable v-thread for the descent rappels. Consulting the guidebook didn’t help: there may or may not be bolted anchors higher up, and given the huge amounts of avalanche debris on the lower pitches, there’d be a good chance the bolts are buried anyway.
We decided to check out the quality of the ‘ice.’
Needless to say, screws would be useless. We knew there was a bolted station above this pitch from which we could rap, so we decided to solo up and take a look at the next pitch, known as the Ribbon.
Again, the ice was more akin to slushy, wet, somewhat-frozen snow. Our picks sank to the shaft, and each crampon kick produced a shower of disintegrating crystals. The Ribbon looked ever worse, even wetter.
We shrugged our shoulders and rapped, making it home for breakfast.