Icy Debauchery

Brian, soon-to-be-ex-bachelor

The schedule of events for the traditional bachelor party includes scantily-clad women and marathon drinking; classic male-bonding debauchery. When you’re a member of the elite Stupid Brutes outdoor cadre, you substitute a round of all-male ice cragging (fully clad) for the strippers, though we did our best to live up to the heavy drinking part of the debauchery. The man of the hour on this occasion was our friend Brian. His brother had flown in from California and his best friend driven up from Denver to join the rest of us Brutes for the festivities. Brian had rented a house in down town Estes Park (within easy staggering distance of our beloved Ed’s Cantina) and we settled in for the duration.

Since preparedness and advanced planning are crucial for debauchery of any sort, I’d thrown pretty much every piece of winter outdoor gear I own from ice tools to waffle irons into the back of the Subaru pell-mell — no, really, waffle irons are an essential piece of winter gear! — and figured I’d organize it at some later date.

Hidden Falls
Hidden Falls, closer.

After a short night in the Estes Condo, Fabio and I formed the advance expeditionary force to secure the crag for later arrivals. I’d been to Hidden Falls many years ago as one of my first ice climbing adventures. It was crowded, hacked out, and I don’t think I ever came close to finishing the climb. This time it was deserted, fat, and moderately pristine. For such a popular, sheltered, and easy-access climbing area, this was rather weird.

Jeff shows us how it’s done on the hard left-side curtain.
Mike shows us how it’s done, belaying from the Comfy Chair.

The show soon got on the road. Shortly after Fabio and I get the first rope set up on the main flow, Brian and Scott showed up. Then Jeff and Mike, then Andy, Eric, and Dave trickled in one by one. A couple other groups showed up as well, but by this time, we’d rigged two ropes and they found spaces for themselves around the edges. It was rapidly developing into a Scene. It was jovial and rife with old in-jokes, most of which aren’t really all that funny and don’t make any sense.

Mostly, ice climbing means standing around watching other people climb.

One such joke was the return of the X15s. Back in the dawn of my alpine interests, I’d bought a pair of second-hand Black Diamond X15 ice tools. Once I graduated to straight-shaft Black Prophets (a marginal improvement over the X15s), I sold the old tools to Jeff, who in time, sold them to Mike. The X15s are straight-shafted knuckle-destroyers, weigh about five pounds each, and are completely awful relics of the bronze age. Mike had hauled these museum-pieces all the way to the crag, so of course, I had to take a lap with them for old-time’s sake. They were brutal to swing and hard to grip and struck like a sledge hammer. (It didn’t help that they were dull as old butter knives either.) But on the rare occasions when I managed a good stick, they went in with satisfying authority. It makes me realize how much I like my CAMP Awax tools the pair of which weigh somewhat less than a single X15!

Me with my old sledge hammers!
Brian opens the bubbly and blesses, among other things, my rope.

After six hours of climbing, one bottle of champagne, and a lot of horsing around, everyone had gotten in as many laps on one flow or the other as they liked (five for me, a new personal best!). By 2:30, we’d packed up the ropes and hit the trail back to the cars, tired, satisfied, and ready for the more traditional, sedentary debauchery.

More traditional male bonding activities.

Early the next morning… well, it certainly felt early though it was probably something like 8am, the troops roused for a sumptuous breakfast of eggs, bacon and Scott’s special waffles (see, I told you the waffle iron was key). There had been a lot of brave talk on Saturday night about doing a brief ski tour, but I was the only one who ended up making it out.

Emerald Lake in the snow: a nice bookend for the weekend.

Sunday’s weather was definitely inferior to Saturday’s, but it still was better than it could have been. I joined the hordes at Bear Lake and had a nice ascent past Nymph and Dream Lakes to Emerald Lake in about 45 minutes. Changing over to downhill mode, I got to put my heavy tele skis through their paces on some nice moderate downhill terrain. The snow was excellent, though my technique definitely left a lot to be desired in terms of grace and skill. Nevertheless, I arrived back at the trailhead at 1pm and packed it in after a varied, social and just-the-right-level of debauched weekend.

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