The ice season starts out the same every year whether or not there is ice or just rock. August sweeps in and soon I find myself training on my ice tools trying to hold on longer and longer. I find myself dreaming of the hardest ice routes around and hope I find myself within reach of them if they come in. Every year, I forget about how scary it is. I sort of move right into it thinking it will be a cruise. This year was no different, except that it’s been the best ice year since I’ve been climbing.


After almost two months of hanging on my tools, I almost sent my long time project in Vail, that is, two bolts away from the anchors past the crux. This year started off rough.


I tried a new line on Pikes Peak with Erik but got shut down by a horrific chossy roof around the fourth pitch. It was one of the worst lines I’ve tried. Sugar choss mank. There was a couple ice sticks on it though.

soloing P2

soloing P2

Fast forward a week or so and Jason, Matt, and I climbed Northstar. Who would have ever thought a 50 meter M4 slab pitch could be so exciting with just 3 peckers as protection? That’s what I get for being adventurous and trying a variation.

tal4 tal6

Soon enough the Smear of Fear in RMNP is super fat. With the flooding and government it’s a full on epic getting back there. I’m talking 8 hours to get to Chasm Lake from Denver. With 60 mph winds and a temperature that never reached above 0 degrees all day, we were frozen. Not including the small avy’s coming off broadway and ice pellets raining from the sky. We bailed after P1.

tal5 tal7

I returned home pissed that I didn’t climb it. Soon enough Cooper put up the new line on the Diamond of which I had the option of joining Chris Sheridan on but that’s what I get for moving to summit county that weekend. I found myself burnt out on the park. I’m ready to check out other places. I’ve been to that cirque so many times in the last year.

SOF attempt

SOF attempt

I’m then married to the Fishers for a month. Such is life. Instead of sitting there feeling bad for myself, I decided to get a move on.

Talisman (WI6 M6/7 R)


Well how about Camp Bird Road? Talisman!

I’ve had the long term project of climbing all the mega classics on Camp Bird Road. I climbed Bird Brain Blvd. two years ago and endured moderate climbing X runouts and a few A4 X anchors. Looking back at it though, the climbing was at top easy M5, not M6. Before that was the Ribbon with Jeff that I endured my first WI4 lead on. I jumped from leading WI2 to hang dogging WI5 in two weeks and then went back down to WI4. Really?


Anyhow, my last classic of Camp Bird Road was the Talisman. There was a reason I hadn’t climbed it. It’s a big boy climb. Sort of like Bird Brain on steroids and then some. I’ve always seen pictures of Steve House or some extreme hardman on it so it’s sort of been a rite to passage for personal reasons. I soon found out it was in.

Alpine conditions

Alpine conditions

Soon, Jay Karst and Phil Wortmann were on board. After climbing 2500 ft of moderate ice in Silvertion, I found myself feeling the time was near to get really scared. Looking up at the route was really intimidating, to say the least. It’s pretty high up on the cliff and all you see is a massive hanging dagger. Let me remind you that this climb has no bolts. No bolts, all balls, is what I was told.

P2 WI6 M6 (R?)

P2 WI6 M6 (R?)

I hate alpine starts but yet I do them all the time because my memory sucks. After being worried that the Lincoln crowds would crowd the Talisman (hahah!) we started the steep slog to the base. The closer we got, the more scary it looked. And the climb was even scarier then it looked.

Phil following P2 (Photo by Jay Karst)

Phil following P2 (Photo by Jay Karst)

At the base we put on our pons and Jay already decided to take P1. Do you like your vegetables? This was the thanksgiving of vegetables. All cauliflower climbing for about 50 meters of WI5ish climbing. Right before the pitch, it occurred to me that I remember reading that Josh Wharton took a 50 foot whip on this pitch when one of the cauliflowers peeled off while he was placing a screw. Jay set off. Phil and I endured Vietnam dodging the bullets but yet we got pelted over and over. It hurt. My stomach was in pain. What I ate the day before was not doing well.

While we followed the pitch, we realized what the pitch was. It’s always harder then it looks. While it looked WI4, the top rope line I took away from the protection provided WI5++ climbing. I got to the belay ledge. So that is the easy pitch.

While we transferred the belay, I couldn’t help but look at the massive hanging dagger above my head. Dear God, I have to go up there? Oh hell no…..

Soon enough I found myself putting screws and rock gear on my harness. Funny how that goes. I was psyched and pretty terrified at the same time. I relied on my experience and partners telling me that I had it. This was the crux pitch I’ve feared for years. The pitch I never thought I would ever lead.

Phil on P3 (Photo by Jay Karst)

Phil on P3 (Photo by Jay Karst)

At this point in the climb you do a rising traverse over 4 or 5 hanging blobs/daggers (WI6??) to another traverse to the M6/7 crux that is sort of run out. From there you traverse back onto the hanging dagger on P3 and it’s all ice to the top.

First swing and it was vertical. Soon I placed a .5 and hung on it due to fear. To get to the next dagger it was thin ice with no pro. I was terrified of blowing it and breaking my leg on the ledge. Phil and Jay encouraged me that I wouldn’t. Soon enough I continued on. It was technical, not WI5 climbing, harder. Screws were hard to place. As I traversed to the mixed crux, I was mentally tired. I desperately wanting to clip a bolt. What I saw made me realize, again, this was not a climb for the mentally weak or physically weak for that matter.

After many peckers, a couple KB’s and one bomber TCU, I got to the anchor. I yelled in excitement except for the whiteout that surrounded us now and high winds. I always get bad weather it seems. I felt like I was in my own little world. Soon Phil and Jay joined me. They seemed glad they didn’t lead it.


We gave some pep talk to Phil and he set off on the last pitch at WI5+/6. After 40 meters he was at the top. This may be the best ice pitch I’ve ever done. Absolutely killer climbing and oh so exposed. What a great job he did on leading it. Almost like the exposure on the diamond.

Exposure on hanging dagger of P3

Exposure on hanging dagger of P3

We all were on top in excitement. After a couple rappels we did our victory run back to the car. Phil and I kept stating that it was the best mixed climb we had ever done in CO.

Sooooooo good. It presents the scarieness, purity, classic climbing that mixed climbing needs to have.

Now I can’t help but look at conditions in Cody and Bozeman. Winter Dance is in. Mean streak is in. I’m overwhelmed!


About Noah McKelvin

Never skip a day of living life
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