Our Top Five South Fork Ice Climbs By Grade
Picking our top five ice climbs isn’t easy in a place like the South Fork of the Shoshone River Valley, which has hundreds of amazing pitches of waterfall ice climbing. That said, there are some ice climbs that are so classic that no matter how many times we climb them we never get tired of them. These climbs are distinguished by their aesthetic features, ice quality, surrounding scenery, and overall fun factor. Without further ado, here are five of our favorite South Fork ice climbs at each grade of difficulty.
1 – Broken Ribs (WI2, 3-4 pitches)
Broken Ribs is often overlooked in favor of the neighboring gully Broken Hearts, but it is an incredibly enjoyable climb at the grade. The approach is straightforward and relatively quick, which makes the climb a great option if you have limited time. The first pitch is a 10m steep curtain, that leads to several more pitches of rolling WI2 that wind their way up the narrow gully. The last pitch is the crux, another fairly steep curtain (that might be the hardest pitch of WI2 in the world ;). Luckily, the descent is fast and fun – the same walk off as Broken Hearts.
Runner Up: Deer Creek Falls (WI2, 1 pitch) – A great after work option that’s close to the road, has a fun finish, and a quick walk off.
2 – Spotted Owl Sandwich (WI3, 3 pitches)
Spotted Owl Sandwich has arguably the best views in the South Fork, with three high quality pitches of moderate ice climbing in a stunning alpine setting. The approach is relatively long but straightforward as it follows the Boulder Basin Trail most of the way. The first pitch involves some creativity passing a short mixed section, several dead trees (which are easier to just climb with your tools!), and a spiral staircase-like feature. The second and third pitches just get better as you go up with gradually steepening climbing, iridescent lichens on the surrounding rock faces, and majestic views of the valley below. For the descent, you can either rappel each pitch or walk off into the Hunter Creek Falls drainage to the east. If you’re still feeling froggy, you can do some laps on the Hunter Creek Pillar (WI5) to round out an awesome day!
Runner Up: Love Canal (WI3, 4 pitches) – A beautiful moderate with four fat pitches of WI3 in a secluded drainage in the upper South Fork Valley.
3 – Sendero Illuminoso (WI4, 4 pitches)
The first 55m pitch of Sendero Illuminoso is arguably the finest single pitch of moderate ice climbing in the South Fork. A thin, narrow ribbon of ice that winds its way up a towering cliff of polished volcanic conglomerate – the route really does resemble a shining path up the mountain. Most climbers stop after the first pitch, but three more shorter but steeper pitches of fun WI4 lie above. To make the most of your day, you can climb a short rock pinnacle up and left of the final ice pitch and stand on its small summit. To descend, rappel the route with two 60m ropes.
Runner up: The Moratorium (WI4, 2 pitches) – The longest continuous ice flow in the valley, the Moratorium begs to be climbed from the first time you lay eyes on it.
4 – Broken Hearts (WI5, 5-9 pitches)
Broken Hearts is undoubtedly one of the best multipitch ice climbs in the country, with pitch after pitch of quality ice climbing that only gets harder as you go higher. The first four pitches are called the Alpine Simulator and go at WI3+ with over 1000′ of additional lower angle ice climbing. These moderate pitches lead to the Atrium, home to two difficult pitch 5 variations, Carotid Artery and My Only Valentine. The sixth and seventh pitch pillars are even more difficult and rarer to form. Two additional pitches lie above. The best descent from the pitch 5 amphitheater involves a walk off down the ridge following bighorn sheep trails.
Runner up: Bitches Brew (WI5+, 3 pitches) – An amazing pillar climb that will test your forearm endurance!
5 – Ovisight (WI Hard, 3 pitches)
Ovisight doesn’t form every year, but when it does the climb is not to be missed if you’re looking for a really long and challenging day! Several pitches of moderate climbing up the Legg Creek drainage lead to the first, most challenging, and most rare-to-form pitch of Ovisight, a WI5-6 pillar that will test your nerves! This pitch is not always safe to climb given the sometimes lopsided structure of the crux pillar but can be bypassed by either climbing Oversight (WI4) or Who’s Your Daddy (WI5). The second and third pitches of Ovisight are more reliable but still challenging grade 5 pillars that lead to some incredible views high above the valley floor. This route is long, involves a great deal of hiking, and requires moving very efficiently to get down before dark.
Runner Up: Last Climb Before the War (WI Hard, 2 pitches) – A rare-to-form Stan Price testpiece high in the Schoolhouse gully.
Learn more about ice climbing with us!
Looking for a guided climb on these classic routes in the South Fork? Check out our Cody Custom Ice Climbing Trips to learn more!