Getting there involved a one-hour march up Cabin Creek in sometimes knee-deep snow and then a sharp right into a narrow defile. The hike was shady and cool, until the last leg in golden sunshine, when rock ramparts met the magnificent blue sky.
This is a preview of sorts. The 13th Annual Ice Festival runs Feb. 18-21 on the South Fork and in Cody.
Why climb a frozen waterfall?
“It’s fun,” Cedel said. “It’s mentally and physically challenging.”
Consider embracing a slick face 100 feet above a stony slope. All you ponder is the next step or where to drive the ice ax.
Cedel and Eisen get ready, their voices echoing in what the climbing book describes as an amphitheater.
In this context the dictionary describes an amphitheater as a circular hollow in the mountains. It is that, but it is also the site of hulking beauty. Stone, rising hundreds of feet, surrounds the mountaineers.
Eisen buckles on her gear. Carabiners and ice screws glint, dangle and jingle from her harness clinking like a building super’s keychain.
She drives her toe into the ice, beginning her ascent. One crampon-aided step, one ice ax grip, at a time.
Eisen muscles up the vertical face quickly while her partner, Cedel tends the rope below.
Eisen rivets an ice screw into the bumpy surface every 20 feet or so and attaches a carabiner through the rope. If she slips, the rope will arrest her fall.
“This ice has the consistency of a snow cone,” Eisen hollers. “It’s sun-baked.”
Like a continuous string of smashed rock candy, Cabin Fever rises. In some places, it resembles tightly packed icicles bunched by a giant fist.
Smack! Eisen’s ax drives home with the reverberation of a hammer striking dirt packed with rocks.
Ascending, her form becomes a diminishing speck on the ice.
Eisen completes her first 200-foot pitch and disappears from view. She ties off at the top and informs Cedel she is on belay, meaning Cedel can begin her ascent. If she falls, Eisen can catch her with a rope safely anchored above. Cedel’s ax sends chips of ice gleaming like raw, cascading diamonds. As she climbs, she unfastens the anchored carabiners and ropes. The climbers will repel down.
“When you get to the top, you get this adrenaline rush,” Cedel said, describing the euphoria of a successful ascent. “Heck yes, I just did that!”
Friends raise money for injured ice climber
On Jan. 15, Echo Oak, 33, of Billings fell more than 200 feet while ice climbing, but miraculously survived the fall.
Oak is recovering, but medical bills are steep, and she can’t work. So friends are mobilizing to raise money to help ends meet.
Oak and her friend, Hilary Eisen, 27, of Cody, had just completed a climb on a falls in the vicinity of Deer Creek on the South Fork of the Shoshone River.
Oak stepped in some snow, slipped and fell more than 200 feet, said Eisen Jan. 29.
“If you would have seen the terrain I was on, you wouldn’t have been roped up either,” Oak said.
Eisen repelled to Oak. They had three more repels to complete to reach relative safety, so Eisen lowered her friend down.
They faced one last climb to reach Deer Creek trail, but Eisen said she could not haul her friend out.
“It became pretty clear she wasn’t getting out of here with just me,” Eisen said.
Eisen said she built a shelter of drift wood, got her friend into dry clothes and tried to keep her warm.
Initially, Eisen was unable to build a fire.
Eisen later scaled the cliff, hoping to get cellular phone reception. The phone didn’t work, but she was able to find some dry pine needles to kindle a fire.
Rebecca Cedel, of Powell, who was watching Eisen’s dog, began worrying and called Park County Search and Rescue between 10 and 10:30 p.m. that night.
Search and Rescue reached Eisen and Oak by 10:30 a.m., Jan. 16. Rescuers hauled Oak to the trail in a litter by noon and got her to the trailhead and a waiting ambulance by 3:30 p.m., Eisen said.
It was a dreadful night, but Oak made it.
“I guess it was the worst night of my life, but it could have been worse,” Eisen said.
“I’m glad to be here,” Oak said. “I thank Hilary (Eisen) every morning. I wouldn’t be here without her.”
Oak said she suffered a broken pelvis and tailbone and both of her lungs collapsed.
She is black and blue from her collar bone to her navel, and both hands have frost bite. Skin is peeling off her hands, but they are healing, she said.
Oak is a cosmetologist and can’t work due to her injuries. But she is on the mend, and she plans to return to her business in Billings soon.
“I’m giving myself two weeks,” Oak said Feb. 1. “I’m already 100 percent better.”
People interested in helping Oak can make donations to the “Echo Oak Recovery Fund” at Wells Fargo Bank in Cody. Checks to the fund can be mailed to Wells Fargo Bank, attention Chad Hopkin, 1401 Sheridan Ave., Cody, WY 82414.