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Big 10-4 on the Panorama

Enjoying puffy warmth at the top of pitch one.

Enjoying puffy warmth at the top of pitch one.

There are few things in this world that make me happier than an intermediate belay.  For the uninitiated, an intermediate belay is the stop-over between pitches – you ascend a rope-length or gain a nice ledge (whichever comes first), plug in some gear to build an anchor, affix yourself to the wall, and relax.  It’s a perfect place to get some water, eat a snack, wrap yourself in your favorite puffy jacket, slip into some heavy gloves, and enjoy the view.

The intermediate belay is a payoff several times over: you get to rest and recharge from the often stressful and strenuous climbing, you get to check out the scene from a place that few people ever stand, you get to solve complex anchor-building puzzles, and there’s often no one there to see the tears in your eyes as the warm blood refills your frozen fingers.

Over the years, I’ve stockpiled memories of my favorite belays – some noteworthy for the scenery, some for the relief, and some for the shenanigans – and the top of the first pitch of Hyalite’s Silken Falls ranks right up there with the best.

Silken Falls headwall - Hyalite Canyon

Silken Falls headwall - Hyalite Canyon

Silken Falls is an imposing flow of ice deep inside Hyalite Canyon.  A two-hour hike brings you beneath the large lower headwall, and a short slog through knee-deep snow puts you at the base of the climb.

The temperature was warm enough on the day we went out there, but, with the wind whipping the spindrift down the face of the ice, Jason and I resolved to make short work of the first pitch.  We synchronized the radios, and he took off on the sharp end.  After a short traverse, he disappeared around the corner of the headwall, and there I stood, in the winter sun, awaiting the familiar crackle of “off belay” to come through the handset.

After a few chilly minutes, I felt the rope pull tight.  “You’re on belay, so climb when ready,” the radio sang, and, with belay jacket still on, I charged up the pitch.

The climbing was not especially difficult, but one of my crampons came unseated early on and complicated things significantly.  I gingerly chipped up the rest of the route, cleaning the screws on one solid foot placement.  The angle eased off halfway up the pitch, and I cruised up to the intermediate snowfield.

Awesome.  The pitch topped out in a spectacular snow-white amphitheater.  There was a thin gully climb far in the back, the large second pitch of Silken Falls to the right, and sheer black rock in between.  Jason was set up in the ice to the right, and he took in rope as I ambled up to the anchor.  I clipped the anchor and soaked in the winter sun.

Big ten four on that there belay locale.  It'll shine from now on with the genuine Showtime stamp of approval.

Ain't kiddin' about that there intermediate belay locale. It'll shine from now on with the genuine Showtime stamp of approval. Over and out.

It’s hardly novel to be captivated by the things we discover in nature – after all, there’s a reason we recognize names like Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell, and Bob Ross – but it is extraordinary to me that climbing my way into places like this is always so very worth it.  The activity itself is rewarding, of course, but there’s definitely a different sort of satisfaction when the climb ends in such a special spot.  It tends to erase the two-hour hike,  the bone-chilling belay, and the hand-numbing climb.  It’s worth it all, and it’s worth it all every time.

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