Keystone Canyon Ice Climbing: POS and the Alaska X Factor

By Allison Sayer | Published Jan 12, 2018
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Will this shirt be too warm? Where’s my helmet? Oh my God there is a mouse nest in my climbing boot. Getting ready for ice climbing after years away from the sport was not relaxing. Still, the ski terrain was a mixture of wind crust and rock and I was getting tired of indoor pursuits.

My climbing partner and I knew that we were not mentally or physically prepared to lead an ice climb. We went to the place many locals go to brush up on their skills with the comfort of a top rope: Piece of (you know what), also called POS.

POS is in a dark spot that doesn’t receive any sunlight during the dark days of winter. However, even when the wind is howling, the little nook is calm and quiet.

There is an easy route up the left side of the climb. As the climb fills in, a more difficult pillar develops on the right. The pillar is only truly vertical for a couple of moves. However, vertical ice is enormously more challenging than ice that is slightly less than vertical. The small vertical portion is a great place to practice the skills needed on more difficult climbs.

We parked at the large Bridal Veil Falls pullout in Keystone Canyon, and then walked through the grass towards the climb. Soon, the Alaska “X Factor” kicked in. Usually, to reach the top rope anchor on POS, you walk up a ramp of snow. However, there was no snow. We had two choices: walk around on a trail, or go up the ramp without snow on it. We took the ramp.

We should have taken the trail. Unprotected, we planted our tools in frozen moss as we scraped up the low-angle rock. This is one component of the Alaska X Factor: an awkward and dangerous approach to an easy climb.

We reached the top, and then made our way around and down through the forest towards the large tree that would be our main anchor. I thought of the Alaska X Factor again as I batted away devil’s club with my ice tools. Do people in Colorado do this???

Finally, we set up our rope. We went over the components of our anchor system more than once, to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything.

There was nothing left to do but rappel down to the bottom. My partner offered to take my picture rappelling but I told her I was too terrified. Putting myself on rappel has always been difficult for me. Once that part was behind me, I felt a huge surge of relief.

Both safely on the bottom, we laughed at how much we had struggled just to get to square one of our day. It was finally time to climb!

The Alaska X Factor got us one more time that day, although we did not realize it until later. That evening, my climbing partner felt a little pain in her leg. When she investigated, she found a porcupine quill deeply embedded. There were a handful of other quills sticking out of her leg as well. She must have smacked into some loose quills near the anchor.

We would return to POS two more times before the snow flew. Each time, we were more sure of ourselves both on the climbing end and the climb management side.

Good snow has whisked us up into the mountains for skiing and snowboarding for now. However, we look forward to continuing to hone our skills this winter.

I am looking forward to becoming more independent as a climber, rather than relying on others to do all of the set up and leading. This may take me a long time, but with the sheer beauty each climb brings, I am prepared to enjoy the journey.