Voices in the Wilderness – Marlin Thorman

A promising forecast had me excited about getting into the Cabinet Mountains despite having just finished up a trip there 10 days earlier. And so, on a Thursday I found myself once again lacing up my boots and strapping on my split board to trek into the mountains for an adventure.

Over the last 5 years I had come to love spending time in the winter chasing ice climbs in the Cabinet Mountains. My focus had mainly been on the Granite Lake area at the foot of A Peak. Granite Lake is a good hike in the summer, but in the winter with changing snow conditions and an extra 3 miles of snow-covered road, it can sometimes feel like a long 9 miles with a pack. That effort, though, is one of the reasons it is such a special place. After 5 hours of skinning, stepping over downed logs, and several creek crossings we were finally rewarded with our first views of A Peak.

The first glimpses of A Peak are distant and always partially obscured by the trees. A half mile from the lake you get a decent view, but it isn’t until the last moment when you pop out of the forest and stand on the frozen lake that it really becomes visible. A Peak dominates the landscape rising 4000 ft above Granite Lake. Its north face is a 3000ft wall of rocky ribs and snow-covered couloirs with thin smears of ice connecting various features. In the foreground smaller walls, gullies, and hills rise above the lake’s frozen surface. Every time I get there I just stop and stare, tracing potential climbing routes like drawing lines on a map. This trip was no exception and we spent a few minutes taking in the views before setting up a camp.

The next day dawned clear and cold, a perfect day for ice climbing. After eating a quick breakfast, we loaded up the climbing gear and skinned out across the lake. Every few minutes we would stop and point out different features. Our objective for the day was a new route in the middle of a large wall directly above the south end of the lake. While it appears small in the landscape, the wall still rises almost 1500 ft above the lake. At the base of the wall, we stopped to put on our crampons and climbing gear. I started leading upward following the curtain of ice flowing down the wall. After several pitches of climbing, we reached a cave in the face. The ice poured over from an overhang and created a pitch of ice behind the main flow. It was wild climbing in the back of the cave. In some spots the ice was thin enough to allow light through to illuminate our way. After climbing that pitch and several other features in the area we rappelled back down to the ground.

Back at camp we found ourselves laughing and telling stories while eating dinner in the tent. As I looked around at my friends, I was reminded how these outdoor spaces provide opportunity for such great adventures. We were having the time of our lives deep in the backcountry with temps well below freezing, while making friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.

Marlin Thorman is a firefighter in Spokane, WA. During his days off he spends his time climbing and exploring the wilderness of Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

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