We drove up late on Sunday, and caught 4.5 hours of sleep before the park entrance. Rising early, we spent some time trying to figure out where to start the approach, and leave the car. The pullouts aren't plowed, so the best thing to do is leave the car at Tunnel View overlook, and walk down the road for about 1/2 mile. Then go uphill, more or less straight up toward the climb (there is a drainage, to which it is best to stay to the right of) - otherwise it was deep snow mixed with boulders. There doesn't appear to be a summer trail...
We reached the approach ice after about 1-1.5 hours - could be a bit faster in better snow conditions. We took the tools and crampons out and scampered up the approach ice, which was a bit spooky - we were supported by a 1 inch or less shield of ice over running water - the whole thing completely detached, making "bong" sounds. Despite trying to take care, we both bashed our pics on the underlying granite... From there, a shorter slog up snow takes you to the base of the first pitch proper (2 hours total for us). There were huge piles of avalanche debris in the gully, probably from the big rain events which oversaturated the snow. There were areas that hadn't avalanched - thick snow/water mixture similar to a windslab, overlaying sugary snow below - but there was a "plowed" path all the way to the base.
Up until this point I had a good feeling, the climb looked thin but doable, and much shorter than we expected (potentially 4-5 pitches with 70 meter ropes), so the psyche was up!
As we got closer, red flags were going up... small ice chunks from above were breaking and falling down (big ones already present in the approach gully), it felt warm, and we also realized that the whole first pitch consists of two things: 1) 1-2 inch shell of slushy ice over the granite slab, which would provide fun climbing but no pro, and 2) snow/ice slush over running water. Even the best ice was not hard enough for short screws to have a chance of holding, and the chance of finding good anchors up high looked very slim, even if one was able to climb over the "shell over water" without breaking it. We brought a rack of rock gear, but the rock was completely covered. Not wanting to give up so quickly, we climbed up the first 20 feet (which were excellent), put our nose up to ice above, and collectively we just weren't up for the risk of ruining our seasons (or worse) because of this climb - so we turned back. (Walk + 2 raps off of trees on skier's right)
The "Good from far, but far from good" saying came to mind...
Since it was still early, we went to Pat & Jack to climb in the sun. We ran into Dan and Sue McDevitt who were very nice, and we chit chatted about ice in Yosemite. Dan had done Widow's Tears in 2003 and gave us some good beta (eg. walking off is probably easier than rapping: walk along the rim to Inspiration Point, and walk down to the bottom end of the tunnel (where we left the car) - and various other tidbits about ice first ascents that he had done in the park over the years. He wasn't surprised the climb wasn't in condition, noting that temperatures were pretty warm in the 2-3 days preceeding (60 degrees on Saturday?). There also was an inversion on Sunday: the valley floor was 29 degrees F according to my car, but at the base of the climb, it felt warmer, probably ~40. So while from the road it looked like there was a fair amount of ice up there, I think we'll wait for some colder temperatures before another attempt. Also, Silver Strand (next drainage over to the right) looked much fatter from the road (no gray areas), and Dan mentioned it is usually a safer bet for valley ice, there were some other ones mentioned too...
We'll see whether things take a turn for the better or worse for Widow's Tears... and in the meantime, maybe someone else will go up there and have a different experience!
PS. From Karen: "Sherrie's Crack feels like a WI 5 with no crampons!" (on Pat & Jack)
|The approach ice (note debris at the bottom)||It looks good from far! But ended up far from good...|
|Huge piles of debris covering the gully... probably from the big rain events|
|Taken from the road on the way to Pat & Jack||The lower part with binoculars|