Animals in a Zoo
Franklin Falls is one of the most famous winter destinations in the Cascades. The sides of the waterfall often freeze during cold spells and its icy splendor has become very famous on social media. To the left of the falls proper, a bunch of ice lines can form from seeps in the cliff above. At the end of a deep freeze, John and I went up to finally check out the famous Franklin Falls in winter.
We arrived at the Exit 47 Sno-Park early, but there already were a few cars. There also was a bulldozer just beginning to plow up the road as we started. We wondered what it was doing, but quickly passed it on our G-Skins.
This was in theory a great application for the G-Skin, but our grip was a little underwhelming because of the uneven bootpack from hikers. I ended up setting a skin track to the side, hoping we’d be able to reap the benefit of it on the way out. Even though there were multiple boot packs already established, I somehow knew that some hiker would see our ski tracks as a perfect opportunity to post hole more.
We skinned about 2.5 miles and then hiked the last mile on the trail to Franklin Falls. I have seen hundreds of pictures of a semi-frozen Franklin Falls, but I do admit it was pretty cool in person. There was a girl in a red dress dancing around for a photographer. Maybe I should do a photo shoot here sometime.
There were already a few climbers on the drips to the left. We hiked up, trying to avoid the trap doors through soft snow and a hidden log jam. We found a nice looking unclaimed climb. There was a boot pack around for setting up a top rope, but I decided to give it a lead since the ice seemed really good. There were two steeper sections, but most of the route had really good rests and took screws well. However, the top out was sketchy, so I stopped before the top and made a V-Thread anchor.
This was only my second day on ice for the season, the first being our adventurous ramble up Dirty Harry’s Ice a few days prior. Typically, I climbing lowland ice mostly for the novelty, but in both cases this year, the ice was actually really good. This time around, we had plenty of time for laps!
There were over a dozen climbers, but plenty of space for everyone to climb. The main Franklin Falls area quickly became a zoo as hundreds of hikers arrived, taking photos of us like animals in one of the “exhibits”. I was honestly pretty impressed with how many people made the entire hike to Franklin Falls – it is over 3 miles each way on snow!
After 6 or 7 laps, we headed out. It was interesting to surprise many hikers as we skied out the trail! Thankfully the snow was pretty good to the sides, so we could get off trail and not cause any collisions. As expected, hikers had post-holed our skin track on the road.
At about 1.5 miles from the car, we ran into that pesky bulldozer! It had spent all day plowing up the road, apparently trying to get out some cars that had stupidly been driven past obvious road closures into deep snow and gotten stuck. In its wake, the bulldozer left just a half inch of compacted snow on top of bare asphalt. We sacrificed our G-Skins and bases to the PTex gods and kept skinning, because walking would feel like giving in to the bulldozer. It turned out ok for us!
In the past, I have always avoided climbing at Franklin Falls because of how crowded it is in the winter. But it was actually a fun day with great climbing, and great to see so many people out enjoying the snow!
- There are half a dozen lines at least that can form to the left of the main falls. The right side has mixed routes that looked very fun.
- The top outs are really bad for basically all of these routes, so be prepared to make a V-Thread if leading.
- The belay area for these climbs sits in avalanche terrain, with a steep south facing slope above to the left. Keep that in mind when deciding if you should go out! We chose a cool, cloudy day with moderate avalanche danger.
- If planning on rapping in, bring static lines to extend from trees above. Also, remember this is a crowded area! It’s best to have one person in the group on the ground with a radio for communication. We saw one group try to rap in when another group was leading below.