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Winter Creekin'


Photo: New waters to explore.

By James Moore

Winter brings a variety of adventure sport opportunities to the region and 'creekin’ is a charming and challenging combination of hiking and ice climbing. All that is needed is a frozen creek and a few basic pieces of equipment.

Ideally, the creek would be frozen with clean exposed ice and little snow cover. The more snow there is on the ice, the more challenging the route finding becomes. Also the deeper and steeper the creek is, the more challenging the route will be. The skills you’ll need are similar to those you’d need traversing a glacier or ice fall. In many ways, a frozen creek is just like a thin little glacier. Creekin’ is a great way to introduce someone to these basic ice climbing and travel skills.



The sport is actually very simple and relatively safe, but has the rewards of a tremendously high fun factor! Creekin’ tends to be a slow leisurely activity as you cautiously find your way up the frozen surfaces, listening as much as looking for a safe passage. The beauty of it is you can go at your own pace, explore and wander in a winter wonderland of ever changing ice forms. You will also discover signs of wildlife such as tracks of rabbit and deer, and maybe even toboggan-like slides of beaver.

The essential rules of creekin’: 1) take a partner, 2) let the fat boy go first.

The essential tools of creekin’: 1) crampons, 2) walking/sounding stick, 3) camera!

As with any hiking or climbing trip, plan your route with possible evacuation and return to vehicle options. Remember, climbing is always easier to do going up, and this is perhaps even more so on the varied surface of a frozen creek. It is best to plan your return trip down a road or trail if possible. Equipment will vary depending on the weather and steepness of the creek, but at a minimum you’ll want crampons for your feet and at least one walking stick to sound out the depth of ice flows and snow bridges. On steeper creek beds, you may want additional ice climbing tools for negotiating the occasional ice fall.

One other quality of wintertime creekin’ is it gets you out and exploring in a new and unique way, on a surface that is simultaneously the past, present, and future flow of a mountain stream.


Above and below: Why you should carry a camera to go creekin'.


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One other interesting thing about 'creekin' is the way it distorts time and distance. James wrote recently to say he and his wife spent four hours working their way carefully up a frozen creek. At the end of this exploratory, they worked sideways a short distance, intersected a road, and walked a mile back to the start. Descent time was about 25 minutes.