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Big Ice, Cold Fear

Kurt Cozzens peered out the window of a Turbo Cessna 182 at the ice-plastered walls of Ishawooa Canyon. A wide grin spread across his face.

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Here at Aldrich Creek, the author Aaron Mulkey takes on the <em>Hell’s Angel</em> (WI 5), one of his 50 first ascents in the South Fork Valley, just outside Cody, Wyoming.” title=”Here at Aldrich Creek, the author Aaron Mulkey takes on the <em>Hell’s Angel</em> (WI 5), one of his 50 first ascents in the South Fork Valley, just outside Cody, Wyoming.”><b>Kurt Cozzens peered out the window</b> of a Turbo Cessna 182 at the ice-plastered<br />
    walls of Ishawooa Canyon. A wide grin spread across his face. It was January 14, 1985, and he had just seen what, over 20 years later, would become<br />
    one of Cody, Wyoming’s, most important ice-climbing discoveries. </p>
<p>After graduating from the University of Wyoming, in Laramie, with Paul Piana, Todd Skinner and Monte Madsen, possibly the university’s finest graduating<br />
    class of climbers ever, Kurt enjoyed traveling the globe with that crew for a few years. </p>
<p>Eventually, however, he was drawn back to his hometown, Cody, where he decided he wanted to be a pilot. Kurt had met a young woman. let’s call her Jane,<br />
    who was already a pilot, but knew nothing about climbing and wanted to learn. They agreed to exchange expertise, and soon Kurt found himself soaring<br />
    over Ishawooa Canyon and the greater South Fork Valley.</p>
<p>Kurt was marveling at the blue cascades of ice coating the walls when Jane, who was flying, realized the plane was too low. She had misjudged the height<br />
    of the ridge and now they were headed straight toward a mountain. She pulled back on the yoke, but the Cessna clipped the last row of trees on the<br />
    11,000-foot ridge. A violent crash tore the plane apart, sending scraps of metal flying. The cockpit, all that was left of the Cessna, came to rest<br />
    in the snow. Miraculously, the two sustained only minor injuries.</p>
<p>Because they had not logged a flight plan, however, nobody knew their whereabouts. This realization slowly dawned and they realized that their survival<br />
    was in their hands. The two were on an exposed mountain, at 11,000 feet, wearing sneakers and lightweight down jackets. Kurt figured it was at least<br />
    20 miles to the nearest road. They began moving. </p>
<p>Twenty-four hours later, Kurt and Jane reached the valley floor, soaked, frozen and starved. Lights flickered in the distance, and they hailed the driver<br />
    of what turned out to be a UPS truck, which delivered them back to town.</p>
<p>The South Fork Valley, just 25 minutes outside Cody, is one of the richest ice-climbing treasures in the continental United States. A scenic road snakes<br />
    through the immense and ice-plastered mountains, which rise with little hesitation from 6,000 to 11,000 feet. Today, along a five-mile stretch of dirt<br />
    road that runs up the valley, some fine ice climbs are found just minutes from the car. </p>
<p>Few places have such a rich and unknown history. In 1979, six years before the plane crash, Kurt Cozzens first put pick to ice in the valley area. A few<br />
    years later, Kurt taught his younger brother, Todd, then 16, how to ice climb.</p>
<p> I drug his ass up everything, Kurt recalls today. Turned out, Todd became a very accomplished climber.</p>
<p>It wasn’t just the quality of the routes they were doing that was exceptional; it was their size. Some of the original classics in the South Fork Valley<br />
    include the 500-foot routes <em>High on Boulder</em> (WI 4) and <em>Moonrise</em> (WI 5), the 750-foot <em>Main Vein</em> (WI 3), and the 1,000-foot<br />
    <em>Broken Hearts </em>(WI 5). </p>
<p>Todd Cozzens struggled to convince people to come check out these ice-climbing gems. Cody is miles away from everything, and it was difficult to persuade<br />
    his friends that a trip was worth the effort. Todd got creative, and in 1984 put together what would become North America’s first ice festival. A small<br />
    clique of Todd’s friends came for the purposes of establishing more new routes, and partying it up in a wall tent in the Deer Creek campground.</p>
<p>During the festival, Todd Cozzens and Doug Birkholtz established one of North America’s top ice routes, <em>Mean Green</em> (WI 5)<strong>, </strong>protecting<br />
    the six-pitch 1,000-foot route with pound-in ice screws and Bird Beaks. On the fourth pitch, Doug took a 30-foot whipper onto an ice screw. The north-facing<br />
    <em>Mean Green </em>remains a classic testpiece. </p>
<p>Word of the South Fork Valley snuck out and drew some of climbing’s best athletes, such as Alex Lowe, Jeff Cristol, Doug Chabot and Todd Skinner, all of<br />
    whom climbed there with the young Todd Cozzens. </p>
</p>
<p>Ten years ago, Todd Cozzens’ hand-drawn map to the South Fork Valley drew me out of Cody like a pirate searching for booty. Today, after a decade of exploration<br />
    and over 50 first ascents, I know there is even more than the eye can see. </p>
<p>The past decade of exploration has produced a whole new slew of modern classics such as <em>Wyoming Wave</em> (WI 3, 500 feet), <em>Spying and Flying</em>    (WI 4, 700 feet), <em>Ro Shambo</em> (WI 5), <em>Hell’s Angel</em> (WI 5), and the 60-meter rope-stretcher <em>The Testament</em> (WI 6). Today, there<br />
    are nearly 300 routes here, and even more waiting to be climbed.</p>
<p>After leaving your car, you walk through sagebrush and past cactus, lured by the alpine oasis high above the desert terrain. The unique combination of<br />
    adventure and isolation found in the South Fork is addicting. A good friend of mine, John Frieh, has traveled over 20 hours one way just to climb 150<br />
    feet of ice for a day. He has done this the last two years in a row! </p>
<p>The South Fork Valley has earned respect from many accomplished climbers for having some of North America’s hardest test-pieces, such as <em>Long Neck Bottle</em>    (WI 7), <em>Barely Legal</em> (WI 7 M8), <em>The Gambler</em> (WI 6) and the never-repeated Alex Lowe route <em>Mean Streak</em> (WI 7 M7). Among these<br />
    frozen sandbags are classic routes we can all do, like <em>Bozos Revenge</em> (WI 3).</p>
<p>The climbing area is about 25 minutes from the town of Cody, named after Buffalo Bill Cody, and rooted in Western cowboy culture. Today Cody’s draw is<br />
    its plethora of surrounding world-class adventures such as rock and ice climbing, kayaking and mountain biking.</p>
<p>Still, the roughneck roots remain strong, and if you’re not careful, you might find yourself getting 86’d from the local Silver Dollar Bar, like one of<br />
    my ice-climbing partners, S.K. He had saddled up next to a fine-looking woman, and launched into humorous tales of his climbing antics. Her boyfriend<br />
    quickly took notice and shouted, Hey, that’s my girlfriend! </p>
<p>S.K. replied by saying, I heard that in Cody, you don’t lose your girlfriend, you just lose your turn. The boyfriend went after S.K., who quickly climbed<br />
    up the wall and onto some wood beams, elusive as a matador. We soon found the safety of the alley, where a short walk across the street took us to<br />
    Cooter Browns. We were safe, at least until the next day dawned with another local adventure.</p>
</p>
<p><em>See <a href=www.coldfear.com for more.