[Photo] Vitaliy Musiyenko
Yosemite Valley isn’t known for its ice climbing, but a few waterfalls freeze up in the coldest winters, offering climbers some of the longest continuous ice routes in the Lower 48. Widow’s Tears, an icefall tucked into a steep granite amphitheater west of Crocker Point on the south side of the Valley, is the tallest one. Mark Chapman and Kevin Worrall made the first ascent in 1975. It’s a WI5 route that is climbed in about twelve pitches. The World Waterfall Database reports the total height of Widow’s Tears is 1,680 feet, with an upper drop of 1,200 feet. The famous route forms infrequently so climbers have to wait until it’s in condition. In the past few weeks, eight people climbed the route.
[We reported on an ascent of Widow’s Tears in a NewsWire on January 18, 2007–Ed.]
[Photo] Jimmy Haden
On January 1, Vitaliy Musiyenko, a registered nurse in the Bay Area, free-soloed Widow’s Tears. This ascent marks the first documented ropeless ascent of the route. He wrote Alpinist: “I daydreamed about soloing the Widow’s Tears for a while, but was not giving it serious thought, as it is so huge and I have not soloed any ice route ever. I ended up climbing the route onsight and free solo.” After hearing rumors that the ice was coming in good this year, Musiyenko made plans to climb it on New Year’s Day. At the end of work shift, he drove to the Valley, slept a few hours and hiked to the base of route to assess conditions and drop off gear.
[Video] Vitaliy Musiyenko
Musiyenko reports that the temperature was cold and the winds were calm. He said, “I was excited to have my dream route right there. I decided to climb.” He said the main difficulties were thin, hollow ice sections where it was hard to get solid pick placements. “While I did my best to have fun, I was also very serious and careful while climbing.” One placement sheared off a chunk of ice that cut his nose, but he continued climbing to a stance where he applied snow to stop the bleeding. He reached plastic ice below the top that offered good pick placements. Musiyenko noticed that a party the day before had climbed an easy exit but, he said, “I didn’t want the climb to be over and took a steeper and longer option.”
After hearing about Musiyenko’s ascent, first ascensionist Kevin Worrall wrote him a personal note: “I hope you weren’t too gripped to enjoy the architecture up there. That’s a major accomplishment that sets the bar a notch or two higher for Valley ice, I’d say.” Peter Mayfield soloed The Silver Strand (Chapman-Minks-Worrall, 1977), a 600-foot WI5 in the Widow’s Tears area, “some time ago, but the scale of The Tears is a step beyond,” Worrall continued.
[Photo] Jimmy Haden
While no records are kept of Widow’s Tears’ ascents, it has been climbed an estimated 30 times, and it is possible that someone else may have previously soloed it. Musiyenko climbed the route in about 2 hours and 40 minutes. Two parties made ascents of the icefall on December 31, 2015, the day before Musiyenko’s solo, including Sarah Thompson and Mike Collins. She reported on her Facebook page that it was the third ice route she’s ever climbed.
A Valley local, who prefers to remain anonymous, told Alpinist that he soloed Widow’s Tears the day after Musiyenko. The anonymous climber ascended Tombstone Falls, to the left of Sentinel Rock, the day before his solo ascent of Widow’s Tears. He wasn’t alone on Widow’s Tears, as he ran into Brian Biega and Jimmy Haden. “It was in great shape, but it was thin in spots. I’m glad I brought a file so I could sharpen my tools while hanging out and waiting for those guys.”
“On the first pitch you’re definitely climbing two- to three-inch ice and you’re banging rock,” Haden said. “As you get higher on the route, it gets better and better.”
As temperatures are rising, Widow’s Tears is quickly falling out of condition and rain is expected tomorrow (1.15.16).
Yosemite climber Dan McDevitt told Alpinist regarding the flurry of activity on the route, “It’s the biggest season yet.”