Ice climbing the Willard Canyon Waterfall

Willard Canyon is a remarkably rugged canyon that’s home to a beautiful cascading waterfall that usually ices over in late December or early January, offering an easy yet adventurous climb. I am a total rookie when it comes to ice, but I live in Willard and have always had this route on my adventure bucket list. So last week I headed up with two buddies who offered to haul me up on top rope while they solo climbed. In total, we climbed about 400 total vertical feet of ice, most of it low angle ascending. But there are two good pitches of actual vertical climbing. Our party of three spent 5 hours total, including approach time from the car.

The view into Willard Canyon and the Willard Waterfall.

The view into Willard Canyon and the Willard Waterfall.

To get there, take hwy 89 through the town of Willard. At 300 North (near the old cemetery) turn east and head toward the canyon. After about half a mile, you’ll reach a gate and a parking area. The trail takes off from here.

One of several crossings of Willard Creek.

One of several crossings of Willard Creek.

Leave the parking area and head straight north across the creek. The trail leads along the north side of the creek before taking a steep turn up to climb the bench. There are a few other random trails that take off up the creek bed from the parking area, but most of them peter out and force you to scramble and bushwhack, so be sure you are on the north side of the creek from the get-go. After you’ve climbed up onto the bench, the trail is fairly easy to make out and really a great hike as it enter the canyon. There are even a few adventurous creek crossings.

Arriving at the base of the falls.

Arriving at the base of the falls.

Eventually you’ll end up on the south side of the creek again. After about 1 mile and 1,100 feet of vertical since leaving the parking lot, you’ll arrive at the base of the ice.

Free climbing the first pitch.

Solo climbing the first pitch.

The first little section of climbing (about 40 vertical feet) is super mellow and low angle. We all solo climbed it with little worry.

Willard Waterfall 5 (426x640)

John leads out on the first real pitch

The second pitch is about 70 feet of quality climbing through a narrow choke. This was a fun section and I was happy to be on top rope. We used a tree anchor at the top.

Anchoring off an icicle.

Anchoring off an icicle.

The next 200 feet or so is made up of easy climbing and steep hiking. Continue working your way up the ice roping up as needed. We found some cool anchors along the way.

Ken tops out on the section before the final pitch

Ken tops out on the section before the final pitch

The view through the canyon is incredible throughout the entire climb.

The final pitch.

The final pitch.

After those 200 feet of vertical, you’ll come to the second (and last) real section of climbing. This is a fun pitch with good ice that goes for about 100 feet. This is the best climbing on the route.

Traversing toward the CCC trail after the final pitch.

Traversing toward the CCC trail after the final pitch.

After you top out on that pitch, you’ve essentially reached the top. You will need to cut out to climber’s left and traverse your way along the mountainside. It’s steep and somewhat sketchy, so take your time. This area has also been known to avalanche, so make sure to understand the forecast and avoid travel if conditions are not prime. Eventually you will meet up with the old CCC trail cut in the side of the mountain. The trail is narrow and exposed as it winds down to the base of the falls again. This is a great trail in the summer, but be happy you’re wearing crampons walking down in the winter.

After you work your way down there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s to head to Maddox in Perry for a good old fashioned home cooked country dinner.