Nested in the eastern side of Highway 120 just south of Tioga Pass, Lee Vining Ice Climbing Area looks just like any other canyon in the summer, but the place turns into an ice climbing wonderland in the winter. Here ice climbing enthusiasts will find the longest and steepest climbs in California. And as is the case with all California ice, Lee Vining ice doesn't stay long and is constantly changing. Because this aspect of the canyon is completely on the shade all day, the ice usually starts to form around November.
In a thin snow season, the approach can be a leg-breaking, boulder-hopping effort. In a deep snow season, however, the approach is very pleasant and can be done with mountaineering boots or snowshoes.
There are three main ice walls in the area and a variety of single pitch and multiple pitch ice climbing options. The Bard-Harrington wall, which is the first ice wall just above the narrow entrance, has the best ice when the snow season is good, but it is very unpredictable. The Main Falls is the area to the right of the Bard-Harrington wall. While it is more predictable, there aren't a lot of top rope routes in this wall. There are several two-pitch routes, including several direct routes up the center of the main flow as well as Spiral Staircase (WI3+) on the left and Heel Toe (WI4 5.9) on the right.
To the right of Main Falls area is Chouinard Falls or the central wall. This has mostly top rope routes as there are four sets of bolts with chains at the top of Chouinard Falls with three more sets on the Right Flow, but you can also lead the routes. There are three WI2+ routes ranging from 45 feet to 70 feet. To set up your top rope, it is also possible to walk off climbs on the Main Falls, Chouinard Falls, and the Right Flow by hiking to climber's right, descending, and coming around the bottom of the Right Flow.
As always, please check the avalanche conditions before heading to the backcountry and make sure you have all the necessary knowledge and tools to do this extreme sport. If you are new to ice climbing, there are couple guiding companies located in bishop that offer ice climbing training and trips in the winter. Sierra Mountaineering Club also usually has ice climbing trips and training in the winter that you can join if you have taken their required training ahead of time.
There aren't a lot of options to stay nearby other than two small hotels in Lee Vining, but the town of Mammoth is only 20 minutes to the south, and it has plenty of options for food and lodging.
Note that the road to Poole power plant, where you park for the approach, is not plowed on a regular basis. Heavy snowfall can close it for a day or two.