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It seems like every year I find myself in the same position -I’m ready for the season to start, but that perfect alignment of weather, work, partners, and family commitments just isn’t quite right. Working at a boarding school, I am fortunate to have the full week off for Thanksgiving. With Doug and Alfonzo setting the bar so high in terms of making the most of the early season ice, I figured it was time to atone for my early season sins and get up north.
First and Ten…
Whereas I had no partner lined up for my aborted adventure on Mt. Lincoln, I found a willing partner for a romp up to Huntington Ravine on Tuesday. In addition to Doug and Alfonzo, some other NEice denizens managed to find some climbable lines in the few days before my break began, so it seemed like there would be hope. At the very least, neither of us had ever been up to Huntington, so we figured it would be a nice hike.
With my partner coming from VT and unable to do a particularly early start (something about grad school and a group project the night before…), we were heading up around 7:00am and were at the base of Pinnacle by around 9:00.
We weren’t the first ones into the Ravine, but what we saw wasn’t promising: two climbers trying to scratch their way up something between Pinnacle and Central, only for the leader to lower off of some shrubbery about 20′ up. Part of the game with chasing ice this early in the season is avoiding the sun at all costs. Odell’s looked climbable, but also like it might disintegrate under a climber’s weight. As my buddy said, “I’ve seen better ice in my freezer!”
Undeterred, our 2 new friends from Quebec set forth for the top of the ravine via a contrived line of bushwhacking somewhere to the right of Central. Knowing I had the weekend after Thanksgiving (and a forecast with colder temperatures), I opted to call it a day of taking the tools for a walk and headed back to Pinkham.
False Start… 5 yard penalty, repeat first down -First and fifteen!
By Thursday evening, I had successfully relocated myself from the holiday’s festivities in southern CT to basecamp for the coming days in northern NH. I was primed and had the alarm set for 3am, at least until I saw Leaf’s conditions report from that day:
“For the conditions report, I will write a series of haikus. The title is: HEIN
Broke trail into Hunts/ It wasn’t too bad at all/Until the talus
Snow on huge boulders/ Waiting to twist and swallow /Unsuspecting legs
Rotten and hollow /A waterfall underneath /That describes the ice
Would have been pleasant/ If the wind wasn’t hallowing/ Gusts maybe 80
Goggles, face mask on/ Then the snow above the ice/ Waist deep swimming – hmm
Snow slide potential?/ Gained the ridge between gullies/ That wasn’t easy either
Finally the Garden/ Beautiful undercast seen/ There was a rainbow
Whew, I’m exhausted/ Happy Thanksgiving to all/ Please pass the turkey”
Leaf’s reward after a hard climb
Now, although I have never met Leaf, I’ve seen her contributions on this site enough to know that if she found it sketchy, I wasn’t going to find it any better the next day. Foiled again!
False Start… 5 yard penalty, repeat first down – First and Twenty!
Nevertheless, I managed a fun day of cross country skiing on Friday with my family, while Doug and Alfonzo also managed some non-vertical fun in the mountains. The ice may be fickle, but it’s good to remember that there are other worthwhile pursuits than chasing cascades of frozen water.
My quest for early season ice in November has sadly come to a close. Temperatures finally seem to be moving in the right direction, so perhaps this weekend will offer up some fun frozen treats for those of you who are able to get out. Although working at a boarding school gives me some pretty sweet breaks, this weekend I’ll be experiencing the double-edged nature of my work -weekend dorm duty.
Give it a week or so, though, and I’ll be back out there.
It’s been a busy few weeks, but the essays are graded, the exams are printed, and there’s time to relax and think about ice climbing again. In Part One, you learned about my affinity for seasonal beverages and my one-track mind when it comes to the off-season. In Part Two, I got all “dippy and philosophical” while nerding out about literature and No Man’s Land. Ultimately, though, what it’s all building towards is a simple fact:
Part Three: December-March
“Winter is Coming”
Article by Patrick Cooke
Sure, by the time December rolls around (and surely by January, February, and March), winter is not coming, but instead is hopefully upon us. But the giant dork in me can’t resist the Game of Thrones reference, and we’re still enjoying daytime temperatures in the mid-60s this week in Boston. If our NEice meteorologist in residence, Smike, is to be trusted we need not worry: Winter is Coming.
As we adjust to the increasingly early sunsets, seeing our breath in the air, and digging out our cars, there’s a looming sense of adventure about the months ahead. What kind of winter will this be? Will PowerPlay and Big Brother be locked up again this year? Will Poko be off the hook again, or will Cathedral, Willoughby, or Smuggs see conditions so fat that even this guy can climb classic test-pieces? Can Joe Szot be unseated as the undisputed champion of the world when it comes to rollies?
Each year, the winter’s water cycle is largely determined by what happens throughout the fall.
Trap Dike after Irene – photo by Carl Heilman II
This year, Hurricane Irene rudely knocked on our doors, not only soaking the northeast but also potentially rearranging water flow patterns throughout the region. The Trap Dike has a new exit out onto the slabs. Cascade, Wright, and Saddleback all have new slides that may yield new winter alpine routes. There is significant potential for new routes and variations hiding in familiar locations, while there are also new opportunities to be had for those willing to go beyond the beaten path.
Early Season Potential: Fortune Favors the Bold
Amid all the uncertainty that awaits us each season, there are still certain facts of life that are givens. By early December, most of the climbers in the northeast will be chomping at the bit to get their first sticks of the season. How early one sates this hunger will often be directly correlated to how bold a climber he or she is. Last year, I managed to get out and climb the Trap Dike the week before Thanksgiving, opting for the greater likelihood of climbable ice at higher elevations rather than the potential to scratch my way up something at the North Face of Pitchoff. Sure, I could have ended up taking the tools for a long walk, but at the very least I would have a good day in the mountains. As it turned out, we found wicked fun conditions on the waterfalls and perfect neve up the slabs. That same day, people found ice to climb at NFOP. Was it fat? No. Did it take screws? Sort of. Did they have fun? Absolutely!
Typical EARLY season conditions at NFOP – Rowdy Dowdy on Screw and Climbaxe (11/21/10) – photo by Rockytop
As the season ramps up, there are certain climbs and venues we can look to each and every season. In the Daks, the North Face of Pitchoff and Chapel Pond Canyon are sure bets. Full of moderate lines, these areas have routes that may not be considered “classic”, but offer a little bit of something for everyone. Fans of long moderate lines can enjoy a day out on Weeping Winds or Screw and Climbaxe. Those looking to push themselves on harder grades may not find the steep pillars and curtains of Poko or the Lake, but can link up many routes into a good long day: At NFOP, try linking up Central Pillar (to the top!), Arm and Hammer, Tendonitis, Weeping Winds, and Screw and Climbaxe; at the Pond, Crystal Ice tower/White Line Fever, Lions on the Beach, Hot Shot, Ice Slot, Positive Reinforcement, and Haggis and Cold Toast make for a good long day. At Smuggs, you’ll find plenty of ice early in the season, and linking routes will give you a hell of a leg workout! At Frankenstein, you can try to get up early and beat the Standard Route conga line (can you find all 12 climbers?), hook and torque your way up the Pegasus rock finish, and probably even take a lap on Dracula if you’re looking for a little bit more spice.
If you feel like you’ve “climbed out” your usual haunts, early season options may be the perfect remedy. That fat 3+ or 4- that you’ve climbed 200 times may be a different beast early in the season. Stubbies, spectres, and and a couple of stoppers instead of an endless line of 16s may mean the difference between just another lap on “the hardman’s warmup” and a personal first ascent of “the hardman’s ego-check.”
Mid-Season: Getting After It
Come my winter break (end of December), I generally feel that there’s no question as to what season it is: sending season. Sure, there’s those pesky family commitments involving stuffing your face with delicious food and the mandatory Christmas eve whiskey (if you don’t already have this tradition, I HIGHLY recommend it!), but my main thought is about getting out and getting after it. Last winter, the stars aligned perfectly: I’d never done Dracula, Welcome to the Machine was in, and Fang was so fat it could easily have been mistaken for Standard Route. It was looking like it would be a great day! We’d have to move quickly as a party of three, but we were ambitious.
Dracula was great, except for one thing… apparently those toe bails that keep your crampons on your boots are not indestructable!
When you break a crampon on lead, sometimes you end up with amusing photo opportunities like this… tools left for comic effect!
Yep, 20 feet up on lead and for whatever reason, I can’t get good sticks with my right foot. Look down… “#$%&!!!!!!!!!!!” There’s my crampon, dangling from the strap around my ankle with a busted toe bail. I had just placed a screw with a screamer, so I placed another and lowered off… As a single pitch climb, I knew we’d be able to make things work, but WTTM and Fang were out of the picture. Regardless, sending season had begun! With my unbroken mono-point on the left foot, my buddy’s dual points on the right, and a second set of tools, I was off again, enjoying superb sticks and even placing more than 3 screws (actually, a lot more)!
Every winter presents the opportunity for climbing new routes. Even lines you’ve done before can form in new ways. That’s part of the beauty of ice climbing. Sure, sometimes different climbs can feel the same, but some days the same climb can be a totally different beast from a previous ascent. If you’ve already climbed the Gent, that doesn’t mean you should’t go do it again. Tackle the direct start, climb the steeper pillar left of the groove on the crux pitch, or head way right at the top. It all may be the same climb in the guidebook, but each and every ascent will be a new experience.
One of the beauties of living in the Northeast is how close we are to so many great ice climbing venues. If you’re only climbing in one place all winter, you’re missing out. Venture out and check out what other people get to experience as their home crag. If you have some vacation time, why not make a road trip around the Northeast? In 5 days you can easily link Cannon, Willoughby, Smuggs, Poko, and the Catskills into one epic adventure. Limited to weekends? No problem, shoot for a different venue each time you get out. Even in one region you can easily have a diversity of climbing experiences. Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing:
CT/MA/Other locations: Drive north and don’t feel limited by the local offerings!
With so many options in the Northeast, you should never get bored.
Alpine fun on Mt. Webster – Photo by Alfonzo
Catskills – Purgatory WI5- M5, Photo by Jim Busse
Ice season is undoubtedly the best time of year, but there is one dreaded element that seems to hit every year – the midseason thaw. Last year, this hit on New Year’s Day (the day after the photo above was taken), making the ice in the Catskills entirely unclimbable. A few years ago, the thaw coincided with Mountainfest and resulted in several cancelled clinics. While we hope that this doesn’t happen this winter, don’t despair – at the very least it will help heal the ice and return a hooked-out classic back to its proper form!
Late Season: Back to the Mountains
As the calendar pages flip and the days get longer, our options begin to change. Willoughby, Poko, and other predominantly south-facing crags begin to melt away. At the lower elevations, those early season options often linger and remain our best bet. Every year, Dracula seems to hang in there in its black cave, much like the bat its namesake emulated.
With such long days, the late season is prime time for long routes in the mountains. In the Daks, Joe Szot laid down the gauntlet completing the “Adirondack Trilogy” of Gothics, Marcy, and Colden in a day, Emilie Drinkwater completed her own version of the Trilogy, and Alfonzo created the “Trifecta” of Pinnacle, Shoestring, and the Throat in the Whites. Countless other opportunities exist for those with more modest ambitions as well. Long days of linking up gullies await you in Huntington Ravine, and Katahdin hosts countless alpine routes in as remote a setting you can find in the Northeast.
Katahdin's South Basin from Chimney Pond – Photo by AOC
It may have been 62 and partly cloudy in Boston yesterday, but don’t worry, Winter is coming!
Earlier this month, NEice staff meteorologist, Smike, hedged his bets and gave a gloomy November forecast for ice aficionados: “Warm temps with a short bout of cold over the next 15 days. (Go grab some extra rock time) End of the month will crash into winter and it should hang on this time.”
Recent evidence, however, suggests that he has not given us the whole story.
Article by Patrick Cooke
At first glance, Smike’s work looks like the work of a professional: it’s populated by maps and graphs, and includes fancy weather-related initialisms like NAO, MJO, and NKVD (what can I say, the guy has some scary connections). Furthermore, he can use the term “Bermuda High” without arousing the suspicions of a police K-9 unit.
Have we been mislead?
Despite his professional reputation, Smike’s recent actions call his veracity into question. On facebook Smike posted “Has anyone seen my winter around here?”. Shouldn’t Smike know that he didn’t predict winter weather this early in November, or is he holding back on a darker truth that lies around the corner? We take it for granted that winter will come eventually, but how far off is eventually?
Smike did not do himself any favors when this reporter contacted him about his prediction: The meteorologist’s first words were “What my FAIL on weather?” – hardly the words we hoped to hear. With the qualifications of our own in-house expert called into question, we were forced to seek outside counsel to get to the heart of the issue.
The Expert Weighs In
Sitting back on a folding chair on a beach in the Virgin Islands while sipping daiquiris, this is not the Jack Frost you know and love. He looks haggard and run down, a man beaten down by his own biting winds. His take on Smike’s forecast?
We're all hoping for something better than this!
“What do you want? I give you snow in October and all I hear is whining about it being too early, I didn’t get to send my 5.12 yet, I can’t find my ice scraper… nothing but bitch, bitch, bitch. You know what, I like it here, so fetch me another drink and then sod off!” (who knew Jack Frost was a Brit?)
Undeterred, this reporter continued to push Frost about when we could expect his return to the Northeast. Unfortunately, Frost’s comments were not fit to print.
For fear of angering this guy (Jack Frost, not Mrs. Claus), Kris Kringle declined to comment for this story
Where does this leave us?
“Yeah so, I make this @#$% up. Put a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout in front of me and I’ll say whatever you want!” * Smike graciously agreed to speak again after the failed interview with Jack Frost. A disgustingly rich malt beverage in hand, he was much more forthright about his methodology when it comes to the science of predicting weather patterns: “You know, the guys on TV look at the facts and are right only about half the time. Does anyone call them out? No. You figure I do this for free, so why not just make it up as I go along? It’s not like you’ve got anyone else waiting in the wings.” **
In this case, he is correct. Whatever his failings as a meteorologist, it’s not like NEice has a plethora of weathermen jumping at the opportunity to bring us all bad news. When pressed for a Turkey-Day prediction, he stood by his original claim: “I still think my 30/70 odds or ‘real’ ice holds ;-)” ***
*Not necessarily intended to be a factual statement
**Yep, I made that one up as well, sorry Smike!
***He actually said that one
Special thanks to Smike for playing along. The weather right now absolutely sucks (at least for ice climbing), and Sunday is supposed to be absurdly warm. Let’s hope Smike’s prediction for a cold and stormy December comes to pass!
We have been told by some that the real ice climbing season has not started and what we are doing is not real ice climbing. Well we want you to have a look at these photos and tell us if we are ice climbing – real ice climbing, that is. Alfonzo and I think we are but want to be sure!
No Ice, No Ice Climbing – Not In!
Ice, Ice Climbing – In!
King Ravine 11/13/11: It had been warm all week so Sunday we headed into King Ravine. We had previously seen plenty of water flowing and this time of year the sun never shines in on over half of the ravine… we were rewarded and climbed some fun and challenging ice. Another great ice climb of the season. At least I think it was a real ice climb?!
It’s all about timing and knowing where to go. Hit it wrong and it’s all coming down on you and running in your boot. It’s also not caring if you hit it wrong. It’s all part of the game. Don’ be lazy, get out, look and plan with the weather. Beat the sun and skip work if need be. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. It’s all fun. Ice climbing is an obsession and you need to feed it. Does the deer hunter wait until mid season to hunt? Does a true fan of any sport miss opening day? NO! That’s why we’re out there!
“We took a chance, for from the car and the road, while cranking tunes with the climate controls set to excellent, nothing looked worth the walk to us…. nothing looked “great” and most certainly not “in”. But here’s the weird thing… we went for it and did find ice… it was “in” and it was frick-n “great!” Who would have thunk it??” – Alfonzo
Some photos of this years early ice.
Is this enough ice to climb?
Huntington & King Ravines – October & November 2011. Photos by Doug Millen & Alfonzo
Stay tuned for more road side and arm chair reports.