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Though everything in the backcountry is alluring, a few places and features intrigue me more than others. Most of the upper Great Range holds a special place in my heart. While climbing Gothics via Pyramid in the early 2000’s I was taken by a stone sculpture, a cliff, on the far side of the cirque. The four tiers of the cliff were striped with moss, lichen, water and algae. I snapped several photos and looked at them every now and again. I thought it unfathomable to observe it more closely, however—go off-trail—heck no!
That changed in 2011 when I climbed a portion of the East Face/Rainbow Slide for the first time. The lowest slab, perhaps 25-30 degrees in slope provided the perfect vantage point to study the feature. Being so close was humbling and I felt small and insignificant.
A view of them in 2012 again captured my attention during a winter ascent of the Rainbow Slide with Anthony Seidita. This time they were partially covered with a continuous, but delicate looking line of ice. It never crossed my mind that they could be climbed—ice climbing was something that my cousin Ed Tuttle mastered, but one that I feared at the time. Over the summer of 2014, I studied the ice line repeatedly. A note began to resonate until it became a constant hum in the back of my mind. I thought, “What if…?” The thought turned into a dream that unfolded on March 7, 2015.
I re-considered the recommended approach over Pyramid to the Pyramid/Gothics col. It served me well in the past with a supportive snowpack, but I couldn’t bear the thought of climbing Pyramid with a 45 pound winter climbing pack with rope, axes, protection etc. then descending-climbing-and re-climbing the cirque. I also knew that Cascade Brook hosted considerable storm damage. Thus I studied the terrain and plotted a direct line from 3,200 feet in elevation. The line left the Weld Trail just after the last stream crossing (about 10 feet wide) before the steep climb up to the Pyramid/Sawteeth col.
A heading of 345 degrees magnetic led up a gentle slope to the crest of Pyramid’s east ridge before moderately ascending to the bottom of the East Face. In all the bushwhack ascended a mere 400 vertical feet over ½ mile as opposed to the 1,200 foot gain to Pyramid. The refined approach would save about a mile in distance and 1,000 feet of elevation gain—or tank the day… To me, an adventure is all about exploring and trying new things—this seemed a worthy addition to a day with many variables.
Partner Matt Dobbs picked me up at 6:00 a.m. Our trek began at 6:45 a.m. from the AMR trailhead. Our pace was steady yet comfortable on a well-packed trail and, at 9:20 a.m., we began the bushwhack along the proposed approach.
Switching leads every 100 paces or so kept us fresh though it was a relief to finally reach more level ground atop the ridge. As a bonus, we could see our climb on opposing side of Gothics’ cirque through the trees—my heart quickened. I found myself enjoying the exertion as a way to burn off a growing anxiety about what we’d find at the route. Gentle side sloping defined the rest of the trek.
Gothics’ East Face and the New Route
We walked onto the lower slab of the East Face after only an hour and one-half’s bushwhack feeling refreshed and inspired. The semi supportive crust on the face was a change from the ice I’d found in previous years. Gothics’ summit loomed far overhead as snow flurries drifted across a pastel blue sky. I looked north across the face at our proposed line. I felt a pang of fear rise and wondered what I’d gotten myself this time.
The upper tier looked ok; the bottom was thin and delaminating. A snowfield led to another smear of ice with a dubious looking curtain touching at the bottom. What was on the snowfield; was it snow over ice or would it be powder over smooth rock? The question concerned us both. The third step sported a thick looking curtain of ice on an overhanging cliff. It touched down on the snow/ice slope below. We studied the lines and approached.
Tier 1: I scooted up the snow slope and crept under the roof. Matt noted that it looked like an amazing bivy site; it was a very cool area. I tucked myself behind a meager patch of ice attached from above. I touched the back of it lightly with a foot and it detached with a crash. With good ice this would add another 10 vertical feet of ice and about 75 feet to the length of the route, but not this day.
Tier 2: We climbed the snow slope on the left, stomped some platforms for the packs and changed gear. We traversed out to assess the thin ice column touching the base and contemplated what was above. There are enough cracks at the base that some cams up to about 2” would have been nice, but I set up a belay anchor from a nearby tree.
The first 10 feet was vertical and good, if not a bit delicate. Another question was whether the smear would be thick enough for screws. Matt climbed up and disappeared placing several ice screws along the way. Meanwhile, the snowfall got heavier and began to obscure the Ausable Valley. I could no longer hear Matt, only the sounds of the breeze and occasional pieces of ice falling from above. I felt the remoteness of the setting deep in my soul. This is what I sought—peace and solitude.
Matt eventually yelled, “Anchored!” His voice sounded like it was coming far away from Pyramid, but it was merely echoing off the cliffs. I began the climb and realized this was the real deal—a notch far above my beloved slide climbing and harder than anything I’d previously attempted—not the normal place to test limits. Ten feet of vertical ice led to a slight decline; my left foot hit the ice. It answered with a loud hollow thud. Safer ice was on the right side.
The snow slope was a welcome respite and firm under foot. It was icy underneath—exactly what we wanted. I climbed to Matt who was anchored from the curtain on the third tier. It was far thicker (around 2 feet) than I thought. Since the cliff was overhanging, there were several feet of space between the back of the ice and the anorthosite. To the south were various hanging pillars, some broken off; in the background was Pyramid. The slope on the right led to the woods and more cliffs. The slope below dropped off into the void. It was sublime regardless of the fear compartmentalized deep inside. Being new to technical ice climbing, I was working outside my comfort zone. I leaned back in my harness and thought, “This moment will last forever in my memories.”
Tier 3: This was the crux ; a sustained wall of vertical ice some 50 feet tall. The curtain was rock hard and safe (I can hear some of you laughing at the oxymoron). Matt led it and disappeared above. The first 10 feet overhung slightly and made the vertical section seem comparatively comfortable to climb. By the time I’d removed the screws and climbed 40 or so feet, my arms were tired.
Tier 4: The final 20 foot pitch passed quickly and I found Matt anchored in a grove of spruce. The route was done, but the trip was far from over.
Exit: A short bushwhack through waist deep snow led to a cliff band and gully. We easily down-climbed while hoping the huge daggers of ice above would stay attached while we passed below. The gully was icy underneath the snow, but easy to downclimb. The cliff offered another good if not longer and harder climb for a future year. This too was an inspirational area, one that merits a future trip. Another climb down a gully to the left led to the base of our route. The time stood at 4:20 p.m.
Our exit was already broken out—we simply retraced the approach. Our footsteps had hardened and most of the walk was downhill. Thus we made it back to the Weld Trail in 45 minutes. It was hard to shake the excitement I felt from exploring another area of Gothics, an area that I’d never seen nor dreamed of climbing. The Adirondacks has so many untouched jewels to offer if you know where to look…
Route: 13 miles/~3,600 feet elevation gain. St. Huberts – Ausable Lakes via Lake Road – Alfred W. Weld Trail – 3,200 Feet elevation – bushwhack 1/2 mile at heading of 345 magnetic to East Face – Climb route – Exit along same route.
Some of the main climbs on the South Face and the New “Odin’s Tiers” – Jan. 11, 2015
Conditions are everything in ice climbing and they happened this past week on the South Face of Frankenstein Cliff. This extended cold spell and cloudy skies have brought in some great ice climbing on the South Face. On Saturday we climbed the rare visitor “Cocaine” in “Fat” conditions and had a grand view of Peter Doucette putting up his new climb “Odin’s Tiers” NEI 6 – 25 meters, to the right of “The Wrath of the Valkyrie”. The conditions could not have been better and it was a very busy place with as many as 14 climbers in sight at one time. Everyone wanted to take advantage of these conditions. The lighting, climbing, conditions and scenery were fantastic and I was lucky to be part of it. I felt like a kid in a candy store with my camera. I took as many photos as I could while waiting, belaying and dodging ice from above ;-). Below are a few of the best photos. Enjoy!
Click photos to enlarge
Frankenstein Cliff, South Face, Crawford Notch NH
FA: Peter Doucette with Majka Burhardt
Saturday January 10, 2015
“Odin’s Tiers” NEI6, and 25 meters long was protected with 2 tri-cams (brown and red), ice screws and a couple of slung icicles. Most of the attachment points were shaded by small roofs or curtains of hanging ice so that was helpful. Like all the routes in the amphitheater it’s super sensitive to sun.
Climb Topo – Peter Doucette
“It was fairly pumpy and technical with a lot of creative rests leaning against curtains and or locking legs behind them” – Peter Doucette
“Back in the NH swing of things” – Majka Burhardt
The Wrath of the Valkyrie
Will styling on “The Wrath”
Steve Larson enjoying a fat “Cocaine”.
An Aerial View
The South Face of Frankenstein Cliff, Crawford Notch NH – January 11, 2015
Flight by ARDU – Flying and filming by Doug Millen
One Reckless Youth, an Ice Devil and several Polar children
Times like these don’t come along often, I mean, when was the last “Polar Vortex”? But when they do, you better be ready. The conditions were ripe for the picking last week on Whitehorse & Cathedral Ledges, North Conway NH. Peter Doucette – Mountain Sense Guides – along with IMCS guide Sam Bendroth, Erik Eisele, and Adam Bidwell had “Mountain Sense” and dropped everything to take full advantage of these rare conditions. With plenty of ground water and a “Polar Vortex” to bring in some great “Streaks”, they hit the jack pot.
Peter had a few days of training earlier at Cathedral Ledge before his Whitehorse rampage. And as Bayard said, “Peter, now fully warmed up and ready for the next event, takes it to the next level. In the next three days he proceeds to climb everything. I mean everything!” See more on Peter’s warm up from NEice Ambassador Bayard Russell of Cathedral Mountain Guides on his Blog Post Sending Streaks
Whitehorse Ledge – South Buttress, North Conway NH / Blue is Endangered Species, Black is “Ice Devil” and Red is the “Reckless Youth” finish to “Endangered Species”.
“Taking a page out of the Russell/McCormick play book, during the nearly unrelenting deluge today, Erik and I followed “Endangered Species”, (Webster/Winkler ’82) and branched out on a slight variation to get into the Children’s Crusade finish up ice glazed corners yielding “Reckless Youth” (M8 WI5+) shown in Red.- Peter Doucette
Its technical crux was pulling into the base of the upper corner on micro hooks to establish a stem
Peter on P1 of Endangered Species – Erik Eisele
” We were soaked to the bone, used umbrellas for the approach and first belay, and reached the ground just as a thunderclap ripped through the valley. Pete led the crux pitches, one and three, both of which were incredible to watch. On the Eradicate Dike he was looking at huge falls into ledges, and in the upper corner he was climbing a six inch vertical smear while clipping bad fixed pins. It was raining so hard water filled my boots. I went through four pairs of gloves. To watch Peter work in such conditions was pretty amazing.” – Erik Eisele
Peter on “Ice Devil”. Reckless Youth to the left (red) – Adam Bidwell
“Ice Devil” (WI5+ M6+) shown in blue, followed a smear right of the rock route “Seventh Seal”, up “Scare Tactics,” then angled left into the upper reaches of “Beelzebub” with some variations. Brilliant climbing both days, full conditions today. Who know’s what will form in the next couple weeks if the “Polar Vortex” kicks back in.” – Peter Doucette
The Myth of Sisyphus
Sam Bendroth on The Myth – Peter Doucette
The Myth offered some rare and spectacular climbing.
” The Myth with the absent top-out sadly apparent from below…sometimes you have to see it in person to believe it :-)” – Peter Doucette
Peter topping out on “Dresden-South” – Sam Bendroth
Peter climbing “Winter Asylum” – Sam Bendroth
The routes are as follows:
Dresden South NEI5 Peter Doucette with Sam Bendroth 1/10/2014 / Cathedral Ledge, Left margin of the Barber Wall.
Winter Asylum NEI 6- R (thats 6 minus) Peter Doucette with Sam Bendroth 1/10/ 2014 / Cathedral Ledge, The Barber Wall
Ice Devil M6+ NEI 5+ Peter Doucette with Adam Bidwell 1/9/2014 Ice Whitehorse Ledge, South Buttress
Reckless Youth M8 NEI 5+ with Erik Eisele 1/11/2014 / Whitehorse Ledge, South Buttress ( through the upper corners of Children’s Crusade).
So all I want to know, when is the next “Polar Vortex” due? – Doug Millen
The calm before the storm and another beautiful day in the alpine zone. One week earlier Doug and I enjoyed the “calm” with entirely different conditions in Madison Gulf. This time we experienced mid March weather on February 22.