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Archive for the ‘Featured Stories’ Category

September rime ice!

It was an excellent day above tree line on Sunday.  Cool temps with a bluebird sky above and an undercast below.  Not to mention, evidence of the first overnight freeze of the season!

There’s nothing like a little rime ice to feed the psych!

(click on thumbnails to enlarge)

Photos by Courtney Ley





Will it to Be!

September 10, 2014

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Vermont Native Will Mayo honing his skills for winter on”The Existensionalist”.

“Will Mayo has just redpointed what’s likely one of the hardest dry-tooling routes in the country” –  Dougald MacDonald ~

The video Below is of Will  on “The Existensionalist” before the redpoint.

The Existensionalist is in the abandoned mining tunnel called the Ghetto.

Source: / Ryan W Vachon on Vimeo.

Read more here…


Franconia Notch NH

What happens when you get  a ton of rain over a snowpack, and than a cold front moves through…Omega in April…that’s what!  Here again it proves that you have to anticipate and be ready for unique ice climbing conditions. Peter Doucette has been following the conditions all winter and taking advantage of the unique conditions as they happen. Peter and Adam were ready and got a 3:45 am start for this adventure. Perfect!  What great  ice climbing. Just look at the photos…great bonded ice, and the lighting could not be any better. Fantastic late season ice climbing. Remember…It’s not “OVA” till it’s “OVA”.



Peter Doucette


Adam Bidwell

 Photos by Adam Bidwell and Peter Doucette

Also see  Here Today, Gone Tomorrow!

An Alpine Meditation

By Gabriel Flanders

I awoke with tired legs from a long ski tour the day before.  It felt lovely to shuffle around a warm apartment , pour cup after cup of coffee and relax on the sofa with my girl.  However, a glance at the Mount Washington Observatory’s addictive “current summit conditions” page caused me to sit forward.  The wind, howling yesterday, was down to single digit speeds.  And the clouds that wreathed the ridge had given way to “130 miles” visibility.  The summit temperature was even above zero Fahrenheit!  I had to go.

I have hiked, run and climbed on Mount Washington and its environs many times over the years.  I always feel a tension between comfort on familiar terrain and giving the devil his due:  It can certainly be an extreme environment, one in which more than a few fatal mistakes have been made.  So despite the blue sky, I felt like a bit of a blasphemer when I rolled into Pinkham Notch and shouldered my pack at a leisurely half past noon.

The pack was image-3light though, and the conditions were perfect.  A nicely packed trail allowed easy progress toward the ridges, slopes and buttresses above.  The last time I’d been there, the trail sported a less hospitable surface of rain-gouged ice and rock, but today it offered a dense, smooth snowpack.  Microspikes and poles weren’t really necessary, but gave extra confidence and allowed me to set a rapid, shuffle-step pace.

Higher up the trail I turned right toward Huntington Ravine, having encountered just a few souls on the “Tux” trail.  After passing Raymond’s Cataract and its grand boulder, I leaned into the slope and quickened my pace, anticipating my first glimpse of the ravine’s gullies and rock walls.  The trail swung around a corner, and sure enough, that first glimpse did not disappoint.  I’ve stood in the same place many times in many seasons, but it is always a thrill to look up into that austere cathedral.  On the left, Odell’s Gully bulged with blue water ice.  Next came the stacked stone diamonds of Pinnacle Buttress, hiding its eponymous gully from view.  The gigantic dihedral of Central Gully sat atop the apex of the fan.  Right of Central, ribbons of ice and snow coursed down the ravine’s proud north wall.

In the winter, more often than not, I’ve paused to take in that grand vista and felt the first blast of icy wind rolling down from the ravine, foretelling tough conditions and more layers for the rest of the journey.  On this day, the air was still, clear and so very quiet.  I heard two voices echo faintly from the top of Yale Gully, but could not see another living souimage-1l.

As I weaved among the boulders and began to ascend the canted snow of the Fan, visions and impressions of other visits passed through my mind.  I thought of arriving at the same point in a frigid, swirling wind, halfheartedly swinging a tool into the ice, then turning around and trudging downhill toward safer ground.  I thought of the day my friend Alan and I bent our heads in the middle of Yale Gully and slurped water from the ice, relishing the unexpected gift during a marathon day.  I thought of the day I emerged from the confines of North Gully and let the scouring wind push me northeastward toward the auto road.  And inevitably, as I looked up the long line of Damnation Gully, I thought of my friend Ned- his slow-motion, tumbling fall, and the state of grace I hoped he’d felt at the end of his life.  In my mind, I was able to justify the risk of the endeavor I was about to undertake- climbing an alpine route alone and without a rope- by noting my levels of comfort, strength and skill.  Also, I said to myself, “I’m doing the same thing but not in exactly the same place as Ned,” as if somehow my loved ones would be any less angry and heartbroken if I met a similar end.

Flawed thinking perhaps, but standing at the base of the bulging icefall below Yale Gully, I felt… Calm.  In control.  Prepared.  Focused.  Happy.  Reverent.  I quickly transitioned to ice tools and crampons, donned helmet and extra layers, and got to grips with the climbing.  The ever-changing surface held my attention, as the thick bulges were variously glazed with brittle ice, sun-rotted snow or alternating layers of both.  I focused on absolute security, to the extent it existed, by testing and carefully inspecting each tool and crampon placement.  As I ascended my intended line of ice flows just south of Yale Gully, the least secure moments were actually transitioning from the ice to pockets of stunted spruce and unconsolidated snow.  But I found my way past various obstacles and made steady progress, soon arriving back in the horizontal realm of the Alpine Garden.

sastrugiThe sun still shone, the quiet still echoed, and I still felt the fire inside, so after a brief pause, a few gulps of liquid and a glance at the time, I shouldered my pack and moved up the slope toward Nelson Crag and the summit.  Banks of sastrugi, wind-sculpted snow, slowed my progress but entranced me with their arching, graceful patterns of shadow and light.  Toward the top of Nelson Crag I wove among rocks and caught sight of the proud sentinels that make up the northern end of the range.  Hidden from view, on the far side of these masses of stone, lay the ashes of a loved one felled by cancer.  I thought of a small jar of ashes on my mantle, of a loved one felled by drink, waiting for a suitable resting place.

Simultaneously I came into the wind that accelerated as it was compressed over the summit cone.  It seems silly looking back on it, but in that moment it came as a rude shock that six degrees Fahrenheit was still cold when you set the air in motion.  I was acutely aware of my own insignificance and frailty in this place.  I felt the cold sting my skin and sap my energy, donning a balaclava before quickly striding on to the summit.

It was strange to know that just on the other side of the metal, glass and concrete walls of the observatory, other people went about their tasks in comfort and safety.  Yet, I felt entirely alone, atop a cold and unforgiving landscape.  A holy place, its ridges dropping away like flying buttresses, cairns marching like rows of squat gargoyles.  As I acknowledged the privilege accorded to me, I felt the yawning space between my perch and safety.  The cold wind bit, the sun sat low in the sky, and I felt the weight of my responsibility to my young son and loved ones.


And so, with one more look around and one more silent prayer of gratitude, I plunged downhill toward Tuckerman Ravine and the Lion Head ridge.  Racing across the ridge, I appreciated  shifting views of the huge, beautiful features of the mountain.  Meeting the treeline, I plunged into the forest and peeled off my balaclava.  At the foot of the ridge, I paused to eat, drink and breathe a sigh of relief- I was safe.  With miles to go and light left in the sky, I was home.


Photos by Gabriel Flanders (click to enlarge)

Scottish Winter

Arch Enemy – Scottish V,5… it should be pretty moderate with good gear. 2 hours, 150 feet, one stopper, one shitty spectre at 80 feet threatening to torque out of the crack if it takes a fall, and a hard-fought hex at 110′ or so… Steep sugary powder, shitty sticks, feet threatening to disintegrate and send me tumbling, and that questioning feeling of “is this going to fucking hold?” with every swing and every kick. I climb at least half the route blind, alternating between glasses on and off at least 15 times as my face is sandblasted by 40mph winds and spindrift.

Where's the gear!?!?!?!

Where’s the gear!?!?!?!

Welcome to fucking Scotland!

It’s no wonder the Brits kill it in the greater ranges. The approaches are long, the ice quality is shit, the pro is hard-fought, and the weather absolutely blows. And this is on the nice and easy days!

Scottish Winter

article by Patrick Cooke

I was in Scotland this past week  to take part in the the BMC’s International Winter Meet, an event held every two years to bring climbers from around the world together to experience what winter climbing in Scotland is all about. For six days, I’d be paired with British climbers and have an opportunity to see what Scottish winter climbing is all about.

It’s important to note I didn’t say “ice climbing” here, because my first day out, and the whole trip in general, highlighted that Scottish winter climbing is NOT ice climbing as we know it. You’re not going to find waterfalls to rival the Lake or Poko in Scotland. Instead you’re going to find verglassed rock, rime ice, turf, and good old-fashioined mixed climbing. In essence, you’ll find a bit of everything you’d find in the greater ranges, all packed into Scotland’s short, yet impressive mountains.

Day One: The Obligatory Visitor’s Sandbag

The first day was about introductions – getting to know Stuart, my host, and getting a feel for what climbing in Scotland would be like. With high winds and some dangerous avy conditions forecasted, we decided to stay local and hit up a relatively new crag in the Cairngorms called Cha No. From the onset I knew I was in for it… as we ascended and turned a corner, the wind just tore at my face. All I could think was “I really wish I hadn’t shaved my beard!”

This doesn't bode well...

This doesn’t bode well…

Rapping into Cha No gave us some respite from the wind, which we of course wasted by turning the corner and starting up Arch Enemy. Nearly 2 hours of groveling ensued, eventually digging through the cornice and secure ground only to be entirely in the path of the wind. I really wish my goggles weren’t securely stowed in my pack at the top of the rap-in point.

The rest of the day was cake: We stayed out of the wind, climbed some cruiser moderate lines, and made it back to the cars just before dark. First at the cliff, last to leave – a sign of a good day of climbing!

Finding more reasonable protection on Chimney Rib

Finding more reasonable protection on Chimney Rib







Day Two: Don’t Trust the Locals

One of the unique things about Scotland is that you need to earn your climbing. Approaches of an hour and a half are short in Scotland. Day two saw us driving to Glen Coe (some 2+ hours from the Glenmore Lodge where we were staying) to head up to climb at Stob Coire nan Lachlan (I doubt this is how you spell it, but another thing about the Scots, they don’t speak the same language as we do!). It’s about a 90 minute uphill hike into the “Corrie”, unless you head up the wrong valley first!

Fortunately, we didn’t get too far up the wrong valley and only added about 40 minutes of walking to our day. Once in the proper Corrie (probably around 11am), we found parties on nearly everything, but we timed it well enough not to have to wait too long for one of the classics in the area – Scabbard Chimney. Unfortunately, we didn’t really find the chimney – too much snow and ice! Instead of pushing ourselves and seeing how Scottish grades really related to what I was used to here in the US, we just had a quick romp.

Where's the chimney? Stuart Lade finds cruiser climbing on Scabbard Chimney

Where’s the chimney? Stuart Lade finds cruiser climbing on Scabbard Chimney

We then did another classic line – Ordinary Route. Again, deep snow and a lack of gear added a little bit of spice to the occasion on otherwise quite straight-forward climbing.


Day Three: Best Laid Plans

There is one mountain in Scotland that does NOT involve a long approach: Meall Gorm. Two and a half hours of driving saw us at the base with only a 15-minute approach between us and the cliff.

NOT winter conditions

NOT winter conditions

Unfortunately it also saw temperatures at about 5 degrees celsius and nearly a complete lack of winter conditions on our intended lines. Up the soggy gully it was to make sure we got some climbing in!

Nothing like climbing liquid mud and loose rock...

Nothing like climbing liquid mud and loose rock…






How you salvage a day... drytool soloing!

How you salvage a day… drytool soloing of course!









Day Four: Plan B

For the second half of the week I’d be climbing with a new host, Martin. We met up Wednesday night after Nick Bullock’s hilarious slideshow (of which his exploits on Cathedral last year were a big piece) and Martin had a brilliant plan in store: the Central Buttress of Ben Eighre (pronounced “Ben-A”… have I mentioned that the Scots can’t spell?).

It’s a two and a half hour approach up to the Central Buttress. Here in the Northeast that would constitute a remote backcountry crag. We were the 7th party in line to get on the Central Buttress!

Conga Lines on Ben Eighre

Conga Lines on Ben Eighre

Off it was to the classic moderate West Buttress route while the the masses waited for the lead party to finish a 3-hour lead on the crux pitch of Central! Suckers!

From the top of the West Buttress

From the top of the West Buttress

















Day Five: Have I Mentioned that Scottish Weather is Crap?

Forecasted 90-100 mile winds across the Scottish mountains, and rain. What is one to do?

6 meter route... 4 meter fall...

6 meter route… 4 meter fall…

Drytool of course! Nothing like a 4 meter fall on a 6 meter route to get your day started! Or to lose grip on your tool, have it fall, hit you in the helmet, and then tumble 100′ directly at your belayer who is tied into a tree! Good thing for gri-gris! And who invited the jackass American to the crag?!

Day Six: Pay Day

Somehow, my crampons nearly skewering his neck and my tool nearly eviscerating him the day before didn’t convince Mark that I was a liability, so he invited Martin and I to join him and his guest for our final day out on the Meet. Our goal, a four-star ice route in the Ben Eighre area called Poachers’ Falls.

Sunrise heading into Poachers' Falls

Sunrise heading into Poachers’ Falls

Poachers’ isn’t particularly hard, but true waterfall ice is somewhat rare in Scotland, and what it lacked in steepness, it made up for in setting: 3 pitches of fun climbing overlooking Ben Eighre, the mountains of Torridon, the North Atlantic, and the Hebrides. Combine this with a great partner, and another party of good people on the route, and you have a great cap to an amazing trip.

Views coming off of Poachers' Falls

Views coming off of Poachers’ Falls


 The International Winter Meet was a fantastic opportunity to meet other climbers from around the world, share in a common love of winter and suffering, and learn a thing or two about how this crazy sport we all love came about. If you have a chance, head over to Scotland: the ice is crap, but man, the climbing is awesome, and the local climbers are a blast to share a rope with!

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