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Archive for the ‘Featured Stories’ Category

Back to Business, Round Two!

Adam-Bidwell on Cocaine, Frankenstein Cliff NH - Photo by Ryan-Driscall

Well things are shaping up, again. It has been two weeks since the major melt down and the ice climbs are forming and there is plenty of great climbing.  We now have more ice to climb than before the meltdown. There is plenty of ground water flowing and things are growing fast. With no warm weather in sight, I expect good to excellent conditions from Maine to the Adirondacks and South for the foreseeable future.

This weather is greatly appreciated as we enter the Ice Festival season. Every year it’s a crap shoot with the weather and we are lucky this year, so far. By next weekend there should be plenty of ice for the the 19th annual Adirondack International Mountainfest. January 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

So dress warm, get out, and get some!

 

Doug Millen

Adam Bidwell on Cocaine, Frankenstein Cliff, Crawford Notch NH
Photo by Ryan Driscoll

Frankenstein Cliff NH

You know things are good when the south face of Frankenstein Cliff has ice to climb. Below are a few photos from Adam Bidwell with Ryan Driscoll

Ryan-Driscall---Adam-Bidwell-climbing-Cocaine-Cover-Web2

Adam Bidwell climbing Cocaine

Adam---Ryan-Driscall-climbing-Cocaine2

Ryan Driscoll halfway up Cocaine

Bragg-Pheasant-Adam-Bidwell-2

Second pitch of Bragg-Pheasant. The strongest sun of the day bore down just as I was reaching the thinnest ice.

Bragg-Pheasant-top-Adam-Bidwell-2

Ryan Driscoll on the Final boney pitch of Bragg Pheasant


Beware of  the cold temps

When it’s this cold after a warm up, watch out for ice dams. Both on the climbs and in rivers and streams. Below are two posts that will make you think.

NEice.com – Hydrophobia at “The Lake”

An Ice Dam busting loose at Lake Willoughby Vt in 2010 – Photo by Dave Powers

Careful of that stream crossing!


Assessing Ice Conditions

glace-etude-resistance-13And don’t forget that drastic cooling followed by a period of intense cold leads to strong thermal contractions in the ice. See this great information for assessing ice conditions from Petzl – Waterfall Ice Study


Ice Guide Training

The American Mountain Guides Association Ice guide training course in NH is in full swing. The EMS guides are sending the steep ice routes at Frankenstein which are in good condition and building fast with this cold weather. – Art Mooney

 

Chia Direct 1-7-15 Art Mooney

Chia Direct

Chia 1-7-15 Art Mooney

Chia

Hobit 1-7-15 Art Monney

The Hobbit


Mount Washington

Conditions Update 1-8-15

by Rich Palatino, Harvard Cabin Caretaker

The Tuckerman Ravine Trail is nearly completely covered. While it is very hard-packed and slick there is very little water ice to speak of. Light Traction is nice, but not necessary in the least. That being said, full crampons on the trail wouldn’t be unreasonable, just not advised…or enjoyable.

The fire road is still in rather early season condition. However, it is mostly snow until you are above the Dow Rescue Cache where you will find a series of stream crossings. Again, nothing major. Access to the ravine is quick and easy and the rangers have been using snow machines to travel most of the road.

It’s goes without saying, the ice is IN! The Ravine is still filling in for the season. Run-outs are far from being fully-developed and in many cases descending will mean a walk down the Lion Head Summer Trail. The Fan is sporting a variety of snow conditions as you travel from gully to gully. Overall you can expect excellent condition for cramponing. However, along with long sliding falls, spatial variability can present a problem. Don’t travel with a persistent green light in mind even though things seem locked up solid. We’ve been getting nickled and dimed for weeks so you should be on the look-out for protected lee areas, wind slabs of varying strengths, buried weak layers, and I personally have been starting to worry about persistent weak layers. I’m really not sure how valid my concern for persistent layers is, but as a skier I’m suspect of the rapid heating and cooling we’ve seen over the last few weeks. I’m keeping that in mind as I travel in avalanche terrain until we see the next major storm/avalanche cycle. But, you really don’t have to take my word for it. Luckily you can hear what the experts have to say via the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s website and it’s many social media outlets.


Before the Thaw

By Matt Ritter

matt1

P2-4 of Cannonade Direct (red) Cannonade Direct Direct (yellow)

From the exposed ledges of the Whitney Gilman Ridge it would call to me. I’d snap seemingly random photographs and stare distractedly. I’d remind myself that as a guide I should remain focused. The giant corner system above the Cannonade Buttress is exposed and looms over the talus like an inverted cargo train. The steep face below is split by a series of cracks and seams that I visually kept following back to the base of this massive corner. In the winter, I’d rack up and wonder about the imposing prow which starts as a large corner, briefly evaporates mid cliff, and reasserts itself in steep prominence like a wave threatening to break on the talus beach.

Despite having made five attempts on this route with various partners, I knew that I could put it to rest this time. The source of this confidence being an extra five feet of ice not present during my last lean condition attempt. This ice made me think I wouldn’t need to place gear in the seemingly unprotectable terrain above my highpoint.

I have climbed on this route with some of the greatest members of our climbing community. Today was no exception, Jim Shimberg owner of Rhino Guides kept telling me I was “grilled” as we made upward progression. The icy cracks of the first pitch felt heavenly and went quickly. Snow conditions were perfect which made the technical pitch two traverse a sidewalk.

“In what felt like the boldest moment of my career, I forged upward. Now, too far above my gear to not hurt myself, perched on an overhanging arete above the talus, on a pitch I’ve lusted over for three seasons.”
matt2

Pitch One

Pitch three is where the business begins. Off the piton anchor, I clip a nest of gear and situate myself at the first crux where a splendid vertical slab becomes slightly overhanging. With both tools over my shoulder, I side pull crimp an edge, step my front points high onto nothing, and at full extension I virtually kiss my ice tool ‘goodbye’ to wrangle a solid matchable edge. Committed, a fall from here would land me below the belayer in a big swinging arc. Better not to fall. A couple solid tool placements and strenuous lock offs allows me to clip a great piton and bust some layback moves on a flake to gain a rest beneath a small roof.

matt3

Pitch Three

Reaching out over my left shoulder, I pull through the roof and high step into the next crux which feels like muckling a greased refrigerator with an iced up rattly hand crack on the left and an equally slick rattly finger crack on the right. Surmounting this block feels monumental.  After some steep cranking, I gain a good stemming rest and a short flaring corner that becomes an in-cut, kinda sidepull rail with good hooks and some tiny gear. Stellar, exposed climbing gains a tiny ledge which, with a micro wire, and a tiny fixed pecker a body length beneath my feet, provided much spice to mantle. Placing a great piton awkwardly at my knees, I was just a few moves from mantling onto the icy sloping ledge above. I’ve always said I was gonna kiss this ledge when I got there. Tough to describe the exuberance I felt from finally reaching this point. The rest of the pitch isn’t easy but comparatively its a walk in the park. I knew it was in the bag.

matt4

Yikes!

 

matt5

Pitch Three During a Previous Attempt

 

Topping out Cannonade Direct. Pitch 4 is a wonderful rock finish with good gear and cracks! Photo by Steve Robitshek

Topping out Cannonade Direct. Pitch 4 is a wonderful rock finish with good gear and cracks! Photo by Steve Robitshek

Michael Wejchert, and I met at Cannon Cliff the next day. I wanted to climb a variation to Cannonade Direct that would allow me to climb the entirety of the monstrous upper corner. Being a little sore from the previous three days of strenuous climbing, I slurped multiple infusions of Mate and blasted Rage Against the Machine. Another warm day. At the base of Cannonade Direct I racked up. Having climbed this amazing pitch five times, I have it rather dialed. I torqued iced up cracks, stemmed familiarly, and sloppily sped up the 65 meter pitch. Now for the variation! I situated myself under the first crux and placed a couple bomber knifeblades.  A right arching seam catered minuscule technical edges and tenuous high steps. The rock is bomber but I enjoyed a handful of whippers due to exploding micro flakes. Making these technical face moves earned me some awe-inspiring hooks and the most elegant horizontal finger crack which welcomed the necessary gear and an adequate rest before the next crux of gaining the ice.

I tapped my battered picks into the snowy little ledge. The ¼ inch space between ice and granite dispelled any myth of security. Wet snow pressed heavily on this precarious substrate. The rock beneath my ice tools was overhanging. I hoisted my front points up to my elbows placing them on perfect ⅜ inch edges. Finally some large footholds!! Here, with my ass in space and my ice tool moving to more secure rotten worthless ice, the ledge and ice curtain detach indifferently. Taking a big clean fall onto a bomber Lost Arrow I come tight on the rope before reaching terminal velocity. My head was down and I could see Michael looking at me as generously plump chunks of aerated ice pummeled me. Without lifting my head, Michael and I made eye contact. “I guess you’ll have to wait for a colder day.” Michael is smarter than I am. “I’m making it to that belay. I think it just got easier.”

Michael initiating the techy crux

Michael initiating the techy crux

I know I’ve got one shot. The holidays are upon us. The rain is upon us. My early season project’s ice will not form again. I lower to the ledge and fire the crux, pull gingerly onto the steep ice and build a belay at the base of the mythical corner.

P3 Cannonade Direct. Cannonade Direct Direct climbs into the base of the big brown corner via the ice smear to my right. Photo by Bayard Russell

P3 Cannonade Direct. Cannonade Direct Direct climbs into the base of the big brown corner via the ice smear to my right. Photo by Bayard Russell

Everything had felt pretty safe up to this point. Despite the repeated whips and long fall followed by a heat seeking deluge of frozen water missiles, I was climbing very well and felt invincible. Obviously mixed climbing is dangerous. Nothing about climbing Mean Streak, Prozac, or Daedalus is “safe.” In fact these climbs provide one with many opportunities to get hurt. I firmly believe that in these situations our safety hinges upon our mental state. There will always be objective hazard, but when I’m climbing well, I’m not climbing scared. Surviving one of these climbs by the skin of my teeth does not seem sustainable. No route is worth a broken ankle, face, or spinal cord. With that in mind, I pulled off the ledge and soon found myself with a couple cams a few feet beneath my boots. Cannon does in fact have pockets of very steep terrain. Trust me. I look for it. I was getting pumped and I almost bailed. Casually, I told Michael I might fall as I began to ponder my exit strategy. He didn’t argue but we both knew this wasnt gonna be pretty. Looking down, I saw a small edge. Still in control, I reminded myself that someday I wanted to be a bold climber. I looked up. In what felt like the boldest moment of my career, I forged upward. Now, too far above my gear to not hurt myself, perched on an overhanging arete above the talus, on a pitch I’ve lusted over for 3 seasons. I made one more move to a solid hook and a serendipitous cam placement. The climbing eased up slightly as steep snow filled cracks and an arete composed of gravity defying loose nonsense made me feel at home. Or was it that I wished I was at home? Either way, leaving my last gear behind and pulling around the corner onto featureless slabs covered in ½ inch snice kept my attention for the last 40 feet to the trees. Seriously, do not blow it here…

Cannonade Direct (red) and second to last pitch of Cannonade Direct Direct (yellow) in much leaner conditions.

Cannonade Direct (red) and second to last pitch of Cannonade Direct Direct (yellow) in much leaner conditions.

 

(Click on images to enlarge)

More on Matt

A Dose of Prozac and Some Positive Thinking

Matt Ritter Joins the MWV Ice Fest Team


Poke-O Access

Please respect the owners property rights and don’t trespass. Use the standard trails from the campground to access the cliff. Please see the information below and tell all your climbing friends. Thank You! – Doug Millen

Poko-Featured-Photo

Positive Thinking – Poke-O-Moonshine NY

 

Climbers should be aware that the land in front of the Main Face at Poke-O is private. Climbers need to use the main trail that runs from the [now closed] campground to the Main Face near Discord. Under no circumstances should climbers approach directly from the road. Of course it’s totally fine to scope out your routes from the shoulder of the road.

There have been several incidents where ice climbers have inadvertently wandered into the private property in front of the cliff. The local land owners have no tolerance for this and will close access should climbers continue to trespass. The Access Fund, with funds raised by The Mountaineer, have added signs to help delineate the boundaries and instruct climbers to stay on the cliff-base trail. Please be extra vigilant and stay on the trail that runs along the base of the cliff. -Jim Lawyer

Poko-Map

Poke-O-Moonshine NY

Renormalized at “The Lake”

Ah! The conditions are getting better and I am back to my normal state, once again, at “The Lake”.

The-Lake

 

Below are a few condition photos from our trip to Lake Willoughby VT on Saturday December 13, 2014. Plenty of challenging ice to climb. There is a good snow pack now for easy approaches, unlike years past where leaves covered  the frozen ground with a dusting of snow. The ground is now  insulate and plenty of water is flowing. When some real cold hits this place, it is going to go OFF!

Enjoy the photos!

 

~Doug Millen

Cover photo: Tom Yandon on “Renormalization” WI 4, Lake Willoughby VT.

All photos by Doug Millen

Rites of Passage

“So far this is type three fun,” Matt comments.

The first two pitches have been miserable. The ice is fine, or at least good enough, but the wind and low temperatures are BRUTAL. Up to this point, I’m kicking myself for getting out of bed and passing up on sleeping in with my girlfriend, wasting the day. My bed is warm, I am not. My glasses are completely frozen over and stuffed uselessly in my chest pocket. My eyebrows are adorned with ice sculptures. I can barely open them. I’ve already had at least one bout of mid-pitch screaming barfies.

“There’s a warm, beautiful woman in my bed… why are we here?” I laughingly reply.

But the next pitch beckons. Half of it is even in the sun, at least if the clouds hold off. Sure, I’ve been thinking of retreating all morning, but the reality is, in my mind, there’s only one way off this thing, and that is UP!

I’ve got this…

I take off from the 2nd belay into the crux pitch of Fafnir, aiming for the thin pillar directly above us.

Rites of Passage

Article by Patrick Cooke
 

I’m psyched to be moving again. I can feel my hands finally. The pillar is straight forward. Place one tool, move feet up, repeat… but it narrows down higher up, petering out where it seeps out of a corner above. There’s barely enough to swing into – definitely not enough for two tools. I can place one foot on the pillar, the other stemmed off of the bubbly veneer of ice on the left wall. I consciously think at the time “it’s cool how you can use so little…”

Ice gives way to powder snow and tools tenuously hooked on god knows what… I’m committing to big moves on unknown hooks. The blocks to my left afford some cracks but look detached and questionable at best. I use them.

Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…

2 solid cams and I can breathe easy again.

*****

Every winter, we’re itching to get out and swing the tools. We go to the usual places, usually up high, to find those first dribbles of ice. But the truth of the matter is, early season climbing is serious. The gear is questionable, the conditions are questionable, and our readiness is questionable.

Despite all the reasons not to, we venture into the unknown looking for a fix. We’re anxious, itching to swing the tools again. We don’t want the security of the known… we want the outcome to be in doubt.

*****

The Saturday after Black Friday, 310 am: the alarm is going off. “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuccccccckkkkkkkkkk”

I’m heading towards the Rockpile, hoping to beat anyone ambitious enough to camp out by the Harvard Cabin. I don’t want to be behind anyone. Overnight temperatures were around 0, and I don’t have a partner… I need to be able to pick the best line and not worry about falling ice or waiting around.

There’s a party in Pinkham already at 445, but they clearly aren’t ready to go yet. Another party comes in while I’m getting my boots on, but I doubt they’ll be keeping up with me, though I don’t want to push the pace too hard on the approach. No one else has signed in yet.  At 5am I’m on my way out the door.

Sunrise on the approach

First hints of daylight on the approach.

I break trail all the way into Huntington Ravine. The going is treacherous… several inches of powder coats everything. I can’t tell if I’m going to step on flat ground, a rock, a hole, a stream… I manage to find all of these.

Pinnacle looks pretty good. Not fat, but doable. 2/3 of the way up I can’t tell if the wind is blowing snow upwards or if there’s water shooting out of a hole. Pinnacle was my goal, but this is day one. I’m coming off of a separated shoulder. I’m alone. I don’t know if I’d be able to downclimb if I can’t get past the potential geyser. I start the miserable slogging traverse/descent over towards O’Dell’s which at least has more ice, and the potential for sunshine.

 I’m up, I’m moving… swinging the tools… kicking the feet. The right side is steeper, and the left is probably the safer bet. But the right side is in the sun, and I’m fucking cold. I head up.

Swing. Kick. Kick. Repeat. It’s the first day out this season for me, but it feels natural. I’ve climbed enough over the years that it doesn’t take long to feel like I never stopped last winter. Conditions are pretty good, but i release two big water dams on the way up – a sobering reminder that I’m alone, unroped, and a long way from safety.

Worth the effort

Just Reward. No photos from below… too cold!

*****

Moving right, away from my cams, I’m feeling better. The climbing isn’t hard, it’s just awkward. Another icy step marks the transition into the blocky upper section of the pitch. If the ice came all the way down, it would be straight forward. If the ice above the block was thicker, it would be easy. It doesn’t come all the way down. There’s not enough to swing away at. I place a piece below the step but I’m doubtful about how useful it will be. I’m in don’t fall terrain.

The climbing is a puzzle. Where can I hook my tools? What blocks are solid enough for me to yard on? What can I step on? How can I move my feet up, since I can’t just kick away at the smear of ice at waist height.

A couple of false starts, up and down, and I make my way onto the next blocky ledge. I’m committed now. I’m not down-climbing that move.

Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…

*****

Sunday after O’Dell’s… the alarm goes off at 545 and it feels like sleeping in. A text from Dave says he’s running late… an extra 30 minutes of sleeping… After 2 hours of sleep before my 310 wake up the day before, I feel like things are looking up!

We’re across 93 from Cannon, pulled over on the side of the road. The DOT snowplows are pissed at us. We’re scoping the Dike and Fafnir with binoculars, waffling on whether we want to head up. We see a party coming down from the base. We try to convince ourselves it will be worth it, but the ice in the Dike should be yellow, not the white of fresh snow.

“I’m more of an ideal conditions fan for Fafnir… you know, temperatures below freezing” Dave quips. We head to Crawford.

Standard Route is not in. But we climb it anyways. It’s in fat… fat water conditions. It’s almost like climbing ice, only without the pro. But it’s fun, and it beats sitting at home or slogging back up to Huntington or Tux.

*****

More gear and I’m breathing again. Climb up, move right, move past that damn jutting block and I’m on the ledge. Sounds easy. Looks easy…

Man these hooks suck. Did I just imagine they were really good when I followed this last year, or was there just more ice to play with?

Motherfucker! the block that seems like a great hook is totally detached and moves… my heart is somewhere in my throat. I commit to an awkward mantle onto a questionably secure block.

Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…

*****

We follow Standard with a romp up Shoestring, my go-to early season route.

At the harnessing-up point, it’s clear this isn’t going to be much of an ice climb. We climb sketchy steps of slush, mixed climbing on Webster’s finest-quality rock. A bowling ball size block falls out of the wall above Dave as he’s topping out one of the sketchier steps in the gully. It stops about 6 inches short of his head. We opt out of the right hand exits. They’ve clearly been done that day, but why play with fire at this point? We head straight up into the trees.

*****

The block held, and I’ve found some good gear. Now, work up under the roof, move right. Make it past the before-mentioned jutting block and I’m home free.

I get a tool hooked to the left of the block, but my right foot is where my left needs to be. I hook a tool right of the block. It’s hooked, but on what? I move it a bit and torque it between another block. It’s secure, but I’ll never be able to get it out. FUCK!

I manage to bash it out of it’s wedged position and hook it back on the tenuous placement it was in before. I let go of the left and grab the block to pull off of it with my hand. It feels secure, but as I move up I momentarily panic, letting out an audible whimper, and move back down to the security of my tools.

Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…

This is it. If I make the moves, I’m at the top…

I remove the better, left, tool, and hook it with the right. Swap hands, mantle with the right hand on what seems to be a somewhat flexing pile of blocks… I commit and make the move onto the ledge above.

Don't let the blue sky fool you... it was @#$%ing cold.  Also, it may look like a WI2 gully from this view, but it doesn't feel like one when you're on it!

Don’t let the blue sky fool you… it was @#$%ing cold.
Also, it may look like a WI2 gully from this view, but it doesn’t feel like one when you’re on it!

*****

“Man, that was sketchy on second!”

I’m a bit relieved to know that I was justified in thinking it was hard. It wasn’t physically difficult, but it was mentally taxing for sure.

Cannon has become my go-to crag for the early season. Often, when there isn’t much else in, there’s great climbing to be had. It’s the perfect early-season experience: Conditions wont be ideal, but there’ll be just enough there to make it work. There’s no room for wandering thoughts, it channels that total focus that only happens for me when the outcome is in doubt.

A week later, I’ve still got some frostnip in my fingertips, but I’m glad I dragged myself out of bed. Those “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…” experiences are just a rite of passage each December.

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