NEice OGE ad
Since 1999

NEice is your Ice Climbing Connection for the Northeast and Beyond!

This site is built and maintained by the ice climbing community. NEice is only possible with your help. Donate , Advertise or Contribute

Dry Ice Tools 285px wide

Disclaimer: Participation in ice climbing involves significant risk of personal injury and death. No amount of skill, equipment and experience can make ice climbing safe. NEice.com. is not responsible for the content of this site. The information is provided by the viewers and is not verified. Seek qualified professional instruction, guidance and use your best judgement.

Google Analytics

Archive for the ‘Long Days’ Category

New Hampshire’s Grade IV

Ammo Ravine 1

By Courtney Ley

As we know in the climbing world, one woman’s Grade V is another woman’s Grade II. We try to define the difficulty of the route, the time it takes to climb it and level of commitment it requires by funny little symbols and acronyms.. but ratings will forever be subjective. I even hesitate to say the agreed commitment rating for the longer gullies in Huntington Ravine is a Grade III. Damnation Gully is described as 5 full length pitches of 60 degree ice and snow with a few short ice bulges. Last November, this gully took me all day to go from car-to-car.  Last April, it took me less than an hour to climb during my one day enchainment of all the gullies in Huntington. All of Huntington Ravine’s gullies change drastically as the ice season ticks on but the grading remains the same.  Damnation Gully is a classic line that gets a lot of attention. And well deserved. So are there Grade IV ice climbs in New Hampshire?  What about a route that is twice its size with three times the amount of ice? I would imagine it would get the Northeast’s spotlight. Or at the very least, some vague description on SummitPost.org.

Last year I climbed the Ammonoosuc Ravine solo and wrote a short tale in the conditions section. It was a long day with more ice than I’ve ever seen in one place (at least in the Northeast). It was beautiful and challenging. The approach was miles, as was the descent. After I wrote that short blurb last year, I thought about this route more and more. This year, I brought a partner and a rope and I realized how massive this gully truly was when climbed in traditional pitches. After this years outing, I decided the Ammonoosuc deserved its time on the front page.

One of the reasons there aren’t climbers flocking to this route may be that getting the Ammo in good condition requires perfect timing. Too late, you are slogging in waist deep snow with barely any ice in sight. (Yes, I’ve done it.) Too early, you’ll find gushing waterfalls off steep wet and snow-covered rock. With such varied weather from day to day during early and even mid season, it is a requirement to obsessively watch conditions. Even then, it’s a crap shoot what you’ll find.  In a way, the Ammo demands commitment even before you reach the trailhead. But when you nail it just right, there’s nearly 10 solid pitches of ice and a little under 3,000 feet of elevation gain with almost all of that on the ice. There’s also three short headwalls that are no give away. Despite this, I’m surprised an ice climb of that magnitude in New Hampshire hasn’t received much attention at all.

To add to the commitment of 10 ice pitches, being in this gully means you are in. It’s very difficult in most places to bail out or work your way around the steeper sections. The walls on either side of you are serious. But if you look and are creative you can find good exits. Although once you exit, you enter the thick alpine spruce midway up Mt Washington.  Now what? Rappelling doesn’t seem appealing, but that’s probably just me, because it never seems appealing.

I’ve climbed this route three times so far. No one told me about it and I didn’t read about it anywhere. One day while cyber-vacationing on Google Earth instead of being hard at work in my office, I noticed it and wondered what it would be like in the winter time. I thought I should explore it before too much snow fell, so around the traditional early ice season time, I went for it. The ravine is a spectacular place.  It gives you a big-mountain feeling as you continue to climb further up with no end in sight.  You won’t see anyone else in there. It was a climb that made an impression on me in many ways and I couldn’t believe climbers weren’t talking about this route. This last time, as I was making the descent out with my friend by headlamp, I realized we had stumbled upon a long, committing and classic line in the Northeast.  Yes, what I’d consider a New Hampshire Grade IV ice line.

What a SummitPost entry might tell you:

The approach is about 2 miles and the descent is a little over 4 miles. The elevation gain is 2,900 feet and almost all of that is on the ice. You’ll encounter WI2-/+ for the duration and WI3-/+ ice up and over the short headwalls.  Once above the ice, you’ll have a snow climb for a few hundred feet until you reach the Westside Trail.

Some photos of the route:

(click to enlarge)

 

 

 

The Great Gulf

PB090072

THE GREAT GULF

by Courtney Ley

The Great Gulf.  There could be no other name for it.  When I look at it from the vantage point of Mt Clay, I imagine the walls of this giant cirque begin to expand suddenly, high rocks and cliffs start breaking apart and tumble into its gaping mouth. I see the summit of Mt. Washington tilting, the buildings shake and crumble, sliding into the dark abyss with deafening sound. All that’s left is a giant cavern.  The Great Gulf just swallowed Mt. Washington whole.

But as I stand on the summit of Mt. Clay on this day, all is still.  The only moving object is the sun as it lowers over Franconia Ridge to the west, creating long shadows across the Presidential Range. I hear no tumbling rocks or collapsing cliffs.  I only hear the sound of the wind beating on my jacket.  I am alone and feel at ease.  I watch the sky turn pastel colors and soft lenticular clouds form high above me. I adjust my hood to block the wind the best I can and head down the mountain towards Sphinx Col.

PB090086                                               PB090093

My need for seclusion brought me to the Great Gulf.  Some approach the gulf from Huntington Ravine and do it in March or April when the gulf is filled with the years snowfall and travel is relatively easy.  I had two days and decided to approach it from its beginnings. I wanted to wind my way through its endless water courses and forest canopies.  It’s not very far in miles, but the wilderness trails are left to the forces of nature.  The trees fallen across paths remain in place and water is not forcefully diverted away.  Long bogs and difficult river crossings are a norm here.  I enjoy the wilderness feel, as it’s hard to find in the developed White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The Great Gulf is by no means ‘out there’.  A quick jaunt up the Chandler Ridge finds you at the Auto Road and once you top out of the headwall, there’s Mt. Washington’s summit with its restaurant and gift shops.  The Great Gulf Wilderness was conceived in 1964 and is New Hampshire’s oldest yet smallest wilderness area, comprising just 5,658 acres.  Despite this, the giant glacial cirque leaves you feeling like you are somewhere remote and far away from anyone and anything.

PB090036

PB090035

‘Wait Until Dark’ Gully (on right)

Admittedly, I also had another motive.  I was hunting down ice and I had a good feeling I’d find some here.  Not only is the gulf at a high elevation but it’s predominately north facing and it’s walls rarely see sunlight.  It had the elements necessary for early season capture.  I pitched my tent at one of the designated tent sites along the Great Gulf Trail and set out.  Unlike other ravines, the gulf doesn’t show its full self until you are just about at its walls.  The spruce are tall and the tiny Spaulding Lake proves the only vantage point from the floor during this time of year.  When I worked my way around the lake I got a glimpse of ‘Wait Until Dark’ Gully.  It begged me forth. I knew reaching the entrance would be no easy task.  I was proved wrong, it was much harder than I imagined.  Giant truck-sized boulders were scattered among thick spruce.  Enormous crevasses littered themselves between boulders.  The terrain was so difficult I couldn’t fathom enough snow falling to fill it all in.  I thought about turning around several times, but each time I dreaded going back more than I dreaded continuing forward.  It took me almost two hours from once I left the trail until I crawled to the start of the ice begging for mercy.

My spirits lifted when I saw the gully filled with beautiful solid ice.  For a full length pitch, I enjoyed a continuous flow of grade 2 ice.  I fell into my rhythm of swings and kicks, focused solely on ice in front of me. Occasionally, some ice would break loose and fall away, echoing as it hit into the rocks.  A reminder of the vast amphitheater that I was climbing in.  At times, the wind would funnel down the gully, picking up snow and swirling it in a cold dance towards me. I lowered my head and let it pass each time.  The wind tried to push me backward, as if I did not belong.  But I knew I did, at least for this brief while.   A short steep step led me to the upper ice which was at a lower angle with a few short bulges.  I stopped more frequently here and took in my surroundings.  Eventually the ice relented to a rock and vegetation finish.  I hit the Mt. Clay summit loop trail immediately when I topped out, as it hugs the lip of the gulf.

PB090045    PB090051    PB090061     PB090054

I never saw anyone all day and nor would I during the night and majority of the next day.  Now I stood on the summit of Mt. Clay with no one else in sight on the ridge.  I sat down in a wind-sheltered area and looked back at where I had come from.  I couldn’t think of my time in the gulf spent any other way. It had granted me my solitude.  It was as it was meant to be.  I imagined the entirety of the Great Gulf as it expanded, shuttered, and devoured the nearby peaks.  I imagined the Great Gulf as it swallowed me too.

 

Photographs by Courtney Ley (click on images to enlarge)

 

 

 

Huntington Dreams

By Courtney Ley

 

Dawn on Pinnacle Gully

Dawn on Pinnacle Gully.

It was dawn.  Admittedly, there was some anxiety.  I was well aware I was alone.  The winds blew crystallized snow in my face at a high rate of speed, accompanied by the occasional gust with enough force to move my body.  It was freezing.  Gearing up felt like it took hours because I’d have to warm my hands back up after I took off my gloves in order to gain enough dexterity to tighten my boot laces or figure out what the hell to do with those long pesky ends to my crampon straps.  All the awhile, I stood at a base of a route I’ve never climbed unroped before. Not to mention alone.  I looked up at the ice.  Things always look more daunting when they are dimly lit, right?  I was familiar with the route. I knew what was around the next corner and above the next bulge.  On the start to this day, however, for any or none of the reasons stated above, it required that conscious effort to turn my brain off and just start climbing. So I did just that and I took my first swing into the ice of Pinnacle Gully.

I had entered this world of bizarre ice formations, undoubtedly from the few freeze-thaw cycles of late season, but I didn’t quite feel like I was in Pinnacle Gully.  The clouds hung low and it was snowing, obscuring my views.  The familiarity of the ravine left me quickly.  I suddenly felt like I was in a strange place.  I had not yet reached the top of the first ice section when it happened.  My tool hit the ice and the result was a very loud CRACK followed by a large vibration that felt like the ice was shifting underneath me.  I don’t remember what my first thought was besides envisioning the entire ice route collapsing with me in tow, but I do remember starting to climb over and away from where I was to find more solid ice.  I also tried not to be hesitant swinging hard for a good stick, for obvious reasons, but I was slightly shaken.  When I reached the top of the first pitch, I was never so relieved to see a pathetic little ramp of broken up snow.

Pinnacle

Pinnacle Gully.

The rest of the gully was anything but straight forward, but at least the large areas of unbonded snow and ice were obvious so I could maneuver around the sketchiest sections.  I feel more comfortable making delicate and tricky moves then climbing a large blob of ice without having much idea whats under it, for example, a large amount of air.  So my focus was easily regained and I topped out to the usual hurricane force winds of the alpine garden.

Looking at South Gully

Looking at South Gully topping out of Pinnacle.

I wished I remembered to bring my balaclava.  Views began to open and then close up as the winds also knocked the clouds around.  I took a little time to watch the horizon appear and disappear before my frozen face asked that I please move out such an exposed place.  South Gully is a fairly quick descent as the grade gives way towards the bottom and I could quit down-climbing and simply walk down.  The distance to Odells was short and the sight of the no frills and thrills gully was welcoming.  The forecast called for decreasing winds and “in the clear under sunny skies” later in the day, so when I topped out of Odells, I patiently walked across the lip of the ravine in the same strong gusts hoping I wouldn’t have to endure that all day.  I had a lot of questions on my mind walking under the starry yet snowy skies of pre-dawn.  My headlamp gave me an idea what was about ten feet in front of me, but I wondered what was 2,500 feet higher than me. One of those questions was what lower Diagonal would look like in such scant snow, late April conditions.  The last time I used Diagonal to descend was in a high snow year and negotiating around Harvard and Yale bulges was a no-brainer.  It turned out I needed to traverse all the way across in some bushes to the start of Damnation Gully in order to reach the fan safety and not get cliffed out.  That was ok with me at the time because I was heading toward North Gully.

I stopped at the base of North for the first time since I left my car at 4:00 a.m. and ate a few things.  It was now around 9:00 a.m.  I decided to take the path of least resistance into the entrance of North so I skipped the bottom half of the ice.  Going up the subsequent ice bulges, it was clear they were feeling the heat from the previous days as they began to levitate off of the snow.  I didn’t feel like anything was going to collapse but I did feel better when I was able to reach my tool passed the hollow ice over into the hard snow.  The snow gave way to rocks and vegetation eventually and I wound my way in between boulders and bushes to Nelson Crag.  By the time I topped out, the winds started to decrease, the clouds all blew off and the sun began roasting the ravine.  The ice in the alpine garden was disappearing rapidly.  With three more routes to complete, I was wishing for those cloud to return.

North

Levitating ice in North Gully.

On my way down Diagonal, I exchanged hellos with three climbers on their way up and headed towards Damnation Gully.  Two years ago when I was attempting this same plan, I looked up at the first ice step from the start of the route and my immediate reaction was that I didn’t want to climb it unroped.  Sticking with that initial feeling and knowing that it would never be a wrong decision, I never even climbed up for a closer look.  This year, with more experience behind me, I didn’t hesitate to climb up to the first ice step for a look.  In this gully, the snow moats were big and getting to the ice required a lot of careful steps.  The ice itself was big and of questionable quality. I lingered at the base and almost talked myself out of climbing it but once I took a few swings, kicked my feet in and worked a few moves up, it seemed solid enough for me to continue.  When I reached the crux ice step, I thought less and climbed more.  But maybe that was due to the fact that the snow bridge was crumbling under my feet and for the first time, the ice was the safer medium. The ice all over the ravine looked nice and soft, but every time I was fooled.  The forgiving spring ice was rarely encountered.

The sudden change from vertical to horizontal hit me again as I topped out on Damnation Gully.  This time, as I reached the huge rock cairn at the start of the summer trail, I sat down for my second short break of the day.  I may have just been delaying the inevitable tediousness of down-climbing Diagonal again.

Damnation

The second ice step in Damnation Gully.

With the end of Diagonal in sight (again), I stopped for a minute to look back up the gully and noticed a climber hanging out at the top, perhaps waiting for me to finish before he started down.  The snow had turned slushy under the suns rays and a fleet of battle-ready snowballs rolled off with each step downwards.  Whether or not he was waiting for me to finish before launching his snowball attack, I wasn’t sure.  I was glad that my next gully was right at the bottom of Diagonal.  Less down meant less up.  My heels had been in a lot of pain going up North and Damnation.  For some reason, my usually comfortable boots decided to revolt and I was getting hot spots.  I stopped for breaks frequently on my way up for some relief.  When I was getting ready to head up Yale, I noticed the climber on top of Diagonal was already down, having jogged his way to where I was.  He was having a lot of fun doing it and it made me crack a smile.  Diagonal, for me, felt too steep and I was feeling tired, so I chose to down-climb it each time.  We had a quick conversation and when I told him about my day, he was psyched for me and it boosted my energy levels.

p4200078

One of the countless moats.

I bypassed almost every ice section on Yale because I felt like I’d pushed my luck enough on Pinnacle and Damnation.  The heat of the day was waning but the sound of running water was still everywhere and the occasional sounds of ice collapsing could be heard, especially on Harvard bulge.  Going up the snow ramp riddled with moats and crevasses was enough excitement for me.  It was around 2:30 pm as I was halfway up Yale and for the first time I started allowing myself to feel like I could complete what I had set out to do.  I was glad to see the top out on Yale covered in some snow and before long I was staring back down Diagonal.  Before I started down, I walked over to the top of Central to take a look at the conditions.  I saw a line of safe passage and I deemed it ‘good enough’.  My only motivation to start down was the fact that this was the last time I had to do it.  I’m not sure why, but down-climbing murders my wrists.  Maybe it’s from my carpal tunnels, but just as it was necessary for my heels, I had to stop frequently for pain relief.

I met back up with the the climber who had skipped down Diagonal.  He went over to Damnation after we parted and did some climbing in there.  He offered me water and some encouragement. Then later I heard some cheers once I started traversing across to Central.  Continuously climbing for nearly 12 hours straight was taking it’s toll and his cheer was energizing.  Now with him heading out, I was alone again in the ravine.  Since the safest way back to fan from Diagonal was to traverse all the way over the Damnation’s start, I was not looking forward to hiking it all the way back across in sub par snow conditions.  I just put my head down and walked slowly and deliberately, keeping in mind not to stop under Harvard Bulge.  I dug deep for the willpower to just keep moving towards Central and not bailing.  Someone had skied across and I used their tracks as a narrow sidewalk but my feet would slide occasionally.  I took the time to create a good step before I put my weight on it.  It may have been unnecessary to be that cautious but I figured I still had plenty of daylight to take it easy.

It was 4:00 pm when I looked up at Central’s first ice bulge and attempted to muster the energy to walk towards it. I took my third and last short break of the day and fueled up.  By this time, the sun had fallen low enough and most of the ravine was in a shadow.  I was glad the snow and ice in Central had an hour or two to freeze back up by the time I reached it.  I followed an existing boot pack, as I did on some of the other gullies which saved my calves.  The first ice bulge was, for a change, straight forward.  This came after I had to step across a deep crevasse that reminded me of a glacial bergshrund.  The last ice.  I thought I was home free.  I had gotten that quick glance of the top of the route and there would be some loose rock to pick through in order to exit and the snow was broken up but it looked ok from that vantage point.  I wasn’t ready for what I saw.  It wasn’t a snow slog. It was what looked like a mile of low angle ice waiting for me.  All of the snow had melted out and glazed over during the past week.  I put my head down for a moment to collect myself.  I took a deep breath.  It was a fight up until the very last moment.  I was forced to swing my tool into the hard ice which sent pains from my wrists down my arms.  My calves suddenly decided they had had enough as well.  Refusing to be casual on this top section was my top priority.  With nothing to stop me from sliding all the way down to the base of the route except for large pointy rocks, I climbed slowly, making every stick and kick bombproof despite whatever pain I was feeling.

In a perfect ending, the sun hit my face at the exact second of topping out.  I had removed my sunglasses about two hours ago but gladly squinted at the sudden beam of light.  I stood on top of Central looking at my shadow across the ravine. It was 5:00 pm. The top of the ravine was now all bare rock as the passing afternoon had melted the ice away.  Spring felt like it just arrived.  It marked the official end to my winter and my ice climbing season.  I felt overwhelming satisfaction and contentment.  The wind had completely died off and the still air made a silent moment even quieter.

p4210097

Ready for spring.

I spent 15.5 hours, from car to car, climbing snow and ice in some of the most bizarre conditions I’ve seen.  It was clear.. I was in Huntington Ravine. A place that immediately drew me in from the first time I saw it not too long ago.  And every time I step out into the floor of the ravine, I am struck by its intense nature.  It is a place of raw beauty.  A place where that beauty can turn savage almost without warning.    A place where I can dream up seemingly endless challenges for myself, push my limits and continue to discover my boundaries as I change as a person and as a climber.  That is what Huntington Ravine means to me.  And for those who know me well, know what this day meant to me.

 

(All of the photos from the day – click to enlarge)

Madison Gulf

 Madison Gulf and Mt. Adams

 

The Eastern aspect of Mt. Adams and the ice of Madison Gulf (lower right) Click image to make larger.

 

The Great Gulf  is a massive area shroud with mystery.  In the early years of hiking for many of us here in the White Mountains, the huge drainage of the West Branch Peabody River, the “Great Gulf Wilderness”  was a place filled with intrigue.  The remote drainage with its many tributaries, gulfs & ravines holds something almost lost to us here in the New Hampshire. And is a place that harbors silence and a true feeling of being alone.  Experiencing this area in summer or winter, total responsibility for one’s actions is paramount.  This is especially true during the winter months.  However, it is during this time when one perceives the rare peacefulness that resides here.  A peacefulness so complete, a single bird singing a short song goes right to the heart.  During all of my time spent out in the winter months, I try to mimic the quiet of this season.  A small and perhaps vain attempt at keeping human noise out no matter where I am.  Often I think to myself, this is what goes on, all the time, when I am not here. I’m just a blip on the screen in this environment and attempt to have my passage go unnoticed.

On the East Face of Mt. Adams, glowering above Madison Gulf resides a cliff.  The ice that hangs in various lengths and hues of psychedelic colours off this wall offer wonderful climbing in a wilderness setting.  At the end of a day your body will be tired and the mind satisfied with all it had seen.  This is especially true if the summit of Adams is reached after the ice climbing is over.  Madison Gulf is a climbing area that will not appeal to everyone.  The approach and descent, the weather, ice and the mountain itself are all ingredients that make this a very satisfying day for those that come here.

I’ve been into the Gulf many times, via both aspects of approach, the East and the West. For the past four years my preferred approach is from the West via the Valley Way Trail in Randolph.  Not only is this way going to be packed to the col, it’s skiable  and lends itself to summit Adams as a finish to the climbing and subsequent descent.  My last time in via the Great Gulf/Madison Gulf Trails in 2009, took 7 hours just to get to the ice. It was a beautifully epic day that opened my eyes to put away the guide book and approach from another direction, one that made sense to me.  Check out the Post  here.

Milage to the ice, with ether choice is close.  However the time may not be. The Western approach, the Valley Way is  ~4.7. The Eastern, Great Gulf/Madison Gulf trails about ~5.3. The key to the approach for the Great Gulf Trail is a lean snow year or early season.  Alternatively, catching the Valley Way tracked to the col. can happen almost anytime.  To each their own, I’ll not say one is better than the other, it all depends on what you seek.  The Valley Way is faster and can have complete solitude, that is if you leave early enough.  It also has the wonderful terrain of the Madison-Adams col. The beauty of Star Lake and passing the craggy Parapet en-route to the descent could be a destination in itself.  The Great Gulf Trail feels remote after the first bridge. The river sings almost throughout the entire hike and you’ll pass through some of the states most beautiful forest and countryside.

 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The day after an excellent session of lift service skiing, Doug and I are on the Valley Way Trail.  In a few hours we are at the Madison-Adams col.  The fog and stillness join together to create an eerie, though appealing environment.  Our view of the ice from the Parapet is not available for fog is dropping like a heavy veil over the mountains face.

I kept the descent on the high side, not wanting to get drawn too low. And though the visibility and snow conditions were less then perfect, in little time we came to the northern most route, Point du Pinceau.  A traverse along the base brought us to our destination. The line of Point is the longest on the cliff.  This is the best route to do if one is not rappelling and continuing on by ether traversing off via the Buttress Trail back to the col or upward to the summit of Adams, Point gets you closer to both of these two exits.

The ice is perfect. The large flow was a cascade of movement caught and frozen in a kaleidoscope of colours.  We climbed side by side until a headwall of steeper ice at one third height. Here we climbed through a weakness one at a time.  Above, the ice was like an azure sea with islands of white sand. It flowed upwards,  lapping like the tide  into a green mainland of stunted trees.

The snow through the trees was airy and deep, snowshoes were once again required.  After crossing the Buttress trail which runs from Star Lake down into the Great Gulf, we continued up an unseen mountain looming above. Part way to the summit the snow became firm and the rime iced rocks more exposed.  We stopped in the surreal landscape, packed the snowshoes and took a tea break.  The fog was thick and the wind light and we took the wonderful atmosphere into our souls.

The summit came to us like the face of a wraith out of the fog and after a quick handshake we were off.  The Airline Trail drops off the top and after a half mile merges with the Gulfside Trail.  We followed this back to the col and flowed like liquid back down the Valley Way.

Reanimating areas and climbs is my passion.  I look at Madison Gulf as a challenging way to summit Mt. Adams.  The unusual weather we had, the constant changing of ice and conditions made this another wonderful experience.  Grades did not matter and without any expectations of what lay before us, this was about experiencing an amazing area and climbing a mountain, pure and simple.

Another great link-up  when the snow is just right is that of King Ravine to Madison Gulf. Here is the link to a post from 2009.  Link

Thanks to all for taking the time to read this. And thank you to Doug for being there.

 

Alan Cattabriga

Photos from the Climb

Photos, Doug Millen and Alan Cattabriga

 


 Map of the Area

This is an interactive map. Zoom in, out, click and drag to move for more terrain. Also click balloons for info.


Playing Pachinko on Mt.Webster

Crawford Notch, Mt. Webster 4×4

1/8/12

words & photos; Alan Cattabriga

The Gallery

The Horses are on the Track

In late October the first ice was climbed. The ice season was starting.  As usual I was chomping at the bit and wanted more.  Then the temperature started to show signs of being bipoler.  The swings so far this season have been up and down like an out of control EKG reading.  And although there is a prediction of 6-10″ of snow as I write this, a very lean snow year is upon us.

Hitting the conditions while the weather was in a state of mania was the trick. Some of us failed and were caught in the quick swing back to manic. Many climbers have voiced disdain for the start of the season, those that have, are not totally wrong.  The usual steep suspects have been slow to show up and some of the big routes many not even form this season.   However, if one looked, there has been plenty of ice to climb and in some of the best conditions a climber could ever wish for. A lean snow year has it’s advantages too. All that one has to do is stop the neighing and giddy-up.

Katie Ives, Trick or Treating in Damnation Gully, Huntington Ravine

Of  Little Snow and Cold Air

I had this day planned for some time. It’s early January and with very little snow, a good shot of cold air, the time was right.  Even ice at the lower elevations was forming at last and getting climbed. Repentance, Remission and Dropline,  being some of the steeper lines, were sent. But for me I had something else in mind.  The conditions were ripe for a day of continuous movement over a variety of terrain before any snow falls and sucker punches my plan right in the throat.

Mt. Webster in Crawford Notch is like home for me. But the funny thing was, I had yet to visit as many of the beautiful, alpine rooms it contains in one session.  These rooms would be full of water ice flooring. The typical rugs of white were not installed as of yet. The descents would be more challenging however. Steep, gothic style tree fencing and icy to bare hard earth. But the beauty of hitting these gullies filled with ice, would be well worth the pain of the descents.

The lighting of the day.

The Gauntlet

Linking gullies on Mt. Webster has not been an easy thing for me to envision.  Which order to do them and how to get down after each ascent has raged like a battle in my mind, back and forth, always ending in stalemate.  Though I think of the climbs on this mountain as alpine routes, the mountain is at a low elevation and trees ring the routes like a crown of thorns.  You have but two choices to get down after each climb.  The winding Webster Cliff Trail or throw down the gauntlet and bushwhack down the steep, thickly wooded slope of this mountains western aspect.  I decided to take the pill that makes you small and chase the white rabbit down through the woods to my next climb.

Shoestring's deliciousness

With a plan conjured up during my drive, I’m off for Shoestring Gully. Being the most popular route I need to do it before the tsunami of people arrive. The approach is easy and the ice could not have been better.  After topping out, I do the opposite of a normal Shoestring session. I plunge up hill into the woods then crank a hard left and angle down to the start of Horseshoe Gully.

The descent is through a variety of flora & ground conditions. Tightly growing trees and eight inches of snow lead to open rock with small cliffs. This in turn gives way to more deciduous trees and bare, hard ground. I work my way down and north to the next crease in the mountain.

Horseshoe is a line I had never been on.  The climbing was not it’s redeeming feature, its character and mood was.  To be in a place I had never tread was wonderful. The views out, towards the notch and Mt. Willey were different for me.  While in this gully the clouds had lowered and a light snow started to fall.  I look up to a mixture of snow and ice, rolling upwards to the deep woods hemming in this upper zone. It’s there I moved out and south to make my descent.  In what seemed a short amount time I was following my tracks down once more.  Another act of stumbling, falling, getting stabbed and slapped in the face was underway.  All the while yelping like a hurt coyote or growling like a bear as I pay my fee for traveling through this place.

I make for my car and move up to the Willey House parking and my next climb, Landslide Gully.  My plan being to ascend that climb then continue north along the Webster Cliff Trail to the mountains summit.  Once there I would drop down the Mountaineers Route and work my way south to  Central Couloir. But first, Landslide Gully.

Typically buried with snow, Landslide sported enjoyable ice for hundreds of feet

Chapter Two; Of Landslide & Central

This landslide scar is the longest, continuous line on Webster  and is a gem  of a route with little snow. Long before the leg burning, low angle slab ( top in the shot  above ) a narrow cascade of ice meandered downward through the lower reaches of the boulder strewn gully.  I put on my crampons and roll along this. Moving up this frozen water like a part of it, but in reverse fashion from which it was formed.

  

The Headwall section, Landslide Gully

After the calf burning slab one rounds a corner to the headwall section. These two tiers had beautiful, soft columns to ascend. Above this the meandering cascade continues for some distance. Then the exit slot appears. This deep gash is similar in form to the Cleft on Mt.Willard. Very hidden and only revealing its beauty to those that venture to it’s door.  The bushwhack to the Webster Cliff Trail is short and easy. I use the walking along this trail as a rest for my legs before what I know will be a tense descent of the Mountaineers Route. This line has a very long talus tongue that will have about eight inches of snow on it. I feel a healthy dose of butt kicking will be coming my way all too soon.

Along Webster’s ridge

Hiking along the ridge is wildly beautiful. The wind has picked up, the feel is pure winter and not a soul is around.   From the summit  I move down a steep exposed section to the main opening of the Mountaineers Route.  The talus is as I expected,  loose and covered with just enough snow to make it a major epic.  However off to the side I find a little ease.  The scrub and trees offer better ground and more snow has accumulated covering some of the roughness.

I descend fast and in a blink of an eye, the deeper snow disappears, the woods thicken and I’m back on frozen brown ground.  My movement down is an uncontrolled, reversed version of Tarzan.  At last I come to the Gallery area.  This is an excellent place to climb, one totally overlooked though in plan view from the road.  From here I traverse the base of the huge rock slab that becomes the left side of Central Couloir.   The footing is treacherous, a light dusting of snow covers waxy  oak leaves, roots and sticks. Another body beating takes place.  My legs are tired and cramp up something awful.  I’m hobbled by spasms and  begin to doubt  if I’ll be able to climb Central.

 

Central Couloir

When I arrive at the start of the route my legs are sore and close to being sloppy dead but the cramps are gone. The start of the route is thin but soon it becomes another awesome connection of ice walls and slabs. At the upper cliff band I have to call the day.  To do one of the finishes would be hard and there is no easy way out.  Not to mention I would have to descend ether the Mountaineers Route again or take the Webster Cliff trail back south and the road back to my car.

The Willey House in Crawford Notch

The journey down to the Willey House parking from my high point will be no easy task.  I chill for a moment and enjoy the place I’m in.  After a few photos I begin my descent through the woods on the south side of Central.  One last marble run takes place.  Except this time I’m completely spent . However I have beer in my car and get one more click of energy out of my body so it all balances out.

 The Skinny

A total of eight hours was spent moving up and down Mt. Websters  west face. The elevation gain & loss for the day was ~ 12,800′. Not bad for starting at ~1,100′  on a mountain that is only 3,800′ high.

~Alfonzo

 

WordPress SEO