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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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
The holiday came early for Matt Ritter this year. He and partner Jim Shimberg established a new route on Cannon Cliff this past Monday! And that’s not all. Hungry for more, Matt returned yesterday with Michael Wejchert and put up a new variation to that route!
Stay tuned for an NEice exclusive story and details after the holiday from the man himself. Nice work, Matt!
Matt Ritter starts the third Pitch of his new route, Cannonade Direct, with Jim Shimberg belaying. Photograph taken by Bayard Russell.
“Wow, what a day…. [ ].., I got a front row seat to watch this… although I can’t figure out how Matt did the crux to the ledge…. after hanging for 30 mins, getting pumped most would call it a day, especially with the last bit of pro was 10m below..[ ].. somehow he found a way up to a tiny ledge. Then collapsed on the ledge… then discover maybe it wasn’t the crux !! Amazing, well done.” – Damon Clark, climbing with Bayard Russell on the Black Dike.
Ray Rice logging some air time on CryoKinesis: Photos by Jim Surette, GraniteFilms.com
The First Ascent of Cryokinesis
Peter Doucette shakes out and searches for the next edge, divot or dimple towards progress on this year’s first attempt of Cryokinesis. Photo: Ray Rice
Ray Rice’s airborne antics folded him nearly in half and brought him to a halt not so far above Cathedral Ledge’s Blueberry Terrace in January 2010. “Walking”, or “climbing it off”, as was the case, Ray leaned into a no hands rest 30+ feet below his highpoint. He collected himself and prepared for his second go before the adrenaline and whatever else was coursing through his veins dissipated. Later, Ray described the upper reaches of Cryokinesis as, “climbing blacked out.” He shed his gloves late in the lead as desperation returned. He torqued, clung, quivered and willed his way upward, narrowly avoiding a second dangerous mistake. Either due to acute focus, or the pain his body was suppressing, his memory of the pitch was as sparse as the turf shots between him and topping out.
Ray’s belayer that day was Bayard Russell. Bayard simply laughed when I asked him recently what it was like belaying and watching Ray so unabashedly go for it. As his laughter stopped, he said, “When Ray got back on, (and I had to send him my tools first, cause his had sailed to the ground) I was talking to the rope, trying to push it, and Ray, to the top from below. It was terrifying to think he could take that same fall again. He was just going for it. At the end of the day, when we’d all reached the ground, we had to look for Ray’s tools. In the search, we found both, one having left a perfect tool silhouette punched in the snow further from the base of the cliff than you’d expect.”
The reality reinforced by the unfortunate fact that Ray’s back still bothers him
Jimmy Surette was also up there that day and took the sequence of photos above. Jimmy, recounting the fall, notes, “It was all of 35 feet. Could‘ve easily been forty.” These images were shown at the Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival that year, generating groans and expletives from the crowd. The pictures left the screen, but stayed fixed in everyone’s memory. Having documented the fall that no climber ever wants to imagine, added to its almost legendary quality. The reality reinforced by the unfortunate fact that Ray’s back still bothers him.
Ray Rice using all the ice he was given and maxing out the stem on the first ascent of Cryokinesis. Photo: Peter Doucette
As climbers, the top is only part of the goal. How we feel climbing, the style with which we approach objectives, choose partners, remember the stories and record ascents hold high priority, too. The “First Ascent” with the no hands rest and little memory of its upper reaches still seemed, for Ray, like a job unfinished, until last Sunday, January 6th, when we climbed Cryokinesis, from the ground via Karen’s Variation. We took turns successfully leading the (crux) last pitch, Ray first. It was my second time attempting the route and Ray’s third.
While the approach pitch of Karen’s Variation offers its own brand of delicate, awkward climbing: it’s never wildly difficult – Some ice, some turf, and a well executed hex placement get you through the bulging cruxes and lead you to more secure climbing – But upon reaching the terrace, the route’s character changes and very clean granite rises above. Powerful stemming on micro features and plenty of gear on Kinesis get you started. Cryokinesis diverges 25’ up (about 6’ below the existing bolt) with a necky pull to a good stance (Ray’s earlier no hands rest point). Higher, the fascinating pillar spouts from a crack in the middle of the otherwise blank face. Beyond the ice, the wall steepens to gently overhanging with clutch thin cracks, a lone pin, suitably techy feet and just enough turf to keep your security in question to the last swing. This is a classy and ephemeral route. Check it out, but don’t stare too much at the fall sequence before you go.
Ray Rice moving above his gear and into the ice on the first ascent. Photo Peter Doucette
Silas Rossi about to get into the business. “Look at that CRACK! It overhangs, has few feet, and the hooking is in obvious. The top few feet were glazed with ice, making it extra hard. It felt like full on M8 on top rope; harder while trying to fiddle in gear.” – Erik Eisele + Click to Enlarge
Mount Webster, Crawford Notch NH
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“The line runs right up the obvious overhanging face, although it isn’t the diagonaling crack. On the right side of the face is a straight-up-and-down crack. The ice at the start is obscured as well. The corner above is the obvious finish” – Erik Eisele
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Click to + Enlarge
Source: Erik Eisele, facebook, NEClimbs – Photos by Erik Eisele. Silas Rossi of Alpine Logic climbing