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Archive for the ‘Trip Reports’ Category

Halloween 2011 – Trick or Treat?

A Rare Treat in New England Leaves Winter Enthusiasts Wondering if it was Really a Mean Trick….

 Article by Rich Palatino

It was only slightly over a week ago that I found myself sitting above Reppy’s Crack. While bringing up my partner, I couldn’t help but wonder when old Jack Frost would once again make his return to the Northeast. It was nearing the end of October and we had yet to see much in the way of typical Fall temperatures. With the exception of one frosty Saturday, it seemed that September was actually quite tropical this year! That one cold, clear morning just happened to coincide with a planned Presidential Traverse. Given the weather forecast that weekend, I remember being quite torn between climbing in the Valley or spending time with friends while enjoying our annual ridge walk. As it turned out, the season’s first measurable snow mixed with a fine layer of verglas, and the always-mesmerizing rime ice formations silenced my unrest as soon as we began our little walk. With pleasing hints all around, I was able to muster up some hope for an early winter. We enjoyed lunch just below Mt. Clay and I couldn’t help but laugh at the grief I caused myself as I debated the value of hiking up high versus climbing down low. Winter was obviously on the way and, as you know, winter makes everything better! Still, while it was wintry above treeline, the first frost in town was still weeks away!

Reppy’s Crack

Back on Cannon, it was getting to be mid-afternoon, the sun already low in the sky and heading towards the massive curtain created by the cliff itself. The temperature was dropping and a light wind was picking up from the west. As my second feverishly cleaned the route, I watched as a helicopter made multiple trips over Franconia Ridge, payloads dangling perilously below. No doubt, transporting supplies and other material to and from the Greenleaf Hut.

I was happy to be out for a casual run up a classic pitch on a reasonably warm, dry day that could have been easily mistaken for Sendtember instead of Rocktober. I had spent the weekend volunteering at the Friends of Tuckerman Ravine work weekend. It was good to get out on the rock and stretch the muscles after two days of hard work at Hermit Lake.

As I often do, I had to take a moment to appreciate my surroundings. Despite there not being anyone in ear shot, I felt it necessary to express out loud how fortunate I feel in being able to pursue my passion for the outdoors as a climber. On this day, I was in my own backyard, but I felt like the privilege of such vertical access brought me to another world – a place where I can just exist. No need to question a damn thing. Nothing mundane anyway. Not about the life I’m leading or all the things I have to get done before too long. The focus involved in climbing really is a wonderful escape.

Bring it on!

While enjoying the moderate temperature and the warm, setting sun, I take up more rope and wonder, “When the hell is it gonna snow?”. I distinctly remember thinking, “It’s going to be a warm Halloween!”. Over the past few years, my Girlfriend, Marcia, and I brought back a childhood tradition of mine by spending Halloween in the historic and festive Salem, Massachusetts. It is normally a bone-chilling experience, depending on your attire for the evening. At that point, it seemed that this year might be different. Little did I know there was a low-pressure weather system about to develop somewhere in southern latitudes that would soon begin its track North.

As if choreographed by ski bums on high, the storm would send warm, moist air from the southern gulf regions crashing into much colder air sucked down from the north. As we now know, this act of meteorological ballet produced an early season weather event that wreaked havoc on millions, but provided a rare, early-season surprise for those of us who love all things winter!

Home Sweet Home

I must say, the early season ice came in right on time. I was anxious to maybe get a first ascent of the season. Marcia and I brought our ice tools with us for the Tux work weekend. We hoped that with temperatures flirting near the freezing mark, we might be able to sneak away early one morning and sink our picks into something cold and refreshing. Unfortunately, day and nighttime temperatures stayed right around 38º all weekend. As freezing rain and snow fell upon us occasionally while we worked, a welcomed sight for sure, we knew there would be no early season adventures for us. Not that weekend…..

An Alluring Sight!

Flash forward a week. I found myself back at Pinkham ready for another work-filled Saturday somewhere on the Tux Trail. Temperatures in the higher elevations had been holding below the freezing mark for a couple of days at that point. I had heard that Huntington Ravine’s Damnation Gully, the go-to early season alpine route, had been climbed on Friday so I was anxious to get out exploring for myself. All the hype about the impending snowstorm the night before had kept me up later then I would have liked, resulting in the all-too-familiar “Mount Washington Alpine Start”. I left Pinkham around 8 AM. Up the Tux Trail and across the Fire Road leading to the ravine, I followed fresh fox tracks past Harvard Cabin. The cabin has been my winter home for the last couple of seasons and a home away from home for anyone looking to spend some quality time on Mt. Washington.

I was at the base of the Ravine by 10 AM. The sky was cobalt blue, the temperature still plenty cold, and from the height of land, I peered into the Ravine for the first time this season. Up until that point, I wasn’t certain if I would climb anything, but I was excited to get a closer look. I headed farther up the trail and into the talus. The small amount of snow that had fallen earlier in the week remained light and fluffy, signaling stable temperatures over the last few days. Good for consistent ice conditions, whatever the thickness. I could also tell there were at least a couple of climbers ahead of me. No surprise, given the beautiful weekend weather and my late start. In any case, both clues offered a bit of comfort. Especially if my walk in the woods proved to be more productive than expected.


I followed the summer trail high up into the talus- eventually breaking off to the right, heading towards

Pinnacle Gully

the center of the ravine. Once I got a view of Pinnacle, I must say, it was tempting but the high rate of flowing water was more than enough to turn my head to the north. Central was doable, but the exposure would have been too sustained for a solo climb. Harvard Bulge was forming nicely. Classic icicles begged to be climbed, but they were young and there wasn’t much above them except for the two climbers I followed into the Ravine. They were on a frozen turf expedition approaching the mouth of Diagonal Gully. I couldn’t tell if they were proper climbers or two unfortunate souls who thought it might be a good day to follow the Huntington Ravine Trail up and over the headwall – more reason why I decided I would climb elsewhere.

I looked over to the bottom of Damnation. Of course, given my vantage point, I couldn’t see the portions of the route above the start.  I knew it would probably go, but that was only more time in the talus and it was already getting late. I decided I would take an up-close look at the Yale Slabs to get an idea of the quality of ice and how it was bonding down low. Bushwhacking just a bit, I was dreaming of the day, not too far from then, when I would be able to boot all the way up the ravine floor. I was also reliving a nightmare of a bushwhack to the Taber Wall in Baxter State Park over Columbus Day Weekend. Having endured the talus of the Katahdin’s North Basin, this was pure pleasure! Besides, in many ways, I was home in Huntington Ravine and on Mount Washington! It was going to be a great day, even if I didn’t climb.

Once at the base, I grabbed my helmet and a tool and made my first swing of the season. Plasticky and Yummy! The ice down low was an interesting combination of ice, snow, and frozen spray….just what you might expect for the end of October. I got good purchase with the tool….good enough for the slope angle anyway. I decided to kick my toes in, sans crampons, just to see what would happen. I got up about a body length, down climbed, and decided it was time to send. I was stoked!!!

High in the Ravine

Though I felt badly about not helping with the trail work that day, I selfishly put on my harness and spikes, and racked up. I was carrying a few pieces of protection and a 30 meter rope in case I needed to bail. Needless to say, at that point I was feeling pretty good about finishing the route. After about two body lengths, the ice quality improved greatly. Having enough ice on the first “Pitch” to get into good rhythm was awesome! There is something soothing about the methodical progression up an ice route. After about 70 feet or so, the slab angle decreased and I stood there looking across the valley into the Carter-Moriah Range, the trails of Wildcat Ski Area painted white with the week’s dusting of snow. It was October 29th and I was getting in some legitimate ice climbing; I thought to myself, “Winter is almost here!”

Early Season Joy

Above the first pitch, the route stair-cased higher and higher towards the summit with interesting ice at every “step”. Only once did I wander onto something a little too thin for my comfort. At another point, I had to remove a glove to make a smearing hand move up onto some turf. I love the flinty, almost sulfur-like, smell the spikes make when scratching the surface of the rock. Well, I should say, I love it in October.

I took my time the first day out. The temps were moderate, there was zero wind, and the ravine was calm and quiet. I spent more time than not on decent, early season ice. I topped out around 1:30. The bluebird skies had given way to overcast conditions. An occasional light breeze, maybe 5 MPH, brushed across my face. With the atmosphere so calm, I knew precipitation was a sure bet, and it was even getting colder! I hadn’t put much hope into the prediction for a major snow storm, but I started to think there might be some validity to the hype.

Back in town around 4 PM, I was in the car and heading for ground zero: the northern Berkshires of Massachusetts and the southern Green Mountains of Vermont seemed to be in the cross-hairs for this storm. As I made it to the southern limits of town, the snowflakes started to fall in the Mount Washington Valley. I was planning on intercepting a snowstorm and became concerned that I might be shooting myself in the lead-foot for driving all that way for conditions that could be just as good in the Whites. It only took a few phone calls for me to realize that a major winter storm was already affecting much of the northeast, especially Western New England. As a good friend put it around 7PM that night, “The snow on my porch is already 2.5 PBR cans deep!!!!

So, was it a trick or a treat??? We’ll just have to wait and see. If we are graced with snow in November, I will say it was a real treat. If we’re still rock-hopping in February, I’ll call it a real mean trick. In any case, I got my fix last weekend and can now wait patiently for the real onset of winter. Until then, enjoy the remainder of rock season!

Agawa Canyon Ice

The Ice of Agawa Canyon (Eastern Shore of Lake Superior)

by Shaun Parent
Agawa Canyon One Mile

Canyon Sign at Mile 113

My first trip into Agawa Canyon was some 25 years ago on December 27, 1986 when Chris Lloyd and I ventured into the area for a week long adventure of exploring and developing ice climbs.

Things have changed plenty since the mid 1980’s when ice climbing was just beginning in the Canyon. Orient Bay to the north was known and climbers from the Midwest were flocking there on weekends due to the number of easily accessible routes. Here in Agawa Canyon, unlike Orient Bay, after 25 years the Canyon sees less than 50 visitors a season, and most of them head in during the annual Agawa Canyon Ice Festival. This March 2011 celebrates the 13th anniversary of the occasion.

The canyon is a 6 mile long north-south corridor between Miles 110 and 116 on the Algoma Central Railway which connects Sault Ste. Marie Ontario with Hearst Ontario at the end of the line at Mile 296. The line is used for hauling freight, but also has a passenger train service.

The Canyon hosts over 135 ice climbs and each year between mid-December and mid-April ice formations hang off the 200 meter walls which cloak the east and west sides of the canyon……..Read the rest of the report


Southbound Train with the ice climb TRESTLE to the left.

North of Superior Climbing Company
Shaun Parent
P.O. Box 85 Batchawana Bay, Ontario, P0S-1A0

Agawa Canyon

Agawa Canyon

The Evolution Traverse

Along the Crest (photo Mike Garrity)

Along the Matthes Crest (photo by Mike Garity)

by Alan Cattabriga

For almost two years this climb has been occupying space in my head, this Evolution Traverse and for that same amount of time, almost everything I’ve done in the mountains of the northeast has been geared to helping me with this line. I hate to call it a project, for I don’t “project.” I boulder Vermin 0 negative and sport climb, on good days, solid 5 easy. In my early climbing years, when sport climbing in Rumney was in it’s infancy, I was a never a “hang dogger”, working routes never worked for me. I covered up my weakness with a warped sense of ethics. But, the Evo. was a “project”… a once a year, long distance project and the best there could be.

The Full Trip Report

Alaska Range 2010

Trip Report by Pcooke
Sunrise on the Rooster's Comb

Sunrise on the Rooster's Comb

The GPS on the DeHaviland Otter we’re flying is showing “Danger – Terrain Ahead” in white letters on a red background. It’s the type of message that usually serves as a precursor to slamming into the ground in a fiery explosion. And indeed, as we fly over the Pika glacier there’s a giant face of rock, snow, and ice looming not just ahead of us, but above us…….

Read the rest of this entry »

Erik Weihenmayer Climbs Ben Nevis

by Ian Osteyee

Adirondack Mountain Guides

Erik-aBlind Climber Erik Weihenmayer had a couple of talks to give in London, so he decided that it was a good time to visit Scotland and climb the legendary Ben Nevis. The blind climber may have summited Everest, but that seems only to have wet his appetite for climbing wherever he can get it.  He asked if I could come along, and I was glad to oblige.

From London we took the Caledonian sleeper train overnight to Fort William.  The sleeping berths weren’t quite up to “Midnight Express” sizes, or standards and only one person could really stand up at a time.  Ambien and a night cap on the dinning car made sleeping easy, and we were in Fort William by 9:30 the next morning.   Alan Kimber, a friend of a friend of Erik’s, met us at the train depot. Alan is a local climber and guide, and he gladly helped orient us to the town and dropped us off at the trail head.  A 1:45 minute walk had us up to the famous CIC hut, an old climbers hut built in 1928 that has bunks for twelve, or so; our home for the next couple of days.   From the CIC hut many of Ben Nevis’ classics are only a 40 min approach.  Our goal was “Point5 Gully”, one of the 100 best climbs in the world, and the most famous of Scottish gullies.  No one had any information on the route’s condition, as late January is still early for Scottish ice.  Weather in Scotland can be tricky.  It’s a maritime mountain range, so it isn’t very cold, with temps usually just above, or just below freezing.  Heavy wet snow, or rain can come in faster than a weather report, and the winds are often from 30 -50 mph.  Soft Shell isn’t a popular choice in Scotland, in fact Gore-tex isn’t good enough for most locals.  Most locals can be seen wearing a brand called Paramo.  It’s fast drying, but more akin to rain gear than gore-tex, and they swear by it.

After having breakfast with our new bunk mates from all over Europe, we rucked up and met back up with Alan who’d come along on the route with us.  We walked in the darkness up toward a large gully system that would eventually have us at the base of our route.  Once the morning light brightened it was easy to see why” Point 5” is such a classic.  “Point 5” is a narrow runnel that continuously expand and contracts from about 4-15’ wide for several pitches.  The route is roughly 1200’ long, the first few pitches having many vertical sections, the last few pitches relax in grade.Erik-2-web

Ian-.5Alan sent me off without much warning, or guidance, other than “you might want to belay here”, or watch out for “runners” (fixed gear) there.   It didn’t take long to start understanding “Scottish” grade V5, as the first steep section was vertical snow/slush, rather than ice.  I’d already started to use positive-pessimisms,” It may be steep and insecure, but at least there’s no gear”, or “It may be steep, insecure and without gear, but at least the spin drift is refreshing”.   Occasionally several seconds of heavy spin drift would pour down the gully, classic Scottish conditions, on the most classic of routes.  The whole characteristic of the climbing was very different than climbing anywhere else I’d been.  The ice isn’t really ice; it can be ice once in a while, later in the year, but not usually.  The gear situation is also very different.  Ice screws won’t work very well in most of the conditions, so fixed pins, an occasional nut, or hex can be helpful. The rock is schist, so there isn’t as much opportunity for gear as you’d think, and the fixed pins become the focus. Much of the rock is covered in rhyme ice, so cams aren’t the answer either.

There is water ice in Scotland, but it doesn’t abound, and that’s not their focus. It’s a different type of climbing, and the people that climb there regularly have adapted their clothing, attitude and climbing style to match.  A cup of tea, a stiff upper lip, some hex’s, and clothed in their Paramo, the Scottish have a great niche.

Erik-1-webTopping out on Ben Nevis is a cool experience.   Looking up from the pitch below one can see the corniced edge.  That edge is abrupt, and the top as flat as a golf green. One moment climbing, the next, walking flatly along the summit.   Once on top we took shelter in the very small summit hut, a left over entrance for an old observatory now in ruins.  In the tiny hut we were met by a Russian in jeans who had hiked up the back side. He offered us “Russian Pork” which Alan and I could see was pure white fat. Unfortunately, Erik could not see this, and helped himself. Alan and I grinned at each other as Erik’s face contorted and he tried to find a way to remove the offensive fat from his mouth without offending our generous new friend.

A short walk through 50 mph blowing snow and ice brought us to the line of cairns that the hikers use to navigate they’re way up the back side.  Using the cairns and the corniced edge as a hand rail we found the top of no. 4 gully, our descent gully.   Navigation on top of the Ben is important. There are cliffs on both sides of the summit, and gullies that are hard to see in the reduced visibility that is characteristic of the Ben.

“Point 5” was a great experience. Meeting and spending time with Alan Kimber added to the fun and enhanced our experience of the local flavor.  It’s also always fun to watch a concerned observer become an amazed observer. People often have some look of concern about the blind climber, but Erik always impresses with his amazing abilities.  We had a good dinner at the hut, marred only by the fact the 6 people that had left that morning hadn’t yet returned.  As time went on, the voices in the hut started to sound more concerned.  Late returns from climbing on Ben Nevis were common; no one wanted to sound the alarm too early, or too late.   10:00pm became the agreed time of alarm, but at 9:30 the sound of the RAF Sea King helicopter told us all was not well.   The big helo hovered over Tower Ridge, its bright light scanning the route.  It left to re-fuel and return three times.    Others from the Scottish rescue team arrived at the hut. They had radio communications with the rescuers on the ridge and the helo. It was a German pair that got into trouble navigating off route. They called with the last life of their cell phone. Also spotted by the helo was the British foursome who was retreating from their route, but didn’t need help.   The Brits arrived at 2:30am, the Germans at 4:00am. All were healthy, but humbled.  Ben Nevis has no shortage of accidents, rescues, and worse.   There were already two climbers killed by avalanche earlier in the season.  At less than 5000’ tall Ben Nevis doesn’t seem that tall a mountain. However, with its maritime weather, and complicated climbing conditions, it seems as serious as mountains three times its size.

After a mostly sleepless night and half a day of climbing some shorter routes lower on the Ben, Erik and I started walking down towards Fort William.  We wanted to visit some of the other climbing areas in Scotland, Creag Meagaidh had been recommended by local climbing legend Ian Parnell. After a day of drying, we packed our still wet gear and headed down the road in our rental car. Our little Ford KA was roughly half the size of a Geo Metro, but got 60 mpg.  Creag Meagaidh is another 2 hour approach, but its summit is roughly 3500’ with less savage weather.  Most routes are in the 600’ range and offer characteristic Scottish snow and “ice” climbing.  There were a few routes that appeared more ice than snow, but we found a classic named “the Wand V5” unoccupied.   Frozen snow gully pitches led to steep snow/ice pitches, back to snow pitches and a corniced rim and a flat summit.  I think we get it now; long approaches through interesting and uniquely beautiful surroundings, followed by impressive gully climbs with big mountain snow and ice conditions, and great summits.

Scotland is the place where ice climbing was invented. The Victorians climbed there honing their skills before heading into the Alps and Himalaya. It was a great place to climb then, and remains a great and storied place to climb now.

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