With temperatures reaching into the mid-80s last week, it seems that winter is finally over. Tools, boots, and screws are being replaced by chalk, shoes, and rock gear all over the Northeast. Some of the more stubborn among us may hold out for one last hurrah, but most are calling it a season. Below two members of the NEice team reflect on the season that was and look ahead to the season that will come at the end of next fall.
A Long Early Season
Article by Courtney Ley
For me, the ice season started on Halloween weekend. The day before the big snowstorm. I got lucky and found a shaded corner in Yale Gully with enough ice to swing my tools into. For that time of year, hiking in for just that tiny flow of ice was completely worth it.
Pat Cooke called it No Mans Land. That ‘catch me if you can’ time when you are wondering if you are even going to take your tools off your pack. I love early season. It’s a full on hunt for ice. It involves a week of dedicated weather watching, condition guessing and decision making on where to go for your best chance to find ice. I live for those weekends where I feel climbing becomes what it is meant to be..a leap into the unknown, when you don’t know what’s around the corner ..where you plan hard but with no guarantees and when the difference between climbable and unclimbable ice can be mere hours. It’s a time that I find what I do really captures the true spirit of climbing.
November went lazily on: there was an honest attempt at Pinnacle Buttress under cold temperatures and icy conditions, a warm day of rock climbing at Cathedral Ledge and a rather heinous and scary ascent of Odells Gully right after a weekend snow dump. Certainly nothing that compared to last year’s November when I had my own personal four day Thanksgiving ice-feast back to back to back, well, you get it. I began to wonder how the season was going to shape up. There were similar thoughts. Was Winter Cancelled? At least I knew when I was getting on ice I really was ice climbing. Whew.
The first weekend in December, my partner Joel and I nailed it right in Kings Ravine and then I knew the game was on. It was followed by a quick Shoestring Gully day and then a long, fantastic day in Damnation Gully.
But did it still feel like November out there? Was it time to sit on the couch whining and complaining that Standard Route in Frankenstein looked like the frost on my windshield?
If you were getting out, there was no time or any reason for such complaints. As I was messing around in the ravines, the heavy hitters were making their rounds on the Black Dike and Fafnir.
By the time January hit, new climbs like Seams Thin and Road Warrior were put up as I was keeping Joel out until dark on Mt Willard, pretending I could climb a M6 at Kinsman Notch and learning the most efficient way to blow out my forearms on full day of Grade 5 at Rumney with Art Mooney.
I couldn’t ask for more in February. Neither could others finding sweet lines that don’t come in often or get climbed much at all. It was a year for Cannon Cliff and off the Kancamagus. Bust ice season? I don’t think so. Once again, I walked into Huntington Ravine and caught Yale Gully with a belly full of ice, finally got into the Green Chasm high on Mt.Webster and spent a little time cragging at Frankenstein. Then on the last Friday in February, I trekked into the woods with my good friend and climbing partner, Kristina, and snagged a prize in Jobildunk Ravine on the north side of Mt. Moosilauke. The low snowfall and prolonged early season conditions gave us the opportunity to be among the few that have ever swung a tool into the ice in that ravine. It was no prize in terms of hard climbing or first ascents. There were no insane overhanging mix sections, chandeliered ice in the grill, or exposed pumpy moves. In fact, we climbed one and a half pitches of grade 2+ ice. Prior to that, we hiked a mile on a road, 2 miles along a trail and 3 miles bushwhacking up a drainage. After that, we endured one of the tougher snow engulfing, scrub thrashing, pure heinous wallows I’ve ever experienced to reach the remnants of an abandoned trail that ran along the top of the ravine.. just to slog down 6.5 miles back to the car. And oh, there were no views. But that day will probably be the one I remember most about this ice season. The timid winter had handed us a great little adventure.
Now it’s March, and for me, the ice season ended where it began – in Huntington Ravine. Sure, the ravine looked and felt like Mid April, but I wasn’t complaining. Its how the whole season played out. It was December, but it felt like November. Now it’s March and it might as well be April. But that is what I love about ice climbing. Ice is ever changing, rarely predictable and always keeps you on your toes.
Seasons ChangeArticle by Patrick Cooke
The title of the post is pretty self-evident. Seasons do indeed change. In fact, it was inevitable that winter would come to an end. Granted, it’s ending at least a month too early after starting at least a month too late, but you have to play the cards you’re dealt. It’s probably possible to limp the season along at this point by going high and staying in the shade, but it’s 80 degrees out here in Boston. I figure if my wife is wearing shorts (she’s perpetually cold… shorts are not a given, even in the middle of summer), ice season is officially over.
The weather is turning, but the passing of Joe Szot last week is another telling sign for me that it’s time to hang up the tools for the year. Before I moved to MA this past summer and started climbing more in NH and VT, Joe was the mayor of my ice climbing experience. Sadly, I never had the chance to rope up with Joe. I was always somewhat intimidated by him and the fear of not living up to his high standards or expectations. I truly regret that I did not jump at the opportunity to share a rope with Joe when I had a chance. Nevertheless, I’m extremely thankful for the many evenings of Bivy Golf and conversations by the wood stove I shared with him over the past several years.
Thinking of Joe leaves me with a small feeling of emptiness, but more importantly it leaves me psyched to get out and push myself. Joe established many great lines in the northeast over the years, and his passing is a blunt (because let’s face it, if there’s one thing Joe wasn’t, it was subtle) reminder that we only have so many opportunities to get out and get after it. For years Joe’s eyes would light up when he mentioned Spike as a route I should get on. Granted, there was no way I was ready for it at the time, but Spike and Dark Lord just moved to the top of my tick-list. What better way to pay tribute to Joe than to enjoy the lines he put up and that inspired him to push the envelope. Winter may be over, but that won’t stop me from thinking about next year’s ice season already.
This winter may not have been a banner year, but there was plenty out there for those who were willing to look for it. Courtney even managed to get out every weekend between Halloween and mid-March! I may not have gotten on every route I had hoped to this winter, but I wasn’t lacking new routes to climb either. For me, the sign of a good season is a list of routes to go back and clean up, finish up, or finally sack up and get on. I finally finished off some unfinished business with the Dike, but now I can add Repentance, Remission, Dropline, and Fafnir to an already long list of routes that’ll be messing with my head from now until next winter (and probably beyond!).
It seems like winter’s come to it’s end, but enjoy the summer and the many vices it brings. Trade in alpine starts and freezing belays for lazy mornings and clipping bolts. There’s a rhythm to the seasons and winter will be back again. Until it is, enjoy the video clip below as Courtney and Alfonzo say goodbye to the ice season: A Send off to the Ice