So here's what I did on Friday, Saturday and Sunday...
I love Shoestring Gully and have climbed it many, many times. The surprising thing is that I've never guided it, and in actual fact I've never even pitched it out. Go figure... Every time I've done it was soloing. Fred and John were into a good outing and there was no one ahead of us, so off we went. Earlier in the season getting across the river at the little dam was tricky, but this time it was no problem. Needless to say it takes a lot longer to get up the 2,500' of elevation gain when you have to belay much of it. [wry grin] And of course the couple of mile walk off is always a bit of a slog. This time there was some really big blue ice on the trail that in some cases was a few hundred feet long! I was happy to have my MicroSpikes, but my guys had to wear their crampons for the whole hike down. I must say I was happy to get back to the car and back to the shop. Unfortunately I missed out on the beer! It goes quickly, and if you're not there by 4 you're out of luck!
Saturday was an Alpine Skills day at Willie's with Luc, Steven and Dan. I've done this course a lot and it always included a lot of crampon technique, self arrest, work on v-threads, placing and removing ice screws and a little climbing. The snowpack had been somewhat low, so finding a good place for self arrest has been tricky. In general you don't want to do it in a place where it's mostly ice, so you have to be creative. There was a steep slope on the downhill side of the RR tracks on the way up to Willies that had good snow coverage, so we managed to get some good efforts in there. I actually enjoy practicing this stuff and I work hard to get the concepts across. While I've personally only used it one time in a real situation, it's something that everyone who spends time in the mountains needs to be good at. Up at the slab we did a lot more work with crampons, and then spent a bunch of time working on v-threads. Again, this isn't something that's natural for folks to do, so it takes practice. This time we also did some pull-testing. It's always interesting to see 3-4 strong guys pulling on a v-thread and the thread not going any where. In fact, with 4 of us pulling, we got the sling and rope stretching but the thread not budging! Now that's pretty cool! A couple of short pitches up the slab rounded out a good day. Once again we got back a little on the late side, around 4:30, and I missed out on the beer. GRRRRR! It was a good thing that I had a couple of cold ones in the house to go along with the hot tub and great dinner my wife Alyssa made for me. I have to admit that I was in bed and asleep by 9:30.
Sunday was really warm, up to 37 in Crawford Notch, and it was another Alpine Climb day, this time with Bob. Having a single client, this time we were able to get out of the shop just a smidge after 9. I'd thought about another day of Shoestring, but there were already 3 cars at the pull-out in front of the climb so we just kept trucking. At the top of the Notch there were a couple of cars already in the lot, but since there is plenty to climb up there I wasn't concerned. As we were gearing up local guide Marc Chauvin pulled up with 2 clients. Marc was planning on doing a very thin Cinema Gully, so I figured we would do the lower Hitchcock Gully to the Monkey Wrench, and then find something else to do on the Upper Tier.
As we hiked down the tracks by Snot Rocket I noticed that it wasn't in good shape at all, probably not climbable by us mortals. I was happy to have grabbed it a few weeks ago with my friend Monica when the left side and upper pillar was IN. Surprisingly there had been a snowfall overnight that dropped 4-5 inches in the upper Notch. This was quite surprising since there was barely a trace in the Valley. It was nice, but since it was warm and sticky we had to keep banging it off our crampons all day. The lower gully has a few bulges, but no big deal and we made good time going up. There obviously was another party in front of us, but I figured there was a 50-50 possibility that they would be heading where we wanted to go. As we got to the cutoff rich to the Monkey Wrench, the other party came back out of the trail and continued up Hitchcock! I didn't talk to them, but followed their tracks to the right wondering what was up. It turns out that they had gone the 300' over to the talus field but turned around. No one had beaten out the trail that day, but I could see where it had been so I just continued over. Cool…
I was amazed that there was NO ONE else at the Monkey Wrench so we just geared and I headed up. Another party of 2 who had been following us came up as I was bringing up Bob, and it was Paul Rago - someone I knew from the NEClimbs web site. Then just as he started up another party came along, guided by another Paul - a guide from our shop. Boy was I happy we got started early. Once Bob was up, we pounded through the upper talus field. Again, no one had been there so I had to bang out the trail to the upper cliff band. I knew that my fellow guide Paul was planning on doing The Cleft, so I thought we would either do Upper Hitchcock or Read Between The Lines. I'd done the latter earlier in the season, so I was hoping for Upper Hitchcock since Bob had never done it. Amazingly again no one had gotten there yet, tho we could see some folks just topping out on the mixed section of Lower Hitchcock. We geared up once again and I headed up on wonderfully plastic ice. I brought Bob up to the right side belay and then headed up the steep crescendo finish. The ice is vertical, fluted and always brittle - quite the change from everything we had done so far, but it's always a great finish and it makes you feel good to do it. We beat out the trail to the overlook and celebrated a job well done. Just as we got there Marc and his guys showed up after climbing Cinema and the East Face Slabs. We put on our MicroSpikes and headed down, but there the ice on the trail was covered by the new wet snow, so we actually didn't even need them.
We were back a little earlier than I expected, so we wandered down to Elephant Head to see if we could get in a last pitch. Unfortunately there was a party on the climb, another party of 3 waiting and another party on the little mixed pitch to the right! SHEESH, quite the Sunday it was. Bob called it a day and we headed back to the school. This time there was "guide beer" left and I was able to get one in along with a taco before heading home.
I almost never climb this many days in a row, so I was sure tired Sunday night. Tired enough that it was hard staying awake for the Superbowl, which was pretty boring all in all. Regardless, it was a fantastic 3-day weekend of climbing. Honestly it doesn't get a whole lot better than this.