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January 15, 2004
On Tuesday and Wednesday the lowest wind chill
on the summit of Mt. Washington was 102 degrees below zero! They
also recorded a new record low on Wednesday of 45 degrees below
zero. Now that's COLD folks! It's a bit warmer today, only ambient
-25. That said, there were people out there ice and snow climbing.
Dedication or obsession, which do you think? Interestingly enough
I was out for a while on Wednesday. The sun was out and when the
wind wasn't blowing too hard, it was actually pretty nice. Not
balmy mind you, but not too bad.
I went climbing in Frankenstein on Monday with
my old friend Mason. The ambient temperature in the Notch was a
very moderate 25 degrees
for most of the day. What's really wild is how that felt positively
balmy after the previous days lows. The morning started out bright
and sunny, and there was actually water running on many of the
climbs. We had decided to get a "banker's start" and
didn't get to the parking lot until about 9:30. We were very surprised
to find 10 or so cars there in front of us. Many guides were out
and we walked in just behind George Hurley and his partner. They
were headed down to the same area as us, Welcome to the Machine
and The Coffin.
The major changes in the Amphitheater was a welcome
sight after the weeks following the last rain. Ice was on everything
like Bob's, Chia and Pegasus already had climbers on them. Walking
past Waterfall, large parts of which was still in the tracks, it
actually looked climbable for the first time in weeks. Standard
Left and Standard in general were in excellent shape and the Penguin
looked positively phat. I was pleased to see how well Dropline
had returned. I'd heard it had been done on the weekend by Jim
Ewing and friends, in absolutely brutal conditions. I want to give
it another go this season, but I think I'll wait for warmer and
more plastic times. We hiked up by Dracula and it was in superb
shape. Both sides looked good and the center looked good too.
was happy to see that George and partner were going to do Coffin
instead of Machine. I had tried Machine several weeks ago before
the 2nd rain, but it was mushy and very difficult to protect so
I backed off. This time it looked solid. In addition I had spoken
to someone who had done it over the weekend and they said it was
fine, but to "enjoy the traverse." Whatever that was!
Hmmm... I had also done the climb, again with Mason, in 2000 when
it was in what was probably 4/4- conditions. Frankly it didn't
look any harder, at least from the ground.
I racked up with an
assortment of gear including 13 ice screws plus 14 slings and screamers.
For a single pitch climb I figured
that would be quite enough. George headed off on Coffin with his
standard 6 ice screws. I felt like I was weighted down with led
compared to him! By the time I was past the initial bulge I realized
that the climb was in far more interesting shape than 3 years previous.
In spite of the moderate temps, the ice was far more brittle and
there were none of the hook placements that I'd found before. In
addition what always looks like moderate angle climbing up to the
ice curtains near the top, was closer to 85 degrees and very in
your face. The ice was quite featured and somewhat difficult to
protect. There was something about the quality of it that was such
that in many cases as you turned the screw, it hollowed out the
hole and the threads wouldn't get a grip. It was very annoying
and made getting protection more tiring than normal.
As usual I
try and mentally break a climb like this up into smaller chunks.
Get up to the start of the "lower angle stuff." Get
in pro and get up to the top of what I now realize is steep ice
below the first curtain. Get over the first curtain. Get over the
second curtain. Rest wherever you can. Breathe...
By the time I
got to the first curtain I'd come to the realization that the climb
was much harder than before. OK, no problem there.
I'm a better climber than I was 3 years ago. <grin> I'd expected
that I would be able to get a no-hands rest at the base of the
first curtain, but the ice was somewhat beat up and the place where
I'd expected to get a stance on the right was thinner than I had
figured on. So, I placed a couple of reasonable screws, and worked
my way into position. That was when I realized that this was going
to require actually pulling over the overhang, stemming wide and
pulling up into beneath another overhanging curtain. Oh my. Somewhere
around this time I also realized that I was running out of screws.
That's right, I'd already placed 9 screws in 2/3 of the climb.
I would normally belay my partner from just above the second curtain
so I could see them, but I knew that this time it probably wasn't
going to be an option. I hoped that the final portion was in it's
usual easy (grade 2) conditions. Let's hope...
Pulling over the
first curtain was actually not as physically difficult as I expected,
once I found the key to the body placement. Lean
left, foot out right on thin ice, left foot under the overhang,
right foot under & up, left out, good sticks and pull. I excitedly
called down to Mason from the stance that it was an amazing move.
At last I found my no-hands stance under the next curtain and I
was happy to shake out and relax for a minute. I've been exclusively
climbing leashless this season, and this was the hardest climb
I'd done with them so far. This time I was using the Ergo's. I
must say that I really liked how they were working and frankly
I never found myself getting any more pumped than with my Vipers
or Cobras. In addition there were several times when it was great
to be able to swap hands with my tools as I was moving back & forth.
That's something that is close to impossible with leashes.
peered over from the finishing moves of Coffin and reminded me
that I should belay from just above, so I could observe Mason.
I told him of my predicament and he agreed that that wasn't an
option. What a rare treat to be able to chat with a friend on the
next climb like that. The final moves were a bit physically harder
than the first curtain. I did get in a very good screw and fortunately
there were a couple of hooks at the start where I was working my
feet up under me that were very helpful. Zip, zip - I was up and
over and staring at the wonderful easy exit and my last 10 cm screw.
How sweet it is. I brought up Mason and he agreed that it was in
harder conditions than our previous time and that it is a truly
superb bit of ice.
Mason wanted to do Coffin, so we walked quickly
around past the Hanging Garden and back to the base of the climb.
He followed in
George's pick holes up the left start and up tot eh tree belay.
It's actually a very fun little start. Mason made short work of
the climb. It was in easy 4 conditions and quite fat. Unlike when
I'd done it, there was actually ice at the very top and the turf
was frozen, making for much more pleasant exit moves. we quickly
zipped around & rapped down a deserted Dracula in the twilight.
We made it to the truck just before it turned completely dark.
All in all a great day of climbing fun routes with a good friend
that I see too little of. It doesn't get a lot better than this.
Here are a couple of pix -
Mason on P 1 of Coffin
Mason on P 2 of Coffin
I got an email from a friend on Sunday nite that he and some buddies
were at the Hanging Garden on Sunday and that a column had come
off and injured one of
them. Fortunately the injuries weren't serious, but they very well could have
been. I'm supplying this account because we all can learn something from a near
miss like this. Frankly it made me think a lot about the recent conditions, and
the protection we all use and trust. People sent me their info and observations.
I paraphrased it a little, but here's pretty much how it went down...
First by belayer, Jay Briscoe - Mike, the leader,
was climbing the far left column in the Garden that was barely
touching down. He climbed the thin ice behind the
column and placed a stubby and a cam in the rock and stemmed out on the ice,
placing a screw at the base of the column where it meet the rock. Then he swung
out onto the face and began climbing up. After about a half a body-length he
hit the ice with his pick and it came crashing down with no warning. It appeared
more stable then the ice to the right that had just been climbed. There was
a two part yank on the belayer. First the rope broke his fall and
then the ice
caught as well, pulling me about four feet in the air. The ice hit the ledge
below and tilted over onto Mike. It happened very fast, with no warning...no
cracking...no funny movement or vibrations.
Next from Dave Karl who was right
there - I thought Mike was going to have more injuries then he
sustained. Broken ankles and blown knees would have been
for sure if I had taken that fall, but Mike's a sturdy dude and he just bounced!
It was a very big piece of ice. He fell about 15 feet onto a hard surface,
and the ice did a tango with him while it was clipped to his rope pulling him
Getting sucked to the screw in the block as it slid down the slope was the
cause of additional discomfort, and it could have caused additional injury.
his belayer, had stopped the fall, but was now holding them both in what amounted
to a counter-balance rappel. Any slack that Jay gave to the system caused Mike
and the block to travel further down the slope together. Meanwhile all of this
load was suspended on a single small cam!
I held his head and neck while others ran over and tried to stabilize the block
and get it off of him. Doug Madara was excellent as usual and ended up taking
the lead of the block team. With 3 people they finally managed to get the block
still. Only then could Jay pay out some slack to allow us to take load off
the belay rope and unclip the block. Doug then cleared his leg injury while
his neck and back. Mike borrowed my poles for his limp out and they looked
quite helpful for him! The right knee appeared to be his biggest injury. (Apparently
he is OK with no permanent injury.)
What if...do anything different? Below the Cam
there was a 90% deep 10 cm screw on a load limiter in a good thin
ice smear. The gear was rigged pretty well,
but it might have been better to equalize both pieces and load limit the
pair. Either way, he was definitely smart to leave the other rope
to the screw which was placed on the dagger itself. The bottom line is that
he got good gear and it ultimately held! If the cam and the screw below were
have failed, he would was in for a ride. From the ground I would not have
guessed that the cam would have held what it did. Worst case he
could have gone down
all the way to the tracks, with Jay who was not anchored, in tow. In fact,
that is where the block and screw went when they were unclipped!
For me an
accident also provides some interesting thinking, and hopefully
I learn something. It was -20 F for a few days in a row, and it had been
Ice was brittle. I preferred to pick lines that have more of a safety net
beneath me. Many off the deck test pieces are really serious, but not all.
hanging garden route Reasonable is quite hard but in it's "conceived
was not likely to have allowed a leader ground fall. Leaders still have to
hang in there to place the gear, but there is plenty of it on this one if
up to the challenge. In addition when you are really in the meat of the crux
you are quite a bit higher. Height off the ground can often add some safety
to a route. Nothing stops you like the deck! If you ARE really going to go
think hard about the consequences of putting gear in stuff that could come
As a belayer, being able to move around below
a thing like that really adds to your safety but...? Maybe a ridiculously
long and loose anchor tied
closest solid anchor (tree?) is not a bad idea when you are even on a moderate
slope? In more plastic conditions would it have been the same scenario?
Probably not, he would have styled right up it! Pick your days
for that stuff. It
was cold and brittle.
Thanks to Jay Briscoe for the picture of the
gear & the
Needless to say we're all really happy that there wasn't a tragedy that
day. Mike was smart, and lucky, and we're all happy that he's OK.
George Hurly is giving a slideshow on Friday, January 16, at 7
PM. The topic is "Adventure Climbing From 1958-2004." Location
is the White Mountain School in Bethlehem, NH at 371 West Farm
There are new routes going up everywhere you look. Here are another
bunch in the immediate vicinity that I just found out about.
Keep those cards
and letters....boys & girls!
Militant", WI 4, 55m. FA Jon Sykes, Larry
Boehmier, Jamie Cunningham 12-27-03. About 150' right of The Pilgrimage
on the side of Mt. Webster.
Sykes Photo: Jamie Cunningham.
"The Power of
Ethan Pond", WI 4, 2 50-60m pitches. FA Jon Sykes & Jamie
Cunningham 12-20-03. Located above Ethan Pond on the back side of
Take Ethan Pond trail to Ethan Pond Shelter. Follow orange flagging
to base of cliff. P
of EP is the first climb you come to when you emerge from the woods.
Climber: Jon Sykes Photos: Jamie Cunningham.
of the Peaceful Warrior" FA Jim Ewing and partners. Not
sure on the grade but I would say the ice portion was not very
hard but was a solid X 32m.
The rock portion felt maybe around 5.10 (M6-drytooled the whole
thing) but solid R 35m. Roughly 3.5 hours were required to lead
it in one continuous pitch. It
follows a line roughly parallel to a rock route called "Romantic
to the left of "Bragg Pheasant". It joins "Romantic
the top. It may have been possible to keep the line completely
separate but the crack system I was following widened and I did
not have any large cams left.
Last week we mentioned a new climb
in the DAKS called Fecalator,
climbed by Chris Thomas. What an amazing little climb. Chris
was nice enough
to send me
of pix, so here they are -
Chris on the route
There is so much going on with new routes that
I can't get it all in this week. Stay tuned...
Up on one of the Mount Washington Valley's finest crags and want to know what that climb you're looking at is? Or maybe you're on your way up from Boston and want to check out the Ice Report for your upcoming weekend plans. Or more likely, you're at work just want to daydream about your next adventure. Well if you have a smart phone handy, you can get to NEClimbs from anywhere you have cell service. While it doesn't offer every single feature of the site and it's not an "app", in mobile form, it does do a whole lot and is very useful. Here is the live link to the mobile version of NEClimbs:
Check it out and if you have issues on your specific phone, please feel free to let me know.
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Have fun and climb safe,
The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire
|If you can bang a pin in with your ice axe without anyone yelling at you and you packed the whiskey 'cause it is the only thing that won't freeze, you're probably alpine climbing.|