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February 26, 2004

Hi Folks,

Sometimes you can get yourself into situations without thinking about it. I've done this when hiking many times. I go out with a plan to turn back at a certain time or distance, and before I know it I'm further along that I'd expected and just better off just finishing the full hike. I do it on the mountain bike all the tiime. I did the same thing on Wednesday up in Huntington's Ravine. One minute I'm just playing around on the first pitch of Pinnacle, the next I'm topping out in the Alpine Garden.

I got a bit of a late start and left Pinkham at about 8:15. About 10 minutes up the trail I crossed paths with a young man headed rapidly in the other direction. He paused long enough to tell me that his name was Mike, he had soloed Pinnacle that morning, it was thin and if I stayed to the sides I "probably" wouldn't punch through. He was in a hurry because he had to make it back to school in time for his classes at Plymouth State. Needless to say I rolled all this over in my mind multiple times in the next couple of hours.

It was a beautiful morning in the Ravine. It was obvious that the only person up there that day was the young climber and I followed his tracks, and postholes, all the way up through the fan. I kept expecting to see someone behind me, but it never happened. There was some amount of ice in all the gullies. Damnation had snow from top to bottom and Central actually looked pretty good. Of course Pinnacle was hidden until I turned the corner around the buttress. I was a bit surprised when I saw it because of the picture my friend Tim had sent on Friday. That one made it look pretty fat, but to me it looked, shall we say, somewhat anemic. Couple that with the fact that as I cramponed up to the base of the climb I could hear water running under snow on the shield, and I was getting just a tiny bit antsy. I don't want you to think that I didn't have some plan in my mind to do the full climb, I most certainly did. Actually I wouldn't have gone all the way to the base of the route if I hadn't thought that I would actually climb it. That said there was a part of me that was fully prepared to back off if I thought it was too iffy.

At this time I say to myself, "Self... You can always back down if you don't like what you see." (FWIW I spend a lot of early-season time practicing that sort of thing.) So at the stroke of noon I start up. The very right side looked better from the standpoint of running water, or lack thereof, and I headed up there. It was my first climb of the season and the tools and crampons felt great. It was almost as if I hadn't skipped the past 8 months of rock season. I had also forgotten just how solid my Cobras feel in alpine conditions. Every swing was solid and sweet, except where it was thin and I hit the rock. <grimace>

As usual I don't look down past my feet when I'm climbing. The focus is totally on where I am going, not where I've been. So by the time I looked down at all I was 40' up. Where the corner ice ran out I stepped left into the main flow. Right about now I was just a bit concerned as I could see the water was rushing and bubbling an inch or two beneath the ice. Still, each stick and kick was solid and it just kept egging me onward until I was parallel to the belay. The ice started to run out and the snow pitch took over. There was a nice stance on the left so I took a breather. If there was any place I was going to back down from, this had to be it.

Another tidbit was that I didn't bring a rope or harness, so I would have to downclimb. Sometimes when I solo I will wear my harness, bring my 8mm rap line and a couple of screws and threads. This time I decided to do the light and fast thing and brought none of that. It allowed me to bring my big digital SLR instead. I'm not sure if that was the best trade off, but hey... I took a picture looking down, one looking up and then I decided to continue. Of course by now the bluebird skies had turned to solid grey so I hurried myself carefully along. Staying first on the left and then moving across to the right, I could hear the water below the snow crust. This was by far the most disconcerting part of the climbing.

When I reached the final ice section I decided to do the right-hand top out. 30' up I could see that the previous climber had done the same. Finally there was nice solid ice all the way to the pucker-brush. Whew, the climbing part was done. Now for the slog to the Alpine Garden. As usual this takes longer than expected, and the higher I got the colder and windier it became. I was definitely tired by now, and I was certainly not in the right outfit, so I hunkered down behind one of the big cairns, pulled on my Gortex jacket and took off my crampons. That helped a lot, as did some water & a peanut butter sandwich. As I took it out of it's grocery bag the wind caught the bag and tore it out of my hand and whipped it down into the gully. I'm sure it's not the first bit of trash up there, but I felt bad about it.

Looking around I realized that it looked almost like sunset. That made me more nervous than the climbing. I was well aware that not only had I been the only person in the ravine, I was most likely the only person on the Alpine Garden. I pulled my hiking poles out of my pack, slung the pack over my shoulders and headed left on the trail, following the cairns toward the Lion's Head Trail. The walking was a bit slippery in places but it went fast and before I knew it I was at the intersection with the summit trail. Where I had only seen the footprints of the other climber before, there were tons of footprints now and I felt a lot better. I celebrated with an apple.

At 1:30 I got to the rocks where I could get a good view of the Tuckerman's bowl. I was making good time so I decided to take a few shots. There was ice in on the headwall but it was pretty sporadic. While you probably could find a way up the ice to the lip, it didn't look appetizing to me. I think I'll give it another week. The winter trail wasn't open and the trail was pretty slippery so I took my time through the rocks. Still it didn't take very long and I was down to the main Tucks trail. 10 minutes later I was at the intersection with the Hunting Ravine trail. From the tracks it looked as if there were at least a few others that had gone up after me. By 3:30 I was back to the truck at Pinkham. Not my best time, a little over 7 hours car to car, but I'll take it for a first time out this season.

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Remember - climb hard, ride the steep stuff, stay safe and above all BE NICE,

Al Hospers
The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire

The rules of the game must be constantly updated to keep up with the expanding technology. Otherwise we overkill the classic climbs and delude ourselves into thinking we are better climbers than the pioneers.
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