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February 22, 2007

Hi Folks,

When was the last time you took a friend who is a rank beginner out climbing? I do it every once in a while on rock & ice. Someone I meet finds out that I am a climber. They ask me a ton of questions about what it's like, of course I gush about just how totally cool it is, and the next thing I know they're begging me to take them up Thin Air on Cathedral or Standard Route at Frankenstein. You're all excited about sharing your favorite experience, or maybe you think that this will be a great first date, so you say OK. Inevitably everything goes all right at first. You get to the bong belay on Thin Air and bring them up that easy face, or they step their way the well used slab into the Cave on Standard. You look at their face all flushed with excitement and think "YEAH, this is going to be a great day."

Those of us who climb a lot, even guides, often forget what it's like to be a first time beginner. When did you start climbing - 5 years ago, 10, more? The nervous feelings you had the first time or two (or more) that you went out with your buddy, girl or boy friend, daddy or even a guide have long faded into the past. You've climbed Beginner's Route, Standard Route on Whitehorse, Thin Air, Cinema Gully, Standard at Frankenstein or many other routes dozens of times. Maybe you're even soloed some of them. Your comfort level on all of these routes is high, even with 60' runouts on the Whitehorse slabs, and you relish the exposure. Couple that with the fact that you probably want to show off (come on - just a little) for your beginner friend, and you may just forget that what is easy for you just might not be so easy for them.

If nothing else the numbers game is just too easy to play. "Hey, it's ONLY a 5.7 or Grade III", is a refrain I've heard way too many times. Especially when it's prefaced with the word "Honey". I don't even want to count the number of times I've seen a couple out climbing where it's obviously one or the other's first climb and they are wigging on the crux of Standard on Whitehorse or they can't make the swing and step out left from the Cave on Standard at Frankenstein.

I was talking with Brad White (co-owner of IMCS) about this the other day. As a guide it's always our responsibility to assess our client's skills to figure out what they can and can't do. Very often clients, and friends have agendas that may or may not be realistic. Just because a client says that they want to climb Dracula, doesn't mean that they can manage it. Along the same lines, just because your boyfriend says that they want to climb The Saigons, doesn't mean that they can.

I have a still-vivid memory of a good friend who came up from Boston to visit my wife and me about 7 years ago. He was interested in climbing so we took him out on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and climbed up to Lunch Ledge on Standard on Whitehorse. He had such a good time that he immediately went down to IME that afternoon and bought shoes and a harness. He spent hours that night looking through the guidebook and that morning announced that he wanted to climb The Saigons on Cathedral. I was skeptical, but he was insistent so off we went on Sunday morning. After I led the first pitch and set up the belay, he started up. He had the normal problem at the first bolt, but managed it OK. However by the halfway point the noises he was making were not promising. Frankly I didn't think that he was going to manage it.

Somehow he got up to the belay and before I could stop him he had climbed over left and huddled behind the big flake. His eyes were the size or saucers and his breathing sounded like a steam locomotive. I started to worry that he was going to have a heart attack or pass out from hyperventilation. I had to bring Alyssa up to help get him over to the anchor so I could lower him. This was a guy who had led me on a wild 15 mile mountain bike ride on Friday, through streams and over wicked drops. The deal was that the climb on the slabs the day before didn't prepare him for sheer vertical exposure of Cathedral.

While one could argue that he pushed me into trying a climb that was over his head, It was up to me to be insistent on climbing something that was more appropriate. Probably an afternoon top-roping on Kiddy Crack or Child's Play at the North End would have been a better choice. It most certainly would have been a better choice since he never tried climbing again!

So, remember the next time your total beginner friend wants you to lead them across the Thin Air traverse or up Standard at Frankenstein, that friend deserves the same beginning instruction that (hopefully) you had. That way they might become a valued long term partner, instead of a ex-mate!

And YES, I do remember how my 7 year old wigged on the first pitch of Beginner's Route last summer after he'd done it 3 times before.
Word To The Wise:
I guided on Saturday, an absolutely beautiful day. There were tons of people at Frankenstein, and in spite of that Cave Route was available when my client and I arrived at the trestle. We entered on the near side of the trestle, hiked up to where the trail went across and walked through some moderate snow. Just as we arrived there a second party came up, trudging up the hill from Bob's and directly under Widow's Walk. About 45 minutes later a second party followed the first's trail, directly under the huge dripping fangs in mid-30 degree temps.

I'm pretty certain I have mentioned this before, but there is a reason why it's named Widow's Walk. While no one has been killed from the falling ice, there have been some near misses. On sunny days like Saturday or Sunday it's almost a given that stuff is gong to come down. I will be the first to admit that, unbelievably, nothing came down in the 4 hours that we were there. Still, it's like playing Russian Roulette. I have personally been on Cave Route and seen the entire right side of the Widow's Walk curtain come down on a not-all-that sunny day, sending tons of ice crashing down the hill all the way to the trestle. I guess I'm just a big weenie, but I don't walk under there.

Of's your call.

Legislators Propose Electronic Signaling Devices in OR:
(From Access Fund release) Following hi-drama rescue efforts this winter on Oregon’s Mt. Hood, electronic signaling devices (ESDs) have been touted by the media as key to saving lives. Responding to these recent events, the Oregon governor recently issued an executive order establishing a Search and Rescue Task Force to review Oregon laws, rules and policies pertaining to search and rescue operations and to recommend contemporary best practices for search and rescue operations. Now, a new bill in the Oregon state legislature (HB 2509) would require the use of ESDs by any individual or group engaging in mountain climbing above timberline during a five-month period in the winter.

Carbon CO2alition - NH Climate Change Resolution:
Next month, New Hampshire citizens will have an opportunity to address the NH Climate Change Resolution at Town Meetings across the state. Thanks to well over 200 volunteers, the resolution is on the warrants in 180 towns, and these towns have a combined population of 785,000 people.

We’re asking you to help get the word out before town meetings March 13.

We’ve designed a small website to answer questions, share NH news clippings, and provide fact sheets. Please share this website with employees, colleagues and others.

Questions? Contact:

Roger Stephenson
Project director
603 422 6464 ext 104

P.S. More than thirty businesses, associations and organizations have endorsed the resolution, and you can find this growing list on the website above.

Beth Rodden and Tommy Caldwell Show - March 2nd Amherst, MA:
On Friday March 2nd at Amherst College Beth and Tommy will do a slide show as part of the 5 College Outdoor Festival. On Sat the 3rd Nick and Heather Sagar will do a climbing movement clinic. There will be a climbing fun comp, kayaking in the pool, indoor bike racing and the Teluride Film Festival. Lots of great raffle gifts with the proceeds going to the Western MA Climbers Coalition Farley land acquisition project. More info:

Ed Webster Slide Show - Mar 02, 2007 - 7PM:
Maine Sport Outfitters is sponsoring and hosting a slide show and talk detailing Webster's landmark Mt. Everest climb and subject of his book: "Snow in the Kingdom, My Storm Years on Everest." Tickets: $8 adults; $5 students available at Maine Sport or at the door. For more info call 207-236-7120

Mobile Version Of NEClimbs:
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.

NEClimbs & White Mountain Report On Facebook:
Join us and LIKE us on Facebook. I'll try and post interesting pix every Thursday and the latest Ice Report in the season, tho certainly not the whole Report. Here's where you can check it out:

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

Al Hospers
The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire

This is a group of people I used to go walking with. (long pause) That's me on the left. (even longer pause) On the right is the woman I married, Audrey. (very long pause, speaker looks at shoes) Which just goes to show that danger lurks where you least expect it.
Don Whillans commenting on a B&W slide showing a group of smiling hikers
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