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March 15, 2007
While the temps are very warm here right now but it most certainly hasn't been that way all this winter. I don't think it was as cold, or quite as windy, as it was 2 winters ago but it has been plenty cold - that's for sure. Living up here it is easy to get a little casual about it, but that's asking for a problem. Locals have a tendency to do stuff like run down to the North End to swing the tools a bit at lunch, wearing leather boots & a couple of layers of fleece instead of the full-on winter clothing that would be warranted if they were going up to Frankenstein or to the Ravines. Of course the rational is that they can be back down in the truck in 5 minutes if they start to get cold. That's not always the case tho...
I worked Thursday and Friday. Thursday was supposed to be quite cold, zero or below and windy, so we planned to stay over at Cathedral Ledge for the day. When we met at 7:30 the temperature was around zero and the breeze still light. After a big breakfast we headed out. We both had on plenty of layers, warm boots and had both packed our puffy jackets so I felt all would be good. And hey, I can see my house from the top of the cliff! How bad can things get?
Although we'd been able to drive all the way to the North End all season, the road looked pretty snowy so we parked in the development & hiked down. The snowmobiles had packed it down and it was a nice warm up. We had climbed before so we ran up the slab to get him tuned up. That went well and we rappeled down for practice. Next up was the little mixed corner and Thresher. I broke it up into 2 pitches, and again both went well. It was very pleasant up in the trees at the top, but I could hear the wind starting to pick up. Again we rapped down. This time it was a lot colder down at the bottom. The wind was starting to moan and the air temperature had even dropped a little.
One of the things that I always do when outside in the winter is to carry plenty of snacks. I never want to actually stop to eat so I always have a zip-loc bag of trail mix with added pepperoni and chocolate covered espresso beans in my pocket plus a couple of bars warming up in my inner jacket pocket. I'm always popping something from one of those in my mouth. In fact I am pretty much constantly eating when I'm outside in the winter. It's part of my ritual. As always I kept asking the client if he was eating and he said he was. I wasn't seeing it happen, but I had to assume that he actually was doing it. I was also drinking a lot from my insulated Nalgene bottle. My normal winter drink is a mix of hot apple cider and Gatorade - very tasty. I easily can go through a liter or more of this stuff a day. If I keep the container inside my pack it will stay warm most of the day. I saw that he was drinking, at least occasionally.
By now it's a little after noon. The plan is to hike along the cliff and up the hill past Thin Air to Goofer's. Although it's definitely cold, I figure that the hike will warm us up and we would be staying out of the wind. By the time we were at the Cathedral Cave I had certainly warmed up. He looked like he was doing fine and every time I asked he said he was warm. So far so good. We dipped down under the Mordor and stood at the start of the hill up to Thin Air for a minute. Again I asked if he had been eating and he said yes and that his feet and hands were warm and he felt OK, so up the hill we went. There were boot-steps all the way up to the base of Goofer's, making for a really moderate hike. I got there before him and had a look at the climb. It was thin at the bottom, just as it had been the previous week when I'd done it, and the top still looked great.
He trudged up to my stance and I set up a belay for him on a little tree to the left that I'd used before. It would give him a good view of the climb and was close enough to the start that he wouldn't need to simul-move as I've seen happen when people belay from the Saigon belay tree 40' lower. I asked him how he's doing and he said OK but a little tired, so I made my normal "daddy comment" about eating something. I flaked the rope while he tied in and got settled. I checked his knots, tied in myself and got all set to go. When I turned around to suggest that he put on his belay jacket and was surprised to see that he was shivering. I walked over beside him and asked him what was up. He said that all of a sudden he just felt cold. He was starting to slur a little and I immediately knew that we our climbing day was over. I got out his puffy jacket from his pack, put it on him, gave him a bar to eat but he was unable to stop shivering. I asked what he had been eating and he told me he'd had a couple of gels. I got my cider out and had him drink the warm liquid, but it didn't help much.
This was obviously not good. He was all set to go into hypothermia and I knew that things could easily go downhill very quickly. It wasn't lost on me that all this taking place in a location where I could quite literally SEE my back yard! I quickly packed everything up, put the rope and all the gear into my pack, took off his crampons, gave him my hiking pole and levered him up for the walk downhill. It was a slow walk down the hill, but we made it down the trail to the road without any major problems. By this time he had warmed up a little bit but was still cold so we headed back to my truck. I started it up, put the heater on high and bundled him inside - down jacket and all. By the time I had finished with the gear and packs, he had warmed up a bit. I had some more cider in the truck in a thermos and I get him to drink some, it helps a bit. I drive him back to his B&B. By this time he seemed pretty normal so I gave him strict instructions to rest and stay warm. I also insisted that he get a half dozen bars for the next day and that he needs to eat at least one an hour.
I spent the remainder of the day going over all the details of the day's activities. I replay in my mind everything that took place and realized that he had probably only eaten a couple of gels from 8:30 until 2:00, when we got up to Goofer's. I also couldn't remember seeing him drinking very much over that period. This is contrasted with me eating more than half of a full zip-loc bag of my mix and half a Nalgene bottle of liquid. Thus when we got up to the base of Goofer's, I was all warmed up but he was fully depleted, so when he sat down he bonked.
The thing that this episode brings up is just how little a margin for error you have in weather like that. If you aren't prepared you can get in trouble before you know it. Of course all this gets me to thinking worst case scenarios... Hey, if your kid gets off the bus 1/8th of a mile away from home (you live out in the country), walks home and then finds that they can't get in 'cause they forgot their key, there could be a very real problem. Especially if they are (in typical kid fashion) underdressed for a zero degree day and there aren't any neighbors at home to let them in.
Anyway, the client recovered that night and climbed well the next day. When we met in the morning he mentioned that he had thought that he would be able to "get by on his fat reserves!" Although he is kind of a big guy, in weather as cold as it had been and when you are expending a lot of energy you simply can't count on your reserves to get you by. You need to be "stoking the furnace" all the time. So he learned a big lesson and I realized that I have to be even more "daddy like" than I usually am. Oh and by the way, based on my musings afterward, I stuck my old sleeping bag in the back of the truck - just in case.
NEClimbs weather station has been back up for the past week. Turns out that after a power failure the weekend before, some esoteric settings got changed. Who knows... Still tooling up for a new server soon tho. Sorry for any inconvenience.
If you were climbing Hitchcock Gully last Saturday or Sunday & found a pair of ice tools, please let me know. They would have been in the snow behind the rappel tree at the top of the rock pitch. Reward is offered!
Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 7:00 p.m.
Clements Hall, Ivey Science Center
Climber / documentary film producer Rob Frost will be presenting two of his climbing films: UNCOMMON GROUND and HARVEST MOON Both films have toured with "The Best of Banff Mountain Film Festival." UNCOMMON GROUND was filmed over the course of two years and celebrates the variety of climbing in the northeastern US as seen through the region's most prolific climbers on incredible first ascents. HARVEST MOON documents a 2004 first ascent on the inhospitable 5,000 foot tall north face of Thalay Sagar (23,000 feet) in the Garwhal Himalaya of northern India near the headwaters of the holy Ganges River. Frost teamed up with a Swiss team that spent one month pushing a new route up one of the Himalayas most feared alpine big wall.
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
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