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February 21, 2008
It's very common to have a client, especially one who's a new ice climber, drive their ice tool so hard that pick gets so stuck in the ice that they can't get it out. I've seen it take someone 5 minutes of pulling, yarding, pounding and hauling on the axe before it finally comes out. Just like removing a precisely fitted stopper from a crack, often the best way to get it out, is by removing it in the same way it went in. Very often a tap on the butt-ent of the head will lift the tool just enough that it will slot out. Of course that can be just a bit unnerving to do when you are on a steep pillar and climbing leashless.
I generally don't swing the tools all that hard, so this rarely happens to me. However that wasn't the case a week ago. I was working on the Friday of Ice Fest and had a very strong couple for the day. We headed over to the Frankenstein Amphitheater and were very surprised to find absolutely no one there at 9 AM! We slogged up to Pegasus and I led it up in 2 pitches, just so I could see them better as they climbed. We walked off around Chia and were hoping to get on Hobbit, however when we got back fellow guide Art Mooney had already hopped on it. DRAT! Chia was looking very good so I decided we would give that a shot, even tho I figured that the top-out would be a little thin.
I climbed the ramp, starting on the left site. It was nice as usual and I placed a good amount of gear, making sure that the seconds would be amply protected. This is always a consideration when making any kind of traverse on rock or ice. At about the 2/3 point there is a place where the ice on Chia always thins out a little, so I decided to go straight up to the bigger curtain left of the ramp finish. As I said, the clients were quite strong so I figured the direct would be good for them and up I went. There was a bit of a groove in the face so I stayed in that area because it was steeper and because I love stemming. Screw at the bottom, screw at 10' - sweet. Halfway up I swung my left tool into a small hole where it was very solid, set the right tool up a little higher and ran in another solid screw. When I went to take out the left tool it was stuck. Classic...it has gone in straight, but there wasn't enough clearance to lever the head up and down to get it out. I pounded carefully on the bottom of the hammer, I pulled on the head, I wobbled, I lifted, I chopped. S**T. That puppy just wasn't going anywhere. This was going to take both hands. Totally embaressing, let me tell you. Nothing left left to do but to get into a position where I could hang on something. Years ago I had seen a friend climb a very steep pillar in Canada. He got pumped out and needed to hang, but he couldn't get a screw in, so he clipped into his tools. My screw was too low to hang on, so I figured that his trick should work and I reset the right tool very solidly directly above me. Like some other tools, my new Cobras have a hole in the point at the bottom of the shaft that is designed to take a carabiner. So I clipped a sling onto my belay loop and the other end on the tool. I had the belayer take out the slack in the system. Now I could rest on the upper tool and the screw at my waist made me feel really secure. One good pull with both hands on the stuck tool and it came out. WHEW. That took way too much energy. Ice climbing is all about conservation of energy and dealing with this kind of thing really uses up huge amounts of that limited commodity. I reset the left tool a little higher and took minute of rest to shake out. I had the belayer give me some slack and I removed the sling from the tool and finished the last 20' of the climb. I put in a solid screw just before the top out and it was thin just as I'd figured. No real problem, just annoying. But not nearly as annoying as that stuck ice axe.
The thing with climbing is that you never know what's going to happen or when. You just have to be prepared to deal with whatever hand the Climbing Gods deal you and the better prepared you are to figure out how to resolve any given issue, the better the outcome. In 15 years of climbing I'd never had an axe that was stuck so bad I couldn't get it out before now. The technique of clipping into the tool was one I hadn't used previously, but worked very well. I'm sure lots of folks have used it, but for whatever reasons I hadn't. It's a nice one to have in that bag of tricks that every climber should carry with them.
There seems to be a lot of talk on the forum lately regarding a couple of accidents centering around some ropes which have center markings AND markings near the ends. These additional markings are there for at least 3 reasons:
1) to indicate to the belayer when the leader is nearing the end of the rope and should be thinking about finding a belay;
2) to indicate a belayer who is lowering a leader that the end of the rope is near;
3) to indicate to a person who is rappeling how close they are to the end of the rope.
All of these are a good thing. However, apparently there have been at least 2 incidents in this area over the past couple of months where a person rappeling on a rope with these marking has thought that the END marking was in fact a CENTER mark. One was a serious accident at Walk In The Forest and the other was a near-miss at the Flume. I won't debate whether or not these incidents took place due to "pilot error" or not. I just think it is worth pointing out that incidents have occurred and that you should be aware that ropes with more than simply center marking are out there in the market. You may not own one yourself, but you may climb with someone who has one. BE AWARE!
I put together a couple of rappeling tips that I posted on the NEClimbs forum that I figure may be useful to note here:
1) When you lower a rope that you plan to rappel from DO NOT trust any center marking, whether it's your rope or not. The rope may have been cut and the center marking may no longer be correct, or it may NEVER have been correct.
2) Take both ends in your hands and feed BOTH ends together. That way you have a BETTER CHANCE of finding the actual center of the rope.
3) THINK about how many arm lengths of rope it takes to be at the middle. If you only feed out 8 lengths and you come to a mark, it should be obvious that you are NOT AT THE MIDDLE.
4) If there are other people on the ground don't hesitate to ASK if both ends are down.
5) As you lower out when rappelng LOOK DOWN. Looking anywhere other than down is dangerous (and makes no sense to me).
6) If you don't know how long the rappel is, or it is dark, or if you are AT ALL concerned, TIE KNOTS in the ends of EACH rope separately. Getting the rope stuck, the most common argument for not tying knots in a rope, is obviously not as bad as rappelling off the end of a rope!
7) Use a sling to extend your rappel device. It gives you a lot better control over your rappel that rappeling off your harness and you can come to a stop much easier.
It is important to note that none of these suggestions will make the process failsafe. remember - climbing is all about personal responsibility. It is up to you to check and recheck your systems, come up with a process that works and make it something that you do every single time.
I got an email from master guide and fantastic climber Kevin a couple of days ago. Here's what he had to say:
I just completed another ground up trad mixed line at the lake yesterday. I climbed it with Greg Benner. We named it Lake Effect M7+ WI6 120m due to the likely hood that the line was most likely formed from the snow melt freeze cycle but it was so thin that you had to climb it during a cold overcast day. The route is four pitches long and super stellar. This rain will likely ruin it but it may come back if the temps get cold fast. It has two killer mixed pitches with the second being one of the best I have ever lead, solid hooks and torques, hand and fist jams and thin ice. The only pitch that didn't have good gear was the third pitch that required tapping into de-laminated thin ice for the first 20 feet then some cams to pull the last over lap. the last pitch was WI4 to the trees. It is located 300ft to the right of Called look for obvious cracks and flakes up a black and tan buttress.
He sent a picture of the second on the route and a topo.
Lake Effect topo
Greg on Pitch 2
Looks like there are some nice new stuff going on up there. BIG KUDOS to Kevin & Greg.
A few additional pics from Thursday morning:
PS - It's only one month before the start of Spring. Get out there and CLIMB!
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:
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Have fun and climb safe,
The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire
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