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June 19, 2008
As you may know, every year I volunteer to help the New Hampshire Audubon and Fish and Game counting and banding Peregrines in the Valley. I have done it at both Cathedral Ledge and the Painted Walls, over off the Kanc. This year the nesting pair at Cathedral didn't reproduce, but the ones at the Painted Walls did. Last Friday Audubon biologist Chris Martin and I headed over to tag whatever birds were in the nest. Last year we were a week or 10 days late doing our banding trip. As I rapped down to the ledge the only bird left in the nest decided to make their first flight so we didn't manage any banding. We both hoped that this year would be different.
Chris and I met up at the Albany Covered Bridge at 9 AM. For the first time we were going to do it with just the two of us. Usually we have a couple of folks along as support and for the fun. One time we even had a television crew! But this time I couldn't find anyone who was available when we wanted to go, so we figured it would be OK. That said I did tell my wife that if I didn't call by around 4PM she should send out the calvary. The hike-in is a bit over 3 miles and there is no cell service off the Kanc so it just seemed prudent...
We've done this hike at least 5 times and every time we end up wandering around a bit in the woods because you really can't see anything. This year was different in that we managed to go right to the area of the cliff where there is a tree covered ramp that takes you up to the upper level. This is a bit left of the Way In The Wilderness ice climb corner. The view of Rainbow Slabs from the top of the ramp is very nice. There is a very old metal rod sticking up out of a slab that I always wonder what it was there for.
So from there it's still about a 45 minute thrash back right through blow-down and boulder fields to the top of Way In The Wilderness. Traversing over that and 10 more minutes of bushwhacking takes you to a group of trees that's directly above the ledge where the birds usually nest. The parent birds now know we are here and are crying and flying overhead.
I have a cluster of trees that I always use to rap from so I set up the rap rope using a tensionless anchor. A single 60 meter rope will suffice to get to an intermediate ledge and then all the way down to the nesting ledge. Several years ago they nested about 150' left in a particularly chossy area. It was a very dangerous place to rap into, but this ledge is actually pretty reasonable. As usual I go first after making sure that Chris has everything he needs and is set up to rappel safely. We always use an extension sling on our rappel devices and a backup of some sort just to be sure. It's especially important when we are out there on our own. Chris has been doing this a lot, but he's not a climber so I make sure that everything is correct. I really don't want to have a problem, on either of our sides!
I rap the dirt covered slab to a group of trees that's about 40' above the nest ledge where I set up a secondary anchor and call for Chris to come on down. While he is rapping I tie a second cordalette to one of the trees, attach the rope to that anchor and lower the remaining rope carefully over the steep corner climber's-left of the birds. I can't see them, but I've done this so many times I know exactly where they are. I do this so that there is less rope-stretch both while I'm rapping and jugging out. Oh, did I mention that you can't climb out of this area, you have to jug out with ascenders. It adds another dimension to the whole thing. And of course by this time the mother is really upset and is starting to make some close fly-by's!
When Chris gets down to me he clips in to my first anchor. I am already set up on rappel and I get him set so that he is on rappel past the tied off rope. Then I start down the 40' corner to where the chicks are. As I go over the lip I can see the ledge and note that there is about 15' or rope past the ledge - not a lot. I'm glad I put a knot in the end. I can also see that there is at least one chick huddled back against the ledge. As I touch down I can tell that there are at least 3, maybe 4 chicks and I call that information up to Chris.
2 of the chicks
I set up an anchor on some good sized bushes on the right side of the ledge, tie off the rope to the anchor and anchor myself in. Then I call off rappel to Chris and look around. Two chicks are huddled together in the middle of the ledge and a third is on the left. What I thought was possibly a fourth was actually a clump of old feathers. I call up to Chris with my reassessment and he's disappointed. To him of course the more the better. He starts his rappel and I hold onto the rope, keeping him on a fireman's belay.
Chris, coming down the corner
Chris on the ledge
This process and the jug out are the most dangerous parts of the trip. If there is any problem we will be trapped on this ledge in the middle of the cliff, with no way of communicating with anyone else. Although we can see the road and occasionally hear cars and people at the scenic area on the river, it is highly unlikely that anyone could hear us calling for help!
Once Chris is safely down I tie the rope he is on to the anchor. He is still officially on rappel and this gives him some additional flexibility to move around on the ledge. Amazingly all through this process the chicks don't let out a peep. The mother, on the other hand, is quite upset and starts dive-bombing us. Fortunately with the bushes and ledge she can't get too close. However 8' is plenty close to my mind.
momma comes by again
Looking at the two chicks I notice an unhatched egg next to them as well as pieces of some recently eaten prey. Chris gathers up this and other stuff to take back and examine in the lab.
remains of a tasty raptor meal
an old egg & some stuff
Chris gets out his tools and we start the banding process. Each bird gets 2 bands. The female has larger legs so there is a separate band for males and females. I hold the chick while Chris attaches the band. As each one is completed I put the chick up against the back of the ledge where they rock back on their heels and show their talons. Finally they make some noise.
tools of the trade
2 banded chicks
Once we are all done Chris jugs out first and I follow. Having the rope tied off to the intermediate tree makes for a lot less rope stretch and makes it a lot easier. I make a note to do it that way again next year. At the intermediate ledge I realize that I've left my pair of old work gloves on the ledge below. DARN! Well I'm not going back to get them so Chris continues back up to the top and I follow. This is not really jugging, just using the ascenders to help us move safely up the chossy slab. We pack up quickly and pause for just a minute to get a drink and savor our success. We traverse over to our left to the rap station on Way In The Wilderness. We did this last year and by rapping from here we knock about 45 minutes off our hike out.
rapping Way In The Wilderness
I've climbed Way In The Wilderness several times and it's neat to see it in the summer. It looks quite a bit different. As I rap down I spot a couple of old pins way right of the ice climb, likely from an early rock ascent. By the time we get down and packed up it's right at 3 PM so we're going to have to hoof-it to be out so I can call my wife by 4. It will be highly embarrassing if she actually calls for a rescue for me! Fortunately we don't get sidetracked, hit the main trail at 3:30 and are at my truck 15 minutes later. I high-tail-it down Passaconaway Road until I get cell service and call home. Turns out she was gonna give us an extra 45 minute buffer anyway...go figure.
Thanks again to Chris Martin and NH Audubon for their efforts. This was a successful trip and once again I've enjoyed the company and experience. I hope I have the opportunity to do it next year. These are truly amazing birds and I'm happy that I can help in this process.
Kirsten Kremer is doing her slideshow "Gettin' After It - 1st ascents in Alaska & Patagonia". The show will be at IME Iin North Conway at 7 PM. Admission is $5. There will also be an Apres Climb Party from 4-6. For more information call 603-356-7013.
The blackfly population has seemingly dropped off quite a bit in most places right now, while the mosquitoes are still cranking along. I haven't seen nearly as many ticks as I did in the early Spring.
Bear and the Honeydrippers blues band will be at the Wildcat Tavern in Jackson on Friday & Saturday night this weekend. This is a classic guitar, bass, drum and harp quartet playing great dance music. Bear is an outstanding singer and harmonica player in the style of Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite. If you like the blues check it out. The music starts at 8:30.
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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