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January 29, 2009
The more I climb, the more the likelihood that at some time I'm going to get my butt up on something that I just can't finish for one reason or another. Sometimes it's from just getting myself in over my head, sometimes from fear, and sometimes because of other reasons - like getting whacked in the head with a chunk of ice and not being able to see from the blood in my eyes! While I've backed off occasionally on rock climbs, I almost never back off an ice climb. And that's not because I don't climb hard stuff... I guess it's just because I feel more comfortable on ice with the tools in my hands and crampons on my feet.
I went out to Frankenstein last Thursday with my friend Jeff. With all the folks that had obviously preceded us down the tracks and on past the trestle, we decided that Standard or Dracula probably wasn't in the cards and Smear looked pretty good. Of course when we had thrashed our way up to the base of the climb we found another party encamped at the base and the leader well up on it. [sigh] As we headed over toward Pegasus I noticed a nice smear and runnel about 100' right of the main part of Smear on the Bow Saw Buttress. It looked pretty interesting, so I talked Jeff into giving it a shot.
There was a pretty decent looking curtain of ice on the left wall that I thought would go. It did look pretty thin, but I figured if I could tap-tap up the first 20 or so feet, I could get in a stubbie & then I would be golden to the good ice. Unfortunately when I got up to where I thought the ice was good, it was just as thin as the rest of it and there was no possibility of getting in a screw. Unwilling to solo another 30' of 1/4 unlaminated inch ice I had to back down. [sheesh] Fortunately about 20' to the right there was a small corner with a nice little drool in it that led me up and right to a stance where I could actually run in a screw at the base of a nice fat curtain.
Al on Bow Saw Buttress
A few more steep curtains & bulges later I found myself at a stance where someone had put a hunk of rope around a small pine tree. The rope looked old and like crap, but the tree looked good so I slung it & continued up the corner. From there on to the trees was a slab of rock that looked possible but decidedly unappetizing, so I backed down to the afore-mentioned tree and set up an anchor. I really like to continue all the way to the top of climbs, but this didn't look worth it, so I brought Jeff up and then we rapped off.
Jeff coming up Bow Saw
The other party was still climbing smear, there were 3 of them, so we could either do something else around there, or we could continue over to Pegasus. Double Barrel, the climb immediately right of Smear, didn't look too good, but the column just to the right of that that leads to a ledge and to another cool runnel looked in good shape. I've done it before with other folks so I said to Jeff, "Let's try this." He agreed and up I went.
From the belay, a snowy wallow leads to the ice, you climb the fun curtain to a snowy sloping ledge, continue 20', sling some shrubs on the right and then climb the column to the small ledge at the base of the corner. It was uneventful climbing to the shrubs, but when I got there I noticed that the bottom of the column was all flaring and undermined. I chopped at it a bit and a huge chunk of ice came off the bottom and slid off the snowy ledge into the drifts below. Hmmmm, not too cool, but at least the rest of it looked OK.
I ran in a good screw at the base of the column and pulled up the now slightly overhanging start onto the column. I got in another reasonable screw but as I moved up the ice kept breaking away, much like what Brad encountered on Broken Pick on the Unicorn Ledge a couple of weeks ago. It was a bit tiring to keep whacking and still not getting a great stick. Still I was able to get good feet and after 10 more feet I got to a small stance on the left and ran in another reasonable screw.
By now I had a pretty good look at the runnel above and it didn't look all that great, tho it certainly did look possible. I had some small rock gear so I figured that one way or the other I could manage it. Another 6' and I got to the transition between the top of the column and the small ledge at the corner. I got what I felt was a good screw right below the top of the column and started up the little corner to the ledge and of course as soon as I tried for a stick I knocked off all the ice that led to the top. [double sigh] I scratched and whacked all around but there was no ice under the snow, only smooth rock and no sticks. I thought I might be able to get onto the top of the column & reach for something else, but frankly it just didn't look all that good. I backed down a little to where I had a bit of a stance. Jeff asked what I was going on and I said that it didn't look too good and that I was going to run in another screw & down-climb. Needless to say he didn't have any problem with that as I was the person whose butt was on the line. [grin]
I ran in my old Grivel stubbie with an old locking carabiner directly into the hanger and clipped into it, took out the other screw that was just below it & started down-climbing. I practice this a lot and it didn't feel all that uncomfortable. 10 minutes later I was on the ground with nothing but a little loss of face and a 10+ year old screw.
I made 2 decisions in one day to back off something I didn't feel was all that safe. Unusual, but probably both were the right decision and it was nice that Jeff didn't make me fell bad for doing it. Sometimes discretion IS the better part of valor, and I'm just as happy not to take chances where I feel the odds aren't all that much in my favor. Everyone has their own limits, and I think it's important to understand where yours are. Your Mileage May Vary...
A landmark since the late 30's, the Bear Notch Deli burned to the ground earlier in the week. Climbers, cyclists, skiers and Bartlett area residents will truly miss the Deli. It's as big a loss as when the Stow Store closed several years ago. There is talk about rebuilding, but who knows...
Bear Notch Deli
Don't forget about the 16th Annual Ice Festival on February 5-8, 2009.
Ice Festival link
Be there or be square!
I have taken the liberty of posting the USFS report from the tuckerman.org site below. Read the third paragraph carefully and BE AWARE!
Avalanche Advisory for Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines
Posted: 8:17 a.m., Thursday, January 29, 2009
Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines have HIGH avalanche danger today. Natural and human triggered avalanches are likely. Unstable slabs are likely on a variety of slope aspects and angles. TRAVEL IN AVALANCHE TERRAIN IS NOT RECOMMENDED. The only exception to the High rating is the Little Headwall, which has CONSIDERABLE avalanche danger. Natural avalanches are possible and human triggered avalanches are probable. Be increasingly cautious in steeper terrain.
After yesterday's winter storm dumped a much desired load of snow over the Presidential Range, today's avalanche danger will remain posted at High. Snow began early yesterday morning at Hermit Lake and continued through the night. By the time daylight came around again this morning, 14" (35.5cm) had been recorded at our Hermit Lake snowplot. The summit measured 12.2" (31cm) of snow through 6am as well. As is often the case here, wind speed and direction are playing an influential role in the stability rating today. As the storm began winds were from the S and SE at 30-55mph (48-90kph). Late in the evening, winds shifted back to the W and quickly cranked up to over 100mph, peaking at 114mph (184kph) this morning. This has produced some impressive drifting on trails lower on the mountain, and you can be sure snow is currently being moved into the ravines at an equally impressive rate. Today's forecast calls for winds to shift a little farther up from the W to the NW and diminish slightly in speed later today, dropping to 30-50mph (48-81kph) with higher gusts. Even at the diminished speeds, snow will be actively loaded into the ravines. Also, NW winds do a good job of loading snow into each of our forecast areas. While some aspects are in the direct lee and will receive plenty of direct loading (e.g. the Lip), even those areas on the outskirts with northerly or southerly aspects will be on the receiving end of wind-transported snow today. I suspect quite a bit of the new snow available for the wind to pick up has already been moved, however the winds have not been sustained at a strong enough speed for a long enough time to have moved all of the snow.
It will take a while before we exhaust the supply of snow available for transport, and until that happens, you should be concerned about the likelihood of natural avalanche activity. It's not uncommon for a single avalanche path to be active multiple times during a cycle like this one, so even if you see fresh debris in the runout don't be fooled into thinking it can't slide again.
Yesterday I had a good conversation with a group of hikers who had ventured pretty far up into the ravine to have a look around. Visibility was poor, so in order to actually see anything they had to travel a good ways into avalanche terrain under a High rating. In talking with them it became clear that they didn't fully understand the risk of a natural avalanche running down into the floor of the ravine. Thankfully it was early in the storm and they didn't have any problems whatsoever. I'm mentioning it because it's a very common scenario, and one that I hope to see less and less of in the future. If you're unsure of where avalanche terrain begins, take a moment to talk with us or the caretakers before you head farther up.
The Lion Head Winter Route is open. Mountaineering skills and equipment are required to safely travel on this route. With the depth of snow and drifting, consider taking snowshoes along as well. Even with flotation, travel above and below treeline may be difficult. The John Sherburne Ski Trail is open with lots of drifted snow to be expected.
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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