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March 19, 2009
Climbing, but ice climbing in particular, can be a lot like playing baseball...you stand around for a long time, and then you crank. That's often true when guiding. You do a climb, then you stand around for what can be a very long time belaying your clients. It's always very different when I go up on Mt. Washington to do one of the gullies with a buddy, that's because we usually end up doing more soloing than roped climbing and thus are pretty constantly moving.
So what's the point of this? Since the ice down in the lower elevations is pretty much on the way out, see the Ice Report below, I've decided this is the time to take advantage of the spring conditions up in Huntington Ravine. Last Tuesday my friend Steve and I headed up to grab a piece of the Central Gully Stairmaster on a totally bluebird day.
We opted for the old-guys start, meeting at Pinkham at 7AM and on the trail by 7:15. I take a pretty leisurely approach to the hike up, just finding a comfortable pace and sticking to it. I find that this can get me to the Tucks/Huntington intersection in around an hour. We were both surprised that we only saw one party on the trail, and they were coming down! The avalanche report on the board at the Harvard Cabin was at low for the entire ravine, so that made us both feel pretty good. When we got to the bowl it was really sunny and warm and there was the barest of breezes, so we stripped to base layers and started the hike to Central. Looking around it seemed that all of the routes in the ravine were in good shape. We noticed a couple of parties on North and another on Damnation. Nobody on Odell's or Pinnacle, from what we could tell.
However, there were three skiers a ways in front of us that we figured were either gong to ski Central or the fan. As we went up the fan we were passed by a solo climber on his way to Odell's. We chatted for a minute and it turns out that he is a friend of a friend. Small climbing world... When we got up to the rocks below Pinnacle we stopped to put on crampons. While there was a layer of soft snow, below it was a bulletproof snow/ice. We both knew that there had been several accidents over the past week in both Tucks and Huntington and we didn't want to add to the statistics. From here we could see the ice in Pinnacle and it did look very sweet. Maybe as fat and wide as I have ever seen it.
By now the skiers had climbed the ice bulge and were out of site in Central. It was a real temptation to do Pinnacle instead, but Steve didn't feel comfortable soloing it, so we decided to keep with the original plan. We figured that the skiers would be coming down about the time we would get to the ice bulge and we would just have a bite to eat and hang there wait for them to come down. Along the way we also noticed that Cloudwalker was iced up, but thin.
There had been an ongoing discussion about climbing behind another party on an ice route, and I figured it was basically the same thing behind a party of skiers. While they didn't knock office, snow balls did keep falling down and I was happy to just hang there and wait. Sure enough we heard a few whoops and then with a scrape of sound there was a skier right at the top of the ice bulge.
skier above the ice bulge
skier heading down
He edged down carefully and then hopped over the bulge and flew down the slope, carving a couple of turns and stopping before the rocks. Steve and I commented that a fall anywhere would put you right into the rocks. Funny for a pair of soloing climbers to be talking about the dangers of skiing, huh? The next skier came down and then the third one was at the bulge. They didn't make the hop quite so easily and for a second we thought they were going to fall, but they didn't so now the way was clear for us.
Steve with fan in background
Turns out BTW that one of the three skiers was Brian, a local photographer, climber and friend. After I had posted something about seeing the skiers on Central he got in touch and sent me this picture of Steve and me just below the ice bulge.
The bulge was short and not at all steep so we made short work of it. I had heard that there were some bolt anchors along the wall, but as we went along I didn't see anything. I did notice a number of great cracks and other places to build rock anchors if you wanted them. While moderately steep the finish to the Alpine Garden was more of a slog than climbing. Albeit spectacular slogging. [grin]
Steve topping out
At the top the weather was absolutely perfect, with no wing and warm enough to take off my shell and gloves. As we ate some more lunch two climbers who had soloed North Gully walked up and we chatted a bit. Turns out that one of them was Chad, someone I had talked to on the NEClimbs forum. Once again the 6 degrees of separation was reduced to 2.
We had decided to come down the Escape Hatch instead of going across the Alpine Garden to the Winter Lion's Head or glissing down Lobster Claw in Tucks. As we walked along the trail we kept looking for tracks going left when we got past the top of South Gully, and there they were. I wasn't sure were were in the right place when I say something I'd never seen before, a snow-picket stuck in a cairn! I haven't heard about that before, but it's a good new landmark. Only a little further down was the shovel handle and the top of the Escape Hatch. It seemed a bit crusty so we opted not to try glissading, tho I heard that someone did it later in the afternoon. It's an easy descent, tho the snow was by now so sticky that we had to knock off our crampons almost every step. That will teach me to put on both by back AND front bot plates when I get a new pair of crampons.
In no time we were at the bottom of the gully. By now there were more parties heading up to Pinnacle, another soloist on Odell's, a party on Damnation and more folks going somewhere. It was a busy day in the ravine! A little more food and drink in the wonderful sun at the base of the fan and we headed down the trail. Again surprisingly we saw very few people on the trail. However we ran into one other friend skinning up for some runs in Tucks.
We signed out at 2:15, darn close to exactly 7 hours after we started. Not exactly fast, but we weren't in any kind of hurry and it simply was too nice a day, not to take some time enjoying it. It was early enough that we found ourselves wishing we had brought the bikes to take a ride in the spring glory. Regardless, it was a perfect day. Great climbing, in a spectacular location, on a beautiful day with a good friend. Doesn't get a whole lot better than that, does it?
Happy spring folks. At 7:44 AM on Friday the Sun crosses directly over the Earth's equator. It is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and Autumnal Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. Although I am officially early, here's my best wishes for a happy one.
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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