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November 18, 2010
Up here in the Valley the weather has been really up & down for the past couple of weeks. Chilly, rain, dry, beautiful, windy…you name it. I was getting a bit tired of the drama of it so I figured it was time for a Road Trip! Between band gigs and family I don't have enough time to fly anywhere, but the idea would be to get far enough south that the weather would be at least 5-10 degrees warmer and yet not have to drive all that far. Hmmm… Seemed to me that the best option would be - TA DA - The Gunks! Three phone calls later I'd rounded up 3 good friends - George Hurley, Brad White and Ian Cruickshank - the Old Boys Road Show was good to go.
My original plan was to leave very early Monday morning and return on Thursday evening. The weather and one person's plans didn't cooperate, so we left at 5:30 AM on Tuesday. Ian, Brad and I all live in North Conway and we picked up George on our way through Tamworth and by 6:30 we were all together and cruising down the road in my van. The drive down was basically painless. In spite of a few pit-stops along the way we made the drive in about 6 1/2 hours. Not too bad.
We parked in the new-to-us upper parking lot, grabbed our packs and headed down the well-graded path. There were only a few cars in the lot and we didn't see a soul. Brad suggested that we do something in the Near Traps, so we headed over there. Brad and Ian had planned on doing Gelsa (5.4) and George and I settled on Disneyland (5.6). I hadn't led at the Gunks in 15 years and not-surprisingly it felt a bit harder than its easy rating would lead you to believe. It took me a bit to figure out the mantle around the nose. Needless to say when George followed he stepped further around to the right and floated it. He took the second pitch and it was quite nice. As we only had a single 60 meter rope we walked over to the right and rapped down from some trees.
It was still light enough to do something else and Brad and Ian hadn't back yet so we decided to give Te Dum (5.6) a try. George wanted to lead P1 so he headed up. He belayed on slings and gear top the right of the nose, about 1/2way up. By the time I followed it was getting dim and we raped off. It was a fun climb with some interesting moves. Brad and Ian came by after walking off their climb
My wife (saint that she is) had made reservations for us at the local Super 8 motel and we headed back there to check in and shower before dinner. The hotel wasn't bad and we saw a number of other obvious climbers coming in as we were unloading. We headed back into town for dinner and were amazed about the amount of traffic. This was to be a topic of conversation for the rest of the trip. Lots more traffic than even North Conway, except in the peak of the season. We settled on Murphy's for burgers and beer and were happy with our choice.
The plan for Wednesday was to get a fairly early start, but we didn't get out until about 9. That actually worked out pretty well because it was pretty chilly early-on. We talked about our plans for the day and decided to give Dennis (5.5) and Jackie (5.5) as they were right next to each other. We hardly saw anyone on our walk down past the Uberfall to the climbs. Both of these are real classics. It was my choice for George and me so I jumped on Dennis. Again the start was certainly not what I remembered for a 5.5. Climbing at the Gunks is a thing in itself. Even at the lower grades you have to do more pull-up moves than you do up here in NH. That said, once you get the hang of it it's all good. And at the lower grades the gear is generally good and the holds are exactly where you want them. Once I got my head around it, I was feeling really good. Ian wasn't into leading so Brad jumped on Jackie. It looked like some very sweet climbing. I'd done all of these climbs years ago, but didn't really remember much. In some ways it made for a neater experience. [grin] George took the second pitch which was really neat and we all rapped off from a tree anchor.
Around this time we ran into a guide from John Ross' old company High-Xposure named (I think) Jason Beaupre. He was a very nice guy and obviously quite knowledgable. He had a client in tow from Michigan who was staying at our hotel.
Ian and George decided to head down and do High Exposure so Brad and I decided to give Frog's Head (5.7) a shot. Again I had done this years ago, and it was every bit as good as I vaguely remembered. The start is really cool and there are a couple of interesting bulges that keep it entertaining. I've never seen the actual Frog's Head, and maybe only Fritz ever did! [grin] Brad did the second pitch and it was nice as well. We were using my double ropes so we could get down all the way in one long rap. Sweet...
I wanted to check out Limelight (5.7), a great climb located on the same wall with Three Doves, Annie Oh! and Arrow. Every one is a classic that is well worth doing. Again I led the first pitch which is about 5.6. I set up an anchor in the big right-facing corner directly above the top-out and brought Brad up. Since it was getting late and since there was a party on P2 we decided that we would throw a TR on Arrow. I went up first and did a hard variation on the right, directly under the anchor. There were holds and neat moves, but no obvious gear. I didn't see it in my old guidebook but who knows… Of course you have to be careful with all the leaves on the ground or you might not FIND your guidebook if you leave it around!
We headed back down the carriage road and met Ian who was walking back down looking for us. George was waiting at the bridge and we drove back around & picked him and Ian up. We picked up a 6 of beer & chips on the way back to the motel, took a quick shower and headed out for dinner. This time we went to an Italian place right across from the Diner. Not bad food and fairly reasonable. Another day down and one more to go…
Thursday we got an earlier start and George's old friend Terry English met us at the hotel. We got packed up, checked out and on the way to the cliff by around 8:30. Amazing… We headed down the trail and this time stopped at the Uberfall. Brad and Ian jumped on Horseman (5.5) and George led Rhododendron (5.6). Again both are pretty classic. After Terry took a run on Rhododendron I took my turn and then set up Laurel (5.7). We had watched some folks flail on the polished start to Laurel the day before and Terry had his difficulties. I took a turn and did a little better, but George floated it. He was truly amazing, not slipping the slightest and making it look easy.
Someone called out, "Is that George Hurley?" It was Barry Rostock, someone who knew George several years ago and who I knew through NEClimbs. I'd never met him before and it was nice to put a name to an email address. [grin]
Ian and Brad were on P2 of Horseman so George, Terry and I decided to head down to Middle Earth (5.6) and check out Never Never Land (5.10a), a climb George was in on the FA in 1964. Middle Earth was one of my favorite climbs 15 years ago and it did not disappoint this time. P1 has some of the more beautiful finger cracks around. I think I only put in a single cam, using all nuts and a pink Tricam for everything else. It couldn't have been w whole lot better, unless it went on for another 200 feet!
We didn't do the other pitches, opting to head down & check on Never Never Land. I'd seconded it many years ago and it looked as hard now as it seemed then. We all decided that we would be more into heading down to let George lead Arrow, than fiddle around with this. George made short work of Arrow and we all took a run on it. This time I did the normal line. While Terry was climbing I spotted Barry and his partner on Hans' Puss, the large corner to the right of the Arrow Wall. It looked like interesting climbing in a spectacular location.
By now it was getting close to our leaving time so we headed back down toward the parking lot. We found Brad and Ian setting up a TR on Katzenjammer (5.7), just past the initial few boulder problems you see on the left as you head down the carriage road on your way in. It wasn't anything to write home about, but it was in the sun and felt good as the final climb of our trip. We all took a run and then headed back to the van. We stopped briefly at the scenic overlook to get a group picture and to say goodbye to Terry.
Terry advised us to go north to Albany and the Mass Pike, as opposed to going through Hartford like we'd come, to avoid the traffic. We got on the expressway right at 5 PM and this worked out perfectly. There was only a little traffic on the highway and we were able to cruise. Even with a stop to eat and another to get gas in Meredith we were home by 11:30!
What a great trip… The weather was near-perfect and the companionship superb. Amazingly enough the whole thing cost $104 each, sans food & beer. I'm already planning another trip back in the spring, hopefully for a couple of more days. I don't think I'd like to live there, but it's a great playground to visit.
I went out with George and Mike Khan on Saturday to check out George's new climb on Humphrey's, Float Like A Butterfly. This is located on the ledge at the top of Cakewalk and left of the obvious Gargoyle. Originally George had rated it 5.10c, but had recently downgraded it to 10b because someone he had climbed with thought it was easier. I gave it a shot but had real difficulties getting past the crux. George did it and, in his usual style, basically floated it. I though that it was surely 10c, but what do I know? it would be cool if someone else would give it a shot and let me know...
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Join pro-skier Chris Davenport & master filmmaker Jim Surette at the New England premier of their new ski movie Sunday Nov 21 at 8 PM. Doors open at 7:30. $10, under 18 FREE! This is a benefit for the Kismet Rock Foundation.
Meet Chris at the signing of his new book "50 Classic Ski Descents of North America" at White Birch Books from 3-5 PM prior to the show.
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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The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire
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