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January 6, 2011
While we often have our ups and down with the winter weather, this may be a record. I think I've seen the Diagonal pillar build and fall off either 3 or 4 times already and I wouldn't be surprised if it even happened again! Last week I saw Fang, Dropline, Welcome to the Machine and Last Exit all in great conditions, while this week I'm not sure how climbable any of them are! I guess when we say that ice is ephemeral, this year proves it.
Even tho things got hit pretty bad with last weekend's 50+ degree temps, it's been chilly, if not downright cold all this week. That's help reform a lot of the larger ice climbs, and that's a good thing. I didn't have that much time during the middle of the week, so I figured I would try out something closer to home on Wednesday. I walked the dog over to Cathedral on Tuesday afternoon and noticed that although the entire of Repentance wasn't IN, the start looked as if it would go, as did the first pitch of Deidre. I've often done these as climbs in their own right, so I figured I might give them a go.
I called around on Tuesday afternoon to find a partner and George Hurley was available for the following morning and we made plans to meet here at 10. That is a bit later than usual, but I was going to play music at the Wildcat Tavern Tuesday night and knew I needed some extra ZZZ's. It was in the upper 20's when George arrived and we figured that it was going to get warmer, but hopefully not too warm. When we got to the base of Repentance it looked pretty reasonable, tho there was an obvious thin spot about 25' up. George has been nice enough to let me lead all the ice this season, so I geared up. I had brought 3 smallish spring loaded cams and 3 Tricams and I hung them on my harness. I noticed that there was some ice hanging in the upper section so George decided to belay up close to the left side of the start of the climb, just under a bit of an overhang so he was protected. It wasn't that comfortable for him, but it was safe.
I started up and was surprised that the ice was more brittle than I expected. I didn't see any water running anywhere. In fact this was the case in both climbs today. The ice condition felt more like late-season than mid-season. I don't think I got a single sweet-stick all morning! I was happy to see a pin in the little overhang on the right and backed it up with my red Tricam. The climbing was delicate and intricate and I worked hard to hook rather than swing wherever possible. I got in a screw at about 10' just before you can step onto the little ledge on the left and clip the pin. The ice above was fluted and brittle and I managed to find an occasional piece of rock gear and a screw or two here and there. I was really glad that I'd brought the rock gear. Over the past couple of years when I've done these climbs the ice has been plastic and I've used screws almost exclusively, but I would have been in trouble without the rock gear this year. The final 8' before the belay ledge the ice was particularly thin and fluted. I was fortunately able to get in the best screw of the climb at the start of that section. It still was a bit spicy, getting up on the ledge. It was fun climbing and I felt very good about doing it. I set things up for the belay and decided to have George lower me off so I could take some pix of him climbing.
It had gotten a little colder and the sky a bit darker over the past hour. We walked down the cliff to Diedre and I decided I'd wear my new Mammut down sweater for this climb. The start was up a little ice covered hump to a very thin runnel in the corner. I decided that it was too thin to bother with so I scratched my way up to the right and back to the main corner on the left. During the summer this is the normal start to Deidre and it;s always kind of slimy. You can see why from the ice drools that seep out everywhere. Unfortunately there was not nearly as much ice as there was last season and it was even more brittle than Repentance. I was able to move up, stemming on the rock slab on the right until I could get a small cam in a horizontal at the edge of the roof. All the moves up and over onto the first step were balancy on a narrow brittle runnel so that made me feel pretty good.
The next section was the crux off width. There was no good way to tackle this one as it angled off to the right and there was no place for your feet on that side as it was at the edge of the roof and there are no little edges for your crampons. [sigh] I got in a short screw and leaned into it. About 4' into it I was able to get in another small piece of rock gear in a horizontal. [whew] Not that it was all that needed… I was now thoroughly wedged into the chimney. I'm not sure I could have fallen out of it if I'd tried. But, neither could I move up. I had to shake and shimmy my way up an inch at a time, barely tapping my crampons into the ice and unable to get a good swing with the tools. Right at the top I was able to swing my tools into the ice on the ledge and sit myself onto the ledge. I was definitely happy to be there…
The final section was a straight-ahead runnel, but with a broken up section right at the top. I got in a good screw at the start, a screw in the middle with a piece of rock gear beside it and then there was nothing for about 8' to the top out. It wasn't all that hard, but I could look down and see that if I came off I was going to be on the ledge below and probably down another couple of feet. [ouch] Needless to say I was decidedly cautious on the finish.
There is no real anchor on this ledge but there is a nice crack with a bong and I had 2 Tricams that fit in it well. So I built an anchor, set up my Guide ATC in self-locking mode and ran a super-solid 22cm screw in the main column as a directional to bring up George. As always he made pretty short work of it. As he was coming up I was looking around and noticed something shiny in a tree over climbers-right. Squinting a little I realized it was a quick-draw hung up in a branch! Go figure…
I'd been looking at the upper column to see if I thought I could climb it and make it over to the belay up and right of the triangle roof, but I decided I was a bit tired and it was already 2PM. Good excuse, aye? We threw the rope around the column and rapped off, first me then George. All in all a good morning of climbing by two old dudes.
As we walked off we went down to the road past the North End. I wanted to show George the huge tree that had come down during the Christmas windstorm. It doesn't affect any of the climbs, but it's pretty massive and it took out a couple of other big trees when it went.
So I guess the motto for 2011 is to get out there and find the stuff to climb, regardless of what things look like. I assure you that there is stuff out there, and it's fun. You just have to look for it. Happy New Year...
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The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire
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