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Well here we are on April 7th and it's really not all that surprising that the ice season is coming to an end. And end it IS coming, at least in the lower elevations. And let's face it, after rain on Tuesday and days like today where we've got temps up to a balmy 50, what can you possibly expect - even if it is chilly at night!
I decided last night that whatever today brought, this was it for me as far as ice climbing in the lower elevations. As I did at the end of last ice season, I figured that Shoestring would be a fitting close. And if I decided to do some Ravine climbing over the next month, it would be a good tune up for that. As soon as I got the kiddo off on the school bus and the dog walked, I headed up to Crawford Notch.
Once again I was somewhat surprised to see ice still standing at Frankenstein. I did not walk in there but the look of it was really white and milky and frankly with full-on sun for many hours a day it is not something that I would want to climb. The only things that looked at all appetizing was Dracula, and that still didn't look all that great. Of course your appetite for risk may be greater than mine…
I pulled up at the Shoestring pull-out and there was a pickup truck with Pennsylvania plates and a small car with NY plates. I was bummed, but I figured I would get out and see what was up. As I got out of my van the guy got out of the truck. He didn't seem to have his gear and I did, on so I popped my trunk and grabbed my pack and poles. I said hi and walked by and there were 2 women sitting and chatting in the NY car. My attitude was what the heck…you snooze you loose!
I walked into the woods and there were no tracks on the trail so I hi-tailed it for the place where you cross the Saco. All the rocks had a skim of ice on them and I was perplexed for a minute. Then I noticed a large tree limb that went across to a large rock and a bunch of brush on the other side. I monkey swung across on the limb, just making it to the other side and wishing I didn't have the pack. From there I followed the obvious trail up to the start of the gully.
About 20 minutes later I heard the guy from the truck come up behind me. I introduced myself and he said that his name was Brian and he was from Pennsylvania. I asked how he had gotten across the river and he said he followed me and swung across on the tree. I asked if he had seen the 2 women and he said that he thought that they were behind him. However we never saw them.
As always you keep going up the gully in the trees and really don't realize that you are even in a gully until you look down and notice that you're 300' up the hill. [wry grin] We kept up a pretty steady pace and after a while we were in a spot where there was a little opening in the trees and we could see the road and the trestle across the way, a good bit below us. I noticed occasional fresh bits of rock in the snow here and there so I stayed over to the left side of the gully, away from the obviously rotten wall. Just below where the ice started we moved over into the pucker-brush on the left and put on our crampons and helmets. I'd brought a harness, couple of screws and tag-line, just in case, but Brian had none of that stuff.
There was a lot of ice in the gully in several sections. The beginning ice steps were really low angle. A couple later there was a very cool steep-ish section on the left that I did that was actually real climbing and fun. A couple of sections later we were at the split where the runnel finish goes off on the right. From what I could see I thought it would go so I headed up. Brian waited until I was at a stance just below the start of "the business" and then he came up and moved left out of the line of fire. I started up the narrow ribbon and it was a bit more brittle than I had hoped. Right near the top it was quite narrow and the ice fractured in places where I wished it hadn't. Still I was able to hook under where it was delaminated and stem left and get around the corner and up onto the icy slab above. Just as it was when I soloed it at the end of the season last year, it was a crescendo finish… I got over on the left side of the rock & brush and Brian came up. I was a little concerned that I'd fractured it a bit too much, but he did OK.
We walked to the overlook and had a snack and drink in the sun. I always marvel at the views from the top of Shoestring and today's conditions did not disappoint. It was a totally bluebird day, not a cloud in the sky. The only thing was that it was a little breezy, making us spend a little less time that we would have liked. I checked the time and it was 12:03 as we headed down the trail. Trail conditions this time of year are quite variable. Sometimes this trail is great, sometimes you posthole the entire way. It's a longish hike and I've had it take 3 hours to get back to the car. This time it was as close to perfection as you could want. Although there was not a footprint to be seen, it was completely packed out. we were back at the car at 1:30! I've never made that good a time in before.
Just before we crossed the Saco on the little bridge before the road, I noticed three good sized trees that were almost eaten away near their bottoms. Brian said that it looked as if it was the work of beavers and I agreed. If/when those trees come down they will fall right into the river. A little chopping and they will be a good dam right there. It was very cool…
Back at the van I saw that the women's car was still there. I walked across the road and looked up and they were in the middle of the ice pitches. I was surprised to see them up there and it looked as if they were pitching it out. All in all this was an absolutely great morning climbing, with a pleasant companion on an absolutely fantastic day. Doesn't get a whole lot better than this and was the perfect end for my lower-elevation ice season.
There is still ice to climb in many places right now, but with the warm temps and rain coming that’s going to change quickly over the next week. I would expect that the Frankenstein Amphitheater will become problematic pretty soon. Even as big and fat as Standard Route is, it is in the full sun all day so it’s getting beat up. Climbs like Dracula, the North End of Cathedral, Lost In The Forest, Upper Hitchcock and various things in the shade will last longer of course. We’re moving into the best time for climbing on Mt Washington for the next 3-4 weeks. That said, it’s time to think about rock season folks.
Early Season Rock - A Reminder:
Everyone, including me, has been Jonesin' for some early season warm rock. But, as is always the case up here, there is still vestiges of ice season hanging out just above some of the more popular areas. Several years ago, while climbing Short Order on Whitehorse, a local climber was hit by ice falling out of the dark Mistaken Identity gully. There is always lots of snow and ice on the upper slabs on Whitehorse that can and does come down at inopportune moments. And the remains of the Unicorn pillars hover, usually unseen, just above the ever-popular North End of Cathedral. The two areas with perhaps the lowest objective danger this time of year is Humphrey's and the South Buttress of Whitehorse.
Here's a picture of what's hanging over the North End this afternoon. Sword of Damocles anyone? Word to the wise…
Fave First Rock Of The Season:
Most people have a favorite first rock climb of the season. Mine is most often the first pitches of Ego Trip and Starfire, located on the clean face left of Three Birches. The rock is usually dry and there rarely if ever seems to be any leftover ice up above to worry about. Primarily tho, I have done both enough times that they feel like old friends and I always feel that if I do OK on them, I'll have a good season. What's yours?
Mobile Version Of NEClimbs:
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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