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There are a few times of the year when it's easy to get confused about the season. That can happen either in the late spring or early winter, but usually not quite this easily in the spring. Yesterday it was the 7th of March and it was 50 degrees at noon, and now we're looking at a second day of the same or warmer! As soon as I heard the predictions it occurred to me that this is assuredly something to take advantage of, perhaps even make into the ever-elusive 3-sport-day…
Here was the plan:
1) Climbing: I figured that I would get that out of the way when things were cooler, rather than later in the day when it was supposed to be as warm as 50. The original plan was to run up Elephant Head, but only if I had a partner for a belay. Since that was not to be, I opted for Lower Hitchcock via the Left Hand Monkey Wrench. I had it on good report that the Wrench was still in good shape so I figured that was the best option. I would climb up to the upper tier and rap off over the rock finish. Since I was only carrying one rope and didn't have all that much time I wouldn't climb to the top and walk off.
2) XC-ski: Since I would be right at the top of Crawford Notch I decided I would either ski down the tracks to Willeys Slide or Mt Clinton Road to the Base Road. This would be dependent on the state of the snow on the RR bed. If it was good I figured that the tracks would be more fun and I could check out Cinema at close range.
3) Ride: This was the easy choice. I was going to park at Willey's Slide or the Willey House (wind dependent) and ride up to the top of Crawford Notch and back. It's a relatively short ride, but it IS a steep climb for me so early in the season. Heck, I've only ridden once since late December, and that was yesterday, [wry grin] The key piece of this would be the descent. I need to be very careful of any ice on the side of the road. In the summer I can usually I can let the bike completely out, but this time I'm not going to do that.
After walking the kiddo to the school bus and walking the dog, I loaded an assortment of gear into the van. Freshly tuned road bike, XC-skis and climbing gear with a single 9mm rope. I had hoped to find a willing partner to climb with, but unfortunately that was not to be. However I did agree to my meet my friend Toby at 12:30 for the ski portion. So off I went…
I arrived at the top of the Notch at 10 and was surprised that the temp was already 50 degrees and the snow was like slush on the walk down the tracks. There was a couple lounging on the trestle by the roadcut ice. They said that they were planning on climbing, but it was just too slushy. I agreed. I did the climb up Lower Hitchcock without crampons and there wasn't a lot of ice to be seen, only snow and slush. At the cutoff to the Lefthand Monkey Wrench I put my helmet on because I was going to be under that big rotten face. Where you go across the tallus field there were bits of rock showing that had obviously come off, so I hurried across.
I could see that the Monkey Wrench has really shrunk over the past few weeks. I put on my lightweight Goretex jacket since I could see that it was pouring water. The ice wasn't that bad, but the topout was like climbing through a waterfall. It was a slog from the top of the Wrench to the base of the big column right of Upper Hitchcock. It really didn't look very appealing because of the slush. However inside Hitchcock it's didn't look too bad, tho there was a lot of water.
I went down to the rap tree and tossed the rope down. You could hear the water pouring down below and as I rapped the rock and turf was a mud-fest. Down in the gully it was a full-on waterfall. Fortunately I was able to keep climber's-right and mostly stay dry. I had to down-climb a bit of slushy ice to get to the snowy area. Someone had put in a blue v-thread right in the waterfall and it was almost washed out! The way down was totally slushy and occasionally I punched through the snow up to my knees. It was really annoying and took twice as long as usual. The same was for the hike on the tracks back to the car. Conditions were poor and I was wondering about what the skiing on Mt Clinton Road was going to be like.
I met Toby at 12:30 and we headed down the road. He has his dog with him and she ran up and down the road, thoroughly enjoying the outing. Amazingly the skiing wasn't bad at all. The road was well packed from all the snowmobiles and since it was mostly in the shade it wasn't too soft. There were a couple of guys that we met coming the other direction who had their shirts off. It was that warm. As we skied Toby noticed the clouds starting to build in. We didn't quite get to the parking lot at the trailhead when I decided that I needed to head back in case it started to rain because I really wanted to get the bike ride in!
Back at the van I loaded up my stuff and drove back down the road to Willey's Slide. The wind was starting to build, so I decided to make the ride shorter than originally planned. I got the bike out, pumped the tires and headed up the Notch. At first I was fighting the wind and then, miraculously, the wind shifted and I had a tailwind! Of course it really didn't help me getting up the hill, but it was nicer. There were lots ofd cars on the road and fortunately everyone was mindful that I was not going to ride on the pulloff lane. I looked at Cinema as I rode and kept noticing chunks of ice and snow coming off. It was now almost 60 degrees and the breeze was quite warm. At the top of the Notch I stopped for a minute to take a shot of the bike in front of Elephant Head and headed right back down. I rode right in the middle of the road all the way down the steep part, but no one in the cars behind me seemed to mind.
At 2:30 I was back at the car, loaded up and ready to head home. I was pretty happy with the time it took, considering how long it took me to get up and down Hitchcock. This was one of those days when I just feel I have no choice about getting outside. It's rare enough that I just have to grab it when I can.
The ice is still pretty good right now, and even great in some places. As long as we don't get a big rain, or week of 50 degree daze, I would guess we should have this plus another week of climbable ice in the shady spots in the lower elevations. That would put us into April 1st, and these daze I would be very surprised if you could climb down here after that. But it's been an interesting season, so I suppose anything is possible.
There are pictures taken on 3/8/2012 in Crawford Notch posted on the Ice Report page.
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North Conway, New Hampshire
This is how they die, I thought. They pass out or freeze without caring. They die as spectators, believing it's all happening to someone else. I'd rather be fully alive and awake when I die, I want to be terrified. The last place I want to snuff it is on a slope no steeper than a beginner's ski hill.