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So the big news this week has gotta be about the big snowstorm. Since you're all presumably outdoors folken, you surely should know about the fact that we're anticipating what should be one of the larger snow events of the season starting on Friday afternoon and going through Saturday. Although there are varying models, most of the predictions for northern New Hampshire seem to be talking about a foot or more of fluffy stuff above the Lakes Region, and possibly as much as 2 feet in the southern half of the state. Considering that we haven't had significant snow since Christmas, this has the local ski people drooling at the mouth, the climbing community usually not so much. After all, it's kind of nice to be able to get in and out of the ice climbs without having to deal with deep snow, right?
If have been mucking about in the woods over the past week since the rain event, you may have noticed just how little snow there is in the woods. This is true even up in the Notches. On Sunday I was up at Little Willies, a medium sized slab off to the right off the upper part of the trail to Willies. I was quite surprised to see large sections of the woods with virtually no snowpack at all! The Hussey Field by First Bridge in North Conway is completely bare, as is the Lucy Field on West Side Road near Diana's Bath. I rode my bike up behind Whitehorse and Cathedral Ledges and to the top of Cathedral a couple of days ago and there is much less snow up there than is normal for this time of year.
That said, for those of us who monitor the ice conditions regularly another round of snow will be very welcome. While there has been quite substantial ice building over the past week following the warm spell and the rain, we have been rapidly reaching the limits of what will form without a snowpack to provide the constant drool of water from a freeze/thaw cycle. Prior to the warmup we were starting to see an actual deterioration of the ice quality on many climbs, much like what starts to happen in the late season. The ice was getting brittle and sublimating, actually evaporating in the dry air. In addition, without snow to insulate any groundwater flow, the climbs were not getting refreshed. The rain provided a short term water source, and with colder temps many of the climbs have come back even better than they were before. This new round of snowfall should really provide more water in the system, and as long as we stay chilly during the day and cold at night we should remain in good shape for some time.
Needless to say, if this predicted snowfall comes to fruition, there will be several days of avalanche instability on the Mountain, in areas like Mt Webster and even on places generally considered safe like Mt Willard. However, once that passes if will be a lot nicer to travel on the mountain. Speaking of the Mt Washington, I received an email from Jeff Lane, one of the US Forest Service Snow Rangers. Basically he pointed out that they have been seeing pretty atypical conditions in some gullies in Huntington. Basically a lack of snow. Where this could be a problem for climbers is near the tops of the gullies. As he put it;
"Ever do Yale when there wasn't much snow up there? I thought I had, but what we've got now is different. It's thin ice at best, very little snow, and possible rock scrambling. I haven't actually climbed to the top to get a close look, so can't say for certain that there isn't a climbable route to the top, but I can confidently say its not the easy snow exit that it often is. North, Damnation, Yale, and Central all fit this description."
I personally have climbed Pinnacle when there was minimal snow, and the final pitch can be quite entertaining when there isn't much snapback up there. Most especially when you aren't expecting it. Needless to say this may all be negated with the pending storm, but it certainly is worth a heads up. Thanks to Jeff for bringing it to our attention.
I did get out with Brad on Wednesday afternoon. We had heard about the fact that Goofer's was in and fat, plus this interesting line that visiting climber Nick Bullock and Kevin Mahoney had climbed on Sunday.
We ran into fellow guide Conrad Yager at the cliff so we all decided to check it out. When we got to the base of the climb there was a party on Goofers so we checked out this very interesting line next to Saigons. The ice looked quite delaminated and there was no way it was going to take gear, so we decided to climb Goofers, traverse over above it and throw a TR on it to give it a try. I led Goofers and all the way up it was as fat as I have ever seen it. Interestingly, at the anchor there was actually minimal ice on the slab. It was a bit disconcerting to move around up there with no ice under your feet! I brought Brad and Conrad up and Conrad did the traverse over to a tree above the anchor on P1 of the Saigons. One at a time we carefully followed him and rapped down to the anchor.
We threw the ropes down and took turns on the climb. I'm not much for top roping climbs like this, but it was clear that the climb wasn't going to last more than a day and it really wasn't leasable at this tim. The ice was very brittle and if you weren't extremely careful it would just flake off the rock! Conrad went first and just nailed it. What's really interesting is that he did it in regular Petzl mountaineering crampons! It's clear that he is a real master at this stuff. Brad went next and had a few problems at the crux about 2/3 of the way up. He was the only one of us using mono-points and I'm pretty sure that was why. The single point wouldn't stay set in the ultra-thin ice, just shearing through. I went last and there were places where there was hardly any ice left. I managed to do it cleanly and was really happy to get through it.
I think that this was likely the most difficult climbing I've done in a one time. While not physically all that strenuous, the mental effort required was very taxing. Every pick and foot placement was absolutely critical. Looking down and eyeballing precisely where your foot was going to go, tapping your crampon front points on top of a minimal ripple in the ice and only hooking your picks on the slightest of divots, there was nothing thick enough even to tap into, was essential. By the time I got to the top I was spent, but exhilarated. I doubt it's still there but I'm sure that all three of us were very pleased that we grabbed it when we could.
Ice Fest Thanks…
Yes I work occasionally for them, but I really have to throw out some major kudos to the International Mountain Equipment and the IME Climbing School team for their great work on this year's Ice Fest. I thought it was very well organized and there were little if any glitches. It's hard to believe that this has been going on continuously for 20 years, and here's hoping for another 20. I'm already looking forward to 2014!
A Note About The Trails:
This lack of snow and rain has really made the trails treacherous. If you have them, be sure to bring your Micro Spikes if you're going to hike up on Mt Washington, or hike off down the Mt Willard trail. I even found them very useful hiking up and down to Goofer's on Wednesday. I really hate hiking around in full crampons, but you really do need something on your feet they way things are. Even the trails around Echo Lake are almost impassible without them!
Ice Conditions Report:
Selected Ice Conditions effective March 26, 2015
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.
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North Conway, New Hampshire
My once-keen analytical mind has become so dulled by endless hours of baking in the hot sun, thrashing about in tight chimneys, pulling at impossibly heavy loads, freezing my ass off.... so that now my mental state is comparable to that of a Peruvian Indian, well stoked on coca leaves..