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I know I sound like a broken record (for those of you who are old enough to actually remember vinyl), but the weather this winter has been a real roller coaster of a ride. Just a few short days ago we had one of the biggest snowstorms on record with blizzard-like conditions up and down the east coast, and now we're in a string of days that barely below freezing! It's hard to know what to think about all this, much less what clothing to put on the kiddos as they go out the door to school...
On Wednesday temps climbed into the low 40's and sunny, melting off most of the snow from my roof. While I'm happy to not have to shovel the roof, that made much of what was building nicely on the Barber Wall ice either fall off or look like styrofoam. Not at all what we'd like to see in mid-February. In the Valley nighttime temps have hardly dipped below freezing, but that's not been the case up in the Notches and on the Mountain. For instance, it got down to the low 20's on Wednesday night at the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch and low teens on Mt Washington at the Ravine elevation. While certainly more like mid-March than mid-February, this is actually good conditions for building ice. At least in places that aren't in direct sun all day like the Frankenstein Amphitheater.
The big snow we received last weekend has certainly gotten all the skiers worked up. My son was excited to get out for some superb downhill on Sunday and I got on the XC skis and got in a good 5 miles as well. Everywhere you look there are folks enjoying the outside. The only folks a bit frustrated are those winter mountain bikers who had been enjoying the hard packed snowmobile and hiking trails, but IMO that will come back soon enough.
As you probably, this is a school vacation week and things are going to be busy here in the Valley. Allow some extra time going and coming and figure that you're going to have to wait to get a table in a restaurant. It just goes with the territory.
Tip 1: If you're coming back from Crawford Notch in the later afternoon, instead of continuing into town via Rt 16, hang a right on West Side Highway instead. You'll avoid the backup at the Scenic Vista and it will dump you into town at the traffic light right at the Eastern Slope Playhouse.
Tip 2: McGrath's Tavern, opposite the Adventure Suites on north 16, is a great place for beers and dinner and it's never as crowded as the Moat or Delaney's. There are bands there on Thursday nights and the service is good. My wife loves the Ruben sandwiches and the homemade chips are fantastic. Tell Seamus, the owner, Al sent you. He's a friendů
After getting the kiddo off to school and the dog walked, I headed up to meet my buddy Jeff at Attitash to go climbing. I've been eyeing a neat line that starts on a buttress left of Lower Hitchcock, and runs all the way up to the upper tier just below the East Face Slabs. This is what it looked like last week:
I believe that the lower section is the Surprise Party Buttress (3+) and the upper part is Rear Window. While pieces of it come in occasionally, it's somewhat rare to see it fully connected, and the fact that I've never climbed it certainly adds to the attraction. [grin] Of course I had to take all my pictures before we got down to the actual climbing. Here's what our destination looked like today, from the road:
We got to the top of Crawford Notch around 10:15 and hoofed it down to the start of the Lower Hitchcock Gully. Heading up the gully there was an obvious buttress that I could see on the left through the trees, a couple of hundred feet up the gully right before the drip that always forms on the left. I beat out a trail straight across under that little buttress to where there was a little snow slope that led up to a tree below the main buttress. The final bit of this was a real thrash and wallow and the closer I got the less appetizing the ice looked. There were a couple of trees right below the buttress that made a good belay spot and I surveyed the situation while Jeff followed my tracks.
The snow part looked OK to me, but the ice really didn't look too great - all dribbly and funky - but I figured if I could get up the first bit, the rest would go. Jeff got to the belay, I geared up, tied in and headed up the snow slope. Right off the bat I realized that this was a full-on rock buttress covered in 3' of loosely consolidated snow! [sigh] All I could do was to dig down into the snow and brush it off the rock, looking for a foothold or any nubbin to stand on. About 40' up I found a block with a crack in it that would take a .5 Camelot. I had the forethought to bring about 5 pieces of rock gear and was happy that I had. I inched my way up another 20' and stepped left, hoping to be able to get over top of this small outcropping of rock. Just before it the rock under my feet ran out of places to stand but the snow got firmer and more consolidated. I was able to pull my way up onto the snow slab and inch my way to the flatter rock. [whew] I was about 20' below the main buttress and the ice really wasn't looking too great. Here's the closer view:
By now I was about 40' above that cam and I really was hoping to find a place to put in some more gear when I found a mediocre iced up pocket that took a brown Tricam. It wasn't the best, but it gave me enough confidence to move on up close to the start of the ice, which now just looked heinous. I could see that it was completely unbounded, and even worse the second curtain wasn't attached to the rock in any way. I figured that this wasn't going to go, for me, and traversed over left another 30' to a clump of small trees. Here's what the ice looked like from this vantage:
I figured that it would have gone for someone like Kevin Mahoney or Peter Doucette, but not for me. Oh well! Jeff tried following my line, but by now the snow was even less consolidated, so we decided that it wasn't worth him coming up and I should just rap. It was a bit tricky because I had to traverse way back to the right to get my gear. I had Jeff redirect my rope at the belay tree and put me on a belay so if I skated off on the snow covered rock, he would keep me from loosing control. Fortunately it went without any problem and in a few minutes I was back at the belay tree with my gear and we pulled the ropes. By now it was almost 2 PM so we decided just to head on back. Yup we got skunked, but at least now I know where the climb starts and I can watch for it to be in good shape so I can grab it. It really does look like a great line that's well worth doing, in the right conditions. Regardless it was a fun day outside, and IMNSHO any day outside is better than a day inside. I hope you got out today.
Ice Conditions Report:
Selected Ice Conditions effective March 23, 2017
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.
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The White Mountain Report
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..