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I would bet that everyone, and yes that includes me, thought that after the all-day rain and warmup we got on Tuesday spelled the end for this ice season. I mean with 10 hours of steady drizzle, and all in the mid 40's, that would be the assumption that we all would logicality make. Well, amazingly enough that was NOT the case. Apparently old man winter is not quite done with us yet. Sure, the ground is no longer solidly frozen and the grass is poking through the snow in many places, and in fact there isn't much snow on the ground at all over buy Humphrey's! But up in the Notches, winter is still hanging on.
My plan for the day was to try and get in a 3-4 sport morning. I got up early, got the kiddo off to school, packed ice climbing gear, rock shoes, XC skis and my road bike into the car and headed up into the notch. It was cool, but sunny here in the Valley and tho the temps started out at 25 at 6 AM, they were quickly rising as soon as the sun came out - up to 33 when I left at 8. I figured that if it got to the upper 30's I was good to go for everything.
I stopped art the usual places to take my Report pictures and was totally surprised by how much ice I saw the further I went. As expected, Fang was clear and the Frankenstein Amphitheater was hurt, but Standard, Penguin and Dracula all looked darn good. Then, as I got higher in the Notch, it started snowing and by the time I got to the top of the Notch it was really coming down and the temperature was a cool 26! That boded well for the ice climbing & skiing, not so much for the rock and ride side of things.
I headed down then tracks to the base of Lower Hitchcock, with the intention of doing the Left Hand Monkey Wrench, check out Upper Hitchcock and rap down Lower Hitchcock. I was surprised to see that all of Lower Hitchcock was still filled in with snow and ice, with no bare rocky spots! When I got to the cut across to the Monkey Wrench, amazingly the talus field was fully covered with snow. I was totally happy to find that the Monkey Wrench was even fatter than it had been the last time I was up there a couple of weeks ago. There was no rock anywhere and it was plastic and great climbing.
The path from the Wrench up through the talus to the East Face Slab Right was covered with snow. That's the good news. The bad news is that it was rotten underneath the light crust and extremely annoying to walk in. Almost every footstep broke through a lower layer and plunged me in to at least the top of my ankle! SIGH No, it was not really a whole lot of fun and it turns out that all of the hiking around up there was like that. Regardless, looking up ahead I was excited to see the East Face Right was gigantic. I decided that I'd do that instead of just rapping Lower Hitchcock.
I had brought a single 60 meter 8mm rope with me to rap with and I put it on my back, leaving my pack at the base. Every place I looked, the ice looked great, so I decided to go up the steep corner right in the middle. As always ice is much steeper than it looks, but it was so delightfully plastic, that I didn't care. There were a few crusty places about 2/3 of the way up, but I was in focus and it didn't matter. The clouds parted and the sun came out for a few minutes and I really warmed up. I paused for a few minutes to check out the views. Looking down Valley was really neat, with the sun on me and the snow obscuring the road and WIllies.
At the top-out there was a tree with slings and rings on it that looked as if it would let me rap down over the right ride to the snow slope with my single rope. I checked the slings and the the, it looked all good to me so I rapped. I took a short break for a bar and drink and then headed over to look at Upper Hitchcock. As expected, after seeing everything else, it was fat and wet.
I also sneaked a peek at the East Face Left and altho there were a few rocky places, most of it looked just fine. I headed down to the rap tree for Lower Hitchcock , tossed to rope over and rapped down it. I noticed that the rock had no snow or ice on it and the turf was soft and unfrozen. However the gully itself was completely filled with snow and ice. I coiled the rope and headed down, happy that I'd been able to great such good ice after the weather we'd been through. There was a couple gearing up at the base of Lower Hitchcock and I chatted with them for a bit before heading up the tracks and back to the van. The snow was coming down pretty good by the time I got to the van and I figured that the skiing on Mt Clinton Road might be OK so I headed up to the road.
In fact it turned out that the skiing was pretty reasonable. There was a crust under a couple of inches of fresh powder and it continued to snow the whole was out and back. I did 30 minutes out and 30 back, taking me almost to the boundary road. I cut it a bit short 'cause I wanted to try to get in a bike ride.
My original plan was to ride from Willies up to the top of the Notch and back. With the cold and snow I knew that wasn't going to fly, so plan B was to ride from the Arethusa parking lot up at least to the Willie House. As I drove down the Notch the snow kept falling all the way to the Willie House, but stopped just below there. The road seemed clear of snow and ice and I thought I might be able to pull this off. I drove the van to the top of the Arethusa road, pulled out the bike and headed down the hill. I figured if nothing else I would get a little bit of a pump when I came back. It was right at 30 degrees, but at least it wasn't snowing - yet! I turned left onto the road and as I headed up the Notch a headwind kicked up and I could see the snow flurries coming my way, and by the time I reached the Dry River Campground it was really coming down. I was tempted to turn around, but I pushed on to the hole in the trees where you can see Standard Route.
By the time I took the picture it was snowing full-on and I figured that was good enough and turned around. I did get in a 15 mile ride yesterday from Echo Lake out Passaconaway Road and back, so I didn't feel too bad.
It was cold and breezy by the time I got to Humphrey's so I gave up on the idea of rock climbing today. Oh well, I guess winter has enough in it that maybe I should keep my mind on the ice & snow for another week or so. At this rate I'll bet that next week will offer the same opportunity. Stay tuned...
Fred Beckey slide show NH:
Saturday, March 23, 7:00 PM
International Mountain Equipment
North Conway, NH
"Dirtbag Dinner" -- Pizza & Beer
$10 at the door / $5 for AAC members, includes food & drink
The New England Section of the AAC and International Mountain Equipment present a "Dirtbag Dinner" with climbing legend Fred Beckey. Join us for pizza and pints during a slide show by Fred Beckey. Fred's presentation will feature slides and stories from his most recent book: Fred Beckey's 100 Favorite Climbs.
Ice Conditions Report:
Selected Ice Conditions effective April 17, 2015
I know, I know there are some folks who will say that this or that climb is still IN, but believe me there really is no safe ice in the lower elevation now, so the rating has been dropped to a 1. This indicates that the only ice is in the higher terrain now. And in fact, other than climbs that have some significant part of them in the shade, like Pinnacle, everything else should be considered suspect. That said the skiing is supposedly amazing right now so grab it while you can. Starting next week we will move fully into rock season and will switch to BugCON ratings.
ROAD ALERT REDEUX:
West Side Road, coming from town by the strawberry fields just before where you turn into Cathedral Ledge, has some of the worst frost heaves I've seen in a while AND IT'S GETTING WORSE! The side going into town is especially bad. Be forewarned!!!!
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