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December 5, 2013
Here we are in early December and we've already gone through a couple of rounds of ice, no ice. Of course that's not at all unusual for a New England winter, but frustrating for us ice climbers. And since there hasn't been much snow to speak of, the skiers are a little on the annoyed side as well. On the plus side there actually has been stuff to climb, at least if you've been able to get out and grab it when it's been available. Fortunately we even had one round of good stuff over last weekend, which is a real rarity considering everything.
I had last Sunday available, but no partner so I decided I'd get out and give Shoestring a try. I'd been hearing that it was in good shape, tho the river crossing was more sketchy than usual. Unfortunately, when I got there at around 10am (late I know, I know), there were 3 cars at the pullout. On top of that as I drove by someone came out of the woods looking a bit frustrated, so I drove on. I stopped at the Frankenstein lookout to check on Standard Route, but there were 3 parties on it! I didn't figure it was a good option for soloing, so I cruised on. There was one car at Willie's, but I wasn't in the mood for a pure slab climb, so I set my sights on Willard. The ice on the main face looked surprisingly good and there was even a party on Gully #1. Great Madness looked reasonable and while there was ice all the way down Cinema, it looked quite thin. I figured that worst-comes-to-worst, I'd settle for Monkey Wrench and something on the upper tier. I paused on the road for a look up Hitchcock and there was a party on the rock finish to Lower Hitchcock, but I didn't see anyone else. Sweet!
I parked in the lot at the top, which was totally packed with cars so I guess it was a good day for hiking Jackson or Hancock. As I walked down the tracks I noticed that Elephant Head looked pretty good. Further on down the tracks the Trestle Cut looked climbable and Snot Rocket was filling in nicely. I'd been checking out the slab just to the right of Hitchcock for years, but never done it. So when I spotted a couple of boot tracks heading up through the woods in that direction, I figured it was a good option. Of course it was a bushwhack and slog up to the base of the slab, and it was patchy ice in places making for a bit of a skate, but once I got there the ice looked great. It was mostly low-angle, but there were a couple of fun bulges and it was a lot better than kick-stepping up Hitchcock and then tiptoeing through the boulder field to get to the Monkey Wrench. That's all a lot better when it gets filled in with snow. [wry grin]
Once at the upper tier I walked over to Read Between The Lines to check it out. It actually looked in great shape. It's a mini-Pinnacle Gully and is a lot of fun. I soloed it last year mid-season and then did it with a friend later in the season, but I didn't quite feel up to it for my first ice climb of the year. I walked back over to the Cleft, had a bar and a drink and started up. I was only about 20' up when I looked back and saw another climber looking up at me. I said hi and it was local guide Mark Synnott. We chatted a bit and he said that he and his client were going to follow me up. I said sure and that I'd try tone careful about knocking stuff off. Since the ice was totally wet and plastic, that wasn't much of a problem.
I love the Cleft. It's like a little fairy-land in there, Ice dribbles are on both sides and it's really narrow, only about 12' wide. It's mostly low angle, but there is a somewhat steep section about 12' high in the middle and then the infamous "Step". The Step is a 5' high rock bulge that I've never seen covered with ice. There is usually a drip on the right and some verglass on the front, with 3-6 inches of ice on the top. It's awkward no matter how you cut it, and if you are soloing and fall off you will pinball down the climb, bouncing off the sides and probably shoot out into the woods like some sort of perverse video game. It's not at all something I have any interest in doing!
I pulled up on it a couple of times, but I didn't feel all that solid. Again, that first climb of the season thing. Fortunately I had put on my harness and brought a couple of screws, so I was all set. While I've just done the move in the past, this time I decided to run a screw in on the right, clip into it while I make the move, and then take it out once I was over - and that's what I did. The only problem was once I got over the Step, I couldn't reach down far enough to get the screw out! [sigh] I wanted to run in my second screw so I could actually lean over & get it, but there wasn't good enough ice for me to trust that. I was just about to leave it, it was after all a very old BD screw that I'd brought along just for that purpose, when Mark cruised up. He was nice enough to undo it and toss it to me, then used the hole for himself. [grin] A good exchange all around.
I watched Mark pull the Step and then I wandered on up to the top. He followed and we chatted for a minute as I took off the climbing gear and got ready for the walk-off. I was really happy to see that someone had packed out the path and it was a real piece of cake for a change. Once at the main trail I put on my MicroSpikes and zipped down to the road and back to the car. I figure that 2 1/2 hours car to car isn't too bad for a first time out.
On Tuesday I wen back up to Frankenstein to climb Standard Route with Brad White. When we left the Valley at 9am there was dense fog in the Valley, so much that I couldn't see cathedral from my house. However as we got to Bartlett the fog lifted and it was a bluebird day. Walking by the thermometer on the pole alongside the tracks on the way in we noticed that the temperature had risen to almost 40! This wasn't too much of a good omen for climbing. We saw ice everywhere as we walked down the tracks, but a lot of it was in pinky shape. There was a lot of ice in the Trestle Mixed area and we were excited about about it, but it wasn't climbable. We felt the same about most of what we saw. Still, there was a lot of ice and it was promising.
Standard Route was still there, but it was pouring water and there were some pretty big holes in the center section. Based on What we saw we figured that we could get away with climbing the right side, but we both agreed that climbing in the center and trying to go to the top was not a good idea. Brad hadn't climbed yet this season, so he ran up to the cave. I belayed behind the big rock by the trees in case something came down from the upper "hangers". Once he was done I followed quickly. It was really pouring all over us at the belay, even back inside. We were happy with our decision not to continue and rapped off.
Only 1 pitch for a morning, but that was OK.All in all it feels great to be back on the ice. Now if we can just get some consistent cold weather and a little snow we'll be in great shape.
Here's a few pictures of The Cleft and one of Standard:
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The 2014 Fundraiser is starting its 2nd week. While the number of responders is low considering how many people get this newsletter and visit the NEClimbs.com web site, I want to sincerely thank the 40 generous climbers who have donated to this year's fundraiser. Their names are posted on the NEClimbs Donations page. Hopefully you are one of them.
I added ANOTHER INCENTIVE to the pot to give you yet another reason to contribute to the Annual Fundraiser. It's a copy of Cameron Burns' hysterical book Postcards From The Trailer Park, The Secret Life Of Climbers. This is a wonderful book about the "…saints, scoundrels, heroes and bums who inhabit the world of climbing." I reviewed this book a couple of years ago for the AAC Journal and gave it 5 stars. It's a wonderful read. In addition there is a brand-new sealed copy of Jerry Handren's North Conway Rock Climbs AND as an extra added incentive I will throw in a copy of Rockfax Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges, Jerry's first guide to the Mount Washington Valley.
All you have to do is to make a contribution of $20 or more to the current fundraiser and you will be entered into the raffle.
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Oh yeah, check it out! It looks like Machine might actually come in this year! WOO WOO!
A note about Shoestring Gully, and the Webster gullies in general - Several people have told me about close calls in these gullies over the past 10 days! One member of a party was struck by a rock. They weren't seriously injured, but it could have been a lot worse. If the temperatures are warm, think about going somewhere else or climbing early in the morning. The next time you are up there notice all the bright orange rock in the snow. This is no joke! If it's not cold, that rock is going to be coming off, and you don't want to be up there when it does.
Join the American Alpine Club and International Mountain Equipment for a showing of the REEL ROCK 8 film tour on Saturday evening, December 7 at 7:00 PM at IME in downtown North Conway, NH. Tickets are $10 at the door.
FLASH - I just got word that Rich Page from the Gear Doc and Frank and Carol-Anne Dahlmeyer from Bagels Plus are hosting a FREE après-climb gathering at Bagels Plus (next to Delaney's) this Saturday evening before the Reel Rock show. If you're out in the mountains on Saturday (or at least would like to be) stop by Bagels Plus from 4-6 pm for soup in bread-bowls, coffee and tea, and of course, bagels. You're welcome to BYOB. I also hear that Rich and Steve Arsenault are threatening to break out the slide carousels from the 1970s!!! Look out.
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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Have fun and climb safe,
The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire
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