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January 22, 2014
Sometimes you have to grab the opportunity to do things when you can. In my case that meant heading out West for a week that combines business and vacation, right in the middle of ice season. Yup, that's right, while you folks are climbing ice and stoking those wood stoves in -10 degree temps, I'm out in LA at a big music trade show enjoying 70 degree days and mango smoothies. I know, it's a dirty job, but somebody's go to do it! [wry grin] However I do have my ice gnomes out there reporting on the state of the ice, plus I have guest writer Jay Knower doing the Report this week. I hope you enjoy it.
I arrive at Rumney, pull into the small lot and park right next to Pete Jackson’s car. Pete will be my partner today. An ice climber, parked adjacent from us, gives us a quick nod. Then, his friendly look turns to one of concern. Whereas he’s decked out in Gore-Tex bibs and plastic boots, I’m wearing jeans and Sorels. I wonder what he thinks as I don my pack, grab my stick clip, and head up the trail to Main Cliff. It’s 17 degrees out and we’re going rock climbing. I can tell that Pete’s a bit skepticalß.
I don’t ice climb much. Honestly, I ice climb just enough to remind myself that I’m not really an ice climber. I have both a stressful job and a fully formed amygdala. These days, I don’t yearn to get up on lead on Dropline or The Great Madness. Instead, I look forward to hassle-free days outside, climbing in the sun, and there’s no more hassle-free place than Rumney. As we walk up the trail to Main Cliff, we emerge from the valley’s shadows into the sun and I notice that Pete’s attitude is brightening as well.
e sun’s out, the temperature is irrelevant. That’s the worst-kept secret among Rumney locals. The sun heats the rock, and as long as the cliff is dry and sheltered from the wind, you’re good to go. Since Main Cliff faces slightly southeast, it’s the best early-morning venue. As the shade starts strafing the wall, most climbers head across the hill to the southwest-facing cliffs like Monsters or Waimea.
We put our stuff down at the base of Main Cliff’s central wall. Snow has coated the ground, making it tough to find a dry spot to place our gear. Oh, the challenges we face! We warm up on the 5.10s on the right side of the cliff, and we marvel at our luck. We’ve attained a valuable commodity: a comfortable winter rock climbing day.
Not all days end up like this one, but it’s the possibility that they will that keeps us coming back. While Rumney locals speak in reverence of the “perfect” winter rock climbing days, one would be wise to remember that these days are legendary for a reason. The slightest thing can turn the perfect day into a sufferfest. Maybe a thin layer of clouds sneaks in to diffuse the sunlight. Maybe you’ve gotten a late start and Main Cliff goes into the shade right after your first route. Maybe the weird hydrology of the Rumney hillside has conspired to make your chosen routes soaking wet.
In these cases, most people leave, grab ice tools, and head for Crawford Notch. It’s the brave few, or perhaps it’s the crazy few, who tough it out when the conditions are less than perfect. Actually, this attitude has been codified into Rumney’s DNA. During Rumney’s golden years, the area’s primary group of developers seemed to climb in all kinds of awful conditions. “Team Tough” gained dubious notoriety for shivering up at the cliffs. Some Team Tough members still climb in the winter, though I suspect many now prefer posting on NE Climbs over courting hypothermia at Rumney. Maybe experience breeds wisdom. At any rate, it seems like every year there’s a small but dedicated crew who climbs throughout the winter months.
These climbers have a few crucial techniques in their repertoire. Of course, there’s the classic heating-packet-in-the-chalkbag technique. There’s also the technique of jumping rope prior to the climb, to warm up the body for a potential send. And finally, there’s the little-known, but advanced, technique of using an ice screw to anchor a crashpad to a low-angled ice flow, in order to create a solid, dry platform from which to start the climb.
Pete and I have to employ none of these measures. We climb Gold Digger, Goldbug, and Polly Purebred. I reach the anchors on Polly just as the shade covers our section of rock. We then pack up and trudge over to Monsters where we fall on some harder projects. The clouds stay away and we even climb without jackets. Pete’s a convert, but he has yet to experience a truly brutal winter day at Rumney. On this day, however, winter rock climbing at Rumney was perfect.
Ever been thwarted by thin or discontinuous ice? Learn how use your axes and crampons on rock to open up the possibilities of what you can climb. Outdoor Research is presenting three mixed-climbing clinics, one on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Learn the trick of the trade from some of the best!
Check out the blog for more: http://www.mwv-icefest.com/blog/
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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