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April 3, 2014
Well I guess you just gotta disregard anything I said in print earlier this week about how well things were hanging in the lower elevations. After 3 consecutive sunny days with temps in the upper 40's & lower 50's, it is my learned opinion that we have most assuredly moved directly into SPRING! Based my observations on my ride this morning into Crawford Notch, I just gotta say that there is very little In the lower elevations that's safe or even worth climbing!
That said, the state of things up on Mt Washington remains pretty darn good. It's been very cold overnight and there is a pant-load of snow up there, so if you still want to climb snow and ice, that's the place to go. Of course you still have to be aware that there is always avalanche danger up there - even where you might not think that it exists. To that end, check out this:
There was quite a major avalanche on the east summit snowfields on Mt Washington. If you check out the picture you can clearly see a party of 5 on the upper left and a party of 8 skinning up on the right. Amazingly the avalanche went right in between both. I can only imagine what that must have felt like. Just goes to show that you can't trust anything in the mountains!
I have been getting up to Lake Willoughby as much as I could toward the end of this season. I really wish I could have been even more often, but I guess 4 times isn't all that shabby. [wry grin] I knew that things would be falling down sooner, rather than later, so when Paul Cormier called me and asked if I was interested in getting up there again on Tuesday I jumped at the chance. The week before we had looked at Mindbender and thought it could go, so this was going to be Plan A. For Plan B we figured that we'd bag a Tablet. Either way it would be a net plus.
We met again at Twin Mountain and with a single stop for coffee at Mia Papaya we shot up to the Lake, arriving a little after 9. We were pleased to see that the right side still looked great so we drove on down to where we could look up into the Mindbender Amphitheater. You can't really tell all that much, but it looked as if there was still a lot of big ice up there, so up we went. While there was a bit of a trail, it was not very well packed out and the first part was major post-holing. [sigh] The good thing was that the higher we went, the more ice we could see, and it looked at least somewhat reasonable.
The climbs in that area are, left to right, Plug & Chug, Mindbender and Renormalization. P&C was out of the question because it had partly fallen down already. Paul had his eye on Mindbender, but the bottom really looked pretty punky to us both, so we decided we'd do Renormalization. He headed up, but kept eyeing Mindbender. When he got to a stance where it was obvious that he could traverse left into MB, I suggested that he go over to the left side of Renorm, find a belay and bring me up. We could stop out MB and if it looked good he could go. If not he could continue up Renorm. That sounded good to him and that's what we did.
When I got there he was psyched to give MB a try and headed off. The ice was amazingly variable. While always steep, it was punky, candled, slick, brutal, soft, crusty, thick, thin and occasionally even overhanging. There was even one vertical section where the ice was as clear as glass and you could see water running down behind it! Go figure -
As always Paul did a great job working through all the difficulties that it threw at him. It's a great learning experience watching a master work. When he swung and knocked off ice up near the top it really took a long time for the ice to fall down to the ground, giving off that whizz/whirr sound that spinning ice does as it falls. As I followed it was great to see how he managed the technical sections. The occasional times I looked down it was really something to see just how vertical it was and how high I was. Once at the top I continued up on unconsolidated snow and then to the right to the trees above the gully at the top of Renorm. There wasn't a rappel there, but we rapped down from a hemlock to the regular rap station and then down to the base of reform. I went first and while I waited for Paul I eyed the climb. I've been wanting to pick this plum so when I found it was only 1:30 I decided to grab it.
I headed up and decided to go right up a wide dead-vertical groove that went straight up the middle. The left side was kind of punky, the right was smooth and solid. It was an unrelentingly steep 80' bit of climbing and I felt like it was one of the best leads I had done this season. I felt very solid and in control, but as Paul pointed out, the higher I went, the more screws I put in. [grin] At the top of the main section you could go left or right. The right looked overhanging and candled, so I opted for the easier choice and went left. Sometimes that kind of thinking doesn't pan out, but this time it did. Over the final bulge I clipped the old anchor on a tree on the left, traversed a bit right to the same anchor we had just rapped from and gave out a big WOOP! We both knew that the ice up there was done for the season and it was a great and fitting end to this year's Willoughby adventures. I brought him up and he mentioned that I had only spent 30 minutes on the whole climb! I've been working on making every stick and screw placement count, so this made me feel like I've been doing the right thing. I have no interest in hanging out on vertical ice if I can help it. [grin]
We rapped off, packed up our stuff and headed down. We we're both worried about Mindbender and Plug & Chug falling down in what was now close to 50 degree temps so we butt-slid all the way down in a big hurry. Back at the car we shook hands again, feeling great about having pulled off a real coup at the end of the season. I'm sure I'll find one or two more bits of ice to climb before I segue into rock, but it really doesn't get a whole lot better than this for a couple of good old boys from New Hampshire.
After I got home today I decided to eat a sandwich out on my back deck. While I was sitting there looking up at the cliff I noticed some figures up near the top of Thin Air. I was pretty surprised, considering that there is still a fair amount of ice & snow up there. Here are a couple of pictures, along with one of Humphrey's taken this morning. Notice that there is no ice or snow on the latter!
Here's a few pix of what's left, more or less! There will be more on NEClimbs and our FaceBook page tomorrow.
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.
Join us and LIKE us on Facebook. I'll try and post some interesting pix every Thursday and the latest Ice Report in the season, tho certainly not the whole Report. Here's where you can check it out:
Have fun and climb safe,
The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire
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