Feb. 11 through Feb. 14, Chris Wisel and I headed up to the Adirondacks to climb Gothics Mountain’s North Face. Planning began weeks ago as we looked over maps, read forum posts, and found a great mini guide online. Our plan was to make it a two day trip. Hiking into a shelter then going for the summit the next day. To cap off the trip we planned to stay Monday and do some ice climbing in the area as well.
Friday night we packed up the Subaru for yet another long driving weekend. We were lucky to have relatively good weather forecasted for the weekend and Friday was easy driving to Glens Falls, NY. Once settled into the Econolodge we ventured our for a little food and a beer. Glens Falls isn’t a big town and we had to drive a bit to go to our restaurant of choice. Once inside we were surprised how–let’s see I’m not sure how to describe it–rural the place was. When the waitress said she’d get us the specials and came back with a 4 foot Pepsi sign and parked it a foot and a half form our table we just laughed. Despite the corniness the food and beer were decent.
Saturday morning we stole a few munchies from the continental breakfast of the hotel that shared the parking lot with the Econolodge and headed to Keene Valley and the Noon Mark restaurant. There we got some proper breakfast then headed to the Garden parking lot under a light snow. The snow it turned out would continue through the day and evening, but with little accumulation.
The 4.4 miles from the parking lot to the Ore Bed Shelter only rises about 1100 feet. Chris had suggested we use the sleds we made up for our Washington trip a month ago. This turned out to be a good idea as our packs were heavy with camping as well as climbing gear. While it did save our backs, it took a little more out of the legs to get up any steep sections.
Despite the number of cars in the parking lot there were very few people on our trail. In fact I don’t think there were any that passed us or came from the other direction. Once at the shelter there were a few but other than that is was a quite rolling hike.
Not long after we arrived at the shelter a party of five Canadians came by and based on their packs and exposed ropes we could tell they were planning the to summit the north face as well. They were planning to camp near the base and head up very early in the morning so they could get back to Montreal at a reasonable time on Sunday.
After we were squared away in the shelter we headed up the 1.3 miles to check out the face and break trail without packs. Luckily our Canadian friends had done most of the work for us. As we approached the base the snow picked up as well as the wind. Visibility was limited but we were able to see the face. There didn’t look to be much ice, mostly snow. Which was good for us.
The north face of Gothics is a 1100′ technical climb usually on thin ice or snow. Our plan was to stick to the snowyareas and use snow anchors or trees/bushes as protection. The conditions down at the base weren’t inspiring us. The Canadians had broken trail almost all the way to the base. We went the last couple hundred yards in 3-4′ deep soft powder. Snow shoes were essential. Based on what we saw, we thought the best route to avoid avalanches and get the hardest snow would but up the left hand side of the bowl.
Sunday morning after a quick breakfast we headed up again to the base of the face. Early in the morning the skies were clear and winds were low. As we approached the face however that luck turned and a 15-20 mph wind with 30-40 mph gusts started bringing in clouds and blowing a lot of snow around. Progress up the unbroken section of trail was slow because of the snow. Once as the base we could hear and see the Canadians, who didn’t look like they had gotten too far. They had chosen a direct route over the first little headwall. After a while they started heading back down. Once again we stopped and chatted. They advised against their chosen route and told us the snow was equally soft and deep or soft and shallow in many places. They bid us good luck and we continued on.
After our chat with the Canadians neither Chris nor I had high hopes of getting to the summit. This was confirmed as we got to the base of the headwall. I suggested we scramble over a shorter snowier section rather than walking all the way around. This however was difficult because of the deposited snow at the base of the headwall. I got up then roped up Chris to follow, belaying off a little tree. Once over that Chris continued on through the tree patch for another 30-40 feet. From there we decided to head left again to get to some more trees. While traversing I only had a small tree as protection. Here the snow was only a few inches deep on top of slabby rock, making for difficult going. We reached the trees and decided that we didn’t have enough time to get to the summit based on the pace we were going and therefore started heading down.
After a bit of a snafu of my crampons falling off my bag, and the 45 minutes of me heading back up the trail for 3/4mile and back to find them, we started heading back out to the car. Our pace was better than on the way in despite the 2.6 miles we did up and back to the face (not to mention the additional 1.5 miles I did for my crampons).
Our plan originally was to camp again on Sunday night at a site a little more than a quarter mile from the road then ice climb on Monday. However after our unsuccessful summit and the realization that a warm restaurant meal wouldn’t put us in the mood to camp one more night in the snow, we decided to get a hotel.
Before all that though we stopped in at The Mountaineer, a famous store in Keene not far from were we had parked the car. The building had an amazing curl of snow coming off the roof. I tried on a few hard shells since it was clear that my 4 year old EMS jacket was no longer waterproof. Unfortunately I couldn’t part with the $400 for the Arcteryx shell they had. I’ll have to keep looking for a sale I guess.
In Lake Placid we found the cheapest rate at the Alpine Air motel, a place that Tim Williamson had I had stayed at many years ago when setting up the NATS even up in that area. Rooms were about the same as I remembered but it was considerably nicer than a tent in the snow.
After some nice hot showers we headed out to downtown Lake Placid which is actually quite a nice little winter resort. I guess having the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics will do that for a town. We had some burgers at a little dive bar then headed for to the Great Adirondack Brewing Company for some martinis–er I mean beers. I got their red ale and their imperial IPA. Both were very tasty. In addition I also picked up an awesome growler of their stout. The best part about the growler is it has a flip top like a Grolsch style bottle. Once I’m done drinking the beer I can fill it back up with my own homebrews!
Monday was also fun, we headed to Cascade Notch and the Pitchoff Right ice climbing area. We set up a couple top ropes and got about 7 pitches in before the wind and mixed precip became more annoying than we could stand.
Great winter weekend even though we didn’t complete our main objective of the Gothics north face.