Over the weekend (Feb. 20-21) me and a friend from the gym, Boris, headed up to the White Mountains to get some more ice climbing in while the season lasts. We headed up Saturday morning with gusty winds and sporadic snow. Our plan was to hit Frankenstein Cliffs in Crawford Notch.
While the weather wasn’t all that nice, windy and moderately cold, I guess the ice climbing crowd isn’t a shy bunch when it comes to that. As such the parking area was packed and we luckily were able to find someone leaving when we arrived.
Frankenstein Cliffs are a great place to climb ice. They are easy to get to, feeling almost like the Gunks with a railroad track taking the place of the carriage road. Each area has tons of ice, plenty for a few parties to all use at once. Much of it is long single pitch or multi-pitch.
Boris and I headed straight to a route called Dropline (WI4+) which is a two pitch climb. I’ve only got about 25-30 pitches of ice under my belt, but nothing of this grade. The grades seem much more blurry than in rock but a WI4 will have sustained sections of vertical ice which Dropline did. Adding to the excitement is the fact that I’ve never followed on ice and Boris hasn’t climbed anything of this grade on lead before. Ultimately we didn’t have any problems. The climb stepped out, meaning that many people had climbed it and there were lots of old places to put our ice tools and crampons on. Nevertheless it was still a great climb complete with semi-hanging belay. Since we arrived mid-day we only got one more climb in before the light gave out.
Post climbing we hit up a North Conway favorite, Flatbread’s. Despite a 1 hour wait, which we killed easily in IME, it is worth it. We had the special which was something like smoked hamburg, peppers, onions, and smoked gouda. We retired at a relatively decent hour to a campsite near one of the trailheads hoping that the conditions on Washington would let us do something in Huntington Ravine.
The morning brought lesser winds, similar temperatures but clear blue skies. A true bluebird day. While waiting for the avalanche report to be posted in the gear room at Pinkham Notch we sorted through gear and suited up. We were in luck! Huntington had Moderate to Low danger, which is natural avalanches unlikely, human triggered possible.
After a quick 2.5 mile hike to the base of Huntington we surveyed the gullies. I’ve been reading about the differentgullies, Yale, Damnation, O’Dells etc on the avalanche reports every morning but I didn’t have any idea what they looked like. On this day we got a spectacular view of all of them.
Since there was still a bit of wind and only in the single digits, we opted for Pinnacle Gully (WI3+), which is a classic moutaineering route. The route is hidden from view at the bottom of the ravine by a large bulge of rock so you won’t see it in the image here. It is to the left of Central, behind the big pointy rock ridge.
After some Nica’s sandwiches on the rocks at the floor of the ravine we headed up the snow slope to the gully. If only the snow were as hard at Gothics as it was in Huntington. The route is three pitches, the first being the longest and hardest. Boris took the first pitch which was on wet soft ice. We heard another climber later that day say they opened up an ice dam on the first pitch which probably caused the water.
The first pitch was a full rope length. I didn’t realize I’d be waiting around so long and didn’t put on my puffy jacket, as a result I started off a little cold, which wasn’t good. I made ok time on the climbing part but I still didn’t have any quickness in taking out screws, clearing them and racking them. The second pitch happened to be mostly steep snow which I lead. about 60-70 feet of snow with no protection then a 15 foot section of ice where I put only 1 screw in an existing hole. I didn’t go for a new hole because I could see the belay station and the ice wasn’t too hard. Boris made quick work of the pitch and then lead the final one. The ice changed completely to really brittle hard stuff which sent off a couple dinner plate sized pieces. Luckily we were the final party on the route.
Once at the top of the Gully we made our way to the Alpine Garden and headed over to the Lion’s Head route for the decent. As we crossed the Garden the sun was setting behind Washington and the winds were reasonable (20-30 mph). It was a great way to end a fun weekend of climbing.