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2011-03-20 End of 2011 Ice Climbing Season

Warm weather had been in Connecticut, and all of the Northeast for that matter, for the second to last weekend in March.  All but the hardiest snowbanks in CT were gone.  However the warm temps hadn’t done as much damage up in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.  While they had done some damage, with many climbs being rendered “possible” or “out” in the ice reports, there were still enough objectives for Boris, his friend Spencer, Chris and I to pack into the WRX and head north.

The back of the WRX was packed tight with Chris’, Boris’ and my stuff and we still had to pick up Spencer at the train station.  Luckily all the tents, ropes and other shared climbing gear were in the car.  Spencer’s stuff didn’t take too much space.  Still it was a tight squeeze. …

Shoving off from New Haven we started north fairly late, around 8:30pm.  This put us at D Acres, the farm/hostel we were sleeping pretty late.  D Acres was a great place to stay.  Regina, the girl working there made some good eggs, greens, and potatoes for us in the morning.  The whole place is based on sustainable living and educating their guests about healthy living and such.  While this might scream “dirty hippies!” to you, you are only partly right.  Yup they’re hippies.  But the place is anything but dirty.  It is amazingly modern construction and spectacular.  Including the perfectly odorless (not kidding) composting toilet on the second floor.  Bombs away!  No worries about butt splashes on this toilet.

We woke up on Sunday to a light snow falling despite moderate temps.  After breakfast we headed to Franconia Notch to check out our main objective of the weekend.  The Black Dike (WI4-5 M3).  This is a classic New England climb.  Difficult but more because of the commitment level and the thin ice, almost always there is a rocky traverse which must be negotiated.  Luckily from the parking lot there is a great view of the route and with the binoculars my dad gave me we were able to determine that it would be foolish to try and climb.  However we decided, after some convincing by Spencer, that the Whitney-Gilman Ridge (5.7) rock route immediately to the left of the Black Dike would be a good idea.  We’d climb in gloves and mountaineering boots.  To make a long story short.  I only got about 25 ft up before I didn’t feel comfortable continuing.  Trying to smear in 2 lb mountaineering boots is not fun.  While I felt really disappointed at having to bail, I felt better when Boris and Spencer also had to bail only 60-70 ft higher.  We spent the rest of the day confirming that there aren’t any decent places to climb rock in March in the Whites.

Over our dinner at Flatbread‘s in North Conway we decided on our plans for the next day.  Chris and I would head to Huntington Ravine to climb Pinnacle Gully (WI3) similar to how Boris and I did a couple weeks back.  However this time I would be the lead climber.  Boris and Spencer on the other hand created a crazy idea of doing a spontaneous Presidential Traverse.  For those unfamiliar with the Presidential Traverse, it is a very difficult and long trek across the Presidential range.  Some people do this in multiple days, some people do it in the summer, and some people are just dumb enough to do it in a single day in the winter.  Boris and Spencer were these people.  To their defense however they would be taking advantage of perhaps the best possible conditions for any season.  The weekend’s weather was clear, day and night, with a huge full moon, and moderate temperatures/winds.  On top of that the snow conditions were deep and hard, thus making their 20 mile, 9,000 ft elevation gain/loss easier since they could travel anywhere they liked.  Not having to rock hop and follow winding trails likely cut a couple miles off their trip.  We all camped at a trailhead near Madison so that Boris and Spencer could start at 2am.  Chris were more sane, we got up at 5am to head for Huntington Ravine.

Chris and I headed up to Harvard Cabin to refill our water bottles before heading to the climb.  The cabin looks like it could be pretty fun place to stay.  There are stoves and it is warm so it would be easy to travel light up to the cabin assuming you can get a spot.  It only fits 15.  

This was Chris’ first time in Huntington and we were lucky to have even better conditions than last time.  Winds were low to none and temps were a bit warmer, probably in the high teens/low 20s.  I was amazed at the amount of extra snow there was at the base of the ravine.  The rock that Boris and I ate lunch on was essentially buried.  This might be from the avalanche activity that had occurred since the last time I was there.  Avalanche risks were posted at low for this particular day though.

Another party of two were in front of us on Pinnacle so we had some time to sort through our gear.  Since this is my first season on ice I’ve been very careful to not get too bold when leading.  However it is very easy thing to get run out on easy terrain.  The first pitch was about the same as last time, though we did belay from the right so Chris could stay in the sun.  At a certain point just before I got to the top Chris had to simul-climb up about 30 feet even with our 70m rope.  This isn’t usually necessary it was just a function of our belay position in the sun.

My lead on the first (hardest) pitch of Pinnacle felt great.  The ice is relatively low angle and there is plenty of it.  Screws can go in almost anywhere.  The only difficulty is the variability in the ice.  Some places it is soft and sticky, others are hard and brittle.  Chris followed me up and did a good job of cleaning the screws on his first time seconding.  While he was a little tired when finally getting to the belay I convinced him to lead the second pitch like I did last time.  This pitch is mostly snow with some ice near the top.  He did this without any trouble.

The third pitch is in between P1 and P2 in terms of difficulty and length.  I ran up this pretty quickly since some of it is snow, especially near the top.  Once there we ate a little lunch and enjoyed the sun and alpine scenery.  We decided against doing another gully and instead headed up towards the summit of Mt. Washington.  The day was too nice not to summit again.  It was a bit of a slog up the summit cone though.  Once on top the winds stayed low letting us spend a little time there unlike back in January.  The time was getting close to our pickup of Boris and Spencer so we headed down.  Rather than using the Lion’s Head Trail we opted to glissade down the summit cone.  This decision was not without its problems though.  While quicker and more direct, it was more difficult and more tiring that expected.  As I mentioned the snow was covered by a rock hard icy crust.  This made for a sore ride down.  Without using an ice tool it would be not dangerous but downright stupid, virtually guaranteeing injury.  With the tool pick jammed in the crust it kept our speeds reasonable.  No ice tool would have meant a painful 50 mph trip down.

We picked up Boris and Spencer at the Highland Center.  They had been there for a couple hours by the time we got there.  Their traverse was only 12.5 hours.  A blistering pace.  It was a sleepy cramped ride home from there.  A great weekend to wrap up my first ice climbing season.

Pictures