Thwarted by the weather on my three day trip to Harvard Cabin over the Christmas Break, I was hoping to get out as soon as possible to get some real ice climbing in. The middle of last week had me checking the weather and conditions on NEIce.com for the Adirondacks. Everything looked good so Chris and I made plans.
Friday night we drove up to Chapel Pond and the campground nearby. On the ride up we were surprised at how little snow there was on the ground. Only about 1 inch was to be found. A dismal amount for the beginning of January in the Dacks. Over a couple beers we set up camp which really just consisted of Chris’ awesome 4 person car camping tent. …
The weather Saturday was predicted to be warm and it didn’t surprise. I estimate the temperatures were around 35F for much of the day, only starting to cool down well into the evening. As a result the routes were wet. So wet that my “dry” 70m was sopping wet at the end of the day. On rappels the rope squeezed out water in buckets. Wet routes don’t make for comfortable climbing, but it does make for awesome plastic ice. One swing and its in.
Our first objective was Chouinard’s Gully (WI3) a classic 2-3 pitch route smack dab across from the parking area. A quick jaunt across the pond (tentative at first, but confidently later based on the number of footprints we saw) brought us to the base of the climb. Again the lack of snow in the woods made the approach a little slippery than it would be in normal conditions. Luckily no one was on the climb and we headed straight up. The first portion was a little thin but still took 16cm screws in some spots. The ramps lead up and left and after a little less than a rope length I stopped at a convenient belay tree off to the left. A team in front of us was just starting to rappel just as Chris got to the belay. They thankfully stopped at a belay tree above us and pulled their ropes. The second pith lead off right to another ramp. After that a steeper section lead to either easier climbing on left or a vertical section for about 15 feet. I chose the steeper section and it was great, though much of the whole climb was running with water. This made for good sticks but wet gloves. I brought Chris up and we rapped down in 3 raps with my 70m rope, the first rap being a stretcher. On the second rap I stupidly dropped my belay device. I’m usually very good with removing my device from the rope after a rappel, but this time I flubbed it up some how; down it went. Chris rapped down and then I followed using a munter. I looked all through the last rap for my device but didn’t see it. There was just enough snow to make looking easy but not too deep for it to have disappeared. Disappointed I packed up my stuff at the bottom and make one last sweep of the potential drop zone. Success! It was lying next to a few stick poking through the runoff of the route. Being that it never hit any rock I put it right back in service. The rest of the day was pretty easy over at Pitchoff Right doing some top roping and lead with preplaced screws.
Saturday night brought slightly cooler temps but some spritz rain unfortunately. The clouds were quite low and scattered and often the moon poked through them. Being almost full it was like a night light being flipped on and off when it came out. I should have brought my tripod, as it would probably have made good shots over the pond.
Sunday was cooler and a some flurries filled the air as we walked from our campsite to Crystal Ice Tower (WI4-). Bolstered by the previous day TRing/leading some 4s on preplaced gear, I felt that I could handle this one pitch climb. As described it was pretty beat out and that made it easier. I felt really good leading it. Chris and I took a peak at the pitch above Crystal Ice Tower which is called White Line Fever (WI2-3). Mellor’s book calls it a fairly easy climb depending on the conditions. I would agree with that statement after climbing it. The next pitch headed up a narrowish runnel of ice about 3-4 feet wide. In some spots the ice was too thin for screws but I was able to place 1-2 and also got a nut in. Nearer the top of the 165ft pitch it fattened up and took some longer screws. It was great fun, especially since it was so different than other ice climbs I’ve done before. The remaining pitches of WLF are a short walk up hill from P2. Chris and I headed up and things looked really thin. The start had no ice at all. I waffled a bit and said, “What they heck, let’s just try it.”
Bear-hugging the tree I clambered up the first couple feet. Once on top of that ledge some very low angle climbing lead to more thin ice. This stuff was still deep enough to sink a pick in pretty well, just with moderate swings. The climbing continued and took another nut and a screw or two, but there wasn’t much ice to use for pro. I started to run out of rope and decided to use a less than ideal belay on the left. There was another slightly higher belay to the right but I’m not sure if it would have been all that much better. I brought Chris up and we figured out the rope and got ourselves set up for the next pitch.
Pitch 4 started off on thin ice again. This one lead up a V groove. On the right hand side was a large flow which was deep enough to sink a 19cm screw into. Good for keeping me off the belay anchor in a fall, though the angle was low enough that I would not have fallen as much as slide/bounced along the groove first. Immediately after the large flow there was almost no ice. I drytool placement on the left and a reach to clip a fixed piton at an awkward section got my heart rate up. To move through the awkward section I stemmed way out on the large flow with my right foot and used the left tool on rock, with my right I was able to gently stick the pick in the ice which dwindled down to only about 6 inches wide and no more than an inch thick–definitely no ice protection here. Moving right around the bulge with the piton I continued up, but at this point my right foot also had to go dry and scratch against the nearly blank slab. Carefully moving up I was able to get in a nut and then a few feet later a tricam. These ended up being about 15ft or so above the piton. Spicy! More delicate climbing on similar ice got me to a tree and then another tree, both of which I slung. Thankfully at this point there was a huge ledge I escaped out on to the right. My calves were burning because of the lowish angle of what little ice there was. From the ledge a 12 ft headwall brought me up to the anchors. Wow! What a pitch.
I got the belay in order and brought Chris up. No pics from this pitch at all since I was busy making sure to have a tight belay. I should have gotten one on the way down with our two rope rappel but I didn’t have the camera out at the time. These two climbs were awesome. Varied and lead to some good exposure high above Chapel Pond. I highly recommend these pitches, especially in the thin conditions we have right now. Bring some rock gear, a few short screws, and some nerves for the very thin climbing.
We walked back across the pond to Lions on the Beach (WI4) which was only about 200 yards from our campsite and the car. Joshua Tree style ice climbing :-). I lead up without too much trouble. The climb was hacked up a bit but steeper and more sustained than Crystal Ice Tower. The shape of the ice reminded me of pictures of Dracula (WI4) at Frankenstein in New Hampshire, just shorter. Dracula is my goal lead for this year so this was good practice. I definitely have to get some more pitches in before trying to lead it though. Lions on the Beach didn’t cause any problems but I would like a little more confidence first.
For the first actual bit of ice I climbed this year I was very surprised at how confident I felt. I don’t want to rush things, but I think I should be climbing really strong by the end of this season.