The terrible winter of 2011-2012 toils on. Terrible you say? How can you complain about mid forties and no snow pack even well into New Hampshire? Well if you’re an ice climber or skier then it shouldn’t be hard to figure out why this winter stinks. Despite the failings of Mother Nature, or climate change, human induced or not, Chris and I decided we needed to head north and do some climbing.
As luck would have it the weather on Thursday (Feb. 23) there was a snow event up in North Conway. As a result the avy danger was elevated and it didn’t die down because of additional trace amounts of snow and cold weather. Because of this Chris and I decided to table our plans for doing some of the gullies in Huntington Ravine on Mt. Washington–at least for Saturday.
Arriving in North Conway we headed to our camping spot just outside of town in the White Mountain National Forest. While winter camping isn’t all that bad it still is cumbersome but it didn’t make sense to rent a hotel room for about 6-7 hours of sleep when we wouldn’t need showers or to dry anything off. I even decided to bring my 20 degree bag along with my Mountain Hardware Compressor jacket and pants to see if I could stretch the 20 degree rating into closer to zero. I think my experiment worked just fine and I’d do it again. Anything below zero though and I think I’ll have to lug the -20 degree bag around. …
Waking up we headed to Dunkins for some grub and then to Frankenstein Cliffs. Frankestein is perhaps one of the best places in the country to climb ice because of its easy approaches, abundance and quality of climbing. Of course all of these reasons also make it busy on the weekends. We were lucky and were able to hop right onto almost all of the climbs we wanted to do.
First up was Pegasus (WI3) which because of the sunny and warm weather over preceding week or two had started to bake a bit, which makes it hard to protect well and more tiring because of the added force needed to sink the picks into secure placements. I was able to make pretty good work of the route with only a little trouble near the top because of how baked the ice was. Heading right we jumped on Smear (WI3) which was in a similar state.
Since last year I’ve been using my 70m Sterling dry rope for most of my ice climbing because it was dry and it was my newest rope. However after a couple seasons dragging across the rocks it has become a little fuzzy, not much but a bit. This has caused it to not be very dry any more. If the temps are a little warm the rope picks up water and becomes much heavier. I’ve been hoping to get a nice set of double/twin dry single pick ropes for only winter objectives. I finally pulled the trigger on a set of PMI Verglas 8.1mm ropes. This trip was the first time I was able to use them–and they are great. While heavier than a single 9.5mm rope they are lighter than two of them. The single pick makes them tight and hopefully fuzz free for many pitches to come. They never even got damp either.
After Smear we headed to Lost in the Forest (WI2) partially to scope out top roping locations for an up comping beginners climbing trip, but also for Chris to do a little leading. The route is great for TRing with beginners since it is wide, easily accessible and has a range of difficulties. Chris made quick work of the route and we moved right to Walk in the Forest (WI3) but unfortunately it was taken. Moving farther right we were able to head up Waterfall (WI3) which had the best ice of any of the routes we’d been on thus far. The finish even had some rock moves that Chris did in gloves.
By this point the day was winding down a little and I wanted to check out Arethusa Falls to see if it would work for a beginner area as well. The parking area is the same so we headed back that way and started up the trail. I didn’t realize the falls are 1.5 miles from the cars. While this wasn’t a big deal since the trail is well packed and only slightly inclined, it is still 1.5 miles. I cruised ahead and after passing about 10 climbers all headed out with puzzled looks on their faces why I was heading in, I got to the base of the falls.
They are about +100 feet high and have enough room for 3-4 ropes. By the time Chris showed up a few minutes after me I wasn’t sure we should lead it because it was about 4:30pm. While we had been climbing quickly so far that day things always seem to happen at the end of the day. I looked at it and decided we had walked all this way and it was such nice light that we should really do it. Tossing the headlamps on the helmet I headed up towards the obvious tree belay. On the way the ice was solid and better than much of the stuff down at Frankenstein. After getting to the top of the ice I noticed my belay tree didn’t have rap anchors on it so I traversed right to a tree that did. The traverse was fun because it was all steep snow with little to no ice under it. A very alpine kind of feel to it. I brought Chris up and we banged out the route in a little more than 40 minutes. We hustled out and only had to turn on the lamps in the last half of the decent.
We packed up Chris’ Golf TDI an headed towards town to our hotel room. Given that we had brought a lot of food since we thought we’d be at Harvard Cabin we decided to not go out into town for dinner. I had brought my 2 burner Coleman–well my parents stove that now lives with me–which is great for car camping. Setting up the stove in the bathroom with the vent on we proceeded to cook ourselves some tasty pasta, cheese and chicken for dinner, followed up by Scotch and juice box wine for dessert.
Sunday the weather was decent with some flakes in the air. We headed again up to Crawford Notch to try Cinema Gully (WI2). The weather at the top of the notch is windy and cold, more so than I would have liked but once out of that narrow funnel of rock it eased up a bit. Surprisingly we were the first ones onto Cinema despite an 8:30 arrival at the base. The route looked low angle and but not very snowy so we figured a plan to simul climb if I ran out of rope before the big ice bulge. This worked fine for the first pitch since I made it to the belay. I didn’t put much pro in but I didn’t think it was required, especially when old V threads were available to clip. Heading up the next pitch I could see that we’d probably run out of rope. Unfortunately Chris and I haven’t simulclimbed all that much together so there was a little adjustment getting used to the rope tension and such, but we figured it out and stretched the rope for another 1/3 to 1/2 of a length. The final pitch went with the right variation, which was baked but more interesting because of the added difficulty. Total time 100 minutes in 3 pitches. In the future I think a full simul climb on ashortened rope would be fine on this one.
Getting to the big terrace at the top of Cinema we shortened the ropes (correctly) and headed towards Hitchcock Gully (WI3). Again luck was on our side as we got to the climb with no one on it. The route reminded me a little of Pinnacle Gully (WI3+) on Washington, not as much snow but similar overhanging rock roof to it. I guess many people don’t do the second short pitch of the route but I found it quite fun and probably the most difficult climbing we’d done for the weekend, also the easiest to protect.
Rapping down we headed up East Face Slabs Right (WI3 – 3+) which was in super fat conditions. While a fellow climber recommended against rapping the Lower Hitchcock all the stuff I’ve read said to do it this way. We used my double ropes along with another party to zip down the last couple hundred feet of the Lower. I would like to do that one at some point. It looked like an interesting rock finish to the gully with an alpine approach. I ran into Jon Tierney the guide for the avy course I took a few weeks back and chatted with him a bit. Getting to the bottom we headed towards the Highland Center to get a quick weather and avy update to see if we should head to Harvard Cabin and take Monday off. While the avy report was good the weather was cold and windy, not terrible but certainly full on because of the wind. We decided to table the vacation day and headed back south.