2020-02 New England Climbing Trip

February 19-21, 2020

During our winter trip planning we decided to put off a New England trip until Carly’s birthday so that we could celebrate with family and also get the extra vacation day of President’s day. Coincidentally, February just happens to be in the thick of ice climbing season just about anywhere and so it was in New England.

We got to Mass. and did some axe throwing, karting, jigsaw puzzles, and general hanging around with Carly’s family for a few days. The plan was to split our family time with 3 days of climbing in the middle. Unfortunately, we did have to shift our plan slightly since there was snow on Tuesday that didn’t make driving all the way to North Conway wise. Additionally, the school break also had booked all the hotels on that night as well.

New England always amazes me with the winter weather. We are getting soft in Salt Lake where the valley frequently has 40 degree highs and 20 degree lows. The mountains are colder of course, but typically only 10 or so degrees lower. In typical New England fashion a storm came in after some moderately cold weather, got warm at the tail end, raining in southern NH, and then got bitterly cold after that. All in the span of 36-48 hours.

We climbed at Cathedral Ledge despite not having a ton of stuff in. We broke trail in +8″ up to Goofer’s (you’re welcome North Conway climbers). We did some laps on the North End where Carly lead some stuff, including all of Thresher (WI2+) in one pitch. We also broke trail over to Repentance and Remission to take a look. P1 of Repentance to the ledge with bolts looked doable but we were running out of daylight.

Carly leading up Standard Left (WI3). Conditions were cold and she did a great job.

The next two days were about 10F overnight. With the forecast to be cold we thought that climbing something south facing might be good to stay warm. We slogged up to Great Madness in Crawford Notch (again you’re welcome) but found the wind stronger and sun weaker than we’d hoped. We ended up heading a little down valley to Frankenstein which was warmer and less windy. Carly did some great leading on Standard Left (WI3) and I did Pegasus (WI3+) descending with headlamps.

Lake Willoughby never was able to climb while living in CT. I’m not sure if it was due to intimidation of the routes, the drive, or lack of good conditions. This year reports are plentiful showing the Lake in fat conditions. With it being our last day we needed to head back to Manchester to visit with my family. Luckily, the drive from North Conway to Lake Willoughby and the Lake to Manchester is all the same time.

We got up relatively early to do the ~2 hour drive so that we’d be getting to the base of the climbs just as the sun hit them around 10:15. As we got in the car in North Conway we noticed the temps, -9F. We started heading west and the temps dropped a bit as we got to Crawford Notch, -15F. The day was clear and the sun was up at this point. We continued on with the defrost on ‘2’ to keep the windows clear.

We passed Bretton Woods and over the mountain to Twin Mountain, -22F. Psych was low for doing anything outside seeing that number. Reaching St. Johnsbury the car temp said back up to -12F. We decided that we’d have a sit down breakfast in the hopes that the 22F forecasted high would show up. Obviously, it didn’t but it did warm considerably by the time we arrived at the Lake, 10F. We took a lap down the cliff in the car and decided to park in the village to avoid parking on the narrow snowbank filled road. Without wind, in the sun, 10F can feel pretty warm.

View of Lake Willoughby’s walls from the parking in the village. For scale, the climbs on the right are about 60-70m pitches.

The climbing at the Lake is as huge as the descriptions make it out to be. Never having been here we opted for the easy climbs on the right side. These are only in the WI3ish zone, but the recent temps and the length of the climbs made them much harder than I expected. The ice was super hard and since the “routes” are immensely wide they are fresh ice which is more work. Rapping required a full 60-70m rap. I’m hoping to get back out here again and climb some of the more classic lines. I’ll have to keep cruising for conditions reports in the future.

The drive back to Manchester was pretty casual and we were able to spend some quality time with the parents before heading back to UT and milder temps. It is currently 53F at the house as I write.

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