Tricks and Treats
There are many advantages to getting out early besides the pure beauty you will find. Climbing freshly formed ice up a long gully not covered by snow is an excellent workout. The benefit for the mind and body and a release of the soul is limitless. These conditions also offer the perfect opportunity of getting into a rhythm of movement over long distance, a time to find yourself. Simple gullies become more of a challenge when the ice is thin and there is no snow. Besides reading the ice to find the thickest place to travel, you have to keep your head up and pick the best line far ahead, for down climbing ice is a discipline best practiced in a more controlled environment. And on thin ice that is not an easy task. Another advantage is with your gear. Getting into the packing routine and making sure living room adjustments to the crampons are dialed in before the full on season.
It is a given that every year I’ll have at lest one false start. Theses days out are still worth it for there is always something to prick your interest if you want it. Not finding ice and climbing the Huntington Ravine trail, through the headwall in unsavory conditions is not a simple hike. Moving through fog over wet and verglas covered rock while the song of Pinnacle Gully in liquid form sings behind will keep your attention.
Lastly, I always know where I’ll go looking for ice long before the freezing takes place, except this year.
Finding the Lost Dutchman’s Mine
I fall silent, listening to the excitement in the car. The live human voices are in competition with the recorded sounds coming from the car’s speakers. The voices increase in volume in an unconscious effort to take center stage. It’s Friday, August 31. Mt. Katahdin is in the rearview mirror and the talk is of coming back for one more rock climb before winter descends on the mountain.
After the usual reentry back to everyday routines and the thermals of the brilliant Pamola 4 route had dissipated a little. It was time to book another trip back to Baxter State Park. I picked the second weekend in October. A time when the first ice of the season, under the right circumstances, can be found here in New Hampshire. Doug and I knew we would climb ice soon, but figure it would be on Mt.Washington or Adams… not Katahdin.
Seven days before our departure, the forecast in northeast looked promising for ice. The NEIce weather guru, Smike was predicting an ascent of Pinnacle Gully. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday was calling for overcast skies, snow flurries with temperatures in the low twenties. But for us, the coup de grace on climbing rock and the finding of ice came with this. Clearing Friday night, winds ramping up and temperatures bottoming out in the teens. Doug and I spoke the day before we left. The rock gear would still come with us to Roaring Brook, however our packs were made ready with ice gear even before we left our homes.
We arrived late Friday to snow flurries. I was up Saturday at 5am. The predawn was cold, clear and the stars were shinning bright. By 6:30 we were on the trail chipping away at the 3+ miles to Chimney Pond and the dramatic walls of the South Basin. The minuscule shadow of doubt that lingered unspoken of, in darkest corners of our minds evaporated with each mile. The trail conditions were frozen ground with patches of hard ice. The decision was right and our commitment to finding ice was about to be realized.
We emerged from the Cilley-Barber drainage and on to the talus proper, here we switched from sneakers to our climbing boots. There was now a few inches of snow on the rocks and alders. Our intended route was in complete view, the ice went for hundreds of feet up huge slabs to a talus break.
Photos and text by Alan Cattabriga
With help (as usual) from Doug Millen