A fantastic free variation to a rare visitor on the big wall of Mt. Pisgah, Lake Willoughby VT.
Kevin MacKenzie, aka “MudRat” of www.adirondackmountaineering.com gives us a tour of “Apex Predator” in the remote Panther Gorge
A great view of the spectacular “Diagonal” (WI 5 5.6) during the 2018 Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest.
A Climber’s Guide
by Alden Pellett
I opened the door to the sound of howling wind, blasting horizontally in front of the cabin loaded with fresh snow that felt like sandpaper on my face. The thought of ice climbing in this harsh below-zero weather made my gut turn. I closed the door, turning to my climbing partner Ryan, “We’re going to need more hot tea.”
For us, that was an early experience on the road to discovering the ice climbing potential in Newfoundland. We had arrived in mid-January that year, learning the hard way by enduring a long sub-zero cold snap with nasty winds that convinced us that it’s better to go later in the season. Before we left on the trip, Joe Terravecchia, one of the earliest pioneers of ice climbing in Newfoundland and whose slide show on climbing in the area had whet our appetites, had not offered up much beta, leaving us to discover what we could as we went.
“The striking Cholesterol Wall, an intimidating steep rock shield often covered in overhanging fat-like ice blobs”
Motivated by those tales of huge remote ice climbs, my friend Ryan Stefiuk and I had piled all of our climbing gear into my rig and headed out from Vermont. We drove out across Maine, through New Brunswick, and out to the tip of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. There, in North Sydney, as we drove onto the massive overnight ferry late in the evening, a ferry worker motioned us forward as we followed the line of heavily loaded semi-trucks down into the belly of the beast. We awoke the next morning in the upper deck to the sound of ship engines rumbling as we arrived in Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, relieved that we hadn’t experienced one of the legendary boat-tossing, vomit-inducing, heavy sea crossings the route can occasionally produce.
Hunting down where to ice climb in Newfoundland has never been easy. Information on first ascents and route beta has always been difficult to get from previously closemouthed visitors who were possibly hoping to keep the area quiet, to keep potential first ascents to themselves, and to maintain a sense of adventure for others, leaving other first-timers feeling more like they were on an expedition. In fact, this tight-lipped ethic has led to more than one climbing team declaring first ascents, only to find that the routes had been climbed years earlier.
On that first trip ten years ago, Ryan and I eventually found our way to the coastal town of Rocky Harbour. Along the way, the scenic windswept coastal lands scattered with stunted spruce trees that sprouted branches growing only on the downwind side hinted at severe weather. One highway sign along the way warned drivers of poor visibility and dangerous winds over 100 kilometers per hour.
Arriving there in the small fishing village near Gros Morne National Park, we soon learned that the prime area in the region, full of the huge classic ice climbs we had dreamed of, was Ten Mile Pond.
This deep freshwater fjord just outside of Rocky Harbour is home to dozens of big classic winter routes of world-class quality, from 600 feet long to near-Alaskan proportions of 2000 feet in length – many of which have only seen one ascent. Each of these stunning routes is every bit as classic as Quebec’s legendary 800-foot La Pomme D’ Or (WI5) or Polar Circus (WI5) in the Canadian Rockies.
The area is also home to the striking Cholesterol Wall, an intimidating steep rock shield often covered in overhanging fat-like ice blobs. The fat theme plays out on routes with names like Fat of the Land and Tundering Lard, both WI5+ and over 800 feet tall.
Thanks to a relatively accessible location with good comfortable lodging nearby and very friendly locals, this beautiful backcountry destination should eventually be on every serious ice climber’s tick list.
To help open the door for NEIce readers to find their way to this incredible spot, and actually enjoy the weather instead of fighting it, we’ve compiled some past stories and photos along with some good beta.
Stories on Newfoundland Ice Climbing:
Dreamline (WI6+, 1,260′) February 21, 2017 Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada Joe Terravecchia,Will Mayo and Anna Pfaff climbed a new, and spectacular line today, “Dreamline” (WI6+, 1,260′). Dreamline is a spray ice climb to the right of The Pissing Mare Waterfall on Western Brook Pond. Joe and Casey Shaw have been dreaming of, and eyeing this line since 1997, waiting […]
A Trip Report by Ryan Stefiuk – bigfootmountainguides.com The MV (marine vessel) Leif Ericson crunches through sea ice in the Cabot Strait. The ship’s hull groans and 2-3 meter thick ice buckles underneath. Cracks in the ice expose the intimidating midnight blue waters of the North Atlantic. I see the long low hills of the […]
by Ryan Stefiuk I buried my face inside my puffy coat as Andre’s snowmobile lurched into motion. The rubber tread beneath us occasionally slipped on the thick black tiles of ice as we sped along the pond. To my right, Alden and Walt were cruising along, closer to the shoreline. The Cholesterol Wall, looming just […]
Newfoundland Ice by Michael Wejchert “Walt Nichol, man of few understandable words, slows the snowmobile to a stop about twenty feet form my battered Toyota Corolla and I jump out. For the third time in as many days, Alden Pellett, Ryan Stefiuk and I thank Walt and step out of his cedar sleigh. We’ve all […]
How to Get There:
The best and cheapest way to get to Newfoundland is really to drive your own car. Yes, it’s a long drive!
Otherwise, fly into St. John, NL, and either rent a car there (A nine-hour drive to Rocky Harbour) or arrange an additional flight to Deer Lake, NL, where you can rent a car from any one of the major rental agencies. From there, Rocky Harbour is just an hour away.
If you are coming from most areas of the Northeast, get yourself to Bangor, Maine. From here, it is 550 miles out to North Sydney, Nova Scotia. From Bangor, take Maine State Rte. 9 across the southern part of the state. Cross the Canadian border to follow New Brunswick Rte. 1E (NB-1E) nearing the Bay of Fundy and eventually through Saint John, where the road heads more inland. Near River Glade, merge onto the Trans-Canada Hwy (NB-2E) and continue past Moncton, NB, where the highway starts heading more southerly finally reaching Nova Scotia, where it becomes NS104E. Eventually, the road becomes NS105E. Follow signs for Trans-Canada Highway/Cheticamp/Baddeck/Sydney. In North Sydney, turn right onto Orangedale Road (signs for Marble Mountain/Lona). Turn left onto Portage Road, then turn right onto NS-223 E (signs for Lona/Grand Narrows/North Sydney). Finally, continue onto Seaview Drive/NS-305 N. Once you are in the parking area for the ferry, you will find a terminal with bathrooms. Be prepared for a long wait if seas are rough. It is best to buy your tickets well in advance. You should arrive at least three hours before departure time.
Board the ferry for an overnight journey to Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland. Get your tickets and find the schedule and other information here: https://www.marineatlantic.ca/en/plan-your-travel/ferry-rates/
The Marine Atlantic ferry has overnight cabins with beds and a bathroom/shower, or you can go cheaper and opt for one of the less private bunkbeds. There is a cafeteria serving decent dinners and breakfasts on board. Note that you are not allowed to return to your car in the hold during the voyage, so bring whatever you need up top with you.
Once in Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, get on Trans-Canada Hwy/NL-1 E from Caribou Road and High Street. Continue through Corner Brook to Deer Lake. In Deer Lake, take NL-430 N eventually coming to views of the ocean in East Arm, fifteen minutes away from Rocky Harbour.
It’s possible to ski in and pitch camp by the fjord if you want. It’s been done, but why suffer? It’s much more enjoyable staying in town and hiring a local person to snowmobile you in for an early start and back out at the end of the day where you can have a shower, a cold beer, and a hot meal after climbing all day. Once in the fjord, the hard part will be deciding which of more than a dozen world-class routes to do that day. One could spend two weeks climbing in Ten Mile and still be left with plenty more to do on your next visit. If you are looking to tick off a first ascent here – good luck! Climbers have been quietly coming here for over twenty-five years. To quote an early first-ascensionist, “We climbed that place silly!” But, if you find an unlikely challenging line that catches your eye, give it a try! You just might get lucky. The ethic established at Ten Mile Pond and other fjords in the region is one of traditional ground-up climbing with no bolting.
Where to Stay:
On the return trip, we have found it nice timing after leaving the ferry behind, to have dinner and stay in the small town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
In Rocky Harbour, we love Gros Morne Cabins. Not too fancy, comfortable, cozy, and an easy walk to the store for beer, food, etc. Kitchen, stove, oven, refrigerator, shower, and wifi. http://grosmornecabins.ca/
When to Go:
Early January can be windy and frigid. For longer days, more ice, and better overall conditions, go in February into early March. It’s mandatory for the inland fjord of Ten Mile Pond to be frozen in order to facilitate easy snowmobile or ski access without having to go over the top of Gros Morne Mountain. Once on the shore of the fjord, it’s generally only a thirty- to forty-minute approach uphill with snowshoes or on frozen neve if conditions are perfect. Weather is a serious topic in Newfoundland. Whiteout snowstorms can sneak up on unsuspecting visitors. Local residents keep close tabs on the forecast, often planning their travels to town around it. If what the locals call “dirty” weather is coming, it’s best to stay close to home or indoors.
There is actually usable cell service at the west end of Ten Mile Pond, so you can call if needed. There is excellent cross-country ski touring and backcountry skiing to be had throughout the region. Ice fishing is a popular local activity along with snowmobiling.
Smaller routes can be found everywhere around the region. Oceanside ice climbing on the cliffs at Cox’s Cove makes an excellent half-day adventure. Be sure to go at low tide.
Poke-O-Moonshine – A flight by “Angel Eyes” 12.01.18
I have been doing some work on E-Guide over the summer. With the help of Jim Lawyer I have mapped out the Ice Climbing areas for Blue Lines 2 by Don Mellor. This is an interactive map. Zoom in, move around and click the icons for details. Explore new areas to climb ice, get driving directions and GPS data for that area. Click the full-screen icon for an immersive experience. Topo and satellite views are available. Area and climb descriptions can be found in Blue Lines 2 by Don Mellor.
The intent of E-Guide is to give you an overhead view and information for the different ice climbing areas of the Northeast.
If you have corrections or want to help with E-Guide contact [email protected]
“Both of us are in disbelief at what just happened. It was positively insane. It’s the last day of our trip and we’re three pitches up this absurdly steep four-pitch wall above the Riviere Sainte-Marguerite, five miles from the road.”
Two New Ice Climbs in Panther Gorge
by Kevin MacKenzie
Charybdis (WI4/400’): FA Kevin MudRat MacKenzie, Laura Duncan, Brent Elliot
Scylla (WI4/180’): FA Brent Elliot, Kevin MudRat MacKenzie
“Kevin continues to find excellent climbing and adventure in Panther Gorge”
Twin Fracture Gully is a deep gash that slices into the side of Marcy along the southern border of the Huge Scoop. The distinctive feature is 20’ wide and deeply inset into the southeastern aspect of the ridge. The main channel splits into dual gullies amidst roof systems at its top. As a drainage for the ridge, it is a chossy wet mess during non-winter seasons, but that sets it up for fat ice
when the snow flies. It’s been on my winter tick list for a few years, but the thought of trudging that far into the Gorge was unappealing for several seasons. I kept it in my pocket as a backup option in case a target line wasn’t fully formed.
Enter Laura Duncan and Brent Elliott, two climbers I met in Panther Gorge during February of 2017. They drove 7 hours to share in an Adirondack adventure. We met at the Garden Trailhead in Keene Valley at 4:15 AM on Saturday, February 17. Our primary target was a smear about 100’ north of the Agharta ice route. The potential line looked fat from afar during a January trip. I questioned whether the bottom of the curtain had touched down and, if not, whether we’d be able to find a way up to the ice. Recent rain followed by a flash freeze sparked my hopes, but longer daylight hours and the dark anorthosite of Marcy were working against it. The only way to find out was to visit.
Hard-packed trails aided with the nearly 8-mile approach to the northern pass of the Gorge. The crust off-trail wasn’t entirely supportive, but the underlying snowpack was firm enough to keep us afloat except for the occasional spruce trap. We walked out on the snowfield below the Agharta Wall 45 minutes later after some bushwhacking acrobatics in the talus. Its namesake route, and Just Nickel and Iron were fat. A blue sky and warm sun were overhead in contrast to the forecast which called partly cloudy skies with 15-20 m.p.h. winds—not good for the smear. Our hopeful line looked terrifying. Melted daggers were 15’ from the ground, and there wasn’t enough feature in the rock to climb up to their start. The middle of the smear was nearly melted out. I grumbled to myself, reset my ambitions and suggested we trek about 15 minutes south to Twin Fracture Gully at the edge of the large northern walls. If that wasn’t in, we could climb Agharta and throw new-routing to the wind.
The snowfield showed the evidence of the recent warm spell. We passed a spear of ice sticking out of the surface while descending to the Scoop. A few minutes later, we were catching our breath in the alders in the snowfield near the gully. I climbed up high enough to view the top, and my heart jumped with excitement. I could see ice capping the cliff at the end of the gully. It wasn’t simply climbable; it was fat. The 6-hour approach suddenly seemed worth the effort. I said a quick prayer for a safe climb before the action started.
Laura tied in and zipped up the first pitch. Several women have made their mark in the Gorge including Emilie Drinkwater who climbed Panther Gorge Falls (aka Grand Central Waterfall) during her historic solo of Joe Szot’s Adirondack Trilogy (https://www.neice.com/2009/03/the-trilogy-adirondacks-ny/ ). To my knowledge, Laura is the first woman to be part of an ice climbing first ascent in the area. She took the first pitch 180’ up to a bulge below the confluence of the dual gullies. It didn’t take long before she had Brent and me on belay.
Marcy enveloped us as we climbed side by side on the blue ice and through the snow. Upon reaching the anchor, we climbed another 50’ up to a stance that was protected from icefall. We assessed the options and discussed strategy. Our initial thought was to put up a single long line, but it was early, and there were two obvious choices. After discussion, we agreed that I would lead the left, we’d rappel, and Brent would lead the right. The terrain after the top was likely just a low-angle gully.
With the climbing logistics under control, I looked around and was amazed by the ice formations on all sides: ramps, bulges, smears, hanging spikes and wind-whipped icicles. The gully had some similarities to Multiplication Gully as well as Haggis and Cold Toast (on steroids). I climbed 30’ up the first bulge, placed a screw and disappeared from view into an ice-entombed chimney. A fat curtain on the right, several inches of clear ice on the left and a thick ramp underfoot set the stage for comfortable if not occasionally awkward climbing. Higher, the right-hand wall opened for an unobstructed view to the north. Large black roofs and hanging daggers were overhead. I rested in a large cave under the roofs. Curtains of ice continued north, but I planned to take the line straight up an exposed vertical curtain and into an icy constriction. Twenty feet higher, I worked my way into a squeeze chimney of freshly formed ice. The route was still building. I didn’t expect to find “plastic” during the climb since we’re usually fighting bullet ice at this elevation. I stemmed and squirmed my way into a good stance for another rest. I looked down, and Laura and Brent were back into view. Another short vertical tier led onto a bulge and into the trees. I was nearing the end of the rope, so I slung a solid spruce and set up an anchor. The length of the new route was 400’ with three pitches. It was thrilling to find such a challenging and aesthetic line to lead.
Laura, then Brent, followed. It was impossible to see her progress until she entered the upper chimney. Her smiling face popped into view and she yelled, “This is the best pitch of ice I’ve ever climbed!” That alone made my day. I love sharing these experiences with people who appreciate the rugged beauty (and a bit of suffering). Brent soon appeared as Laura took photos of him cresting the top. Instead of climbing directly to our position, he explored right to see if we should continue the line. A low angle snow gully led to another short bulge, but it didn’t seem worth the effort, so we rappelled down to the confluence and prepared to take on the northern gully.
Our warm, cozy nook turned into a blustery freezer as high-level clouds, and a moderate breeze moved in—the conditions of the original forecast. The temperature was in the single digits with windchill. Laura and I were shivering even while wearing belay jackets. She decided to rappel to the packs to heat some soup and take shelter. Brent and I remained to continue the quest though I admit that at the time I’d have been just as happy to have descended with her. I knew the climbing would eventually bring my hands back to life. I watched the cedars whip back and forth along the cliff top and shivered again.
It was easier to keep sight of the leader on this line though showers of ice chips occasionally sent me scrambling for protection against the right-hand wall. A few short vertical sections led to a ramp below a vertical curtain. The crux was at the top. A half hour later I saw Brent’s head pop into view as he yelled, “Off belay!” I tried to climb fast enough to regain feeling in my fingers. It worked just as I reached the curtain. I stopped to rest and deal with the “screaming barfies.” It was a visually intimidating arena with a few columns that had touched down and plenty of free-hanging mass. One could put up a WI5 here if they were so inclined. A line up the right side offered a more comfortable option. It had the requisite awkward exit into a dense cedar grove—classic Adirondack adventure climbing. The belay station was…intimate—what happens in Panther Gorge stays in Panther Gorge. Brent’s line was 180’ long.
Two rappels later found us back at our packs and behind the shelter of a small ridge. Laura emerged from the trees looking reinvigorated from a hot meal. It was 4:30 PM and the waning sun looked like a soft orb as it moved toward Marcy’s ridge behind the clouds. My motivation shifted from new-routing to something more simple—bushwhacking back to the trail before darkness swallowed the Gorge. I knew the way, but trail-breaking out through the north pass in the dark is dispiriting. We slowly followed our tracks, connecting glades until we reached the Panther Den at the top. Here we diverged from our entry path to avoid the talus in the center of the drainage. By Tooth and Claw (a route Bill Schneider, Devin Farkas and I added in 2016) was in thin but climbable condition. This is another reliable route when other lines are delaminating. Several new possibilities including what looked like a WI6 on the Panther Den’s prow were in as well.
The off-trail situation became humorous during the final push from the cliff to the Phelps Trail. Laura broke trail for a bit and did a fine job of finding the powder stashes which brought her to a screeching halt on some of the steeper slopes. Brent quipped that she was a skier at heart. At least I knew where not to step. It was around 5:30 PM when we reached “civilization.” With 8 miles to go, the day was far from over.
We named the routes Charybdis (WI4/400’) and Scylla (WI4/180’) during a discussion at Slant Rock. Twin monsters of the deep Gorge seemed appropriate and Laura liked that Scylla is depicted as a female in Greek mythology. A warm fire at Johns Brook Lodge seduced us into another rest. In the end, we reached the trailhead at 10:30 PM after roughly 18 hours over as many miles—a full day, but appropriate for the route location and snow conditions.
The number of named ice climbs on Marcy and Haystack has grown from a single backcountry classic, Agharta (ca. 1999), to 14 routes as of 2018. The grades range from WI2 to WI5-. Additional details may be found at:
A New Test Piece in the Catskills
by Christopher Beauchamp
I could feel a familiar tingle in my fingers warning that were I not careful, the barfies would soon arrive. I cursed myself for letting my hands go numb and whined to no one in particular about the cold. My feet were numb as well, but that was more a result of hanging in my harness for too long rather than any environmental condition. What the hell was I even doing up here? I was the only one who had been in the canyon all day. And of course I was, it was a random weekday, people were at work, busy being productive members of society or whatever it is regular rational people did with their days. Given what a fiscal disaster the previous year had been, shouldn’t I also be at work? Shouldn’t I be franticly courting new clients? Or at the very least massaging the relationships I had with existing ones? Certainly almost anything would be a better use of a day than driving 6 hours round trip in order to freeze while dangling on the end of rope with a crowbar and hammer, cleaning loose rock off some random bit of steep choss while sinking $100+ of stainless steel, epoxy and chain into the rock in the hope of possibly climbing it on some unknown future date. I’d already invested 3 days into this route and was again beginning to ponder my life choices.
The first day Lucho Romero impressively climbed and aided up the faint knife blade crack to the roof before handing over the reins. The second, we attempted some bizarre back-tensioned top rope setup, but I was far too chicken shit to commit to pulling on the holds in the ceiling. The Catskills rock can at times be dubious at best and on such a flat roof I’d be pulling them directly towards my face. Now I’d squandered a third day removing the loose bits and putting some glue-ins in the roof so we could properly work the route, all the while continuously attempting to rationalize . Does it even go? I could be donating blood. Can I climb it? Or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Would anybody else even want to climb it? Or wandering the streets picking up litter. It was getting dark and I was hungry and numb so I abandoned the crack I was mining frozen mud out of and jugged up the rope out of the canyon, half laughing at the absurdity of it all.
“I think I can knee bar the ice!” I gleefully exclaimed two weeks later from the small ice dagger guarding the edge of the roof down to my partner Ryan Stefiuk. I was ecstatic to find even the slightest respite for my completely flamed forearms. We had dialed in a very manageable sequence to get up to and out the roof over a few previous sessions but finding a viable way to turn the lip was proving to be more elusive. We had taken turns all day groveling up into the awkward icy corner above the roof in search of beta that felt right and would allow us to put the whole thing together, but all we were finding was a deep, fatiguing pump. Ryan and I have very different climbing styles. He actually knows what he’s doing, while I’m usually busy perfecting the art of flailing. Accordingly, it’s not surprising we were arguing about the “best” beta. He was vigorously advocating a series of free hanging campus moves knowing damn well that I’m terrible at campusing while rock climbing let alone with ice tools. Also I’m not nearly strong enough to do the moves he was proposing. I was arguing for an upper grip figure four followed by some foot jiggery and the aforementioned ice knee bar. We were both trashed and had been planning to head home that night but spurred by my new beta and knowing that the ice was likely going to melt out in the next few days, we agreed to give it another go in the morning. Unfortunately the route had other ideas, the ice dagger was gone when we returned leaving a shell of unbonded and fairly useless looking ice above the roof so we immediately set about searching for a new dry sequence through the final moves. Our quick morning send would have to wait.
We returned a few days later for the send, fittingly accompanied by Lucho with whom we who had started the route. That night making the long slow drive home, I was blissfully floating along the snowy back roads of the Berkshires. But as I looked back on the climbing days of the previous month I came to realize that it wasn’t about the sending. It was about the process, despite seeming so futile in moment, the people who shared in that process and the opportunity to make something to be shared with other climbers. I’ve read that people are notorious for operating as though the way things are is the way they will continue to be, despite knowing that change is inevitable. Reflecting on that idea, I attempted to appreciate the moment and the fact that I felt incredibly lucky to have a crew of rad climbers who are psyched to go try, just because, and access a place with awesome potential, at a time when that potential is still waiting to be unlocked as most of the routes we’ve established would’ve been done years ago were they in a different location. This route sits less than 100 yards from the first route I’d ever established a decade previous. Their physical proximity belying the changes and what feels like completely different lives playing out in between establishing one and the other. Driving along in my heightened awareness of the evanescent nature of life and climbing, my thoughts wander and I start to wonder what the next route will be like.
“Danse Macabre” is located on the Gomorrah Wall of the Upper Devils Kitchen in the Catskills, NY and is currently the most difficult M route in the Cats, more importantly it is arguably the best, being marked by secure powerful dry tooling, graceful movement and perhaps just a touch of grovel.
Dreamline (WI6+, 1,260′)
February 21, 2017
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada
Joe Terravecchia,Will Mayo and Anna Pfaff climbed a new, and spectacular line today, “Dreamline” (WI6+, 1,260′). Dreamline is a spray ice climb to the right of The Pissing Mare Waterfall on Western Brook Pond. Joe and Casey Shaw have been dreaming of, and eyeing this line since 1997, waiting for it to come into condition. Today it was in condition. Unfortunately, after waiting out a week of storms and bad weather Casey had to return to work and was not around to finish his dream of climbing this phenomenal ice route.
Will Mayo – “It’s the raddest ice climb I’ve ever done”. Anna Pfaff – “we sent a new mega line up wild medusa like formations of spray ice and other worldly features”.
“This was the most adventuresome and satisfying ice climb of our careers, we all agree.” – Will Mayo
Sources: Facebook, Wikipedia, Instagram, Gripped.com & Will Mayo