An Ice Climbers Guide to the Catskill Mountains – 3rd edition

Yes, we have been waiting for this ice guide!

An Ice Climber's Guide to the Catskill Mountains, Third Edition

An Ice Climber’s Guide to the Catskill Mountains, Third Edition

An Ice Climber’s Guide to the Catskill Mountains, Third Edition
The exclusive and detailed guide to ice climbing in the Catskill Mountains of New York, by Marty Molitoris.
Third Edition Now Including:
Aerial Photos in both color and black & white
Color National Geographic Topographical Maps
Over 170 New Routes
8 New Areas!

ISBN 978-0-9747067-3-3

Retail: $29.95

For more information, please visit AnIceClimbersGuideToTheCatskillMountains.com
Pick up a copy of An Ice Climbers Guide to the Catskill Mountains at the following locations:

Rock & Snow
44 Main St
New Paltz, NY 12561
845-255-1311

www.rockandsnow.com
Alpine Endeavors – Ebay

You may also be interested in The Devil is in the Details

The Great Gulf

PB090072

THE GREAT GULF

by Courtney Ley

The Great Gulf.  There could be no other name for it.  When I look at it from the vantage point of Mt Clay, I imagine the walls of this giant cirque begin to expand suddenly, high rocks and cliffs start breaking apart and tumble into its gaping mouth. I see the summit of Mt. Washington tilting, the buildings shake and crumble, sliding into the dark abyss with deafening sound. All that’s left is a giant cavern.  The Great Gulf just swallowed Mt. Washington whole.

But as I stand on the summit of Mt. Clay on this day, all is still.  The only moving object is the sun as it lowers over Franconia Ridge to the west, creating long shadows across the Presidential Range. I hear no tumbling rocks or collapsing cliffs.  I only hear the sound of the wind beating on my jacket.  I am alone and feel at ease.  I watch the sky turn pastel colors and soft lenticular clouds form high above me. I adjust my hood to block the wind the best I can and head down the mountain towards Sphinx Col.

PB090086                                               PB090093

My need for seclusion brought me to the Great Gulf.  Some approach the gulf from Huntington Ravine and do it in March or April when the gulf is filled with the years snowfall and travel is relatively easy.  I had two days and decided to approach it from its beginnings. I wanted to wind my way through its endless water courses and forest canopies.  It’s not very far in miles, but the wilderness trails are left to the forces of nature.  The trees fallen across paths remain in place and water is not forcefully diverted away.  Long bogs and difficult river crossings are a norm here.  I enjoy the wilderness feel, as it’s hard to find in the developed White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The Great Gulf is by no means ‘out there’.  A quick jaunt up the Chandler Ridge finds you at the Auto Road and once you top out of the headwall, there’s Mt. Washington’s summit with its restaurant and gift shops.  The Great Gulf Wilderness was conceived in 1964 and is New Hampshire’s oldest yet smallest wilderness area, comprising just 5,658 acres.  Despite this, the giant glacial cirque leaves you feeling like you are somewhere remote and far away from anyone and anything.

PB090036

PB090035

‘Wait Until Dark’ Gully (on right)

Admittedly, I also had another motive.  I was hunting down ice and I had a good feeling I’d find some here.  Not only is the gulf at a high elevation but it’s predominately north facing and it’s walls rarely see sunlight.  It had the elements necessary for early season capture.  I pitched my tent at one of the designated tent sites along the Great Gulf Trail and set out.  Unlike other ravines, the gulf doesn’t show its full self until you are just about at its walls.  The spruce are tall and the tiny Spaulding Lake proves the only vantage point from the floor during this time of year.  When I worked my way around the lake I got a glimpse of ‘Wait Until Dark’ Gully.  It begged me forth. I knew reaching the entrance would be no easy task.  I was proved wrong, it was much harder than I imagined.  Giant truck-sized boulders were scattered among thick spruce.  Enormous crevasses littered themselves between boulders.  The terrain was so difficult I couldn’t fathom enough snow falling to fill it all in.  I thought about turning around several times, but each time I dreaded going back more than I dreaded continuing forward.  It took me almost two hours from once I left the trail until I crawled to the start of the ice begging for mercy.

My spirits lifted when I saw the gully filled with beautiful solid ice.  For a full length pitch, I enjoyed a continuous flow of grade 2 ice.  I fell into my rhythm of swings and kicks, focused solely on ice in front of me. Occasionally, some ice would break loose and fall away, echoing as it hit into the rocks.  A reminder of the vast amphitheater that I was climbing in.  At times, the wind would funnel down the gully, picking up snow and swirling it in a cold dance towards me. I lowered my head and let it pass each time.  The wind tried to push me backward, as if I did not belong.  But I knew I did, at least for this brief while.   A short steep step led me to the upper ice which was at a lower angle with a few short bulges.  I stopped more frequently here and took in my surroundings.  Eventually the ice relented to a rock and vegetation finish.  I hit the Mt. Clay summit loop trail immediately when I topped out, as it hugs the lip of the gulf.

PB090045    PB090051    PB090061     PB090054

I never saw anyone all day and nor would I during the night and majority of the next day.  Now I stood on the summit of Mt. Clay with no one else in sight on the ridge.  I sat down in a wind-sheltered area and looked back at where I had come from.  I couldn’t think of my time in the gulf spent any other way. It had granted me my solitude.  It was as it was meant to be.  I imagined the entirety of the Great Gulf as it expanded, shuttered, and devoured the nearby peaks.  I imagined the Great Gulf as it swallowed me too.

 

Photographs by Courtney Ley (click on images to enlarge)

 

 

 

Training for the New Alpinism

Training for the new alpinism

Training for the new alpinism

In Training for the New Alpinism, Steve House, world-class climber and Patagonia ambassador, and Scott Johnston, coach of U.S. National Champions and World Cup Nordic Skiers, translate training theory into practice to allow you to coach yourself to any mountaineering goal.

“Training for the New Alpinism is a manual that guides you in constructing a simple, progressive training program lasting from six weeks to a year and beyond. The book has been heralded as a road-map to greater alpine climbing success for climbers of all abilities”

Get a copy here

North Gully, Huntington Ravine 2.22.13

     

 

The calm before the storm and another beautiful day in the alpine zone. One week earlier Doug and I enjoyed the “calm” with entirely different conditions in Madison Gulf.  This time we experienced mid March weather on February 22.

Enjoy and get ready for the long days of March.

Alan Cattabriga

Click images to enlarge.

Photos from our day

Photos by Doug Millen & Alan Cattabriga

 

Lard Tunderin’ Jaysus, Der’s A Lotta Ice Up Der B’ys!

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 above them, is bathed in the most wonderful, soft orange evening light. The sky is deep blue overhead, and the air is warm and windless. A few minutes later we’re crossing the community woodlot and nearing the trailhead. The sun, the lone figure in a brilliant cloudless sky, is setting over the ocean to the west. No amount of illicit mind-altering substances could induce the trip I’m having right now.

Alden Pellett on the crux of "Hide the Baloney", WI5+, 550'

Alden Pellett on the crux of “Hide the Baloney”, WI5+, 550′

” To put things in perspective for the average New England climber – take Lake Willoughby and triple it’s height, and then cross it with Cannon Cliff, and you have Ten Mile Pond Cliff “
Alden Pellett and I have just climbed Stratochief, a 700′ WI 5+ on the Cholesterol Wall in Gros Morne National Park along the west coast of Newfoundland. We’d stared at this line during our first day of this trip. On our last day, with good weather, we abandoned our planned objective which we knew we’d climb without much trouble, and charged off into the unknown. This decision was the best one we made during our entire 10-day trip.  450′ of spectacular “spray ice” dripping from the imposing roofs overhead had painted an entire steep face with thin, yet climbable yellow ice. An exposed, rightward traverse across this face led upward, to the crux. From there, secure mixed climbing and WI5+ ice in a corner led to a ledge and the top. We both agreed, as we topped out, that this was one of the most mindbending routes either of us had ever climbed. Combine this with perfect weather, a partner you love to climb with and you have perhaps the best day of climbing you’ll ever have – a day to remember for the rest of your life.

On the Road

Newfoundland is a land of extremes. The drive from New England is long, boring, and almost always includes awful weather while traveling through Nova Scotia. Our 7-hour ferry crossing from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland has been delayed more times than it’s been on schedule. The ferry routinely gets stuck at sea. The “puke fests” that ensue are legendary. One women told us it was so rough during one of her crossings that water was spilling out of every toilet on the boat as it rocked for 18 hours off the coast of Channel-Port aux Basques. They spent days bleaching that boat afterward. The warm ocean currents from the Gulf Stream and the Gulf of St. Lawrence make the weather fickle and windy.  It can snow a foot or two in a day, but if it’s windy there won’t be any snow on the ground, anywhere. It can be -20 degrees for days straight, or it can be 45 degrees for your entire trip. If you’re lucky, you’ll climb 5 days on a 10-day trip. It’s probably better to expect 2-4 days of climbing during that time and if the weather sucks you might not climb at all. Black Horse Lager will be a good friend.

The people are friendly, hospitable and inquisitive. Each oceanside town is small, with only a few hundred year-round residents. None of them are climbers, but many of them are familiar with the fjords and they’re ringers when it comes to driving their Ski-Doos. Finding your way into the fjords can be as easy as saying “hello” at the general store or restaurant and asking if there’s anyone who’s willing to show you the way into the “ponds” (sounds more like “pand” – Newfoundlanders slaughter vowels like nobody’s business).

Ryan Stefiuk preparing for a trip up Stratochief, which climbs the weak groove up the face, before traversing right to a corner system that breaks the giant overhangs above. Photo - Alden Pellett

Ryan Stefiuk preparing for a trip up Stratochief, which climbs the weak groove up the face, before traversing right to a corner system that breaks the giant overhangs above. Photo – Alden Pellett

There are several fjords or “inner ponds” – they’re easy to spot on any topographic map and on Google Earth. I’ve spent hours, maybe days, pouring over maps of the west coast and there’s a lot to look at. Unfortunately, access to nearly all of the fjords is extremely challenging during most winters. The inner ponds don’t freeze regularly in all but one fjord. Fortunately, this pond has the most impressive array of climbs most ice climbers have ever seen. Ten Mile Pond is home to mega-classics like Fat of the Land (WI5+, 950′), Weather Vein (WI5, 1600′), Stratochief (WI5+, 700′), and He Speaks for Rain (WI6, 1000′). Each of these routes is insanely classic and ranks among North America’s finest. To have nearly two dozen of these routes in one place speaks worlds of this venue’s quality. To put things in perspective for the average New England climber – take Lake Willoughby and triple it’s height, and then cross it with Cannon Cliff, and you have Ten Mile Pond Cliff. It is that good.

The C-Wall in morning sunlight. There are about a dozen routes on this face alone.

The C-Wall in morning sunlight. There are about a dozen routes on this face alone.

The crown jewel of Ten Mile Pond is the Cholesterol Wall. The C-Wall, as it’s known by Joe Terravecchia and Casey Shaw, who’ve established most of the routes, is a 300 meters wide, yet houses a dozen classic lines ranging from 500-950′. This wall is backcountry ice cragging at it’s finest. At 8-miles from the nearest road, it’s no place to screw up, and there are no routes easier than WI5+ on this wall, but each route is pure bliss on a nice day. On a heavy weather day it feels like Alaska during a bad storm. During this trip, by the end of one day there was 4 feet of new snow on the ledges. Two cold and windy days later that snow was entirely gone; I don’t know where it went but it wasn’t there.

Alden Pellett traversing across the face of Stratochief

Alden Pellett traversing across the face of Stratochief

Seeing is believing, and I’ve seen enough to be convinced that Newfoundland may be North America’s finest ice venue. So, if you don’t mind a long, heinous drive in bad weather, an even more heinous ferry crossing, really cold windy weather or torrential rain and you can lead WI5  in 5 degree weather miles from roads, people and with no real potential of being rescued you will be rewarded with some of the world’s finest ice climbing. Oh hell, even if you don’t climb super hard there’s a lifetime’s worth of climbing there. The beauty of the place is that there’s no guidebook – you’ll just need to explore like every other climber who’s visited the west coast has done.

Even though some areas in Gros Morne National Park have reasonable access there is no management plan regarding ice climbing there. It’s a privilege to climb there and it should be considered an “alpine” climbing area, like any other mountain region. If you can’t climb your route without bolts, leave it for future generations to climb. Leave the drill at home.

 

Ryan Stefiuk / NEice Ambassador

Valley Vertical Adventures


 

Madison Gulf

  Madison Gulf and Mt. Adams

The Eastern aspect of Mt. Adams and the ice of Madison Gulf

The Eastern aspect of Mt. Adams and the ice of Madison Gulf (lower right) Click image to make larger.

 

The Great Gulf  is a massive area shroud with mystery.  In the early years of hiking for many of us here in the White Mountains, the huge drainage of the West Branch Peabody River, the “Great Gulf Wilderness”  was a place filled with intrigue.  The remote drainage with its many tributaries, gulfs & ravines holds something almost lost to us here in the New Hampshire. And is a place that harbors silence and a true feeling of being alone.  Experiencing this area in summer or winter, total responsibility for one’s actions is paramount.  This is especially true during the winter months.  However, it is during this time when one perceives the rare peacefulness that resides here.  A peacefulness so complete, a single bird singing a short song goes right to the heart.  During all of my time spent out in the winter months, I try to mimic the quiet of this season.  A small and perhaps vain attempt at keeping human noise out no matter where I am.  Often I think to myself, this is what goes on, all the time, when I am not here. I’m just a blip on the screen in this environment and attempt to have my passage go unnoticed.

On the East Face of Mt. Adams, glowering above Madison Gulf resides a cliff.  The ice that hangs in various lengths and hues of psychedelic colours off this wall offer wonderful climbing in a wilderness setting.  At the end of a day your body will be tired and the mind satisfied with all it had seen.  This is especially true if the summit of Adams is reached after the ice climbing is over.  Madison Gulf is a climbing area that will not appeal to everyone.  The approach and descent, the weather, ice and the mountain itself are all ingredients that make this a very satisfying day for those that come here.

I’ve been into the Gulf many times, via both aspects of approach, the East and the West. For the past four years my preferred approach is from the West via the Valley Way Trail in Randolph.  Not only is this way going to be packed to the col, it’s skiable  and lends itself to summit Adams as a finish to the climbing and subsequent descent.  My last time in via the Great Gulf/Madison Gulf Trails in 2009, took 7 hours just to get to the ice. It was a beautifully epic day that opened my eyes to put away the guide book and approach from another direction, one that made sense to me.  Check out the Post  here.

Milage to the ice, with ether choice is close.  However the time may not be. The Western approach, the Valley Way is  ~4.7. The Eastern, Great Gulf/Madison Gulf trails about ~5.3. The key to the approach for the Great Gulf Trail is a lean snow year or early season.  Alternatively, catching the Valley Way tracked to the col. can happen almost anytime.  To each their own, I’ll not say one is better than the other, it all depends on what you seek.  The Valley Way is faster and can have complete solitude, that is if you leave early enough.  It also has the wonderful terrain of the Madison-Adams col. The beauty of Star Lake and passing the craggy Parapet en-route to the descent could be a destination in itself.  The Great Gulf Trail feels remote after the first bridge. The river sings almost throughout the entire hike and you’ll pass through some of the states most beautiful forest and countryside.

 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The day after an excellent session of lift service skiing, Doug and I are on the Valley Way Trail.  In a few hours we are at the Madison-Adams col.  The fog and stillness join together to create an eerie, though appealing environment.  Our view of the ice from the Parapet is not available for fog is dropping like a heavy veil over the mountains face.

I kept the descent on the high side, not wanting to get drawn too low. And though the visibility and snow conditions were less then perfect, in little time we came to the northern most route, Point du Pinceau.  A traverse along the base brought us to our destination. The line of Point is the longest on the cliff.  This is the best route to do if one is not rappelling and continuing on by ether traversing off via the Buttress Trail back to the col or upward to the summit of Adams, Point gets you closer to both of these two exits.

The ice is perfect. The large flow was a cascade of movement caught and frozen in a kaleidoscope of colours.  We climbed side by side until a headwall of steeper ice at one third height. Here we climbed through a weakness one at a time.  Above, the ice was like an azure sea with islands of white sand. It flowed upwards,  lapping like the tide  into a green mainland of stunted trees.

The snow through the trees was airy and deep, snowshoes were once again required.  After crossing the Buttress trail which runs from Star Lake down into the Great Gulf, we continued up an unseen mountain looming above. Part way to the summit the snow became firm and the rime iced rocks more exposed.  We stopped in the surreal landscape, packed the snowshoes and took a tea break.  The fog was thick and the wind light and we took the wonderful atmosphere into our souls.

The summit came to us like the face of a wraith out of the fog and after a quick handshake we were off.  The Airline Trail drops off the top and after a half-mile merges with the Gulfside Trail.  We followed this back to the col and flowed like liquid back down the Valley Way.

Reanimating areas and climbs is my passion.  I look at Madison Gulf as a challenging way to summit Mt. Adams.  The unusual weather we had, the constant changing of ice and conditions made this another wonderful experience.  Grades did not matter and without any expectations of what lay before us, this was about experiencing an amazing area and climbing a mountain, pure and simple.

Another great link-up  when the snow is just right is that of King Ravine to Madison Gulf. Here is the link to a post from 2009.  Link

Thanks to all for taking the time to read this. And thank you to Doug for being there.

 

Alan Cattabriga

Photos from the Climb

Photos, Doug Millen and Alan Cattabriga

High and Dry, Mt. Lincoln NH

“High And Dry” ( erroneously named Woodman/Dorcy in my post Spirit, the names of the FA team) is an excellent introduction to the wonderful climbing in Franconia Ridge back country.  The approach up the Dry River is straight froward and easy. Depending on conditions of course. One starts this adventure by parking at the Old Bridle Path/ Falling Waters Trailhead, the same parking lot for Lincoln’s Throat.

In a short distance (.2m) turn right on to the Falling Waters trail. Hike this trail for ~ 1.5 miles until the last brook crossing ( L to R side) and then follow the Dry Brook directly to the base of the slide. The finish of this climb is on the Franconia Ridge just south of Lincoln’s summit, where it gets craggy at the little detached tower. This section of ridge is one of the most aesthetic in the state.

Friday 2.8.13 , on the toes of the oncoming snowstorm, Ted Hammond and I got into this beautiful drainage and slide before it turned into a expert BC ski run. What applies to some bc climbs applies here, High & Dry is best done early season or during a lean snow year.

Of note, this is also a great summer hike. With the climbing on the slabs in the 5.4 range, and many finishing options on the cliffs guarding the Franconia Ridge.

Below is a slideshow of our day, enjoy.

Cheers,

~Alan Cattabriga

A Fool’s Paradise

It’s the ice fest weekend. During this event many think every route in the White Mountains will be crowded. This is not the case, that is if you know what to do and when. The rains came just 24 hours before the official start to the fest, and once again many were lamenting.

Shoestring Gully

However, with the impending invasion of low temperatures, my friends and I saw the opportune time open up for many routes.

The Canadian air arrived Thursday night, with Friday dawning sunny and cold. We decided on Mt. Willard, totally alone excellent ice was found.  Knowing Saturday would be busy we went for the dawn patrol mission of Shoestring Gully on Mt. Webster. The cold was doing it’s work on the mountain.

Upper Hitchcock

The ice on Mt. Webster was in fine shape. Now it was Sunday and time for something long, adventurous and completely new. Starting at the same spot as Central Couloir and taking off left, the line of Fools Paradise fit perfectly. Enjoy the slideshow below of this wonderful route. Suffice it is to say, the start is rarely in, but it is now.

Cheers!

 

~Alan Cattabriga

 


Photos from  ” A Fools Paradise” 02/03/2013

Mt. Webster, Crawford Notch NH

no images were found

 Photos by Alan Cattabriga & Doug Millen

 

New rules to access La Pomme d’Or

La Pomme d"Or - Fred Maltais

La Pomme d”Or – Fred Maltais

La Pomme d’Or

Every winter, skilled climbers take on the Pomme d’Or, a spectacular and perilous rock face along Rivière Malbaie. For permission to climb this ice wall in the park, you’ll need an access permit. Refer to Reservation Terms and Conditions for all the details.

Climbers must be in excellent physical condition and totally independent, since the ice wall is about 30 km from the closest telephone and off the park’s network of roads and trails. Under good weather conditions, it takes a full day of snowshoeing or off-trail skiing to reach the site.

If you are independent, climbing the Pomme d’Or requires a minimum stay of 3 days in the park.

  • Day 1: 30 km of snowshoeing or off-trail skiing to get to the foot of the cliff;
  • Day 2: climb the ice wall and return to base camp;
  • Day 3: 30 km of snowshoeing or off-trail skiing to return to your car.

We strongly recommend bringing a satellite telephone or a SPOT-type emergency message device. There is no emergency telephone on the site in the winter and the cell phone network does not serve the park’s territory.

http://www.sepaq.com/pq/hgo/index.dot?language_id=1

 

Location

La Pommed D’or is located approximately 2.5 hours east of Quebect City. The nearest decent sized town is Malbaie, Quebec. You enter the Parc de Haute Gorges I believe and drive as far as they will allow, before you begin your ski approach.

Administrative Guidelines and Obtaining a Backcountry Access Permit

It is mandatory to hold an Access Permit to climb the Pomme d’Or. To get one, you must apply in writing by filling out the appropriate form.

Applying for a Pomme d’Or Access Permit for Stays of More Than One Day

Once your itinerary is ready, you understand the associated risks and you consider yourself ready to assume them, you must fill out the Backcountry Access Permit Application form. Each member of the group must individually fill out the form. However, all applications for the same expedition must be sent in one mailing to the administrative office of the Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie.

Each application is analysed to make sure that the expedition respects instructions related to the mission of the national parks and that it will take place in the targeted sector. If your application is in order and the reception capacity has not been reached, a confirmation will be sent.

Allow for a 7-days waiting period from the time we receive your Pomme d’Or Access Permit Application. The cost is $10 /pers./night (maximum 8 nights), in addition to the park entry fee. These fees must be paid in full by credit card or cheque prior to your stay.

Modifications

If you wish to modify the stay dates or replace members of your team, you must do so at least 72 hours prior to arrival by directly contacting the administrative office of the park concerned.

Cancellation

If you want to cancel your stay, you must do so at least 72 hours prior to arrival by directly contacting the administrative office of the park concerned. No refunds will be granted for a cancellation made less than 72 hours prior to arrival.

Contact Information for the Administrative Office

Your Safety, Your Responsibility

Before submitting an application for authorization to climb the Pomme d’Or, you must be aware that help is far away and that your safety is your responsibility. Adequate preparation is required. First ask yourself if you have the skills, abilities and fitness level to undertake this kind of expedition. Climbing the Pomme d’Or involves certain risks, and it’s important to know what they are so you can prepare for them and be ready to react appropriately.

We invite you to consult our tip sheets about activities and stays offered by Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (Sépaq). The Fédération québécoise de la montagne et de l’escalade can help you plan your stay and your activities safely. Don’t hesitate to contact them.

No patrols are made at this time of year in this part of the territory. Emergency services are far away and access to the Pomme d’Or is particularly difficult. For incidents requiring immediate care or evacuation, wait time can be very long (sometimes several days). The isolation of this sector means that there is no cell phone service. A first aid kit and knowledge of how to apply first aid in remote areas are essential in emergency situations.

Costs related to search and rescue operations are solely the responsibility of the recipient. We strongly recommend checking whether or not your insurance company covers these costs. Otherwise, some private companies, such as Airmédic, offer the possibility of benefiting from such services by becoming a member of their organization.

No verifications will be made as to your return. It is your responsibility to give someone you trust a copy of your itinerary, making sure to indicate the date and times of your return and instructing the person to contact emergency services (911) in the event of your absence.

In Harmony with Nature

Minimizing our impact on the natural environment is a duty. The behavior you adopt during your stay at the park must constantly be guided by the desire to preserve the integrity of nature and our surroundings so that other climbers can fully enjoy the same privilege.

Parcs Québec considers the application of Leave no trace principles as the reference for behaviours in the national parks.

Number of People in the Group

For safety reasons, it is recommended to go in groups of a minimum of 3 people. To minimize disturbance and impacts on the natural environment.

Campfires

It is prohibited to make fires in the back country. Bring a camp stove for cooking.

– Source: PARCS QUÉBEC / PARC NATIONAL DES HAUTES-GORGES-DE-LA-RIVIÈRE-MALBAIE


A Local’s View of the Devil’s Kitchen

Do the Catskills have any WI6 ice?

What do grade 6 ice routes even look like? For a long time I didn’t think I knew what WI 6 ice routes were. I think we northeasterners have been very modest about our grading of hard ice routes. The definition of grade 6 I found on the Alpinist website is “WI6: A full ropelength of near-90 degree ice with no rests, or a shorter pitch even more tenuous than WI 5. Highly technical”  A quick perusal of the current Catskill guidebook does a pretty good job of convincing one that there is no WI6 in the Catskills as well. I’m not so sure any more.

Lucho Romero leading “Judgment Call”, a seldom climbed route between “The Advocate” and “Dan and the Devil”.

I began coming to the Catskills to ice climb in 2004, while I was still living in Vermont. During the previous two winters I’d spent nearly all of my free time climbing ice at Lake Willoughby. I’d climbed most of the classic routes there and felt really comfortable leading steep ice.

During my first ride through the Catskills I was impressed by how much steep ice there was. None of the pitches were long, but most of the pillars were dead vertical, leaving the leader feeling like they were climbing overhanging terrain the whole time.

Jason Hurwitz on the sustained vertical ice of “The Advocate”, WI5+.

By 2005 I’d moved to New Paltz. I set about leading many of the steep classic ice lines during that very warm winter, when most routes were quite lean. Everything in the Catskills was new to me, and I was blown away by all of the climbing hidden in the steep, wooded hillsides, obscured from view by enormous hemlock trees. Still though, I missed the long, sustained cruxes found at places like Lake Willoughby.

Of all the Catskills areas I climbed at that winter, one area stands out above the rest. That venue is the Devil’s Kitchen (aka the Black Chasm). The Kitchen is a cool place. Take the crux pitches from half a dozen Willoughby routes and place them side by side in a deep, shady, backcountry Catskill ravine and you have the Kitchen. It’s easily one of the best single-pitch training grounds for hard ice climbing on the east coast. It’s also the only spot in the Catskills where you can chew your tongue off on a long, challenging pitch of ice. I’ve climbed there many times since the winter of 2004-2005, and every trip impresses me more than the last. Many locals wait several seasons before working up the gumption to lead routes in the Kitchen. Lots of folks walk down the steep hill, stand beneath the intimidating pillars and promptly turn around. Toproping in the sunnier Hell Hole seems like a better idea to them.

Instant Karma during lean conditions. Photo courtesy of Joe Vitti

The Catskill ice guidebook doesn’t really do this very classic and understated place the justice it deserves. All of the routes are given a WI4+ or WI5 rating, with the exception of the few free-standing pillars like Devil Dog, which are rated WI5+. Having climbed many of the northeast’s hard classics, I can confirm that the guidebook grades are incorrect.

Here is my “local’s” synopsis of this very amazing Catskill climbing venue and it’s outstanding routes.

Dan and the Devil, the leftmost distinct route climbs 40′ of scary thin 80-degree ice before gaining a short, overhanging, free-standing pillar. This might be the hardest WI4+ on earth (with the exception of Crazy Diamond at the Lake). Classic routes like Repentence, Positive Thinking, and The Black Dike, which are often called WI5- are all technically easier than this route.

Judgment Call, a seldom climbed hard route, links patches of ice between Dan and the Devil and The Advocate. Following this route to the top usually requires surmounting an ice overhang on brittle ice near the top. WI5+ usually feels like an understatement on this hard route.

The Advocate, WI5, a tannin-stained and intimidating 100′ tall dead-vertical pillar is easily as long as the vertical cruxes on routes like Called on Account of Rains and The Promenade, which are typically rated WI5+.

Mephisto Waltz promises engaging and unique climbing. Photo courtesy of Doug Ferguson.

Mephisto Waltz, WI4+/WI5, is a spectacular route that almost always forms with some sort of ice roof and climbs overhanging ice mushrooms for 50′ before gaining a vertical runnel. Expect funky “WI6-ish” ice on this one.

Hydropower, M9- WI5, established a few years ago, stands as the hardest mixed line in the Catskills and is one of only a handful of routes M9 or harder in the northeast. A long pitch of overhanging mixed climbing reaches an arm-busting crescendo just before the ice. From there a short section of WI5 tests your commitment.

Matt McCormick gains the ice on “Hydropower” during the first ascent.

Devil Dog, which almost always collapses under it’s own weight, is  a 100′ tall free-standing pillar. I don’t think there’s another pillar like it anywhere else in the northeast. When it touches down think WI6. If it’s candled and hard to protect you might have to wrap your brain around WI6+. Most of the time it’s laying on the ground at the base of the cliff.

Instant Karma, one of the finest routes in the northeast, is completely underrated at WI5. Bolt-protected mixed and thin ice climbing gives way to challenging overhanging bulges and a thin creaky pillar at the top. During lean conditions, which is most years, you’ll have to chimney behind the final pillar and carefully climb onto it’s front near the top. Each crux on Instant Karma is short, but demands one’s utmost attention. Many climbers are intimidated by this route and some wait their whole ice climbing career before leading it.

Doug Ferguson leading a challenging Instant Karma

Of all these routes, Instant Karma is my favorite. I’ve climbed it as a perfect cylindrical 3′-wide 100′-tall vertical pillar with good rests and soft ice, and I’ve climbed it several times when it’s lean and I felt like the top pillar, which was only 3” thick at it’s base, might collapse with me on it. To me, this route epitomizes hard Catskill climbing. If you swing too much down low on the route there won’t be enough ice left to climb. If you don’t manage rope drag you might pull yourself off on the brittle upper pillar. Swing too hard up top and the pillar just might fall off and cut your rope in the process.

Nowadays, many of the routes have bolts to protect the unprotectable sections of ice. They’d all been climbed with traditional protection though, a proposition that seems unfathomable to all but the best ice climbers. It’s good not to forget this when climbing in the Kitchen – local hardmen have been climbing here forever.

Isn’t it time you paid this dark, shady place a visit? In a land full of 100′ tall vertical “WI5” pillars, does the mythical northeastern WI6 exist? It’s clear I’ve made my decision – go see for yourself and decide.

Valley Vertical Adventures

Ryan Stefiuk / NEice Ambassador

Valley Vertical Adventures

http://www.valleyvertical.com

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