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


[email protected]

The Spirit of Adventure, Franconia Notch

Cannon, The Common Thread

When most climbers think of the climbing in Franconia Notch, one route immediately comes to the forefront of thought and discussion. This route has earned the reputation, colorful descriptions and epics that it has induced. In 1971 the trumpets were blown signaling the call to arms on this shadow shrouded line before it’s first ascent in December of the same year. Declared as one of the last unclimbed plumbs on the East Coast by the ice master himself, Yvon Chouinard, the reputation had started.  “A black, filthy, horrendous icicle, 600′ high, unclimbed.” To this day, it is still touted as the “measuring stick” of the aspiring climber.  The route is the Black Dike and everyone knows of it. The Dike is surely one of the most aesthetic routes in the Northeast. This climb has developed another purpose for many, that of herald to the on coming ice climbing season. Cannon Cliff is in easy view and dominates the notch. When the ice adorns the cliff’s streaked gray walls high above the notch, it is something truly inspiring and something to behold.

The Ghost & One Drop of Water

Even the most seasoned climber will feel the awe when rounding a corner on the highway. Then right before your eyes appears the line of Omega in full.


A ribbon colored in a hue of burnt yellow to orange, running from top to bottom. This route will surly get anyone excited regardless if you are aiming to climb it or not.  However, besides Cannon Cliff and the well known Flume Gorge, there are other areas that tend to be over looked. Meanwhile, across the notch up high, lay alpine gems, and they come in early.

 The High Country

Sunset, Mt. Lincoln

Guarding  the East Side of the notch lay a venerable mountain ridge over 400 million years old. The arctic alpine zone along the Franconia Ridge, though not as vast as the Presidential Range, has a unique feeling when one climbing there. A lost emotion is awakened by this place, brimmed with wonderful and wild remoteness. Getting to the routes can be scrappy affairs, visible slides with their huge iced slabs and choked corners, though easy by pure grade, are backcountry climbs and demand respect and commitment.  The wondering that has been instilled in us as we have looked from the comfort of the car far below, can only be realized by way of plunging over deeply forested ridges, eskers and up trail-less drainages.

Franconia Notch

In Franconia Notch, the game is on right from the moment one leaves the car. It does not matter if your destination is to the East or West side. The talus of Cannon, though short can be epic. And the deep climbs on Lincoln & Lafayette are committing. Packed trails are followed for only a short distance.

Woodman / Dorcey, Mt. Lincoln


Deep snow on the approach, even for the well prepared can be an exhausting affair. But this is part of the flavor found on these peaks. Getting too the climb, then topping out on the summit is a physical crux and one not to be taken lightly. One other fact that is quite unique to the northeast, these climbs end at the summit of the peaks they are on.

Mt. Lincoln, Serpentine, Throat & Mullet (L to R)


Taking the early season plunge into both Lafayette and Lincoln will be a rewarding alpine experience. In  November of this year while Huntington was getting hit by sunny, cloudless days, the Mullet Route on Lincoln with it’s NW aspect was alpine perfection.

The Serpentine Line


Lincoln’s Throat

Every year I am lucky enough to experience these mountains with their thought provoking climbing challenges. Clear feelings of awe and purpose are rediscover time after time. Moving through the higher ground of scrub fir and spruce, the journey to and attaining the clean, pristine summits, takes some of the weight of the world away.  The approach to the climbing on Mt. Lafayette is longer and much more of an endeavor than those on Mt. Lincoln. If the weather is not so savory, this location is only for those totally ready to throw down the gauntlet and take the plunge. Suffice is it to say, both mountains require the spirit of adventure.

Roadside Attractions

Across the road from Profile Lake, on the broad flank of Lafayette two excellent climbing areas reside. The steep Ace of Spades with its satellite routes nearby offer difficult climbing after a steep hillside is ascended.

Ace of Spades

A short distance to the South is the old landslide scar of the Big Slide, home of many interesting options. The first landslide to start the creation of this was about 1915. Several others followed with the last being in 1959.  In the center of this slide is Short Stack. This route, followed to the slides top is long and much better than it may appear from the road. Within the slide there are hidden creases that carve into the mountain and run upward over very long distances. Before they fill with snow, these slices, headwalls and open slabs provide fun climbing.  The seldom seen views that end with the climbing, high on Lafayette, will thrill the mind and stir the soul.

High in the Short Stack Area

The Flume and Echo Crag are justifiably popular. They are close to the road and have almost every type of climbing one can desire. The Flume Gorge, deep, narrow and filled to the brim with ice. It’s unique setting coupled with accessible mellow to extreme lines help create a place that has no peers. At the utmost north end of the notch is Echo Crag. Here one will find a fantastic spot for leading, for both new and experienced climbers. The long cliff system has chimneys, corners faces and mixed lines. And also protection options ranging from screws, bolts and passive gear.

The Echo Crag is the northern start of the complex Hounds Hump Ridge. This area has many routes along its western side. Further south up the Hump, near the Eaglet is the home of the Garcia-Vega. A rare to form route, but when climbable, it’s a beauty. The 180′ of climbing is well worth the hike up and right up there with other climbs of the same nature. Also there is a wide chimney to the right on the same wall that is quite hard. I did what I thought had to have been a first ascent of this gash in the early ’90’s. Only to find out later, two very rad guys did it two decades before. With the gear of that time, it must have been savage. Hats off gents for the route, Fire & Ice.

There are still many more climbs and areas worth exploring. My point was not to name them all,  just a few and bring to light the mystery and beauty of the Notch.

I recommend  Secrets of the Notch by Mr. Franconia himself, John Sykes. I’m unsure if this book can still be found, but have heard a new book is coming. Maybe it is out or perhaps I just dreamt it.


Cheers and enjoy the Notch.


Words & photos,

Alan Cattabriga

Concord NH






Early Season Luck On Katahdin – 1


Katahdin, Maine 10-13-2012

[nivoslider id=”10739″]

Photos by Doug Millen & Alan Cattabriga

Ice Climbing Nova Scotia

Where will your next road trip be heading? Ouray? Canmore? Norway?  If you’re looking to break out of that NH/NY/VT routine but don’t want to drop the coin on a flight out west or to Europe, why not check out the climbing in Nova Scotia?  It may be 12 hours by car from Boston, but battling the tides and the maritime climate provides an adventure setting unlike anyplace else in the northeast.

Roger Fage, a Nova Scotia local, has just put out the second version of his ice guide for climbing in Nova Scotia. The original version is available in the traditional, printed format, but Roger has something else in mind for this version of the guide.  Instead of sending it off to be printed, he’s come up with the following plan:

“So here’s how it works, we’re on the honor system.  You can download it at your ease, and then, depending on your level of happiness (from the quality of guide) and current income, donate to the sponsorship fund on a sliding scale.

If you’re poor/student in debt (but let’s be realistic if you’re poor/student you probably can’t afford to ice climb) pay what you can.  If you’ve got more, the guide costs 0.01% of your total income.  ie your net income is $100,000 the sponsorship fee is $10…and so on!  Or just download it and be indebted to me for life/pay when you can.

Please do not print off the entire guide.  Put it on your iphone and bring it with you, or print off individual pages on scrap paper.
Paper = Less Trees = Warmer Earth = Less Ice = Sadness.

Siren Song WI5 – FA Roger Fage and Matthew Peck

The guide is available for download here: Ice Pirate’s Guide to Nova Scotia.  Should you download the guide, please be respectful of the work Roger has put into compiling this great resource and contribute what you can.
Roger’s work was made possible by Climb Nova Scotia.  Be sure to check out their page for information about the 2012 Nova Scotia Ice Climbing Festival!


Go back Mountain, NH

Fluffy – NEI 6 X 60m – FA: Josh Hurst, Ian Austin


Start: Immediately left of Valhalla in the Valhalla Amphitheater

Protection: Stubbies, Screws, .5-3 Camalots

Descent: Rap route

Extenuating Circumstances: Ice was 1/2″-2″ thick at start for the first ascent, first good protection was a Camelot behind an excavated flake at 80′.

Notes: Incredible, sustained, scary, incomparable; longer than Valhalla by 25′, finish to the trees on top.
Photos by Ian Austin

New M8 at "The Lake"

Tiny Dancer

Lake Willoughby, VT

FA: 01-21-11 Ryan Brooks and Josh Hurst

“Tiny Dancer, It’s between Plug and Chug and Call of the Wild.  It’s a modern mixed route that deserves to see a lot of traffic due to it’s accessibility, reliability and rock quality” -Josh Hurst


tiny-dancer-1aP1: M7  Climb 20′ of Plug and Chug than diagnal right on ice blobs to the center of the overhanging rock.  Take the weakness up and right to more ice blobs on the mid-cliff ledge.  Belay on left in the ice.  It is possible to take ice blobs directly up to the rock in some years.

tiny-dancer-2aP2: M8  Start up the flake system to a small roof.  Trend right, crux, to a shallow corner system.  Once behind the icicles take the line of least resistance to the top.

Rack: 5-8 ice screws, standard rack to 2″, no pins needed, 12 quickdraws

Photo’s by Ryan Brooks.

Endangered Species

Poko-O-Moonshine – Adirondacks,  NY

Adirondack Mountainfest 2011

Story Up-Date 1/20/11 from Bayard Russell

True to Mountainfest tradition of establishing new climbs, Bayard Russell, Matt Horner & Matt McCormick established – “Endangered SpeciesM6+ NEI5+ R. The climb is just to the right of Jeff Lowes legendary line “Gorillas in the Mist”.

“It’s so cool that, after all these years, the Northeast continues to generate some of the most exciting winter climbing in the country” – Dougald MacDonald

The 2 Matts having a go on Gorillas In The Mist. No tools left this time. Photo by Smike

The 2 Matts having a go at Gorillas / Endangered Species earlier that week. No tools left this time. Photo by Smike

We were treated with photos and a video of the ascent Sunday night at Matt McCormick’s slide show.  A very impressive climb by some very motivated and committed climbers. Well done.  See the video..

Matt Hornor,s tools on Gorillas in the Mist. - Photo by Jessew

Matt Horner’s tools on Gorillas in the Mist, 2008. – Photo by Jessew

Many attempts over the years have been made on this section of cliff . Lack of good ice has always blocked the way. Back in 2008,  Matt Horner tried the climb in an after-work ascent where he ended up lowering off his tools in the dark, that was the best anchor he could build in the thin, candled ice (see photo).

See Fifty favorite climbs: the ultimate North American tick list By Mark Kroese  for information on Gorillas in the Mist

The Big Wall section of Poke-O. The thin strip of ice is the new route "Endangered Species" (Horner/McCormick/Russel). Photo by Jim Lawyer

The Big Wall section of Poke-O. The thin strip of ice is the new route “Endangered Species”. Photo by Jim Lawyer

More on the NEice Forum

Source: Matt McCormick, Matt Horner, Bayard Russell, NEice Forum, Facebook & Climbing.com

Story Up-Date 1/20/11


“There are a couple of things that we did do, and a couple of things that we didn’t do; here’s the deal” – Bayard Russell

Mahoosic Notch, Maine

Off the Beaten Trail

by James Paradis

MahoosucNotchFeb14-2010Over the past several years, Dan Cousins, Dave Custer, Jim Paradis, and Susan Ruff have extensively explored the ice climbing in Mahoosic Notch on the Appalachian Trail at the border of New Hampshire and Maine and climbed some 40 pitches of ice there. We find the ambiance in Mahoosic Notch in winter conditions to be unique in its wildness and big mountain scale and hope that the area will continue to foster a sense of adventure in those who choose to make the considerable effort to get there.

Mahoosic Notch Ice Guide  by Dave Custer


Get A Job – 1/3/10


Matt McCormick on “Get a Job”. Poke-O-Moonshine, Adirondacks NY  1-3-2010
Photo by MGB-VT

New winter rules for Katahdin

Baxter State Park, Maine

Baxter_south_basin-AOCSolo climbers allowed, no minimum group size

Great news! I am packed and ready to go. Maybe I can find some ice up there.

See the park web site for more information. winter rules and regs and the NEice forum for discussion.

Source: post by greenmtnboy

Photo: South Basin from Chimney Pond by AOC

More info from apaulcalypse:

I just got off the phone with Baxter State Park (not sure if it was a ranger, just whoever picks up the 207.723.5140 phone line). According to the woman I spoke with,

a) There is no ‘gear inspection’ on arrival. You do not need to, say, have every item on a checklist, and the rangers will not deny you climbing based on what’s in your pack.

b) Climbing on Katahdin CAN still be closed down in bad weather. I asked for some examples of what constitutes ‘bad weather,’ and she listed wind chills significantly below 0, whiteouts, high avalanche danger, “things of that nature.”

c) Yes, you can climb any route as a party of two. There is no longer a minimum team size.

d) As far as she was aware, there were no designated start / end times for climbs; that is, you can climb whenever you want. She did caution that is inadvisable to be out climbing after the sun goes down, though.

e) Ropeless, technical, free-solo climbing IS allowed. If you want to hike or climb alone, there is a winter solo camping and climbing form to fill out, along with an itinerary. You can climb ropeless alone or with partners. There is no specific hardware rack required, just gear appropriate to the terrain.

– Also see the article By Steve Prettyman Winter Climbing on Mt. Katahdin