An October ascent of the Black Dike is rare, but it is just as rare to find a good balance in your life. Family, work and following your passions. The Doucette / Burhardt family is right on track. After a late night speaking event and the morning logistics of two young children, Peter and Majka still managed to pull off the coveted first ascent of the Black Dike this season. A 10am start “delivered the goods” for them. Another experienced party with an earlier start, backed off the climb that morning. The Black Dike is not in by normal standards and the little window that was there has passed. The ascent is a testament to their ability and balance in their lives.
Find out more on Majka from her website www.majkaburhardt.com/
Photo by Peter Doucette, Mountain Sense Guides
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]
I ran into Brent Doscher at the Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest. We were both assigned to photograph some climbing clinics. Prior, to that, he had generously provided some images for my article highlighting a climber in New Hampshire. Upon receiving the images, I immediately knew I needed to know more about him. His photographs had original and unique perspectives that only come with innate talent and years of experience honing his skills. Scrolling through his portfolio, I found myself getting drawn into the experience in which he was photographing. An extraordinary photograph will take you on an adventure with that single image, and that’s exactly what his work accomplishes.
I didn’t spend long talking with Brent when I ran into him in last month, but we kept in touch and I was glad I was able to catch up with him recently and ask him a little more about himself and his photography.
How did you get into sports photography and can you describe the evolution of your career?
I’ve been shooting professionally for 14 years; it all started with a senior project in high school when I chose sports photography as my subject. I learned as much as I could about cameras and photography as I shot my high school sports teams and then graduated onto the University of New Hampshire sports teams during my time there. After completing my degree at UNH with a minor in studio arts, I started my own event photography business. That business grew until it was an international company photographing 100 events per year, covering Spartan Races, marathons, triathlons, and heaps of other endurance events. Eventually it grew large enough that I sold it to another company, Gameface Media, and went to work for them as their director of photography where we grew the business to covering 300 events and millions of athletes per year. It was during my time there that I fell in love with climbing, both rock and ice. Ironically enough, I originally started ice climbing because I wanted to take pictures of it and figured that I should learn how to climb first. It turned out I loved climbing just as much as I love shooting it. In mid-2017, I parted ways with Gameface to try and make it on my own as an adventure sports photographer. Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to land the cover of Trout Magazine and Wild Northeast’s fall issues, and my work has previously appeared in Men’s Journal, Runner’s World, Outside Online, and Climbing Magazine.
In your opinion, what makes a great image?
Great energy makes a great image, first and foremost. Everything else comes second. If you look at the best images that exist in the world, no matter the genre, the mood of the photo is what draws you in. I’ve taken countless photos under amazing sunsets or sunrises that just fall flat because they’re lifeless. As such, they become disposable and you never really look back on them. The images that stick in your mind are those where the subject’s energy can draw you into the photo and instantly captivate you.
What is your motivation/inspiration behind climbing and photography?
Whether I’m photographing climbing, fishing, running, or anything else, the style that I always tend to strive for in my shots is capturing the connection between the subject and nature. The best photographers in the industry are capable of capturing these amazing scenes that show you the beauty of this world at its peak moments, and by having a human subject in that image they can essentially transport you into the scene so you can feel what it would be like to be a part of that beauty.
What was your most rewarding experience photographing a subject?
It’s hard to nail down a specific experience. The ones that always stand out the most are the shoots where I can be part of the objective. Being on the climb with the athletes and getting to experience all the thrills of an alpine objective alongside them is one of my favorite things about shooting ice and alpine climbing. Climbing and photography are both passions that require 100% percent of your mental energy to execute correctly, especially when you are near your limits. You have to be so dialed in your systems on both the photography side as well as the climbing side in order to make sure you never miss a moment. Additionally, you have to think through and plan every single section of the route not only from the climbing aspect, but from a photography aspect as well. I certainly still have an immense amount to learn on both sides of the house, but that’s what makes it a fun challenge.
Being part of the experience that you are documenting certainly makes for more raw and powerful images. Looking back at my photos, I frequently remember the feeling I had when I was taking specific shots, and remember the emotions of everyone else in the photo. The challenge is to convey those emotions in your imagery so that every viewer can sense the elation or despair, whatever it may be.
What was your most challenging?
The most challenging shoot was when I climbed Mt. Shasta with a friend. I didn’t have much time to adjust to the altitude, so the final 500 feet of elevation before the summit was pretty rough for me. Going upwards was hard enough in itself; throwing photography into the mix when you’re feeling that poorly makes for a pretty rough time.
Do you feel any responsibility as someone who is showcasing the sport in images to make sure the viewers perceive climbing in a certain way? For example, would you photograph solo climbing?
That’s a great question. I don’t personally feel that it’s my duty as a photographer to document only best practices. Speaking strictly from a photographic standpoint, often the most dangerous objectives make for the most impressive photos. I think that to the outsider, all climbing looks dangerous, and there are many aspects, free-soloing included, that the uninitiated would never understand. However, I’m not going to avoid shooting something because I wouldn’t personally choose to do it. There are people out there doing insane things every day, and they should be documented.
What equipment do you usually bring on a shoot?
I pack a variety of equipment depending on the objective. If we are going cragging and I can afford to bring a bunch of gear, I’ll pack a kit of multiple camera bodies and lenses so that I can have a bunch of different choices for focal lengths while I’m shooting. However, if we’re headed into the alpine I usually only bring one light DSLR with a couple select lenses; recently my picks have been the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8 and the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 for their light weight.
How is doing work in the Northeast different from other places, and what do you like about it?
I think the Northeast has definitely been underrepresented in the past few years. With the explosion of social media, everyone is always clamoring to visit the locations with the grand, sprawling views. The Northeast doesn’t really have many of those, so I understand the draw to the Western US. However, what the Northeast lacks in grandiosity, we make up for in intensity. We have some of the burliest conditions in the lower 48, and I really love the challenge of trying to capture that in my imagery. Last year while we were on a ski trip in the north of Iceland, I was driving around town, witnessing the frigid living conditions first-hand. I said to a friend, “Why do people live here? This life is so brutal, cold and windy all the time.” His response to me was, “Why do we live in New Hampshire?” There’s something uniquely alluring about life in northern New England. It’s certainly not an easy life, but that’s what makes it exciting. Climbing is no exception to that. Our climbs can be dirty, overgrown, sweltering hot, or even covered in the snow, but it makes our area fun and it’s what I try to capture.
What’s one dream photography destination?
Last year on a flight back from Iceland, we flew over Greenland. I’m pretty sure my jaw actually dropped when I saw all the snow covered mountains. Ever since then I’ve been scheming of ways to get there.
Do you think about how you want to compose a certain shot a day/week/month before, if it’s a big job?
I definitely do. It’s a trap, but I do it anyways. One of the biggest challenges that I think every photographer learns to deal with is not always nailing the shot that they envision. No matter how large of small the shoot is, I’ll generally research the climb and go into the shoot with a few different ideas for images I’m really stoked on. Of course, 95% of the time they don’t pan out, and it’s really easy to get frustrated. However, so much of climbing and photography is just learning to adapt to the conditions, so you have to adjust. Learning to spot and capture the unplanned moments is something that comes as a great challenge to me, but I’m constantly trying to improve on it.
Any advice would you give aspiring sports photographers?
Spend more time studying your idols than studying the equipment. When I first got into sports photography, I was so equipment obsessed that most of my time was dedicated to researching the newest and best camera gear. I think a lot of sports photographers fall into this trap, since it’s a very equipment-heavy genre of photography. However, once I stopped caring about the gear and instead spent all that time studying the images from the greats in this industry, I drew a lot of inspiration and my photos got much better. Also, get used to the alpine start. There will be a lot of them.
You can see more of Brent Doscher’s work in the Northeast and beyond on his website: www.brentdoscher.com and you can follow him on Instagram at @bdoscher.
“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.
Mainstream mixed climbing is here. How do we protect the climbs for future generations?
THINK before you climb rock with ice tools. The marks you make will last many lifetimes
We have to be careful. Dry tooling causes damage to the rock. With time, the damage dry tooling causes becomes tolerated, accepted, and sanctioned by some. This will ultimately destroy a rock climb and the experience for future generations of climbers.
It’s real simple. Be respectful of the rock and it’s environment. Think about future climbers. Keep your impact to a minimum. Leave as little trace as possible and remember, cumulative damage is always the problem.
Some recent posts from Facebook on Dry Tooling.
~Thanks Janet for motivating me to do this post. We need this awareness.
Janet B. Wilkinson
February 11 at 9:06pm ·
I really wish people wouldn’t dry tool and dry crampon rock routes on Cathedral (or at least wouldn’t post photos here or elsewhere of it). That includes Diedre. There, I said it.
Indeed, in the 90’s we saw significant rock damage at Rumney from picks and crampons…those scars are (almost) forever!
Some thoughts from the Lake District, basically if it’s a popular rock route it’s worth more as such to the general community.
Dry tooling should just go away.
Janet, even worse is the damn rock climbers thinking they own the cliff and bolting up sport routes where runout winter mixed routes were put up first!
Yes! Diedre is climbable as an ice route when it’s in; you don’t have to touch rock on the 5.10 pitch when properly formed. Thinking it’s ok to dry tool when it’s bare rock isn’t so hot. I know it’s a weird trip down ethics lane for visiting climbers, but consider: if there’s no ice on a pitch, you’re ruining a classic rock route for future aspiring leaders.
There are no hard and fast answers. But here are a few questions that need to be answered
- Where do aspiring climbers practice their craft?
- What is considered unacceptable?
- What are the ethos to preserve the climbing experience for future generations?
- Can popular rock climbs and dry tooling coexist?
- How do we deal with excessive traffic on popular climbs
-Where do aspiring climbers practice their craft of dry tooling?
Dry tooling should be practiced in areas not good for rock climbing and not on established rock climbs.
Train and refine your skills on artificial walls.
Find areas where rock climbers never go.
Most climbing areas now have designated cliffs where dry tooling is accepted. Find out where they are.
Go to alpine areas for the best training.
Seek out advice and guidance from professional climbing guides.
-What is considered unacceptable?
Dry tooling on popular and classic rock climbs with no ice.
Scratching your way up a climb. If you are inexperienced and at your limit, think about leaving it for another day. Strong and skilled climbers can often do a climb leaving hardly a mark.
Not asking for local information on what is acceptable and where to go. What’s acceptable at one cliff is completely off limits at another. Educate yourself in the local ways.
-What are the ethos to preserve climbs for future generations?
Think about the damage you may do to the rock if you climb it with ice tools.
Think about the cumulative effect of many climbers over time.
Think about future generations, and how you might change their experience of the climb.
Have the common sense to move on when conditions are not right for a non-destructive assent.
Be careful when rappelling. Crampons scratch the rock more during rappels than during ascents.
Mixed climbers need to think about their actions to prevent future access problems.
-Can popular rock climbs and dry tooling coexist?
The universal consensus is that no popular, established rock climb should be dry tooled.
If it’s a popular rock route, it’s worth more to the climbing community as a rock climb, than as a dry tool climb.
Guidebook authors need to include dry tooling areas, information and local ethics. Don Mellor, author of Blue Lines 2: An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide, says, “While I have no interest in or right to tell others what to do in their recreation time, as a guidebook writer I do not want to be complicit in encouraging people to scar rock with ice gear.”
Popular rock routes have been climbed in winter for years, but not with the frequency we have today. We must be aware of the cumulative damage we are causing and take action to prevent it.
-How do we deal with excessive traffic on popular climbs?
We need to generate public knowledge and awareness of the problem.
We need leaders in the community to promote good dry tooling ethics.
We need to be specific with what climbs are acceptable to dry tool in a given area and ones that are forbidden.
Posting less on social media about sensitive climbs will help keep the traffic down.
Posting more on social media about good dry tooling ethics and setting good examples is the right thing to do.
When you are out climbing, think about the damage you may cause before you climb rock with ice tools. Most often, you have two choices. Do, or try the climb, no matter the condition or what your impact might be. Or you can be thoughtful, respectful, and considerate of others, the environment and the future. Make the right choose for the environment and others. Our climbs and climbing areas are a finite resource that we need to protect!
More on Dry Tooling
The Access Fund – (pdf) MIXED EMOTIONS: THE IMPACTS AND IMPLICATIONS OF DRY-TOOLING
Sources: Facebook, The Access Fund, Blue Lines,
A Route, Friends, and Getting Over an Injury
~ Michael Wejchert
Watching Bayard mix climb is always entertaining. The guy’s so strong when he’s rock climbing, he makes massive, dynamic leaps of faith from hold to hold, bouncing upwards with glee on teeny edges until he finishes the climb or falls off, unhampered by any type of discernible fear.
In the wintertime, it’s pretty much the same. Bayard completely trusts those dicey placements most folks cringe while pulling on, swinging from ice tool to ice tool like a prizefighter dancing around a ring before a match. Half the time, he waltzes up something incredible, but half the time a hold breaks or a crampon skitters off and he’s flying through the winter air on a set of well-traveled double ropes. His confidence in gear and his own ability lets him surmount the head games most of us seem to wrangle with in winter mixed climbing.
So that’s one part of the Bayard show.
“I don’t like being told what to do,” Bayard said to me the first time we ever went climbing, as he was driving the wrong way down a one-way driveway in North Conway.
And because Bayard is my boss in the summer renovating houses, and in the winter for Cathedral Mountain Guides, (and because he could pick me up and throw me into a snowbank if he wanted to) I don’t think I’ve ever told him what to do.
So usually, when he neglects the tagline or half the rack and I or another of our partners ends up tossing him the pitons or the number three or the second rope, we just let him do his thing. After all, he’s better than us, and even if he wasn’t, it turns ice climbing into a fascinating sport of coordination, which I suspect he’s after anyways. I guess you can only climb so much M8 trad before you need to make it more interesting.
Repeating a Bayard route still garners the young guns press in New England, though Bayard himself doesn’t have much interest in posting about the climbing he’s doing. Too much time away from hanging out with his wife Anne, or sci fi shows on Netflix, or climbing.
When you get older, you get busy.
The past four years or so, things have gotten in the way of winter climbing. I wish I’d realized how rare it was to have a week, or a day, or a half-day off in the wintertime. My count of personal ice climbing days has dropped into the single-digits in the past two years. As Alexa and I struggle with career changes and hectic schedules, we have to put prospective winter climbing on our calendars. I can’t drop everything when something cool comes in anymore, and it’s frustrating to watch friends with more flexible schedules tramping around the routes I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve probably gotten about 20 days of ice climbing in the past two seasons; the rest is made up of headlamp soloing, Nordic skiing, and dry tooling on our little home wall after work.
In the fall of 2016, I tore my right shoulder’s labrum on a sport climb in Canada. I knew, right away, I’d done something bad, but I thought I could climb through the injury. I wanted to have fun with my friends. I figured I’d be able to get out a little with the little cadre of smack-talking north Conway-ites I’d come to call my regular climbing partners.
If Bayard Russell’s a little blip on the social media radar these days, Ryan “Rhino” Driscoll flies under it entirely. I don’t think the guy’s ever, ever posted about his climbs. Pound for pound, Ryan’s one of the most promising young alpinists in New England. But he still climbs in fleece gloves, he wears black and brown, he’s got a Johnny Waterman-style penchant for substances, and he thinks it’s pretty shameful to post a single photo on Facebook. He hangs out with his dog. The first time I climbed with him, we scratched our way up something in Huntington Ravine.
“That was the best climb I’ve ever done!,” Ryan chirped.
Of course, every climb I’ve done with Ryan since, he’s said the same thing. I quickly realized his steady temperament and tree-trunk legs were the perfect antidote to my twitchy, skinny personality in the mountains.
We worked our way up a few routes in the Canadian Rockies last season. He’s got the head and the endurance for longer climbs, lumbering uphill like a truck in low gear. He and Justin Guarino were hit by a falling snow mushroom on Mount Bradley in Alaska last year, sending them careening 200 meters down the route’s easy upper snow slopes. A rope snagging on a rock band saved their lives. Ryan got up, shook off his smashed Sirocco helmet, made sure Justin was OK, and they kept climbing, too far up the mountain to retreat.
Sponsors should throw him gear but they don’t, choosing instead to go for twitter-happy Instagrammers with half his ability.
“It never happened unless it’s on social media,” we joke, then Ryan goes back to texting his fiancée Angela on his flip phone, wondering about Rupert the dog.
Before my shoulder surgery, I eked out a few climbing days last winter, and the most fun one was the first. Bayard, Ryan, and I trudged up the talus into Huntington Ravine, where there’s some unglamorous mixed climbing to be had, especially when it’s Scottish outside, which it certainly was: freezing cold and blowing us over as we stood racking up. We’ve always adhered to Nick Bullock’s rules up there: no snow, no go. There wasn’t much of a question as to who would lead the crux pitch, and we loaded up Bayard, our senior-most member, up with pitons, a hammer, slings, and hexes and pointed the ringer in the direction of the cliff. He prodded his way up around the crux corner of a route Ryan had checked out the year before; an old, obscure rock climb called Misty.
He banged in a piton and launched. I was hardly paying any attention to the ropes: Bayard would send the pitch and then we’d do the route’s first winter ascent. Just like always! But his tool popped and off he went, a shower of spindrift and ironmongery. The old double ropes stretched, but the piton held, and Bayard lowered off, still in high spirits. If Bayard fell, it meant the route was hard.
I guessed I was, and racked up, scared shitless. I scratched my way up to Bayard’s high point, banged in another piece of gear, and found the hook Bayard had popped off of. My right shoulder flexed. I was scared. I tried to weight the shoulder for a few seconds, unsure if it was the injury or my abilities in general that were holding me back.
“I dunno, guys.”
I lowered gingerly off the piton and we sent Ryan the Rhino up. I cursed myself for not hanging in there a little bit longer.
When Bayard’s on, he’s on. Unstoppable. But, like me, Bayard loves bailing, and when the psyche has been drained, he’s a pretty easy sell for swift retreats. The wind hammered us in the ravine. We took turns soloing the first bit of Cloudwalker to stay warm, belaying Ryan as he inched his way up the pitch. Bayard hadn’t brought any food, and we were running low on calories. Ryan couldn’t hear us through the wind, lost in his own terrifying world.
“Michael.” I saw a twinkle in his eyes through several layers of down.
“We could be at the Shannon Door in an hour with pints in our hands. It’s so warm in there.”
It sounded so good. Ryan clipped our piton. He was about to launch up the crux. He was holding it together really well up there.
“Michael, have you had the BBQ chicken pizza at the Shannon Door?”
I had. It was really good. Ryan had better fall off soon so we could get pizza and beer. I considered yanking on one of the double ropes. Ryan’s pretty thick-skinned. He’s had worse falls.
As luck would have it, poor Ryan had to take in the same spot I’d bailed, shaking his fleece gloves to re-warm his hands. Still, he kept going higher. Past the 10-foot crux, the route became easier, but with little opportunity for good gear. There was a terrifying fifteen feet where he was looking at a massive fall onto the piton.
He finally crawled onto a ledge.
“OFF BELAY,” yelled the Rhino.
“Hey Ryan!” we yelled. “We wanna go to the bar! Leave the anchor and clean the gear and we’ll get outta here.”
“WHAT!?” The poor guy had just worked though the cold for an hour. Now his friends wanted to leave him on New England’s deadliest mountain.
“Michael! They’re your cams in the anchor. Now you two tie in and get up here!”
We sighed, cold, hungry and thirsty, and tied into the ropes. As we kept climbing, our hands warmed up, and Bayard became excited about climbing again. It was getting dark.
“Wanna do another pitch?” We managed to clip half the rack onto Bayard’s harness before he charged ahead like a bull at a rodeo, furiously climbing a corner of neve and turf. The pitch was classic alpine terrain, and we dangled from pitons, fifty feet from the top. None of us had headlamps or puffy coats. It would be dark in twenty minutes or so.
We rappelled, shoving our way through the crowded Shannon Door a few hours later.
For some reason, I thought a lot about our obscure little route in the hot summer days after surgery. I’d bailed on my Alaska partner and went under the knife in April. (Clint ended up climbing one of the wildest routes in Alaska, the south ridge of Huntington, over a week with Jess Roskelley. I think I would have been too scared, anyway.) As the anesthesia pulsed through my veins, my surgeon pulled my arm out of the socket and flopped the useless joint around.
“Oh man. This thing is loose.” I passed out.
That summer I furiously pedaled our exercise bike, unable to leave the house. My shoulder sling sweated and itched. As July turned to August, I worked with my physical therapist to raise my arm above my head.
I started trail running with the bulky sling on. The consequences were like soloing. A single slip would be catastrophic. By the time November rolled around, I’d managed to lead a single 5.9 outside. I was weak and completely filled with self-doubt, afraid of the new anchors holding my labrum together. I’d taken a year off from climbing.
“Wanna go up into Huntington ravine?” Ryan asked one day. I had the day off, and the weather was cold. I did, assuming Ryan would claim his lead and finish the route. Bayard was off in the Canadian Rockies with Raphael Slawinski and Nick Bullock. We figured he wouldn’t mind if we gave our piddly old rock route another go.
As we hiked up the trail, I remembered what it was like to carry a winter rack in my pack. I felt that old feeling rush towards me again, the wind up high carrying the cold air through the thinning spruce trees by the Harvard cabin. Huntington ravine is small and old school, but I’ve loved climbing there for 17 years, ever since my father dragged me up Yale Gully.
The Instagrammers were bludgeoning their way up ice climbs that had been put up when Calvin Coolidge was president. It was winter up here again.
“Want to lead?” Ryan had pulled me up upper refuse, my first climb post-surgery this summer, something most of our friends wouldn’t stoop to climb without a paycheck.
“Really? It’s your pitch. You almost sent it last year.”
“I don’t care at all.” And he didn’t. He just wanted to climb with his friend.
I wasn’t sure if leading an M7 pitch was a good re-introduction to winter, or to leading, for that matter. I tried not to think about it as I hemmed and hawed, hammering in pitons and retreating to rest on the big ledge below the crux. I was taking a long time.
Finally, I forced myself around the corner. My feet cut for a second before I stood on the teeny edges, hammering in a little spectre hook.
You’ve been thinking about climbing for a year. This is gonna be your only shot. All winter. Come on, youth. I cajoled myself.
I committed to the right-handed hook. My tool held, and my new shoulder did, too. I pulled up. I crept past the bad placements, gingerly working my way towards the belay. I finally clipped in to my anchor, worked, and let out a whoop of contentment. I was climbing again!
Ryan sped up the second pitch, and we hung on our old pitons, staring at that final fifty feet. What had looked like fifty easy feet of climbing in last year’s twilight before was anything but. (Winter climbing rule number one: it’s always harder than it looks.) Ryan stated up. It was slabby and scary. At one point, he committed to a turf blob above an overlap, heel hooking his crampon to pull his way up. Perhaps two or three of the six pieces he placed on the pitch might have held. I followed, worked, and fell, dangling on toprope in space. The pitch was steep.
Finally, we were both on top. The shadows grew long in the sky. It would be dark soon again. I’d forgotten my headlamp again, too. We jogged down the trail to the car. A few days later, Ryan and Bayard added a new route to what we’d dubbed the “Rhino Wall,” and I became inundated with work, sneaking out here and there for a few hours of winter fun. I guess when you don’t get to climb a lot, the days start to really matter, but who you get to spend them with matters even more.
I want to give a shout out to the Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest Crew. You do a spectacular job, better every year. Thanks for all your hard work and for inviting us to this great event. Congratulations on 25 Years.
I wonder what ice climbing will be like in another 25 years. It boggles the mind! But for now, enjoy this footage I shot with my drone at Cathedral Ledge on Sunday.