I had never been to St. Alban, a dedicated dry tooling crag near Quebec City. My friend Marty Theriault, who lives only 10 minutes from the crag, had several times extended an invitation to sample the chossy riverside cliffs. Marty was about to be deployed so we had to make the trip happen soon. – Zac St. Jules.
Poke-O-Moonshine – A flight by “Angel Eyes” 12.01.18
Peter Doucette of Mountain Sense Guides and Mike Houser racing the sun on the Bragg-Pheasant / Frankensteins South Face, Crawford Notch NH
The Boston Mountaineering Committee will offer the 2019 Ice Climbing Program this winter. This program teaches waterfall ice climbing and technical mountaineering skills. Prospective students should have rock climbing and winter sports experience. Please attend a mandatory free informational lecture at Arc’Teryx Newbury Street in Boston on Monday, December 3rd at 7 pm (2nd and 3rd lectures for admitted students only on Jan 7th and Feb 4th). The program will be held in the White Mountains on Jan 25-27 and Feb 8-10. Cost is $315 (members) or $375 (non-members). Info: www.amcbostonclimbers.com or [email protected]
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: