Harvard Cabin Report – 12-15-11

Greetings Mountaineers,

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems that Mother Nature and Jack Frost have a lot to sort out these days. Just as things start to appear green and spring-like again, old man Jack decides to sprinkle just a little bit of his seasonal specialty across the mountain. Not too much, not too little, but just enough to give the ever so subtle impression that winter is looming. No sooner, the old maid decides to make her rounds and sweep-up in an attempt to keep her grip on the lush, spring-like forest. A slight exaggeration, maybe? But, really, When will this power struggle be resolved???I’ve stopped thinking about snow at this point, we can’t even seem to get two consecutive days of temperatures conducive to ice formation. For example, last Sunday, I spent most of a frigid, got-to-keep-moving day in Tuckerman Ravine on and around The Open Book. The ice was in, it was young, it was soft, and it was promising. I returned with a partner on Monday hoping to gain access to the steeper ice on the headwall in an attempt to finally enjoy a day of true alpine ice in Tuckerman Ravine. In a normal year, the ice season in Tux is somewhat short-lived. There is usually only a few days of high quality, fun, curtain-to-curtain ice climbing in Tux before it is all buried by snow. Timing is everything and I’ve been determined not to miss the choose-your-own-pillar adventure in Tux this season. I’ve been ready and waiting for those magical few days. While it’s normally come and gone by now, still I wait.

Variable Conditions, Peeks and Valleys

Having enjoyed the coldest day of this Fall on Sunday, I was able to set my first V-Thread of the season and rappel down to the base of the Open Book. Happy to return to the cabin, I set fire to the wood stove and, much to my disappointment, watched the temperature OUTSIDE exceed the freezing mark. Returning to Tux on Monday morning in what was very near T-Shirt weather, my climbing partner and I decided it wasn’t even worth setting screws. We enjoyed the thickest ice down low. Nearly bomber only a dozen hours earlier, it was now significantly thinner, detaching, with much more running water behind it. We climbed high and fast, hoping to gain access to the large ice formations in the center of the Headwall. However, the snow quickly turned to mashed potatoes, with tear drop, point releases of snow above the Sluice (south facing aspect), and abundant ice fall, we decided to bail onto the Tuckerman Ravine Trail high-up on the headwall. Making the most of our day, we rock-hopped up and over the Alpine Garden and were able to enjoy some astounding views while standing on the summit of Mount Washington. Warm and wind-less, it was Mid-December in the high-peaks of New Hampshire and layers were coming off like it was a day to work on that good ol’ New England Farmers-Tan. Thanks to a group from the Dartmouth Outing Club, what would have been a rather mundane and somewhat depressingly warm summit day, proved to be very worthwhile and memorable, indeed!

On Tuesday, it was time to check out conditions in Huntington Ravine. I wish I had better news to report, but the ravine is looking rather summer like. While the approach and top-out resemble early fall conditions, there is some decent ice in Odell’s. If nothing more, at least you’ll stay mostly dry. I can’t say as much for Pinnacle, though it was been climbed more then a few times in the past week. Yale slabs are looking sketchy. As of yesterday, I could envision a catastrophic collapse of the entire slab. I’m not saying that is likely, but it is something to think about. In any case, there isn’t much ice above the slab. Harvard Bulge remains tempting but equally suspect. I did confirm a party climbed it on Monday, but it is definitely sun-baked, metamorphosized ice at this point. As for the north side of the Ravine, from the top of Odell’s I could see that there is some continuous ice in the middle of Damnation and North gullies, but it is bone dry leading up to and above these sections. Not really making them attractive objectives at this point.

Snow and Ice is coming….

I don’t mean to fill your inbox with Doom and Gloom. I am actually very excited for the impending season. However late, Winter will arrive soon and Harvard Cabin is the place to be. The cabin was full inside this past weekend with and additional 6 teams camped outside! As always, Harvard Cabin provided a perfect setting for climbers to gather and celebrate a new season. This past weekend stands to prove that there is ice to be climbed. That being said, a trip to the summit and a night at Harvard Cabin isn’t too tall a price to pay even if ideal conditions do not prevail. There isn’t any ice in the valley and it’s too cold and wet for most rock climbing, so you might as well take the gear for a walk and spend a day or two on the Rock Pile! I’d love to see you!

We are expecting some snow accumulation over the next couple of days. The mercury isn’t going to respond like we’d all like to see, but it is going to be quite windy over the weekend. The forecast is calling for clear and windy conditions. This will definitely transport snow, bringing you anxious skiers closer to some of the first turns on the rock-pile this season. I should mention there are some nice patches of snow high up on the summit cone, just below the fuel farm, in what is known as the Eastern Snow Fields. The snow has remained soft and fluffy since it fell last week. I did sight a skier in the snow fields on Monday. I’m fairly certain it was a Mount Washington Observatory employee as it would be a long walk for a few linked turns, but if you are feeling desperate, they’d be quality, nonetheless.

A Word from the USFS Snow Rangers….

The Snow Rangers have returned to the higher elevations! No doubt, they’ve made good use of their time giving the lack of winter conditions on the rock-pile this December. The post-Irene forest has kept the Rangers very busy in other parts of the White Mountain National Forest. While the Rangers are winter fanatics, they are also skilled foresters and administrators. Their expertise is wide and varied and their value and contributions extend far beyond snow-filled ravines. While they have been busy elsewere, they certainly kept on eye on conditions and activity in the Cutler River Drainage. I was excited to learn that there were Rangers in the ravines on Tuesday. What better indication that the mountain is changing seasons, if only little by little. Following their assessment of current conditions on Tuesday, the Forest Service hasn’t posted an sort of advisory yet, but they Rangers shared their findings in a conditions update available at http://www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org. I would encourage everyone to take a few minutes to read this update and be sure to get dialed into some of the great and useful Social Media Outlets that the Forest Service/Snow Rangers will be utilizing this season!

Mount Washington Ice Fest 2012

The Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest 2012 promotional materials have gone to press! If you look closely, included in the amazing list of sponsors, you’ll see the Harvard Mountaineering Club Logo. As I mentioned last week, the club is proud to be among a group of non-profits helping to sponsor Ice Fest this year. Our goal is to help promote safety in and around the Ravines by making sure that all climbers, newbies and veterans, are aware of the cabins location, function, and purpose. It is a great resource for all mountain travelers, not only guests. We are hoping to overcome any confusion about the cabin or misgivings that currently exist. Ice Fest is going to be a blast and HMC is excited to be a part of it! If you haven’t seen the poster, you can check it out by Clicking Here! You’ll also find recent photos from the Ravines featuring Ragged Mountain Equipment Gear Expert and Alpine Super Model, Max Lurie.

That’s all for now folks. Wish I had more exciting news. In any event, I’m hoping for another crowded weekend at the cabin. Stay motivated people, be patient, and stay safe….it’s coming!!!

Rich Palatino
Harvard Cabin Caretaker
[email protected]NOTE – Harvard Cabin is not affiliated with the Appalachian Mountain Club. Harvard Cabin is maintained by Harvard Mountaineering Club for use by the general public. The cabin is operated under a special-use permit granted by the USDA Forest Service. Cabin space and tent-sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis between December 1st and April 1st each year. Specific instructions for staying at the cabin can be found online at http://www.HarvardMountaineering.org.

Harvard Cabin – Opening Weekend 2011/12

Seasons Greetings Mountaineers,

It’s our favorite time of year again! Winter is right around the corner and that means everyone is looking forward to another fantastic season at Harvard Cabin!

I spent the last couple of weeks out west enjoying some wonderful early season winter conditions in the Rocky Mountains. A late Fall trip to Colorado wouldn’t be complete without beautiful dawn patrol ski tours leading to picture perfect powdery ski lines. Earning turns is the perfect way to get ready for another season on Mount Washington! Not to mention some fantastic alpine rock and ice! So much good road-side ice to be had…..who would ever think of trekking into the backcountry??? Just kidding!

I did do fair amount of traveling since closing the cabin last season. From Quebec’s beautiful Gaspé Peninsula to the jagged peaks of The Tetons and down to the amazing razorback formations at Seneca Rocks, I ran into familiar faces from Harvard Cabin everywhere I seemed to drag a rope! Proof-positive that the Harvard Cabin guest is hard-core and ready-to-send, no matter what time of year! You all inspire me!

Cream Puffs and Harvard Cabin

I was able to put Harvard Cabin in a public spotlight for a little while this Fall. I did some volunteering with The Granite State Ambassadors at The Big E, the largest fair in the northeast. For over 90 years, the Eastern States Exposition has showcased the six New England States. Included in the 175 acres of fairground, you’ll find the famous Avenue of States, home to a replica of each original New England State House. Inside each building, you’ll find plenty of food, crafts, products, and tourism info pertaining to each state. Besides the Blueberry Pie and Ice Cream, Mount Washington is always a New Hampshire highlight. It was fun being part of the fair and sharing Harvard Cabin with hundreds of fair-goers from all around New England and beyond.

Current Conditions

I should stop rambling and skip to the chase -current conditions on The Rock Pile. After an amazing pump-fake over Halloween weekend we were left to wonder if it was a Trick or Treat. Well, at this point it sure seems like it was a big, mean Trick!  The mountains have pretty much returned to late fall conditions. As I’m sure you are aware, all the early season ice is basically gone. Snow is even hard to find following a winter storm that occurred only last week! Sure, we’ve all been treated to an extra long rock season, but this is getting ridiculous! Fortunately, the weather does seem to finally be trending in the right direction, though we remain well above seasonal temps. Keep your fingers crossed that we keep trending towards the negative temps!

It hard to believe I was able to sink my tools into some decent ice at way back in October as I picked my way up Yale Gully, a promising start to the season. I mention this now only because at the top out, I found plenty of potential for above average rock fall as a result of erosion caused by Hurricane Irene. I’m hoping this latest warm spell helps to further settle the gullies before our regularly scheduled mid-winter thaw. There sure seemed to be a lot of loose debris that needed to come down. I’d expect to see lots of new debris in The Fan until things really get locked into place for the winter. We may want to be a little more mindful of rock fall potential in Huntington this season. As always, be sure to limit your exposure from above and keep climbers below in mind as your make your way towards the top-outs.

Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest – February 3-5, 2012

We’ve got another exciting season on tap. One bit of super exciting news is that Harvard Mountaineering Club has become an official sponsor of the 2012 Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival set to go off on February 3rd, 2012. HMC is proud to sponsor such an awesome event and is thankful for the opportunity to promote Harvard Cabin and its role in aiding public safety on Mount Washington each winter.

As usual, Ice Fest will include many participants. Everyone, from the newest of climbers to salty veterans, can enjoy the amazing list of sponsors, gear demos, and clinics run by some of the top pro climbers in the World. Guest Guides this year will include the likes of Freddie Wilkinson, Janet Bergman, Emilie Drinkwater, Matt McCormick, and others. This years Keynote speaker is none other then the legendary Will Gadd! Get psyched, there will be tons of prizes, plenty of swag, awesome clinics, and live music! Stay-tuned for more information on HMC’s participation. As the time grows nearer, keep an eye on http://icefest.blogspot.com for more details and a complete schedule.

Facebook & NEice.com

We’ve been more focused on skiing and climbing the last few seasons, but we’ve finally started a Harvard Cabin Facebook Fan Page. (Click Here) . I’ll be adding content and information in the coming weeks. Until then, just press “Like” and tell your “Friends” to do the same.

Also, from time to time this season, I will be contributing content to Doug Millen who maintains the popular website, NEice.com. Stories will focus mostly on cabin life, but I’ll be sure to try and sneak-in a few paragraphs regarding an epic ski line or two. Come on now, it wouldn’t be New England Ice if we weren’t skiing on it too!!!

Harvard Cabin Trail Sign

I met with the Forest Service/Snow Rangers on Monday afternoon to review the Winter Operating Plan. As usual, the meeting was informative and a helpful in getting into my winter routine of helping to promote safety on the mountain. Once again, I was left humbled by the level of readiness and the 100% commitment to safety and excellence displayed by the Snow Rangers. Consistent with those values, the Forest Service has agreed to place a trail sign at the intersection of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and the Fire Road. The sign will point travelers in the direction of the cabin and make the fire road a more recognizable reference point for everyone. This will no doubt, create better awareness of the cabin, thus increasing safety. Even better, It will surely help prevent more then a few late night travelers from missing the fire road and accidentally spending a cold night at Hermit Lake.

Opening Weekend….Get to Harvard Cabin!

I’ve received a few e-mails and phone calls over this week. Seems like we’ll have a handful of guests at the cabin for opening weekend 2011/12. I hope you’ll be there too!

Well, I really need to be heading up the trail again. Supply Load #1 as been delivered to the cabin. I have about 5 more to go before the weekend is over. I promise all of my updates won’t be such great works of shameless self-promotion. It’s been a long summer, so you’ll have to forgive me this time. I look forward to seeing you soon! Stay safe and THINK SNOW!!!

Rich Palatino
Harvard Cabin Caretaker
[email protected]NOTE – Harvard Cabin is not affiliated with the Appalachian Mountain Club. Harvard Cabin is maintained by Harvard Mountaineering Club for use by the general public. The cabin is operated under a special-use permit granted by the USDA Forest Service. Cabin space and tent-sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis between December 1st and April 1st each year. Specific instructions for staying at the cabin can be found online at http://www.HarvardMountaineering.org.

False Start…

5 yard penalty – repeat first down

Article by Patrick Cooke

It seems like every year I find myself in the same position -I’m ready for the season to start, but that perfect alignment of weather, work, partners, and family commitments just isn’t quite right.  Working at a boarding school, I am fortunate to have the full week off for Thanksgiving.  With Doug and Alfonzo setting the bar so high in terms of making the most of the early season ice, I figured it was time to atone for my early season sins and get up north.

First and Ten…

Whereas I had no partner lined up for my aborted adventure on Mt. Lincoln, I found a willing partner for a romp up to Huntington Ravine on Tuesday.  In addition to Doug and Alfonzo, some other NEice denizens managed to find some climbable lines in the few days before my break began, so it seemed like there would be hope.  At the very least, neither of us had ever been up to Huntington, so we figured it would be a nice hike.

With my partner coming from VT and unable to do a particularly early start (something about grad school and a group project the night before…), we were heading up around 7:00am and were at the base of Pinnacle by around 9:00.

We weren’t the first ones into the Ravine, but what we saw wasn’t promising: two climbers trying to scratch their way up something between Pinnacle and Central, only for the leader to lower off of some shrubbery about 20′ up. Part of the game with chasing ice this early in the season is avoiding the sun at all costs.  Odell’s looked climbable, but also like it might disintegrate under a climber’s weight.  As my buddy said, “I’ve seen better ice in my freezer!”

Undeterred, our 2 new friends from Quebec set forth for the top of the ravine via a contrived line of bushwhacking somewhere to the right of Central.  Knowing I had the weekend after Thanksgiving (and a forecast with colder temperatures), I opted to call it a day of taking the tools for a walk and headed back to Pinkham.

False Start… 5 yard penalty, repeat first down -First and fifteen!

By Thursday evening, I had successfully relocated myself from the holiday’s festivities in southern CT to basecamp for the coming days in northern NH.  I was primed and had the alarm set for 3am, at least until I saw Leaf’s conditions report from that day:

“For the conditions report, I will write a series of haikus. The title is: HEIN

Broke trail into Hunts/ It wasn’t too bad at all/Until the talus

Snow on huge boulders/ Waiting to twist and swallow /Unsuspecting legs

Rotten and hollow /A waterfall underneath /That describes the ice

Would have been pleasant/ If the wind wasn’t hallowing/ Gusts maybe 80

Goggles, face mask on/ Then the snow above the ice/ Waist deep swimming – hmm

Snow slide potential?/ Gained the ridge between gullies/ That wasn’t easy either

Finally the Garden/ Beautiful undercast seen/ There was a rainbow

Whew, I’m exhausted/ Happy Thanksgiving to all/ Please pass the turkey”


Leaf’s reward after a hard climb

Now, although I have never met Leaf, I’ve seen her contributions on this site enough to know that if she found it sketchy, I wasn’t going to find it any better the next day.  Foiled again!

False Start… 5 yard penalty, repeat first down – First and Twenty!

Nevertheless, I managed a fun day of cross country skiing on Friday with my family, while Doug and Alfonzo also managed some non-vertical fun in the mountains.  The ice may be fickle, but it’s good to remember that there are other worthwhile pursuits than chasing cascades of frozen water.

My quest for early season ice in November has sadly come to a close.  Temperatures finally seem to be moving in the right direction, so perhaps this weekend will offer up some fun frozen treats for those of you who are able to get out.  Although working at a boarding school gives me some pretty sweet breaks, this weekend I’ll be experiencing the double-edged nature of my work -weekend dorm duty.

Give it a week or so, though, and I’ll be back out there.

First and Twenty… totally doable!

Rhythm of the Seasons – Part Three

It’s been a busy few weeks, but the essays are graded, the exams are printed, and there’s time to relax and think about ice climbing again.  In Part One, you learned about my affinity for seasonal beverages and my one-track mind when it comes to the off-season.  In Part Two, I got all “dippy and philosophical” while nerding out about literature and No Man’s Land.  Ultimately, though, what it’s all building towards is a simple fact:

Part Three: December-March

“Winter is Coming”

Article by Patrick Cooke

Sure, by the time December rolls around (and surely by January, February, and March), winter is not coming, but instead is hopefully upon us.  But the giant dork in me can’t resist the Game of Thrones reference, and we’re still enjoying daytime temperatures in the mid-60s this week in Boston.  If our NEice meteorologist in residence, Smike, is to be trusted we need not worry: Winter is Coming.

As we adjust to the increasingly early sunsets, seeing our breath in the air, and digging out our cars, there’s a looming sense of adventure about the months ahead.  What kind of winter will this be?  Will PowerPlay and Big Brother be locked up again this year?  Will Poko be off the hook again, or will Cathedral, Willoughby, or Smuggs see conditions so fat that even this guy can climb classic test-pieces?  Can Joe Szot be unseated as the undisputed champion of the world when it comes to rollies?

Each year, the winter’s water cycle is largely determined by what happens throughout the fall.

This year, Hurricane Irene rudely knocked on our doors, not only soaking the northeast but also potentially rearranging water flow patterns throughout the region.  The Trap Dike has a new exit out onto the slabs.  Cascade, Wright, and Saddleback all have new slides that may yield new winter alpine routes.  There is significant potential for new routes and variations hiding in familiar locations, while there are also new opportunities to be had for those willing to go beyond the beaten path.

Early Season Potential: Fortune Favors the Bold

Amid all the uncertainty that awaits us each season, there are still certain facts of life that are givens.  By early December, most of the climbers in the northeast will be chomping at the bit to get their first sticks of the season.  How early one sates this hunger will often be directly correlated to how bold a climber he or she is.  Last year, I managed to get out and climb the Trap Dike the week before Thanksgiving, opting for the greater likelihood of climbable ice at higher elevations rather than the potential to scratch my way up something at the North Face of Pitchoff.  Sure, I could have ended up taking the tools for a long walk, but at the very least I would have a good day in the mountains.  As it turned out, we found wicked fun conditions on the waterfalls and perfect neve up the slabs.  That same day, people found ice to climb at NFOP.  Was it fat? No.  Did it take screws? Sort of.  Did they have fun?  Absolutely!

Typical EARLY season conditions at NFOP – Rowdy Dowdy on Screw and Climbaxe (11/21/10) – photo by Rockytop


As the season ramps up, there are certain climbs and venues we can look to each and every season.  In the Daks, the North Face of Pitchoff and Chapel Pond Canyon are sure bets.  Full of moderate lines, these areas have routes that may not be considered “classic”, but offer a little bit of something for everyone.  Fans of long moderate lines can enjoy a day out on Weeping Winds or Screw and Climbaxe.  Those looking to push themselves on harder grades may not find the steep pillars and curtains of Poko or the Lake, but can link up many routes into a good long day: At NFOP, try linking up Central Pillar (to the top!), Arm and Hammer, Tendonitis, Weeping Winds, and Screw and Climbaxe; at the Pond, Crystal Ice tower/White Line Fever, Lions on the Beach, Hot Shot, Ice Slot, Positive Reinforcement, and Haggis and Cold Toast make for a good long day.  At Smuggs, you’ll find plenty of ice early in the season, and linking routes will give you a hell of a leg workout!  At Frankenstein, you can try to get up early and beat the Standard Route conga line (can you find all 12 climbers?), hook and torque your way up the Pegasus rock finish, and probably even take a lap on Dracula if you’re looking for a little bit more spice.


If you feel like you’ve “climbed out” your usual haunts, early season options may be the perfect remedy.  That fat 3+ or 4- that you’ve climbed 200 times may be a different beast early in the season.  Stubbies, spectres, and and a couple of stoppers instead of an endless line of 16s may mean the difference between just another lap on “the hardman’s warmup” and a personal first ascent of “the hardman’s ego-check.”

Mid-Season: Getting After It

Come my winter break (end of December), I generally feel that there’s no question as to what season it is: sending season. Sure, there’s those pesky family commitments involving stuffing your face with delicious food and the mandatory Christmas eve whiskey (if you don’t already have this tradition, I HIGHLY recommend it!), but my main thought is about getting out and getting after it.  Last winter, the stars aligned perfectly: I’d never done Dracula, Welcome to the Machine was in, and Fang was so fat it could easily have been mistaken for Standard Route.  It was looking like it would be a great day!  We’d have to move quickly as a party of three, but we were ambitious.

Dracula was great, except for one thing… apparently those toe bails that keep your crampons on your boots are not indestructable!

When you break a crampon on lead, sometimes you end up with amusing photo opportunities like this… tools left for comic effect!

Yep, 20 feet up on lead and for whatever reason, I can’t get good sticks with my right foot.  Look down… “#$%&!!!!!!!!!!!”  There’s my crampon, dangling from the strap around my ankle with a busted toe bail.  I had just placed a screw with a screamer, so I placed another and lowered off… As a single pitch climb, I knew we’d be able to make things work, but WTTM and Fang were out of the picture.  Regardless, sending season had begun!  With my unbroken mono-point on the left foot, my buddy’s dual points on the right, and a second set of tools, I was off again, enjoying superb sticks and even placing more than 3 screws (actually, a lot more)!

Every winter presents the opportunity for climbing new routes.  Even lines you’ve done before can form in new ways.  That’s part of the beauty of ice climbing.  Sure, sometimes different climbs can feel the same, but some days the same climb can be a totally different beast from a previous ascent.  If you’ve already climbed the Gent, that doesn’t mean you should’t go do it again.  Tackle the direct start, climb the steeper pillar left of the groove on the crux pitch, or head way right at the top.  It all may be the same climb in the guidebook, but each and every ascent will be a new experience.

One of the beauties of living in the Northeast is how close we are to so many great ice climbing venues.  If you’re only climbing in one place all winter, you’re missing out.  Venture out and check out what other people get to experience as their home crag.  If you have some vacation time, why not make a road trip around the Northeast?  In 5 days you can easily link Cannon, Willoughby, Smuggs, Poko, and the Catskills into one epic adventure.  Limited to weekends?  No problem, shoot for a different venue each time you get out.  Even in one region you can easily have a diversity of climbing experiences. Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing:

Catskills: Day one – Buttermilk Falls (be sure to hit the mixed cragging to the right of tier #3).  Day two: Black Chasm

Daks: Day one: Avalanche Lake.  Day two: Poko

VT: Day one: Smuggs, Day two: Willoughby

NH: Day one: Cathedral or Frankenstein.  Day two: Mt. Webster

CT/MA/Other locations:  Drive north and don’t feel limited by the local offerings!

With so many options in the Northeast, you should never get bored.

Ice season is undoubtedly the best time of year, but there is one dreaded element that seems to hit every year – the midseason thaw.  Last year, this hit on New Year’s Day (the day after the photo above was taken), making the ice in the Catskills entirely unclimbable.  A few years ago, the thaw coincided with Mountainfest and resulted in several cancelled clinics.  While we hope that this doesn’t happen this winter, don’t despair – at the very least it will help heal the ice and return a hooked-out classic back to its proper form!

Late Season: Back to the Mountains

As the calendar pages flip and the days get longer, our options begin to change.  Willoughby, Poko, and other predominantly south-facing crags begin to melt away.  At the lower elevations, those early season options often linger and remain our best bet.  Every year, Dracula seems to hang in there in its black cave, much like the bat its namesake emulated.

With such long days, the late season is prime time for long routes in the mountains.  In the Daks, Joe Szot laid down the gauntlet completing the “Adirondack Trilogy” of Gothics, Marcy, and Colden in a day, Emilie Drinkwater completed her own version of the Trilogy, and Alfonzo created the “Trifecta” of Pinnacle, Shoestring, and the Throat in the Whites. Countless other opportunities exist for those with more modest ambitions as well.  Long days of linking up gullies await you in Huntington Ravine, and Katahdin hosts countless alpine routes in as remote a setting you can find in the Northeast.

Katahdin’s South Basin from Chimney Pond – Photo by AOC


It may have been 62 and partly cloudy in Boston yesterday, but don’t worry, Winter is coming!

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!

Gear Ready for Adventure… Climber Not

It’s 4:00am Sunday morning, and the gear is packed and ready for a run up Mt. Lincoln. 

4:00am – Gear is ready to go…

Unfortunately, the climber is not.

In order to protect the identity of the climber in question, we used this cat to reenact the climber’s actions.

The culprit?  Laziness, sloth, lethargy, weariness…

All apt descriptions in this case.

The Backstory:

5:00pm Saturday – the climber, overwhelmed by the amount of work he needs to do over the weekend and underwhelmed by the engagement of said work, sees Alfonzo’s exploits posted on the NEice facebook page.

5:30pm Saturday – seeing the latest Higher Summits Forecast, the climber is convinced that getting up at 4:00am (which will feel like a relatively late 5:00am) and driving up to climb Mt. Lincoln is totally doable.

6:30pm Saturday – Everything is packed, the coffee maker is set.

7:30 pm Saturday – Climber and wife arrive at friend’s apartment for a birthday party.  Climber fully committed to plan for next day.

8:30pm Saturday – Climber enjoys first Spaten of the evening.  Climber getting sleepy but still fully committed to plan for next day and convinced of plan’s brilliance.

9:00pm Saturday – Climber enjoys second Spaten of the evening. Climber beginning to doubt wisdom of plan given the evening’s course of events and overall sleepiness.

9:30pm Saturday – Climber opens third Spaten of the evening.  Climber now fully convinced that waking up at 4:00am not likely to happen.

11:15 pm Saturday – Climber and wife still at friend’s apartment.  Alarm no longer set for 4:00am.

1:30-8:00am Sunday – Climber soundly asleep… Opportunity lost.


Article by Patrick Cooke

Rhythm of the Seasons – Part Two

In Part One of this article, we looked at the off season.  The off season is largely self-explanatory – there’s no ice to be climbed.  After the off season, but before the ice is reliably in shape, we’re faced with a period of uncertainty:

Part Two: October-December

“No Man’s Land”

Article by Patrick Cooke

Generations of high school students the world over are familiar with the concept of “No Man’s Land” from reading Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.  Remarque’s protagonist, Paul Baumer, experiences firsthand the perils of being caught in this barren wasteland between the front lines of two opposing armies, facing rolling artillery barrages, sweeping machine gun fire, drifting poisonous gases, and charging soldiers.  There is no safety in No Man’s Land.  Baumer and his comrades must move forward to confront their enemies or move back towards the safety of their own lines.  To linger is to perish.

As summer turns to fall, and Send-tember rolls into Rock-tober, we are faced with an uncomfortable reality, and indeed, our own No Man’s Land.  Whereas most sane people hope for sunny days and warm temperatures, we’re looking looking for that perfect weather pattern that will lead to an elusive early-season ascent of the Dike.   Why climb warm, sunny rock when you can scratch your way up Chouinard’s “Black, filthy, horrendous icicle?”

The Black Dike 10/29/11

Erik Eisele finding thin but climbable conditions on the 3rd pitch of the Black Dike, Franconia Notch, NH. This is believed to be the first ascent of the season. 10/29/11 Photo by Peter Doucette

Are we crazy? Undoubtedly, but there’s something especially alluring about the dilemma we face in this ice climber’s No Man’s Land.  Behind us, we have the relative safety of the known: sitting at home, unwilling to commit to the drive up to Cannon or the Rock Pile.  We can slink back to friendly lines without facing our enemies – fear, doubt, and uncertainty.  On the other hand, ahead of us lies greater risk: unbonded ice, run-outs, or even the dreaded “taking the tools for a walk.”  Are we willing to throw the dice?  There is no middle ground; just as Baumer and his brothers-in-arms must escape from No Man’s Land, we have to commit to one direction or the other.

Fortunately for us, this No Man’s Land exists only in our mind.  There is no physical risk for us should we decide to slink back to our own lines.  In All Quiet on the Western Front, Baumer escapes from No Man’s Land by first waiting for the enemy to charge and then his countrymen to counterattack and overtake his position.  To announce his approach risks drawing enemy fire; sneaking back under the cover of darkness risks being gunned down by a trigger-happy sentry.  There are no snipers or machine gunners waiting for us if we retreat.  The only sentries we face are the guilt and doubt we bring to bear on our own psyche.  Unlike Baumer, we may linger; though in our case to linger is to retreat.  Wait too long, and the ice will have melted away.

Fortunately, this landscape exists only in my psyche, and not at the base of Cannon. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/The_badly_shelled_main_road_to_Bapaume.jpg

Few are willing to press forward towards the enemy on their foray through No Man’s Land. Who are these intrepid souls?  Within our community we see a host of usual suspects who regularly push the calendar dates of the season.  Whether we’ve shared a rope with them, read their trip reports, or only heard of them in near-mythical contexts, they are the  few to whom we look for inspiration when the temperatures begin to drop and our own doubts and fears threaten to overwhelm our sense of daring.

If you did not get out over Halloween weekend, fear not – neither did I.  All we can do is wait, train, and fixate on when our next chance will be.

Next year, however, I will not linger in No Man’s Land, but will conquer my doubts and fears to make the most of that ephemeral, late-autumn ice.

Coming Next:

Part Three: December-March

“Winter is Coming”

Game On!

Huntington Ravine, Mt. Washington NH 10/28/11

The season has official started. Many of the early season classics received ascents over the weekend. Not bad for October!

Damnation gully

Katie Ives enjoying the first real ice climbing of the season on Damnation gully, Huntington Ravine, Mt. Washington NH. Photo: Doug Millen


Fall Meets Winter


An October day in the Alpine with friends. Life is Good!

Photos by Doug Millen – 10/16/11

Rhythm of the Seasons – Part One

As the Sam Adams commercials claim, “there is a rhythm of the seasons.”  This is especially true when it comes to ice climbing.
Where does the rhythm begin, however, and where does it end?  Does a lack of climbable ice in the immediate area mean that the season is over?  Or is it just another cog in the wheel that is the calendar of ice climbing?  For many, ice season ends in March and begins sometime around December.  I would counter, however, that the season never ends.  There is a rhythm to the ice climbing season, and while there may not be ice at the Lake, Chapel Pond, or Cathedral, out of sight is not necessarily out of mind.

April-September “The Off-Season”

Article by Patrick Cooke

Late March/Early April is usually the end of the season when it comes to climbable ice.  Sure, you may be able to force some laps in the Canyon, but if you’re climbing Lions on the Beach come April Fools Day (or beyond), it’s doubtful that the climb itself offers much beyond that certain satisfaction of squeezing in the absolute most out of that most ephemeral of H2O’s phases.  Generally, the bin of gear comes out, the tools/boots/crampons go in, and the chalk bag/kayak/running shoes/(enter your own off-season time-wasting accessory here) come out.

By the time May rolls around and flows through June, July, August, and September, ice season and all of its glories seem like a past lifetime, but there are options.

the spring season on Mt. Hunter AK

Mount Hunter – May 2010

Option One: Fighting for Every Inch

For a hardy (and financially blessed) few, this is prime time to take the game to a bigger venue:  Alaska.  Endless steep alpine ice, mixed horror-shows, and even the dreaded snow-slog – Alaska has it all, and NEice regulars have taken full advantage of its offerings. But Alaska isn’t the only destination where you can get your frozen water fix.  Throughout the summer months, climbers throughout the northeast are applying their skills in mountain ranges the world over.  Some will make a weekend ascent of Rainier or other Cascades volcanoes, while others venture farther afield to cure their aches.  The Himalaya, Karakorum, Andes, Canadian Rockies, and even the peaks of New Zealand have all seen NEice locals on their slopes during the Northeast’s “off season.”

Option Two: Preparation and Reflection

For most, however, a trip to the greater ranges of the world is not in the cards (at least not on a yearly basis). Leisurely strolls through Vermont’s hills, clipping bolts at Rumney, and blowing $#!% up in honor of America’s Independence have all but erased the memory of winter’s monochromatic beauty.  It’s at this time that we wish that summer could eternally bask us in her radiant glory.

Reflection: Purgatory - Winter 2010/11

Reflection: Purgatory – Winter 2010/11

Lost in the warm glow of a summer evening is the opportunity to reflect upon the last season and prepare for what lies ahead.  Reflection is an important part of the ice climbing season: It allows us to better understand where we came from and where we would like to be.  Through reflection we can identify how and why events transpired and who we are as climbers.  Without reflection, whether overt or subtle, we are stuck in a rut of climbing aimlessly.  The climbing may be fun (and that is the goal), but are we enjoying the climbing because it is what we want to be doing, or are we missing out on opportunities to enjoy new routes, new environments, new partners, and new experiences? The best climber may be the one having the most fun, but is there an opportunity for even greater fun around the corner?

Ultimately, reflection sets the stage for preparation: Identifying strengths and weaknesses in the reflection process can help us identify training strategies. Examining mistakes we have made can yield better judgement when facing similar situations in the future.  Through reflection we can be better prepared for the risks that are inherent in climbing.  For some, this is an inherently personal and introspective process.  In other cases, sharing the reflection process with the community at large can result in greater community discourse and understanding.

Other preparations yield more tangible results.  The off-season is a great time to send away your screws for sharpening.  In fact, waiting until the ice is in is a surefire way to: a) miss the start of the season, or b) end up gripped on something way over your head, cursing the medieval torture device you are using as protection.  NEice has numerous members who do first-rate work on sharpening ice screws.  Scour the forums and see what’s being offered  (expect more on this topic later, but for now, exercise your noggin and master the “search” function!).

With your screws off receiving the business end of a round file, you can work on preparing your most important tool:

ice climbing season - Preparation

Preparation – Early Fall 2010

Use the reflection process to examine where your physical strengths and weaknesses lie, and then work to address the weaknesses.  Is your goal to start leading 4s, tackle a backcountry project, or to climb the Promenade?  Then start logging time in the gym and on your tools.  Instead of spending the first 4 weeks of the ice season getting into shape, spend the first 4 weeks meeting your goals because you did what you could to prepare ahead of time. Football games aren’t won on game day, and test-pieces aren’t climbed in the winter.  Put in the work in the off-season, and you’ll be amazed at what you can do once the ice is in.



 Coming Next:

Part Two: October-December “No-Man’s Land”