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”


Tuckerman Ravine Work Weekend


Saturday 10/22 and Sunday 10/23

Tuckerman Ravine Work WeekendThe Tuckerman Ravine region was hit particularly hard during Irene. Due to all the hurricane damage this season, Friends of Tuckerman Ravine (FOTR) and the White Mountain National Forest reached out for help, and NEice and many others were there to lend a helping hand.

We moved an estimated 7 tons of rock to rebuild the third bridge on the Tuckerman trail. This was no easy task given the cold, rainy weather, but the spirits were high and the work went quickly.

Please join the Friends of Tuckerman Ravine for the 2nd Annual Tucks Dinner and help fund their efforts.

Awards Banquet and Live/Silent Auction. November 5, 2011.

Sources: http://www.friendsoftuckerman.org


Hillman's Highway after the storm

 Click on photo to enlarge
Photos by Doug Millen

Freddie Wilkinson Interview

Some of the world’s best alpinists seem to come from the Northeast – especially New Hampshire. If you’ve hung out at the Mt. Washington Ice Festival, you know there’s a great bunch of climbers there.  More importantly, you’ll find a camaraderie among them that encompasses anyone who puts on a pair of rock shoes or crampons.  While ice climbing, you can run into the hardest climbers and guides in the area, and an elitist attitude is as tough to find as ice in July.

Friendly, enthusiastic, and psyched to climb, Freddie Wilkinson embodies a rare combination of camaraderie, humility, and absolute mastery of his craft.  We recently caught up with Freddie, who just returned from a 2-month trip to the mountains of India. 

Interview By Alden Pellett

wilkinsonYou live and climb a lot in New Hampshire, would you say that given you an edge in the bigger mountains?

Yes. Definitely. New England weather and conditions pack a punch, and the more practiced and comfortable you are dealing with those conditions, the more comfortable you will be in the big mountains. Dealing with shite conditions is a skill set that must be learned, like anything else.

How did you meet up with Ueli?

I originally joined the expedition as a producer/rigger, to make a movie about Ueli for Sender films with Rob Frost. Then, just before the trip began, Ueli’s original partner backed out, and he suggested we team up instead. I had, like, two weeks to train before going climbing with a guy whose nickname is ‘the Swiss Machine’.

Your ascent with Ueli was impressive in many ways. The route on the north face of Cholatse looks incredible, what was it like?

Cholatse is, without a doubt, one of the great alpine mountains in the world. This was actually my second time summiting the peak, and Ueli’s third. It’s North face, which we climbed this spring, is an all-time classic ice route, similar in quality to the Moonflower Buttress or the Super Couloir. And, like Mount Hunter in Alaska and Fitzroy in South America, it’s just one of those peaks you want to climb again and again.

What was the best thing you’d say you have gained from that climb?

Well, it was pretty cool to see Ueli up close in action. As a journalist, I was curious about what makes him tick. As a climber, I was interested in finding out what it takes to perform at his level.

What advice do you have for other climbers?

Climb for no other reason then that it makes you happy.

Favorite one-pot mountain meal? 🙂

Mac and cheese, or hashbrowns, but you need a good fry-bake skillet with a lid to do it really well.

Do you just climb and stay active in other pursuits or do you do anything specific to stay in shape?

I love to train, but I travel too much to be serious about plotting long-term training cycles.  At home I regularly trail run, do fingerboard workouts, iso-metric circuits, core workouts, and occasional yoga. It’s actually pretty easy for me to over-train, and balancing power training and endurance training is a challenge. If I am trail running 50 – 60 miles a week, as I did preparing for my summer expedition to the Karakoram, it’s virtually impossible for me to rock climb at my limit. The power is not there. I like to think of myself as a climbing decathlete.

What’s the best thing about living in New England?

The year-around climbing is really, really good, and the climbing communities are close-knit and welcoming.

Do you have a favorite ice climb in the Northeast? 

There are so many unique and classic ice climbs here! But, one that sticks out that doesn’t get a lot of attention is Love Diet in Evan’s Notch. It’s got a long ski approach and feels really remote. Bayard Russell and I climbed it a couple of years ago, and it is still in my mind as a really fun, memorable adventure.

In the big mountains?

Probably the Moonflower Buttress and the North Face of Cholatse.

You just published your first book, how did that come about? 

There was a terrible accident on K2 in 2008, in which eleven people perished. I wasn’t there, but I investigated and wrote about what happened for Rock and Ice magazine. There were a lot of inconsistencies in the initial stories told by some of the survivors, and I figured out that they key witnesses to unraveling what happened were the climbing Sherpas who were there. I found them in Nepal, and tried to write their stories as best I could. One Mountain Thousand Summits is the result.

Any other big plans, climbing, writing, otherwise?

Ueli and I are hoping to go back to the Himalaya next year. I also want to write another climbing book, something about Yosemite Valley. Yosemite is the great story in American climbing, in my opinion.

You live in a nice little cabin with Janet.  Can you talk about that some? Did you design and build it yourselves? 

We bought a chunk of land and built the ‘Shabin’ four years ago. It has electricity and internet, but no running water. A little primitive, but we love the flexibility and time outdoors it affords us.


More from Freddie Wilkinson

His web site: The Nameless Creature

Surf’s Up!  Video – “Only one pitch remained to finish Endangered Species to the top of the cliff… and Kevin Mahoney was psyched…”

Saser Kangri II  Mark Richey, Steve Swenson, and Freddie Wilkinson have climbed the east peak of Saser Kangri II in the Eastern Karakoram mountains of India’s Kashmir region. This was believed to be the second-highest unclimbed peak in the world.

Sources: Freddie Wilkinson, thenamlesscreature.com, NEice.com, Alden Pellett, vimeo.com

Freddie Wilkinson

NEIce Season Round-up

NEIce 2009-2010 Round-up


Most of the Tablets at Lake Willoughby lying at the base a week ago. Photo by RAH.

NEIce opened the season with a new website as it reached the 10-year anniversary milestone, a fact which stands as a tribute to the region’s wonderful ice climbing community.  Temperatures this weekend hit an unusual mark for April reaching above 80 degrees Fahrenheit in New England. While there are still pockets of solid ice to be found on Mt. Washington, we take a look back at the highs and lows of the past season.

This past winter got off the an early start in mid-October but was slow to kick off as most routes didn’t form until early December.