Roped Up: With Zac St. Jules

It starts as a series of fully inverted moves right from the ground.  Zac hangs from ice tools perfectly planted into the cracks along the rock.  The placements are solid and his body is relaxed despite the muscle strain.  Climbing up the overhanging wall, the teeth of his ice pick hang more precariously now from their placements as they become less secure the farther up he goes.  His muscles tense as he takes too much time finding stable places for his crampon points.  Still several moves away from the hanging icicle, Zac lets go.

“I’m pretty inspired by routes that don’t get climbed much. I think routes that require incessant vigilance on conditions are really cool because they demand focus on something that may never materialize. That just seems like a really sincere approach to the adventurous side of climbing.” Zac St. Jules
Zac on Unemployment Line (M9) at Toko Crag (Photo: Brent Doscher)

Zac on Unemployment Line (M9) at Toko Crag (Photo: Brent Doscher)

Meet Zac St. Jules.  If you don’t know him, you will soon.  He’s young, motivated, and he’s going after the hard mix lines that New Hampshire has to offer.  Zac was born and raised in the rolling hillsides and farmlands of Ontario and moved to the States in the summer when he was 15.  Three years later, his soon-to-be wife and father-in-law took him climbing for the first time on some small flows near Humphrey’s Ledge. Although he didn’t start climbing on a regular basis until he was 22, he was deeply moved by the mountain landscape of New Hampshire.  My wife talks about how when I first moved to New Hampshire to be closer to her, I didn’t have friends here. She says that the mountains became my friends.  The same time I fell in love with her, I fell in love with the mountains.”

Living in Moultonborough and working for a footwear company in North Conway, Zac gets out whenever he can, not leaving a second to waste when he could be out in the mountains.   I was climbing with a mutual friend, Billy Bevans when Zac came up in conversation.  He tells me, “So Dave and I are decked out in our winter climbing gear.  I mean, we have our battle gear on and we are ready to tackle Pinnacle Gully and everything that could happen up there.  And then I’m talking with Zac about a strategy to do the line, and he has New Balance track pants on and I’m trying to focus on our plan but I can’t keep looking down at these track pants.  Zac leads the first pitch, always solid and calculated.  I meet him at the belay and then he announces it was time for him to go to work. So he just raps down and walks out alone, wearing his clothes for work!”

“[..] he has the talent to back up the confidence. It manifests itself in his body language when he climbs: efficient, poised, and no hesitation.” -Phil Schuld

Over the course of his short four year history, climbing moved from a hobby to a passion very quickly.  Climbing has a significance to me and carries a certain weight in my mind, that other things do not.  The sport caters to his goal-oriented mindset.  He finds his grounding in the pursuit and importance of obtaining real, positive implications for setting a goal and reaching it.  This year, he’s set some high ones.  Seeking out hard mix routes in obscure areas has become his style and he’s getting good at it.  Matt Ritter and Phil Schuld have been inspirations to me in that department. They have both been people in my life that motivated me to not just do the same ole routes.”  

Zac on Omega (WI5+), Cannon Cliff. (Photo: Matthew Ritter)

Zac on Omega (WI5+), Cannon Cliff. (Photo: Matthew Ritter)

I caught up with Phil to gain some more insight into what makes Zac tick.  He wrote me, “Zac’s confidence has always inspired me to be a better winter climber. It’s sometimes tough on the ego to climb with somebody like that, but I think all of his partners would agree that his confidence and optimism are contagious. If you spend a day climbing with Zac, you’ll get up something. And that something will likely be really cool.”  Phil continues, “I remember the first time we went out winter climbing, at the Ace of Spades area in Franconia Notch, this fact was quickly driven home. I spent a lot of time hemming and hawing about leading the Ace of Spades, which would be my first proper grade 4 lead, all the while, Zac just ate up every possible line you could take on this climb, culminating in a mixed lead of a very thin, steep curtain. I didn’t even see it as a possibility, yet Zac just sauntered up it. That memory really sticks out to me because as a newer winter climber, it showed me what was possible. I suppose this also goes to show that he has the talent to back up the confidence. It manifests itself in his body language when he climbs: efficient, poised, and no hesitation.”

Pocket Rocket (M9+) is a short but stout route on what was named Slander Crag, tucked away on the northwest side of Lower Baker Pond and first scouted out by Freddie Wilkinson around 2003. “Slander Crag was Freddie’s stash.” Bayard Russell recalls, “He’d seen it driving back and forth from Dartmouth to North Conway. He used to come and stay with Josh Hurst and I in our apartment behind the Discount Bev in town. Later,  Freddie and I were the young guides at IMCS. Kevin Mahoney and Ben Gilmore also worked there and we thought they were really cool, obviously. Freddie somehow talked them into coming over to this little crag with us, an hour and half away, without ever having been there himself. It worked out and we got pretty psyched about the place.”

Phil was with Zac on a very warm day in December 2015 as they stood beneath Pocket Rocket.  He remembers, “As I scratched my head wondering how something like this could possibly be climbed, he went up there and figured it out. I think this route, among others, was the impetus behind his push toward an emphasis on physical training. He may have an innate sense of self-confidence, but I think he knew he had to put some work into the fitness aspect in order to take down these hard mixed lines. And two years later, he’s done just that with his recent sends.”

I first tried Pocket Rocket my first year ice climbing and every year since with comical outcomes. Zac recalls.  In order to be able to send routes like Pocket Rocket, he knew he needed a lot more physical and mental training.  His mental energy would be spent finding a way to feel comfortable on moves that don’t always feel secure, and part of accomplishing that is getting and feeling stronger.  Zac built a climbing wall in his backyard and through the summers he would spend an average of an hour a day on the wall doing various endurance and power training exercises to build the fitness he needed to reach his climbing goals.  When the colder weather hit, Erik Howes and I went to Slander, and I found myself at the top of Pocket Rocket where the ice would normally be, feeling pretty fresh.  It’s a good feeling to know that your training has paid off.”

Zac starting up Pocket Rocket on an earlier attempt (Photo: Erik Howes)

Zac starting up Pocket Rocket on an earlier attempt (Photo: Erik Howes)

One of the first routes at Slander Crag was Poached Eggs, which has a steep M7 crux. Kevin Mahoney and Ben Gilmore put it up in trad style with a lot of ice and rock gear placed on the lead. Bayard remembers, “They used to climb with ground down sky hooks bolted onto old Black Diamond Vipers and lashed with hockey tape for a second grip.”  Meanwhile Freddie and Bayard were working on other routes which were all very short and done in a very traditional way, despite the fact they were establishing steep mixed routes to hanging icicles. A lot of the bolts  hand drilled on lead, without a drill, just a bit and an ice ax.  “Either Freddie or I would go up, start drilling, whomever was on the ground would tie them off to a tree and wander off. I remember once driving to Plymouth to try and find a new bit while Freddie was hanging upside down in slings, hand drilling. When I got back, he was still hammering away.”   

Pocket Rocket was the last route that Bayard Russell did over at Slander Crag.  It was bolted over a few days, partly from the ground up because of its steepness. Sean Issac was the first person to send it, in heel spurs.  After that, Bayard and Kevin went back and topped out as well. Now, 15 years later, on a freezing cold New Years Day, Zac St. Jules and his crew start up the hill to the crag.  As the sun began to thaw out their bodies, Zac warmed up Pin Head, an M6+ on the right side of the cliff.  “I examined Pocket Rocket a little before I got on it. I looked at which section of ice I was going to join up with, and if it seemed stable. I checked what bits of ice I may need to knock down while I was up there. I didn’t really go over the moves in my head except for the very last one.”  He knew there was a hold that would be helpful in transitioning to the ice but I couldn’t remember where it was. “I violently swung my hands for several minutes before I started up. I wanted to make sure my hands were as warm as they could be before getting on it. I had my tools inside my jacket to keep the handles warm. I even considered starting a fire to warm up my tools!”   The lower part of the route went quickly and Zac was now facing the tough transition from overhanging rock to vertical ice.  He would snake up between two hanging ice daggers, but to get to it, he’d had to knock down the ice blocking his way.  He felt his muscles beginning to fail as he hung for a long minute excavating his exit.  Once a passage was cleared, it took several swings to get a stick through the tight space between the two ice flows, but he made his way safely on to the ice.  The ice was in good condition and he even managed to get a screw in.  Once he clipped, he knew he was only a few easy swings from the top of the climb.

Zac St. Jules. Pocket Rocket (M9+). January 1, 2018.  Photography by Brent Doscher.

Zac is a husband and father of a son with another child due in February.  When talking about his wife, Sarah, “She is unbelievably supportive.”  After his successful ascent of Pocket Rocket, Zac walked away knowing how much his training pays off.  All the elements needed to bring his climbing to the next level have come together for him this year.  He enjoys putting all of his energy into one route and the physical and mental commitment it takes to reach the top.  As far as his next project?  “I’ve got several routes on the ticklist but don’t want to talk about them too much.”  Looks like we all need to stay tuned!

 
You can Follow Zac on Instagram
Special Thanks to Zac St. Jules, Brent Doscher of Brent Doscher Photography, Phil Schuld, Billy Bevans and Bayard Russell for providing images, words and insight for this article.

Make a Naked A-Thread Rappel Anchor

Steve House shows you how to make a naked A-thread rappel anchor for descending from an ice route.

We like Naked A-thread rappel anchors. Threads with rope or slings left behind are nothing more than Alpine trash.

Steve will be at this years Mountainfest in the Adirondacks,  Jan. 12-14, 2018. Don’t miss his slideshow Saturday Night. NEice will be there with hot soup and flying the NEice Drones to capture this event from the air. It looks like the cold weather will continue and the conditions should be great! Hope to see you there. Information on The Mountainfest can be found here…

 

Update on the Proposed Skyline Lodge on Mount Washington

A year ago, the Mount Washington Railway Company announced their intention of building a lodge at 5,600 feet on Mount Washington. Despite growing opposition, they still intend to move forward with their plans. The Protect Mount Washington campaign needs your support!

It was a snowy December evening and the Coos County Planning Board meeting was packed. There were over 40 members of the outdoor community in attendance to hear what Wayne Presby, owner of the Mount Washington Railway Company (MWRC), had to say about his latest plans to introduce more development on the tallest and most iconic mountain in the Northeast. The MWRC owns a 99-foot wide tract of land on which it operates the Cog Railway, a mountain train that has been taking passengers to the summit since 1869.  It is at 5,600 feet on this tract of land, perched above the cliffs of the Great Gulf Headwall, where Presby intends to build a 25,000 square foot, 35-room ‘luxury’ lodge.

Rendering of the proposed Skyline Lodge that is posted in the Cog’s Marshfield Base Station

That same evening, a small group of North Conway based climbers began preparations to organize opposition against, what Presby called, Skyline Lodge, with the intention of halting the formal building application to the Planning Board. Soon after, the group formed Keep The Whites Wild (KtWW), a New Hampshire non-profit organization.  Their mission: to preserve and protect the diverse biology, natural aesthetic, and intrinsic value of New England’s White Mountain region.  They quickly launched Protect Mount Washington, a campaign specifically designed to stop MWRC’s lodge proposal.

When the news broke, it made both regional and national headlines.  The Washington Post read: “Coming Soon: a Luxury Hotel With the Worst Weather You’ve Ever Seen”, while the Boston Globe and New Hampshire newspapers published articles interviewing those for and against the development.  As time went on and word spread, the opposition grew.  Two months after the announcement, six conservation groups, including the Nature Conservancy and Appalachian Mountain Club, submitted a letter to the Coos County Planning Board stating the development would be harmful to the sensitive alpine habitat and is contradictory to County Master Plan which was adopted to conserve and protect these natural and ecological resources.   The Protect Mount Washington campaign started an online petition just days after the announcement and it has now received over 17,000 signatures.

The White Mountain Fritillary, a NH endangered butterfly whose entire range is limited to the alpine zone in the Presidential Range. (Photo: Courtney Ley)

The White Mountain Fritillary, a NH endangered butterfly whose entire range is limited to the alpine zone in the Presidential Range. (Photo: Courtney Ley)

Since that time, Protect Mount Washington has been on the front lines defending the alpine tundra which is in danger of being irreparably harmed by the Skyline Lodge proposal.  Backed by scientific expertise, they contend that the rare alpine habitat, which comprises less than 1% of New Hampshire’s landscape yet holds numerous rare and some endemic plant and insect species, is too ecologically important to lose. Using that reason and others related to safety and view-shed impacts, they have undertaken public advocacy by fielding thousands of emails and phone calls, sending out press releases, organizing events and networking with numerous conservation organizations and countless individuals.  Perhaps the biggest move the campaign has made was hiring an environmental attorney, Jason Reimers of BCM Environmental Land Law to defend the recreational, ecological and economic benefits that Mount Washington provides to the region.

The MWRC has also been busy since their announcement.  Wayne Presby continues to inform the public that Skyline Lodge is still on the table despite having not formally applied for permitting through Coos County; and there is no evidence to the contrary, as surveyors were recently seen in the proposed building area.  In a recent move which could be interpreted as a step toward the reality of the lodge, the MWRC sent excavators from the railroad base station up along their tracks and began moving soil.  Without any local or state permitting, they cleared and widened an old utility trench scar that serves the summit buildings with the stated intention of driving passenger-carrying snowcat machines up and down the mountain. Although they own the land, it is zoned as a Protected District (PD6), and only certain activities on that land can happen without permitting.  According to the Coos County Zoning Ordinances, the purpose of  PD6 is to regulate certain land use activities in mountain areas “in order to preserve the natural equilibrium of vegetation, geology, slope, soil and climate in order to reduce danger to public health and safety posed by unstable mountain areas, to protect water quality and to preserve mountain areas for their scenic values and recreational opportunities.” Lands are zoned as such in areas above 2,700 feet in elevation or slopes in excess of 60 percent (27 degree angle) over ten contiguous acres.   

Diapensia, listed as a NH rare and threatened plant, growing in the alpine zone.

Diapensia, listed as a NH rare and threatened plant, growing in the alpine zone.

Keep the Whites Wild argues the use of the land as a road intended to bring tourists to the summit of the mountain would be prohibited according to County regulations and they’ve requested the County Commissioner cite MWRC and require it to restore the land that was disturbed by the excavator work.  Presby responded to reporters stating he is well within his rights and told InDepthNH.org that he built a trail, not a road and didn’t need a permit.

Debris and coal along the Cog tracks.

Debris and coal along the Cog tracks.

According to InDepthNH.org, he said Keep the Whites Wild misunderstands the zoning regulation and his plan for the three-mile trail is for maintenance and to provide emergency responders and others quicker wintertime access to the summit than the auto road, which is eight miles long. However, the Berlin Daily Sun reported that during a Mount Washington Commission Meeting in November, Presby stated the Cog had just opened up a trail to the summit that he believes will be able to accommodate passenger-carrying snowcats up the three-mile route in winter, a concept that would soon be tested.  At the upcoming Coos County Commissioners meeting on December 13, 2017, commissioners plan to discuss KtWW’s letter and potential violations brought up by the Protect Mount Washington Campaign.  

When the MWRC is going to formally apply for the permits to move forward with the Skyline Lodge is a question still unanswered.  In the meantime, the alpine of Mount Washington puts on its coat of white as winter settles in.  The large majority of hikers and tourists leave the high peaks as the plants and insects continue to find a way to survive in the harsh extreme.  Ice climbers, backcountry skiers and hardy winter hikers will start coming to the mountain now to watch the landscape transform into a cold, strikingly beautiful world.  To all who seek out the mountain’s ravines, trails, rocky cliffs, icy gullies, alpine gardens, famous weather and tallest summit, Mount Washington is a precious and finite resource.  It is a resource that provides not just significant ecological value, but also solitude, challenge, appreciation, reflection and inspiration.  

Mount Washington and the Great Gulf in winter. (Photo: Courtney Ley)

Mount Washington and the Great Gulf in winter. (Photo: Courtney Ley)

Support Protect Mount Washington’s efforts
  

Previous NEice Article: Cog Railway Announces Intentions to Build a 35 Room Luxury Hotel on Mount Washington

Other Recent Media Links:

Caledonian Record: Group Opposed To Mountainside Hotel On Mt. Washington Claims Illegal Road

Berlin Daily Sun: Keep the Whites Wild Accuses Cog of Constructing Unpermitted Road

Union Leader: Conservation group files complaint over Cog Railway’s ‘Snowcat road’

InDepthNH: Coos County To Consider Assertion Of ‘Unpermitted’ Cog ‘Road’ Up Mount Washington

NHPR: Group: Cog Railway’s New Mt. Washington Trail Is Illegal

 

The Hazards of Early Season Ice Climbing

And How to Avoid Them

Pinnacle Gully Early Season - Gary Reuters - early season ice

Pinnacle Gully Early Season – Gary Reuters

 by Doug Millen

Unchecked Ego:

Yes, it’s great to get that early season tick and bragging rights, but the risks are high for those with little experience with early season ice climbing.  Are you inexperienced? Think before you ice climb and take an honest look at your skill set, gear and abilities. Your life could depend on it. If you climb WI3+ on a normal day that doesn’t mean you can get up a climb of that grade safely in poor conditions. Often WI3+ climbs are for grade WI5 leaders in the early season.

Falling Ice:

Falling ice is one of the biggest hazards in early season ice climbing. Always be aware of the ice above your climb. Early in the season most ice is not well bonded and frequently falls off, especially later in the day as temperatures rise and the sun works the climb. Early starts are best, and most often are mandatory.

Unprotectable thin ice in King Ravine (Nov. 2011) - early season ice

Unprotectable thin ice in King Ravine (Nov. 2011)

Unbonded ice:

The 2nd greatest hazard is unbonded ice. In the early season, the water, rock and ground are still warm. Ice will build out with those first few cold days, but the bonds to the earth haven’t been established yet and you will often find hollow spaces under the ice. One must determine if the ice can support your weight and if it’s connected to more substantial ice to let you pass safely. The top outs most likely won’t be frozen turf but wet, soft moss over rock. Sometimes the crux is getting off at the top of the climb. You must be prepared and resourceful. Once I topped out on a climb only to find wet, thin, and delaminated ice with no secure way to make it off the climb. I untied one rope and tied it to my tool and then tossed it up unto the woods where it caught a small tree.  Then I “batman-ed” up the rope to safety. Aid climbing for sure, but better than taking a fall.

Free-hanging Columns:

Early season free hanging columns are not safe to climb. They are often brittle and candled.  Give them time. It takes many freeze / thaw cycles to temper and solidify the ice so it is safe to climb. Also, columns may not be well connected at the top and will not support your weight. Early season columns offer  poor protection and very poor sticks for the tools due to the new, candled and brittle ice.

 

Limited Protection:

This is not sport or gym climbing. Most often the gear you get is just for the head and would not hold a fall. Short screws, Spectres, pins and a small rock rack are standard for most early season ice climbs. Sometimes a small tied off tree in a crack is the best you can hope for.  Use anything you can and the more protection you use, the better off you are. At least with a collection of bad gear, it will slow you down should you fall.

Keeping the rope away from the water! - early season ice

Keeping the rope away from the water!

Wet and Frozen Ropes:

A wet rope is not as strong as a dry one and there is often a lot of water running early season.  If it is a cold day, your ropes could get frozen and useless in no time.  Dry-treated ropes are best and be sure to manage your ropes, keeping them out of the water. Your old fuzzy rock climbing rope will act just like a sponge. Leave it home.

Sunshine:

A cloudy day is your friend. The sun can quickly change the condition of your ice climb. Think about what the sun will be doing when you are on the climb. For instance, the upper reaches of Fafnir on Cannon Cliff gets the sun late in the morning, often showering the lower reaches of the climb and the approach to the Black Dike with falling ice. Think ahead as to where the sun will be shining and where you want to be when the sun hits.  Any time the sun leaves or shines on a climb it will cause expansion or contraction. This will cause rocks and ice to move and fall off.

Rising Temps:

If the forecast is for rising temperatures think about what that might mean for your ice climb. Above freezing temps at night and rising temps during the day should send up a red flag. Be aware of what the temperatures have been leading up to the day of your climb and plan accordingly. Consecutive days of rising temps are not good. One warm day after many days of cold is not bad and may offer good safe climbing.

~Doug Millen

You may also like: Protecting the Ice We Climb


Go North, Old Man!

A Trip Report

Parc National des Grand Jardins in Quebec

by Alden Pellett 

Ice the size of suitcases crashed down the face in the hot sun. I hunkered below a rock buttress, standing off to the side of 20 Below Zero gully. I had just gotten down off a neighboring route and the sun was increasing in intensity.  It was only the middle of November, but I was already climbing classic lines at Lake Willoughby!

At the same time around the Northeast, fellow climbers were also ecstatically sinking tools into early season classic ice like the Black Dike at Cannon cliff in New Hampshire, Grand Illusion in Vermont’s Smuggler’s Notch, and Chouinard’s Gully at Chapel Pond in the Adirondacks. The ice had formed excitingly fast over the past few days.

I stood chewing on a crushed peanut butter sandwich. My crampons scratched on the bare ground. Boom! An acrid smell filled the air as a toaster-sized rock crashed down the slope fifty feet away. It felt more like March than November. Now, right before my eyes, the season seemed to be deteriorating almost as rapidly as it started.  I quickly packed my lunch away, grabbed my gear, and hustled through the fallen leaves down to my car.

Back at home, a day had gone by. The forecast did not look good. It was clear that the temperatures at lower altitudes meant some of my favorite climbs hadn’t stuck around. I was given an amazing early taste of winter and was depressed at the thought of having to go back to merely dreaming of steep ice. I fired up the wood stove and sunk into my couch, aimlessly browsing social media. Trump, ‘snowflakes,’ North Korea, gun control, blah, blah, blah.  None of it seemed to matter. I wanted my ice climbing back, and my out-of-shape, old-man calf muscles from the past couple of days climbing weren’t helping me forget it.

The Mur des Crapaud Wall in Parc National des Grand Jardins in Quebec. Photo by Alden Pellett

The Mur des Crapaud Wall in Parc National des Grand Jardins in Quebec. Photo by Alden Pellett

Suddenly a glimmer of hope flashed across my computer screen. A Canadian friend to the north posted photos from his own weekend outing. The big crags in the background of some of his pictures had long runnels of shaded ice snaking over five hundred feet down the faces. In another image, steep yellow ice flowed several hundred feet down to talus and trees.  I had seen these classics in the ice guidebook for Quebec, but would the ice still be there?  Smiling faces in his warm, sunlit photos told me, ‘No,’ but hope flickered there. I checked the forecast. I sent a message. I read the guidebook. I sent another message. I got up and put another log on the fire and sat forward on the couch. His answer came. It was “Yes!” The climbs should still be there! My fingers working quickly, I sent one more message and my buddy Ryan replied. He had time off too and was game for heading north. We would escape this warm up by driving north of the border.

Ryan Stefiuk steps lightly on the brook crossing to reach Mont Gros Bras (Big Arm) in Quebec.

Ryan Stefiuk steps lightly on the brook crossing to reach Mont Gros Bras (Big Arm) in Quebec.

The Parc National des Grand Jardins (Great Gardens) lies about an hour north of Quebec City, traveling through farm country to the quaint tidy town of Ste.-Urbain. This 120-square mile park is loaded with boreal forest, wildlife, tundra, and scenic granite faces.

Wednesday morning, the alarm goes off at our Motel in Baie St. Paul. Ryan fires up the Jet Boil to make hot tea for the day ahead. We had arrived at 9 p.m. the night before, spending an hour sharpening tools and prepping gear before hitting the hay.  After wolfing down a speedy breakfast at the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s, we were chomping at the bit to hit the park and see if our chosen routes were still in. I point my old green Toyota van out Highway 138 and start out of the valley. Farms like patchwork dot the way. Dairy cows line up for morning milking, standing in a green hillside pasture grooved from decades of this daily ritual. Passing through the tidy town of St. Urbain, we take a left on 381, winding uphill toward the park. Encouragingly, the early light of day reflects off small ice flows in the hillsides. Straight ahead, our goal, the beautiful granite dome of Mont Gros Bras, ‘The Big Arm,’ comes into sight. Easily viewable from the highway, I slow down, and Ryan cranes his neck to look at the big face. It was Game On!  Now all we had to do was see if we dared climb the thinly iced corners.

  • You reach the start of the classic mixed routes on Mont Gros Bras by taking a trail across the road and slightly downhill from the Visitor’s Center. Microspikes are helpful right now for crossing the brook and walking uphill on the frozen, leaf-strewn path. The approach seems like it will take longer from the parking lot, but just ten to fifteen minutes of hiking should take you below the big corners and mixed lines there.
Ryan Stefiuk leading up pitch 1 of P'tite Tête, WI4+R,M6R, on Mont Gros Bras in Parc National des Grand Jardins in Quebec.

Ryan Stefiuk leading up pitch 1 of P’tite Tête, WI4+R,M6R, on Mont Gros Bras in Parc National des Grand Jardins in Quebec.. Thanks to thin ice, we found the guidebook rating was harder than the actual conditions we encountered. Easy mixed and thin ice at 4+R. Photo by Alden Pellett.

According to Guides des cascades de glace et voies mixtes du Quebec by Stephane Lapierre and Bernard Gagnon:

 

Mont Gros Bras

Notable winter routes:

“P’tite Tête,” WI4+R,M6R. 175M.

“Gaston et mademoiselle Jeanne,” WI4,M5R. 180M. Just to the right of the previous route.

“All Fine,” WI4+,M5R. 180M. This is the left-hand side of these obvious corner systems in the central part of the cliff.

“Hals und Beinbruch,” M6+. 230M.

 

Mur des Crapauds

Approach: Cross the road next to a yellow ‘500M’ truck sign, and look for orange contractor tape marking a route through the woods, crossing the brook, and then trending up the right of the talus field below the main cliff face. The woods above get fairly dense and steeper the closer to the cliff you get. This appears to be the easiest path to and from the cliff face. Trust me, we didn’t come down that way and it was a nasty bushwhack.

Notable winter routes:

“Convention Collective,” WI4+R. 90M

“La Retour des Crapauds (Return of the Toads),” WI5+R. 130M

There are a number of appealing corners of thin ice, turf, and mixed corners that have been climbed to the right of this route.

 

Alden Pellett leads up pitch 2 of the mixed route, "P'tite Tête,"

Alden Pellett leads up pitch 2 of the mixed route, “P’tite Tête,” on Mont Gros Bras in Parc National des Grand Jardins in Quebec.

Ryan Stefiuk heads up the crux headwall on "Retour des Crapauds"(Return of the Toads) WI5 on the Mur des Crapauds Wall.

Ryan Stefiuk heads up the crux headwall on “Retour des Crapauds”(Return of the Toads) on the Mur des Crapauds Wall.

 

Pitch one of the ice climb "Retour des Crapauds." WI5 (WI4R) in Parc National des Grand Jardins.

Pitch one of the ice climb “Retour des Crapauds.”  in Parc National des Grand Jardins. It gets a WI5+R in the guidebook. We found conditions much easier, more like WI4+(WI4R).

Where to eat and sleep:

There are places for lodging in St. Urbain but we chose to stay near the bigger town of Baie St. Paul for a better selection of restaurants and services.

Baie St. Paul

You can spend between $75 to over $156CDN per night.

Hotel des Cascades – Offers what is probably the most inexpensive night’s lodging. No frills but clean and right near downtown. Recently redone rooms.

Hotel Baie St. Paul – Much along the same vein as des Cascades. Inexpensive but fairly clean and near enough to downtown.

Hotel and Spa Le Germain Charlevoix – Pricey, but pretty inclusive. Restaurants onsite and more.

 

Tim Hortons for a quick breakfast, of course. it is just down the main drag in town.  There is a McDonalds, too. Check out a few of the local restaurants if you have time for a sit-down breakfast.

Joe Smoked Meat – Pleasant interior. Good inexpensive sandwiches on the menu plus a spaghetti plate with sauce. Get it with the smoked meat plate if you want a good but different-looking meal. 😉

There are a number of very nice eateries along the Rue Ste. Jean Baptiste in town like Le Cafe des Artistes. Check them out!

 


Area Map

* Zoom, Scroll and click Icons for Information & Driving Directions


You might also like this post by Ryan Stefiuk:  A Road Trip – Newfoundland 2015

 

The Sound and The Fury

Raphael Slawinski, Nick Bullock and Bayard Russell tackle the Stanley Headwall, just outside Banff National Park in British Columbia.
The Headwall on November 9, 2017. The Sound and The Fury is left-center. (Photo: Nick Bullock)

The Headwall on November 9, 2017. The Sound and The Fury is left-center. (Photo: Nick Bullock)

Home to a number of the Rockies’ best-known ice and mixed routes, the Stanley Headwall is a truly spectacular venue. Joe Josephson’s guide says it best: “Every major route on the wall is sustained, technically difficult, and contains sections of serious climbing.” (mountainproject.com)  Our own Bayard Russell brings his northeast climbing skills to the big mountains of B.C.
“It was great to see a world class climber like Raphael, from 2500 miles away, strap it onto an engineering project like this pitch, working out the gear the same way a local like McCormick, Doucette or Mahoney might on some temporary dribble, sporting a bloated rack of trinkets and taking the time needed to get them in. Same rack , same tempo, different place.”
– Bayard Russell
 
Raphael Slawinski on The Sound and the Fury

Raphael Slawinski on The Sound and the Fury. (Photo: Bayard Russell)

The Sound and the Fury is a rare former on the Stanley Headwall reminiscent of an early season route you might find in miniature at Cathedral, Frankenstein or Poke-O.

Read about the ascent in Nick Bullock’s crafted words with more photos and videos here: Escaping the Alligator

 
The three of us stood beneath a line of ice. The word ‘line’ suggests continuous, and the ‘line’ we now stood was anything but! This ‘line’ was disjointed islands, feeble daggers, and frozen blossoms crawling insidiously down from the snow field ninety metres above. This did not look to be a ‘line’ or a climb that I would choose to warm into winter.” – Nick Bullock
 
 
Pitch 1 of the Sound and the Fury, 2004 route first climbed by Jeff Relph, Paul McSorley and Tom Gruber and graded WI 6 M7, according to a report on gravsports.com
 

 Bayard Russell is an NEice Ambassador and part owner of CATHEDRAL MOUNTAIN GUIDES.  Cathedral Mountain Guides is a New Hampshire climbing guiding service founded in 2008 by American Mountain Guide Association certified guide Bayard Russell, Jr. and now run in partnership with local guide, accomplished alpinist and Piolet d’Or Recipient, Freddie Wilkinson. 

Conditions Update! 11.10.17

New Hampshire

We had some eyes on the condition of two early season prizes in on Wednesday the 8th!  A close look at Pinnacle Gully revealed some unconsolidated and thin, but hopeful, frost and ice.  No rock pro options that morning led to a ‘No Go’, but with temperatures remaining frigid, it may be climbable soon!  I’m sure the motivated will head into Huntington Ravine this weekend.

Conditions - Pinnacle From Afar (11.8.17) . Photo: Brady

Pinnacle From Afar (11.8.17) . Photo: Gary Reuters

 

Conditions - Pinnacle Up Close (11.8.17) . Photo: Brady

Pinnacle Up Close (11.8.17) . Photo: Gary Reuters

No doubt Cannon Cliff will get a close inspection as well.  We have a ‘from-the-road zoom in’ to the dike area and Fafnir. Who will be enticed to take a walk up and peer around the corner?

Conditions - Fafnir (11.8.17) . Photo: John Mallery

Fafnir (11.8.17) . Photo: John Mallery

 

The Black Dike 11-10-17

The second follows the runnel pitch on an early season ascent of the Black Dike. 11-10-17 / www.facebook.com/CannonCliffFranconia/

Vermont

In Vermont, it’s currently snowing on the higher peaks and I know a few climbers who only need a millimeter of ice on the cliffs of Smuggler’s Notch to make it go.

New York

A look at our Instagram feed shows crampons to ice!  @willclimbz posted a sweet pic of Slide 1 on Whiteface in ‘Thin But In’ conditions.  Right on!

Slide 1, Whiteface. Photo: Will Roth

We certainly had some warm temperatures in October and my usual Halloween ice was far from happening this year. Now temperatures are remaining below freezing up high for a few days leading into the weekend.  Finally!  Hope to see some great photos and reports of ascents coming in.  Have a great weekend!

Back on the Sharp End

After a Fall in the Mountains

By William Bevans

I climbed smoothly and efficiently through the initial ice bulges on what started out as a bumpy cauliflower pitch of AI3.  Not long into my lead on the first technical pitch, I came to a small ledge and took that opportunity to shake my arms out and rest while I looked up for the line of least resistance.  It was early morning and the sun just peeked over the horizon.  I was perched on the beautiful and tough East Face of Mt. Kidd in the northern Canadian Rockies.  The air was dry and cold.  Light winds raked the face with snow that had fallen from the prior day.  The feeling of being an climber high up on such an amazing line in that setting was a very visceral experience.  With my thoughts collected and a small recharge of energy, I moved off the ledge and into a small chimney.  I worked the chimney with a series of stems, being content and focused in the moment; finding comfort in the noise of clanging metal from a full rack of screws and ice tools.  I laid solid foot placements with my mono-points, working the cracked limestone well, continuing to move well and without issue; and then suddenly, it just happened.  I looked down and saw I was quite a distance from my last piece; I then looked up at the remainder of the chimney. It looked grim.  What began as good, solid ice thinned into a translucent coating frozen to the rock; verglas.  I could see the green lichen underneath the clear coat.  Nothing was protectable.  I had one leg loaded onto a mono point, my other leg fully extended keeping my stem position. I knew I couldn’t hold it for much longer and I knew I couldn’t down climb.  

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It’s coming.  Soon it will be the end of October.  The sky will be getting dark early, the air will be crisp and we will be waking up to frost all over everything.  This combination sparks New England climbers to morph and begin preparing for the ice season ahead.  Whatever we did all summer will slowly go to the wayside; we’ll begin scouting cliffs, sharpening our metal, pouring over weather maps and waiting for that steady spell of cold. The winter climbing community will awaken from months of slumber to make trips into the high ravines to see if Pinnacle Gully is in or wait to see who is brave enough to scrap the Black Dike first.  Shortly, most of us will be sitting at our 9-5 and get that text from our partner, “You think it’s in? You wanna go?” The beginning of many of our weekend or midweek warrior epics will be here before you know it.  


Last season, I saw some amazing climbing feats go down; ones that I wish I could have been a part of but ultimately decided I couldn’t be.  It was never easy to volley the text back to my partner and admit my truth: “Sorry, just not feeling it.” or “I just can’t do it.”  That was the first winter in over two decades of climbing where I had to turn down a number of trips.  I knew I didn’t possess the head game required to climb at those high levels.    

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East Face of Mt Kidd, Alberta, Canadian Rockies

East Face of Mt Kidd, Alberta, Canadian Rockies

It was November 2016.  We were in the Canadian Rockies.  The season was still young, and like any of us, I was trying to shake out the cobwebs and get on some good pumpy alpine ice.  In the Can Rocks, it’s imaginably cold, there isn’t much daylight, the approaches are long, the mountain weather is serious, the terrain is highly technical and the climbing is tough as shit.  You can easily see why climbers that hail from this region are absolute beasts.  We drove along the dark, cold and snowy I-93 Icefield Parkway just outside Banff.  It was some obscure hour in the morning and a natural silence filled our drive.  On our docket was the East Face of Mt. Kidd, which may only have seen one successful winter ascent.  I found myself trying to get my head straight.  ‘Am I gonna be ok? Am I fit enough? Am I really prepared on all fronts to bivy a night out if need be?  What the fuck am I actually doing here?  Why am I not surfing in Costa? How bad do I really want this? Does this just sound like a good, bad idea?’  I found myself waging the proverbial alpine war, asking myself the tough questions I rather just avoid.  You don’t know what’s coming.  You don’t even know if it is climbable.  You basically have to be as fit as possible and try to battle up it first go the best you can.

“I was surrounded by verglas and caught tight inside this chimney.  My eyes moved over every inch of rock and ice as tried to make sense of every possible move sequence I could commit to until I was in a spot of safety.”

Questions unanswered, I began the approach with my partner, working as smartly and efficiently as we could, as there wasn’t much in the way of a trail.  It was dark and still very cold out.  No matter how much we tried to keep our packs light, they still felt heavy.  My body was trying to acclimate to the aches of climbing after a long summer of surfing.  Moving along, we tried to make sense of a path by connecting obscure recesses of dirt between patches of fresh snow.  I knew if we just got off the trail a little bit, it would set our game off and we’d start doubting things.  The calm pre-dawn was interrupted suddenly by an avalanche barreling down the south face of Kidd.  Although there was nothing to be seen, the sound was unmistakable.  It took a minute, but we shook it off and started moving again.  We crossed glacial fed creeks, and trekked in the forest along beautiful, massive cedars and larches as the smell of fresh pine filled the air.  We started to feel our engagement in this mission come to life.  Our senses filled with adventure and peace from the natural beauty around us.  Once the light broke, we found ourselves greeted by the intimidating East Face towering over us in full winter ware.  The approach was behind us, and it was time to get real as we started the technical terrain.      

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Climbing light ice in Mt. Blaine Canyon

Climbing light ice in Mt. Blaine Canyon

As climbers, we are interested in the grades or ratings of our climbs for they allow us to gauge our ability and give us a somewhat quantitative measure in our advances.  We also want to get better and climb harder.  Like many young budding ice climbers, I was quick to work up to WI3s and 4s but truth be told it would be many years, hundreds of routes and countless hard lessons before I climbed into the next realm of WI5.  Any climber can attest that between these two grades, the parameters change significantly and I would certainly attest that the head scare factor significantly increases in that jump.  Being a good climber is one thing; we all know those who climb well have skill, sound technique, and usually an above average degree of fitness.  But what does it actually take to climb larger objectives with significant difficulties?  Arguably, a climber’s mental strength and conditioning is usually the single most important factor in their potential and their capacity to be successful on advanced difficult climbs.   The training regimen or composition of what makes a mentally strong alpinist is not completely understood or it is esoteric at best.  A climber with advanced mental conditioning who has committed to creating a bulletproof head is capable of solving complex problems while staying task focused, operating in pretty terrifying conditions all while remaining calm.

 

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I was surrounded by verglas and caught tight inside this chimney.  My eyes moved over every inch of rock and ice as tried to make sense of every possible move sequence I could commit to until I was in a spot of safety.  Committing, I went for the “do or die” move. Then, I caught a little spindrift and goofed my placements.  I remember hearing metal clang all over like wind chimes while I fell.  Several meters of air time passed me by before I bounced off my rest ledge crushing my shoulder.  The ledge slowed my fall, but I continued down another 10 meters until I finally, just stopped falling.  Hanging there, I remember doing a quick motor drill like, move toes, move fingers, blink, blink, you good? I’m good. I’m good!  No major injuries, a few cuts and the adrenaline flowing hard.  Now what?  Head game damaged, ego beat up a bit and feeling a little humble, I pick myself up and my partner and I limped it back out to the car.  Hiking out, I began thinking of the consequences should things have ended up worse.  What if I couldn’t walk out?  What if this? What if that?

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Mental conditioning could be the single most difficult trait for a climber to improve on.  This is especially true after a serious accident, as our climbing psyche can be left damaged, weak or fragile.  This is the side of alpinism that we tend to glance over; the psychological and the mental strength dimension of being a climber and specifically, getting back on the sharp end of the rope after an accident.  Sometimes our egos get in the way and we don’t talk through those issues.  I didn’t really know the extent of how was I affected by my fall until I went climbing in Mt. Blaine Canyon the next day.  I get in, everything is looking good; nice grade 3 cruiser.  I hop on, start climbing and a few feet up it all starts coming back. I fire in a screw and signal to my partner, “Just lower me.”  This would be my head for most of the remainder of the season.  At this point, after so many years, countless trips, expeditions, big walls, alpine assaults, and high altitude objectives where I enjoyed the complex head game of being an alpinist, the incredible focus climbing gave me; it all seemed over.  After my fall, I got my first taste in what it is like to have lost my head game.

“Years later, I still remember that day vividly and respectfully consider it one of the most important lessons I have ever learned; acknowledging and respecting where your head is while climbing.”
How do you get your mental game back once you feel it slipping away? A few days later, right across the way from my mishap, in Ghost River Valley, a local climber fell 40 meters on the climb Kemosabe (W4).  Luckily his partner, a physician, was able to  stabilize him to the best of his ability and initiate a cooperative air rescue.  I was deeply moved by this accident as a 40 meter fall is no joke and it was close in time and location to where I fell.  He and I stayed in contact throughout the year and we spoke recently about re-evaluating how much risk we are willing to put into climbing.  We discussed how similarly our paths forward would be; focusing on moderate climbing with much less emphasis on difficult routes and naturally working back up into difficult routes down the road.  Climbing used to be a major part of who I am and a significant priority in my life but as I approach this upcoming season, I’m seeking a healthier balance.  I need to acknowledge that I recently kissed the edge of what could have been a much more serious accident.  As for retraining the mental strength required to climb such lines, a good start for me is not forcing anything and to trust the natural process.

Rescue on Kemosabe

Rescue on Kemosabe. Courtesy of Kananaskis Country Public Safety Section Rescue

An incident that touched closer to home was when highly respected and accomplished Adirondack guide Matt Horner took a serious 20 meter fall last winter shattering several bones in his face.  Matt has rebounded quickly and in recent conversation stated he is eager to get back on the ice anticipating only minor tweaks in his game like placing more pro, climbing more cautiously but ultimately no major plans but to go with the flow.  

The first major incident where I witnessed a partner lose his head game was a few years ago on an expedition.  My partner was an accomplished climber, having ascents on several of the world’s great difficult lines.  He is humble, smart, fit and was destined to be a natural and successful leader on our climb.  We climbed together for a solid month and I believed we would work seamlessly together to succeed in our upcoming trip.  After so much work and several weeks on the go, we finally made it to base camp and we were ready to climb.  In Himalayan expedition climbing it is mandatory to complete paperwork regarding the disposal of your body should an accident occur resulting in death.  It’s actually quite a head trip to fill out.  As we stood staring at the 7,000-meter Himalayan beast in the face, he simply said to us that this wasn’t his trip and he was out.  It was the first time I saw someone back down like this, a career defining trip left to the wayside; a sixth sense telling him to walk away.  Years later, I still remember that day vividly and respectfully consider it one of the most important lessons I have ever learned; acknowledging and respecting where your head is while climbing.  

A mentor imparted on me that climbing in the mountains is really all about how much you are willing to suffer and the answer to that is all in your head.  I never really understood that until I started to put together the common themes among my trips; shivering all night in a bivy, eating tasteless gruel day after day, post hole, soul sucking marches across summit fields, being scared shitless 30 feet above your last piece,  freezing on a belay ledge and hoping your partner is down to rope gun the crux.  Anybody who has done this type II kind of climbing knows that it’s a very deep, inward experience and it’s barely as romantic as it appears on Instagram.  It is the type of grind we as climbers are proud of, that gives us character and always has us coming back for more.  Everyone has their different reasons why they climb, but our common thread is found in our processes.  No matter what discipline you climb in, no matter where in the world you climb, climbers across the world speak the same language.  You can climb anywhere in the world and most outings begin and end with striking similarity; morning coffee, catch-up on the approach, a stoked first tool placement, enjoying hard earned views and who ever guns the crux drinks for free that night.  For me, many of the toughest and grueling experiences I have been lucky to be a part of have forged the strongest relationships in my life.  The dedication to our craft arguably makes our collected commitment to alpinism one of the greatest activities in the world.  Co-workers say to me “You’re crazy doing that.” I say “You’re crazy, you watch football all day Sunday.” I really don’t know any other way so I guess crazy is all relative.  So as the saying goes “most people prefer comfort forgetting that difficulty is what actually nourishes the human spirit.”

The season is starting soon and we will all be shaking out our summer cobwebs, checking conditions, pondering where the ice is good and trying to put all of the data together to plan a good, safe outing.  For newer climbers, trust the process, stay patient and allow your learning to flow through the high and the low points.  If you come up short on a climb, don’t let it shake you, everyone has been there.  Re-think a different, smarter approach.  Learn from your mistakes and always be open to learning from others mistakes.  Alpinism is a lifelong study that never ends.  There is always something to improve upon.  Learn to trust your gut and remember that most of climbing is mental and it’s not any easy game.  Remember that everyone at one point or another has had some time where their head wasn’t in the game.  When you’re out there, be safe, check on each other, climb within your headspace, have fun and make smart calls so you can rope up and climb another day.  See you out there!

 

About the Author: William Bevans is a New England based alpinist with over 20 years of experience in the mountains.  His studies are concentrated in the area of technical alpine climbing and high altitude mountaineering.  He has completed climbs and led expeditions in the Cascades, Rockies, Alps, Himalayas, Andes and big walls in Yosemite, Zion and Mexico.  Currently he is involved in mentoring next generation alpinists and climbing the New England classics.  

 

Other articles by the Author: Layering 101

NEice 2.0

The leaves are starting to turn and the nights are cooler. Soon we will enter another season of ice climbing and I am excited. This marks the 18th season for NEice.com

At the end of last season the site was hacked by spammers. After days of work, over many weeks we finally cleaned up the infected files and code. But the cleanup has left NEice severely crippled. One big issue is the Forum and Photo Post are down and need to be reinstalled.

It’s time for a total remake of the site and I need help. More importantly I looking for a partner. Someone or Organization that lives and breathes Northeast Ice Climbing. They would help with the site and eventually take over NEice.com. I am looking for a Partner and Two Interns to help with the site this season.

The NEice model was based on how things worked pre Facebook and Instagram. When I started NEice phones did not take photos and were not connected to the internet. I was one of the few with a digital camera. The new site will take advantages of the latest social platforms and technology. I have many other ideas and need help implementing them.

It is time to rethink NEice from the bottom up.

If you are interested please email me at [email protected]

Requirements:

• Experience with Word Press

• Experience in crafting articles for web sites

• Connections to the Northeast Ice Climbing Community

• A never-ending obsession for ice climbing

I also need donations to help with the cost of reinstalling the Forum and Photo Post section and other expenses to upgrade the site.

Please help by donating to the site. Make a Donation to help rebuild NEice

I hope to have the new site up by the end of October 2017. Just in time for the ice.

Thank you
Doug Millen

The Technical Traverse

Ryan solos Grade IV ice in Madison Gulf - The Technical Traverse

Ryan solos up some Grade IV ice in Madison Gulf. The first technical ice of the traverse

Michael Wejchert, Ryan Driscoll, and Justin Guarino take New Hampshire’s presidential range traverse to a whole new level. – The Technical Traverse.

by Michael Wejchert

I pulled over on the side of the trail: a spot I usually stop with clients to enjoy a lunch break on the third day of Presidential traverses. The rain kept pouring down. We were soaked to the bone. I unzipped Justin’s jacket just a little bit, bent over, and heaved up 400 calories of salami, a liter of water, and the coffee I’d forced down four hours earlier. Ryan and Justin collapsed on their packs. I zipped the jacket back up and wiped my mouth.

“I don’t think I got puke on the jacket, Justin.” It was my first time climbing with him.

Killian Jornet isn’t likely to visit the White Mountains anytime soon. Nobody’s drawn to spruce traps, or short ice climbs, or knobby little summits with weird buildings on top. The terrain isn’t sexy, or long. New Englanders are really great at ice climbing, or climbing on granite, but we’re bad at long days in the mountains; if you want a long alpine day, you’ve got to get really creative. The trick lies in trying to do a lot with a little.

One day, while pouring over the ice-climbing guidebook, I came across Kurt Winkler and Doug Huntley’s “Link ‘em Up,” an enchainment of ice climbs in the Presidentials over three days. I was also deeply impressed with Alan Cattabriga and Gabe Flanders’ efforts to link three ice climbs with a full traverse, from Webster to Madison.

Justin and Ryan about to summit Clay - The Technical Traverse

Justin and Ryan about to summit Mt. Clay

King Ravine, Mad Gulf, the Great Gulf, Huntington Ravine, and Tuckerman’s, all ravines with established climbs, in addition to the nine summits of a standard guided winter traverse: 5,000 feet of climbing or mountaineering, and 27 miles of hiking. I started calling it the “Technical Traverse.” It’d take three days; you’d need to carry a firstlight, a sleeping bag, and food. But then again, while trail running in the Tatra Mountains of Poland a few summers ago, I came across the account of Slovakian Dodo Kopold’s nonstop traverse of the Tatra Mountains, linking up climbs and summits; out went the bivy kit. You’d just need a stove to stay hydrated, a pair of ice tools, crampons, microspikes, (it’s New England), and a puffy jacket!

For three years, I dreamed about pulling off the traverse. Only in the spring, with good snow and perfect neve, would it be possible. Normally, the temptations of clipping bolts in the sun won out. But this year I tore the labrum in my right shoulder on a sport climb. I’d have to hold off on rock climbing until I got surgery, which I opted to do in the springtime. So I just ran a lot, sometimes logging forty to sixty trail-running miles a week. As I guided mountaineering courses and presidential traverses throughout the winter, I piled weight in my pack, often carrying upwards of 65-70 pounds for hours on end, and my legs transformed with that specific mountain endurance you can’t get from Crossfit or trendy stadium workouts.

The warm-up last week was heartbreaking for ice climbers and skiers, and for anyone concerned about our environment. It devastated our snowpack. I went from skiing fresh, perfect powder to guiding in the rain. But it also meant that, if it got cold, even briefly, the entire range would be coated in perfect alpine neve. There was a short window where the temperatures were slightly below freezing, and the wind was quiet enough to warrant speedy moving. Problem was, it would only last about twelve hours before turning to warm, freezing rain. But, if we finished our last climb, we could always suffer through a little rain for the last nine miles of easy walking.

We all felt nauseous as we crunched up the long, terrible slope. The second we reached the top, it began to rain
Ryan “Rhino” Driscoll is an old-school climber. He loves to suffer. The guy seeks out 5.11 slabs in the woods. He prefers scrappy mixed terrain over ice any day of the week. He wears fleece gloves. He doesn’t post or talk about his climbs. Justin Guarino, another local guide and Presidential suffer hog, decided to come as well. Both Ryan and Justin have done a lot of climbing in New Hampshire and had independently been thinking of a similar traverse. Three people meant better trail-breaking if it came to that, and it was nice to split up the weight of the stove. We brought lightweight ice tools. I took the hammer off a Quark and brought a 43 centimeter Sum’tec. I took the straps off my crampons. Rhino decided bringing a helmet was too much weight. We deliberated bringing tethers before deciding against them. With food and water, our packs weighed sixteen pounds each. For emergency gear, we had a Delorme InReach and an old Wild Things Bothy Bag made out of sil-nylon.

We started hiking at 7:15 a.m., figuring it’d be better to get a full night’s sleep than start super-early. We were in for plenty of night climbing, anyway. We forced ourselves to go slowly up the Valley Way trail, then dumped our packs to drop into Mad Gulf. It was potentially the cruxiest part of the day, but we raced down before the warm sun began melting the ice too much. The ice climbs in the Madison Gulf are awesome: perfect, warm sticks and a beautiful setting. We picked the one Kurt Winkler and Doug Huntley had done on their traverse—a great WI4 line. We trudged up corn snow and summited Madison. Four hours. Good. The sun beat down. We drank from ice melting off the roof of Madison hut, and continued on down into Great Gully in King’s Ravine. This was our easiest climb, and next time I’d opt for “PF Flyer,” something more difficult, though that climb requires bushwhacking that we didn’t have time for. More meltwater, a trudge back up the 600-800 feet or so, to summit Adams. We moved over Jefferson, down into Sphynx col, and spent an hour brewing up more water and eating. Nine hours in. We summited Clay, and dropped into the Great Gulf, and down-climbed perfect neve. We each picked a fun little mixed rib to climb up—the climbing was so much more enjoyable than the hiking, especially without packs. The terrain was classic, easy ravine climbing, with turf-shots, ice, neve, and little mixed bulges. We front-pointed back up to Clay and slogged up Washington. By now, fog was setting in, though it was still clear enough to see town sporadically.

At nightfall, we summited. “We are about to enter the Upside Down,” said Justin, quoting the Netflix show Stranger Things. As the darkness fell, our legs would feel a little more tired, and everything would feel a little bit harder. We down climbed Central Gully into Huntington Ravine, and started up Pinnacle. It was undermined, and actually kind of scary, especially after twelve hours of moving and having three people soloing at the same time. We carefully picked our way up so as not to break the old ice and fall into the waterfall below.

Ryan climbing Pinnacle - The Technical Traverse

Ryan climbing Pinnacle gully by head lamp

We texted our respective significant others to let them know we were alright, hiked across the Alpine Garden, and bailed into Right Gully in Tuckerman’s Ravine. Another brew stop, taking advantage of the running water by the Ranger Station. We had initially planned on climbing a mixed runnel up the Boott Spur, but we were so exhausted that simply climbing up Hillman’s Highway was good enough. It was ten o’clock. We all felt nauseous as we crunched up the long, terrible slope. The second we reached the top, it began to rain.

We’re in it now. I pulled the GPS out. We couldn’t see fifteen feet. The Upside Down. We’d always thought it’d be over the second we topped out Tuck’s – a victorious slog to the road. My GPS died as we reached Lakes, and we took a compass bearing from the sign. It took us nearly an hour to find the hut from 0.1 miles away. I’ve been there hundreds of times, more than that, in all sorts of weather, but I’ve never encountered fog like that. I headed in a general direction to reach Monroe, where the trail gets easier. I was completely soaked through in my Houdini Jacket and soft shell pants. The down puffy in my pack wouldn’t help much, either. We went from cairn to cairn. If I couldn’t find the trail, I’d yell “Stop!” and the Rhino would hold fast to the last cairn and we’d stretch out as far as we could see each other—a hundred feet or so, and sweep around. It got easier as we wove down the Crawford path, but each time we stopped, I’d start shivering uncontrollably. We were all pretty darn close to hypothermia.

“Michael,” said Justin. “When’s the last time you ate or drank?” He was right. Having three people was starting to seem like a good idea, if for nothing else besides a little bit of control. He gave me his synthetic jacket—a lifesaver. A slog with tired legs over Eisenhower and Pierce, some vomiting (I’m always the one to vomit), and then all we had to do was force ourselves down to the Highland Center. It got warmer in the trees, as the windy, sideways rain gave way to mist. We arrived at 3:30 a.m., twenty hours and fifteen minutes after starting. We’d done it! Ryan started to get excited, “You could do a hut-to-hut traverse with ice gear, and end on the Black Dike!” But, after driving back home, soaked to the bone, all I wanted to do was sleep.

A few more photos:

A large size map of the Technical Traverse in PDF by Marc Chauvin

Related Story 

Playing Pachinko on Mt- Webster