Lost and Found

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Lost:
Sense of humility,  proper assessment of ability. Last seen somewhere between Canmore, AB and the belay atop first pitch of Whitemans Falls.

Lost:
Pair of balls. Last seen between 2nd and 3rd screw, pitch 2.

Lost:
Dignity, pride, ego. Last seen between 3rd and 4th screw, pitch 2.

Beer if returned to owner.

Found:
Abject terror, reality, shame. Found at new v-thread at junction of giant mushroom of doom and scary-hollow pillar.

A Local’s View of the Devil’s Kitchen

Do the Catskills have any WI6 ice?

What do grade 6 ice routes even look like? For a long time I didn’t think I knew what WI 6 ice routes were. I think we northeasterners have been very modest about our grading of hard ice routes. The definition of grade 6 I found on the Alpinist website is “WI6: A full ropelength of near-90 degree ice with no rests, or a shorter pitch even more tenuous than WI 5. Highly technical”  A quick perusal of the current Catskill guidebook does a pretty good job of convincing one that there is no WI6 in the Catskills as well. I’m not so sure any more.

Lucho Romero leading “Judgment Call”, a seldom climbed route between “The Advocate” and “Dan and the Devil”.

I began coming to the Catskills to ice climb in 2004, while I was still living in Vermont. During the previous two winters I’d spent nearly all of my free time climbing ice at Lake Willoughby. I’d climbed most of the classic routes there and felt really comfortable leading steep ice.

During my first ride through the Catskills I was impressed by how much steep ice there was. None of the pitches were long, but most of the pillars were dead vertical, leaving the leader feeling like they were climbing overhanging terrain the whole time.

Jason Hurwitz on the sustained vertical ice of “The Advocate”, WI5+.

By 2005 I’d moved to New Paltz. I set about leading many of the steep classic ice lines during that very warm winter, when most routes were quite lean. Everything in the Catskills was new to me, and I was blown away by all of the climbing hidden in the steep, wooded hillsides, obscured from view by enormous hemlock trees. Still though, I missed the long, sustained cruxes found at places like Lake Willoughby.

Of all the Catskills areas I climbed at that winter, one area stands out above the rest. That venue is the Devil’s Kitchen (aka the Black Chasm). The Kitchen is a cool place. Take the crux pitches from half a dozen Willoughby routes and place them side by side in a deep, shady, backcountry Catskill ravine and you have the Kitchen. It’s easily one of the best single-pitch training grounds for hard ice climbing on the east coast. It’s also the only spot in the Catskills where you can chew your tongue off on a long, challenging pitch of ice. I’ve climbed there many times since the winter of 2004-2005, and every trip impresses me more than the last. Many locals wait several seasons before working up the gumption to lead routes in the Kitchen. Lots of folks walk down the steep hill, stand beneath the intimidating pillars and promptly turn around. Toproping in the sunnier Hell Hole seems like a better idea to them.

Instant Karma during lean conditions. Photo courtesy of Joe Vitti

The Catskill ice guidebook doesn’t really do this very classic and understated place the justice it deserves. All of the routes are given a WI4+ or WI5 rating, with the exception of the few free-standing pillars like Devil Dog, which are rated WI5+. Having climbed many of the northeast’s hard classics, I can confirm that the guidebook grades are incorrect.

Here is my “local’s” synopsis of this very amazing Catskill climbing venue and it’s outstanding routes.

Dan and the Devil, the leftmost distinct route climbs 40′ of scary thin 80-degree ice before gaining a short, overhanging, free-standing pillar. This might be the hardest WI4+ on earth (with the exception of Crazy Diamond at the Lake). Classic routes like Repentence, Positive Thinking, and The Black Dike, which are often called WI5- are all technically easier than this route.

Judgment Call, a seldom climbed hard route, links patches of ice between Dan and the Devil and The Advocate. Following this route to the top usually requires surmounting an ice overhang on brittle ice near the top. WI5+ usually feels like an understatement on this hard route.

The Advocate, WI5, a tannin-stained and intimidating 100′ tall dead-vertical pillar is easily as long as the vertical cruxes on routes like Called on Account of Rains and The Promenade, which are typically rated WI5+.

Mephisto Waltz promises engaging and unique climbing. Photo courtesy of Doug Ferguson.

Mephisto Waltz, WI4+/WI5, is a spectacular route that almost always forms with some sort of ice roof and climbs overhanging ice mushrooms for 50′ before gaining a vertical runnel. Expect funky “WI6-ish” ice on this one.

Hydropower, M9- WI5, established a few years ago, stands as the hardest mixed line in the Catskills and is one of only a handful of routes M9 or harder in the northeast. A long pitch of overhanging mixed climbing reaches an arm-busting crescendo just before the ice. From there a short section of WI5 tests your commitment.

Matt McCormick gains the ice on “Hydropower” during the first ascent.

Devil Dog, which almost always collapses under it’s own weight, is  a 100′ tall free-standing pillar. I don’t think there’s another pillar like it anywhere else in the northeast. When it touches down think WI6. If it’s candled and hard to protect you might have to wrap your brain around WI6+. Most of the time it’s laying on the ground at the base of the cliff.

Instant Karma, one of the finest routes in the northeast, is completely underrated at WI5. Bolt-protected mixed and thin ice climbing gives way to challenging overhanging bulges and a thin creaky pillar at the top. During lean conditions, which is most years, you’ll have to chimney behind the final pillar and carefully climb onto it’s front near the top. Each crux on Instant Karma is short, but demands one’s utmost attention. Many climbers are intimidated by this route and some wait their whole ice climbing career before leading it.

Doug Ferguson leading a challenging Instant Karma

Of all these routes, Instant Karma is my favorite. I’ve climbed it as a perfect cylindrical 3′-wide 100′-tall vertical pillar with good rests and soft ice, and I’ve climbed it several times when it’s lean and I felt like the top pillar, which was only 3” thick at it’s base, might collapse with me on it. To me, this route epitomizes hard Catskill climbing. If you swing too much down low on the route there won’t be enough ice left to climb. If you don’t manage rope drag you might pull yourself off on the brittle upper pillar. Swing too hard up top and the pillar just might fall off and cut your rope in the process.

Nowadays, many of the routes have bolts to protect the unprotectable sections of ice. They’d all been climbed with traditional protection though, a proposition that seems unfathomable to all but the best ice climbers. It’s good not to forget this when climbing in the Kitchen – local hardmen have been climbing here forever.

Isn’t it time you paid this dark, shady place a visit? In a land full of 100′ tall vertical “WI5” pillars, does the mythical northeastern WI6 exist? It’s clear I’ve made my decision – go see for yourself and decide.

Valley Vertical Adventures

Ryan Stefiuk / NEice Ambassador

Valley Vertical Adventures

http://www.valleyvertical.com

[email protected]

UP!

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An eye in the sky for NEice

Meet our newest team members..King Kong (right) and WooKong.

I designed and built the WooKong to be light and simple so we can bring it where we like to go, UP! The King Kong is the heavy lifter and ready for anything.

I was inspired by the Mammut video celebrating 150 years. http://vimeo.com/50029357   The use of RC helicopters for photography quickly became my newest addiction.

I want to show the ice climbing in the Northeast the same way, from a perspective we are not use to.  I look forward to flying all winter to bring you the most spectacular images and movies I can capture.

We will be at the MountainFest Jan. 18-21, 2013 in the Adirondack’s for the grand unavailing of our efforts. Hope to see you there.

Doug Millen

PS…I want to send special thanks to team member Courtney Ley for all her help and enthusiasm. This project would not be the same without her.

 

Photos by Joel Dashnaw and Doug Millen

Early Season Ice is Approaching!

The time is almost here!  The days are getting shorter and the air colder.  Snow has already fallen on the higher summits.  The motivated, and perhaps overly-positive, climbers will be getting out very soon in hopes of taking their first swings into freshly formed ice.   Some will luck out and find themselves at the right place at the right time.  How can you increase your chances of finding early season ice?  Here’s a few places that have seen ice form in late Fall.

Photos of Early Season Ice

So wake up before the sun rises and call in sick to work… Get into shaded ravines and gullies and check them out.  You never know what you might find, and all your friends who laugh at you when you tell them you are going ice climbing in October will be jealous when you get some!

 

An October Ascent of the Black Dike

by Doug Millen

This was my obsession for years. I spent many days waiting and plotting for the right moment. Many times going only to find nothing, or being repelled from the climb. But after 5 years of trying, it happened! And it was less hazardous and more enjoyable than all the other attempts. We found good, well-bonded ice, and everything was frozen together (for awhile anyway). We nailed it on October 20th.  But,  by the time we topped out, it was all falling apart. The warm sun greeted us for the walk down. Timing and persistence made it happen and my quest was complete!

Early season on the Black Dike is not for the faint of heart. It is R and X climbing with everything coming apart. Loose rock that is normally frozen together become portable hand holds.  The ice has water running under it and is not bonded to the rock. You put in protection and it comes out with the first test pull; screws are useless. My favorite pieces of gear for the route were Spectres. Some years the easy first pitch is the crux! Each pitch is different early season and each one has been the crux for me on my attempts. The rock traverse is easy compared to the rest of the climb in the early season. The spot I hate the most!? It’s when you finish the traverse, climb thin ice to a rock slab, have no gear and scratchy feet and a hard move to get into the chimney. You buy it here and you’re going for a long ride.

I have heard that Jim Shimberg got it one year on October 8th. It was colder back then, I think. It has been coming in very late the last few years. The Black Dike’s first ascent is the unofficial start of the the ice climbing season. When will it go down this year?

What I learned? Be patient, watch the weather, know the climb, know the area, and don’t be afraid to take the tools for a walk! And above all, be safe and climb smart. It’s not worth risking your life for an October ascent.

 

For some more early-season stoke and thoughts on climbing well before Smike’s official start to winter, see these articles on early season ice…

Is This Ice Climbing?

Pinnacle Gully 11/05/11

Game On!

False Start…

Rhythm of the Seasons – Part Two