Stingray and a new climb at Poko "Ruination" WI6 X

 by Ian Osteyee

Stingray

Ian Osteyee on “Stingray” 12-27-2013

Mark Meschinelli and I had a good day at Poko on Friday the 27th. Things looked to be shaping up a bit when I was there on Thursday, so I brought in a substitute guide and played hooky with Mark. We looked at “Stingray” from the road and it looked intriguing, so we went for a look. It still didn’t look certain from the ground, it seemed less formed than when I did the second ascent with Chris Fey years earlier. I climbed up and across the “Sting” ledge and down to the belay. Once Mark came up, I went up to take a look, and although thin, the ice quality was good and attached.
The ice formed a bit left of where it had before, and reaching the “Sting” anchor was difficult. No gear, and 50′ above the “Sting” ledge, I took care getting to that anchor with an off balance kind of iron cross move. 30 seconds of awkward, careful chipping allowed me to clip and have a piece of gear. It gets a little steeper right after that anchor, but the ice also got a little better. The last time I did this route I climbed from that spot all the way to the dike ledge with no more gear. On this ascent I was able to avoid the 150′ run out, finding a bolt frozen in the left side of the smear about 40′ up from the “Sting” anchor. Mark had told me the general whereabouts of the bolt – a good partner indeed. This time I used a set of Blue Water 70m doubles and easily reached the anchor point, better than the scary rope stretching super stubby/bad rock anchor of the last ascent. Mark came up and we headed up the upper pitch. The upper pitch was fun, sticky ice through the small roof above and to the big tree/rappel anchor.

Ruination

Ian on “Ruination”

That would have been a great day all by itself, but as we rappelled down we couldn’t help looking over at another smear that had formed from the middle of the “Sting” ledge straight up between the rock routes “Easy Street” and “Unforgiven.” We rapped and Mark and I discussed our options. Mark cautioned that it looked much thinner than “Stingray.” I agreed, but the ice was climbing well that day, and I decided to have a look. I climbed back up the “Sting” ledge, tucking the ropes behind the ledge as “gear”, and shimmied toward the smear. I could see an overlap about 50′ up, that might take a TCU placement. The start was very thin, and crampon purchase had to be carefully managed. Already being up on the “Sting” ledge created a substantial distance above the ground. The new Cassin Blade Runner’s shined. I reached the overlap, and was disappointed. I fiddled with a blue TCU, but I should have brought the little purple one. I left it, but it was as useful as a Christmas ornament. I knew the “Unforgiving” anchor was up there somewhere. At about 100′ I saw a red sling frozen in, and 30 seconds of chipping revealed the top bolt of the “Unforgiving” rock anchor. That was good timing as it steepened right there. Having Mark Meschinelli as my partner can’t be underestimated. DSC_4052
Mark is a calm, cool guy, and he neither incites this kind of mischief, nor denies it. He simply inspires calm, and that is a great climbing vibe. Another thing Mark is good for is telling you where hidden bolts may be, as he’s spent a lifetime climbing at Poko. Another 40′ up above that anchor clip and I remembered Mark had said “keep your eyes open, there are a few bolts up there,” and there was a bolt. A little chipping, clip, and my mood improved markedly. Another 40′ and the angle decreased, I placed a 10cm screw just before the ledge, but the ice still wasn’t quite thick enough. From there it just links up with the same upper pitch of “Stingray.” The new pitch is a hair longer than the “Stingray” pitch, but the line is narrower, and the ice thinner. We both thought it a bit pumpier. The name is Meschinelli’s favorite new brew, which we enjoyed curbside. “Ruination” WI 6- X

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Happy Holidays from the Harvard Cabin

HArvidCabinChristmas

Happy Holidays!

I hope this message finds you well and in good position to share the holiday with Friends and Family. Marcia and I send our warmest wishes for you and yours this holiday season and our hope for the very best in 2014! Thanks so much for being part of our family over the last 4 years. It’s sure has been fun. We’re are looking forward another awesome winter filled with our Harvard Cabin Friends!

Mountain Conditions – A Winter/Spring Mix!

Well, what can I say? Despite this past weekends weather, it has been a great start to the season! While being a bit less mobile then normal, so far this month I’ve been able to enjoy a great day climbing the Tuckerman Headwall, another day in Pinnacle Gully, and a few fantastic powder days! It was full-on winter for about a week….super cold too! It was so good to have winter back again! But, don’t take my word for it. Check out this sweet little trip report authored by Harvard Mountaineering Club Member and grit stone climbing extraordinaire Dr. Dave Leonard. He very eloquently summarizes the wintry weekend of December 14-15, 2013!

It really should come as no surprise What a difference a week can make. It can be discouraging at times, but I’ve learned to appreciate my time at the cabin no matter what the weather brings. In the last 36 hours we’ve seen over an inch of rain combined with the mid-mountain warming layer that seems to be haunting us winter after winter. The combination of the two sent the ravines into Considerable avalanche danger rating across the board all the way back down to Low. Over this past weekend outside air temperatures at the cabin hugged the 40 degree mark at night while the lower elevations stayed at or below the freezing mark. Given the amount of rain and warm temps I’d say the trails did okay. However, for the near future you can expect very slick conditions on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail as the mercury heads back towards more seasonal temperatures.

Visibility hasn’t allowed for a recent glimpse into the ravine. Despite being only days away from our first avalanche cycle of the season, I’d expect lots of bare rock and very little snow left in the fan and gullies. Still, I’m sure the ice will be doing quite well and is going to continue to grow throughout the week. Once we dry out up here and get some well deserved Christmas sunshine, the ice climbing should be outstanding! Come willing to chop for good ice placements and be aware of the potential for ice dams to form in the immediacy of such a substantial rain event.

The John Sherburne is still skiable but you’ll expect late spring conditions for the time being. If it’s any indication, I hiked down to Pinkham today. With that said, I wouldn’t anticipate much uphill ski travel this week either. There is only some light snow in the forecast this week with the most potential not expected until Friday. Of course, we’ve been surprised before….keep your finger crossed, your skis waxed, and traction on your feet! One things fore sure, Christmas is looking like a Bluebird day!

Roof Avalanche – What Can We Learn?

Well, the warm-up did allow me to take care of some chimney repairs on the cabin over the weekend. Of course, this was after both sides of the metal roof avalanched within a few minutes of each other. It was a hazard made known to all guest and thankfully the super-saturated death slab that covered the cabin roof came down early on Saturday. Indoors, away from the perpetual rain, looking through the windows everyone took pleasure in observing the incredibly quick pace at which the slab crept over the eaves. With the steep pitch of the cabin roof, it was amazing to observe how far from the eve the overhanging sheet of saturated, cohesive slab could creep before failing. I have to say, I’ve seen this every season I’ve been at the cabin, but this time it was different because of the speed at which instability progressed, measuring from only a few hours prior when we had a very cold, relatively stable snowpack. While we were enjoying the observation of avalanche phenomena far from avalanche terrain on Saturday, it turns out that Lead Snow Ranger/Avalanche Forecaster Mr. Chris Joosen was doing the very same thing down in the valley. Of course Chris could offer-up color-commentary in addition to a wee bit more technical analysis. You can check out his expert review and summary, including video, by clicking here. Very Interesting!

Upcoming Events

New England Ice Festivals
Mountain Fest: January 18-20, 2014 – Keene Valley, NY
Smuggs Ice Bash: January 24-26, 2014 – Smuggler’s Notch, VT
Vice Fest: January 24-26, 2014 – Franconia Notch, VT
Mt. Washington Valley Ice Fest: January 31- February 2, 2014 – North Conway, NH

Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop – Continuing Education Series
A new program offered by the USFS Mount Washington Valley Avalanche Center and the Friends of MWAC. Free and open to the public the talks are geared towards recreational backcountry users who’ve already taken an avalanche course or who have significant experience traveling in avalanche terrain. Held monthly at IME and spearheaded by USFS Snow Ranger Jeff Lane. For more details Click here for a flyer .
We Hope everyone has a safe and happy new year!

Rich Palatino & Marcia Steger
Harvard Cabin Caretakers

 

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 March 31st each year. Specific instructions for staying at the cabin can be found online at http://www.HarvardMountaineering.org

 

Big Wall Fun in Baxter

The Tabor Wall - Early season in Baxter State Park

The Tabor Wall – North Basin, Baxter State Park, Maine – 12/3/13

by Doug Millen

We arrived in Millinocket early Saturday evening with bare ground showing but woke to snow plows and about 2 inches of fluffy snow. Not good sledding snow to cover the gravel road that would take us to Roaring Brook. Sizing up the situation, as I filled my wagon tires at the gas station, Kevin ran across the street like a kid to buy a wagon at the tractor supply. Nothing was going to stop him from getting to the mountain and the wall he had dreamed about.

Early season in Baxter is a crap shoot. You never know what the conditions will be, for the road or the ice climbing. Most years the ice climbing is great, but the way in, not so great. How you get in is the question. Wheels are usually involved. Many times it is a ski in with a sled to Roaring Brook. Some years we have driven in. Mountain biking in before the snow covers the road is popular. We had sleds, wagons, skis, a mountain bike and Kevin Mahoney. Everything we needed to get to Chimney Pond and back. We were well-prepared.

The early season modes of transportation - Baxter State Park

This year it was a mix. We were able to drive in to the game preserve gate, saving us about 6 miles of sled and wagon hauling. We dropped the gear at the gate and Kevin took the van out to the winter parking area with the bike for the return journey. We made short work of the 5 miles to roaring brook over about 1 ½” of snow. Kevin caught up with us after about an hour. Wagons or sleds, it was not much of a difference. They both worked well with the thin snow cover.

The modes of transport at Roaring Brook - Baxter State Park

Arriving at Roaring Brook early, we took advantage of our spare time and ferried loads up to Chimney Pond for our week-long stay. On our return to Roaring Brook, a light snow fell and the temperature was dropping. Our spirits were high and the liquor flowed in the cabin that night.

The next morning we brought the rest of our gear up to Chimney Pond…with foggy views of the north basin, our minds ran wild. What would this next week bring? Our proposed ice line up the wall looked in! Were we ready? Would it go?

We settled into our new home. We had the cabin all to our selves. Tools were sharpened and we readied for the battle ahead. At 4am the stoves roared and we packed for the day. Kevin and Michael broke trail over the newly fallen snow to Blueberry Knoll, and then we began the ¾ mile bushwhack to the base of the Tabor wall. The day was clear and still as the sun came up over the vast pine forest to the east.

Sunrise - North Basin, Baxter State ParkWith the sun peaking though the early morning clouds we could see the biggest alpine face in the northeast in front of us. Bayard said “good thing we get the foreshortened view from here.” This face was huge, over 1000 feet high, and we needed to get to work.

The ice did not come all the way down to the base so we looked for a way up to the ice. Bayard and Michael took a line to the left and Kevin and I took the direct line just to the left of the ice. The cliff was full of rime ice and reminded Bayard of Scotland.

Kevin starting up the big wall - Baxter State Park

Kevin starting up the big wall

Kevin forced his way up and into a chimney. He was too big for this icy entrance that would take us higher. He removed his pack – not good enough. He removed the rack, then a layer. But the chimney was still too small, despite such determination to get up this climb. Looking for another way he climbed out onto the arête for some spectacular climbing on thin flakes to a good stance above. I followed the pitch. One down and how many to go we could only speculate. From this belay we could see the ice. It looked thick enough, but how to get to it? Kevin headed up a thin corner placing a single gold cam on the way. From there he headed up into no-mans land. Struggling for pick placements and protection, he finally got a small hook in a crack 30 feet up. With the pump meter going, he headed for the ice. Moving right on very thin friction moves, his feet cut loose and he was left hanging by only his tools. Struggling not to fall, he gained control and moved quickly and deliberately onto the ice.

He fell 20 feet in a blaze of sparks from his crampons and tools scraping over the frozen rock
The ice was not what it looked like from below. It was delaminated, dry and brittle. Every swing and kick just breaks the ice away. I see the determination in Kevin as he heads up and then down, taking the pulse of the ice and the risk involved. Kevin wanted this climb so bad. But the ice only got worse and no gear in sight. With good sense he made a plan to come down: “I am going to down climb as far as I can then jump.” OK, I said and prepared to catch his fall, wondering if the gear above would hold. Kevin down climbed until both feet cut loose and then his tools popped. He fell 20 feet in a blaze of sparks from his crampons and tools scraping over the frozen rock. Rolling over once and swinging towards the belay he landed just 5 feet above me with a smile saying “The hook held!”

With no other way up, we rappelled to the ground to regroup. There must be an easier way to the top. Kevin started up a ramp system to the left with easier ground. Fun climbing lead us to a stance near where Bayard and Michael were doing battle. They were not having much more success than we had. Bayard took 3 whippers on the first pitch alone. They forged another ½ pitch higher then rappelled to the ground. They had had enough for the day.

Kevin climbing out of the chimney - Baxter State Park

Kevin climbing out of the chimney

Kevin and I committed to another pitch. Some fun climbing took us to easier ground, but with a steep head wall above, the end of daylight coming fast, and no real hope of getting to the top, we rappelled. As we hiked back to our comfortable home at Chimney Pond, we were treated with views of the cliff as the fog moved in and out. What a spectacular wall. That night we nursed our wounds with Scotch, Fireball, and Moonshine. We gave it a good a shot, as well as anyone, but the conditions were not right. We probably missed the window by a couple of days. No mater what, it was a good effort and great to be with friends in this special place with no one around for over 20 miles.

The next day we wanted something different. Bayard and I headed to the Pamola Ice Wall. Michael and Kevin had their eye on the ‘Cilley Barber”. At 9am when we signed out at the ranger’s cabin, they were already 9 pitches up. They were back at the ranger’s cabin in no time. 4 ½ hrs round trip. Rob the ranger commented, “they smoked that climb”. Kevin said they were greeted with 40-50 mph winds and blowing snow as they topped out and headed to Baxter Peak. True alpine conditions. This was Michaels first time on the Cilley Barber and first time summiting Baxter Peak. Does it get any better?

Bayard and I found some great ice on the Pamola Ice Cliffs. We climbed “Frost Street” and “Walk on the Wild Side”. Bayard made the grade 5 ice look so easy. But I guess, compared to yesterday, it was.Pamola Cliff - Baxter State Park

The next day was our last climbing day. The conditions had not improved but the boys wanted to give the Tabor Wall another go. I elected to take a rest day in preparation for the long journey out tomorrow. Let the young lads have at it!

Bayard on "Walk on the Wild Side" - Baxter State Park

Bayard on “Walk on the Wild Side”

We partied late into the night (8pm ;-)) and consumed the remaining liquor. Bayard and Michael tried to sneak off to bed earlier but Kevin and I would have none of that for our last night at Chimney Pond. With a few choice comments about masculinity and heritage they felt the pressure and joined us for a night cap, and we all reflected on our trip and laughed into the night.

At 4am the routine began. Off they went for another adventure. I enjoyed being able to sleep in and spend the day doing chores around the cabin and preparing for the hike out.

The boys were back early. The conditions limited their 2nd attempt on the wall. They tried working a line right of the main flow. The warm weather and sun was just eating the ice making progress difficult. All and all they had a great day of mixed climbing and got to know the wall a little better. They vowed they would return!

Humping out big loads - Baxter State Park

Big Loads

After some hot soup we packed up and started down with our heavy loads to Roaring Brook. The wind picked up and it started to snow. The trail was icy but snow covered and we made short work of it. 5” of snow lay on the road at Roaring Brook. Looked like a good ski out the next day.

In the morning we woke to rain and 2” of slush on the road. Again, wagons or sleds, it really didn’t matter. Kevin headed out an hour early so he could pick up the bike and ride out to get the van, another 6 miles. He is the man…taking several good diggers on the snowy, icy road before reaching the van.

It poured rain on us the whole way out and we hesitated to stop – the wet & cold kept us moving to stay warm. We were soaked to the core. We passed the gate and within 500 yards, Kevin showed up with the van, a welcome sight. We packed the van, and toasted with PBR’s:  A Great Trip. We will be back!!! Off to Millinocket and we were having breakfast before 10 am.

Photos by Doug Millen – Click to Enlarge

More photos from our trip

Photos by Bayard Russell Jr. Kevin Mahoney, Michael Wejchert & Doug Millen


Area Map

Interactive Map of Baxter State Park – Zoom & Pan. Click Icons for Info


The Crew

Doug Millen

Kevin Mahoney – Mahoney Alpine Adventures 

Bayard Russell Jr. – Cathedral Mountain Guides

Michael Wejchert – See his blog post of the trip 

* Many thanks to Ranger Rob Tice and Baxter State Park for all the hospitality and a well run operation.


Relates Stories

Early Season Luck On Katahdin

Katahdin Tales

Mt. Katahdin Maine – A trip Report

And Here We Go!

 October 26, 2013

Al-at-the-start

Alfonzo finds climbable ice in The Great Gully, King Ravine 10/26/13

All it took was a few days of cold weather to set the stage for the start of the ice climbing season. October ice is so sweet!

 

Joel

Joel Dashnaw climbing The Great Gully, King Ravine

Alfonzo, Katie Ives and I  figured the best bet for ice would be King Ravine. The aspect is perfect for early season ice. We were right. Not a lot of ice, but real ice climbing. Courtney and Joel also found good ice to climb in King Ravine.

DSCN2892

Odell’s Gully / Climbike

Climbike and partner climbed Odell’s Gully with “Psychological pro only”.  They reported climbers on Yale as well.

The Black dike was climbed Saturday by Max Lurie and Helon Hoffer under very marginal conditions.

Pinnacle gully was climbed Saturday by Gaddshady and partner, they found “tenuous ice and dry tooling”.

 

A few photos of The Great Gully, King Ravine.

Photos: Doug Millen

Lets hope things keep going. The forecast is for cold temps this week which will add to the ice conditions. Next weekend we bring in November. The ice is right on schedule and no warm weather in sight. YES!

 

~Doug Millen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lost Mountain Project

This fall, two local female rock climbers, will lead a team of biologists onto an unexplored cliff face in Mozambique. Their mission:

– To search for new species of insects and reptiles that will link this fragile and vital mountain to the evolution of East Africa’s wildlife

– To build a conservation plan with the local community and a team of Mozambique-based conservationists that will ensure a thriving future for one of the world’s most precious biodiversity hotspots.

The Lost Mountain Project is pushing the bounds of science, adventure, & conservation on the 2,000′ cliff face of Mozambique’s 2nd highest mountain. This great project blends it all and is spearheaded by two local climbers Majka Burhardt and Sarah Garlick.

They’re in the final 6 day push for a Kickstarter to raise the remaining funds.

Back them if you can, and help share the word!

The Building of “ARDU”

by Doug Millen

The most advanced RC Helicopter I have built to date

Building helicopters is fast becoming my main addiction (like I need another). It has been one of the hardest and most challenging things I have done in my life. Building and flying helicopters in the mountains is no easy task. Every trip we have failures, but we learn from our mistakes. I have made a lot of mistakes since we started but the helicopters just keep getting better and so do my flying skills.

This is the fifth helicopter I have built. This one is made completely from scratch and of my own design. I have incorporated the best features I have seen and I am using the ARDU auto pilot system APM 2.0. APM is the world’s leading open source UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) autopilot. It’s basically a robot that flies!

ARDU will know where he is, how to get home and able to run a mission with many way points, all on his own. Plus he will be sending back live video and filming with a GoPro Hero 3.

This rig will have all I am looking for (I hope) and teeth for the mountain winds. Here is a video of me fighting the wind in Huntington Ravine with the “Pocket Kong”. Clearly more power is needed for control.

It all starts with an idea and a drawing. I had been thinking for awhile what my next build would be. I would incorporate all I have learned over the winter. The plan was to make a Quad copter for stability and with enough power to battle the mountain winds and be able to survive a crash with minimal damage.  The helicopter must be easy to repair and parts readily available because, “you’re gonna crash” and  break some parts. That’s a given. It must also be easy to transport and backpack to where we want to be. UP high!

Below is my latest effort to get even closer to that perfect helicopter I have envisioned in my mind.

Building ARDU

Planing for the main controller (MC), GPS and radio Receivers.

 

Planing how the engine speed controllers (ESC’s) will fit into the frame, a very tight space.

The layout of the MC, Receivers and Telemetry for ARDU on the top deck.

The main frame cut out and ready for sanding. I used 1/4″ marine plywood. It’s what I had around and should work great.

Cutting out the poplar motor arms to receive the motor mounts. Wood is a good material for helicopters. It is light, strong, cheep and vibration resistant.

The motor mounts ready to be glued to the arms.

Gluing the plywood motor mounts to the arms.

Gluing the side rails to the main frame.

The Frame is ready for some paint and final assembly. Notice that the arms will fold back and hit the wood stops during a crash. This helps absorb energy. I got this trick from  building my Tri copter “Woody”. It works great!

All the components ready to put together, I hope everything fits!

A coat of paint to protect the wood and make it look cool.

The main power distribution board with ESC’s attached. A big power system (30A ESC’s) to battle the winds.

The bullet ends of the ESC’s  need to be soldered on and then shrink wrapped.

The motors mounted and ready to go. The motors are held in place with zip ties, the weak link in a crash. The motors just break the ties and eject instead of letting the force damage the motors. I used the Avroto M 2814-11 Short Shaft 770KV Brushless Motors for this build. A good, strong and reliable motor.

A tight squeeze for the ESC’s and Power Supplies. It’s going to be hot in there  in the summer, so I need to figure out how to vent it. I have installed a temperature sensor to keep an eye on the heat. It could be a problem, but not in the weather we like to fly in.

ARDU ready for the final test assembly

ARDU 1.0

ARDU 1.0 ready for programming, testing and tuning.  A sweet looking unit.  I can’t wait to fly it!

 

I hope it doesn’t smoke when I plug it in!

Stay tuned for part two – The Programming and Testing of  “ARDU”

 

 

Lost and Found

image

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