Harvard Cabin Report 1-21-16


January 21, 2016

Harvard Cabin Mountaineers,

Howdy, y’all! I trust everyone is enjoying the political climate developing in the lead-up to the 2016 US Presidential Election. After seven years of mildly entertaining (boring, maybe even depressing) politics in the good ol’ US-of-A, we’ve returned once again to another unforeseen period of American political excellence! Could we have ever imagined another leading political figure as entertaining as the former “Decider-in-Chief”? More so, you say? Not in a lifetime would I have thunk it possible. Talk about a trump card! You can’t make this stuff up!

SnowmanGood news! If it is not the political climate you’re yearning for, don’t worry, New Hampshire is still the place for you. Finally, it seems winter has settled in for the season. Now that is one party we can all get behind! Many of you should know by now but in case it’s not obvious, I really enjoy politicking so long as we are able to enjoy the free, open, and peaceful exchange of ideas. That said, this go-around I think it possible for anyone, anything, or any idea to gain a podium spot at the next Republican Presidential Debate and so I am encouraging you, my fellow North Americans -Citizens, Immigrants, Illegals, and other variously labeled Earthlings – Vote for Winter 2016, It’s gonna be HUUUGE!

Snow and Ice Conditions

Huntington Ravine ICE is IN!

We’ll folks, we are inching little by little towards full-on winter. Right now, we have a solid 15 inches (40 cm) of settled snow pack from Pinkham Notch all the way to the ravines. Thanks to what has been a relatively snowy and WINDY week, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and Fire Road are both snow covered. After a busy MLK Jr weekend, trails are packed out and fast moving. Some light traction or skis and skins will make for a speedy approach to the cabin.

Temperatures over the last several days have ranged from -10 to +15 Degrees F (-23 to +10 Degree C) preserving snow and encouraging the continued growth of climable water ice. The explosive growth of frozen waterfall ice can be largely attributed to what is known as the Arctic Oscillation Index finally entering a negative phase. In simple terms, high pressure over-took the arctic zone, pushing very welcomed cold air into the middle latitudes. The opposite was true for all of December. Low pressure dominated the polar region, allowing for a strong and consistent east-west jet stream to dam-up arctic cold air.

Thanks to this change in AO, the dam was finally breached between January 10 & 11, 2016. The metaphor is appropriate given the 1.4 inches (3.5cm) of rain that fell on the summit of Mount Washington on January 10. The tropic-like monsoon brought thigh-deep water to some parts of the fire road and the Cutler River seemed to become a tributary of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The latest gully-washer of the season was followed immediately by the sudden rush of arctic air that brought the first substantial winter weather of the season. It’s been cold ever since!

If you are interested, you can read more about Arctic Oscillation HERE. I’d also like to take the time to admit that I learned only this week of the existence of a National Snow & Ice Data Center. Where the hell have I been?

Travel in Huntington Ravine


Huntington Ravine – January 20, 2016 – Click to Enlarge

While the veil of winter is a welcomed sight across the Presidential Range, it should come as no surprise that we are still dealing with quite a snow deficit here in the Northeast. Thankfully, last weeks’ snowfall has made most travel on the mountain feel like it should given the time of year. Unfortunately, the lack of snow thus far has kept travel through the lower portions of Huntington Ravine very summer like. You can expect plenty of boulder-hopping, alder-cursing, and longer then usual approach times into your favorite gully. This weeks winds have been the major culprit. Velocities peaked on Tuesday night reaching 127 MPH (~205 KPH). With recent snowfall I would have expected improving travel conditions in lower portions of Huntington Ravine (The Fan), but as winds raged most of the snow was transported to treeline or below. The upside being, once you make it to your intended climb, the ice is what you would expect it to be for late January! So, come and get it, there is plenty for everyone!

Avalanche Conditions

5-Scale Avalanche Forecasting has begun for the 2015-16 Season.

AvalancheLadies and Gentlemen, Skiers, Climbers, and Mountaineers – WE HAVE AN AVALANCHE SEASON! On Monday, January 18th the first 5-Scale Avalanche Forecast was issued for Tuckerman Ravine. Snow safety concerns in Huntington Ravine remain within the context of a General Bulletin. However, with the implementation of 5-Scale forecasting Rangers will be in the drainage daily and will keep a steady eye on changing conditions in Huntington Ravine. Until then, be sure to continue reading daily updates posted by the snow rangers. This will help keep you up-to-date with the developing snowpack and key weather events that will result in unstable layers to be of concern in coming weeks.

Even with the disparity in snow conditions, human triggered avalanches have been reported in both ravines this week. An obviously “upside-down” snow-pack kept climbers on their toes in Huntington with a few close calls being reported. An avalanche accident occurred in Tuckerman Ravine on January 17th, 2016 when two mountain travelers triggered an avalanche in the area known as “The Chute”. A total of 6 people from multiple parties were effected by the slope failure. Injuries were all non-life threatening, but one victim was transported from the ravine to Pinkham Notch where an ambulance was waiting. You can read more about this avalanche on the Incidents and Accidents portion of the MWAC Website.

Avalanche Advisories and MWAC Website – Know Before You Go!

You can receive the daily avalanche advisories through several social media outlets. Of course, I find it easy enough to browse over to the recently remodeled MWAC website at http://www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org.

Once there, you can read the latest advisories, check out recent photos from the ravines, get in-depth insight into the snow-pack as snow rangers blog from “The Pit”, and share in a wealth of news and resources relating to snow, weather, and safety on Mount Washington. Oh and don’t forget Rangers are looking for your snow-pack observations from across the White Mountains this Winter. Observations can be submitted via the MWAC Website at this link.

Plenty of Winter Ahead…

This year, Martin Luther King weekend was back to normal in terms of mountain travelers. Last year, the same weekend was absurdly quite. It probably had a lot to do with super cold temps and plenty of winter weather south of the White Mountains. Fortunately, this year MLK weekend came just after the first real dose of winter here in New England. The right combination of precipitation (snow), temperatures, wind, and sun made perfect the recipe for playing in the mountains. The Harvard Cabin filled to capacity on Thursday night (as well as the tent-sites) and remained so throughout the weekend. It was a much needed change of pace and we are looking forward to continuing the trend this coming weekend. Plenty more sunshine in the forecast for the weekend without much in way of weather.

If you need a little extra motivation, it will be a good weekend for a true alpine start. Not only will you get a good view of mountains but, you’ll also have a great shot to 5 of our planetary neighbors. If you haven’t heard, for the next couple of weeks in the wee hours of the morning the planets Mercury, Mars, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter will be on display in the eastern sky. The 2016 Planetary Conjunction should look great from Mt. Washington!

If you are in the mid-Atlantic states, I’d consider jumping in the car right now. If you don’t waste anytime you’ll miss the apocalypse and things will be all cleaned up by the time you return. In the mean-time, you would have enjoyed a few great days in the Alpine and helped carry-on the fine tradition that is The Harvard Cabin! We hope to see you!

Upcoming Events:

2nd Annual Backcountry VE Session @ The Harvard Cabin
HAM Radio Exam Session – Feb 20, 2016

EventOkay…well, many of you know that Marcia and I are shameless promoters of the hobby that is Amateur Radio (HAM Radio). Many of you also endure the endless harassment that goes with our promotion of the utility of radio, especially among all of you – our mountain friends! The White Mountain Amateur Radio Club will once again be hosting a Volunteer Exam Session at the Harvard Cabin this Winter. All License Class Level Exams will be offered this year. So, weather you are new to the hobby or an “old fist”, if you spend time in the mountains, we’d sure love to have you stop by for our 2nd Annual Backcountry VE Session. Click here for photos of last years session!

If you are interested but, not sure where to start, fear not. You too can join the increasing number of backcountry travelers who have joined the ranks of radio operators. There have been many who caved to the Marcia’s persuasive wit and so far haven’t any regrets except for not having done it sooner! The utility of radio is not only fun, it is also a great way to increase safety for yourself and your group. But, don’t take my word for it. Read this short White Paper presented as part of the International Snow Science Workshop 2012 titled TALKING THE TALK:Human Factors, Group Communication, and the Next Frontier in Snow Safety.
Ham RadioThe Ham Radio License Manual, published by the American Radio Relay League, is all you’ll need to pass your test. The book may be available at your local bookstore or library. Check there first or order from Amazon by clicking here.

Study time is about an hour a day for a week. Then you take a 35-question, multiple choice test. Get 26 correct and you’ll be issued your own callsign and have instant access to the Harvard Cabin from anywhere in the world…I kid you not! Pricing for high-powered, light-weight, handheld transceivers begins ~$30 US. Click here to browse!
Smugg’s Ice Bash – January 22-24, 2016
Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival – February 2-7, 2016
Adirondack Backcountry Ski Fest – March 5-6, 2016

Rich Palatino
Harvard Cabin Caretaker
Rich and Marcia
Cabin Caretakers 2015/16

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/cabin

Our mailing address is:
Harvard Mountaineering Club
Student Organizations Center at Hilles
59 Shepard St #73
Cambridge, MA 02138


Avalanche in the Chute 1/17/2016

“A minute or two later I heard a rumble and glanced up to the choke to see a size-able amount of snow come flying by. I yelled “Avalanche” multiple times as I tried to keep a visual on the 2 climbers I was able to make out in the fast moving slide. I had two students to my right, who were still 10-15 feet from the mass of snow that had just came blasting down the gully.”

Follow this link to read an analysis of yesterday’s avalanche in Tuckerman Ravine by EMS Climbing Guide, David Lottman.

Avalanche in the Chute 1/17/2016

A good read and reminder to stay aware, get educated and be safe out there this winter.



Smuggs Ice Bash 2016 – Recon Report


by Tim Farr

Smuggs Ice Bash 2016Petra Cliffs

The ice in Smugglers Notch is building fast! With the Smuggs Ice Bash taking place in a little over a week, January 22-24th, there should be plenty of ice and mixed terrain for all of us hungry and deprived climbers to whack away at!

This past Sunday’s heavy rain and thunderstorms that commanded the day didn’t impact the ice conditions quite to the level one would expect. Many of the climbs that were in condition and had been seeing ascents remained climbable. The biggest hit from the storm was to the snowpack. Practically non-existent in much of the Notch, many of the deep drifts and wallowing we are accustomed to by now just aren’t there this year. The heavy rain followed by several days of cold temps that went well below freezing at night have made traveling on the snow quick and easy. Strap on the ‘pons for the firm crust and away you go.
Many of the gullies used for approaching some of the longer climbs are nice and firm making for easy approaches and even extending the length of a few routes that are usually covered by feet of snow. There is still a lot of moving water and one could find holes and pockets where a boot could pop through soft snow, but the moving water is only going to aid in growing more and more ice with the extended forecast looking very good for continued ice growth.IMG_4414

Throughout the Notch there are currently a number of things to climb, though many of the routes still have thin or mixed sections; I imagine this will fill in quickly. Up in the Blind Fate Amphitheater both Blind Fate and Norton-Gibney are in climbable shape and Blue Ice Bulge seems to have a couple of variations possible as well. One can hope that the ephemeral line left of Norton-Gibney, ‘Illogical Hydrology’, makes an appearance this year.
Hidden Gully has seen numerous ascents this season but the crux still seems to be the first 15 feet at its entrance. This year the typical thick bulge of WI3- ice that forms at its entrance has formed into a thin ribbon tucked into the right corner. Pull this crux, minding the top out, and the route will get much better with good conditions higher up in the gully. All three variations in the amphitheater are in climbable shape.


The climbs found within the Easy Gully vicinity have held on and will be rebounding quickly over the next several days. Grand Confusion, Poster Child, Grand Illusion, Dominatrix and Black Sunshine are all in climbable shape or building fast for those willing to take on the challenge.

Grand Confusion is in climbable shape and the mixed route to its left, ‘Confusionism’ is a great route to climb if you’re waiting for a party on Grand Confusion or as the main objective.

Many of the routes closer to the road are all in climbable shape except for the odd thin or mixed move required with any deviations from the fattest line. With little snow on the ground, travel to and from these routes should be nice and quick.

As for routes surrounding the Ragnarock, Elephants Head and South Wall Areas, all are in some form of climbable shape, but all show evidence of varying states of delamination or require a few mixed moves. While Ragnarock’s P1 and P2 could be climbed, the top pitch seem like it could use a bit of growth. Give it a week with the expected forecast and the climbs in this area should fatten up immensely.
Come time for the Smuggs Ice Bash, next weekend, the Notch should be in great shape to host the flood of climbers hiking up the road to find their intended climbable lines.

~Tim Farr
Membership / Staff Manager
Smuggs Ice Bash Coordinator
Petra Cliffs Instructor & Guide
AMGA Certified SPI, Apprentice Rock & Ice Guide
NY State Lic. Rock and Ice Guide
105 Briggs St.
Burlington VT 05401
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December UPdate – What the f&@k?

New Hampshire

The beginning of this ice season has been anything but consistent. We’ve had thigh deep snow topping out of Huntington Ravine in October followed up by spring-like temperatures on the high summits for weeks with only splashes of short cold spells here and there. Usually I can get a sense of what the ice conditions will be like, but this year I’ve been off my game. Two weekends ago, I stopped thinking about ice and went for a three day backpack in the Wild River Wilderness. Just this past weekend, I thought there wouldn’t be much to climb out there, so I donned my summer trail running shoes and headed up and around the side of Mt. Jefferson with some friends.

DSC_0283I found out that evening, when my phone buzzed with picture messages, that I was dead wrong.  While I was in and over the clouds that day, there was a duo climbing what was likely the longest and fattest ice line in northeast as of that moment.  That was Hillman’s Highway in Tuckerman Ravine, and yes, there was a lot of ice.  At least the beautiful undercast was worth missing out on the climbing action.


Hillmans Highway (11.28.15)           Photos courtesy of Nick Yardley


Others tackled Tuckerman Headwall on the day, the day before and the one after.  Despite it getting sun baked, the ice seemed to hang in there just enough.  Huntington Ravine also saw some action, with Odells Gully, not surprisingly, seeing the most traffic.  Check out the condition reports for information on those climbs.

Elsewhere in New Hampshire, Alden Pellett explored the Big Slide area up Mt. Lafayette on last Sunday to find a thin runnel of ice from bottom to top.

Taylor Luneau on the Big Slide.

Taylor Luneau on the Big Slide. (11.29.15)



Center Tablets (11.29.15)

Up in Lake Willoughby, things are admittedly looking a little sad. This picture of the Center Tablets about sums it up.

Smuggler’s Notch has been like a bad relationship: on, off, on and then off again.  Like some mystical land, the routes appear and disappear in mere hours and at random times.

Reports from last Saturday in the notch confirmed there was a lot of moving water and some verglass on the rocks in the gullies but the ground wasn’t frozen yet.  Jeff’s Slide appeared as a thin apparition and then disappeared again this week with the warm temperatures.  But there’s hope!  The road officially closed and I’m sure climbers will be heading in this coming weekend to see what’s there.


Gully left of blue ice bulge, above & right of Terrortory, just the day before. (11.27.15)

photo 3

Jeff’s Slide before it disappeared again. (11.28.15) Photo by Tim Farr

New York

News has been quiet in the Adirondacks, but I’m sure that doesn’t mean the locals haven’t been climbing.  The last bird I saw told me Chouinard’s Gully was climbed in super thin conditions, but that was days ago and the way this season has been going, that fact becomes totally irrelevant.

So what now?  What’s going to happen this weekend?  What the f&@k is going on with this weather?  It’s anyone’s guess, but the forecast calls for a high of 40 degrees on the summit of Mt. Washington Saturday.  Go figure that it’s snowing and cold up there as I write this article.

What’s been going on in your neck of the woods?  Find some good ice?  Let me know at [email protected]!  Till then, good luck out there!

I’ll leave you with these videos, as they sum it up best.  Some great footage of the changes in Tuckerman Ravine, courtesy of NEice Community member, Matt Bowman!  Thanks for sharing these.

Special thanks to Nick Yardley, Alden Pellett, Tim Farr and Matt Bowman.

Weekly UPdate – November Rations

Early morning alpine glow in Huntington Ravine. October 19, 2015.

Early morning alpine glow in Huntington Ravine. October 19, 2015.

On the day of the Black Dike ascent on October 19th, I was in Huntington Ravine to scope out what, if anything, had formed after only two days of below freezing temperatures.  I chose a winding line up Yale Gully, avoiding the slab sections that had a coating of ice that was almost immeasurable to the human eye.  Thin runnels of ice over rocky grooves kept me engaged and deep snowy drifts clinging to the upper sections made for a great winter day in mid-October.  I wouldn’t say it was ‘first ice’ for me that day, but the adventure was well worth the effort.

Fighting a blast of wind-driven snow midway up Yale Gully.

Fighting a blast of wind-driven snow midway up Yale Gully.  October 19, 2015.

After that weekend, the brief shot of winter died off and the thermometer climbed back up.  For more than two weeks after, above average temperatures killed any hope for more ice.  Tools and spikes were sharpened and ready to go.  We all waited impatiently for that next cold spell.

Winter tried again to beat back this warm Autumn with another two days of bitterly cold weather and high winds this past Friday and Saturday.  And for those of us who went out on Sunday, we made that approach thinking it’s a 50/50 chance of climbable ice, at best.  Were we just a bunch of dedicated fools?  Perhaps.

I rolled the dice in King Ravine, usually a good early season bet.  Zac St. Jules walked alone into Huntington Ravine as Max Forbes with his team, Russell Frisch and Steve Rahr started their own approach into the ravine under windy skies and cold morning temperatures.  King Ravine was ready for me.  My first swing into the drainage ice of the Great Gully was thin but sticky.  Water was flowing underneath the ice, leaving a fountain at times where my pick had been.  The ice ranged from just thick enough to almost too thin for comfort but it was secure and a total blast to climb.  Above the ice, the snow began filling in the upper portion of the gully.  Solid winter conditions greeted me at the top and underfoot I crushed thousands of rime ice feathers.

The beginning of the drainage. November 15, 2015.

The beginning of the drainage. November 15, 2015.

The top of King Ravine., looking toward Mt. Madison.

The top of King Ravine., looking toward Mt. Madison.







Starting up the first ice.

Starting up the first ice.

Meanwhile in Huntington Ravine, the high winds were forcing Zac to fight through some nasty spray from the open sections of running water midway up Pinnacle Gully.  At the base of the climb, the party of three were about to head up the committing mix climb above them.

Pinnacle Gully. November 15, 2015. Photo by Zac St. Jules.

Pinnacle Gully. November 15, 2015. Photo by Zac St. Jules.

The first pitch was led by Russ Frisch, who placed two screws low and then quickly ran out of ice. Max Forbes took the next lead and  found himself having to cross a wide section of running water in the middle of the route.  He placed a knifeblade and began moving through the water course.  “Since there was not enough ice over the running water to support my weight, I bashed through it with my hammer exposing the running water and rock below. I stepped through the water and did a bit of a jump to get across to solid ground. I moved up a short ramp with 4 inches or so of relatively attached ice and moved up into a small corner to rest. I placed a .2 X4, one of the only solid pieces of the day, and then crossed back over the running water to reach the fixed anchor at the top of Pitch 2.” – Max Forbes

The final pitch.

The final pitch.  Photo provided by Max Forbes.

The last pitch was pretty moderate, exclusively mixed climbing with patches of ice and hard snow that provided a bit more comfortable stance.  More photos from the day here.

As for the rest of Huntington, Max reports:  “O’dells was filling well, and the first pitch looked climbable. Central looked full of mostly snow, some ice at the crux. Yale and Harvard bulges were in pretty fat, but the gullies above were not looking as good. The ice is definitely coming in though. North seemed to have filled in pretty quickly as well, but the start didn’t seem to be there. Hopefully it stays cold up there but it looks like conditions will hold and allow everything to continue to build.”

At the Pitch 2 Belay of Pinnacle Gully on November 15, 2015. by max-forbes

Twenty miles southwest of Mt. Washington, two more climbers were picking at the meager winter rations.  Noel Normandin and Ryan Ferry were perched high on the Black Dike, which was dishing out a 90% mix climb.  Noel describes the route:

  • P1 : Mostly well-bonded, thin unprotected ice.
  • P2: Thin ice going up to the rock traverse, then no ice in the hose for 40ish feet.  A little ice after the grade eases off, taking a stubby in places.
  • P3: Started out on ice, then after a short steep parasol capped headwall turned to mostly loose snow covered rock.

While starting the third pitch, another party was spotted below.  Winter is finally getting a hold of the mountains!  Keep those metal bits sharpened!

Click here for photos of the Dike.  Photos by Noel Normandin.

New Hampshire isn’t the only place where ice is forming.  I bet some things are going down in NY and VT this week, if they haven’t already!

A wintry mix is forecasted for the higher summits on Friday night with blustery weather and snow moving in over the weekend, the ice season is well on its way!  Check out the weather page for more info!

Special Thanks to Zac St. Jules, Max Forbes and Noel Normandin for their photographs, video and additional words.


Back to Business, Round Two!

Adam-Bidwell on Cocaine, Frankenstein Cliff NH - Photo by Ryan-Driscall

Well things are shaping up, again. It has been two weeks since the major melt down and the ice climbs are forming and there is plenty of great climbing.  We now have more ice to climb than before the meltdown. There is plenty of ground water flowing and things are growing fast. With no warm weather in sight, I expect good to excellent conditions from Maine to the Adirondacks and South for the foreseeable future.

This weather is greatly appreciated as we enter the Ice Festival season. Every year it’s a crap shoot with the weather and we are lucky this year, so far. By next weekend there should be plenty of ice for the the 19th annual Adirondack International Mountainfest. January 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

So dress warm, get out, and get some!


Doug Millen

Adam Bidwell on Cocaine, Frankenstein Cliff, Crawford Notch NH
Photo by Ryan Driscoll

Frankenstein Cliff NH

You know things are good when the south face of Frankenstein Cliff has ice to climb. Below are a few photos from Adam Bidwell with Ryan Driscoll


Adam Bidwell climbing Cocaine


Ryan Driscoll halfway up Cocaine


Second pitch of Bragg-Pheasant. The strongest sun of the day bore down just as I was reaching the thinnest ice.


Ryan Driscoll on the Final boney pitch of Bragg Pheasant

Beware of  the cold temps

When it’s this cold after a warm up, watch out for ice dams. Both on the climbs and in rivers and streams. Below are two posts that will make you think.

NEice.com – Hydrophobia at “The Lake”

An Ice Dam busting loose at Lake Willoughby Vt in 2010 – Photo by Dave Powers

Careful of that stream crossing!

Assessing Ice Conditions

glace-etude-resistance-13And don’t forget that drastic cooling followed by a period of intense cold leads to strong thermal contractions in the ice. See this great information for assessing ice conditions from Petzl – Waterfall Ice Study

Ice Guide Training

The American Mountain Guides Association Ice guide training course in NH is in full swing. The EMS guides are sending the steep ice routes at Frankenstein which are in good condition and building fast with this cold weather. – Art Mooney
Chia Direct 1-7-15 Art Mooney

Chia Direct

Chia 1-7-15 Art Mooney


Hobit 1-7-15 Art Monney

The Hobbit

Mount Washington

Conditions Update 1-8-15

by Rich Palatino, Harvard Cabin Caretaker

The Tuckerman Ravine Trail is nearly completely covered. While it is very hard-packed and slick there is very little water ice to speak of. Light Traction is nice, but not necessary in the least. That being said, full crampons on the trail wouldn’t be unreasonable, just not advised…or enjoyable.

The fire road is still in rather early season condition. However, it is mostly snow until you are above the Dow Rescue Cache where you will find a series of stream crossings. Again, nothing major. Access to the ravine is quick and easy and the rangers have been using snow machines to travel most of the road.

It’s goes without saying, the ice is IN! The Ravine is still filling in for the season. Run-outs are far from being fully-developed and in many cases descending will mean a walk down the Lion Head Summer Trail. The Fan is sporting a variety of snow conditions as you travel from gully to gully. Overall you can expect excellent condition for cramponing. However, along with long sliding falls, spatial variability can present a problem. Don’t travel with a persistent green light in mind even though things seem locked up solid. We’ve been getting nickled and dimed for weeks so you should be on the look-out for protected lee areas, wind slabs of varying strengths, buried weak layers, and I personally have been starting to worry about persistent weak layers. I’m really not sure how valid my concern for persistent layers is, but as a skier I’m suspect of the rapid heating and cooling we’ve seen over the last few weeks. I’m keeping that in mind as I travel in avalanche terrain until we see the next major storm/avalanche cycle. But, you really don’t have to take my word for it. Luckily you can hear what the experts have to say via the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s website and it’s many social media outlets.

Renormalized at “The Lake”

Ah! The conditions are getting better and I am back to my normal state, once again, at “The Lake”.



Below are a few condition photos from our trip to Lake Willoughby VT on Saturday December 13, 2014. Plenty of challenging ice to climb. There is a good snow pack now for easy approaches, unlike years past where leaves covered  the frozen ground with a dusting of snow. The ground is now  insulate and plenty of water is flowing. When some real cold hits this place, it is going to go OFF!

Enjoy the photos!


~Doug Millen

Cover photo: Tom Yandon on “Renormalization” WI 4, Lake Willoughby VT.

All photos by Doug Millen

Get Out and Get Some!

It’s the Start of December

The time when the sun begins to rise, it’s nearly set.  The nights are long and cold and the days are short and cold.  It’s the best time to catch the mountain gullies with abundant ice and perfect snow conditions. This past weekend I joined a crew up Mt. Lafayette’s Escadrille Route.  The day was cold and windy and the alpine in New Hampshire is in great shape!  Here’s a few photos from the day.

In Franconia Notch, down much lower on Mt. Lafayette, Ace of Spades is looking ripe.


12/8/14 Conditions  Photo by Doug Millen

And across the street…


Black Dike Conditions 12/8/14 – Photo by Doug Millen


12/8/14 Conditions / Omega Wall –  Photo by Doug Millen

With some very cold rock, cloudy weather and mixed precip this week, I’m sure this cliff is being watched carefully by some!



The drips are forming in the low elevation climbing areas, and even when the ice runs out, Bayard Russell of Cathedral Mountain Guides keeps going!  Here he is on a mixed variation of Kinesis at Cathedral Ledge. cathedralIn the Crawford Notch things are shaping up. The Twin Mountain crew and guests climbed “Read Between the Lines” on the upper east face of Willard and reported good conditions. They said “Damsel In Distress” is very thin but building. They also climbed “The Snot Rocket” at the Trestle Wall with a delicate top column. Dracula is not quite in but building fast.

To note: The first General Advisories by the Avalanche Center was issued for Mt. Washington’s ravines.  That was followed by the first reported avalanche incident on Monday in Yale Gully.  Keep an eye on conditions as more wintery weather moves in this week!

Over to the Adirondacks, local climbers have been getting out at all the standard venues.  There is definitely ice and mixed climbing to be had!  Check out the Adirondack Mountain Guides condition report HERE.  And don’t forget about the awesome alpine climbing arena that the High Peaks have to offer.  Just keep an eye out on the snow pack conditions.  The Adirondacks are getting slammed with snow this week, so give it time for the weather system to move through and the snow to stabilize.

In Vermont, Smugglers Notch updates have been coming in on an almost weekly basis on the Conditions page.  And all you need to do is click on the Photo Page to see Nick and Alden’s climb of a “lean and mean” Promenade at Lake Willoughby.

Bottom line, Get Out and Get Some!

By Courtney Ley

A Dose of Prozac and Some Positive Thinking

By Courtney Ley

Let’s get right to it!  More noteworthy news coming out of Cannon Cliff again this weekend!

Jeff Previte and Matt Ritter made the second ascent of Prozac on the Omega Wall this past Friday.  The mixed route, finishing right of Omega, was first established by Kevin Mahoney and Ben Gilmore in 2002.


The Omega Wall section of Cannon Cliff, showing (left to right) the Mean Streak (red); the Firing Line (yellow); Omega (green); Omega Variation Start (blue); Prozac (purple). Photo courtesy of Freddie Wilkinson, The Nameless Creature.

Kevin recounts:

“We swapped the leads from the day before.  Not because we didn’t want to face the same gut-retching second pitch from the day before but because we wanted to share the clarity it offered.  Once at our high point from the day before I got to lead the last pitch.  This was the lead I had been waiting for all season.  The lead that required full commitment and willingness to shake the cob webs free.  The lead that would cure my sinking psych.  Knife blades with screamers, stoppers heads, marginal cams all added to the mix.  I dropped a tool (this was the time of leashes and I was trying the Android leash for the first time) fortunately ben was close by to tag a tool on to the rope.  Once at the trees I was different, not the same sulking man that my fiance was wondering if she should marry.  Those two days on Cannon had set me right.  Ben and I named the new route Prozac.  Nine years later I can still enjoy those two days with Ben on Cannon and hope conditions like that come again so Prozac can get a second ascent.”

You can find his whole story remembering that day, on his blog post, Around the next corner?

As Jeff and Matt made their way to the base of the climb, Majka Burhardt and Peter Doucette were already on the route.  Peter, just coming back from Nepal only 30 hours earlier, was leading the second pitch. Majka and Peter decided to call it a day after three pitches and rappelled down passing by Matt and Jeff. As they continued up, Matt described the third pitch as a “run-out muckle of ‘egg shell’ ice which gave way to a sketchy mantel and an awkward perch beneath the steep, more solid ice.”  Sounds fun eh?!


Majka approaching the top of the third pitch. The ledge and belay are shared with Omega. The second party visible below. Photo by Peter Doucette.













Now they were perched at the Pitch three belay looking up at the last and final pitch which was waiting patiently, as it had for 12 years.  The sun was lowering and the cold air began to penetrate their now shivering bodies, but Matt didn’t need to think about the next move.  He was motivated.

As Matt started up the final pitch he wrote:

“There was no obvious path other than the gnarliest looking corners and roofs which got me pretty excited. Confident, I knew I could make this pitch go. I began by down climbing 15 feet after sinking a Lost Arrow just above the anchor. I traversed left to a stance and climbed  a techy vertical crack and T4 (turf ratings) front point placements. Getting situated in a sweet corner below a grooved roof I found a piton and a tiny fixed wire I assume were placed by Kevin. I took a while here making sure not to rush anything. Hooting, hollering, singing Taylor Swift, laughing maniacally, I found myself torqueing micro cracks perfectly designed for pick placements in steep terrain. Tiny cams and wires protected most of the tough bits decently well. At the crux I stopped laughing, and Jeff said he wasn’t gonna take my picture again due to the long encroaching shadows.  Locking off on a sinker left tool I found myself traversing right out of a shallow corner onto a steep face using elegant and technical foot crosses and a high step to a one inch gloved thumb undercling! A bit of aggressive snarling and soon enough I was in the Krumholz. I found a Spruce or a Fir with an old loop of rope and belayed Jeff up from here. Ecstatic, I thought about Kevin standing at the previous ledge scoping his line. Of the handful of in-obvious options, we had chosen the same path, and how 13 years ago he fished that dinky little wired nut into a constriction and cruised onward. I took a few moments to laugh uncontrollably. When laughter gave way to the largest perma-smile I own, I experienced a deep appreciation for life, for Cannon Cliff, (the old old grandpa cliff) for Kevin and Ben being supremely badass, and for the holistic nourishment these experiences provide.”

Nice work guys! To read his entire account of the day, check out his report on Walkabout Wild.

Prozac-Jeff" Matt Ritter on Pitch 3. Photo by Jeff Previte.

Prozac-Jeff” Matt Ritter on Pitch 3. Photo by Jeff Previte.

If you are still feeling the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder after that dose of Prozac, here’s some Positive Thinking!

The next day, over in New York, Jeffery Dunn and Bryan Kass climbed Positive Thinking at Poke-O in 90’s fashion.  The route in early season mimics the days when the ice rarely touched the ground. They pulled some Patagonian-style tricks out of the bag and had a little fun with it along the way…

Positive Thinking – 2014 from Pig Helmut on Vimeo.

It seems climbers everywhere were heading to the hills this past weekend, taking advantage before the warmth and rain hit during the early part of this week.  Check out the Photo page for what got done.. including some sweet shots at Lake Willoughby!   In Crawford Notch, Mt. Willard offered up a taste of ice and in the Adirondacks, the climbs at Chapel Pond froze long enough to see some action.

Now if we can all sit still long enough, waiting for the warm front to move out of here and the cold to return later this week, who knows what we’ll find!

~ Special Thanks to Majka Burnhardt, Peter Doucette, Jeff Previte, Matt Ritter and Jeffery Dunn.


The Weekly UPdate!

From Cannon Cliff to Crawford Notch and Beyond

New Hampshire


Photo courtesy of Erik Thatcher

black dike

Photo by Art Mooney

It’s game on in the higher elevations this week!  Lines formed in Pinnacle Gully and other gullies in Huntington saw some action too, including Odells and Yale.  We even had our first minor epic (?) this week.  Yes, someone forgot their three screw anchor on Pinnacle.  So it’s business as usual on Mt. Washington.  The Great Gully in King Ravine got climbed as well.  Although perhaps the most exciting news was happening on Cannon Cliff.  The Black Dike got all sorts of traffic over the weekend.  Erik Thatcher and Art Mooney bailed off The Black Dike because of slushy conditions on Friday, but when Saturday rolled around, Eric Marshall and Jeff Previte found the freeze Friday night good enough, and fired it.  Erik Thatcher decided to return on Sunday with Alexa Siegel and take care of some unfinished business.  They got it done and he left his Nomic hanging on a tree as a flag of their conquest!  Too bad he had to return on Monday and do yet another lap with Art Mooney to retrieve the lone tool.

Also on Monday, Jeffery Dunn and Bryan Kass headed up on Cannon to the Dike, but took on a harder variation.  The duo climbed the Hassig’s Direct variation which had been looking good over the past couple of days.  Here’s Jeff’s report on the day.

“Already sleep deprived, Bryan Kass and I left NYC at 11:00pm Sunday night and swapped “leads” northwards through the driving rain. Pulling into the parking lot at 10am, the presence of another party’s truck was the only indication that conditions might be good on the cliff which lay invisible behind a billowing fog bank. With temperatures above freezing and a steady rain falling, there was no sense of urgency while we ate a breakfast of sausage and chocolate doughnuts and desperately tried to make sense of our wholly disorganized pile of winter gear.

Eventually, we disembarked the van and made our way down the bike path. Halfway to the approach trail we encountered the other climbing party, Art and Erik, who shared the promising conditions report; “soft”.

The first pitch took a screw in addition to the good cam and I set a belay under Hassigs. Unlike the last time we had come through, Hassig’s was in fantastic condition and sans large ice mushroom top-out. Bryan lead through and found good rock gear down low, a decent thread, and then a good screw. Already soaking wet, I was allowed some personal time to explore the fullness of a winter experience. The right side top-out, starting off with a nice ice curtain and moving into aesthetic moderate alpine mixed, brought us to the trees.

Arriving back at the van, there was only one suitable way for two NYC based climbers to celebrate starting the ice season in mid November: drive home immediately and get ready for work in the morning. The van stopped for 20 minutes to get gas and food, arriving in NY just over 24 hours after leaving.”


Photo courtesy of Jeffery Dunn

Across the way from Cannon, others were finding enough ice to climb.  The narrow gully up in the Big Slide Area on the steep western slopes of Mt. Lafayette was picked at by Nick Yardley and David Crothers.  This great little gem of a route is a good early season option.  It’s a two second approach compared to other routes on Mt. Lafayette’s southwestern side such as the Escadrille.  You can bet that route, along with Lincoln’s Throat are in top notch shape.  Also, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Ammo Ravine on Washington is good to go.  Only one way to find out…

So with things blowing up, Doug and I decided to take a few practice flights in Crawford Notch.  WooKong 3.0 and ARDU buzzed by the forming ice routes in this video condition report.

[iframe src=”http://player.vimeo.com/video/112234495″ frameborder=”0″=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ ]


Other Places

In the Adirondacks, Ian Osteyee of Adirondack Mountain Guides and Holly Blanchard of The Mountaineer got on a very thin Chouinard’s Gully over at Chapel Pond.  With snow in the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday and temperatures staying below freezing into the weekend in Keene Valley, it’s go time!

Alden Pellett finding thin conditions on the Blind Fate column. Photo courtesy of Kel Rossiter/Adventure Spirit Guides.

Don’t swing too hard! Alden Pellett finding brittle conditions on the Blind Fate column. Photo courtesy of Kel Rossiter.

In Vermont, Steve Charest and Alden Pellett got some very thin ice in Smuggler’s Notch last weekend. The pair ticked off Jeff Slide and most of Blind Fate in very thin conditions but finding the finish pillar hadn’t touched down, they bailed from there. Pellett returned during the week with Kel Rossiter of Adventure Spirit Guides to finish up the job on the now freshly-formed free-standing column at the top of that route which they said was “not trivial”.  Pellett, afraid the foot-thick column might collapse with him on it, didn’t place any gear until 15-20 feet up when he was able to get a couple of stubbies in where the ice was attached to the rock.  For the latest conditions in the Notch, check out the conditions page. If you’re thinking of heading up to Smuggs this weekend, a good six inches of fresh powder has locals skiing the Notch road, so make sure to bring your boards for an easy run back to the car!

Down in Pennsylvania, it looks like a quick window of opportunity opened up for November in the Narrows! Climbers in PA had a stellar ice season last year.  Let’s hope for more of the same.

Back up to Ontario, the ice climbing season has started in the Batchawana Bay!  Conditions report courtesy of Superior Exploration Co.

By Courtney Ley and Alden Pellett

Special Thanks to  Erik Thatcher and Jeffery Dunn

Click on the images to enlarge