The Great Gulf

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THE GREAT GULF

by Courtney Ley

The Great Gulf.  There could be no other name for it.  When I look at it from the vantage point of Mt Clay, I imagine the walls of this giant cirque begin to expand suddenly, high rocks and cliffs start breaking apart and tumble into its gaping mouth. I see the summit of Mt. Washington tilting, the buildings shake and crumble, sliding into the dark abyss with deafening sound. All that’s left is a giant cavern.  The Great Gulf just swallowed Mt. Washington whole.

But as I stand on the summit of Mt. Clay on this day, all is still.  The only moving object is the sun as it lowers over Franconia Ridge to the west, creating long shadows across the Presidential Range. I hear no tumbling rocks or collapsing cliffs.  I only hear the sound of the wind beating on my jacket.  I am alone and feel at ease.  I watch the sky turn pastel colors and soft lenticular clouds form high above me. I adjust my hood to block the wind the best I can and head down the mountain towards Sphinx Col.

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My need for seclusion brought me to the Great Gulf.  Some approach the gulf from Huntington Ravine and do it in March or April when the gulf is filled with the years snowfall and travel is relatively easy.  I had two days and decided to approach it from its beginnings. I wanted to wind my way through its endless water courses and forest canopies.  It’s not very far in miles, but the wilderness trails are left to the forces of nature.  The trees fallen across paths remain in place and water is not forcefully diverted away.  Long bogs and difficult river crossings are a norm here.  I enjoy the wilderness feel, as it’s hard to find in the developed White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The Great Gulf is by no means ‘out there’.  A quick jaunt up the Chandler Ridge finds you at the Auto Road and once you top out of the headwall, there’s Mt. Washington’s summit with its restaurant and gift shops.  The Great Gulf Wilderness was conceived in 1964 and is New Hampshire’s oldest yet smallest wilderness area, comprising just 5,658 acres.  Despite this, the giant glacial cirque leaves you feeling like you are somewhere remote and far away from anyone and anything.

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‘Wait Until Dark’ Gully (on right)

Admittedly, I also had another motive.  I was hunting down ice and I had a good feeling I’d find some here.  Not only is the gulf at a high elevation but it’s predominately north facing and it’s walls rarely see sunlight.  It had the elements necessary for early season capture.  I pitched my tent at one of the designated tent sites along the Great Gulf Trail and set out.  Unlike other ravines, the gulf doesn’t show its full self until you are just about at its walls.  The spruce are tall and the tiny Spaulding Lake proves the only vantage point from the floor during this time of year.  When I worked my way around the lake I got a glimpse of ‘Wait Until Dark’ Gully.  It begged me forth. I knew reaching the entrance would be no easy task.  I was proved wrong, it was much harder than I imagined.  Giant truck-sized boulders were scattered among thick spruce.  Enormous crevasses littered themselves between boulders.  The terrain was so difficult I couldn’t fathom enough snow falling to fill it all in.  I thought about turning around several times, but each time I dreaded going back more than I dreaded continuing forward.  It took me almost two hours from once I left the trail until I crawled to the start of the ice begging for mercy.

My spirits lifted when I saw the gully filled with beautiful solid ice.  For a full length pitch, I enjoyed a continuous flow of grade 2 ice.  I fell into my rhythm of swings and kicks, focused solely on ice in front of me. Occasionally, some ice would break loose and fall away, echoing as it hit into the rocks.  A reminder of the vast amphitheater that I was climbing in.  At times, the wind would funnel down the gully, picking up snow and swirling it in a cold dance towards me. I lowered my head and let it pass each time.  The wind tried to push me backward, as if I did not belong.  But I knew I did, at least for this brief while.   A short steep step led me to the upper ice which was at a lower angle with a few short bulges.  I stopped more frequently here and took in my surroundings.  Eventually the ice relented to a rock and vegetation finish.  I hit the Mt. Clay summit loop trail immediately when I topped out, as it hugs the lip of the gulf.

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I never saw anyone all day and nor would I during the night and majority of the next day.  Now I stood on the summit of Mt. Clay with no one else in sight on the ridge.  I sat down in a wind-sheltered area and looked back at where I had come from.  I couldn’t think of my time in the gulf spent any other way. It had granted me my solitude.  It was as it was meant to be.  I imagined the entirety of the Great Gulf as it expanded, shuttered, and devoured the nearby peaks.  I imagined the Great Gulf as it swallowed me too.

 

Photographs by Courtney Ley (click on images to enlarge)

 

 

 

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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where and When?

 A Guide to Early Season Ice

Tucks 10-19-2013

Tuckermans Ravine, Mt Washington NHs  10-19-2013

Every year it is a little different. When and where we will find the first Ice to Cimb? It is time to start looking.  Time  to start looking at the weather, to sharpen the gear and get the pack ready. And of course, stay tuned to NEice. If there is ice, we will find it!

Below is what we have seen over the last few years for early season ice with dates, and related stories.

Cover photo:   Alfonzo

2012

October 13  – MT Katahdin  ME.  Alfonzo and I hit the pot of gold…the best earliest season ice we have ever climbed in the Northeast. Also see The Season of the Witch.

November 5 – Defiance in Huntington Ravine.  We were determined, by hook and crook we were climbing up a gully.

November 6 – The Black Dike Goes Down!! The unofficial start to to the Ice Climbing season.

November 12 – “P.F. Flyer” King Ravine. We found some excellent early season ice.

December 8 – Take a ride UP “Standard Rt”. WooKong takes to the air.

Katie - Huntington Ravine

Katie Ives enjoying some great early season ice climbing on Damnation Gully, Huntington Ravine, Mt. Washington NH. 10/29/2011

2011

October 6 – We beat the sun for the “First Ice” Planing is everything.

October 25 – Fall Meets Winter The transition to winter is so beautiful

October 29 – Game ON! Here we go!

November 4 – “Trick or Treat?” What is going on?

November 6 – Pinnacle Gully, IN!  Arethusa Falls , Not IN!

November 13 – Is this Ice Climbing? King Ravine NH – It’s all relative.

November 30 – False Start. – 5 yard penalty – repeat first down.

December 19 –  No “Small Victory” Fafnir, Cannon Cliff NH

2010

October 10 – Let the “Games” begin! The Start!

November 3 – Right on Schedule! – The Black Dike comes in as predicted.

November 24 – The Ice is Back!  – A warm spell took out what little ice we had.

December 7 – Pinnacle Gully, Huntington Ravine – Full on Winter!

2009

October 15 – “Pinnacle Gully”  The cold came in early, it looked like a great start, then the warm up!

November 8 – If you want to climb ice, you can find it! Turf climbing an’t so bad!

November 24 – Where is the ice? What a difference a year makes

December 9 – “The Black Dike”. A very late start for “The Dike”.

December 18 – “Hassig’s Direct”. A variation of The Black Dike on Cannon Cliff.

Some Early Season Photos

Other Information

Go to NEice Weather. We have all the info you need to plan your early season trip

Our Classified Section has great deals on gear. Sell or buy to get ready for the upcoming season.

Looking for a climbing partner? Our Partners Section is the perfect place to start.

I hope your looking forward to the upcoming Ice Season as much as I am. What will Mother Nature give us this year?

-Doug Millen

North Gully, Huntington Ravine 2.22.13

     

 

The calm before the storm and another beautiful day in the alpine zone. One week earlier Doug and I enjoyed the “calm” with entirely different conditions in Madison Gulf.  This time we experienced mid March weather on February 22.

Enjoy and get ready for the long days of March.

Alan Cattabriga

Click images to enlarge.

Photos from our day

Photos by Doug Millen & Alan Cattabriga

 

Ice!

From the NEIce Gallery, a Members Sample.

The view from Mt. Colden, ADK

 
The ice is here and with this snow, it will only get better!  Enjoy some shots provided by NEice members from  New York, Vermont & New Hampshire spanning the last two weeks. Thank you to everyone for posting info and/or images! Doug and all of us that attempt to help out here are very appreciative.
Get psyched! ~ AC

Photographs by;  Broken Spectre, Amy, WooKong, Coup, The Rockytop, tfarr3,  AOC, Wewidlund, adkmorgan,  Jacon & afendres.

Clink on images to enlarge.

 

Standard Rt. Frankenstein Cliff, Crawford Notch, NH 12/8/12

Things are starting to happen down on the lower elevations. The ice just wants to grow. We saw ice on most climbs today in Crawford Notch. Nothing safe or climbable but it  is just waiting to form. As soon as cold weather moves in we are all set.

Below is some footage that our newest NEice team member, WooKong, shot today of Standard Rt.

P.F. Flyer and More!

The Head Wall – King Ravine

It was a great weekend for ice climbing up on the “Rock Pile”. NEice team members found plenty of early season ice.

Team member Courtney Ley and partner Joel Dashnaw reported thick ice on Pinnacle Gully. Courtney said “it was taking 16cm screws” and the water flow was not bad at all. Look for her photos here.

Lori Crowningshield finda "FAT" ice in Damnation Gully

Lori Crowningshield finds “FAT” ice in Damnation Gully

Team Member Emilie Drinkwater and partner Lori Crowningshield climbed “Damnation” and found good ice also. “It was a little scrappy at the top in the sun”, but very enjoyable and a beautiful day to be in the ravine. On Sunday, Emilie and Jesse did “Shoestring Gully” in Crawford Notch and found it thin but climbable and a little slushy at the top.

Ted Hammond nearing the top of the Mullet slab

Alfonzo and Ted Hammond climbed the Mullet slabs on Mt. Lincoln in Franconia Notch and had a great day out. Look for some of his photos in the photo post section soon.

P.F. Flyer

Google Map

Google Map

Fred Bieber and I headed in to King Ravine to see what we could find. We found plenty of ice and set our eyes on ” P.F. Flyer”. I have always wanted to climb it but the conditions have never been right. Today they were. That side of the ravine never gets sun this time of year so conditions and timing were ripe. It was good to do it before the snow gets too deep. As it was, we were thigh deep in snow at times.

Let’s hope this warm up does not do much damage.

Below are some photos of the climb. Enjoy! (click to enlarge)

Doug Millen

Fred coming up on the lower section

 

The crux of P.F. Flyer

 

Great ice higher up on the climb

Fred topping out on the last bit of ice climbing

 

Defiance in Huntington Ravine

Odells, Pinnacle Ridge/Gully, Central & Harvard Slabs
11-4-12

The reports were calling for a super storm, another “perfect storm”. A cold front and hurricane combining forces over the mid-Atlantic states. I feel for the folks in NYC, Jersey, anyone that’s had their lives turned inside out by this storm. Here in New Hampshire it was not so bad, for Sandy  collided into the coastline far to south. After the storm abated, the cold air started to flow into New England.  I was sure that by Sunday, there would be ice to climb in the ravine. That’s what I told myself and my friends anyway.  If the weather played out as scripted, visions of perfect new ice danced in my head. However, what is forecasted is not always what one gets. For the more extreme weather scenario prediction is given. Most of my time in the mountains during the early season, no matter how many small animals are sacrificed, I am denied the desired weather. This past Sunday was a no different. Sunny early, though the fog tried its best to defend the delicate ice from the sun’s rays. And temperatures were cold, but not cold enough. But we were determined, by hook and crook we were climbing up a gully, happily dealing with our roll of the dice.

Pinnacle Ridge & Gully

After a pseudo view of Odells, all scrappy looking with water launching out of the fog into our limited view, Yale was the logical choice . It’s water flow is one of the lesser of all the gullies. Moving over the talus along the lower headwall we got a limited look into Pinnacle Gully. Spray was frozen to the walls of rock on ether side and a gushing cascade ran down the middle split by islands of ice.  We joked as to the whereabouts of Rockytop. He was not up there, we figured he was wading up the Black Dike instead.

 Of Yale Gully

Approaching the starting corner (center) Photo-Leaf

With no surprised to any of us, the slab start to Yale was delaminated badly. But there is a corner closer to the Harvard Slabs, up and left and to us, this was climbable.  This section was an exercise in balance and trust. Seventy feet of sketchy tool and foot placements on thin ice and rock running with water. Then an escape guarded by tough rock moves through a bulge with a bottomed-out seam to dry tool. Leaf led up this first and gave us the illusion of  something considerably easier than what was there.

Mike topping out of the first section. Photo-Leaf

Above this we moved back and forth, ether on ice or over semi-frozen ground  until halfway up the headwall. From here to the top,  the soluble ice was followed directly. Being there was four of us, whomever was last had considerably less ice to work with. Somehow, it worked out that Mikeg was that person. Three more portions that required all of one’s attention lurked above.

A slip in any of these areas would have nasty results. But the moves through these sections were brilliant. Yale on this day was no easy gully. The final crease to the lip was beautiful. Frosted rocks with prehistoric looking icicles, hanging down lined the snow dusted gully.

A gusty NW wind pushed us across  the Alpine Gardens to the Lion Head trail. With some sunshine and clouds slowly lifting, the views were wonderful. The day was as good as it could be. And though in a place I’ve  been too uncountable times, it was all new again. A typically easy route had bore it’s teeth and we rolled with it.

The Lion’s Head

 

 

 


~Text and photos , Alan Cattabriga

Thanks to Courtney for her photos and Doug for everything.

Early Season Luck On Katahdin – 1

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Katahdin, Maine 10-13-2012

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Photos by Doug Millen & Alan Cattabriga

Frankenstein Cliff NH 1/1/12

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Dropline 1/1/12

 

 

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The Penguin 1/1/12

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Smear 1/1/12

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Pegasus, Rock Finish variation & Hobbit Couloir 1/1/12

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Chia 1/1/12