Go North, Old Man!

A Trip Report

Parc National des Grand Jardins in Quebec

by Alden Pellett 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mont Gros Bras

Notable winter routes:

“P’tite Tête,” WI4+R,M6R. 175M.

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

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

“Hals und Beinbruch,” M6+. 230M.

 

Mur des Crapauds

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

Notable winter routes:

“Convention Collective,” WI4+R. 90M

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Where to eat and sleep:

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

Baie St. Paul

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 


Area Map

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

 

The Technical Traverse

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

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

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

by Michael Wejchert

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

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

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

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

Justin and Ryan about to summit Clay - The Technical Traverse

Justin and Ryan about to summit Mt. Clay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan climbing Pinnacle - The Technical Traverse

Ryan climbing Pinnacle gully by head lamp

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

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

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

A few more photos:

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

Related Story 

Playing Pachinko on Mt- Webster


Black Pudding Gully

Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival 2017

Out For Some Exercise

It’s been a great year for “Black Pudding Gully”. Hardly a gully, this climb can be steep and challenging at times, but it is fat and wide this year. And has seen a lot of traffic. It has been many years since I have climbed it, so we figured we would go have a look. Surely by now it would be stepped and hooked out making for an easy solo. Just what we needed, a little physical and mental exercise for our midday break. But we were late and two other parties of three were in front of us having fun climbing this classic line. So we took a line less traveled. A nice ice flow just to the right. It was steep and candled but Alden took one look and said “If I can’t climb that, I should not be going to Newfoundland”. He walked right up it with grace and confidence. I followed, it was just what I was looking for. BAKP showed us she is ready for harder climbs making it to the top easily with only a few squeaks ;-). Off I went to heat up the soup. Fred followed the climb and then, the Black Pudding Gully was standing alone, ready for Alden to climb before heading back for his Ice Fest responsibilities.

Black-Pudding-1

Don’t be deceived, the climb is very for-shortened in this photo. It’s longer and more vertical than it appears on both climbs. Black Pudding Gully on the left, Alden climbing on the right.- Doug Millen

Black-Pudding-2

Alden working the climb.- Doug Millen

BlackPudding-ME2

Me climbing Black Pudding Gully in the 80’s…Note the lack of a helmet, and the straight shaft tools you can’t see. I slung the column then put in two airated screws, and then headed to the top for good gear.

Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest 2017

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I love this event!!! So good to see everyone. It’s like a big family reunion! My only regret is not enough time to do all I wanted to do, or enough time to spend with everyone I wanted to see. I can’t wait till next year.

Many thanks to the MWV Ice Fest crew for all the hard work they do to put this event together. Thanks to all the sponsors that make this event possible. And to the guides for sharing their expertise of this amazing sport. And IME and Theater In The Woods for hosting, and to IMCS for coordinating all the guides. And thanks to all of you that attended, to make this the biggest, and best Ice Fest in the North East!

– Doug Millen

Flying High over the 20th ADK Mountainfest

Solo had a great time at the 20th ADK Mountainfest and captured some spectacular images. His first trip to the Adirondacks and he can’t wait to return. Many thanks to The Mountaineer and Rock and River for all the hospitality.

Also see a Photo Recap of the 20th Mountainfest from The Mountaineer

 

Photos by Solo, flown by Doug Millen


 

Ryan climbing some exposed ice during the trip - Alden Pellett

Newfoundland 2015

A Trip Report

by Ryan Stefiukbigfootmountainguides.com

Newfoundland

The MV (marine vessel) Leif Ericson crunches through sea ice in the Cabot Strait. The ship’s hull groans and 2-3 meter thick ice buckles underneath. Cracks in the ice expose the intimidating midnight blue waters of the North Atlantic. I see the long low hills of the Cape Breton Highlands off to my right, signaling our arrival in Nova Scotia and the end of my stay in Newfoundland. Leaving this place is always bittersweet. Newfoundland---Boat-ice---RyanWinter trips in hideously cold weather make me long for home; to share a warm space on my couch or bed with my partner and dog. Newfoundland’s landscape and it’s people captivate me though and it saddens me to leave. I am deeply satisfied yet physically spent and tired of the cold.

How does one measure the success of a climbing trip? Is it by how hard one climbed, or by whether one sent their project? Is it by the number of days climbed, areas visited, or routes completed? Can you measure success with first ascents? How about by the number of friends made or visited along the way?

Newfoundland-Sled---RyanIt’s hard for me to say exactly what made this trip to Newfoundland successful. Alden Pellett, Christopher Beauchamp and I got along great and laughed often, and that counts for a lot on any extended trip. Deep in the Newfoundland backcountry we climbed several really long ice lines – some as long as 1800′. Several of the lines we climbed were probably first ascents and check in at WI5+ or WI6. We climbed classic ice lines established by the Joe’s – Joe Terravecchia and Joe Josephson – on a wall that’s as classic as any 3 pitch wall in North America. We made new friends and reconnected with old ones. Newfoundland is famous for having gracious and hospitable people, and my expectations are continuously surpassed.Newfoundland-Ryan-Climbing---Alden

Over the years many people have climbed ice in western Newfoundland (pronounced newfin-LAND, with the accent on “land”). Paul Fenton, an outfitter in Nain, Labrador, climbed in many of the fjords, and Jim Bridwell spent some time there in the 90’s with him. In the late 90’s Joe Terravecchia and Casey Shaw began climbing there. They have explored the area heavily over the last 20 years, and have brought many other northeasterners along during that time.

It was one of Joe’s slideshows at the Adirondack Mountainfest that finally encouraged Alden Pellett and me to visit for the first time back in 2008. Initially, Joe and Casey were deliberately vague about where and what they’d climbed. This peeved me. I didn’t understand why anyone would be so secretive about the locations of climbs. Did they care so much about first ascents that they were unwilling to share information? Maybe, but I don’t think so. After five trips to the island, and Newfoundland-climb---Aldenvisits to many of the fjords, I realize the brilliance of their decision to keep quiet. It takes two days to get to Newfoundland during good weather. The wind and blowing snow is hideous. The climbs are all in the backcountry. There are no other climbers, no guidebooks, no bolts, and no chance of a timely rescue if something goes wrong. Ice climbing in Newfoundland is about adventure.

NewFoundland---Climbing---RyanI know I’ll be back again. Maybe not next winter because I’ll be in nursing school. After that for sure though. Like those that have come before me, my vagueness about climbing in Newfoundland is deliberate. I want to preserve the experiences I’ve had and cherish so that others can be as fortunate as I have been.

Many thanks to Terry Hynes, Bevin Goosney, Brad and Lamont Thornhill, Clayton, Rick Endicott, and Walt Nichol for showing us true Newfoundland hospitality. Thank you Casey Shaw and Joe Terravecchia for showing me the Newfoundland way. Thank you Michael and Alexa for letting us crash in North Conway before and after our trip and to Rob and Amy for letting us store a car in North Conway. All of these individuals helped make this year’s trip a great success.

Ryan climbing some exposed ice during the trip - Alden Pellett

Ryan climbing some exposed ice during the trip – Alden Pellett

Before the Thaw

By Matt Ritter

matt1

P2-4 of Cannonade Direct (red) Cannonade Direct Direct (yellow)

From the exposed ledges of the Whitney Gilman Ridge it would call to me. I’d snap seemingly random photographs and stare distractedly. I’d remind myself that as a guide I should remain focused. The giant corner system above the Cannonade Buttress is exposed and looms over the talus like an inverted cargo train. The steep face below is split by a series of cracks and seams that I visually kept following back to the base of this massive corner. In the winter, I’d rack up and wonder about the imposing prow which starts as a large corner, briefly evaporates mid cliff, and reasserts itself in steep prominence like a wave threatening to break on the talus beach.

Despite having made five attempts on this route with various partners, I knew that I could put it to rest this time. The source of this confidence being an extra five feet of ice not present during my last lean condition attempt. This ice made me think I wouldn’t need to place gear in the seemingly unprotectable terrain above my highpoint.

I have climbed on this route with some of the greatest members of our climbing community. Today was no exception, Jim Shimberg owner of Rhino Guides kept telling me I was “grilled” as we made upward progression. The icy cracks of the first pitch felt heavenly and went quickly. Snow conditions were perfect which made the technical pitch two traverse a sidewalk.

“In what felt like the boldest moment of my career, I forged upward. Now, too far above my gear to not hurt myself, perched on an overhanging arete above the talus, on a pitch I’ve lusted over for three seasons.”
matt2

Pitch One

Pitch three is where the business begins. Off the piton anchor, I clip a nest of gear and situate myself at the first crux where a splendid vertical slab becomes slightly overhanging. With both tools over my shoulder, I side pull crimp an edge, step my front points high onto nothing, and at full extension I virtually kiss my ice tool ‘goodbye’ to wrangle a solid matchable edge. Committed, a fall from here would land me below the belayer in a big swinging arc. Better not to fall. A couple solid tool placements and strenuous lock offs allows me to clip a great piton and bust some layback moves on a flake to gain a rest beneath a small roof.

matt3

Pitch Three

Reaching out over my left shoulder, I pull through the roof and high step into the next crux which feels like muckling a greased refrigerator with an iced up rattly hand crack on the left and an equally slick rattly finger crack on the right. Surmounting this block feels monumental.  After some steep cranking, I gain a good stemming rest and a short flaring corner that becomes an in-cut, kinda sidepull rail with good hooks and some tiny gear. Stellar, exposed climbing gains a tiny ledge which, with a micro wire, and a tiny fixed pecker a body length beneath my feet, provided much spice to mantle. Placing a great piton awkwardly at my knees, I was just a few moves from mantling onto the icy sloping ledge above. I’ve always said I was gonna kiss this ledge when I got there. Tough to describe the exuberance I felt from finally reaching this point. The rest of the pitch isn’t easy but comparatively its a walk in the park. I knew it was in the bag.

matt4

Yikes!

 

matt5

Pitch Three During a Previous Attempt

 

Topping out Cannonade Direct. Pitch 4 is a wonderful rock finish with good gear and cracks! Photo by Steve Robitshek

Topping out Cannonade Direct. Pitch 4 is a wonderful rock finish with good gear and cracks! Photo by Steve Robitshek

Michael Wejchert, and I met at Cannon Cliff the next day. I wanted to climb a variation to Cannonade Direct that would allow me to climb the entirety of the monstrous upper corner. Being a little sore from the previous three days of strenuous climbing, I slurped multiple infusions of Mate and blasted Rage Against the Machine. Another warm day. At the base of Cannonade Direct I racked up. Having climbed this amazing pitch five times, I have it rather dialed. I torqued iced up cracks, stemmed familiarly, and sloppily sped up the 65 meter pitch. Now for the variation! I situated myself under the first crux and placed a couple bomber knifeblades.  A right arching seam catered minuscule technical edges and tenuous high steps. The rock is bomber but I enjoyed a handful of whippers due to exploding micro flakes. Making these technical face moves earned me some awe-inspiring hooks and the most elegant horizontal finger crack which welcomed the necessary gear and an adequate rest before the next crux of gaining the ice.

I tapped my battered picks into the snowy little ledge. The ¼ inch space between ice and granite dispelled any myth of security. Wet snow pressed heavily on this precarious substrate. The rock beneath my ice tools was overhanging. I hoisted my front points up to my elbows placing them on perfect ⅜ inch edges. Finally some large footholds!! Here, with my ass in space and my ice tool moving to more secure rotten worthless ice, the ledge and ice curtain detach indifferently. Taking a big clean fall onto a bomber Lost Arrow I come tight on the rope before reaching terminal velocity. My head was down and I could see Michael looking at me as generously plump chunks of aerated ice pummeled me. Without lifting my head, Michael and I made eye contact. “I guess you’ll have to wait for a colder day.” Michael is smarter than I am. “I’m making it to that belay. I think it just got easier.”

Michael initiating the techy crux

Michael initiating the techy crux

I know I’ve got one shot. The holidays are upon us. The rain is upon us. My early season project’s ice will not form again. I lower to the ledge and fire the crux, pull gingerly onto the steep ice and build a belay at the base of the mythical corner.

P3 Cannonade Direct. Cannonade Direct Direct climbs into the base of the big brown corner via the ice smear to my right. Photo by Bayard Russell

P3 Cannonade Direct. Cannonade Direct Direct climbs into the base of the big brown corner via the ice smear to my right. Photo by Bayard Russell

Everything had felt pretty safe up to this point. Despite the repeated whips and long fall followed by a heat seeking deluge of frozen water missiles, I was climbing very well and felt invincible. Obviously mixed climbing is dangerous. Nothing about climbing Mean Streak, Prozac, or Daedalus is “safe.” In fact these climbs provide one with many opportunities to get hurt. I firmly believe that in these situations our safety hinges upon our mental state. There will always be objective hazard, but when I’m climbing well, I’m not climbing scared. Surviving one of these climbs by the skin of my teeth does not seem sustainable. No route is worth a broken ankle, face, or spinal cord. With that in mind, I pulled off the ledge and soon found myself with a couple cams a few feet beneath my boots. Cannon does in fact have pockets of very steep terrain. Trust me. I look for it. I was getting pumped and I almost bailed. Casually, I told Michael I might fall as I began to ponder my exit strategy. He didn’t argue but we both knew this wasnt gonna be pretty. Looking down, I saw a small edge. Still in control, I reminded myself that someday I wanted to be a bold climber. I looked up. In what felt like the boldest moment of my career, I forged upward. Now, too far above my gear to not hurt myself, perched on an overhanging arete above the talus, on a pitch I’ve lusted over for 3 seasons. I made one more move to a solid hook and a serendipitous cam placement. The climbing eased up slightly as steep snow filled cracks and an arete composed of gravity defying loose nonsense made me feel at home. Or was it that I wished I was at home? Either way, leaving my last gear behind and pulling around the corner onto featureless slabs covered in ½ inch snice kept my attention for the last 40 feet to the trees. Seriously, do not blow it here…

Cannonade Direct (red) and second to last pitch of Cannonade Direct Direct (yellow) in much leaner conditions.

Cannonade Direct (red) and second to last pitch of Cannonade Direct Direct (yellow) in much leaner conditions.

 

(Click on images to enlarge)

More on Matt

A Dose of Prozac and Some Positive Thinking

Matt Ritter Joins the MWV Ice Fest Team


Scottish Winter

Arch Enemy – Scottish V,5… it should be pretty moderate with good gear. 2 hours, 150 feet, one stopper, one shitty spectre at 80 feet threatening to torque out of the crack if it takes a fall, and a hard-fought hex at 110′ or so… Steep sugary powder, shitty sticks, feet threatening to disintegrate and send me tumbling, and that questioning feeling of “is this going to fucking hold?” with every swing and every kick. I climb at least half the route blind, alternating between glasses on and off at least 15 times as my face is sandblasted by 40mph winds and spindrift.

Where's the gear!?!?!?!

Where’s the gear!?!?!?!

Welcome to fucking Scotland!

It’s no wonder the Brits kill it in the greater ranges. The approaches are long, the ice quality is shit, the pro is hard-fought, and the weather absolutely blows. And this is on the nice and easy days!

Scottish Winter

article by Patrick Cooke
 

I was in Scotland this past week  to take part in the the BMC’s International Winter Meet, an event held every two years to bring climbers from around the world together to experience what winter climbing in Scotland is all about. For six days, I’d be paired with British climbers and have an opportunity to see what Scottish winter climbing is all about.

It’s important to note I didn’t say “ice climbing” here, because my first day out, and the whole trip in general, highlighted that Scottish winter climbing is NOT ice climbing as we know it. You’re not going to find waterfalls to rival the Lake or Poko in Scotland. Instead you’re going to find verglassed rock, rime ice, turf, and good old-fashioined mixed climbing. In essence, you’ll find a bit of everything you’d find in the greater ranges, all packed into Scotland’s short, yet impressive mountains.

Day One: The Obligatory Visitor’s Sandbag

The first day was about introductions – getting to know Stuart, my host, and getting a feel for what climbing in Scotland would be like. With high winds and some dangerous avy conditions forecasted, we decided to stay local and hit up a relatively new crag in the Cairngorms called Cha No. From the onset I knew I was in for it… as we ascended and turned a corner, the wind just tore at my face. All I could think was “I really wish I hadn’t shaved my beard!”

This doesn't bode well...

This doesn’t bode well…

Rapping into Cha No gave us some respite from the wind, which we of course wasted by turning the corner and starting up Arch Enemy. Nearly 2 hours of groveling ensued, eventually digging through the cornice and secure ground only to be entirely in the path of the wind. I really wish my goggles weren’t securely stowed in my pack at the top of the rap-in point.

The rest of the day was cake: We stayed out of the wind, climbed some cruiser moderate lines, and made it back to the cars just before dark. First at the cliff, last to leave – a sign of a good day of climbing!

Finding more reasonable protection on Chimney Rib

Finding more reasonable protection on Chimney Rib

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Two: Don’t Trust the Locals

One of the unique things about Scotland is that you need to earn your climbing. Approaches of an hour and a half are short in Scotland. Day two saw us driving to Glen Coe (some 2+ hours from the Glenmore Lodge where we were staying) to head up to climb at Stob Coire nan Lachlan (I doubt this is how you spell it, but another thing about the Scots, they don’t speak the same language as we do!). It’s about a 90 minute uphill hike into the “Corrie”, unless you head up the wrong valley first!

Fortunately, we didn’t get too far up the wrong valley and only added about 40 minutes of walking to our day. Once in the proper Corrie (probably around 11am), we found parties on nearly everything, but we timed it well enough not to have to wait too long for one of the classics in the area – Scabbard Chimney. Unfortunately, we didn’t really find the chimney – too much snow and ice! Instead of pushing ourselves and seeing how Scottish grades really related to what I was used to here in the US, we just had a quick romp.

Where's the chimney? Stuart Lade finds cruiser climbing on Scabbard Chimney

Where’s the chimney? Stuart Lade finds cruiser climbing on Scabbard Chimney

We then did another classic line – Ordinary Route. Again, deep snow and a lack of gear added a little bit of spice to the occasion on otherwise quite straight-forward climbing.

 

Day Three: Best Laid Plans

There is one mountain in Scotland that does NOT involve a long approach: Meall Gorm. Two and a half hours of driving saw us at the base with only a 15-minute approach between us and the cliff.

NOT winter conditions

NOT winter conditions

Unfortunately it also saw temperatures at about 5 degrees celsius and nearly a complete lack of winter conditions on our intended lines. Up the soggy gully it was to make sure we got some climbing in!

Nothing like climbing liquid mud and loose rock...

Nothing like climbing liquid mud and loose rock…

 

 

 

 

 

How you salvage a day... drytool soloing!

How you salvage a day… drytool soloing of course!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Four: Plan B

For the second half of the week I’d be climbing with a new host, Martin. We met up Wednesday night after Nick Bullock’s hilarious slideshow (of which his exploits on Cathedral last year were a big piece) and Martin had a brilliant plan in store: the Central Buttress of Ben Eighre (pronounced “Ben-A”… have I mentioned that the Scots can’t spell?).

It’s a two and a half hour approach up to the Central Buttress. Here in the Northeast that would constitute a remote backcountry crag. We were the 7th party in line to get on the Central Buttress!

Conga Lines on Ben Eighre

Conga Lines on Ben Eighre

Off it was to the classic moderate West Buttress route while the the masses waited for the lead party to finish a 3-hour lead on the crux pitch of Central! Suckers!

From the top of the West Buttress

From the top of the West Buttress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Five: Have I Mentioned that Scottish Weather is Crap?

Forecasted 90-100 mile winds across the Scottish mountains, and rain. What is one to do?

6 meter route... 4 meter fall...

6 meter route… 4 meter fall…

Drytool of course! Nothing like a 4 meter fall on a 6 meter route to get your day started! Or to lose grip on your tool, have it fall, hit you in the helmet, and then tumble 100′ directly at your belayer who is tied into a tree! Good thing for gri-gris! And who invited the jackass American to the crag?!

Day Six: Pay Day

Somehow, my crampons nearly skewering his neck and my tool nearly eviscerating him the day before didn’t convince Mark that I was a liability, so he invited Martin and I to join him and his guest for our final day out on the Meet. Our goal, a four-star ice route in the Ben Eighre area called Poachers’ Falls.

Sunrise heading into Poachers' Falls

Sunrise heading into Poachers’ Falls

Poachers’ isn’t particularly hard, but true waterfall ice is somewhat rare in Scotland, and what it lacked in steepness, it made up for in setting: 3 pitches of fun climbing overlooking Ben Eighre, the mountains of Torridon, the North Atlantic, and the Hebrides. Combine this with a great partner, and another party of good people on the route, and you have a great cap to an amazing trip.

Views coming off of Poachers' Falls

Views coming off of Poachers’ Falls

*****

 The International Winter Meet was a fantastic opportunity to meet other climbers from around the world, share in a common love of winter and suffering, and learn a thing or two about how this crazy sport we all love came about. If you have a chance, head over to Scotland: the ice is crap, but man, the climbing is awesome, and the local climbers are a blast to share a rope with!

Big Wall Fun in Baxter

The Tabor Wall

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.

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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

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.

P1020224With 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.

P1020229

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.

P1020233

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.P1020255

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!

P1020280

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!

P1020301

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

[mappress mapid=”18″] 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

Suckers Aren't Made

Far North: Suckers Aren’t Made

Michael Wejchert channels his inner Hermann Buhl and runs a Presidential Range Ice Marathon

Running Water in King's. Good for Hydration.

Running Water in King’s. Good for Hydration.

 

“I blame Hermann Buhl. That rat bastard. For those of you who don’t know (a lot of hands are still up), Hermann Buhl was the Austrian nut who soloed his ass off in the 1950’s. He rode a bike, hitchhiked, slept in hayfields, and did all sorts of stupid stuff to go climbing. This culminated in his epic, 41-hour solo ascent of Nanga Parbat in 1953. Unfortunately, it also killed him the next year when a cornice broke on Chogalisa (no, not a Mexican restaurant, a big mountain in the Himalayas). When I was in High School, I read his book, Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage about as many times as I watched Star Wars: A New Hope. A shit ton.”

Read the story here: http://farnorthclimbing.blogspot.com/2013/11/suckers-arent-made.html

The Great Gulf

The Great Gulf

PB090072

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.

PB090086                                               PB090093

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.

PB090036

PB090035

‘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.

PB090045    PB090051    PB090061     PB090054

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)