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 - Early season in Baxter State Park

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

by Doug Millen

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

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

The early season modes of transportation - Baxter State Park

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

The modes of transport at Roaring Brook - Baxter State Park

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin starting up the big wall - Baxter State Park

Kevin starting up the big wall

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

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

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

Kevin climbing out of the chimney - Baxter State Park

Kevin climbing out of the chimney

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

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

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

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

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

Bayard on “Walk on the Wild Side”

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

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

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

Humping out big loads - Baxter State Park

Big Loads

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

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

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

Photos by Doug Millen – Click to Enlarge

More photos from our trip

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

Area Map

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

The Crew

Doug Millen

Kevin Mahoney – Mahoney Alpine Adventures 

Bayard Russell Jr. – Cathedral Mountain Guides

Michael Wejchert – See his blog post of the trip 

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

Relates Stories

Early Season Luck On Katahdin

Katahdin Tales

Mt. Katahdin Maine – A trip Report

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:

The Great Gulf

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.



‘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)




Huntington Dreams

By Courtney Ley


Dawn on Pinnacle Gully

Dawn on Pinnacle Gully.

It was dawn.  Admittedly, there was some anxiety.  I was well aware I was alone.  The winds blew crystallized snow in my face at a high rate of speed, accompanied by the occasional gust with enough force to move my body.  It was freezing.  Gearing up felt like it took hours because I’d have to warm my hands back up after I took off my gloves in order to gain enough dexterity to tighten my boot laces or figure out what the hell to do with those long pesky ends to my crampon straps.  All the awhile, I stood at a base of a route I’ve never climbed unroped before. Not to mention alone.  I looked up at the ice.  Things always look more daunting when they are dimly lit, right?  I was familiar with the route. I knew what was around the next corner and above the next bulge.  On the start to this day, however, for any or none of the reasons stated above, it required that conscious effort to turn my brain off and just start climbing. So I did just that and I took my first swing into the ice of Pinnacle Gully.

I had entered this world of bizarre ice formations, undoubtedly from the few freeze-thaw cycles of late season, but I didn’t quite feel like I was in Pinnacle Gully.  The clouds hung low and it was snowing, obscuring my views.  The familiarity of the ravine left me quickly.  I suddenly felt like I was in a strange place.  I had not yet reached the top of the first ice section when it happened.  My tool hit the ice and the result was a very loud CRACK followed by a large vibration that felt like the ice was shifting underneath me.  I don’t remember what my first thought was besides envisioning the entire ice route collapsing with me in tow, but I do remember starting to climb over and away from where I was to find more solid ice.  I also tried not to be hesitant swinging hard for a good stick, for obvious reasons, but I was slightly shaken.  When I reached the top of the first pitch, I was never so relieved to see a pathetic little ramp of broken up snow.


Pinnacle Gully.

The rest of the gully was anything but straight forward, but at least the large areas of unbonded snow and ice were obvious so I could maneuver around the sketchiest sections.  I feel more comfortable making delicate and tricky moves then climbing a large blob of ice without having much idea whats under it, for example, a large amount of air.  So my focus was easily regained and I topped out to the usual hurricane force winds of the alpine garden.

Looking at South Gully

Looking at South Gully topping out of Pinnacle.

I wished I remembered to bring my balaclava.  Views began to open and then close up as the winds also knocked the clouds around.  I took a little time to watch the horizon appear and disappear before my frozen face asked that I please move out such an exposed place.  South Gully is a fairly quick descent as the grade gives way towards the bottom and I could quit down-climbing and simply walk down.  The distance to Odells was short and the sight of the no frills and thrills gully was welcoming.  The forecast called for decreasing winds and “in the clear under sunny skies” later in the day, so when I topped out of Odells, I patiently walked across the lip of the ravine in the same strong gusts hoping I wouldn’t have to endure that all day.  I had a lot of questions on my mind walking under the starry yet snowy skies of pre-dawn.  My headlamp gave me an idea what was about ten feet in front of me, but I wondered what was 2,500 feet higher than me. One of those questions was what lower Diagonal would look like in such scant snow, late April conditions.  The last time I used Diagonal to descend was in a high snow year and negotiating around Harvard and Yale bulges was a no-brainer.  It turned out I needed to traverse all the way across in some bushes to the start of Damnation Gully in order to reach the fan safety and not get cliffed out.  That was ok with me at the time because I was heading toward North Gully.

I stopped at the base of North for the first time since I left my car at 4:00 a.m. and ate a few things.  It was now around 9:00 a.m.  I decided to take the path of least resistance into the entrance of North so I skipped the bottom half of the ice.  Going up the subsequent ice bulges, it was clear they were feeling the heat from the previous days as they began to levitate off of the snow.  I didn’t feel like anything was going to collapse but I did feel better when I was able to reach my tool passed the hollow ice over into the hard snow.  The snow gave way to rocks and vegetation eventually and I wound my way in between boulders and bushes to Nelson Crag.  By the time I topped out, the winds started to decrease, the clouds all blew off and the sun began roasting the ravine.  The ice in the alpine garden was disappearing rapidly.  With three more routes to complete, I was wishing for those cloud to return.


Levitating ice in North Gully.

On my way down Diagonal, I exchanged hellos with three climbers on their way up and headed towards Damnation Gully.  Two years ago when I was attempting this same plan, I looked up at the first ice step from the start of the route and my immediate reaction was that I didn’t want to climb it unroped.  Sticking with that initial feeling and knowing that it would never be a wrong decision, I never even climbed up for a closer look.  This year, with more experience behind me, I didn’t hesitate to climb up to the first ice step for a look.  In this gully, the snow moats were big and getting to the ice required a lot of careful steps.  The ice itself was big and of questionable quality. I lingered at the base and almost talked myself out of climbing it but once I took a few swings, kicked my feet in and worked a few moves up, it seemed solid enough for me to continue.  When I reached the crux ice step, I thought less and climbed more.  But maybe that was due to the fact that the snow bridge was crumbling under my feet and for the first time, the ice was the safer medium. The ice all over the ravine looked nice and soft, but every time I was fooled.  The forgiving spring ice was rarely encountered.

The sudden change from vertical to horizontal hit me again as I topped out on Damnation Gully.  This time, as I reached the huge rock cairn at the start of the summer trail, I sat down for my second short break of the day.  I may have just been delaying the inevitable tediousness of down-climbing Diagonal again.


The second ice step in Damnation Gully.

With the end of Diagonal in sight (again), I stopped for a minute to look back up the gully and noticed a climber hanging out at the top, perhaps waiting for me to finish before he started down.  The snow had turned slushy under the suns rays and a fleet of battle-ready snowballs rolled off with each step downwards.  Whether or not he was waiting for me to finish before launching his snowball attack, I wasn’t sure.  I was glad that my next gully was right at the bottom of Diagonal.  Less down meant less up.  My heels had been in a lot of pain going up North and Damnation.  For some reason, my usually comfortable boots decided to revolt and I was getting hot spots.  I stopped for breaks frequently on my way up for some relief.  When I was getting ready to head up Yale, I noticed the climber on top of Diagonal was already down, having jogged his way to where I was.  He was having a lot of fun doing it and it made me crack a smile.  Diagonal, for me, felt too steep and I was feeling tired, so I chose to down-climb it each time.  We had a quick conversation and when I told him about my day, he was psyched for me and it boosted my energy levels.


One of the countless moats.

I bypassed almost every ice section on Yale because I felt like I’d pushed my luck enough on Pinnacle and Damnation.  The heat of the day was waning but the sound of running water was still everywhere and the occasional sounds of ice collapsing could be heard, especially on Harvard bulge.  Going up the snow ramp riddled with moats and crevasses was enough excitement for me.  It was around 2:30 pm as I was halfway up Yale and for the first time I started allowing myself to feel like I could complete what I had set out to do.  I was glad to see the top out on Yale covered in some snow and before long I was staring back down Diagonal.  Before I started down, I walked over to the top of Central to take a look at the conditions.  I saw a line of safe passage and I deemed it ‘good enough’.  My only motivation to start down was the fact that this was the last time I had to do it.  I’m not sure why, but down-climbing murders my wrists.  Maybe it’s from my carpal tunnels, but just as it was necessary for my heels, I had to stop frequently for pain relief.

I met back up with the the climber who had skipped down Diagonal.  He went over to Damnation after we parted and did some climbing in there.  He offered me water and some encouragement. Then later I heard some cheers once I started traversing across to Central.  Continuously climbing for nearly 12 hours straight was taking it’s toll and his cheer was energizing.  Now with him heading out, I was alone again in the ravine.  Since the safest way back to fan from Diagonal was to traverse all the way over the Damnation’s start, I was not looking forward to hiking it all the way back across in sub par snow conditions.  I just put my head down and walked slowly and deliberately, keeping in mind not to stop under Harvard Bulge.  I dug deep for the willpower to just keep moving towards Central and not bailing.  Someone had skied across and I used their tracks as a narrow sidewalk but my feet would slide occasionally.  I took the time to create a good step before I put my weight on it.  It may have been unnecessary to be that cautious but I figured I still had plenty of daylight to take it easy.

It was 4:00 pm when I looked up at Central’s first ice bulge and attempted to muster the energy to walk towards it. I took my third and last short break of the day and fueled up.  By this time, the sun had fallen low enough and most of the ravine was in a shadow.  I was glad the snow and ice in Central had an hour or two to freeze back up by the time I reached it.  I followed an existing boot pack, as I did on some of the other gullies which saved my calves.  The first ice bulge was, for a change, straight forward.  This came after I had to step across a deep crevasse that reminded me of a glacial bergshrund.  The last ice.  I thought I was home free.  I had gotten that quick glance of the top of the route and there would be some loose rock to pick through in order to exit and the snow was broken up but it looked ok from that vantage point.  I wasn’t ready for what I saw.  It wasn’t a snow slog. It was what looked like a mile of low angle ice waiting for me.  All of the snow had melted out and glazed over during the past week.  I put my head down for a moment to collect myself.  I took a deep breath.  It was a fight up until the very last moment.  I was forced to swing my tool into the hard ice which sent pains from my wrists down my arms.  My calves suddenly decided they had had enough as well.  Refusing to be casual on this top section was my top priority.  With nothing to stop me from sliding all the way down to the base of the route except for large pointy rocks, I climbed slowly, making every stick and kick bombproof despite whatever pain I was feeling.

In a perfect ending, the sun hit my face at the exact second of topping out.  I had removed my sunglasses about two hours ago but gladly squinted at the sudden beam of light.  I stood on top of Central looking at my shadow across the ravine. It was 5:00 pm. The top of the ravine was now all bare rock as the passing afternoon had melted the ice away.  Spring felt like it just arrived.  It marked the official end to my winter and my ice climbing season.  I felt overwhelming satisfaction and contentment.  The wind had completely died off and the still air made a silent moment even quieter.


Ready for spring.

I spent 15.5 hours, from car to car, climbing snow and ice in some of the most bizarre conditions I’ve seen.  It was clear.. I was in Huntington Ravine. A place that immediately drew me in from the first time I saw it not too long ago.  And every time I step out into the floor of the ravine, I am struck by its intense nature.  It is a place of raw beauty.  A place where that beauty can turn savage almost without warning.    A place where I can dream up seemingly endless challenges for myself, push my limits and continue to discover my boundaries as I change as a person and as a climber.  That is what Huntington Ravine means to me.  And for those who know me well, know what this day meant to me.


(All of the photos from the day – click to enlarge)

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The Wilford Finish

Peter Doucette &  Michael Wejchert refusing to give up winter!

The alarm went off at 5:30 a.m.
Staggering downstairs, I pushed aside empty PBR cans and groped for the french press. The high school themed party (I never thought I’d dress like a guidance counselor before) was a rollicking success. While I wisely stayed away from whiskey and other such temptations, my room, located 15 feet away from the epicenter of revelries, afforded little chance of rest.
Let’s just say the optimism and excitement that usually welcomes in the ice season is gone by March. But with Alaska trips coming up, Peter Doucette and I thought it’d be good to stay sharp. While most friends are clipping bolts in the Red River Gorge and planning for the spring’s rock objectives, I’ve been trying to maintain winter climbing ability.

Read the rest here..

Source: – Michael Wejchert


Never Stay Home – Erik Eisele

“At 11 a.m. this morning my (non-climbing) plans for the day fell apart. I suddenly had five hours of daylight but no objective or partner. “Perfect,” I thought, “a chance to wrestle with the art of climbing firsthand. An opportunity to forgo a rope in search of focus, to see what I can learn from the experience.

Three hours later and 200 feet off the ground, the ice reared cold and ruthless in my face. One pick felt rattly, the other was surrounded by white, fractured ice. My feet were good, but a bulge forced me off balance “What the fuck am I doing?” I thought as my hands started to ache. “I’m no soloist. This shit will get me killed.”…. Read the rest here


Photo: Dracula 12-16-12

Photo: Dracula 12-16-12

Photos and words by Erik Eisele

The Season of the Witch


Tricks and Treats

The first ice climb of the season is an eventful day for all of us. As fortune would have it, every year over the last decade, I’ve found good ice in the month of October. And over the last five years I’ve shared this day with my good friend and NEIce founder, Doug Millen.  As autumn starts to wain, areas that are familiar transform to the unusual. The places we know are slowly morphing towards winter as they slip into dormancy. Moving from brown ground and fall foliage, to winter conditions and back in just hours is a wonderful experience. This time of year also offers one of my favorite treats, approaches made over frozen trails in sneakers.
One does not need any special skills to experience this, however a few ingredients need to blend together. Paying attention to the weather, thinking about a given climb’s aspect and water flow. Then lastly, having desire and passion for this equals commitment which can get you to these beautifully surreal places. And if you’re timing is right on,  the first sticks of the season.

There are many advantages to getting out early besides the pure beauty you will find. Climbing freshly formed ice up a long gully not covered by snow is an excellent workout. The benefit for the mind and body and a release of the soul is limitless.  These conditions also offer the perfect opportunity of getting into a rhythm of movement over long distance, a time to find yourself.  Simple gullies become more of a challenge when the ice is thin and there is no snow. Besides reading the ice to find the thickest place to travel, you have to keep your head up and pick the best line far ahead, for down climbing ice is a discipline best practiced in a more controlled environment. And on thin ice that is not an easy task. Another advantage is with your gear. Getting into the packing routine and making sure living room adjustments to the crampons are dialed in before the full on season.

I’ve read elsewhere that early season ice is only for a select few and that it’s not really “in” for it may melt in a few hours. Or that it’s only October. Another comment I’ve been told is it all starts with someone climbing the Black Dike. I find this closed thinking interesting and often ask myself why? If one wants to rock climb as long as you can that’s great.  My train of thought is this, the climbing of rock can happen year round. The season of ice is far to short. There is no need to be negative on early ice conditions or be shackled by the calender.  With the right weather conditions water will freeze. The calender is just like the clock we move forward then fall back. The calender receives days and losses them. It is but another human made measurement of our lives that matters not.

It is a given that every year I’ll have at lest one false start. Theses days out are still worth it for there is always something to prick your interest if you want it. Not finding  ice and climbing the Huntington Ravine trail, through the headwall in unsavory conditions is not a simple hike. Moving through fog over wet and verglas covered rock while the song of Pinnacle Gully in liquid form sings behind will keep your attention.

Lastly, I always know where I’ll go looking for ice long before the freezing takes place, except this year.

 Finding the Lost Dutchman’s Mine

The drive had begun. For the next six hours there will be times of intense conversation and also moments of complete silence. In these times the only sound is that of rubber making contact with asphalt. When that time takes over, we all slip into our own private space. In the mean time, there is talk of climbs done and of those to do. But on this day the conversations are not of some faraway area, they are of one place in New England and of one mountain.

I fall silent, listening to the excitement in the car. The live human voices are in competition with the recorded sounds coming from the car’s speakers. The voices increase in volume in an unconscious effort to take center stage.  It’s Friday, August 31. Mt. Katahdin is in the rearview mirror and the talk is of coming back for one more rock climb before winter descends on the mountain.

After the usual reentry back to everyday routines and the thermals of the brilliant Pamola 4 route had dissipated a little. It was time to book another trip back to Baxter State Park. I picked the second weekend in October. A time when the first ice of the season, under the right circumstances, can be found here in New Hampshire. Doug and I knew we would climb ice soon, but figure it would be on Mt.Washington or Adams… not Katahdin.

Seven days before our departure, the forecast in northeast looked promising for ice. The NEIce weather guru, Smike was predicting   an ascent of Pinnacle Gully. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday was calling for overcast skies, snow flurries with temperatures in the low twenties. But for us, the coup de grace on climbing rock and the finding of ice came with this. Clearing Friday night, winds ramping up and temperatures bottoming out in the teens. Doug and I spoke the day before we left. The rock gear would still come with us to Roaring Brook, however our packs were made ready with ice gear even before we left our homes.

Roaring Brook

We arrived late Friday to snow flurries.  I was up Saturday at 5am. The predawn was cold, clear and the stars were shinning bright.  By 6:30 we were on the trail chipping away at the 3+ miles to Chimney Pond and the dramatic walls of the South Basin. The minuscule shadow of doubt that lingered unspoken of, in darkest corners of our minds evaporated with each mile. The trail conditions were frozen ground with patches of hard ice. The decision was right and our commitment to finding ice was about to be realized.

The North Basin

The first view of the South Basin comes before Chimney Pond. It was here where Doug and I were greeted with the sight of the incredibly beautiful Cilley-Barber route. This line of ice sliced like a silver sword through the dark headwall, then on up into the cloud mantle that hung anchored to Katahdin’s summits. Though the climbing had yet to come, we shook hands like we had just accomplished something big, for in a strange way we had. The walls were shinning with ice on all the routes and from the ranger station we decided on our line. After telling Mark, the ranger on duty our plan and feeling his enthusiasm we were boulder hopping along the edge of Chimney Pond as fast as we could.

We emerged from the Cilley-Barber drainage and on to the talus proper, here we switched from sneakers to our climbing boots. There was now a few inches of snow on the rocks and alders.  Our intended route was in complete view, the ice went for hundreds of feet up huge slabs to a talus break.

The Cilley-Barber


Start of Piggy-Wiggy

Above the talus the flow dropped into a corner, over steeper ground. Next was mixed, tricky terrain that eased off to snow, scrub and huge boulders.  The Piggy-Wiggy would go all the way to the Cathedral Ridge. The gold mine of the Lost Dutchman was found.

Doug on mixed ground near the top

Back at the Chimney Pond Ranger Station we chatted with Mark. He was psyched for us. A change back to the tennies and we were off. Light footed and higher then Hendrix, we practically ran back to camp. Doug and I had threaded the weather needle. Sunday night it snowed and we woke to several inches,  the temperatures were also on the rise. Like thinking, being prepared, the willingness to adapt and take a chance gave us the best first ice of our season of our lives.


Photos and text by Alan Cattabriga

With help (as usual) from Doug Millen

Early Season Luck On Katahdin – 2

 Photos from our Trip

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Photos by Doug Millen & Alan Cattabriga

Road Trip – Newfoundland Ice 2012

Mike Wejchert climbing in Newfoundland

Michael Wejchert leading out of the belay ledge on a WI5 pitch of an 800-foot route in Gros Morne Park, Newfoundland. Windy and snowing hard – Alden Pellett (click to enlarge)

Newfoundland Ice

by Michael Wejchert

“Walt Nichol, man of few understandable words, slows the snowmobile to a stop about twenty feet form my battered Toyota Corolla and I jump out. For the third time in as many days, Alden Pellett, Ryan Stefiuk and I thank Walt and step out of his cedar sleigh. We’ve all agreed before we’ve hit the beer store: the past three days of climbing in Newfoundland have been the best consecutive days in the mountains we’ve ever had…..”

Read the whole report on his blog,

 “Michael Wejchert put together an awesome trip report about our little Newfoundland adventure last month. It can be found at his blog Far North. Expect big things from this youngster.” – Ryan Stefiuk

See more on their trip at Ryans website Bigfoot Mountain Guides with a post titled – The west Coast

NEice Cover Shot 2-14-12

Feature Photo: With the sea rocking below, Michael Wejchert finds his way to the bottom of the route in Cox Cove, Newfoundland. Photo by Ryan Stefiuk

Source: NEice photo post, Alden Pellett, Michael Wejchert & Ryan Stefiuk