Cathedral’s Last Gasp, or not!

Cathedral Ledge NH

Sunday March 4, 2012

The winter is waning and the lower elevation climbs have their days numbered but Erick Eisele and Peter Doucette are still getting after it on Cathedral Ledge NH. 

Click photos to enlarge

Peter Doucette, Super Goofer

Peter Doucette finishing up “Super Goofer” Cathedral Ledge, NH


Peter Doucette, Barber Wall, Cathedral Ledge NH

Peter Doucette Climbing the thinly iced “Double V” The Barber Wall, Cathedral Ledge NH

Double V — much harder as an ice climb, especially if it’s falling as you are trying to climb it – Erik Eisele

Peter Doucette, Barber Wall 2, Cathedral Ledge NH

Peter Doucette Climbing the thinly iced “Double V” The Barber Wall, Cathedral Ledge NH

Feature photo – Erik Eisele on “The Big Flush” Cathedral Ledge NH – photo by Peter Doucette,  Mountain Sense Guides

Source: Erik Eisele, Facebook

Kancamagus Dream’n

On the Drool of the Beast & Sheer Elegance

Footloose and crowd-free on two New Hampshire classics

Mt. Kancamagus (L) & Osceola’s East Peak flank the Mad River Notch, the home of On The Drool of the Beast.

It was Icefest week end here in New Hampshire. Many people shy away from areas during these times, thinking every piece of frozen water will be wedged with humans…. If one knows where and when to climb, this is not the case.

The Kancamagus is an east-west highway. It slithers like a snake through the White Mountains and gives access to many popular climbs.  The most sought after is Way in the Wilderness on The Painted Walls. And right next door is The Rainbow Slabs. On the other side of the road, in a slice on the side of Mt. Chocorua flows the heavily hit Champney Falls. These are the places that will surly be busy. But there are other climbs that will not be

On the Drool of the Beast  II 5

For a backcountry area, the ice in Mad River Notch and the amazing line of The Drool are quite easy to get too. One just has to commit to an easy 2.3 mile walk and a wee ‘lil bushwhack. I have done the route three times with the first being in’93 and had sung of it’s aesthetic beauty to many friends over the years. The Drool is one of those routes that lives on the peripheral of thought for most. Lurking with its back to the road.  Not visible without hiking in, with the more noticeable ice almost always taking precedence over it. But I had one friend that wanted it bad and was willing to take the chance on it being climbable even on a short day. If it was not in,  little time would be left for something else.

I met Emilie Drinkwater in the Greeley Pond parking lot and though the trail was packed, we decide to ski in. We had two different reasons for this. My reasons, not being a very good skier, the approach and descent would be just as exciting as the climbing. Emilie wanted too because she claims to hate walking and getting out would be quite fast. I also think she knew with my skiing skills, I would provide some good entertainment. And I’m pretty sure I came through on that.

We stop at the spot where one can get an obstructed view of the climb. Emilie had been wanting to do this route for years and had the same reaction I had with my first sight of its line. “WOW!” then,  “That is only one pitch?”  The route looked pretty good, with the exception of one section down low that we could not see. Once up close it all was there, however it was thin.

The beautiful ribbon of The Drool and a lean version of Aye Karumba! (R)  photo-Emilie Drinkwater

Emilie was her usual, humble self and while racking up, made some silly comment about if she did not make it I could finish it.  I said sure and reminded her of the schooling she doled out with the Rollies at Sozt’s during Mountain Fest.  After the first few pieces of rock gear were placed at the start, the rest went like clock work for her, what a surprise.

Emilie working the thin start

The Drool has everything a climber could wish for. Its location and the impeccable nature of the climb suffer few rivals. Good rock & ice gear, stemming, chimney moves, corkscrew weirdness and pure straight on ice for the finish.  All in a remote mountain setting with spectacular views across the Greeley Ponds to the layers of mountains stretching out to the southeast.

In no time at all Emilie had topped out and I was climbing.  The typical thought “I’m glad I’m seconding”  entered my mind right from the start and stayed with me through the steeper than it looked from below finish.  Once back on the skis, the  trip out was fast, with minimum damage to my coccyx.  Along the Kancamagus we stopped near the pass for a look back west  to Mt. Huntington. Ted Hammond had mentioned Sheer Elegance, the stand out route on it’s huge southeast face was looking good. And it did indeed.

Sheer Elegance II 4+ 5.6

Anyone driving on the highway has seen it. As one drops over Kancamagus Pass towards Lincoln, Mt. Huntington tries to block your passage.  Its bulky southwestern shoulder with its massive wall will fill your vision.  In the winter an amber like sheet of ice trailing off to a slender ribbon, cascades down the chocolate coloured slab. Always tempting, always dismissed…. except by a few.

Mt. Huntington and the line of Sheer Elegance


Sheer Elegance (center) and other beautiful climbs to the left.

A few years ago a good trail was established by Chuck Woodman and others while putting up some of the rock routes on this complex cliff system.  This trail, if one knows where to find the start offers an very cool, easy way to the cliff.  Ted Hammond and Mark Casale packed it out going into the routes on the left end of the cliff. And while doing so got a first hand look at the start of SE.  The report was a big grin.

A view of the route from the approch

The day dawned clear and cold but the sun could compromise the ice if one gets too late a start. A semi late night after the dry tooling comp did not put much of a damper on our departure time. Freddie Bieber , Ted, Mark and I were at the cliff  with Fred racked and rolling by 9.

Freddie engaging the elegance

When Fred got to the start of the crux the scale of the steep section really showed.  And though he had not been on any steep ice this year, Freddie cranked out an excellent lead.  After the crux the ice kicks back for a bit to a snow & ice ramp that leads right. After that a huge sheet of soft, amber leads to the trees.

Ted Hammond coming up the finishing section

The day was absolutely  brilliant. Good friends sharing an amazing route none of us had done, totally alone.  And that is a rare gift. The rating is a bit old school and I’m not looking to change it.  However I found the crux to be similar to that of Repentence when it is in good.  Narrow, barndoor-ish and in the grill a little longer, but then easier.  We did the route in one long pitch with double 70’s.

Sheer Elegance and On the Drool of the Beast are beautiful gems.  These lines are total classic’s and I feel very lucky to have done them this year. Both routes require cold and cloudy weather to form. Keep the eyes open, Sheer is right in plain view. If it looks good from the road go for it! As for the Drool…. take a chance and a walk, if it’s in your be smiln’, I guarantee it.

Good job to Emilie & Freddie for their nice leads and for dragging my butt up two great routes.

~Alan Cattabriga




Mountainfest 2012 Wrap-up

The Adirondack Mountainfest 2012,  Keene NY

Mountainfest 2012

Sunday, January 15

Once again, the Adirondack Mountainfest was a great combination of  people, places and the thing we love….. climbing ice.  First of all many thanks go out to the folks and the venue that make this event one that is very special. Also thanks to sponsors, guides and the folks that participate. Without you all this would not happen.

To those that do a ton of work……

Vinny McLelland and the great staff at the Mountaineer.  These folks are  knowledgeable, super friendly and know the conditions and the area like they know their products. Also a special thanks goes out to Nick Gully &  Drew Haas and to all the kids for making the raffles fun. I have to mention the example Drew gave of proper layering at Emilie’s show was nicely done.

Now to the venue,  Rock & River . Thank you to the owner Ed Palen, the staff  and a huge thanks to Jenny, Nancy & Julia.  These awesome ladies provided some of the best meals one could have ever wished for and let Doug and I share their kitchen like we were family. I almost have no words worthy enough for the venue , it’s such an amazing environment.  I will just simply say Rock & River is a beautiful place nestled in the quintessential Adirondack setting.

And lastly the slideshows. For me slideshows are almost always a exercise in staying awake for they are always too long.  However the gods must have heard my thoughts and we all were treated to three wonderful shows loaded with humor and spectacular images.

Thank you to; Zoe Hart, Bayard Russell, Matt McCormick and Emilie Drinkwater. ( that pie chart was the best! )

Images from the Cascade Pass clinics run by Don Mellor, Mark Meschinelli, Matt Horner & Matt McCormick. And the NEice soup delivery.


~ Alan

More reports on Mountainfest 2012

Day one Report

Day two Report

Look for more  soon:  “Rollies” at the Bivy and a look at the “ice rack” of Adirondack hard man, Joe Szot.

Katahdin Tales

Mt. Katahdin, Baxter State Park ME

11/30/2011 – 12/6/2011

By Alan Cattabriga

Morning light touches the summit of Baxter Peak after a light snow.

Katahdin, late November.  Doug, Fred, Chris and I are booked. All our friends thought we were nuts. I think the Baxter State Park Rangers did too.  I guess I don’t blame everyone. After all, early season ice is a gamble, never mind the fact that this seasons start has been an on again, off again affair.  To roll the dice on something being climbable in this remote place with the commitment needed?  Ok, perhaps a little nuts. But there is something still very intriguing about going into this mountain with the earth still brown.

However, snow is a beneficial ingredient, one can ski in with a towed load. And it would not take much snow to ski the road to Roaring Brook.  As our departure date closes in, the park is still without snow. We would have to get crafty on getting the gear in. And with the chance of conditions  being entirely different getting out, a quiver of  special gear must come with us.

Sleds, Skis, Wagons, Bikes & Cars – photo Fredwardo


I know one thing, I’m not carrying a huge pack to Roaring Brook. Just the amount of wine, whiskey and food out weigh me. Add in the other gear and I’m totally out horse powered. From RB to Chimney Pond is only 3.2 miles so thats fine. I can make two trips if necessary.

On the day of our departure Doug gets a call from Ranger Rob. The gate is open and we can DRIVE to Roaring Brook! There is one tiny catch, we can’t leave the car there for if it snows, we’re screwed. Our orders are to park at the visitor center after we unload the gear. No problem, I’ll bring my mountain bike and ride the 8 miles back to RB. We laugh at this news and think “Now who is crazy for going in so early!!!”

Rob has one more piece of info though, it rained recently and most of the ice that was forming, fell. Yeah, who is crazy now. But ice is not our only goal, for Katahdin offers many wonderful adventures.


The places and the characters in the story below are a blend of both fact and fiction. Some events have been changed. Any resemblance to places, people, alive or deceased is pure coincidence and a dirty shame.

After an insane night in Millinocket, a night of partying with inked, edgy, Russian chicks, a bar fight and racing across the road in front of logging trucks, the day dawns blue and cold. A healthy serving of eggs & hash at Angelos Pizza Grill is consumed and we are off. There is not a speck of white to be seen along the drive in. We pass the gatehouse and motor the dirt road to Roaring Brook. A quick unload of our stuff at the bunkhouse ensues. Plastic bottles are filled with the plethora of liquors we brought. Jagermeister, Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Makers Mark, Fireball Whiskey, Root and Laphroaig. Alas, the amount of alcohol to empty bottle ratio is way off.


Essentials of the trip – photo Fredwardo


I move the car back to the visitor center.  After a few belts of Makers Mark and a heavy application of green wax,  I’m on the bike riding like it’s my job. Except I’m not a bike rider. I arrive back at Roaring Brook with burning thighs and a slightly abused ass. But that was nothing usual.
The rangers are not around much. I recall hearing something about firearm, taser and truncheon practice needed for the coming season. We were left a radio and asked us not to burn the bunkhouse down or get killed. We told Rob would do our best.
Our first full day at Chimney Pond opens socked in with undercast.  After multiple coffees, ramen with tuna and many smokes with Man with Smoking Face, we are ready. The Machine wakes with a sore knee and decides to lay low for the day. Fredwardo, Smoking Face & I, not knowing what ice is climbable decide to hike up to the Cilley/Barber to see if we can tell what is going on. Our paper work is hung on the clipboard at the ranger outpost and we’re off.

Our perfectly filled out paper work – photo Fredwardo (click to enlarge)

 With the pond not frozen we must bushwhack along the right side.  And for added spice, it snowed a few inches during the night. This causes us to move like hooded, clumsy thieves thru the fir and spruce. Once at the headwall we get some views, the best hope for some ice looks to be along the Cathedral side on the slabs under Dougal’s Delight. Once above these slabs we would work right and slide up Gully #3 to the Cathedral Ridge then down that trail.

The view from Pamola to the slabs

Thin but very climbable ice is ascended for hundreds of feet.  A unique talus field greets us high on the mountain above the ice. As we weave thru its huge stones, our voices ring out with admiration of this beautiful place.

Fredwardo working on the slabs

Gully #3 is and order of the Northeast Special. Snow, ice, turf, alders and rock. However we do possess some environmental ethics and not wanting to hurt the little plants, climb onto the ridge forming the right side of the gully as soon as we can.
We return to the bunkhouse and find the Machine engrossed in a book. The book speaks of the mythical being, Pomola. Our friend reads us a few of its short chapters as we sip whiskey.

The Book of Dudley – photo Fedwardo

My mind entertains the thought of this winged beast. I move from one reality to another, to that of what we call a dream, though I’m fully awake. Day turns to night quickly this time of year. Even on a sunny day, this aspect of the mountain, denies the light from entering.  We all step outside. The clouds have departed, a strong wind has pushed them away.  I watch the crescent moon above Pamola Peak. The stars are bright and the myth beckons. With the ice being compromised by the mild air, tomorrow we shall walk in Pomola’s realm.
Day four is beautifully clear. A stout wind caresses the place we hike in. We are all together and on the Hamlin Ridge.  This ridge amazing, for the location splits the North and South Basins. The basins of light and dark respectively.

Machine and Man with Smoking Face, Hamlin Ridge

Our pace is leisurely. Moving in this place on a day such as this, with just my three companions, is an experience to savor. The clouds are in rare form. Their shape, colours and depth are wonderful, once again I feel as if I’ve slipped into a dream state.


However there is not a hint of Pomola.  From Hamlin’s summit I gaze to Pamola Peak then along the jagged ridge to Baxter.

Pamola, Chimney Peak & the Knife Edge

Tomorrow we will do the traverse from the Cathedrals to Pamola Peak. We will tread where Pomola dwells and I greatly desire to feel something yet unknown.
We stop by the ranger outpost on our way back. Leroy is there. I’m not sure if he is a ranger or not for he is very old and his clothes looks like that of a Maine hunter from the past.  We get some Poutine and smokes from the snack shop and each get a ranger snow globe from the gift shop.

The place for gifts, smokes, & salty meats

A quiet evening is in store. The Laphroaig comes out. As we sip, the Chimney Pond Tales flow like the whiskey. After a few chapters all of us drift into our own thoughts then sleep comes down.
Morning comes. The clouds have returned and the air though damp has warmed more. Our visibly is limited. Once on the Cathedrals fifty feet is about as far as one can see.

Gorillas on the Ridge

 On Baxter Peak the mist has become  heavy, just short of rain.  Even though a view would be nice, I’m enjoying moving along the Knife Edge in this fog.  Its the perfect environment for the image of I’ve conjured. Close to Chimney Peak the clouds open with little holes for a few seconds and offer us a chance for some views.
Nearing Chimney Peak- photo Fredwardo

The mountain sweeps down and contours around in the quintessential ancient cirque form. This is the place where Pomola roams, but where is he?

Man in Sneaker, Chimney Peak – photo Fredwardo

The clouds close upon us once more and on Chimney Peak, a light rain greets us. The down climb is a little tricky as is the ascent to Pamola Peak for the rocks are slick.
On the summit we pause. This is the place Pomola had his first smoke. A smoke that consisted of birch bark, balsam fir and tar paper. It is here his beard caught fire from the pipe. This is the place he dove headlong from, eclipsing even the brightest comet, down into Chimney Pond.  As I think of this another part of the myth enters my thought. He does not like humans and his spirit causes cold weather.  It’s all too obvious now, Pomola is away. We pay homage to him before we descend. A smoke in this magical place, a small gift to the wind and leave some pipe-weed in a nook for the beast.
Its our last evening in the basin. With heavy hearts we finish off the Laphroaig, the last of our whiskey.

Not so good. In fact, not good at all!

Rain is falling. In the morning we play the valet card, and radio the rangers to bring our car to Roaring Brook. Early season on Katahdin is a time of no guarantees.  But many things can happen that are unforeseen.  Short days and total solitude better be on the agenda,  if not perhaps you should stay away.
To my companions, Doug, Chris & Freddie. Thank you for enduring me on the trip and suffering thru this tale. I know walking with Man in Sneaker was tough. But it was not my frickn’ fault you all just brought ice boots and slippers. Fucking-A!
Many thanks to the Baxter State Park Rangers and especially Rob, you guys are awesome! But I suggest you get more meats on your snack menu.
And lastly to any fool that reads this cone of crap. Good job and remember to use the hand sanitizer after.

Unfinished Business…

Cannon and I have a checkered past: I’ve backed off of more routes there than I’ve finished.  I’ve crawled my way down the talus after spraining my ankle.  Many consider consider Cannon their go to crag… for me, knowing I’m going to climb there the next day is a sure recipe for a restless night.

Article by Patrick Cooke

I first tried to climb the Black Dike in February 2009.  I had a week off from work, conditions were good in NH, and I was ready to go.  Unfortunately, as happens all too often, circumstance arose to ruin the best-laid plans.  My partner couldn’t make it up for our planned day to hit the Dike, and a week of climbing turned into a week of scrounging for partners with ever-declining weather.

By Thursday, I’d managed to find a partner for only one day and it was beginning to rain.  Fantastic conditions in the Valley were steadily deteriorating, but a forecast for colder temperatures starting Thursday night meant there was still hope that the Dike would be in.  Furtive pleas on the forums landed me an experienced partner, and it looked like I’d be able to salvage the week…

Moving through the rock traverse and swinging into the ice on the second pitch, things were not going as well as I’d hoped.  The previous night’s rain was followed by snow, and each swing brought about a cascade of flash-frozen snow and dinner plates.  My first sign of trouble, though, was looking up at p.2 and Nick (who’d climbed it a number of times) saying “I don’t want any part of that” when I offered him the lead for the sake of keeping moving and staying warm.  We’d made the slog up there, however, so I had to give it a try.  Needless to say, we bailed, tails firmly tucked between our legs.

In retrospect, I wasn’t really ready for the Dike.  Looking back now I realize I just didn’t have enough experience on the sharp end in less than ideal conditions to feel confident moving through thin, brittle conditions well above gear.  This experience only added to the mystique Cannon has held in my psyche:  where some only see possibility, I only saw the gates of Mordor.

The Black Dike

Good early season conditions – December 19, 2011


After seeing Erik Eisele’s report on climbing Fafnir on the 18th, it seemed like it was finally time to address some unfinished business.  With a 10am meeting at the climber’s lot, Chris and I were not the first to arrive that day, but we had a nice relaxed start and no one lined up behind us at least.  It was cold, but not so cold that standing around for an hour waiting for the party ahead of us to clear the 2nd belay seemed unreasonable.


The early bird gets the fresh ice… while the sleepyheads get to sit around and wait!


After starting up, we found brittle ice on the first and second pitches, and wet fat ice to top off the whole thing.  Traversing through the rock traverse felt infinitely less terrifying than it was two and a half years ago, and the second pitch as a whole was one of the more enjoyable pitches of ice I’ve ever led.  Topping out, darkness engulfed us, and, while descending down the climber’s path, we were treated to a great view of the lights and civilization that awaited us to the south.

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There’s nothing quite as satisfying as settling some unfinished business.  Climbing the Dike as my first real ice route of the season was not something I had planned, but it was an opportunity too good to pass up.  Looking up at Cannon from the Notch, I still see a dark and forbidding face, but I can’t wait to get back up there.


Halloween 2011 – Trick or Treat?

A Rare Treat in New England Leaves Winter Enthusiasts Wondering if it was Really a Mean Trick….

 Article by Rich Palatino

It was only slightly over a week ago that I found myself sitting above Reppy’s Crack. While bringing up my partner, I couldn’t help but wonder when old Jack Frost would once again make his return to the Northeast. It was nearing the end of October and we had yet to see much in the way of typical Fall temperatures. With the exception of one frosty Saturday, it seemed that September was actually quite tropical this year! That one cold, clear morning just happened to coincide with a planned Presidential Traverse. Given the weather forecast that weekend, I remember being quite torn between climbing in the Valley or spending time with friends while enjoying our annual ridge walk. As it turned out, the season’s first measurable snow mixed with a fine layer of verglas, and the always-mesmerizing rime ice formations silenced my unrest as soon as we began our little walk. With pleasing hints all around, I was able to muster up some hope for an early winter. We enjoyed lunch just below Mt. Clay and I couldn’t help but laugh at the grief I caused myself as I debated the value of hiking up high versus climbing down low. Winter was obviously on the way and, as you know, winter makes everything better! Still, while it was wintry above treeline, the first frost in town was still weeks away!

Reppy’s Crack

Back on Cannon, it was getting to be mid-afternoon, the sun already low in the sky and heading towards the massive curtain created by the cliff itself. The temperature was dropping and a light wind was picking up from the west. As my second feverishly cleaned the route, I watched as a helicopter made multiple trips over Franconia Ridge, payloads dangling perilously below. No doubt, transporting supplies and other material to and from the Greenleaf Hut.

I was happy to be out for a casual run up a classic pitch on a reasonably warm, dry day that could have been easily mistaken for Sendtember instead of Rocktober. I had spent the weekend volunteering at the Friends of Tuckerman Ravine work weekend. It was good to get out on the rock and stretch the muscles after two days of hard work at Hermit Lake.

As I often do, I had to take a moment to appreciate my surroundings. Despite there not being anyone in ear shot, I felt it necessary to express out loud how fortunate I feel in being able to pursue my passion for the outdoors as a climber. On this day, I was in my own backyard, but I felt like the privilege of such vertical access brought me to another world – a place where I can just exist. No need to question a damn thing. Nothing mundane anyway. Not about the life I’m leading or all the things I have to get done before too long. The focus involved in climbing really is a wonderful escape.

Bring it on!

While enjoying the moderate temperature and the warm, setting sun, I take up more rope and wonder, “When the hell is it gonna snow?”. I distinctly remember thinking, “It’s going to be a warm Halloween!”. Over the past few years, my Girlfriend, Marcia, and I brought back a childhood tradition of mine by spending Halloween in the historic and festive Salem, Massachusetts. It is normally a bone-chilling experience, depending on your attire for the evening. At that point, it seemed that this year might be different. Little did I know there was a low-pressure weather system about to develop somewhere in southern latitudes that would soon begin its track North.

As if choreographed by ski bums on high, the storm would send warm, moist air from the southern gulf regions crashing into much colder air sucked down from the north. As we now know, this act of meteorological ballet produced an early season weather event that wreaked havoc on millions, but provided a rare, early-season surprise for those of us who love all things winter!

Home Sweet Home

I must say, the early season ice came in right on time. I was anxious to maybe get a first ascent of the season. Marcia and I brought our ice tools with us for the Tux work weekend. We hoped that with temperatures flirting near the freezing mark, we might be able to sneak away early one morning and sink our picks into something cold and refreshing. Unfortunately, day and nighttime temperatures stayed right around 38º all weekend. As freezing rain and snow fell upon us occasionally while we worked, a welcomed sight for sure, we knew there would be no early season adventures for us. Not that weekend…..

An Alluring Sight!

Flash forward a week. I found myself back at Pinkham ready for another work-filled Saturday somewhere on the Tux Trail. Temperatures in the higher elevations had been holding below the freezing mark for a couple of days at that point. I had heard that Huntington Ravine’s Damnation Gully, the go-to early season alpine route, had been climbed on Friday so I was anxious to get out exploring for myself. All the hype about the impending snowstorm the night before had kept me up later then I would have liked, resulting in the all-too-familiar “Mount Washington Alpine Start”. I left Pinkham around 8 AM. Up the Tux Trail and across the Fire Road leading to the ravine, I followed fresh fox tracks past Harvard Cabin. The cabin has been my winter home for the last couple of seasons and a home away from home for anyone looking to spend some quality time on Mt. Washington.

I was at the base of the Ravine by 10 AM. The sky was cobalt blue, the temperature still plenty cold, and from the height of land, I peered into the Ravine for the first time this season. Up until that point, I wasn’t certain if I would climb anything, but I was excited to get a closer look. I headed farther up the trail and into the talus. The small amount of snow that had fallen earlier in the week remained light and fluffy, signaling stable temperatures over the last few days. Good for consistent ice conditions, whatever the thickness. I could also tell there were at least a couple of climbers ahead of me. No surprise, given the beautiful weekend weather and my late start. In any case, both clues offered a bit of comfort. Especially if my walk in the woods proved to be more productive than expected.


I followed the summer trail high up into the talus- eventually breaking off to the right, heading towards

Pinnacle Gully

the center of the ravine. Once I got a view of Pinnacle, I must say, it was tempting but the high rate of flowing water was more than enough to turn my head to the north. Central was doable, but the exposure would have been too sustained for a solo climb. Harvard Bulge was forming nicely. Classic icicles begged to be climbed, but they were young and there wasn’t much above them except for the two climbers I followed into the Ravine. They were on a frozen turf expedition approaching the mouth of Diagonal Gully. I couldn’t tell if they were proper climbers or two unfortunate souls who thought it might be a good day to follow the Huntington Ravine Trail up and over the headwall – more reason why I decided I would climb elsewhere.

I looked over to the bottom of Damnation. Of course, given my vantage point, I couldn’t see the portions of the route above the start.  I knew it would probably go, but that was only more time in the talus and it was already getting late. I decided I would take an up-close look at the Yale Slabs to get an idea of the quality of ice and how it was bonding down low. Bushwhacking just a bit, I was dreaming of the day, not too far from then, when I would be able to boot all the way up the ravine floor. I was also reliving a nightmare of a bushwhack to the Taber Wall in Baxter State Park over Columbus Day Weekend. Having endured the talus of the Katahdin’s North Basin, this was pure pleasure! Besides, in many ways, I was home in Huntington Ravine and on Mount Washington! It was going to be a great day, even if I didn’t climb.

Once at the base, I grabbed my helmet and a tool and made my first swing of the season. Plasticky and Yummy! The ice down low was an interesting combination of ice, snow, and frozen spray….just what you might expect for the end of October. I got good purchase with the tool….good enough for the slope angle anyway. I decided to kick my toes in, sans crampons, just to see what would happen. I got up about a body length, down climbed, and decided it was time to send. I was stoked!!!

High in the Ravine

Though I felt badly about not helping with the trail work that day, I selfishly put on my harness and spikes, and racked up. I was carrying a few pieces of protection and a 30 meter rope in case I needed to bail. Needless to say, at that point I was feeling pretty good about finishing the route. After about two body lengths, the ice quality improved greatly. Having enough ice on the first “Pitch” to get into good rhythm was awesome! There is something soothing about the methodical progression up an ice route. After about 70 feet or so, the slab angle decreased and I stood there looking across the valley into the Carter-Moriah Range, the trails of Wildcat Ski Area painted white with the week’s dusting of snow. It was October 29th and I was getting in some legitimate ice climbing; I thought to myself, “Winter is almost here!”

Early Season Joy

Above the first pitch, the route stair-cased higher and higher towards the summit with interesting ice at every “step”. Only once did I wander onto something a little too thin for my comfort. At another point, I had to remove a glove to make a smearing hand move up onto some turf. I love the flinty, almost sulfur-like, smell the spikes make when scratching the surface of the rock. Well, I should say, I love it in October.

I took my time the first day out. The temps were moderate, there was zero wind, and the ravine was calm and quiet. I spent more time than not on decent, early season ice. I topped out around 1:30. The bluebird skies had given way to overcast conditions. An occasional light breeze, maybe 5 MPH, brushed across my face. With the atmosphere so calm, I knew precipitation was a sure bet, and it was even getting colder! I hadn’t put much hope into the prediction for a major snow storm, but I started to think there might be some validity to the hype.

Back in town around 4 PM, I was in the car and heading for ground zero: the northern Berkshires of Massachusetts and the southern Green Mountains of Vermont seemed to be in the cross-hairs for this storm. As I made it to the southern limits of town, the snowflakes started to fall in the Mount Washington Valley. I was planning on intercepting a snowstorm and became concerned that I might be shooting myself in the lead-foot for driving all that way for conditions that could be just as good in the Whites. It only took a few phone calls for me to realize that a major winter storm was already affecting much of the northeast, especially Western New England. As a good friend put it around 7PM that night, “The snow on my porch is already 2.5 PBR cans deep!!!!

So, was it a trick or a treat??? We’ll just have to wait and see. If we are graced with snow in November, I will say it was a real treat. If we’re still rock-hopping in February, I’ll call it a real mean trick. In any case, I got my fix last weekend and can now wait patiently for the real onset of winter. Until then, enjoy the remainder of rock season!

Agawa Canyon Ice

The Ice of Agawa Canyon (Eastern Shore of Lake Superior)

by Shaun Parent
Agawa Canyon One Mile

Canyon Sign at Mile 113

My first trip into Agawa Canyon was some 25 years ago on December 27, 1986 when Chris Lloyd and I ventured into the area for a week long adventure of exploring and developing ice climbs.

Things have changed plenty since the mid 1980’s when ice climbing was just beginning in the Canyon. Orient Bay to the north was known and climbers from the Midwest were flocking there on weekends due to the number of easily accessible routes. Here in Agawa Canyon, unlike Orient Bay, after 25 years the Canyon sees less than 50 visitors a season, and most of them head in during the annual Agawa Canyon Ice Festival. This March 2011 celebrates the 13th anniversary of the occasion.

The canyon is a 6 mile long north-south corridor between Miles 110 and 116 on the Algoma Central Railway which connects Sault Ste. Marie Ontario with Hearst Ontario at the end of the line at Mile 296. The line is used for hauling freight, but also has a passenger train service.

The Canyon hosts over 135 ice climbs and each year between mid-December and mid-April ice formations hang off the 200 meter walls which cloak the east and west sides of the canyon……..Read the rest of the report


Southbound Train with the ice climb TRESTLE to the left.

North of Superior Climbing Company
Shaun Parent
P.O. Box 85 Batchawana Bay, Ontario, P0S-1A0

Agawa Canyon

Agawa Canyon

The Evolution Traverse

Along the Crest (photo Mike Garrity)

Along the Matthes Crest (photo by Mike Garity)

by Alan Cattabriga

For almost two years this climb has been occupying space in my head, this Evolution Traverse and for that same amount of time, almost everything I’ve done in the mountains of the northeast has been geared to helping me with this line. I hate to call it a project, for I don’t “project.” I boulder Vermin 0 negative and sport climb, on good days, solid 5 easy. In my early climbing years, when sport climbing in Rumney was in it’s infancy, I was a never a “hang dogger”, working routes never worked for me. I covered up my weakness with a warped sense of ethics. But, the Evo. was a “project”… a once a year, long distance project and the best there could be.

The Full Trip Report

Alaska Range 2010

Trip Report by Pcooke
Sunrise on the Rooster's Comb

Sunrise on the Rooster's Comb

The GPS on the DeHaviland Otter we’re flying is showing “Danger – Terrain Ahead” in white letters on a red background. It’s the type of message that usually serves as a precursor to slamming into the ground in a fiery explosion. And indeed, as we fly over the Pika glacier there’s a giant face of rock, snow, and ice looming not just ahead of us, but above us…….

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Erik Weihenmayer Climbs Ben Nevis

by Ian Osteyee

Adirondack Mountain Guides

Erik-aBlind Climber Erik Weihenmayer had a couple of talks to give in London, so he decided that it was a good time to visit Scotland and climb the legendary Ben Nevis. The blind climber may have summited Everest, but that seems only to have wet his appetite for climbing wherever he can get it.  He asked if I could come along, and I was glad to oblige.

From London we took the Caledonian sleeper train overnight to Fort William.  The sleeping berths weren’t quite up to “Midnight Express” sizes, or standards and only one person could really stand up at a time.  Ambien and a night cap on the dinning car made sleeping easy, and we were in Fort William by 9:30 the next morning.   Alan Kimber, a friend of a friend of Erik’s, met us at the train depot. Alan is a local climber and guide, and he gladly helped orient us to the town and dropped us off at the trail head.  A 1:45 minute walk had us up to the famous CIC hut, an old climbers hut built in 1928 that has bunks for twelve, or so; our home for the next couple of days.   From the CIC hut many of Ben Nevis’ classics are only a 40 min approach.  Our goal was “Point5 Gully”, one of the 100 best climbs in the world, and the most famous of Scottish gullies.  No one had any information on the route’s condition, as late January is still early for Scottish ice.  Weather in Scotland can be tricky.  It’s a maritime mountain range, so it isn’t very cold, with temps usually just above, or just below freezing.  Heavy wet snow, or rain can come in faster than a weather report, and the winds are often from 30 -50 mph.  Soft Shell isn’t a popular choice in Scotland, in fact Gore-tex isn’t good enough for most locals.  Most locals can be seen wearing a brand called Paramo.  It’s fast drying, but more akin to rain gear than gore-tex, and they swear by it.

After having breakfast with our new bunk mates from all over Europe, we rucked up and met back up with Alan who’d come along on the route with us.  We walked in the darkness up toward a large gully system that would eventually have us at the base of our route.  Once the morning light brightened it was easy to see why” Point 5” is such a classic.  “Point 5” is a narrow runnel that continuously expand and contracts from about 4-15’ wide for several pitches.  The route is roughly 1200’ long, the first few pitches having many vertical sections, the last few pitches relax in grade.Erik-2-web

Ian-.5Alan sent me off without much warning, or guidance, other than “you might want to belay here”, or watch out for “runners” (fixed gear) there.   It didn’t take long to start understanding “Scottish” grade V5, as the first steep section was vertical snow/slush, rather than ice.  I’d already started to use positive-pessimisms,” It may be steep and insecure, but at least there’s no gear”, or “It may be steep, insecure and without gear, but at least the spin drift is refreshing”.   Occasionally several seconds of heavy spin drift would pour down the gully, classic Scottish conditions, on the most classic of routes.  The whole characteristic of the climbing was very different than climbing anywhere else I’d been.  The ice isn’t really ice; it can be ice once in a while, later in the year, but not usually.  The gear situation is also very different.  Ice screws won’t work very well in most of the conditions, so fixed pins, an occasional nut, or hex can be helpful. The rock is schist, so there isn’t as much opportunity for gear as you’d think, and the fixed pins become the focus. Much of the rock is covered in rhyme ice, so cams aren’t the answer either.

There is water ice in Scotland, but it doesn’t abound, and that’s not their focus. It’s a different type of climbing, and the people that climb there regularly have adapted their clothing, attitude and climbing style to match.  A cup of tea, a stiff upper lip, some hex’s, and clothed in their Paramo, the Scottish have a great niche.

Erik-1-webTopping out on Ben Nevis is a cool experience.   Looking up from the pitch below one can see the corniced edge.  That edge is abrupt, and the top as flat as a golf green. One moment climbing, the next, walking flatly along the summit.   Once on top we took shelter in the very small summit hut, a left over entrance for an old observatory now in ruins.  In the tiny hut we were met by a Russian in jeans who had hiked up the back side. He offered us “Russian Pork” which Alan and I could see was pure white fat. Unfortunately, Erik could not see this, and helped himself. Alan and I grinned at each other as Erik’s face contorted and he tried to find a way to remove the offensive fat from his mouth without offending our generous new friend.

A short walk through 50 mph blowing snow and ice brought us to the line of cairns that the hikers use to navigate they’re way up the back side.  Using the cairns and the corniced edge as a hand rail we found the top of no. 4 gully, our descent gully.   Navigation on top of the Ben is important. There are cliffs on both sides of the summit, and gullies that are hard to see in the reduced visibility that is characteristic of the Ben.

“Point 5” was a great experience. Meeting and spending time with Alan Kimber added to the fun and enhanced our experience of the local flavor.  It’s also always fun to watch a concerned observer become an amazed observer. People often have some look of concern about the blind climber, but Erik always impresses with his amazing abilities.  We had a good dinner at the hut, marred only by the fact the 6 people that had left that morning hadn’t yet returned.  As time went on, the voices in the hut started to sound more concerned.  Late returns from climbing on Ben Nevis were common; no one wanted to sound the alarm too early, or too late.   10:00pm became the agreed time of alarm, but at 9:30 the sound of the RAF Sea King helicopter told us all was not well.   The big helo hovered over Tower Ridge, its bright light scanning the route.  It left to re-fuel and return three times.    Others from the Scottish rescue team arrived at the hut. They had radio communications with the rescuers on the ridge and the helo. It was a German pair that got into trouble navigating off route. They called with the last life of their cell phone. Also spotted by the helo was the British foursome who was retreating from their route, but didn’t need help.   The Brits arrived at 2:30am, the Germans at 4:00am. All were healthy, but humbled.  Ben Nevis has no shortage of accidents, rescues, and worse.   There were already two climbers killed by avalanche earlier in the season.  At less than 5000’ tall Ben Nevis doesn’t seem that tall a mountain. However, with its maritime weather, and complicated climbing conditions, it seems as serious as mountains three times its size.

After a mostly sleepless night and half a day of climbing some shorter routes lower on the Ben, Erik and I started walking down towards Fort William.  We wanted to visit some of the other climbing areas in Scotland, Creag Meagaidh had been recommended by local climbing legend Ian Parnell. After a day of drying, we packed our still wet gear and headed down the road in our rental car. Our little Ford KA was roughly half the size of a Geo Metro, but got 60 mpg.  Creag Meagaidh is another 2 hour approach, but its summit is roughly 3500’ with less savage weather.  Most routes are in the 600’ range and offer characteristic Scottish snow and “ice” climbing.  There were a few routes that appeared more ice than snow, but we found a classic named “the Wand V5” unoccupied.   Frozen snow gully pitches led to steep snow/ice pitches, back to snow pitches and a corniced rim and a flat summit.  I think we get it now; long approaches through interesting and uniquely beautiful surroundings, followed by impressive gully climbs with big mountain snow and ice conditions, and great summits.

Scotland is the place where ice climbing was invented. The Victorians climbed there honing their skills before heading into the Alps and Himalaya. It was a great place to climb then, and remains a great and storied place to climb now.