This year has been a less than desired winter for those people who enjoy outdoor winter activities. Snowfall has been very minimal and average temperatures have been above average. For some people, this is the best thing that can happen in winter. For those of us who enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or ice climbing it leaves us reminiscing of great winters past. Here in North Carolina, the winter has been rather disappointing. With the number of days with climbable ice able to be counted without taking off your shoes and socks many of us were craving colder weather in which we could climb those ever evasive icicles. Luckily, I would not be denied my chance to scratch my way up some vertical, frozen water.
In past February's, Fox Mountain Guides hosts a trip to North Conway, New Hampshire to instruct ice climbing and basic mountaineering. This year was no different and I was given the chance to go and take care of our guests. We rent a chalet and house the guides and the guests. I was supposed to make sure that everyone is well fed and is comfortable while there. That task proved to be a challenge to me since I am not the more organized person. The upside was that I got to climb ice. I managed to do my fair share of that.
The first couple of days, I was privileged to shadow the Ice 101 course taught by Karsten and Lindsay. I helped out a bit and was able to pick up some tips that would later improve my ice climbing ability. We spend a day at Cathedral Ledge, Frankenstein, and Trollville. With three days under my belt and Lindsay having a few days off, we decided to go have our own fun on the ice. The first day of the 201 course, Lindsay and I headed to Frankenstein to get a few laps in and to shoot some photos and video of the 201 course. While we were there we ran a few laps on different sections of Dracula. From there we hiked along the top and came in above the 201 crew on the Standard Route. I belayed Lindsay as she went up and down capturing footage of the guys.
The next day, Lindsay and I headed back to Frankenstein. There we went up Chia which is this two pitch WI3. Very fun route. The only problem was that it was a little warm so by the time we got to the top, the ice began to soften a bit. From there we went over and top-roped Pegasus. It was even better than Chia but we had to be careful with the top out since the ice had started to delaminate from the rock. We climbed quite a bit of moderate ice that day. After this day, I was feeling more confident on the ice.
The day after climbing at Frankenstein, Lindsay had a client so I was on my own. I managed to get some work done at the chalet before heading out and joining the 201 course. I arrived just in time to go up a two pitch line called Thresher Slabs with Karsten and two of the guys in the course. It was fun but didn't feel like it was enough for the day. After walking back to the base, I decided to solo up a WI2 slab. It was easy but I was able to find a few short vertical sections on it to up the difficulty. Though I didn't get much in this day, Ron would be free to climb for the next few days. Then we would be getting on some of the classic, hard routes in the area.
The first day that Ron and I climbed, we headed to Cathedral Ledge to climb a route called Remission. It is a WI5+ with a M5 first pitch. On this wall, there is also another classic line called Repentance. Ron said that he had never done Remission so I willingly agreed to follow him up this classic line. The first pitch is a corner system that you either dry-tool or climb like you would any other rock climb. This leads to a thin section of ice before reaching the belay ledge. When following this pitch, I attempted to dry-tool part of it and fell off when my tool slipped off the edge it was on. After this I managed to make my way up to the belay without any problems. The second pitch goes left off the belay. There you clip a pin and pull your way up on to a hanging curtain. This is the best part of the climb. It is exposed but super solid. After a few minutes Ron was at the belay and it was my turn to play on the ice. After unclipping from the piton, I looked at the curtain. It was going to be tricky for me to reach it due to my lack of height. After some awkward moves I was established on the curtain and making my way up the ice to Ron. The third pitch, which is said to be the crux, goes up this steep column into a chimney with ice in the back. Ron quickly dispatched the column but while climbing the chimney, I would occasionally hear grunting. This worried me just a bit. Once Ron made it to the belay I began my journey up. The column was fun and exposed. Once in the chimney I was able to see why Ron was grunting. With many awkward moves to good stances, the chimney takes quite a while to climb. At the top you have to come out and around a chockstone which creates a few more tricky moves. At the top of the third pitch you can either rappel or continue up and walk off. We were going to walk off so we continued up one more pitch. It goes deeper into the chimney then has some crazy moves that put you on a snow/ice covered low angled terrain. Getting out of the chimney proved to provide a few more hard moves for the route. After making it to the top, we followed the cliff line to the north towards the walk down. Once back at the base of the cliff, I led a WI3 which is one of the North End Pillars. It was fun.
The next day, Ron had a route in mind that he had tried to find the year before called Drool of the Beast. It is a WI5 located near Greeley Lake. After a mile and a half hike in, we were finally able to see it. Now we just had to figure out how to get there. We continued hiking up the main trail until we spotted a slightly used path of potholes in the snow. I figured this was the trail. It did include a bit of a bushwack though. Once we arrived at the base, we noticed one thing; this climb was in the sun and it was not that cold. The first section of the climb looked rather thin but once you were up about 25 feet, the ice was thicker. Ron started up. Luckily, he found good rock gear since the ice at the beginning was not taking any screws. The only issue was that the ice was falling apart. After doing an amazing job with leading this challenging pitch, Ron put me on belay. I got to the thin ice in a wide chimney. The ice was no longer solid. It had turned to slush. I was moving from rock to slush and back to rock to get to the good ice. Once at the good ice, I took out one of the few good screw placements on the route trying to not get soaked by the melting of the route above. I continued to climb up the less than idea ice. The last 30 feet of the route is a steep section that is about 3-4 feet wide. It was also a bit slushy but was deep enough that I was able to bury the ice tool in it so that it would be solid. Finally, after a daunting sprint up the final bit I made it up to the top. After this, we got out of there knowing that it would not be safe to climb anything else that day due to the warm conditions.
The final day that I would climb one of the classic lines, Ron and I did Repentance. It is a WI5 to the left of Remission. It is mostly ice climbing with a finish that will challenge you. Ron offered to let me lead the first pitch which goes at WI4. Since I felt this was still a bit above my head for leading, I declined and allowed Ron to lead it. Ron also led the second pitch which had this hanging curtain which we had to figure out how to get our feet onto it since there was a 3.5 foot gap between the curtain and where the stance was below it. When I arrived at the top of the second pitch, Ron asked if I would lead up to a ledge about 20 feet higher. He said that his belay was uncomfortable and with the crux pitch looming above us I would be better off at the nicer ledge. After thinking about it for a minute I grabbed some gear from Ron and headed up. The ice was interesting. I managed to stem between it and the rock on the left. Finally, after a little bit I traversed left towards the ledge. The only odd part was that there was no ice to swing at. I eventually stuck my axes in the ice on the belay ledge, then rock climbed the rest of it. Ron then led the last pitch. It went smoothly. It was my turn. I had seen this pitch before on a few videos. I knew what the top of this pitch held for me. Yet, when I arrived at the rock roof I was unsure how to get into it. Eventually I fell off. After some scraping with the tools, I was able to struggle my way to the top.
After spending a few days with Ron climbing these classic, hard lines; we were joined by another friend. We got two more days in together. I ended up leading another WI3. In my 13 days up in New Hampshire, I was able to get out and climb 11 of them. This trip was a great chance for me to improve on my technique on ice. I was able to learn a lot from people like Ron, Karsten and Lindsay. Being back here in North Carolina with the weather looking as if it will not bring us any more ice, we have been getting back into rock mode. Since I have been back, I have abused my body on the rock getting back in shape. Hopefully soon, you will read of some great days on the rock.