2 Day Private Ice Climbing 1/11/14 – 1/12/14

Last winter Chris took an avalanche course with EMS Schools and after recently relocating from MA to Mount Washington Valley he decided it was time to try out ice climbing. Years of rock climbing experience gave him a solid foundation and despite some incredibly unseasonable temps that led to flash flood warnings and heavy rain our first day, we got in a ton of fun ice climbing.

On our first day a steady rain was soaking the area, with valley temps in the mid-forties. I decided it would be reasonable to check out “The Flume”. This 800 foot grade 2 ice climb is in it’s best climbing condition before it fills in with snow, and rain a few days earlier had flushed the snow out leaving thick cauliflower plastic ice for most of it’s length. Today the temperature when we arrived was 34 degrees, and it was lightly raining. Running water could be heard in many places along the route, as is normal, but the ice was thick enough everywhere but the flat pools to not cause concern.

ice climbing EMS Schools

Still frozen with little running water… compare this to the picture after we got back to the bottom

We moved along the lower 200 feet by short-roping and talking about some low angle ice technique. As the grade steepened we short-pitched a couple sections avoiding the flat spots below cascades where we could see a few holes from previous climbers breaking through. For the most part these holes are only deep enough to result in some soaked feet, but one or two looked deep enough to perhaps be a bit more dangerous. These were all given a wide berth…

By 11:50 we reached the shelter of the cave which has 1 more interesting pitch out the back before most people walk off…

ice climbing EMS Schools

Below last pitch in the cool cave and out of the rain

While snacking on some lunch here a warm blast of air rushed down the drainage. This caught my attention and reminded me that the National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning for 1pm due to the rain and a strong temperature inversion that had taken hold of the area. I decided our 5 minute break was enough and it was time to finish the route. 10 minutes later I topped out and saw the next small cascade above us was flowing quite freely. The water was then going under the ice we were climbing. While I put Chris on belay I watched the volume of the cascade increase, and within a minute it overcame the “under ice” tunnel and started running along the surface of the ice I had just climbed.

“Chris, you’re on belay. Climb…. Fast.”

Chris quickly broke down the anchor and followed the pitch quite fast. He did have to climb through a 2 inch vertical curtain of water that was now running over the cave we were in… it was only seconds of exposure and his waterproof clothing kept him bone dry. I shot some quick video of the flash flood developing while Chris coiled our rope.

During our hike down we came back to the edge of the climb to marvel at how much things had changed with the entire route now under 3-4 inches of rushing water.

Back at the base we confirmed the temps had risen to 44 degrees. Computer models later showed it was close to 10 degrees warmer 2000 feet above us. It was that strong temperature inversion, along with the rain, that triggered this event. While this route allows a party to “bail” off the route virtually anywhere some ice climbs are more confining, and getting caught in a flash flood like this could have serious consequences. It definitely was an adventure neither of us will forget soon.

You can compare this “after” picture to the one above:

Ice Climbing EMS Schools

The Flume Cascade, Crawford Notch

Sunday saw better weather, and while the mercury was still hovering above freezing the rain had stopped and skies had cleared. We made for ole’ reliable, Standard Route, at Frankenstein Cliffs. We were not the only ones headed that way, but luckily we were 2nd on route, and chose what is currently the best line IMO, starting up the right side and bypassing the cave belay to the right. Conditions, while wet, were very plastic and stable, with only one small icicle falling from a 30 mph gust that came through early in the day.

ice climbing EMS Schools

Standard Route, Crawford Notch

ice climbing EMS Schools

Chris following the first pitch

ice climbing EMS Schools

Chris on the first pitch

After topping out when headed over to the Trestle Slabs for some laps while working on efficiency and technique.

ice climbing EMS Schools

Trestle Slabs

I could tell be the end of the day Chris was hooked on ice climbing, and I’m looking forward to sharing the rope with him again!

About David Lottmann

David grew up skiing in the Whites and started climbing at a summer camp just north of Mt. Washington when he was 16. Those first couple of years solidified climbing as a lifetime passion. From 1996-2000 he served in the USMC, and spent the better part of those years traveling the globe (18 countries). After returning to civilian life he moved to North Conway to focus on climbing and was hired in 2004 as a Rock and Ice Instructor. Since then Dave has taken numerous AMGA courses, most recently attaining a Single Pitch Instructor. He has completed a Level 3 AIARE avalanche course, is a Level 2 Course Leader, holds a valid Wilderness First Responder and is a member of Mountain Rescue Service. When David isn't out guiding he enjoys mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, backcountry skiing, trying to cook something new once a week and sampling new micro-brews. He lives in Conway, NH with his wife Michelle, son Alex, and daughter Madalena.
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