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