State of the Ice: Crawford Notch

A rare combination of a day off, day care, and no pressing household matters to attend to let me escape up to Crawford Notch this morning for a quick solo ice climb. I figured I’d grab some pics and try to get a sense of how this past weekends 1-2 inches of rain had impacted our late starting ice season. I was pretty happy with how well things held in there.

Driving by Frankenstein I noted Chia looked climb-able, along with Pegasus Rock Finish, but Pegasus proper was still a raging waterfall. I didn’t stop for pics here as Al Hospers of NEClimbs got some good shots yesterday:





I wanted to focus on Mount Willard and pulled over to get a shot of the south face:

Mount Willard South Face, Crawford Notch State Park

Gully #1 looked like it had survived, and while not “in” it looked climbable. Cauliflower Gully looked similar. Cinema looked scary thin. Climbable? Yes. Protect-able?…. ehhhh…

Higher up the notch both Silver Cascade & The Flume still had high volume open water on the main flows, with climbable ice to the sides. I saw one party of two when I was leaving working their way up the far right side of Silver Cascade:

Silver Cascade, Crawford Notch
Zoom into the top right to see the two climbers. Silver Cascade, Crawford Notch

Elephant’s Head looked good to go, the thin section getting into the upper right finish had really filed in and to me it looked better than last week. Great plastic growing ice at the start…

Elephant’s Head, Crawford Notch

I parked at the top of the notch and quickly threw my pack on. That has to be one of the coldest parking lots in the Northeast. I briskly followed a set of fresh tracks to the base of Hitchcock Gully, first grabbing a quick pic of the growing “Snotsickle”. That right hand start came in great last year and looks like it might be returning this year.

ice climbing crawford notch
Snotsickle… not yet

I reached the base of Hitchcock Gully as two climbers where setting off and followed them up the washed out approach gully of Hitchcock. Quite a bit of frozen rock climbing but things were locked up enough to make the going quick.

ice climbing new hampshire
Start of the washed out Hitchcock Gully

Jamie (from Boston) and his partner were heading up Lower Hitchcock so at the cutoff to Left Hand Monkey Wrench (LHMW) we chatted briefly and parted ways. I headed north and cut over to the base of LHMW. It was fat & plastic looking on the bottom half:

ice climbing new hampshire
Left Hand Monkey Wrench

Side note… I’ve done the direct uphill tree swim to reach this route a half dozen times, as well as the Hitchcock Gully approach. Using Hitchcock Gully is without a doubt easier & faster than the uphill tree swim approach IMO. Just sayin’…

The climbing was plastic ice for the start, then drier and a tad brittle at the moderate “crux” of this route. A stem here and a stem there and I was hooking nice looking roots to the great frozen turf shots at the top. I realized at the top this was my first solo of this climb. Meh, it’s just ice climbing, no need to celebrate. Up I went to the base of East Face Slabs Right, which looked quite fat:

ice climbing new hampshire
East Face Slabs Right

A quick walk over to check out fat & plastic Upper Hitchcock:

ice climbing new hampshire
Hitchcock Gully

I decided to look down Lower Hitchcock and see if I could spot Jamie and partner, who were starting the last bit of technical climbing of the lower route. The route was pretty washed out but Jamie reported climbable ice to the sides and made quick work of the rock moves to finish that half:

ice climbing new hampshire
Fun mixed climbing finishing Lower Hitchcock

After another social chat I headed up to my exit, The Cleft. The very bottom was washed out but thick ice came soon.

ice climbing new hampshire
The Cleft

The climbing in here was actually slightly un-nerving. First off, the ice was very dry & brittle in comparison to LHMV. No speed soloing happening here. Second, the winds were being funneled up The Cleft in a way I’d never seen before. It’s usually dead quiet and serene in here but the wind chill was pushing me to keep moving in my light soft shell. I reached the classic chockstone crux I’d seen mentioned and pictured in FB posts over the last couple weeks and for a second wondered if it would go well. It is awkward… no question about that. I did get a spark off a pick trying for something I knew wasn’t there. I also managed one nice knuckle bash before relaxing, getting a solid 4mm stick in some fresh verglas, then stemming the right leg on that little rock edge, and pulling the move right before my leg would have cramped.

Most epic Grade 2 move ever. If only I had a film crew to capture it for Reel Rock 11. Oh well. The rest of the route was easy cheezy.

I spent a little time at the summit. I realized I hadn’t stood on a winter summit alone in over a decade. All my winter summits are shared with clients or friends. It was kind of nice to be up there for a bit alone. A feeling I almost had forgotten. I don’t intend to delve into this deeper now in a general conditions report but I might come back to it at some point…

Anyways, the descent trail, the Mount Willard Trail… looks like this:

Mount Willard Trail
Extreme micro-spike terrain!

I hiked all the way out in my Black Diamond Cyborg crampons as I did not bring micro-spikes. No regrets. Car to car in 2.5 hours. Ok, no more bragging. Summary of ice conditions:

We survived the rain. Things are pretty good in many places. Long range forecast is quite promising:

NWS Forecast for Crawford Notch

This Afternoon
Snow. High near 16. Southeast wind around 10 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. Total daytime snow accumulation of 1 to 2 inches possible.
Snow, mainly before 10pm, then a chance of snow showers after 10pm. Low around 12. Wind chill values as low as -3. Blustery, with a southeast wind 10 to 20 mph becoming northwest after midnight. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.
A 50 percent chance of snow showers before 4pm. Mostly cloudy, with a temperature falling to around 7 by 5pm. Wind chill values as low as -15. Windy, with a northwest wind 25 to 30 mph.
Wednesday Night
Partly cloudy, with a low around -2. Wind chill values as low as -23. Blustery, with a northwest wind 15 to 25 mph.
Partly sunny, with a high near 15. West wind around 15 mph.
Thursday Night
Mostly cloudy, with a low around 9.
Partly sunny, with a high near 25.
Friday Night
A 40 percent chance of snow. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 19.
Snow likely. Cloudy, with a high near 29. Chance of precipitation is 70%.
Saturday Night
Snow likely. Cloudy, with a low around 18. Chance of precipitation is 60%.
A 40 percent chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 25.
Sunday Night
A 30 percent chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 10.
M.L.King Day
A 30 percent chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 16.
Monday Night
A 30 percent chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 6.
Partly sunny, with a high near 14.

Final thoughts: Otterbox Defender case is trapping moisture in my iPhone6+ making pics “foggy”, didn’t notice that with my older 5s. I’m researching a solid point & click dedicated camera. I miss my old Olympus 1030sw and want something comparable. Suggestions?

Windchills were kicking my phones butt today. Will be making some revisions to previous smartphone navigation post. Don’t worry, I still think it’s an option… but probably better to stick with dedicated GPS for anything below 20F.
That’s it. Thanks for reading. See you in the mountains,


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