A Year in Review, 2017

As usual New Year’s Eve has snuck up on me with uncanny stealth. My general lack of calendar awareness certainly helped with my last minute realization that another year has gone by. What hasn’t gone unnoticed is how amazing this year was and I’d like to share some of that here.


Employment

Without a doubt the biggest change of the year was leaving Eastern Mountain Sports after 24 years of service. Anyone close to me knows that this decision at the end of 2016 was one of the toughest I’ve ever had to make. Leaving a big corporation to work for a small, relatively young, guide service felt risky and uncertain. However within weeks of working for Northeast Mountaineering I discovered that the owners, Corey and Brett, had created a culture that celebrated mountain life, guiding, stewardship and social responsibility. It was the perfect place for me to land after a seemingly major career move.

Every guide and ambassador I would meet and get to know over my first year working for NEM seemed to share the best possible qualities you’d want in a co-worker, climbing partner, or friend. The encouragement, support, and positive stoke at just about every turn has made this past year as memorable as it is.


Avalanche Courses

Avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine
Avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine, photo by Alexandra Roberts

Despite being the first year that Northeast Mountaineering had an in-house avalanche course program we hit close to 100% capacity in the 9 courses we ran. A great snow year allowed us to do a ton of actual ski touring. Along with my excellent co-instructor Benny we had classes tour full length routes in Huntington and Tuckerman Ravines, Gulf of Slides, Ammonoosuc Ravine, and Monroe Brook. Personal highlights of the season were investigating the extent of the historic Gulf of Slides avalanche, seeing my first legit Rutschblock 2 result, and meeting the awe-inspiring Vern Tejas who observed and contributed to one of our mid-winter courses.


Ice Climbing

Drool of the Beast
Drool of the Beast, photo by Brent Doscher

2017 was a solid year for my personal ice climbing. I was able to climb more Grade 4 and Grade 5 routes then I’ve been able to get on in the last few years, partially due to fatherhood and a really busy avalanche course schedule. By the end of the season I felt I was climbing as well as I was pre-parenthood, and that accomplishment felt pretty darn good. I have a few lofty goals for 2018 and can’t wait to get after them (in-between teaching avalanche courses every weekend and family life!)


Skiing in Iceland

Skiing in Iceland
Skiing in Iceland, photo by Matt Baldelli

In April my first international trip in about a decade brought me to the beautiful country of Iceland where I spent just over a week touring and experiencing this amazing place with one of the best groups of people I could ever hope to spend time with. Visiting this country re-kindled my desire to travel after feeling somewhat sedated after experiencing so much of the world in my early twenties and I am really looking forward to repeated trips back there starting with teaching an avalanche course there this March!


Rock Climbing

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Guiding Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, photo by Peter Brandon

Cannon, Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle speed climb, Rumney, and a half dozen “Wednesday Sendsday’s” have re-ignited my passion for rock climbing that has always been there since I first tied into a rope in 1994, but getting to see others close to me fall in love with this sport on an almost weekly basis has fueled my desire to train and challenge myself to higher levels of performance above what my typical guiding requirements demanded.


Cascades

fullsizerender11
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

In July I was able to fulfill a climbing trip dream I’ve had for over ten years by guiding on Mount Shuksan and Forbidden Peak and climbing Rainer with a friend and intern guide, Peter Brandon. This trip is something I’ve been training clients for for so many years and to get to spend time in this terrain with so many cool people was pretty much the greatest opportunity I have had second to becoming a father in the last 20 years. Seriously mind-blowing conditions, weather, and climbing made this a life time memory for me.


Ambassadorship

Skiing Mount Washington
Best powder day I’ve had on the West Side, photo by @cfitzgerald

I am super excited to join DPS Skis, Ortovox, and Revo for a second year of ambassadorship. I still wonder how I was lucky enough to hook up with these amazing brands. I can go into product details in reviews and debate minutia fabric issues until the end of the internet but without any shame I can say these three companies “get it”. They make stuff that people like me want. Cutting edge ski design, forward thinking avalanche safety gear, virtually unmatched clothing design, and best eye wear, sunglasses and goggles, I have ever experienced. If you want top-notch gear, have a look!


Blogging

It’s been a fantastic year to blog and share these adventures along with reviewing gear for some of the best companies out there. I love sharing my experiences and opinions and really want to focus on more travel guides, in-depth gear reviews, and how-to skill videos this upcoming year. If there is one thing I’m certain about it’s I love sharing my passion with everyone that shares these feelings in the mountains. Spending time in these places with good people is so vital to our sanity, and blogging gives me a slight escape when I’m not able to just head out the door on my next mountain adventure.

I’ve met quite a few readers in person over the past year. I’m so grateful for those of you who visit here, ask questions, post comments, click “like”, share, or even just mention briefly at the coffee shop you are happy with the boots you bought from my review. Keeping this blog going is a fantastic mix of fun, stress, guilt, reward, doubt, and confirmation.


I wish you all a fantastic 2018 and hope you have some amazing mountain adventures this year. I want to thank my family, especially my wife, for helping me experience my own adventures while still raising a family.

I hope to see you all out in the mountains soon shredding, sending, and tapping on shovels (and possibly tossing back a post epic pint at The Moat).

Happy New Year,

Northeast Alpine Start

First Avalanche Course of the Season!

This weekend we conducted our first AIARE Avalanche Course of the season and it was so lit! Seriously we couldn’t have hoped for better weather and conditions! Combine that with our NEW classroom space at Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center and we had a fantastic 3 days! Here’s a quick recap!

Friday

After a morning of classroom we headed outside where a perfect terrain feature provided a realistic avalanche rescue demo for our 13 students.

Saturday

After another morning of engaging classroom discussions we were out the door just after lunch to conduct our “Observational Outing” in a shallow yet dynamic snow early season snow pack. After wrapping up class we got to drive back through the notch in quite the snow squall! Here’s some short clips from my Instagram story that afternoon!

Sunday

For our final day we met at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and the students, armed with recently acquired knowledge, dove into trip planning sessions to plan our tour. By 8:45 am we were skinning up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to put to use everything we had talked about the previous two days. The following photos are all courtesy of Alexandra Roberts.

AIARE Avalanche Course
AM Student Led Trip Planning Session
AIARE Avalanche Course
Writing down the plan helps avoid some heuristic traps
AIARE Avalanche Course
Heading right into winter on Mount Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine Trail
AIARE Avalanche Course
Quick break and observations at Hermit Lake
AIARE Avalanche Course
Discussing route options
AIARE Avalanche Course
Hands on learning about snow stability
AIARE Avalanche Course
Upper Sherburne ski trail was in pretty good shape!

Back at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center we reviewed our ski tour and debriefed the course before parting ways. By all accounts the first avalanche course of the season was a huge success. A big thanks to the 13 students who made it a great course by asking great questions and staying motivated through-out! Hope to see you all out there practicing your new skills!


Thinking of signing up for an avalanche course this winter?

Some of our courses have already sold out and many are close!

course dates

Course price includes two nights of lodging at The Bunkhouse!

You can book here, and use promo code “DavidNEM” to be entered to win a free guided trip of your choosing!

Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course and hello Spring!

The last weekend of winter provided one of the most spectacular 3 days of higher summits weather I have ever seen in March! Blue skis and almost non-existent wind led to some really enjoyable ski touring on Mount Washington during our second-to-last American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) course.

Day One

We kicked off the course on Friday with some lively classroom sessions and small group exercises.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Benny discusses identifying avalanche terrain on day 1.
AIARE Avalanche Course
Small groups learn vicariously while discussing a local case study

Day Two

We met early to learn some advanced trip planning skills using CalTopo.com and the Avenza App. The Higher Summits Forecast called for southeast winds around 10-15 mph so we planned a tour on the west side of Mount Washington.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Powerful trip planning software that is 100% free!
AIARE Avalanche Course
Adjusting layers while skinning up the Cog
AIARE Avalanche Course
Small pockets of 2-3 mm Surface Hoar were found on sheltered north aspects above Waumbek Tank but below tree line
AIARE Avalanche Course
Benny demonstrates some snow pit observations near Jacob’s Ladder
AIARE Avalanche Course
Some cool wind effect and cornices nearby
AIARE Avalanche Course
We contoured around the rim of Ammonoosuc Ravine until we could drop the main gully or “Center Ammo”.

We concluded our tour with a debrief at the trail-head before calling it a day.

Day Three

AIARE Avalanche Course
Student led trip-planning session at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
AIARE Avalanche Course
Skinning up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail
AIARE Avalanche Course
Hermit Lake Snow Study Plot
AIARE Avalanche Course
Skinning up between Lobster Claw Gully and Right Gully
AIARE Avalanche Course
Snow-pack Observations

Avalanche danger was LOW and we had plenty of time to spare so we booted up Lobster Claw and traversed over to the top of Right Gully.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Ready to boot up Lobster Claw
AIARE Avalanche Course
Bluebird!
AIARE Avalanche Course
Sherika after descending from pit location
AIARE Avalanche Course
300 pound block of ice came from somewhere

Some video of our descent:

AIARE Avalanche Course
All smiles after a good run!

We wrapped up the course back in the pack room with discussions about continuing to learn about traveling in the back-country. It was a real pleasure having each of you in this course. Thank you all for staying engaged and contributing through out our three days!

Tomorrow, and beyond!

Only one more avalanche course next weekend after a Mountain Skills Course tomorrow and Washington Climb on Thursday. It might seem like the winter season is winding down a little but we are set up for a fantastic Spring ski season! The warm rock climbing can wait this year… I still have a lot of skiing goals to accomplish including reviewing some new ski mountaineering gear from CAMP/Cassin, Ortovox, Petzl, and DPS. Expect a lot of gear reviews to be landing April/May after I get back from Iceland.

Yup, Iceland!  Been awhile since I’ve been out of country so I am SUPER amp’d about this upcoming trip.

Want to try backcountry skiing?

Maybe you just bought a setup or still need to rent a touring package (a few places in town rent touring gear). Maybe you’d like to avoid the maddening crowds in Tuckerman Ravine and check out some new to you terrain ? Consider learning about the joys of back-country skiing with me. The snow-pack we have in the alpine right now combined with more stable Spring weather is a GREAT time to book a back-country ski day!

You can read a bit about the program here but reach out to me directly at nealpinestart@gmail.com to check on available dates before trying to book!

Did you get out this weekend? Whatcha do? Let me know in the comments below!

Well thanks for reading, and welcome Spring!

See you in the mountains!

Repentance, Black Dike, Ice Fest, Avy Course!

What a week it has been! This time last Wednesday I was just topping out the classic hard line Repentance on Cathedral Ledge with my old friend Tom and new friend and fellow Northeast Mountaineering guide Jordan. The route was in excellent shape and felt a few degrees easier than when I first climbed it a few years ago with Bob & Ryan.

Thursday I got to guide NEM regular guest Nick up an equally fantastic Black Dike on Cannon Cliff. It had been years since I’d climbed this route and it was in great shape. We did have to wait for a party ahead of us but completed the climb in 6 hours car to car with some of the best glissading I have ever seen on the descent trail!

Friday we started our 4th avalanche course of the season and students and instructors alike partook in evening social hours upstairs at International Mountain Equipment and watched presentations at the Theatre in the Woods.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Skinning out in Crawford Notch during our Observational Outing during day 2 of our AIARE Avalanche Course

On Monday I started a 2 Day Ice Climbing Course and had the pleasure of introducing father & son team Andy and Peter to ice climbing at Cathedral Ledge and in Crawford Notch. The snow was fantastic and I geeked out a bit over some of the snappy wind slabs we found along our route.

Later that night I heard of a climbing accident on the Black Dike. A climber had fallen during the final moves and severely broke his ankle in the 50-60 foot fall. I spoke briefly with Nick last night and he is in good spirits and incredibly grateful for all of those who assisted him off the cliff.

That brings us to today, a chance for me to do some laundry, get to the dump, and attend to other household errands that have been put off for a bit too long. Another round of snow inbound for tonight so I’ll probably find myself skiing tomorrow before our next avalanche course starts on Friday.

What an absolutely fantastic winter we are having! Hope you are getting out there and enjoying it!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

This winter so far…

What a winter this is shaping up to be! Finding time to blog about any of it is starting to get tricky as I balance 5-6 days a week of guiding with getting my kiddo out on the slopes, driveway cleared, lunches made, dinner cooked, laundry done, say hello and good night to my wife, and wake up and do it all again.

I’m not complaining! This is absolutely my favorite time of the year and for good reason. Skiing and ice climbing conditions have been quite far above par. The transition to a new guide service has been almost seamless and the stoke level is at an all time high!

I’m keeping this post quite short as I have a little more prep to do for tomorrow’s 3rd avalanche class with Northeast Mountaineering but I want to share a couple of my favorite moments this season so far!

Ortovox, DPS Skis, and Revo Ambassadorship

Avalanche Course
Photo by Brent Doscher Photography

Definitely the coolest thing that has happened to me since fatherhood is having these companies support me. A huge shout out to Matt Murphy of Life Style Sales for connecting me with DPS skis, the makers of some seriously legit back-country sliding pro-tech, and Revo Sunglasses, high-end goggles and sunglasses I’ve been sporting for everything from whiteout flat light Tuckerman turns to blue-bird sunny day ice climbing. And finally I somehow ended up on Ortovox’s Athlete Team. I’ve been using their avalanche gear for years and now I have the opportunity to test and promote their incredible clothing and pack line. I am humbled and motivated by this opportunity. Expect to hear a lot more about what they are doing with high-end technical clothing when the dust (snow) settles.

Ice Climbing

ice climbing
Photo by Brent Doscher Photography

I haven’t kept hard numbers the last few years since fatherhood but I can say without a doubt I’ve climbed more ice in the last two months than I remember climbing the last few years, including the first Grade 5 in probably 5 years. I feel strong and look forward to ticking off some routes that have long been on my wish list this season.

Avalanche Courses

avalanche courses
Photo by Matt Baldelli Photography

I love being in the classroom as much as the field when it comes to avalanche education. It’s hard to describe how stoked I can get the minutes before another 3 day avalanche course starts. The excitement of getting ready to engage another group of back-country adventurers and start them on their journey of life-long snow-study and critical decision making produces a natural high to me. Or it could be the triple shot Americano. Either way I love teaching these courses.

Speaking of which I have case studies and agendas to print out for tomorrows course so that’s it for today. Stay tuned for a ton of gear reviews from Outdoor Research, Black Diamond, CAMP/Cassin, Patagonia, Ortovox, DPS, G3, and more.

Oh, and if you book an avalanche course, or any course with us at Northeast Mountaineering, use promo code “DavidNEM” for a chance to win a free guided day.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

 

 

AIARE Avalanche Course 1-6-17 to 1-8-17

Here we go! While some providers have run a couple courses already we just completed our very first one of the season yesterday and it was epic! A new venue, classroom tech, on-site lodging, awesome students, and great snow all led to a fantastic 3 days!

Having a professional photographer along for our Ski Tour was also a nice bonus. Here’s a quick recap and some info on how Northeast Mountaineering is diving head first into the field of avalanche education!

First, our new classroom space!

Avalanche Course
Our cozy classroom

Our classroom sessions were held in “The Bunkhouse” living area in Bartlett, NH. This was extremely convenient for the students as 2 nights of lodging are included in the course tuition. All seven participants stayed in the bunkhouse which led to a pretty immersive course and some new friendships and touring partners.

Another big classroom change is the use of iPads pre-loaded with the AIARE Student Manual. The “Notability” app allows custom note-taking and the ability to email yourself the manual with notes throughout the course. I’ll be adding some CalTopo style mapping options on them to help with our trip planning sessions. For those who prefer a paper copy of the manual we do have them for sale with a portion of the proceeds going to non-profit conservation groups! Hats off to NEM co-owner Brett Fitzgerald for spearheading this unique initiative!

After two days of mixing up classroom and field exercises we headed up into Tuckerman Ravine for a ski tour designed to re-enforce the knowledge and skills we had gained the days prior.

Avalanche Course
Trail-head Beacon Function Check
Avalanche Course
A student sees something in the ravine
Avalanche Course
After the steeper section of the ravine approach
Avalanche Course
Skinning up towards Right Gully
Avalanche Course
Following the skin-track and learning how to kick turn
Avalanche Course
Investigating the melt-freeze crusts and faceted layers 30-40cm down
Avalanche Course
CTE Q2 SC (easy to collapse) but ECTN7 (not so easy to propagate)
Avalanche Course
A student checks out some of the facets that have been forming from our prolonged cold temps and high gradients
Avalanche Course
Getting ready to drop from our pit location on my new DPS Wailer 112PRC skis!

A bit of GoPro footage from the day

Avalanche Course
And a fun run down the Sherburne ski trail
Avalanche Course
Group shot after our course debrief at the Bunkhouse

A huge thank you to the first seven students of my 2017 avalanche course season! Each one of you brought something to the course with your engaging questions, camaraderie, early morning shenanigans, and cold weather endurance.

Our next course starts Friday but is sold out. We have a few more spots left in our Jan 20th course. We are also working hard at bringing on another course instructor so we may be able to open more seats soon. If you want to get into a course this season with me check the dates here:

http://www.nemountaineering.com/courses/avalanche/

Use promo code “DavidNEM” when you reserve for a chance to win a free guided day.

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Hitchcock Gully, Mt. Willard 12/30/17

This past Friday I had Syed and Thomas for the last day of a 3 Day Mountaineering course with Northeast Mountaineering. On the first day they had learned some of the basics with me at the North End of Cathedral Ledge. On the second day they had a great day on Mount Washington getting less than a quarter mile from the summit (sometimes the weather gods just say “not today”). For their last day we took on a multi-pitch alpine climb, the classic “Hitchcock Gully” on Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch State Park.

Almost a foot of snow had fallen the day before so I was grateful to see a party had broken trail from the parking lot and we made our way to the start of the climb. After roping up we short-roped and short-pitched our way up to the more technical climbing.

Ice Climbing Mount Willard
Thomas and Syed reaching our first 5th class belay point after climbing 500 feet of 3rd class snow

The first 5th class pitch was quite standard with a smidge of funky ice at the choke. I had been following fresh boot-prints until this point but right above the choke they disappeared into a small avalanche debris pile. After setting up an anchor in the first bomber ice on route I took a look at the small crown and guessed it was probably triggered by the climbers who had just proceeded us. While this was a very small slab avalanche on the “Destructive Size” scale it was big enough to sweep a climber off their feet.

This is something ice climbers who solo our local alpine gullies should keep in mind especially after a foot of fresh snow has just dropped. While the danger had passed probably less than an hour earlier now that the small slab had released, two climbers who caught up to us decided to solo the first pitch despite having a rope and a party of three directly ahead of them. While they climbed efficiently they still had to wait 20 minutes for us to finish the rock pitch…so… why not pitch out the first pitch when we have a NWS avalanche warning in effect? You got nothing to lose and might as well bust out that rope you are hauling especially if you’re going to have to wait a few minutes for the party ahead of you.

Ice Climbing Mount Willard
Small climber triggered slab in Lower Hitchcock. You can see where it stepped down to another thinner slab, and the crown went from buried rock to buried rock (weak spots)
Ice Climbing Mount Willard
Syed figures out the rock moves on Lower Hitchcock

After finishing Lower Hitchcock we made our way up to the start of Upper Hitchcock. There were some climbers on East Face Slabs Right but we didn’t make contact so I could not confirm if they were the party that triggered the small slab. Upper Hitchcock looked great!

Ice Climbing Mount Willard
Upper Hitchcock
Ice Climbing Mount Willard
Syed and Thomas ready for Upper Hitchcock

The climbing was great with good ice and comfy temps. Soon after leading the first long pitch we were all at the anchor and ready to climb the last bit of fun ice at the top.

Ice Climbing Mount Willard
Syed finishing the first pitch of Upper Hitchcock

As I topped out I noticed the trail was not broken so we would be doing a little bit of “wallowing”. The pow was so fresh that it was one of the easier bushwhacks to the summit I can recall when breaking trail.

Ice Climbing Mount Willard
Last few steps to the summit

We enjoyed the summit for a few minutes before quickly booting it down the nicely packed out Mt. Willard Trail (thank you snowshoes for packing that thing out minutes after a Nor’Easter’!)

My first day on Willard this year and a great reminder of what an awesome place it is to climb!

Before I wrap up this quick trip report a quick PSA. This is shaping up to be a banner winter recreation season. If your hobbies take you into steep snow covered terrain, you need to be thinking about avalanches. They don’t just happen on Mount Washington. They don’t have to be big enough to bury you to cause injury. Anywhere you go on snow that is over 35 degrees could be avalanche terrain. Even being on flat terrain under this steeper terrain can be a risk.

Know Before You Go!

There is more avalanche education available this season than there ever has been! Take advantage of that and take a course, or a refresher, THIS YEAR!

Don’t wait for a close call (or worse).

Some important resources:

http://www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org/

www.avtraining.org

http://www.avalanche.org/

And if you want to take an avalanche course with me we are almost sold out. Please check the dates here to see what is left this winter:

http://www.nemountaineering.com/courses/avalanche/

If you book a course through the above link use “DavidNEM” at checkout for a chance to win a free custom guided day of your choice (ski tour, ice climb, snow pit work, companion rescue, you name it!).

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start