Cliff Rappelling

Yesterday I took Dianna and Annie on their first outdoor rappelling adventure in scenic Pinkham Notch for Northeast Mountaineering. The weather was stellar and both of these thrill seekers took multiple rides down the 140 foot west face and the shorter overhanging south side, each time becoming more comfortable with the process and exposure. Here’s a quick clip of their adventure!


 


The Waterfall and Cliff Rappelling adventures Northeast Mountaineering offers can be an excellent way to have a little adrenaline rush while learning a little bit about a fundamental skill of the broader sport of climbing. I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t see Dianna and Annie back here for a rock climbing adventure in the near future!

Book any lesson on http://www.nemountaineering.com and use promo code “DavidNEM” to be entered in a monthly raffle to win a free guided day of your choice!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start



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Waterfall Rappelling, right before Flash Floods and Tornadoes!

Following Antonio’s 16 pitches of climbing on Cathedral I re-scheduled his alpine climbing day to Monday based on the weather forecasts indicating some severe afternoon weather. It was with a little irony that by freeing up that day my boss asked if I could cover a Waterfall Rappelling adventure so he could attend Marc’s Guide Manual Clinic yesterday.

Avoiding getting caught above tree-line in a thunderstorm was therefore traded with standing in a river at the top of a waterfall. A closer look at the updated weather models though indicated the disturbances would not start until about 1 PM and I felt we could run our 6 guests through the course and be back at the cars before it got to hairy.

Everyone in the group got to rappel at least twice while I closely monitored the sky. It’s difficult to hear thunderstorms approaching over the roar of a waterfall but around 12 PM I felt the air change, the temperature drop, and an updraft develop. We had one pair returning to the top to conduct their third and final rappel when I heard the first boom, followed by a few big fat cold raindrops that lasted only a few seconds, then a second boom. I radioed my co-guide Peter that we were shutting it down and we packed up and casually hiked out reaching the parking lot in a light rain. 2 minutes later driving on Route 302 through torrential downpours I knew we pulled the plug at the right moment.

These storms would intensify over the next 8 hours and actually trigger at least three tornadoes in western Maine, just 15 miles west of North Conway! Thankfully no one was hurt through there was some property damage. I confess I am fascinated by extreme weather and to me this whole weather event was great to witness. Maine averages 2 tornadoes a year so three in one day is quite historic!

Tomorrow’s weather looks a lot nicer for an alpine objective so Antonio and I will likely be heading up high somewhere!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



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16 pitches on Cathedral Ledge!

Yesterday I met Antonio from Madrid, Spain at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse close to Jackson, NH. Antonio had decades of climbing experience from Yosemite to the Andes & Alps and was super excited to sample some of the granite climbing of New Hampshire. The weather forecast called for rain by 2pm so we wasted no time getting to the cliff and started up our first route at 8:30am, Funhouse.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Starting pitch one of Funhouse

Antonio’s experience and ability was apparent from the start as he climbed with skill and grace.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing pitch 2 of Funhouse

We made our way from Funhouse up to Upper Refuse and quickly dispatched it in 2 pitches.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing Upper Refuse

With us both at the fence at the top of the cliff I checked my watch… 10AM. That is probably the fastest I have climbed Cathedral via Funhouse to Upper Refuse while guiding ever! Antonio hadn’t broken a sweat yet so I decided to let him sample some of the great cliff top climbing we have before we headed down for more multi-pitch fun.

Within an hour Antonio ticked off The Lookout Crack (5.9), last pitch of Recompense (5.9) Little Feat (5.9), and the last pitch of The Prow (5.10a).

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
The Lookout Crack- Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Little Feat
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Last pitch of The Prow
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Classic jams on the last pitch of The Prow

By North Conway Rock Climbs Antonio had climbed 10 pitches by the time we meandered over for a snack atop Airation Buttress. We then headed down to the top of the Thin Air Face and I short pitched us to the Saigon anchor. Antonio took a quick lap on the last pitch of Still in Saigon (5.8+) (historically called Miss Saigon).

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Last few moves (the crux) of Miss Saigon

We then did three quick single rope raps using Rapid Transit anchors and found ourselves at the base of an empty and open Thin Air right at noon. After another quick snack session we combined the first two pitches and topped out Thin Air at about 1pm.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Antonio on the pitch 2 traverse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Belay stance selfie
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Just above pitch 4 crux

Finishing up the 5.8 finish that brought the pitch total to 15… but it wasn’t raining yet… and Antonio still had energy to spare! Even though my radar app showed some stuff coming within an hour we squeezed in a quick top-belay of Pine Tree Eliminate (5.8+) to finish our tour de force of some of Cathedral Ledge’s best rock climbing.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing strong

We hustled down the descent trail reaching the cars right at 2 PM as the rain overtook the area.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
My Radar App

In 5.5 hours we climbed Cathedral Ledge twice. Antonio racked up 1,110 feet of technical climbing according to North Conway Rock Climbs. It was definitely a fun day of moving quickly and efficiently on the cliff. It was great to get to practice some transition skills from the previous day’s Mountain Guide Manual Clinic all for the purpose of giving my client the best possible day I could during his short visit. I shot some video during the day that I edited and uploaded here:

We are climbing again this upcoming Monday when the weather settles. I’m picturing something alpine. I can’t wait!

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Antonio ready for more after 16 pitches of climbing on Cathedral Ledge!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



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Pinnacle in 2 hours! Wilderness Navigation! Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge!

Two weeks ago I wrote about my personal goal to climb the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle in under 2 hours car to car after doing it in 2:37. Last Thursday weather and a partner lined up for another attempt. We managed to shave about 10 minutes from the descent and some more time on the route by not swinging leads (I led the whole route via the 5.8 variation and Fairy Tale Traverse). After coiling the rope I checked the watch and was a little dismayed to see we only have 19 minutes left. I was pretty sure it would take me at least 25 minutes to reach the car at my pace. We started scrambling up the boulder field as fast as my lungs could handle. As we got closer I started to think we might make it. Then I started to get nervous that I would miss it by 2 minutes and have to try this whole thing over again. That prospect helped me dig down a little harder despite feeling like I would be dry-heaving from the effort. I was so stoked to make it with a minute and a half to spare! Here’s some action from our climb!


Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
The author clips his first piece of protection on the exposed and beautiful “Fairy Tale Traverse”, a variation last pitch of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle photo by Matt Milone, @nightmutephoto

I’m happy to have checked this personal goal off my list. Quite a few have asked “why rush so much… enjoy the route… using the road is cheating… etc. etc.” To them say I have climbed this route at a more typical pace over a dozen times, I enjoyed this made up challenge, and I don’t think you can cheat on something that is 100% for you and not recognized by anyone else. I’m very thankful for all those who provided encouragement and especially Benny Allen and Matt Milone for the belays and hustle!


Over the weekend I had the opportunity to teach my Wilderness Navigation Course to 11 participants for the Appalachian Mountain Club. I really have a blast teaching this course and this group seemed to really enjoy the bushwhacking we did during our afternoon session.

Wilderness Navigation Course
A beaver dam on our way to our field session- Wilderness Navigation Course

Yesterday I had the pleasure of introducing Kellie of Exeter, NH to outdoor rock climbing. Kellie had been climbing indoors for almost two years and was quite enthusiastic to try the sport out on some real rock. Her natural ability and focus had her climbing close to 600 feet of climbing up to 5.8 without hardly breaking a sweat. I’m really looking forward to our next climb together!

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Kellie starts up Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Topping out Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Lay-backing on Kiddy Crack
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Sending the Mantle-shelf Problem 1st try!

Coming up!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Tuesday Tech Tip! A whole new round of gear reviews is en-route as well!

Book any course at Northeast Mountaineering and use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout. This will enter you into a monthly raffle to win a free guided day of your choosing!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog



Speed Climbing the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle

I like setting small reachable goals to keep me motivated in climbing. These goals are quite low compared to the inconceivable feats achieved by climbing’s greats, like the recent mind-blowing free-solo of Freerider by Alex Honnold and Kilian Jornet’s 26 hour climb from Basecamp to the summit of Everest and that’s quite OK! Mere mortals need goals too!

Northeast Ridge of Pinnacle
Northeast Ridge of Pinnacle

Last summer after a relatively quick climb of the Northeast Ridge of Pinnacle I wondered if I could cut my car-to-car time down to 2 hours. Last week we did it in 2 hours 37 minutes but we saw ample opportunities to shave more time and I think this goal is in reach for me this season. My only self-imposed rule is I must fifth class belay the whole route with some limited simul-climbing allowed (no straight up soloing) and include the 5.8 variation and the Fairy Tale Traverse. While skipping these pitches would lead to a faster time these two pitches make this a classic route in my opinion.

Here’s a video I made of our attempt. Below it I share some resources, gear lists, and general strategies I’m using.


The Auto-Road Approach

First let’s address the “alternative” approach we used, the Mount Washington Auto Road. Within minutes of posting my video to Facebook some folks bemoaned the use of the auto-road for the approach. While I don’t think I need to defend a tactic that I feel is valid for my own personal goal I do want to encourage anyone who has never climbed this route to do so first via the traditional approach (Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Huntington Ravine Trail). This approach is about 2.8 miles and 2700 feet in elevation and takes most parties 2-3 hours to reach the route. After topping out the hike across the Alpine Garden Trail and down the Lions Head Trail can be very scenic and enjoyable, and will take most parties about 2 hours, for an average trail time of 4-5 hours. Strong parties on fair weather days might even include a trip to the summit but be advised that adds considerable mileage and elevation to your day.

Another reason to stick with the traditional approach is on questionable weather days. If there is any chance of afternoon thunderstorms it would be more prudent to approach from below. This makes descending in bad weather an easier choice… not so easy if your vehicle is parked 1000 feet above you!

And finally cost is something to contemplate. For a party of 2 the entrance fee to the auto-road is $38! This year I decided I would be spending a lot of time up there so I took advantage of a “locals” season pass for $99. I’m planning over a half dozen forays up there this season for various projects and expect my actual expense to come down to about $8 per person per trip which makes the next couple of points well worth it!

The Auto Road can cut the approach time down to 25 minutes. This is basically jogging down the Huntington Ravine Trail, a really steep trail with lots of 4th class terrain on it. You drop 1000 feet in only .4 miles! There are multiple places were a slip could result in serious injury so care needs to be taken here. After topping out the technical portion of the climb it’s another .4 mile 700 foot climb back up to your car, taking about 25 minutes.

Bottom line is using the Auto Road can cut the total hiking time down to less than one hour.

That leaves me about an hour for the 7 pitch climb to meet my 2 hour goal. Much of the route is easy fifth class and can be simul-climbed by competent parties in approach shoes but I do carry my rock shoes to make the 5.8 pitch feel more secure.

Once I reach this goal I’d like to combine it with some other area classics. Whitney-Gilman Ridge is an obvious choice, but it might be fun to link up some stuff on Mt. Willard or Webster Cliffs as well… and Cathedral and Whitehorse always like to be included in long day link ups.

Resources

North Conway Rock Climbs by Jerry Handren <- Best guidebook for the area. Pages 282-284.

Mountain Project Route Description and Comments

Higher Summit Forecast <- only 72 hours out, if any chance of unsettled weather use traditional approach from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center

Current Summit Conditions <- useful for real time updates on changing conditions and elevation specific temperatures, I have this book-marked on my phone as cell coverage in Huntington Ravine is quite good with Verizon.

Auto Road Hours of Operation (opens at 7:30 am starting June 18th, closes at 6 pm)

GPS Info

Huntington Ravine Trail Parking Lot

5.6 miles from Auto Road Gate

UTM 19T 0316913 E 4905267 N WGS84 5725 feet

Start of climb

UTM 19T 0317371 E 4604895 N WGS84 4692 feet

End of 5th class climbing

UTM 19T 0317295 E 4904871 N WGS84 4911 feet

Personal Gear

Mountain Tools Slipsteam Pack <- I recently got my hands on this 11 ounce alpine speed pack and it’s perfect for this type of mission. Full review coming!

Mountain Tools Slipstream Backpack
Mountain Tools Slipstream Backpack

Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles <- I never considered carrying trekking poles on a technical climbing mission until I tried this pair. They only weigh 8 ounces each and pack up so small you can fit them into any “bullet” style climbing pack. I’ve noticed I can more downhill much faster with them so I’ll have them for the majority of my trips now!

Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch <- After testing 5 different GPS watches for the Gear Institute this one won my heart and I’ve been using it year round for both it’s GPS tracking capability and heart rate info

GoPro Hero 5 Session <- The small size of the session was what convinced me to start rolling with a GoPro again… above video was made with this. I really like how I can stream videos to my iPhone on the drive home and then do all the editing with iMovie on my phone!

Revo Cusp S Sunglasses <- high performance sweet shades!

LaSportiva TX 2 Approach Shoes <- My current favorite approach shoe! I need to order another pair before I wear these out and they stop making them! Full review here!

In the pack

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket <- a really nice ultralight jacket that I reviewed in detail here.

Patagonia Sunshade Technical Hooded Shirt <- another staple of my summer wardrobe, you can read all about it in my detailed review here.

AMK .7 First Aid Kit <- my basic first aid kit with some personal modification

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack <- weighs 4 ounces, lives in my pack

Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle <- I only carry one bottle but I pre-hydrate like crazy, use Nuun Hydration Tablets, and carry a small bottle of iodine tablets in my first aid kit for emergency use.

Petzl Zipka Headlamp <- The new 2017 version of my longtime favorite headlamp has doubled its brightness. The retractable cord has been my favorite feature as this light does not get tangled up in climbing gear!

 

Petzl Sirocco Helmet <- my original 2013 review is here but stand by for a new review on the 2017 model coming this summer!

Petzl Sitta Harness <- review here!

Five Ten Rogue Climbing Shoes <- my comfy all day trad shoe

Five Ten Rogue Lace Up Climbing Shoes
Five Ten Rogue Lace Up Climbing Shoes

Rack

The below rack is slimmed down from a normal rack based on intimate route knowledge and personal comfort running out long sections of easy 5th class terrain. For those on-sighting the route I would recommend a “regular rack”, i.e. set of nuts, 3-4 smallest tri-cams, set of SLCD’s up to a #2 Black Diamond Camalot or equivalent, 8 alpine draws, cordelette or two. My slimmed down rack for this mission:

Racked on a nylon shoulder sling:

Black Diamond Ultralight Camalots sizes .4 – #2 racked on Black Diamond Oz Rackpack carabiners <- loving the lightweight of these!

Black Diamond Camalot X4’s sizes .1 – .4 racked on a wire-gate oval carabiner <- these have replaced my long loved CCH Aliens!

Set of DMM Wallnuts sizes 1-11 racked on two wire-gate oval carabiners <- these are noticeably lighter than the Black Diamond Stoppers I have retired to when I need to double up on nuts

Light climbing rack
Light climbing rack

Petzl William Screw-Gate Locker with 5 alpine draws and 2 “mini-quads”… more on the “mini-quad” later!

Alpine Draws and Mini-Quads!
Alpine Draws and Mini-Quads!

Rope

For this mission I’m taking one of my older Sterling 9 mm Nano ropes and chopping it to 30 meters! This might seem dramatic but it makes a lot of sense to me on this route. The first concern many might have after reading that is “What if you need to bail?” Obviously retreating with just a 30 meter rope could be problematic on many similar alpine routes. Two points to justify this decision. 1) You can escape into 4th class terrain to the left of the route at just about any point on this climb. 2) I’ll only be attempting this with really favorable weather conditions. The savings are not just in total carry weight, but also speed of stacking and coiling at every transition. Even the 5.8 pitch is only 25 meters long so a 30 meter rope will allow us to belay the pitches we are not simul-climbing.

(EDIT 6/26/17- Having reached my goal last week we ended up using a full 60m Sterling Nano and I think that is probably more prudent. Where we could have saved some time was having the second use a backpack that could fit the whole rope “pre-stacked” so when we reached the route zero stacking would be required. At the top of the route the larger pack would let us stuff the rope vs. coiling it saving another few minutes.)

Belay System

Personal Climbing Gear
Personal Climbing Gear

Kong GiGi Belay Device <- currently my most used belay device. Since I’ll be leading the whole route no need to carry a tube style belay device. I really like the following carabiner combination pictured above to use with the GiGi for security and simplicity… more on that later perhaps.

Black Diamond Vapor Lock Carabiner

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner

For ounce counters the entire pack and contents above come in at 15 pounds sans rope!

Strategies

Pre-hydrate. I mentioned this earlier but I want to emphasize that only carrying 32 ounces of water is a risk management issue. I drink a full Nalgene during the night before and another 32 ounces on the way to the mountain.

Early start. If we are at the gate at 7:30am we can be on the trail by 7:45am, and climbing by 8:15am. I’ve easily made it back to the car by noon on multiple occasions. Most parties using the traditional approach would need to start hiking by 5:30am to start climbing the route at the same time.

Rack at the car. While I didn’t do this in the above video I can easily see how this will save 5 or more minutes. That means harness and helmet on at the car, gear organized to lead and belay, and off you go. Clock doesn’t start until I leave the car so might as well maximize prep time here!

One climber does all the leading. No question swinging leads slows the team down. We lost at least ten minutes switching driver seats for the crux pitch. One leader means the leader gets a good rest at each belay.

Have fun. This is really why I want to do this. Moving quickly and efficiently in this type of terrain is really enjoyable to me. At the end of the day whether I hit the 2 hour mark or not I enjoy the planning, the anticipation of trying again, the time spent in the mountains, and the friends who enjoy the same.

I hope this post helps you come up with your own personal climbing goal this season. For many it’s “climb a grade higher”, but this season I think I’ll be focusing mainly on becoming more efficient, which I think will ultimately lead to climbing a higher grade. It will definitely lead me to climbing more! Wish me luck, and see you in the mountains!

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
The author heads out on the exposed but quite moderate “Fairy Tale Traverse” a last pitch variation of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle that should not be missed!- photo by Benny Allen




Book any course at Northeast Mountaineering and use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout. This will enter you into a monthly raffle to win a free guided day of your choosing!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog

Square Ledge, Waterfall Rappelling, Mount Washington, then back to Square!

What a great and busy long weekend that was! The weather for the most part was better than forecasted and I got out the last four days for quite the mixed bag of fun. This past Thursday I met up with my friend Alex to shoot some video and pics to go along with an in-depth review I’m writing on the new Petzl Sirocco climbing helmet coming out early this summer (stay tuned!). After some shooting we got some climbing in, the highlight was definitely watching my friend Brittni lead her first New Hampshire trad climb!

rock climbing new hampshire
Brit cruises her first NH trad lead (and second ever), “The Chimney”, at Square Ledge- photo by @alexandraroberts

On Friday I guided my first ever Waterfall Rappelling trip. Despite some chilly water temps this young couple had a blast and rappelled the 140 foot waterfall three times together!

Waterfall Rappelling White Mountains New Hampshire
Adventurous way to spend your birthday weekend!

Saturday I traded shorts and t-shirt for full on winter clothing to co-guide 19 inspiring hikers up Mount Washington in quite burly conditions to raise money for the 5 most severely wounded veterans in New Hampshire via AidClimb. Below freezing temps, 50 mph winds, low visibility, rain and sleet, all provided a very memorable June ascent for everyone involved. I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to play a small part in this fundraiser that has raised over $30,000 for these veterans and their families!

Climbing Mount Washington
Summiting Washington in winter conditions… in June

Finally I finished off the weekend Sunday back in t-shirt weather co-guiding a Cliff Rappelling course for a group of 8 Bostonians who came up for the day as part of a Meetup.com event.

Cliff rappelling White Mountains New Hampshire
Pretty scenic spot to learn how to rappel right?

I love swinging from 10 degree wind chills to 60 degree sunny weather within 24 hours! New Hampshire White Mountain weather will certainly keep you on your toes! I hope everyone had a good weekend as it looks like the start of this week will be a bit damp. It gives me time to catch up on some reading and writing I’d like to do and store my winter gear again for the season… or maybe I should keep it handy…

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See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Rock Climbing- Cathedral Ledge

This past Saturday I got the opportunity to take this father-son team on their first outdoor rock climbing experience on Cathedral Ledge. Harley and his son Jonah have literally been on adventures all over the world from Cambodia to Africa and I was happy to play a small part on some domestic adventure for this dynamic duo! We started with some top-roping on the Thin Air Face then headed to the top of the ledge for some anchor building/knot practice.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Father and son at the top of Cathedral Ledge with Whitehorse Ledge in the background

After some lunch we headed down the Barber Wall and over to the classic multi-pitch climb “Upper Refuse”.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Jonah and Harley at the 1st pitch belay on Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Jonah all smiles while finishing pitch three of Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Dad was not far behind!
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Father and son quite proud in the moment!

Taking a parent/child team climbing like this is one of my favorite things about being a climbing guide. I’m always remembered how my own father hiked out to a remote cliff in Red Rock Canyon and let me tie him to a boulder so he could belay one of my first ever traditional leads. I also think about how great it will be when I can take my almost 6 year old son on similar adventures. As Harley reminded me parenthood will fly by in a flash and I’m doing what I can to make the most of every moment. I’m super grateful for getting to share experiences like this with adventurers like these.

Thank you Harley and Jonah for a great day in the mountains! Hope to see you both back up here soon for some more fun!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

For more info on available climbing adventures please check out Northeast Mountaineering here. If you book a course use promo code “DavidNEM” and get entered into a monthly drawing for a free guided day for two!