I pulled into the parking lot below Whitehorse Ledge minutes before Bob pulled in. This was my first time coming back to climbing since an injury at the beginning of March followed by an on-going pandemic that generated stay at home orders and strong social pressure to not partake in riskier activities while the local medical centers braced for over-whelming traffic and struggled with sourcing enough PPE and ventilators if things got as bad as they might.
It had been a long and sometimes difficult two months. First, recovering from a painful injury that left me unable to do much more than walk slowly on flat ground. Second, once I felt like I might be able to turn a ski, deciding alpine Spring skiing would have to wait for 2021.
So it should go without saying I was excited to be tying in with one of my longest lifetime friends and climbing partners but it wasn’t without a little trepidation. My family had kept our circle very small and tight and a couple hours on a cliff with Bob was definitely a cautious step forward that I hoped would bring us more and more to normalcy as things evolve with the pandemic.
We had talked about how we would protect each other and manage not just our climbing risk but the risk of spreading a virus that has managed to bring the country to its knees with its ease of transmission combined with how many potential asymptomatic carriers could unknowingly start an outbreak.
When Bob got out of his truck we went without the typical firm handshake or bro hug while gearing up. My rope, his rack. We both used our own hand-sanitizer before shouldering our backpacks and hiking up to the cliff. We walked, almost without realizing it, about ten feet apart instead of shoulder to shoulder like we’d done for hundreds of days of climbing together.
I stacked the rope while Bob racked up slightly further away than normal. We decided Bob would lead the 9 pitch mellow slab route for a few reasons. He had been out climbing a few times already and was feeling pretty good. I didn’t know how I was feeling on rock post-injury and having such a long break from climbing. We also wanted to get back home to our families early and this route definitely climbs faster when not swapping leads. Perhaps I also thought this would mean less handling of gear… most of the pitches were run out slab climbing so I was only cleaning 4 or 5 pieces of protection per pitch, mostly just quick-draws.
We reminded each other that no gear should go into our mouths. This is a natural habit for climbers when cleaning and leading climbs and a habit we wanted to be conscious to avoid. At each anchor I clove-hitched myself in a bit longer than normal, finding it easy to keep about 6 feet between us. Instead of directly handing Bob his gear back I would long-reach over and clip it to his end of the rope. We both reminded each other not to touch our faces.
At the third anchor I donned my disposable face-mask I was carrying. While I might believe both Bob and I are not spreading this virus we can’t be 100% certain at this point, neither of us have been tested for antibodies and even if we had been the jury is still out on exactly what any of those results would truly mean in terms of both immunity and potential to spread. The main reason I wanted to don the mask was to put myself into my potential clients shoes if I end up going back to work this summer.
Current CDC guidelines recommend masks or face coverings if you can’t stay at least 6 feet away from people. I’ve sat through a number of great webinars hosted by the American Alpine Club, The Access Fund, and the American Mountain Guide Association about how climbers and guides should move forward during this pandemic. Both the company I guide for, Northeast Mountaineering, and most guide services I know who are starting to operate again, will be requiring some type of face covering when social distancing is not possible (essentially at belay’s, fitting harnesses, etc).
Two hours after starting up the face we reached the top. I laid what gear I had cleaned from the last pitch on the ground for Bob to collect and stepped back to coil our rope. After stuffing the rope in my backpack and changing out of my climbing shoes we both used our hand-sanitizer again and started our hike back to the parking lot. We then jumped in our separate cars and drove a few minutes to the lower viewing area of Cathedral Ledge for a post climb beer (we brought our own) and to watch two parties getting after it on the cliff, one party on the Beast Flake and one on Camber, two of the cliffs classic hard routes. No one was on any of the easier trade routes.
After some great catching up and the cold refreshment we made tentative plans to start climbing together again once a week. We expressed gratitude to each other for an awesome morning of climbing and then parted ways. No high fives, no fist bumps, no bro hugs. Just a smile and a wave. When I got home I left my climbing gear and rope in the trunk of the car, changed my clothes, and showered, before hugging my kids. I waited a couple days before collecting my gear from the trunk and putting it back into my gear room. It felt good to be climbing again, even though I was doing things a bit differently than before.
I thought I’d share what our family has been doing to stay healthy during these challenging days. I’m in no way an expert on nutrition and holistic living but I’ve noticed we’ve been doing some pretty positive things since the stay at home order.
First is getting the whole family outside for a minimum of an hour every day. Following an injury at the start of March I haven’t been able to go on strenuous hikes so to be honest these short nature walks with the family have been great. We walk our dirt road neighborhood or drive a couple miles to a relative’s paved neighborhood so the kids can ride their bikes. We’ve also started going to the Fryeburg Fairgrounds once a week which is a fantastic spot to ride bikes and play some frisbee as it has so much open space the dozen or so families there are easily able to stay distanced. One thing I’ve changed is I’ve started carrying my first aid kit 100% of the time, even for just short walks. While we are practicing very low risk outdoor activities we should still be prepared to handle unexpected scrapes and minor injuries!
PSA: The White Mountain National Forest is for the most part, “closed”. Details here.
I used to think my career as a climbing guide would keep me active enough I could eat whatever I wanted as I was getting plenty of exercise. Having crested 40 reality has caught up and following a period of inactivity post injury I’ve really cut out some of my favorite indulgences. We, like many, are cooking more at home then we ever have. We do take-out about once every two weeks both to give us a break from cooking and to support some of our favorite local restaurants.
The one food we’ve been eating a ton of lately is avocado. It’s on toast for breakfast in the morning and often in what ever veggie or turkey sandwich we make for lunch. I have to thank Absolutely Mindy for the tip about “Everything But The Bagel” seasoning… It is amazing on avocado and eggs! Most recently it was the serving vessel for some lobster salad we made with left-over lobster meat.
We’ve been drinking a lot of orange juice and taking our daily vitamins. I also put in for another order of Gnarly Nutrition, this time adding the Performance Greens to our pantry. This stuff is so delicious and packed with so much goodness! You can see my full review of a lot of their product line here!
Culling clothes, toys, and gear
We’ve spent a lot of time going through the kids clothes, toys, and gear. We’ve been able to donate outgrown clothes and toys through our local COVID-19 barter/trade Facebook group and it’s been great freeing up space and decluttering our living spaces.
So that’s it! Anything you’ve been doing more (or less) of during these strange days?
Stay healthy and see you in the mountains when they re-open!
My family and I just returned from a 4 day camping trip to beautiful Camden, ME. We camped there last year and decided to repeat the trip this season, albeit in a slightly different style. A few months ago I heard about this somewhat new company “Tentrr“. If you have ever used AirBnB then the concept really isn’t that new. Tentrr partners with local land owners and some state parks to offer a convenient way for people to get out and enjoy nature in a semi-“glamping” style.
This really is a clever idea and the growth of the company shows it is catching on! Launched in 2016 two years ago the company only had a couple dozen sites all located in New York (the company was born in NYC). In less then three years there are now 735 Tentrr sites located in 38 states! Over 15,000 campers have used the service.
How it Works
Campers can search by zip code or town on either the Tentrr website or app and see what sites are in the area they wish to visit. Most of the sites sit on private land and are maintained by the land owners called “CampKeepers”. Like AirBnB hosts you’re likely to find a spectrum of personalities but most of the sites I browsed on the website sat on working family farms near rivers, beaches, or on hills with nice mountain vistas.
Basically there are four different types of Tentrr sites.
Backcountry– These are rustic campsites ranging from $25-$100 a night, but most are in the $40 range. This is a great option if you own your own tent and camping gear.
Signature– These are the backbone of the Tentrr concept and come quite equipped for a comfortable camping experience and range from $65-$200 a night with most sites listing in the $80-$120 range.
State Park– These are pretty much the same as a Signature Tentrr site except that it sits within a state park instead of on private land. This is the style we went with to take advantage of the state park facilities and playground for our kiddos. These currently are only located in Maine and cost $100 a night.
Curated– Tentrr also has a list of partner sites ranging from $45-$300. Many are luxury style yurts and larger tent style accommodations.
The easiest way to search the entire database of sites is from here.
We used the online booking service to locate one of two State Park sites in Camden Maine and it was easy to select the dates we wished to stay and check out. Confirmation emails include links with directions to the site along with helpful lists on what to bring camping with you if you are a bit new to the sport. A few days before our trip reminder emails are sent with the same info.
So what is included in a Tentrr Signature/State Park site? Let’s start with the obvious, the classic made-in-the-USA Colorado Wall Tent. This iconic tent is made in Denver, CO and the deluxe model used retails for $1,699! Some important features:
It has a 10 x 12 floor plan with a minimum 6 foot height reaching an apex of about 8 feet.
Screened windows on three sides and a large screened front door allow for plenty of ventilation.
In cooler temps they can be closed up to trap heat or keep out sideways rain.
A small wood stove made us want to come back for some cooler Fall camping trips.
Two queen sized inflatable mattresses set on a bunk bed offered plenty of room for our family of four. A foot pump stored under the beds quickly brought the mattresses up to our preferred firmness.
Two wooden storage crates worked well for us as nightstands, along with the stove providing a small table.
Outside there is a size-able raised porch with two comfy Adirondack style chairs. Down a few steps off the deck brings us to the table/kitchen set up with a pantry and raised cooking area. A 37 gallon steel trash can is provided with a full box of trash bags in the pantry and a pair of grilling tongs. A well made fire pit nearby had a brand new cooking grate over it.
So how did the family like this experience? What were the ups & downs? We were happy to not have to pack the tent this trip and have this deluxe one ready to go which meant we could kick back and relax quite quickly after arriving. A quick sweep with the provided broom and we were ready to move it!
The mattresses needed a quick top-off with the provided foot pump but are the higher end inflatable style that get and stay firm. We did not need to add any more air over the three nights we camped. One note on the mattresses though… they are extremely “squeaky”. The rubber rubs loudly when anyone moves on the bed. We tried to mitigate it by getting some blanket material in-between the bed and frame with limited success. We still slept really well once everyone stopped adjusting!
Another note to be aware of is the fact this is not a fully sealed tent. We had a pretty healthy colony of daddy long legs squatting on the property and had to constantly remind the kids that they are not spiders (though we did have to evict a few of those from time to time).
While not 100% bug proof we did find the tent to be quite weather tight as we experienced heavy rains twice during our stay, luckily both in the middle of the night. Everything stayed completely dry and we were happy we weren’t in our large family tent that would likely have seen a breakdown in it’s liquid defense program.
We definitely enjoyed the cooking and dining area set up having two dinners and breakfasts at camp during our stay. I used some p-cord to tie off “the pantry” but it would be nice if it could have an animal resistant latch added to it. Despite having a late night raccoon visit nothing got into our pantry or trash can.
All in all this was an awesome experience! I’ve seen comments online trying to compare the value to a local AirBnB and that’s not a really a fair comparison. This is a service for people who want to be a bit closer to nature than staying in someone’s well kept in-law apartment. This is an option for folks who want to go camping occasionally but don’t want to invest or store camping gear. This was a great option for us even though we own tons of expensive camping gear because we could just show up and skip set-up and go right into chill mode. We are already thinking of finding a new Tentrr spot to explore later this Fall so we can make use of the internal wood stove and enjoy some classic New England foliage!
Finally I’ve reached out to a few friends who own land where a Tentrr site might be a good fit. If you own land with potential camping sites consider becoming a Tentrr Campkeeper and make $$$ sharing your land!
$100 Tentrr Gift Certificate Giveaway!
Here’s your chance to win a $100 Gift Certificate to Tentrr! You could use it for a couple nights at a beautiful rustic campsite or a free night at one of the fully equipped Signature or State Park sites located in 38 states! Just click on the Rafflecopter link below to see how to get entries in the giveaway which ends at 9 PM EST on 9/9/2019!
Those who know me know I can be a little obsessive about gear. I enjoy making detailed gear lists for trips sometimes weighing everything down to the ounce. I shared my first gear list for ski touring in Iceland this past April and most recently in a trip report for climbing Mount Shuksan in the Cascades. I’ve decided to give the gear list its own post that can be easily linked too without taking up so much space in the trip reports located at these links:
A super lightweight and pack-able 2 person single wall tent. I spent 12 nights in this from car camping between climbs to dug in at 11,000 feet at Ingraham Flats on Rainier and the tent performed perfectly through-out!
This was the best gear purchase I’ve made in over a decade. I have a few sleeping bags from a great heritage -30 EMS down bag to a fairly light 35 degree synthetic sleeping bag but I decided to upgrade for this trip and I could not have been happier for my first Western Mountaineering sleeping bag! I’ll go into greater detail in a review later but for now I’ll just say I slept GREAT in this compressible lightweight sleeping bag!
This goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I also like that it keeps my expensive down sleeping bag clean (extending its life) even after weeks of griming sleeping!
I upgraded from my older, heavier, bulkier Therm-a-Rest Prolite sleeping pad with this in “short” and doubled it up with the closed cell foam pad listed below. It was a great combo for both warmth and comfort!
This stove was amazing on this trip! Super fast and efficient for melting snow I could easily budget just 2 ounces of fuel per person per day assuming we had water sources at Lake Ann and below Winnie’s Slide bivy site.
For dinner and breakfast I went with Mountain House meals. The egg scrambles were one of my favorite. For a dinner appetizer I carried a Lipton noodle soup packet and combined it with a Miso soup packet, great for replacing lost sodium and electrolytes! The Mountain House Pad Thai and Chicken Fajita Bowl both tasted great!
My mountaineering boots of choice, full review of them here. While I LOVE these boots for my cold New England ice climbing and mountaineering adventures they turned out to be a little too warm for Shuksan and Forbidden (but perfect for Rainier, more on that later). My co-guide Jordan who has been having a banner season in the Cascades was rocking the Salomon S-Lab X Alpine Carbon 2 GTX Boots… these things look AWESOME! Basically comfy enough for long warmish approaches, crampon compatible, and climb rock really well… I will be getting a pair of these before my next summer Cascade adventure!
Make sure you select the Leverlock or FL option! Great all around mountaineering crampon in my book! I have led grade 5 ice in them and walked hundreds of miles in them from Washington to Katahdin over the last decade and they are still going strong! I do plan to shave a little weight for these longer glaciated non-water ice routes by picking up a pair of Petzl Leopard Crampons soon!
The lightest most compatible trekking poles I have ever seen! I’ve been loving these! I’ve used them all over the White Mountains including a 2 hour car-to-car ascent of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle! You can see them during one attempt in this video.
I brought this harness for the less technical Disappointment Cleaver route on Mount Rainier. Super lightweight, pack-able, and able to put on while wearing skis. It is everything I want in a mountaineering harness. Detailed review coming soon.
Cell phone service is very spotty on Mount Shuksan. I was able to find a bar or two of service (Verizon) at Lake Ann (southwest side) and send and receive a few text messages. We had no service at the bivy site at the top of Fisher Chimney’s however I was able to FaceTime my wife from the summit! For the times with no service the SPOT GPS Messenger easily allowed me to send “check-in” messages home and in my opinion is an important piece of rescue gear should an incident occur.
The new Reactik+ is awesome! Up to 15 hours of burn time from an easy to recharge via USB battery with 300 lumens and able to throw light 360 feet! If you’re due for a headlamp upgrade I highly suggest you check out this model!
My current favorite GPS navigation capable smart-watch with optical heart-rate! This is the watch I used to create the GPS tracks linked in the trip report. It also allows one-button waypoint saving and the built in barometer/altimeter was a nice plus to our navigation plans. (Updated this to the newest model which is high on my wish list!)
A great little HD cam with advanced features beyond this post. You can see some of the footage about a minute into my Forbidden Peak video! (updated 2019 link to the amazing new GoPro 7 for the great onboard stabilization! <- currently reviewing)
I’ve been wearing these back east for most of my Spring/Summer climbing season with multiple trips in Huntington Ravine and through-out the White Mountains so I felt confident taking them as my main climbing pant to the Cascades. Having essentially lived in them for two weeks of non-stop climbing I can whole heartedly endorse the comfort and performance of these soft-shell pants!
This is in my opinion the most critical piece of glacier clothing you can own. I reviewed it in detail here but on a shade-less blazing glacier this one garment offers more protection and comfort than any other article of clothing I own. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it… EVERY climber should own one of these! I do have a small cult following of “sunshade hoodies” who have “seen the light” or better yet “appreciate the shade” that these things bring… just get one and thank me later ok?
Personal Climbing Gear- Kong GiGi with Black Diamond Magnetron and Gridlock, Magnetron and Petzl Reverso 4, Cordelette with Petzl Ange S, 2 prussiks, knife, Petzl Cordex Belay Gloves on Petzl Ange S, Petzl Attache anchor biner
Group climbing gear- Alpine Rack and Draws
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 60m rope
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 28m rope
Thanks for reading! Got a question or comment? Please comment below!
Even though we are into our fourth week of Spring, Winter is certainly holding on here in Mount Washington Valley where we received 4 inches of snow just yesterday! While I haven’t hung up the skis or ice tools yet (planning an alpine ski tour for this Thursday) I figured I better get my season recap out there because before we know it Spring will actually arrive and I’ve got a busy line-up of early season rock climbing objectives and gear reviews to work on!
This winter started off in epic fashion with over 50 inches of snow recorded on the summit of Mount Washington in October! This set us up for some great early ice season conditions and I kicked my season off on November 15th with the first of the season ascent of Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs.
After one more trip up Standard and a bit of a thrutch up an early season Dracula I found myself climbing the Black Dike three times in a month! All three times were memorable with the highlight being the third trip where I beat my own personal time on the route (90 minutes) and had the amazing opportunity of my friend Dave Dillon of Chase The Summit shooting the climb with his drone. I’ll cherish this footage forever Dave! Thank you!
November saw over 60 inches of snow on Mount Washington and in-hindsight I found myself wishing we had scheduled some early season avalanche courses, we definitely had the conditions to run a couple!
Our first avalanche course started on December 14th and our last one ended on March 31st. All in all Northeast Mountaineering had a record breaking 179 students take an AIARE course with me this winter! Taking my first avalanche course was such a pivotal moment in my life back in 2003 and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to help these participants get on a path of learning how to manage risk in our amazing snowy environments! I’m also grateful to have been able to work alongside Grant Price who was a fantastic co-facilitator and who I learned quite a bit from over the season. To all of my students this past winter, thank you!
There were two stand-out moments for me during the avalanche course season. The first was a complete failure in my own group management strategies that resulted in getting a student into a very uncomfortable and risky situation. I’d been teaching people how to look out for Human Factors and Heuristic Traps for over a decade and found myself anything but immune to their ability to cloud our judgement and steer us to make poor decisions. I shared some of this humbling tale in this post if you are interested in more details.
The second stand-out was triggering and getting carried in D2 size slab avalanche while guiding a back-country ski trip into Tuckerman Ravine. Despite fearing a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking I shared that experience in this post.
Reviews and Giveaways
Through-out the winter I got to review some really awesome gear including the new Petzl Nomics, the Arc’teryx FL-365 harness, and the BightGear Caldera Parka. I have a few more reviews almost finished that will post soon. The review section of the blog has definitely grown over the last two years! I’ve got quite a few giveaways planned for this summer and every footwear review will have a chance to wind some of that amazing Friendly Foot! Let me know in the comments if there is something you would like me to review and I’ll try to get my hands on it!
Granite Backcountry Alliance
My only regret is I didn’t get to explore more of the Granite Backcountry Alliances glade projects! I got two runs in at the locals favorite Maple Villa Glade and one super fun trip off the Baldface Knob… the stuff GBA is doing is nothing short of incredible for the New England BC ski community… if you haven’t checked them out and considered contributing or volunteering please do so!
Course Suggestions for Spring
Even though mid-April is approaching I still have an ice climbing course booked for this upcoming weekend, and a back-country ski course on April 16th. Based on the current Higher Summits Forecast and the amount of snow we have on the ground it’s shaping up to be an EPIC alpine ski season (knock on wood). It will likely be pretty late when the Mount Washington Auto Road is able to open but as soon as it does I will be getting my annual season pass again… if we are lucky we will have a couple weeks of being able to access alpine skiing via the road through May!
All that said here’s a couple courses I teach you might consider to add some skills to your kit before the summer rock climbing season goes full swing!
Backcountry Skiing or Ski Mountaineering: Whether objective based (Gulf of Slides, Great Gulf, Monroe Brook) or skills based (crampon & axe use, route planning, protecting/rappeling with a rope) or a mix of both there is still a lot of snow up there and it is great to get on it while we can still ski all the way back to the car! Reach out to me if you’d like to plan something!
Wilderness Navigation– This 8 hour course covers a lot more than just map & compass skills. I start with Improvised “Survival” Navigation, then work up to advanced compass & map skills, and introduce modern web-based tools, and still leave time for a 3-4 hour field session! Check with me on availability before booking at the above link!
Self-Rescue for Recreational Rock Climbers– Can you escape a belay? Ascend a loaded rope to aid an injured lead climber? Create a counter-balance rappel and bring that injured lead climber back to the ground? That’s what we will learn in a one-day self-rescue course. We can run this course rain or shine, and if you want to follow more than single pitch routes you should acquire these skills! Contact me first to check on my availability then we can get you booked through Northeast Mountaineering at this link.
Other plans include growing my Tech Tips page… what do you want to see? Leave a comment below and if it’s a skill I can demonstrate I will! I’m also working on a webinar to share CalTopo/Avenza (smartphone trip-planning and navigational tools). I will likely offer this as a 2-3 hour course a couple nights in May/June. If that’s something you’d be into make sure you are subscribed!
Special shout out to Northeast Mountaineering for juggling all the crazy logistics of running a small but super busy guide service and avalanche course provider. Considering the amount of business that came through that little ole’ Bunkhouse in Jackson, NH things went incredibly smooth with only the most minor of hiccups along the way. Huge thanks as well to Ortovox for having me on their athlete team for another year, I am so honored to represent a small part of this amazing company! And stoked for another year with DPS Skis! I put so many miles on my DPS Tour 1 Wailer 99’s, and this was my first season with the Phantom Glide treatment… I will write a full post about that experience and have some video to share as well! Stay tuned for that. Finally thank you to Revo for supporting me with the best sunglasses and snow goggles I have ever worn. I didn’t know how quality lenses performed until I partnered with this company and I’m stoked to represent them all over the mountain!
Well I guess that’s pretty much it. It ain’t over yet but man it has been an AMAZING winter! Go enjoy a little bit more of winter… bug season will be here soon enough!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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Twelve hundred feet above Interstate 93 in dramatic Franconia Notch State Park lies the beginning of a 600 foot alpine ice climb that should be on every ice climbers wish list. Every time I have climbed this route I have thought of the young John Bouchard who grabbed the first ascent in an epic fashion that you should definitely read about in both An Ice Climber’s Guide to Northern New England and Yankee Rock & Ice (both available at International Mountain Equipment in North Conway).
Having successfully climbed it about a dozen times now (and bailed for various reasons at other times) I thought I would share some beta that might help you plan your ascent. I will be going into “more than guidebook” level detail so if you are one who prefers not to have any spoilers you might skip the sections below on Gear and Pitch Suggestions. If you’re the type that likes to scour internet forums for every slice of beta you can find maybe you’ll find something useful below!
Disclaimer: I am not an AMGA certified Alpine Guide nor have I taken the AMGA Ice Instructors Course. All the information below is liable to be incorrect. Using any of the below information is at your own risk. There are no guarantees that any of it is correct. Ice climbing is dangerous and death is possible. You are solely responsible for your safety. Seek qualified instruction.
“Is it in yet?” is a common phrase heard in late Fall within the local ice climbing community. Without a doubt by mid-October climbers are peaking at NEIce.com and NEClimbs.com in anticipation of the first ascent of the season being reported. I’m not sure when the official “earliest” ascent has occurred but I do recall quite a few in mid-late October. These are usually done by some of the best climbers of the region and conditions can be so fickle that the route might be “gone” the very next day.
16 days after this ascent I was climbing the Whitney-Gilman Ridge (adjacent route) in a t-shirt and there wasn’t any trace of ice left in the adjacent gully! For the route to reach more consensual “in” conditions we usually need to wait until mid-November. So far for the 2018/2019 season the route had been in fantastic shape and I’ve climbed it on 12/7, 12/9, and 12/20. All three times I was able to skip the rock traverse, something I had never done in previous years (details below on this variation).
Another aspect of “Timing” is choosing a start time. There is no denying it, this is a sought after route and there are a lot of ice climbers with this on their to-do list. It is also a terrible route to decide to climb below another party. The last pitch often has surprisingly brittle ice even when the rest of the route seems pretty solid. Despite using the most amount of caution I’ve had to let some microwave sized chunks of ice go from the third pitch. The first and second two pitches offer virtually no safe space to protect yourself from ice above. If you choose to climb under another party you are taking a real risk… one I don’t feel is warranted.
So what can you do? Three tactics…
Start early. I mean really early. The approach takes 45-55 minutes… so plan to do that by headlamp. Arriving at the first pitch at first light is a great way to improve your odds of getting on route first. It’s also nice to be back at the car by noon!
Wait. Ok, another party beat you to the route. Size them up. Only a party of two? Local? Climbed it before? Well in good conditions strong parties can top this three pitch route out in 90 minutes… Got a warm belay jacket? Stack your rope and ask them to holler when off route so you know you can start climbing. Two or more parties ahead of you or too cold/windy to hang around… time to head over to Crawford Notch or Evans Notch for option 2.
Start late. As the days get longer later starts might be a good choice. Show up at noon and see a party finishing the last pitch? Perfect timing, you can probably make it back to the car before dark! Keep in mind later starts and approaching darkness add some risk should something unforeseen happen. Carry enough stuff to survive a night in these conditions just in case.
Franconia Notch has earned a reputation for harsh weather when the rest of the state can seem quite comfortable. It’s common to drive up on clear calm conditions and pull into the parking lot to find gale force winds and frigid temps. The notch really does generate some of its own weather. To get a sense of what your day might be like start with the Higher Summits Forecast for a regional outlook then look closer at Cannon Mountain on Mountain-Forecast.com.
Protection: In fat conditions (December 2018) the route can be well protected with just ice screws. I usually carry one 22 cm that I use for the first ice anchor and for v-threads if bailing, eight 13 cm screws, and two 10 cm screws. A couple mid-sized cams can make protecting the last few moves before gaining the snowy exit ramp convenient. In leaner conditions you might benefit from also carrying a small rack of nuts and perhaps a few pins.
Rope: The climb is most often done in three rope stretching 60 meter pitches, so in a party of two I prefer to climb it with a single skinny single rated rope like my Sterling Fusion Nano IX DryXP Climbing Rope. If you have to bail having only one rope does make that a bit trickier. From the top of the first pitch I have bailed with a single 60 by making a v-thread mid-pitch and doing a second rappel. From the pin anchor at the top of the second pitch you would need to v-thread 3 times to reach the ground. If you climb with 60 meter twins/doubles you would only need one rap from the top of the first pitch, or two from the pin anchor at the top of the second pitch (last rap would be from a v-thread). While a 70 meter might make the pitches seem a bit less “stretched” I don’t think carrying an extra 30 feet of rope up the route makes sense, but 70’s are gaining popularity and if that is what you have you’d still need to v-thread off if you only have one. Parties of three would be best served with two skinny (9mm or less) 60 meter single ropes.
Clothing: Cannon can be burly when it comes to weather. It is not a cragging day and the warmth of the car is far away. My clothing system for a Cannon day looks something like; mid-weight wool base layers, soft-shell pants and jacket, light synthetic insulated hooded puffy, large down insulated hooded parka. You can see a lot of my favorite specific models over on my gear review page along with my “essentials” picks here. There are lots of packs suitable for this style of climb and I am partial to my Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Ice Pack for these types of missions that I reviewed here.
Communication: This is a great route to use a pair of FRS radios on. Almost every pitch is full length and it is difficult to communicate from both the top of pitch two and pitch three. I’ve started using radios on almost all alpine multi-pitch routes and don’t see me going back to losing my voice yelling “off belay” anytime soon.
The climb is located in Franconia Notch State Park off of NH Interstate 93 (US Route 3). Coming from the south (Boston) the drive is about 2 hours in good conditions. From North Conway it takes about an hour to drive over the Kancamagus Highway. From Montreal it’s about 3 hours. My locals tip is to set your GPS to the Dunkin Donuts in Lincoln, NH, 44 Main St, Lincoln, NH 03251. They open at 5 AM and it’s a convenient place to stop for a high calorie breakfast sandwich and last-minute bathrooms. I also like to “boot up” here so when I get to the cold and snowy parking lot and can just toss on my pack and start walking. Arriving with boots on ready to start walking has put me ahead of other climbing parties on this route and in Crawford and Pinkham Notch so many times I can’t recommend it enough.
If you are going for a later start White Mountain Bagel opens at 6:30 am and for the truly casual start and best breakfast in Lincoln you can get in the door of Flapjacks at 7:00 am.
Traditionally climbers would park at the “climber’s lot”, a small lot that is the first pull off after heading south from the Cannon Mt. Tram Exit (you reverse direction here if coming from the south). There is a small register box that is rarely used or checked in the winter and half the times I stop there are no forms or pencils to list your intended climb anyways. I do not park here, but I do pull through so I can get a quick look at how many cars are there. In the winter 95% of the cars parked here are probably gunning for the Black Dike, and if there are more than two cars I’m probably heading somewhere else. The most recent visit I saw two cars but both climbers were still inside them putting boots on so I pulled back onto the highway and headed to my preferred parking spot, Lafayette Place Campground, the next exit south. You can use Google Maps or Waze to get you to the Campground.
Approaching from the Lafayette Place Campground
Here there is plenty of parking when arriving early (5-7 am). I park right next to the bike path and head north on that path to the approach trail. This option is slightly longer than hiking from the climber’s lot, and slightly uphill, but has one big advantage. In half a mile it passes the descent trail. If you park at the climber’s lot you must then hike .65 miles uphill climbing back up 120 feet of elevation in the process. I prefer to walk .6 miles back downhill to the car at the end of the day.
Which ever approach you choose you might benefit from Microspikes. So far this year trail conditions have been so good they have not been needed, but that can change almost daily and Microspikes are way more comfortable on approaches and descents then having to stop and don your full on ice climbing crampons. Nailing the approach trail from the bike path can be tricky, and many have mistakenly taken one of the other approach trails that lead to other parts of the cliff (or the descent trail), and loss valuable time while heading to this climb. I once met a party who spent almost two hours approaching because they somehow took the northern Lakeview Approach trail and then had to traverse the bottom of the whole cliff.
It is just shy of a mile from the Lafayette Place Campground parking lot and about .4 miles from the climbers lot. At a brisk pace from the south it’s about 20 minutes, and you will pass the descent trail about half way there (don’t mistake that for the ascent trail!). For those with GPS capabilities it’s at 19T 0285700E, 4892603N WGS84, 1,913 elevation.
Once you break out of the woods and into the talus you still have 700 feet of elevation to gain. Some cairns mark a path but there is usually a packed out path you can follow that might be more efficient than the summer climbers path. Linking filled in snow fields can really make the footing easier while ascending to the route, with the obvious Whitney Gilman Ridge being the feature you should be working towards.
When you reach the base of the Whitney-Gilman Ridge you might opt to don harnesses, helmets, and crampons. The next 200 feet of snow climbing can sometimes be quite firm and the security of crampons and one ice axe can be prudent. In some snow conditions it might even be prudent to rope up and pitch this last part out. I have an old friend who took an unexpected ride down this approach pitch in an avalanche a decade ago and his partner suffered some serious injuries. It’s steep enough to avalanche so due diligence is a good idea.
There is often a “platform” stomped out about 50 feet below the start of the water ice from where most parties start to 5th class belay. Beyond that the snow slope steepens a little.
While not exactly part of a “route guide” I am going to interject some opinion on how a team tackles this route. While this next statement can open up a huge can of worms I’m going to simply say the best option is for the strongest partner to lead the whole route. Swapping leads is fun and all but in ice climbing it means one person will not be moving for quite a long time. During the swap the new leader hasn’t had the rest that the first leader has had… This topic is more complex and could go on for pages so I’m simply going to suggest that if you and your partner are of equal ability you just rock, paper, scissors for the lead role and have at it. Of course if during the climb the leader gets worked and wants to hand over the sharp end so be it, but if you are both climbing well the whole party will move faster and stay warmer if you do this route in one 3 pitch “block”.
Pitch Breakdowns and Variations
Pitch 1: Traditionally the first pitch is the easiest pitch. You start with 50 feet of snow climbing and gain the water ice. You place a screw or two and move a bit right. You place a few more screws and pick a spot to belay down and right of the infamous “rock traverse”. Most climbers probably place 5-6 screws on this pitch. The ice anchor built is usually a 2-screw anchor down and right of the traverse. It’s a good idea not to really stretch the rope and anchor right below the traverse so that the next lead can get some rope and a good screw in the system before they start the rock traverse. I’d say about 15 feet below the rock traverse is a great spot to post up.
Pitch 1 Variation: In good conditions (like December 2018) the ice on the second pitch may be thick enough to offer full strength screws allowing one to avoid the rock traverse and take a more direct (left) line. If this is the plan leaders can stay a bit left on the first pitch and create an ice anchor a little lower than the traditional anchor spot just before the steeper ice. This spot is a little more exposed to falling ice from the 2nd pitch so a good strategy is for the belayer to clove in with a bit of a long length of rope to allow for some ice dodging mobility. About a ten foot length worked well on my last two climbs and also allows for a bit more rope in the system when pulling a moderate but sometimes awkward first couple moves off the anchor.
Pitch 2 (rock traverse): There’s a lot of hype about this rock traverse… the thing is it’s actually quite chill. While the guidebooks says (5.6) it’s often much easier, just awkward and somewhat exposed. The real crux is finding the feet when the ledges have fresh snow on them. That and not hosing yourself with rope drag. In good conditions you can leave the 1st pitch anchor, climb up 15 or so feet, place a good screw with an extended alpine draws, and start moving left along the traverse. Only a step or two will let you reach some fixed tat that protects the traverse, then you need to get established on the steeper ice that becomes the routes first technical crux. It’s really not that bad, but can be awkward. As soon as you get established on the steeper ice the desire to place a screw can be strong. If the sticks are good try to get a few moves up. This will save you a lot of rope drag that you might notice at the end of this full length pitch. Where the steeper ice recedes is IMO the technical crux of the route… it is often fractured and brittle here. A few deep breaths and another good screw should see you into some lower angle terrain.
Most of the rest of the second pitch is enjoyable for a climber comfortable with Grade 4 ice. I choose to run it out a bit here to conserve screws. The second route crux appears near some often parasol type ice when you need to move into a bit of a chimney spot and the feet feel awkward. I get a good screw here then pull through by looking at the left wall for stemming options constantly. One or two more screws will see you staring at the pin anchor and the end of the Grade 4 style ice climbing.
Pitch 2 (left direct): When in good shape one can choose to stay left on the first pitch and gain the runnel directly negating the need for the rock traverse. In some ways this feels easier as line is more direct and you can easily get established on the steeper bit. In thin conditions this can be quite bold as it might not take 10 cm screws and there isn’t anything for rock gear here. So thin conditions, do the rock traverse… thick conditions, check this option out. After 30 feet or so of climbing you will see the rock traverse on your right just before the first steeper crux mentioned above.
Pitch 2 Anchor: As of December 2018 there is a 3 pin anchor equalized with some cord at the top of the second pitch with two steel cold shuts on it. The easiest option is to use a large shaped locking carabiner through the two cold shots as a “master carabiner”, then anchor and belay as norm. There are also plenty of options here for an ice anchor, and if you stop 20 feet lower you can watch/coach your partner through the crux.
Pitch 3: The last pitch starts off really mellow on often wet plastic ice before gaining some drier steeper bits. The line is usually pretty clear, but care should be taken as it isn’t over yet. The ice on pitch three can go from plastic here to dinner-plate-central here in only a few feet. Keep that game face on. The regular route stays left and as the water ice diminishes there’s some decent rock gear placements on the right just before you reach the snow-ramp-exit. You can get short screws here but cams are much faster if you have them. Once you reach the snow you can start getting turf shots but stay focused. An experienced climber fell from here two years ago and ended up with a broken femur and involved rescue. About 20 feet from the top I throw a sling around a small tree on the right to protect my last few moves to the top.
Pitch 3 right hand finish: Last year I did the right hand finish a few times and found it pretty fun. It’s a bit more awkward and ends a little prematurely but in certain conditions it might be a better exit.
The descent trail is pretty easy to pickup and follow though it is steep at times. I’ve had to wear crampons for the whole descent on some years, Microspikes other times, and at-least once been able to butt-glissade the majority of the descent in record time. My advice, make sure your shit is secure! Over the years I’ve seen quite a few “lost ice axe/screws” posts online from people glissading down the descent trail. Secure one axe, and keep one out if the glissading is good. Do not glissade with crampons on! Pack your harness and screws for the hike out. Once you reach the bike trail bang a right and head to the car (or a left and walk uphill if you choose the climber lot).
Time to refuel and rejoice as you just knocked off one of the most historic and well-known ice climbs in the East! A few of our favorite post climb spots in Lincoln, NH:
Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery– Large place with usually plenty of room at the bar, good beers and extensive menu. Make it in time for Happy Hour (3-5 pm) and enjoy half price apps and $3.50 pints on most of their beers!
Guided Trips (Am I ready?)
If this is a trip you’d prefer to do with a guide feel free to reach out to me. It is a serious undertaking so a shakedown cragging day may be suggested before we set our sights on this route. Climbers should be very comfortable following Grade 4+ ice before attempting to follow this route. A suggested progression to determine if you will enjoy the climb…
A season of top-rope ice experience.
Successfully following efficiently a full length climb of Mount Willard (Hitchcock or Left Hand Monkey Wrench to Cleft).
Comfortably following Standard to Penguin and Dracula (Frankenstein Cliffs) in one day.
Comfortable following Pinnacle Gully in Huntington Ravine.
This is just a broad suggestion of local objectives that would help determine when you might be ready for the Black Dike. Every climber learns at their own pace and a route like the Black Dike is worth waiting for a decent weather window, conditions, level of fitness, and technique.
I hope this article helps you plan your ascent of this New England classic someday! Even after 15 years of climbing this route I am blown away that we have such a thing in the East. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or if you have some tips you’d like to share. I’ll leave you with some stunning video my friend Dave captured of my last ascent of the route in late December 2018. If your internet connection can handle it be sure to watch in full screen and 4K resolution! Enjoy!
Got my first swings in of the season today up in Crawford Notch and by all accounts it was damn good swinging for mid-November! Things are coming along great and we got more cold temps and up to 11 inches of snow coming to the higher summits in the next 24 hours! All pics courtesy of Alexandra Roberts.
Elephant Head Gully is forming fast but what about that new fence huh? Hoping Mother Nature overcomes that obstacle as it will be a shame to lose such a great roadside quickie. The little gully to the right though might see more traffic now that it is not concealed by trees though!
The Flume & Silver Cascade have lots of mushroom ice and flowing water… might be tricky trying to stay dry in there… and the new snow coming will likely conceal less than solid parts of those brooks. Use caution!
Cinema Gully and the numbered gullies are forming fast for this early… and evidence of avalanches on Cinema was easily seen from the road. We had quite a few climbers triggered avalanches in Hitchcock Gully early season last year… heads up!
Cleft looked do-able.
Willey’s Slide looked thin but forming.
Over at Frankenstein things are looking pretty good. The south face routes are coming along great (but they never last do they).
Smear was the best looking thing in the Amphitheater… but everything in there will need some more time. My partner noticed Angel Cakes was looking like it was almost touching down! Might have to walk up there in a few weeks!
Assuming climbable ice in the Lost in the Woods area…
Standard Route was our objective and it served up some great plastic wet early season swinging! Consider a hard shell! We took the center line, stopped in the cave and chopped out the pin anchor under a few inches of ice, the two more pitches to the top. 13 cm screws didn’t bottom out the whole way. It’s wet though… still lots of running water (that’s a good thing).
Dracula looked a bit chandelier down low and the top out looked a bit sketch to me as we walked above… expect un-bonded ice and non-frozen turf shots on that puppy for another week or so. No thanks, I’ll wait. Welcome to the Machine forming nice for this time of year!
Hanging Gardens is off to a nice start but nothing touching down yet, and the practice slab next to it is looking do-able but thin.
Well that’s it! My ice season has started a couple weeks after my ski season this year… I don’t remember the last time I had more ski days in then ice days in November! Fingers crossed but I think this winter will be banger!
Here’s a quick video hash I threw together to share some stoke!
Yesterday I climbed Sea of Holes on Whitehorse Ledge with my good friend Benny. As he made the moves past the bolt on the fourth pitch he quickly realized that we would not be doing the original 5.7 finish. The large pine tree that served as the anchor for the end of Sea of Holes and the D’arcy-Crowther Route (pg. 144 North Conway Rock Climbs, Handren) had uprooted.
I did not inspect it very closely but it did look a bit hung up on some smaller trees. Hopefully a heavy rain storm will send it the rest of the way down when no one is around. Until then if you plan on climbing Sea of Holes plan to do the 5.8 finish or rap from the 3rd pitch anchor.
This past weekend I took three students on a field trip to practice skills we had learned in evening classroom sessions the week prior as part of the MWV Career & Technical Center Adult Education Program.
This comprehensive 8 hour course goes far beyond a basic map & compass skills clinic. Classroom sessions cover such topics as “Survival/Improvised Navigation”, reading topographic maps, understanding the many uses of a compass, triangulation, magnetic declination, with emphasis on practical real life use!
Our field session includes a short easy/moderate hike to practice skills learned in the classroom; bushwhacking, single point resection, using hand-rails, creating a white-out navigation plan, all with plenty of 1 on 1 coaching and modeling.
This course is available year-round rain or shine! You can book directly here.
See you in the mountains!
Northeast Alpine Start
P.S. Two giveaways still have some time left to enter! Learn about upping your bug defense kit here and enter to win some sweet bug dope and compare some of the best climbing cams on the market and enter to win one here!
Northern Iceland seems to offer unlimited potential for backcountry ski tours. Last week I returned from my second ski trip there. I’ve updated my original travel guide to backcountry skiing in Icelandwith more resources on planning a trip here, and in this post I’ll share some details of some classic tours we conducted on this most recent trip. Enjoy!
Day 1- Karlsárdalur Valley and Siglufjörður ski resort
After settling in to our accommodations in Akureyri we planned a light warm up tour for the next morning in the Karlsárdalur Valley that we became familiar with last year. This scenic and easily accessed valley is just a few minutes north of Dalvik. We skinned up to about to about 650 meters on the second ridge coming off of 988 meter Karlsarfjall mountain and enjoyed a spring condition snowpack run back down.
Here’s our GPS track from the tour and relevant details. Keep in mind we took quite a few photography/filming breaks along the way and this could probably be a quick 2.5 hour tour without these breaks.
After this quick morning mission we jumped back in the car to scout some potential northern locations. We drove north on route 82 through Ólafsfjörður then hopped on route 76 through a virtually uninhabited valley referred to as “Tunnel Town” before reaching Siglufjörður, arguably the northern most size-able town in Iceland! Here, while scouting a potential tour location and running into our back-east-home-town guide-of-guides Mr. Marc Chauvin, we had a couple locals pull up in a truck to promote an upcoming ski race they were hosting. They also informed us they ran the local ski hill and invited us to visit free of charge!
This ski resort operates a series of 4 t-bars that whisk you up to 650 meters (our current morning highpoint) in just under 20 minutes! The views on the descent are stellar and their groomed main trail offers night skiing (though we opted for some off-piste on our second descent). A huge thanks to these folks, and especially Patrick who shared a lot of his towns history and info with us while we enjoyed some complimentary dried Cod and Icelandic beer on the ski lodge porch!
With a forecast for rain and feeling some travel fatigue after touring for two days we decided that Day 3 would be our sight-seeing rest day before our final couple of tour days. We decided to explore the Lake Myvatn region about an hour east of Akureyri. About halfway along Route 1 we made a quick stop at the scenic Godafoss waterfall then continued to Route 848 and drove around the south side of Lake Myvatn to the small village of Reykjahlíð.
From here a very short drive back on Route 1 brings you to Route 860 and the Grjótagjá caves. This underground thermal hot spring has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, partially due no doubt to being the filming location of Jon Snow and Ygritte’s steamy encounter in the popular Game of Thrones show!
Day 4- Kaldbakur (1173 meters)
For our fourth day we decided to tour on the east side of Eyjafjörður just north of Grenivik. A small cat touring operation runs almost daily trips up this peak ($75pp) (phone +354 8673770). We opted to stick with human powered adventure and skinned up the peak basically following the obvious cat track.
For our final tour day we stayed close to our lodging in Akureyri and set our sights on Sulur Peak, the first prominent peak just south of town. The trailhead is only a few minutes from town. A long mellow skin leads to the scenic upper mountain and we reached the summit register box in just under 3 hours.
Northern Iceland obviously has a lifetime worth of touring to explore. I hope sharing these tours with you will motivate you to plan your own trip to this beautiful country. Be sure to check out my updated Travel Guide to Ski Touring in Iceland for advice on everything from flying to Iceland to eating & drinking when in country! Also if I left out one of your favorite tours let me know in the comments below! Are you interested in downloading the GPS tracks from these trips for future use? What else would you like to see in a trip report?