Angel Slides and a season ending injury

I started writing this post on March 9th, the day after my accident. Most people who know me know that I prefer to debrief and learn from mistakes soon after an incident before details can be forgotten or recalled inaccurately. For a couple reasons after only a few paragraphs I stopped writing until today, three weeks later.

The first reason, I think, was because I was actually injured. While being partially buried in an avalanche last April was a bit of a shake up the lack of injury made it easier for me to talk about it soon after it happened. This accident required a trip to the University of Vermont’s Medical Center’s Emergency Department. It’s been almost three weeks since the accident and I’ve recovered enough to go on short walks with the kids and dog. I can sleep on the injured side again. Riding a bike, skiing, or climbing are likely activities that are still a few weeks off.

The second reason I think I’ve delayed sharing this accident is from watching the severity of COVID-19 ramp up significantly in the weeks following my accident. My injury and situation pales in comparison to the stress many families are experiencing due to the current pandemic. While this injury ended my winter guiding season it is clear the season was unfortunately going to end pre-maturely as we try to flatten the curve. Despite these two reasons today I decided to sit down and finish this account and share it for whatever benefit can be found.

Events leading up

On March 5th I drove over to the Adirondacks to teach an AIARE avalanche course for the iconic Mountaineer in Keene, Valley NY as part of their annual Backcountry Ski Festival. It was an amazing event to be a part of and I can not say enough about all of the staff of The Mountaineer who made me feel right at home in their neck of the woods. I was co-instructing with Casey Henley, a fantastic outdoor educator and mountain guide. We had an amazing group of 10 positive and engaged students. The weather was beautiful every day and while the snowpack was on the thin side we were really making the most of our time together.

On the last day of the course, March 8th, the class planned a ski tour of Angel Slides off of Wright Peak.  We toured as two separate groups of 6. The first 2.5 miles are very gentle rolling terrain, then about a half mile up a drainage and a couple pitches of denser trees before reaching the base of the 1,500 foot slide path.

backcountry skiing avalanche courses Adirondacks
After reaching the dam and getting our first look at the objective, Angel slides
backcountry skiing avalanche courses Adirondacks
A student makes progress up the skin track before our high point
backcountry skiing avalanche courses Adirondacks
From our highpoint right before our descent- Theodolite App

We ascended the left hand slide to about 3,600 feet and after making some snowpack observations enjoyed some of first steeper turns of the course. Skier’s far right held some still cold powder and I was feeling pretty good as I reached the bottom.

The next leg was some pretty tight tree skiing just under 20 degrees (steep for tight tree skiing given the snow conditions). We took it very slow and methodically made our way back down into the drainage. It was work and I could see some fatigue settling in with a few students in each group. We still had a 2.5 mile rolling hiking trail to take us back to the trailhead.

Opinions were split on what the best way to cover that distance would be. Two in my group with local knowledge opted to re-skin for the exit. The rest of my group decided to ski it. CalTopo says the 2.2 miles from the Dam only loses 300 feet. My decision to ski it was influenced by how sticky my nylon climbing skins were getting in the quickly softening snow. Timing wise it seemed it was 6-in-one and a half-dozen in the other. With each small downhill the skiers would pull away from our two skinners, and with each herring bone or side-step up over the next small incline the skinners would quickly catch us.

backcountry skiing avalanche courses Adirondacks
A screen shot from my Avenza/CalTopo GPS track of our tour… .2 miles from the trailhead (blue dot)

Less than a quarter mile from the road our exit and tour was just about complete. A short little descent brought me to the bottom of the last significant pitch of the day. I was at the front of my group, and had just caught up to our other team and was making small talk with them after moving just slightly to the left side of the trail.

The accident

It was about 3:45pm. I was stopped on the left side of the trail a few feet from the bottom of the slope. I was facing to the left, skis parallel on the slope, just below a water-bar log feature that was partially buried into the trail. I didn’t hear or see my student coming. He was moving fast as he went over the back of my skis and caught my boot as he flew past. My legs were taken out from under me and I came down on my left side with some force landing on the protruding waterbed. The pain in my left chest and abdomen was instant and blinding. I rolled to my knees and took a breath. I knew I was hurt. I reached under my shirt and palpated my left ribs. My senses were returning. Someone had a hand on my shoulder and was asking if I was OK. It was one of my students, Veronica, an emergency room physician from PA.

I didn’t think anything was broken but I had a pretty significant about of abdominal pain. I decided to try to stand and was able to. Someone was carrying my skis to me from 15 feet downslope… I didn’t realize until later that the force of the hit took me out of both my skis while I basically just fell in place where I was stopped. The student had tried to avoid me and was uninjured from his crash. So close to the parking lot. I decided to walk out. I tried not to groan to much.

Back at the parking lot I was determined to finish the course properly and then figure out what steps to take regarding my injury. I instructed students to rally on the Visitor Center porch and start their debriefs. I went into the bathroom so I could look in the mirror. I lifted up my shirt and was surprised to not see any bruising yet. There was a noticeable “indent” for lack of a better term, about the size of a small apple, just under my lowest left rib. My abdomen was not asymmetrical. I could see some swelling on the outside.

I rejoined the class and we began our course close. I started to rush the process a little as standing and talking was quite uncomfortable. I asked Casey to run most the course close. He used the “one rose and one thorn” tactic to have each student reflect on the effect of the course. I love that style of debrief, but I was thinking I needed to speed this along, as it was now just past 5pm and my original plan was to make the 5 hour drive back to North Conway.

We finished the course close and I asked Veronica if she could step inside and do another assessment of my injury so I could make a decision. She was willing and as I lay on the visitor center couch performed a quick abdominal exam. Again, ribs and chest felt fully intact. Severe pain and tenderness in my ULQ and LLQ, areas that harbor my spleen, stomach, and a kidney. No left arm or left shoulder pain (good news for my spleen). There’s not much that can be diagnosed with soft tissue/organ injuries without an ultra-sound, something Veronica had been considering adding to her adventure kit for sometime (and she has subsequently added as she is pursing expeditionary medicine).

I discussed my plan to try to drive home and seek medical attention locally. I did not want to get stuck in Lake Placid if my injury would require overnight hospitalization or surgery. In hindsight I was being very stubborn and short-sighted, but whatever, I decided I would drive home and monitor my heart-rate and try to be hyper-aware of any change in mental status. If I felt the slightest bit dizzy or nauseous I would pull over, put my hazard lights on, and call 911. That was my plan. I called my wife and told her what happened and that I was going to drive home. I would call her every 30 minutes as long as I had service.

It took almost an hour on the road for my heart-rate to fall under 100. It dropped down to 80 and I hoped it would stay there as Veronica had said if it stayed above 100 after an hour I was likely dealing with some internal bleeding or organ damage. I left the radio off and just focused on the drive and what my body was feeling. While waiting for the Plattsburg Ferry I slowly walked into the empty waiting shack and changed out of my ski clothes. I couldn’t reach down to take my ski socks off. As they directed our cars onto the ferry I was selected for a random trunk search. Changing clothes and two trips to my trunk while moving slowly, I was must have raised some suspicion.

While crossing Lake Champlain as the sun set I felt the slightest bit better. The pain wasn’t as bad now that I wasn’t driving. I tried to breath calmly. We reached Vermont and the pain came back quickly with a bit more intensity. I had been on the road for almost two hours. I called a family friend back home, a doctor at my local hospital, for her opinion.

She didn’t like my symptoms. The fact that small bumps in the road caused noticeable increases in the pain, the location of the injury, the possibility of how bad it could be… I had planned to make it to my local hospital in North Conway so I would be closer to my family should I need to be admitted, but in talking with her it was pretty clear they would probably just put me in an ambulance and transport me to Portland, Maine Medical… adding another hour to seeing definitive care.

I was about to pass Burlington. I made a decision, put my signal on, and exited the highway with my Waze app guiding me to the Emergency Department of Vermont’s Medical Center. Ten minutes later I called my wife back and told her I was walking into the ER to get checked out.

After getting through initial COVID-19 screening the woman at the counter asked what I was here for. I said something like “Suffered some physical trauma to my lower left abdomen and now experiencing acute pain, some slight deformity, swelling, and well… I’m in a lot of pain.” The other woman asked how it happened. “Skiing injury” was my short reply.

“Ok, you’re all checked in, go have a seat and we will call you when its your time.”

I didn’t get three steps away from the counter before my name was called and I sat down with the triage nurse. He took my vitals. I looked at the heart-rate monitor… pulse 92, blood pressure 163/125. That’s not good I thought. They prepped a bay for me and I started to get hooked up. They took blood samples to run a full set of labs and I was asked to provide a urine sample. That would be tough as I was feeling very dehydrated since I finished my water at about 3pm when we started our descent and it was now 7pm and I was told I couldn’t drink anything, even water, just yet. I managed a urine sample, and there was no blood, so hopefully kidney is good.

In less than an hour the ER physician came in to give a full exam. An ultrasound was ordered. I waited. The bay next to me was taken up by an elderly man who had shortness of breath, felt weak all day, and had a mild fever and stuffed up nose. It dawned on me coming to the hospital next to an international airport was putting me at risk to the Coronavirus, but things weren’t quite as bad as they are today so I didn’t worry too much.

The physician could not find any blood in my stomach or other obvious bleeds in my organs from the ultrasound. He felt a CAT scan was appropriate. I cringed at how the increasing financial cost this accident was going to effect my family but I was done trying to just hope for the best and a CAT scan would be pretty definitive. The technician who wheeled me down the hall for the scan inquired about my injury and when I told her it was while teaching an avalanche course she confided she had just bought her first avalanche beacon. I encouraged her to follow that wise purchase up with a formal avalanche course soon.

After the cat scan the waiting began. Still not allowed to drink anything. The nurse let me know the doctor was going to get to me soon but they were dealing with a serious trauma  that just came in and it might be a little while. I waited. Around 11:15pm the doctor came in with the preliminary results. No internal bleeding or ruptured organs. Diagnosis… internal abdominal contusions. Basically bad bruising on the inside of my abdominal cavity. My ribs had done there job absorbing the impact and protecting my organs. Still hurt like hell. I could be given morphine for the pain but that meant I would have to be admitted overnight. I declined and asked to be discharged… and for a glass of water.

Driving home was now out of the question as I was three hours from home along mostly dark less travelled roads and had been up since 6am and was feeling the fatigue from a full ski tour, dehydration, and injury. I checked into a local hotel in Williston, VT, just east of Burlington, and spent most the night trying to find a position I could fall asleep in, something that would become a nightly ritual for the next couple weeks. In the morning I had a small breakfast in the hotel lobby while the morning news confirmed that Williston, VT schools were closed following a faculty member with COVID-19 symptoms. I got on the road and headed for home.

Reflection… what happened?

On the drive home I had plenty of time to rethink the whole day and what led up to the accident. I told my students during our debrief that my “thorn” was that I pride myself in careful risk management and rarely will cop to “bad luck” being the culprit when an accident occurs. Even the word “accident” bothers me. I got hurt. That means I made a mistake. What was that mistake and how could I have avoided it?

I called the student who had crashed into me on my drive home for a few reasons. First of all I wanted to see how he was doing. He had expressed concern and regret over losing control and taking me out. I tried to, probably unsuccessfully, alleviate some of that guilt. I was in charge of managing the risk during our tour and it was on me for stopping in a spot that still had some risk from skiers behind me.

After my conversation with him and a few weeks of contemplation here’s my list of contributing factors;

Fatigue: He admitted he was quite tired at the end of the tour having negotiated terrain that was at his upper level. He mentioned he was frustrated with the rolling terrain exit and felt he wasn’t letting himself pick up enough speed to surmount the inevitable next uphill section which would result in tiring side-stepping to get back to a slide-able grade. He went into this last descent picturing a big uphill on the other side and thus came into view of me and some of the other students on the narrow trail with way too much speed.

Inexperience: This was basically his 2nd time back-country skiing. He had taken a one day mountaineering skills course and a one day back-country skiing skills course where he had skied in Huntington Ravine (likely lower Fan and out the Sherburne Ski Trail). His resort skiing resume was long but tree skiing was a first for him, and he knew that taxed his energy.

Back-to-the-Barn Syndrome: We were so close to the trailhead after a fairly long tour. I was really happy with how the three day course had gone and was excited to get on the road and get back home. We had covered so much more serious terrain and we were in the final stretch. This may have caused me to relax my normal “what could go wrong here?” type attitude.

While I’ve rethought this day almost every day since the only thing I feel I could have done differently is just moved a little more off to the side where I stopped. It wasn’t a blind corner or just over a convexity and in debriefing with Casey he didn’t think I could have done much different.

Recovery- Week One

The first week was pretty bad. I don’t like taking pain medication so I probably put myself through some un-necessary discomfort. Dressing was painful. Walking was painful. Driving was manageable but getting in and out of the car was awkward and painful. I let Corey, my boss, know I couldn’t do any outdoor field work in the weekend’s upcoming avalanche course. I was optimistic I could handle teaching the classroom portion. Just 5 days after the accident I welcomed a new group of avalanche students into our classroom space. I split the classroom sessions with my co-instructor Grant like we normally did. I was feeling ok despite the increased physical activity.

Around 2pm I went home while Grant took the class into the field for some physical rescue practice. No sooner did I walk in the door did I get hit by some uncontrollable muscle cramps in my abdomen. It was as bad, and even somehow worse, then how it felt the day after the accident. I was brought to the floor while the spasms made me wonder if I had somehow ruptured something. I called my wife at work and put her on speaker while I tried to get my body under control. Deep breathes. I made it to the freezer and got the large gel ice pack and wrapped it around my left side. The spasms slowed. My heart rate came back to normal. I was ok, but I wasn’t ready to go back to work yet, even in a diminished capacity.

Recovery- Week Two

Slowly the daily pain level reduced. I could sleep on my uninjured side. The first week I could only sleep slightly reclined on my back… either side did not work. Not fun for a side sleeper. I could go on short walks now, which was quite timely as schools were closing and social distancing was coming at us quick. I was able to help convert our downstairs into a more suitable learning environment for the distance learning that was about to be how almost every child was going to start attending school. I made a few trips to the stores to stock up on the things everyone has been stocking up on. Every day I didn’t come down with a fever or cough made me more confident my ER visit hadn’t had me contract the Coronavirus.

Recovery- Week Three

This current week is almost pain free. I was able to manage the snowblower to clear the 8 inches of snow we got this past Tuesday. I could not shovel the snow from our front porch though. That motion is 100% off-limits, somewhat ironic as anyone who has watched me teach proper shoveling avalanche rescue knows I would place well if the Olympics had a shoveling sport.

Looking ahead…

I’m anxious to be able to physically do the things that keep me emotionally healthy. Social distancing is a mixed blessing while I’m recovering. I’m hoping there might be a little snow left by the time I feel I could go for a very light easy ski, but the reality is if those few dozen cold powder turns on Angel Slide were my last of the season I’m ok with that. There’s more important things happening right now. It should be clear to anyone who recreates outside now is not the time to take risks. I’ve avoided following up with my PCP following this injury because I don’t want to burden an already stretched thin resource nor do I want to spend more time in a hospital just yet.

It’s hard to stay positive when the evening news paints a darker and darker future but I’m trying to focus on the good things that are coming out of this. Cooking more for the family. Daily family walks with the pup. Attacking house projects I’ve managed to put off for years. We are going to come out the other side of this a stronger family and I hope a stronger society that realizes what’s most important in life.

Finally I want to ask everyone reading this to really look out for each other during the next few months. Be a responsible citizen and respect social distancing, stay at home directives, and most importantly limit and minimize your amount of risk-taking. We all need to enjoy some time in nature but do it in your backyard in a low-risk manner. Even if I was 100% recovered I would limit myself to easy walks and hikes below tree-line and on very low angle slopes. I would not go mountain biking, rock climbing, back-country skiing, or any activity that is more prone to accidents. Our first responders and medical system are begging us to avoid injury right now. Please do your part.

See you in the mountains (hopefully locally and on a mellow walk),

Northeast Alpine Start



Tentrr Review- The “AirBnB of Camping”- and chance to win $100 Tentrr Gift Card!

Tentrr Review
The Famous Colorado Wall Tent

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.

Tentrr Review
A quick search on the App shows nearby Tentrr sites

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.

Tentrr Review
Inside left- Tentrr uses custom made Colorado Wall Tents
Tentrr Review
Inside right- Tentrr uses custom made Colorado Wall Tents
Tentrr Review
The wood stove was unused as the site is fairly new and the weather has been warm, but we would like to come back for a cooler late Fall trip!

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.

Tentrr Review
Comfortable outdoor seating for story time!
Tentrr Review
37 gallon steel trash can with bags provided
Tentrr Review
Kitchen and dining area with fire pit and steel cooking grate
Tentrr Review
Never camp with out my AeroPress and some Good To Go food! Also snuck in some yummy Patagonia Provisions Salmon!

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!

Tentrr Review
Getting set up

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!

Tentrr Review
Just before lights out

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.

Tentrr Review
Yummy grilling at camp

Summary

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!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Affiliate links support the content created here

Cascades Climbing Trip Gear List (updated 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:

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

(Note: Originally posted from summer 2017 trip I am currently updating some links to newer or more preferred models)

Packing for Cascades Climbing Trip
Packing for Cascades Climbing Trip

Having over 20 years in outdoor retail I love chatting about gear so if you have any questions about any of my recommendations, or suggestions for better products, please comment below!


Cascades Gear List


Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

Hyperlight Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

At just over 2 pounds this pack has enough space for 3-4 day alpine endeavor’s, rides comfortably, and is made of materials that will last for over a decade of adventure! Also made in Maine!

Buy from Hyperlite Mountain Gear


Black Diamond FirstLight Tent

First Light Tent.jpg

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!

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Western Mountaineering TerraLite 25 Degree Sleeping Bag

Western Mountaineering TerraLite 25 Degree Sleeping Bag

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!

Buy on Backcountry          Buy on Amazon


Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner

Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner

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!

Buy on Backcountry         Buy on Amazon


Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Mattress

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Mattress

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!

Buy on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite Mattress

Therm-a-Rest RidgeREst SOLite Mattress

Affordable added warmth and comfort, I used a full length model to pair with the short model mentioned above for a very comfortable and adaptable combo.

Buy on Backcountry         Buy on Amazon


MSR WindBoiler 1.0 L Stove System

MSR WindBoiler 1.0 L Stove System

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.

Buy on Amazon       Buy on Backcountry


Food

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!


Sea To Summit Delta Spork With Knife

Sea to Summit Delta Spork

Simple lightweight option to make meal time easy!

Buy on Backcountry        Buy on Amazon


Arcteryx Acrux Mountaineering Boots

Arc'teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots

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!

Buy Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon

Buy Salomon S-Lab X Alpine Carbon 2 GTX Boots on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


Petzl Vasak Leverlock Crampons

Petzl Vasak Crampons

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!

Buy Petzl Vasak Crampons on Backcountry          On Amazon

Buy Petzl Leopard on Backcountry        On Amazon


Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles

Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles

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.

Buy on Backcountry        Buy on Amazon


Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe

Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe

This has been my mountaineering axe for almost 15 years and is the right balance of weight and durability.

Buy on Backcounty       Buy on Amazon


Petzl Sirocco Helmet

Petzl Sirocco Helmet

Finally got the latest version of this iconic helmet and went into a ton of detail in a long form review last month here!

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Petzl Sitta Harness

Petzl Sitta Harness

I brought this harness for the more technical climbing on Shuksan and Forbidden and my full review of it is here.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Petzl Altitude Harness

Petzl Altitude Harness

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.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Petzl CORDEX Lightweight Belay Gloves

Petzl CORDEX Lightweight Belay Gloves

If ropes are involved these come with me. They were perfect for the warmer daytime glacier temps and offer great protection for rappelling, short-roping, etc.

Buy on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


Sterling Evolution Duetto Dry Rope, 30m 8.4mm

Sterling Rope Evolution Duetto Dry Rope

A solid choice for glacier and ski mountaineering trips.

Buy on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


MSR Snow Picket 60 cm

MSR Snow Picket

Two per rope team is ideal! I also pre-rigged this with a double length Dyneema sling and Petzl Ange S carabiner.

Buy on Amazon


AMK .7 First Aid Kit

AMK .7 First Aid Kit

I customize mine a little but this is a great base kit at the price!

Buy on Backountry      Buy on Amazon


Suunto MC-2 Compass

Suunto MC-2 Compass

My favorite and trusted compass/clinometer for the last two decades!

Buy on Amazon


Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle

Nalgene Tritan 32oz Wide Mouth Bottle

A staple of every outdoor adventure, I carry two of these for my hydration needs!

Buy on Backcountry    Buy on Amazon


SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

Super affordable and weighs less than 4 ounces means there is never a reason not to bring this!

Buy on Amazon


Revo Cusp S Sunglasses

I have the Solar Orange lens on this pair for lower light conditions

Buy on Amazon


SPOT Satelite GPS Messenger

SPOT 3 Satelitte GPS Messenger

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.

Buy on Amazon


Petzl Reactik+ Headlamp

Reactik+.jpg

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!

Buy on Backcountry


Petzl Zipka Headlamp

Petzl Zipka Headlamp

I always carry a spare headlamp on multi-day adventures and this is my choice back-up model. It’s small enough to fit in my first aid kit but still bright enough to function as a real headlamp.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Quality Survival Lighter

UST Floating Lighter

Fire-starter is on every gear list, and this one is a good value!

Buy on Amazon


Garmin Fenix 5X GPS watch

Garmin Fenix 3 HR Watch

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!)

Buy on Backcountry


GoPro Hero 7 Silver

GoProHero7.jpg

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)

Buy on Backcountry


Anker PowerCore 10000 Charger for iPhone, GoPro, etc

Anker PowerCore 10000

This thing was great! About the size of a deck of cards it packs 10,000mAh which easily provided 4 full re-charges for my iPhone 6s and still have 50% juice left!

Buy on Amazon

Clothing


Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket

I absolutely love this piece and went into great detail about it in an in-depth review here.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Black Diamond Alpine Light Pant

BD Alpine Light Pant.jpg

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!

Buy on Backcountry     Buy on Amazon


Patagonia Technical Sunshade Hooded Shirt

Patagonia Technical Sunshade Hooded Shirt

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?

Buy on Backcountry


Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody

PatagoniaMicroPuff.jpg

Feather-weight feels like down but isn’t down ultimate “Light Puffy” choice.


 Clothing to be linked soon:

Patagonia Fitz Roy Belay Parka

EMS Powerstretch Climb Hoodie

EMS Powerstretch Long Underwear Pants

One synthetic T-shirt

One Ortovox Rock & Roll Boxers

One pair midweight socks

One pair heavyweight socks

One pair lightweight glove liners

One pair midweight Outdoor Research Project Gloves

Outdoor research sun ball cap

iPhone 6s+ with headphones & charger


Crevasse Rescue Kit- Petzl Micro Traxion, SL OK, Tibloc, Sm’D, Oscilla
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!

All trip reports done!

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier



Affiliate links help support this blog

Winter 2018/19 Season Recap

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.

ice climbing new hampshire
November 15th, 2018, first seasonal ascent of Standard Route- photo by Alexandra Roberts

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!

Avalanche Courses

Know Before You Go at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
Presenting at AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center- photo by AMC Parker Peltzer

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

Petzl Nomic 2019 Review
Alexandra Roberts takes the new Nomics for an alpine spin up Pinnacle Gully- photo by Brent Doscher

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

backcountry skiing granite backcountry alliance
Nice turns on Baldface Knob before dropping into the Granite Backcountry Alliance’s glade project- photo by Grant Price

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!

ski mountaineering backcountry skiing

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!

Wilderness Navigation
My favorite compass, the Sunnto MC-2

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.

rock climbing self rescue
Chris learns about the initial awkwardness of rope ascension having already “Escape the Belay”

Tech Tips

 

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!

Thanks!

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!

AIARE Avalanche Course
@Ortovox, @DPSskis, @Revo

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



Affiliate links help support this blog. Thank you!

Route Guide: Climbing The Black Dike

Ice Climbing the Black Dike

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.

Timing Beta

“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.

ice climbing Black Dike
From the top of pitch 2 pin anchor, October 20th, 2015, From NEIce.com, Photo by Majka Burhardt.

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.

Weather Beta

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.

Gear Beta

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.

Getting There

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.

Approach Beta

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.

ice climbing black dike

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.

Leading Strategies

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

Black Dike Photo Topo Ice Climbing
Photo topo of the route. Photo and Legend by Dave Dillon of Chase the Summit, Lines and Dots by me.

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.

Ice climbing the Black Dike
Belaying my partner up to the top of the first pitch direct variation- photo by Chase The Summit

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.

ice climbing the Black Dike
Starting the steeper crux on the second pitch, the rock traverse is to my right- photo by Chase The Summit

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.

ice climbing the Black Dike
About 50 feet from the pitch 2 pin anchor there is one more awkward move a few feet above me here- photo by Chase The Summit

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.

Descent Info

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).

Apres Climb

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:

Black Mountain Burger Co.– Excellent gourmet burgers and hand cut fries, high-end craft beers and cocktails.

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.

Summary

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!



State of the Ice, Crawford Notch

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.

IMG_1770

Quick re-cap:

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).

IMG_1771

 

IMG_1772
First climb of the season in the bag!

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!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

PSA: Rappel Tree on Sea of Holes No More

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.

rock climbing Whitehorse Ledge
Benny at the bolted belay station on the 5.8 variation finish to Sea of Holes with the uprooted tree anchor to his right

There wasn’t much noticeable loose rock or thick root system like the Refuse tree that failed 2 years ago on Cathedral Ledge.

rock climbing Whitehorse Ledge
Not much of a root system

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.

See you out there,

Northeast Alpine Start