Earlier this week I had the pleasure of spending two days with Robert, a professor at UCONN and longtime outdoors-man. Robert came up to Northeast Mountaineering to brush up on his wilderness navigation skills. We spent Monday morning at the Bunkhouse reviewing and adding to our collective “improvised” navigation skill set before simplifying our map and compass methods (plotting whiteout navigation plans, re-section, triangulation). After an introduction to the powerful trip planning tools CalTopo and Avenza we headed to the Green Hills Preserve for a bushwhack up Hurricane Mountain and a quick out and back hike to Black Cap to re-enforce our morning session.
On Tuesday we enjoyed a 9 mile loop hike through the Sandwich Wilderness and around Square Ledge. The weather and views were stellar along with the conversation!
This past Sunday was my first day out on the rock this season with Northeast Mountaineering guests Megan and Britney. Both had a fair amount of gym climbing experience and some outdoor single pitch experience and were stoked to try some multi-pitch climbing. After some indoor skills practice focused on cleaning single pitch sport leads we headed to Whitehorse Ledge and climbed Standard Direct to Lunch Ledge. We then rappelled and headed over to Cathedral Ledge for a quick afternoon run up Upper Refuse. Perfect weather and not too busy crags made for an excellent first day of the season! Get after it before black fly season arrives!
This past Saturday I had the pleasure of summiting Washington with 4 hardy climbers in very pleasant Spring weather while guiding for Northeast Mountaineering. This really is a cool time to climb Mount Washington as you start out in summer-like conditions but soon discover above treeline it is still winter. There is a lot of snow still up there and aspiring hikers should be aware that crampons and ice axe are still needed along with proper clothing.
We passed a group heading up the mountain while we were descending around 2 pm and they were crawling up the snowfields in sneakers with bare hands grasping at the snow while clad in sweatpants and flannel shirts. I considered chatting with them about their level of preparation for what lay ahead but allowed the “Tuckerman Spring Effect” to hold my tongue and we continued our descent. I regret not attempting the conversation. They ended up requiring some assistance to get off the mountain along with another party who needed a rescue off the auto road.
Make good choices folks! Three websites every White Mountain Hiker should be familiar with:
And if you’re new to above tree-line hiking consider hiring a guide for your first time. It is probably much cheaper than a rescue.
Anyways, our hike was great. Here’s a quick video of the trip and a photo gallery:
Next up I started my rock climbing season yesterday while guiding on Whitehorse and Cathedral Ledge, trip report tomorrow, along with a review of the Ortovox Tour Rider 30 Backpack I skied with for most of the winter. Thanks for reading!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Affiliate links help support this blog.
A few days ago I returned from an amazing ski trip to the Tröllaskagi peninsula in northern Iceland. Six days of ski touring was more than enough to make me fall in love with this amazing country and I cannot wait to return! I’d like to share some tips for planning your own backcountry ski trip to this enchanting country. I’m also a stickler for planning and will include my detailed personal gear list for this trip with comments on what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully this will help you plan your own adventure to the land of the vikings!
So much is out there! Get an idea of what the country is about on Wikipedia then head over to the following websites for more ideas:
While I love online resources when it comes to international travel I really like getting a physical travel guide. The Lonely Planet: Iceland is a few years newer (2015) than the competition so that is the one I picked up.
There are two airlines servicing US passengers to Iceland, Iceland Air and the relatively new budget airline WOW Air which started operating flights out of the Keflavík International Airport (KEF) hub in 2012. On the surface WOW Air seams to be a great value but you should factor in some of the additional charges they add that are included with Iceland Air.
While flights from Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS) can run as little as $99.99 US one-way on WOW Air you need to consider the $106 extra in baggage fees that would be included when price shopping. Also Iceland Air includes non-alcoholic beverages and free WiFi while WOW charges $3 USD for any 8 ounce non-alcoholic beverage including water!
My opinion of WOW Air was damaged by the fact that they failed to load one of our parties ski bags on to our flight and were less than helpful locating it after we arrived. Luckily the ski bag was found at BOS when we returned to the states but not after our group member incurred expensive ski rental charges. It is our opinion that WOW Air customer service did not try to locate and ship the ski bag on any subsequent flights.
Regardless of which airline you choose the best way to get a solid deal is to subscribe to both of their email lists from their websites here and here. If you select seats on the left side of the plane you might enjoy some views of Greenland about halfway through your flight!
Getting to Akureyri
From Keflavík International Airport (KEF) which is a few minutes outside of the capital city of Reykjavík you can either take a short flight (45 minutes) on Iceland Air for about $200 USD, bus, or rent a car and enjoy the scenic 5 hour drive. To get around the northern part of the island a rental car is the way to go. I’d suggest an SUV at around $35-$45/day. GPS is really not needed for navigation as it is quite simple to get on Route 1 (The Loop Road) and follow it north to Akureyri. Roof boxes are an optional expense but might not be big enough for full size skis so if you are 2-3 skiers per vehicle you can save some money by putting down one of the back seats and easily fitting 3 ski bags inside the vehicle. If you are 4 to a vehicle make sure you request the largest of roof boxes!
Lodging in Akureyri
There are a ton of options in the area and Airbnb is the best place to look. We found the above pictured group lodging option about 10 minutes from downtown. There is a cool looking hostel right downtown but we liked being a little out of the hustle & bustle and having our own cabins made drying and organizing gear convenient, especially since the floors of these cabins seemed to have radiant heat (geothermal is everywhere!). Private jacuzzi’s were enjoyed every day after putting in some vertical human powered effort!
Eating in Akureyri
The closest grocery store was a “Bónus Langholt” conveniently on the north side of Akureyri. Expect to pay about 150% vs. US prices for anything imported (which is almost everything that isn’t fresh vegetables, dairy, seafood or lamb. There is quite a varied culinary scene in the downtown area. The one place that absolutely stood out was Noa Seafood. This place served our large group a 3 main course meal; arctic char, cod, spotted trout. Each cooked in a large skillet with fresh vegetables, potatoes, and perfect seasoning. There is no question I will return to Noa Seafood on my next visit! Slightly more affordable seafood soup can be found at Akureyri Fish and Chips.
The most important culinary experience to try while in Iceland is the hot dogs. Seriously they might be the best hot dog in the world. It’s a combination of the pork, beef, and lamp. They toast the buns. They add 2 types of onions, raw and fried, then 3 condiments the highlight of which being a delicious “remoulade” I regret not buying a bottle of before returning to the States. While the article I linked to above mentions one popular place I can assure you that the farthest gas station in northern Iceland still served up the most amazing dogs I’ve ever had. Almost everyone in our group ate 1-2 of these treats every day. No regrets. None.
Weather & Avalanche Info
The traditional ski season runs from December through April with best conditions and increasing daylight from February to mid-April. On good snow years the back-country skiing may be good through May. The best online resource I could find for current and forecast weather is here. This website also links to a fairly brief avalanche report here.
We did all of our touring north of Dalvik and south of Ólafsfjörður mainly in the Karlsárdalur Valley. This area was recommended to us by friendly guides at Bergmenn Mountain Guides, the only IMFGA certified guide service in the country (and where our group member was able to rent a full touring set up at about $60/day). The trailhead forKarlsárdalur Valley is only 35 minutes from Akureyri and 2 minutes north of Dalvik. An often established mellow skin track takes you into this beautiful valley with a seemingly endless amount of tour options. We skied much of the south facing drainages with the most amount of time in the “third valley” on skier’s right. You can see our highpoint tour in this video and I may attach my GPS tracks here later.
The Topo map above is the best detailed map we could find at 1:50,000 scale and could be purchased from Penninn Eymundsson in downtown Akureyri.
Here is my spreadsheet style list of what I am bringing. Below I will add some brief comments and links to each item:
Dakine Fall Line Double Ski Bag
DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1 176 cm skis with Dynafit Speed Radical 2.0 Bindings
7 lbs 6 oz
Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Ski Mountaineering Boots, size 27/27.5
5 lbs 12 oz
Black Diamond Ultralite Mix Climbing Skins and storage sack
1 lb 4 oz
Dynafit Ski Crampons
Black Diamond Ski Poles
1 lb 6 oz
Ortovox S1+ Beacon
Ortovox Pro Alu Shovel
1 lb 12 oz
Ortovox Snow Saw
Black Diamond Raven Pro Mountaineering Axe
Petzl Vasak Crampons
Petzl Sirocco Helmet
Camp Alp Mountain Harness w/ ice clipper and storage sack
Climbing gear- two lockers, Reverso, double length sling, prussic
I’ve used this for over 7 years with trips to the Washington, Nevada, and Colorado. While it is designed to hold two pairs of skis I only pack one pair and use the extra space for almost all my extra gear allowing me to only check one bag and carry on a small ski touring pack. Be sure to check max weight of ski bags for the airline you are flying (WOW airline to Iceland allows max weight of 60 lbs when you purchase a ski bag allowance).
Simple proven design for when it gets a bit too steep for just skins but you’d prefer to not boot pack it! Snow conditions were excellent during our trip and I did not use these but they are easy added insurance for icier skinning conditions.
My personal beacon of choice for the last 5 years, and I have used just about every beacon on the market over that time frame as an active avalanche course instructor. This item deserves an long in-depth review but that will have to wait until after Iceland!
This has been my mountaineering axe for almost 15 years and is the right balance of weight and durability. Perfect for when you need a bit more security than an improvised axe like the Pocket Spike or Whippet.
Make sure you select the Leverlock option! Best 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! Like my ski crampons snow conditions were so good these never saw use but there is definitely some terrain in Iceland where I would break these out. We saw some nice looking ice lines in a few spots that would have been good fun with technical ice tools.
Say what you will about the color but this thing saves some serious weight from your pack while skinning while providing excellent protection while climbing. A great ultra-light ski mountaineering option IMO.
I’m not bringing a sleeping bag as we’ve rented a house with linens but this goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I often carry it with my bivy sack as a “just in case” option.
I’m only bring 4 spares to cover both my headlamp and avalanche beacon but this is the best deal on quality AA’s I have ever seen. Performance all winter as been as good as any high end brand name alkaline I have ever used!
Always said I would buy one and I finally did. Seems good for the price!
Well that’s pretty much it for “gear”. Clothing is listed in the spreadsheet at the beginning and does not include a little bit of casual wear. I am bringing my beloved Aeropress and a pound of freshly ground beans from my friends at Frontside Coffee Roasters in my home town of North Conway, NH because;
Good coffee is quite expensive in Iceland
I love my Aeropress coffee first thing in the AM
I’ll link more to my clothing after the trip but as you can tell from the list above it is mostly Ortovox. They make some amazing stuff and I’ll post detailed reviews on what I’ve been using this winter soon.
Iceland is a beautiful country with incredibly friendly and helpful people. They are adjusting to the new explosion of tourism the country is experiencing and you might sense some of these growing pains from time to time. As a back-country ski touring destination it is 5 star trip and I can’t wait to return!
See you in the land of the vikings,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Affiliate links help support this blog. Author is a DPS and Revo ambassador and Ortovox Athlete and has received product support from these companies.
The last weekend of winter provided one of the most spectacular 3 days of higher summits weather I have ever seen in March! Blue skis and almost non-existent wind led to some really enjoyable ski touring on Mount Washington during our second-to-last American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) course.
We kicked off the course on Friday with some lively classroom sessions and small group exercises.
We met early to learn some advanced trip planning skills using CalTopo.com and the Avenza App. The Higher Summits Forecast called for southeast winds around 10-15 mph so we planned a tour on the west side of Mount Washington.
We concluded our tour with a debrief at the trail-head before calling it a day.
Avalanche danger was LOW and we had plenty of time to spare so we booted up Lobster Claw and traversed over to the top of Right Gully.
Some video of our descent:
We wrapped up the course back in the pack room with discussions about continuing to learn about traveling in the back-country. It was a real pleasure having each of you in this course. Thank you all for staying engaged and contributing through out our three days!
Tomorrow, and beyond!
Only one more avalanche course next weekend after a Mountain Skills Course tomorrow and Washington Climb on Thursday. It might seem like the winter season is winding down a little but we are set up for a fantastic Spring ski season! The warm rock climbing can wait this year… I still have a lot of skiing goals to accomplish including reviewing some new ski mountaineering gear from CAMP/Cassin, Ortovox, Petzl, and DPS. Expect a lot of gear reviews to be landing April/May after I get back from Iceland.
Yup, Iceland! Been awhile since I’ve been out of country so I am SUPER amp’d about this upcoming trip.
Want to try backcountry skiing?
Maybe you just bought a setup or still need to rent a touring package (a few places in town rent touring gear). Maybe you’d like to avoid the maddening crowds in Tuckerman Ravine and check out some new to you terrain ? Consider learning about the joys of back-country skiing with me. The snow-pack we have in the alpine right now combined with more stable Spring weather is a GREAT time to book a back-country ski day!
You can read a bit about the program here but reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to check on available dates before trying to book!
Did you get out this weekend? Whatcha do? Let me know in the comments below!
I was fortunate to spend the last two days with John W. who recently moved to New Hampshire from points south and has steadily been increasing his mountain skill repertoire. An avid hiker John had set a goal to summit Mount Washington in the winter and felt a One-Day Mountaineering Course would be a good pre-cursor before a Mount Washington summit attempt. You see John had tried Mount Washington non-guided in the winter last year with rented equipment and came to find out there is more to using crampons in steep terrain than meets the eye. He can tell you that story personally if you get the chance to cross paths with him in the mountains but I can tell you about our two days.
After spending some time at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse dialing in our gear choices and packing strategies we made our way to the historic and classic Willey’s Slide in Crawford Notch. At the base of the route the snow was perfect for practicing self arrest, the fundamental skill of quickly stopping oneself while sliding down the mountain with an ice axe. This skill is not intuitive but must become second nature should you wish to travel in steep snowy or glaciated terrain. John showed marked progress after a half hour of practicing. We then worked our way up the first couple hundred feet of lower angle snow climbing working on proper crampon technique.
A quick list of skills we covered:
Gear selection & packing
Crampon Skills: French Technique, German Technique, Front-Pointing
Ice Axe Skills: Piolet Canne, Self-Arrest Grip, Travel Grip, Self-Arrest from all possible falling positions
Roping up, how & why
Short-pitching, ice screw placement, anchoring in
Knots covered: Figure 8 follow through, Clove-Hitch, Overhand on a bight, Figure Eight on a bight
Rappelling with a device
Day 2- Mount Washington Attempt
We met at 7 am sharp and headed off to the trail-head to get a jump on some questionable weather coming in the afternoon.
With low avalanche danger and well above freezing temperatures I decided we would forego the typical Winter Lionshead Route and tackle the more direct (and arguably more fun) Right Gully of Tuckerman Ravine. We still carried avalanche gear with us along with some ultralight harnesses, helmets, and a short rope due to the semi-technical ascent choice.
With snow conditions prime for glissading I brought us over to the top of the East Snowfields on the south side for a fantastic ride back down to the flats (see video).
We then connected into Lobster Claw Gully for another quick descent back to the floor of the ravine.
Thanks to excellent snow conditions and Johns affinity for hustling downhill we made it back to the parking lot 2 hours and ten minutes after standing on the summit!
This day happened to be John’s 55th birthday and I was truly honored to spend it with him in such an amazing place! I look forward to seeing him in the mountains again soon.
What a week it has been! This time last Wednesday I was just topping out the classic hard line Repentance on Cathedral Ledge with my old friend Tom and new friend and fellow Northeast Mountaineering guide Jordan. The route was in excellent shape and felt a few degrees easier than when I first climbed it a few years ago with Bob & Ryan.
Thursday I got to guide NEM regular guest Nick up an equally fantastic Black Dike on Cannon Cliff. It had been years since I’d climbed this route and it was in great shape. We did have to wait for a party ahead of us but completed the climb in 6 hours car to car with some of the best glissading I have ever seen on the descent trail!
Friday we started our 4th avalanche course of the season and students and instructors alike partook in evening social hours upstairs at International Mountain Equipment and watched presentations at the Theatre in the Woods.
On Monday I started a 2 Day Ice Climbing Course and had the pleasure of introducing father & son team Andy and Peter to ice climbing at Cathedral Ledge and in Crawford Notch. The snow was fantastic and I geeked out a bit over some of the snappy wind slabs we found along our route.
Later that night I heard of a climbing accident on the Black Dike. A climber had fallen during the final moves and severely broke his ankle in the 50-60 foot fall. I spoke briefly with Nick last night and he is in good spirits and incredibly grateful for all of those who assisted him off the cliff.
That brings us to today, a chance for me to do some laundry, get to the dump, and attend to other household errands that have been put off for a bit too long. Another round of snow inbound for tonight so I’ll probably find myself skiing tomorrow before our next avalanche course starts on Friday.
What an absolutely fantastic winter we are having! Hope you are getting out there and enjoying it!