Here we go! While some providers have run a couple courses already we just completed our very first one of the season yesterday and it was epic! A new venue, classroom tech, on-site lodging, awesome students, and great snow all led to a fantastic 3 days!
Our classroom sessions were held in “The Bunkhouse” living area in Bartlett, NH. This was extremely convenient for the students as 2 nights of lodging are included in the course tuition. All seven participants stayed in the bunkhouse which led to a pretty immersive course and some new friendships and touring partners.
Another big classroom change is the use of iPads pre-loaded with the AIARE Student Manual. The “Notability” app allows custom note-taking and the ability to email yourself the manual with notes throughout the course. I’ll be adding some CalTopo style mapping options on them to help with our trip planning sessions. For those who prefer a paper copy of the manual we do have them for sale with a portion of the proceeds going to non-profit conservation groups! Hats off to NEM co-owner Brett Fitzgerald for spearheading this unique initiative!
After two days of mixing up classroom and field exercises we headed up into Tuckerman Ravine for a ski tour designed to re-enforce the knowledge and skills we had gained the days prior.
A bit of GoPro footage from the day
A huge thank you to the first seven students of my 2017 avalanche course season! Each one of you brought something to the course with your engaging questions, camaraderie, early morning shenanigans, and cold weather endurance.
Our next course starts Friday but is sold out. We have a few more spots left in our Jan 20th course. We are also working hard at bringing on another course instructor so we may be able to open more seats soon. If you want to get into a course this season with me check the dates here:
This past Friday I had Syed and Thomas for the last day of a 3 Day Mountaineering course with Northeast Mountaineering. On the first day they had learned some of the basics with me at the North End of Cathedral Ledge. On the second day they had a great day on Mount Washington getting less than a quarter mile from the summit (sometimes the weather gods just say “not today”). For their last day we took on a multi-pitch alpine climb, the classic “Hitchcock Gully” on Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch State Park.
Almost a foot of snow had fallen the day before so I was grateful to see a party had broken trail from the parking lot and we made our way to the start of the climb. After roping up we short-roped and short-pitched our way up to the more technical climbing.
The first 5th class pitch was quite standard with a smidge of funky ice at the choke. I had been following fresh boot-prints until this point but right above the choke they disappeared into a small avalanche debris pile. After setting up an anchor in the first bomber ice on route I took a look at the small crown and guessed it was probably triggered by the climbers who had just proceeded us. While this was a very small slab avalanche on the “Destructive Size” scale it was big enough to sweep a climber off their feet.
This is something ice climbers who solo our local alpine gullies should keep in mind especially after a foot of fresh snow has just dropped. While the danger had passed probably less than an hour earlier now that the small slab had released, two climbers who caught up to us decided to solo the first pitch despite having a rope and a party of three directly ahead of them. While they climbed efficiently they still had to wait 20 minutes for us to finish the rock pitch…so… why not pitch out the first pitch when we have a NWS avalanche warning in effect? You got nothing to lose and might as well bust out that rope you are hauling especially if you’re going to have to wait a few minutes for the party ahead of you.
After finishing Lower Hitchcock we made our way up to the start of Upper Hitchcock. There were some climbers on East Face Slabs Right but we didn’t make contact so I could not confirm if they were the party that triggered the small slab. Upper Hitchcock looked great!
The climbing was great with good ice and comfy temps. Soon after leading the first long pitch we were all at the anchor and ready to climb the last bit of fun ice at the top.
As I topped out I noticed the trail was not broken so we would be doing a little bit of “wallowing”. The pow was so fresh that it was one of the easier bushwhacks to the summit I can recall when breaking trail.
We enjoyed the summit for a few minutes before quickly booting it down the nicely packed out Mt. Willard Trail (thank you snowshoes for packing that thing out minutes after a Nor’Easter’!)
My first day on Willard this year and a great reminder of what an awesome place it is to climb!
Before I wrap up this quick trip report a quick PSA. This is shaping up to be a banner winter recreation season. If your hobbies take you into steep snow covered terrain, you need to be thinking about avalanches. They don’t just happen on Mount Washington. They don’t have to be big enough to bury you to cause injury. Anywhere you go on snow that is over 35 degrees could be avalanche terrain. Even being on flat terrain under this steeper terrain can be a risk.
Know Before You Go!
There is more avalanche education available this season than there ever has been! Take advantage of that and take a course, or a refresher, THIS YEAR!
While I was searching for a new soft-shell pant for ice climbing this season I came across the LaSportiva Castle Pant. While billed as a ski pant this lightweight soft-shell slim fitting tech pant is a great choice for waterfall ice climbing and lightweight mountaineering which is how I primarily tested it over the last two months. The fact that it can serve double duty as a light back-country ski tour pant is definitely a bonus.
Let’s start with a look at the manufacturer description and specifications:
“The Castle Pant is a stylish and comfortable soft-shell ski pant made with technical, performance-focused features to give you everything you need to move confidently around the mountains.”
• 5 pockets <- manufacturer typo? Model has 4 pockets total, 2 front hand warmer pockets, one right rear pocket, and one right thigh pocket large enough for an iPhone 6s Plus
• Adjustable inner gaiter
• Reinforced bottom hem
• Front fly
• Reflective safety details
• Pre-shaped knees
• Suspender attachment
• Flat pocket construction
ITEM NUMBER: B74 SIZES: Men’s S – XL WEIGHT: 20.56 oz (583g) FABRIC: Main – Ectoshield™ (90% Nylon, 10% Spandex) • Bottom hem insert – Superfabric® • Inner gaiter – 100% Nylon FIT: Regular
Not a ton of info from the manufacturer so I’ll break into some real life impressions starting with the choice of fabric.
La Sportiva uses a proprietary “Ectoshield™” material which is a 90/10 Nylon/Spandex blend. In hand it feels like a durable unlined soft shell very similar to Schoeller™ products I have used before. It is noticeably stretchy and feels quite abrasion resistant. The waist belt has a soft micro fleece lining on the band. There’s an adjustable nylon inner gaiter along with a heavier re-enforced crampon patch on the inner leg and adjustable outer cuff.
This adjustable cuff is a nice feature as I can snap then tighter when wearing ice climbing boots or have a bit more room for my ski touring boots. Since I rarely wear gaiters while ice climbing the option to snug them up is quite nice!
It is highly likely there is a DWR treatment applied despite no mention of it on the manufacturer’s website. I climbed in them through very drippy conditions and they definitely resisted getting damp.
They fit great under my harness and are quite comfortable on the approach. As a 180 pound 5’9″ 34 inch waist I went with the USA Medium size (Euro L/50). I found the sizing to be perfect for me. Check the size chart if in doubt:
5’6″ – 5’8″
5’8″ – 5’9″
5’9″ – 5’10”
5’11” – 6”0″
31 – 32
32 – 33
33 – 34
43 – 35
35 – 36
WAIST (CLIMBING/CASUAL PANTS)
30 – 31
32 – 33
33 – 34
34 – 35
36 – 37
WAIST (OUTERWEAR PANTS)
33 – 34
35 – 36
37 – 38
39 – 40
After a half dozen climbing days in these I’m thinking these may be my go-to ice pants this season. The 10% spandex material gives complete freedom of movement, and they feel like they can take a bit of climbing abuse from time to time. While they fit my body quite well there are both belt loops and suspender attachment points to facilitate every body shape.
This is an excellent option for a dedicated ice climbing pant that can serve double duty as a lightweight back-country ski touring pant, something that many New England climbers, back-country skiers, and skimo folks might be looking for. Here’s a short vid of me rocking these pants a few days ago at Frankenstein in Crawford Notch:
If you’d like to pick up a pair you can find them on Backcountry.com here and Amazon here.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
While I received this item from La Sportiva for the purposes of this review the opinions above are my own. Affiliate links above help support this blog.
This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to introduce four guests of Northeast Mountaineering to the joys of ice climbing. The North End of Cathedral is in great shape for early season climbing and we had a full day climbing on the North End Slab and the Pillars.
Yesterday I got out to Frankenstein for the first time this season and enjoyed an excellent condition Pegasus Rock Finish.
This is quickly shaping up to be one of the best ice climbing seasons in recent memory. If you’d like to book a lesson with me let me know, I still have some mid-week dates available.
This past Monday I headed up to the rockpile again with Virginia/Maryland based Max & Rachel. After gearing up at the Northeast Mountaineering bunkhouse we hit the trail at about 8:15. Following last weeks snow/rain/deep freeze trail conditions were quite nice on the lower Tuckerman Trail. The first “step” on Winter Lionhead had considerable water ice but full crampons and ice axe, and a little coaching saw us through it in quick time. Above this step cramponing was great all the way to the summit which we reached around 1:15pm in really low wind conditions. Definitely a great day on the mountain and I hope to see Max & Rachel back for another adventure this winter!
One more trip up “the rockpile” in my ArcTeryx Acux AR Mountaineering Boots
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
P.S. If you decide to book an adventure with Northeast Mountaineering use promo code “DavidNEM” to get a chance at winning a free guided day of your choosing!
Yesterday wrapped up my first winter guiding assignment of the season, a custom private three day mountaineering course for the NYC based couple Karen and Paul. This was a surprise birthday present for Paul and I was very honored to be a part of it. This adventurous couple had experience trekking in Denali National Park and in Nepal and their objectives were bringing them further and further into the back-country and into steeper terrain so they were eager to start building their skill sets. After a couple emails with Karen we settled on a 3 day program that would make the most of their time with me.
We met at the cozy Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse in Glen, NH. We’ve added a ceiling mounted projector and pull down screen here to accommodate our upcoming avalanche course season and this was a perfect opportunity to give it a test run. Karen and Paul were interested in upping their navigation skills so we started our program with my Wilderness Navigation course, a 3-4 hour classroom session followed by an afternoon field session to re-enforce learned skills.
A Washington attempt was on our bucket list so we picked the better of the two remaining days to work on our extreme cold weather skills. By extreme I mean the Higher Summits Forecast looked like this:
Some folks might ask why even bother heading up there with a forecast like this? The odds of making the summit are incredibly low. The way I justify it is this is the perfect opportunity to define what exactly “success” means in the mountains. For me, success is not reaching the summit, and it shouldn’t be for you either. Three things should define success in the mountains;
Did you have fun? Type 1 & type 2 are both quite acceptable on “successful” trips.
Did everyone return home uninjured?
Was everyone still friends?
If the answer to the above three questions is yes then you have had a successful climb regardless of where your “high-point” was. Pushing yourself a little, getting slightly outside your comfort zone, but turning around when it is prudent is the epitome of a successful trip in my opinion.
Sorry, got off on a tangent there, back to our day.
We left Pinkham Notch at 0815.
We made our way up the Tuckerman Ravine trail until the 4th cut and moved over to the Sherburne Ski Trail due to bridge work that still had an official detour sending people up the Huntington Ravine Trail. While walking on the Sherb is not ideal, the Huntington detour is a bit more complicated and definitely more time consuming. The good news is the closure has been lifted as of yesterday, so we do not need to put any more post holes up the ski trail (which is looking GREAT for mid-December BTW).
While we were out of the wind ambient air temps were around -8 so I was rocking a light puffy over my soft-shell jacket for the majority of ascent to Hermit Lake.
After a bit of a re-fueling and adjusting break at Hermit Lake we moved over to the Summer Lions Head Trail.
As we closed in on tree-line we started breaking trail across the avalanche prone slopes that were quite filled in. Hand-shear tests confirmed reactive slabs that were quite small in size.
The last section right before the summer trail turns north and joins the winter trail had the most reactive snow but the slope was only about 30 feet in size and the instabilities were close enough to the surface to observe. I took a minute to try to show this on video:
Thanks for the camera work Karen!
My prediction was timely as the USFS closed the summer trail today and the winter trail is now in use.
We rounded the corner to feel some of the 30-50mph gusts just above our heads. Combined with the air temps winch-chills were about -40 here. It was pretty clear we could turn back here, or suffer for another 200 yards and then turn back. We picked tree-line as a good place to turn back and I grabbed this pic of Karen before we started our descent.
We reversed our trip all the way back to Pinkham and high-fived in the parking lot. Karen and Paul were excited to have experienced hiking and climbing in those types of conditions and I was pretty amped up to see our winter off to such a phenomenal start!
For our last day together with valley temps hovering around -6 we spent some time inside discussing glacier travel and rope work. Many knots & hitches were reviewed along with equipment choices before we headed out to the North End of Cathedral Ledge for a quick rappel and some climbing.
It may have been the coldest three days of the season but spending it with these two left me feeling pretty warm. What a sweet birthday present for the man in Karen’s life! I enjoyed every minute with these two and I’m really looking forward to hearing of their future adventures and occasionally being part of them.
For the last couple months I’ve been testing the Black Diamond First Light Hoody. From early season recon missions into Tuckerman Ravine searching for climbable November ice to blustery cliff top rigging work while creating an instructional video with Northeast Mountaineering I’ve cultivated some appreciation for the versatility of this “light puffy”. Lightly insulated hooded jackets like this are a great addition to almost any climber or skier’s kit. If you are looking for a full on winter belay jacket you can check out some other models I am reviewing here.
The Black Diamond First Light Hoody uses 60 gsm of PrimaLoft® Silver Insulation Active with a traditional tube style baffling. This is a high end insulation that resists “migration”; basically it stays put within its baffles reducing gaps in protection. PrimaLoft® also claims it is more wind resistant but less thermally efficient than the PrimaLoft® Gold Eco.
So this type of PrimaLoft insulation isn’t as close to high loft down in terms of heat retention per weight but feels quite warm for the weight of this piece. It also boosts excellent breath-ability and will still retain heat if you get soaked in a “not quite full winter” rain event.
The Black Diamond First Light Hoody uses Schoeller® stretch-woven nylon with NanoSphere® Technology (80 gsm, 93% nylon, 7% elastane). This is a highly breathable shell fabric which allows this jacket to stay on during high output effort in cold conditions (skinning with sub-zero ambient temps) without overheating. In hand the shell fabric feels like it will handle abrasion better than some others in this category. The nylon woven mesh liner adds a bit of weight to this piece (65 gsm, 100% nylon) but is super soft and feels great directly on skin.
Manufacturer specs state 510 grams, 18 oz. My home scale on my size large reads 568 grams, 20 oz. The jacket compresses easily enough into its internal chest pocket and only appears to be slightly larger in packing size than the Nano Puff (but about 50% heavier).
A carabiner sewn loop allows you to clip this off to the back of your harness if you are leaving your pack on the ground and the top of the pitch looks a little bit more breezy than the base of the route.
I found the sizing to be spot on. I went with a large which fits my 42 inch chest, 180lb build, with a little extra space for a soft-shell and base-layers but not too baggy to throw on over a t-shirt. The hood is sized to fit perfectly over your helmet.
Yet another fantastic option in the growing lightweight hooded jacket category the Black Diamond First Light Hoody is an ideal “just in case” piece for edge season climbing and an obvious go-to choice for hard & fast winter objectives. If sharing leads on a multi-pitch ice climb I would still bring a full duty belay jacket like the models I am reviewing here. If you haven’t added a “light puffy” to your kit yet or the one you have needs replacing this should be on your radar.
If you think you’d like this jacket you can find other reviews and competitive pricing right here on Amazon. If you liked this review please leave a comment below and subscribe above!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Black Diamond provided this item for purposes of review. The opinions expressed above are my own. Affiliate links above help support this blog.