This past Saturday I had the privilege of taking the New Jersey based Schenck family out rock climbing at Whitehorse and Cathedral Ledge. Having spent the previous day kayaking the Saco River they were ready for some vertical fun.
Super fun day with this outdoorsy family! I think a multi-pitch climbing day with Alexa & her dad may be in-store for the near future!
Hope everyone is enjoying this spectacular climbing weather!
This past Saturday I led an 8 hour Wilderness Navigation Course for EMS Schools North Conway. A few guides from a NYC outdoor adventure company and mountain enthusiasts from around New England met at 8:30am for some classroom discussion and exercises before we traveled to a field location to practice our newly acquired skills.
This is a great area to explore off trail. It is a fairly active site for rock collectors, or “rockhounding“, and we came across a lot of fresh piles of crushed rock and sand where intrepid collectors had found veins of rock in search of semi-precious stones. There is also some type of tree research nearby as we traveled through a stand of younger trees all tagged with metal numbered tags. I’m curious to their meaning.
After plotting a course back to our starting point we embarked on the well traveled Black Cap Trail. Before reaching the ledges we found a nice specimen of the edible and easy to recognize “Chicken of the Woods“. It was clear someone had foraged a bit of this specimen but there was plenty left for those inclined to gather some to cook later.
One we reached the first view point we stopped and practiced some terrain association, peak identification, and single point resection.
After looking at some glacial striations and some classic “flagging” in the trees (both can help with finding direction) we reached the small summit and made our way down to the Black Cap Connector Trail. We then looped back towards the Cranmore Trail.
Looping back on the connector trail
With a little bit of time left we decided to squeeze in one more bushwhack so we headed a short ways down the Red Tail Trail before plotting a course off trail with the goal of hitting the Black Cap Trail right at the info kiosk about .3 miles from the parking lot.
Everyone followed their own route and hit the Black Cap trail within sight of the kiosk. We returned to the parking lot for a quick debrief.
I really enjoy teaching this course. It’s especially fun to challenge yourself by not always following the beaten path and when you go off trail you’re much more likely to have wildlife encounters. By the end of the course most everyone was sold on the model of compass I’ve been using for almost 2 decades so I will plug it here for those shopping for a great quality compass.
While I might take the time to give this compass a full review soon for now I’ll briefly state the sighting mirror and long straight edge make taking and plotting bearings fast and intuitive. The clinometer is a great feature for winter/avalanche terrain but is also useful for determining if you are actually higher than that nearby peak. Unfortunately this model isn’t currently in-stock at EMS but is available on Amazon here.
Do you have a favorite compass model? Let me know in the comments below!
This was the last Wilderness Navigation Course we had planned at EMS Schools this summer but I think there might be interest in running another one this Fall. I will update this post if we put another one on the calendar and send out a quick post if one is scheduled. As always you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Really fun day today climbing with this family from Austin, Texas! The Weaver’s are adventurers extraordinaire and were wrapping up a 3 week trip in New England before heading back south. Fresh off some intense downhill mountain biking the day before they were ready to rock. We started out day over at Whitehorse Ledge under the giant Echo Roof.
After climbing “Holy Land” 5.6 and “Relic Hunter” 5.7 we had some lunch then headed over to the North End of Cathedral Ledge.
Everyone took a spin on Child’s Play, then we headed for the top for some rappelling to round out our day.
Thank you guys for another fun day in the mountains! See you next time for another adventure!
Plenty of great climbing days ahead and the forecast looks great! Come climb with EMS Schools before the summer slips away!
It’s been a great summer so far with lots of families & camp groups climbing with EMS Schools. I haven’t done as many individual trip reports as most of my free computer time has been spent on reviewing some of the coolest new packs & gear on the market. Hope everyone has been enjoying the summer!
This past 3 day holiday weekend had me guiding Yu Chih Chieh from Taiwan as he finished up 8 days of climbing instruction. Yu Chih, who goes by Brendan in the US, is in doctorate level program at Brown University in Rhode Island and is a die-hard botanist (and motivated aspiring alpinist).
We started the morning with a brief anchor clinic and I show’d Brendan a couple options for extending top-rope anchor setups. Anchor theory is a hot topic with this guy’s scientific mind! We then hiked down to the Barber Wall for a quick rappel and discussed some of the finer points of the process.
We then took a quick trip up Upper Refuse with a focus on seconding proficiently and transition efficiency.
After we got a little heckled by the tourists at the top (the frat party was a bit offended I declined the beer they offered me for climbing the cliff, but I was working, and I do not drink Bud Lite) we made our way over to the quieter Airation Buttress for some lunch. Then a quick drive over to Whitehorse Ledge for 600 feet of slab ascent/descent.
After 4 pitches of Beginner’s Route we headed back to the shop to look at a quick demo/practice of a belay escape.
For Sunday, July 3rd, the weather forecast was the same as the whole weekend. Bluebird. Knowing every cliff would probably be a bit of a zoo I decided to do something rash and head to the biggest zoo of them all. Rumney.
It had been a few years since I last visited this mecca of sport climbing. We pulled into the lot right at 9:30am and spaces were starting to fill up. The Meadows wall wasn’t too busy and we grabbed “False Modesty” and “Rose Garden” while discussing sport climbing issues that crop up every year (rigging to lower, closed systems, belayer placement, clear communication, etc).
We then headed down the road and up the hill to the Main Cliff to check out some of the new 2 pitch moderates that have been getting talked up on Mountain Project lately. “Crowd Pleaser” had quite a long queue on it but an obvious local regular pointed out the nearby 2 pitch 5.8 called “Tipping Point” with no line on it. We hopped right on and greatly enjoyed this fun little route.
The next pitch was super fun 5.8 with a solid crux right at the end… felt a bit closer to 5.9 to me but I’m not that well calibrated to Rumney grades ATM.
We then headed across and up the hill once again passing hordes of climbers on the wildly overhanging and popular crags like Darth Vader & Waimea making our way up to the highest bluff, the Jimmy Cliff. Up here we did two 2 pitch cruiser routes and enjoyed a steady fresh breeze the whole time.
Brendan had quite a bit of lead climbing experience in the gym and no “second belaying” experience so we covered some of the multitude of ways to properly belay the second while enjoying the cool breeze and lack of crowds.
We stopped by the Black Crack Boulder on our hike out for yet another anchor building session (a critical trad climbing skill), then headed back across the Kanc to Mount Washington Valley. Despite some concerns about hitting the busiest cliffs on what might have been the busiest weekend we managed 5 climbs at 3 areas with 8 pitches total (plus that whole area is a botanist dream according to Brendan, who would often disappear while hiking behind me only to be found crouched at ground level camera in hand).
For July 4th, the last day of Brendan’s 8 day excursion, I picked an objective that I thought would be a suitable way to finish and also prepare him for his home country objective, Mount Yu Shan, the highest point in Taiwan!
We headed to Mount Washington with sights set on the Henderson Ridge. I had never climbed this route and found it to be fun outing. It took us 3.5 hours car to car with a leisurely pace and many stops to examine the unique flora that exists on Mount Washington (Alpine Garden Trail). We only saw one other climbing party of two on Pinnacle Ridge, and greatly enjoyed the cooler than valley temps!
After three days with Yu Chih Chieh I know he is well on his way to accomplishing whatever goals he sets for himself. An inquisitive scientific mind and desire will take him far in all aspects of his life and I look forward to the next time I share a rope with him.
Hope you all had a great Fourth of July weekend and spent a little time contemplating how lucky we are to have our freedoms!
Did you get out this past weekend? Let me know what you got on in the comments below!
This is the 2nd year in a row I’ve gotten to work with the kids & faculty of the Connecticut based Marianopolis Preparatory School. These motivated teens loaded into a bus in the wee morning hours yesterday for a four hour ride up to Mount Washington Valley for their first taste of rock climbing. Keith & I took the group to the Thin Air Face and the kids & chaperons climbed the routes we set up as many times as their motivation and strength allowed them.
After everyone had their fill of climbing we had a little time to spare before the bus would return so we decided to bushwhack over to Diana’s Baths. It’s really a short walk over to this beautiful area and the kids had a blast.
After the bus arrived a quick trip to the top of the cliff rewarded them with a nice rainbow over the valley.
It was a pleasure introducing this diverse group of students to rock climbing (and bushwhacking for that matter). One of the students texted her mom in China to show her what she was doing and it was comical to see her mother text back so quickly with “put the phone away and pay attention!” I’m looking forward to the next time they come and climb with us.
Kevin, Rebecca, and Jennifer had attempted Mount Washington with us twice already this winter. I was with Kevin back in early January when we made it to Lion’s Head in some of the worst conditions I’ve seen. The hike down the lower half of a washed out Tuckerman Ravine Trail in a torrential downpour was one I won’t soon forget. Rebecca & Jennifer were with another group that day that made it a few hundred yards further before wisely retreating. As luck would have it the three would meet again on another attempt the following month, this time the coldest day of the season with air temps on the summit hitting -40 and wind chills far surpassing that. Again, they made a valiant effort, then wisely turned back.
They were not, however, discouraged. And the third time, as they say, was definitely the charm!
As I rolled out of bed around 5am this past Saturday I pulled up the Higher Summits Forecast on my phone (a pretty much daily morning ritual in this household). Light winds 5-10mph, north shifting east, blue skies, temps around 30 degrees. How fortunate to get to climb “the rockpile” again in conditions like these after just having a bluebird windless day a week prior!
Having logged over 50+ winter ascents from the East via Tuckerman Ravine, Huntington Ravine, and Lion’s Head, I realized a trip up the west side would be a welcome change for both me, and my clients who had slogged up and down the first two miles of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail twice that winter. It turned out to be a great choice!
We hit the trail at Marshfield Station at 8:15am. The first half mile went quick and smooth with no traction needed. Soon after passing the intersection of the summer trail head spur we started encountering stretches of blue water ice where careful footwork alone would not suffice, so out came the micro-spikes.
I’ve only climbed this route 2-3 times, and only in summer, and I was reminded about how aesthetic this route is right out of the gate.
As we worked our way up along the river bits of blue came through the otherwise overcast sky.
We reached Gem Pool in just under an hour.
Here we switched Microspikes for crampons and started the steady climb up to treeline. The abundant amount of hard water ice on this trail ensures those without full crampons will be at a real disadvantage. As the angle decreased the view increased.
Under-cast spilled out to the west as far as we could see.
As we approached treeline we started encountering the first of many massive ice sheets, all by-products of the Lakes of the Clouds drainage.
I took a panoramic from the center of one of these huge ice sheets with the summit of Mt. Washington looming behind Kevin.
Despite the abundant ice there was virtually zero wind and the climbing was very comfortable. Layers were adjusted accordingly (I could have left the long underwear in the pack).
We reached the Lakes in the Clouds AMC Hut (closed for the season) at about 11am. Since it was early, and conditions so prime, we opted for a quick side trip to tag Mt. Monroe.
I decided to take us off trail a bit to the east on a nice snowfield before scrambling up a short easy gully just below the summit.
The party we caught here offered to get a group shot of us on Monroe summit.
We then descended back to the Crawford Path and I went off trail again to save a small bit of mileage by wrapping around the higher of “the lakes”.
I had opted to transition back into my Micro-spikes at this point thinking any significant difficulty would be behind us. About 10 minutes later as we traversed onto one of the Crawford Path snowfields I started to regret my decision. This snowfield we were traversing was only about 15-20 degrees in pitch, but its western aspect meant it didn’t absorb much of the solar radiation that had been pouring over us all day. It was still a relative sheet of ice with nice looking granite cheese graters sticking out 100 feet below.
Half way across the 200 foot wide snowfield I found myself focusing on my steps a bit more than I should have in that terrain. Aggressive flat-footing got me to a nice mid-field island where I converted back to crampons and felt about 110% more secure than I had moments before. Chalk that one up to error recognition (albeit a bit late) and correction.
By 12:20 we were on the summit basking in mild temps, 100 mile visibility, and only a hint of a breeze. Rebecca found that rime ice had mysteriously grown on her arm.
After what was probably my longest stay on the summit during a day trip we started making out way down at 1:10pm. We headed north off the summit and I linked a few snowfields until we reached the tracks of the Cog railway. While this is not an official hiking trail, it does provide a somewhat fast descent of the west side that is non-technical compared to descending the water ice of the Ammo Trail.
Disclaimer: 90% of the time this is not a good “escape” off Mount Washington as bad weather is usually hitting us from the W-NW. Walking into high winds from this direction can literally be impossible and kill you. It is also considered trespassing by the Cog Railway when they are in season, so don’t do it in the summer!
Walking was easiest to the sides of the Cog linking snowfields where ever we could.
Just below the “Halfway House” we removed our crampons and booted our way back down to Marshfield Station, taking only an hour and 45 minutes to descend from the summit.
This appears to be my last guiding day of this winter. I couldn’t have asked for a better day weather wise or better people to spend it with. Quite a few laughs along the way and I really hope to cross paths with Kevin, Rebecca, and Jennifer again.
Higher Summits calling for 3-7 inches of snow through Tuesday with nice weather on Wednesday if you’re still looking to ski up there it might be really good Wednesday!
MWAC Update: Still some avalanche danger out there, don’t let your guard down
Review for the LaSportiva Batura’s coming this week along with gear giveaway contest! Subscribe at top right!
This past Saturday I had the pleasure of taking Alex, Ben, and Eric ice climbing at The North End of Cathedral Ledge for a Winter Climbing 101 Program. We spent much of the day with another EMS Schools group taking the same course led by EMS Guide Cheyenne Chaffee.
After some not-so-fast self arrest practice on the Cathedral Ledge Auto-road we started working on our footwork.
While the North End Slab & Pillars were quite mobbed for most the day with the Ice Fest going on there was plenty of ice for us to play on. The ice to the right of Thresher has come in quite well this year, and survived the multiple thaws we have dealt with, providing a great spot to learn the basics without trying to thread the needle with a half dozen ropes on the Pillars. At the end of the day everyone was content with the mileage they had put in and we hope to see some return for the next step, either Mountaineering 201 or Ice Climbing 201.
The EMS® Men’s Feather Pack Hooded Jacket was my most anticipated item in last years Fall/Winter line at Eastern Mountain Sports and it returns this year! I was amped to pick it up just in time for a quick alpine climb on Cannon Cliff.
Built on the success of last year’s Icarus jackets (you remember, the ones that after the first production run EMS had low inventory right off the bat because employees snagged them all up?) this jacket falls in to the “light belay jacket” category. A few things set this jacket apart from your more casual winter coat and for me justified the purchase, even when my gear closet has no shortage of technical jackets!
The manufacturer states the average weight of a medium size is 15.5 ounces. My own scale measures my size large at 17.5 ounces. The closest insulated hooded jacket I have is my Wild Things Belay Jacket which weighs in at 24 ounces!
This jacket when stuffed into its internal pocket only takes up about 240 cubic inches of space, less than a football (pre-Deflategate of course). Dimensions when stuffed are about 8 x 6 x 5 inches with some room to squish smaller.
This ultralight weight and extreme packability is achieved by using 800 fill DownTek. If you want to increase your knowledge of “fill power” in down products you can geek out on Wikipedia here. We’ve known for years that high quality down is the warmest insulation in outerwear, with one big disadvantage. Traditionally, when down gets wet, it looses 100% of its insulating capabilities and takes a decade or two to dry. Then came DownTek. Simply put it is water-resistant environmentally friendly ethically sourced down. You can dig into it deeper if you’re curious at DownTek’s Website. I just like watching videos:
Back to the jacket… and one other important piece of the “insulation equation”. Knowing that a jacket uses 800 fill power down is only useful if you know how much of that awesome fluffy stuff is shoved into your jacket. I had guessed it was 4-6 ounces but I wanted to know for sure and since this important tech spec was not listed on EMS.com I tracked down the Product Manager. The final answer? 5 ounces of 800 fill DownTek. That’s pretty darn good for a jacket in this price range!
EMS is using a 100% high denier ripstop nylon treated with a DWR (Durable Water Resistent) treatment:
“Woven with reinforcing threads in a crosshatch pattern, Ripstop Nylon prevents ripping and tearing. It’s one of the strongest forms of nylon around – they make parachutes out of this stuff.”– EMS.com
In hand it is very soft and light to the touch.
Color: As best as I confirm this will only be available in two colors this season. “Jet Black”, which is actually two toned (still boring), and “Warm Olive” which looks like no olive I have ever seen, whether warm or cold. Where do they come up with these color names?
UPDATE 9/18/16: The new colors are out for this Fall! You can see them here!
Pretty much every technical jacket I own has a hood. Even some of my long underwear has a hood. A hood makes a jacket so much more valuable in the mountains. This hood fits over my climbing helmet perfectly. There is an adjustment in the back to pull the sides back a bit so you don’t loose your peripheral vision and get ambushed by a moose.
There’s four. Two hand pockets, not set high since this jacket would go over your harness and not be tucked in (like your awesome soft-shell jacket would be). One external chest pocket (it’s where I keep my phone warm). One internal chest pocket that has a “flipp-able” zipper for when you stuff the jacket into this pocket. One easy design fix here is to add a small zipper pull on the inside pull of this zipper. I like things that are glove friendly. That being said, I would probably only have this jacket stored in the internal pocket for two situations;
Pre-packing for the day to maximize space. Once the jacket gets deployed it’s probably going to be going on and off through-out the climb (that’s why they call it a belay jacket, you wear it while belaying, not climbing, unless it is really cold… but it doesn’t get really cold in NH does it?) Taking the time to stuff it back into its pocket would be silly, just shove it in the top of your pack and get climbing!
Single pitch ice/alpine climbing, to clip to the back of my harness if I’m leaving my climbing pack at the base. There is a small sewn loop here for this reason, but I would be concerned about that loop being the sole attachment between me and my warmth at the top of an ice climb so my solution was to make the added zipper pull a little bigger so it could be clipped with the loop.
Ah, EMS Sizing. So reliable. So time tested. So never-the-same-two-years-in-a-row.
Here’s the size chart from the website (note it is “universal” and the disclaimer on the bottom):
Humans are hard creatures to fit. So this is what I’ll do. I’ll give you my measurements, and hopefully you’ll have a good guess at what size you need (since you’ve already decided to buy the jacket if you have read this far).
I’m 5’9″, 180lbs, 42 inch chest, 34 inch waist, broad shouldered, average ape index (nice way of saying normal length arms). I tried the medium on first at the store (over a t-shirt and sweatshirt I was wearing. If felt pretty good, a more athletic fit. A bit too tight in the shoulders when I stretched forward (remember, broad shoulders). When I would lift my arms up (ice climber pose) it got a bit too snug to have full range of motion. I tried the large. The large may be a smidge roomy for me, but it definitely didn’t feel like a boxy house. Plenty of room inside for my skin/mid-layers/softshell (or hardshell).
This is an excellent cold weather jacket at a great price suitable for winter backpacking, hiking, ice climbing, or waiting for the bus. You can purchase this jacket in both men’s and women’s, hooded and not hooded, right here.
See you in the mountains,
Disclaimer: The author purchased this jacket with his own money. This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog.
This past Wednesday Oliver returned for some more preparation before his Yosemite trip next month. We started the day with a full length route up Whitehorse via Standard Route (1080ft, 9 pitches, 5.7).
65 degrees, sunny, light breeze… perfect climbing weather… and we had the whole cliff to ourselves all morning! We quickly climbed up to the Crystal Pocket.
After a quick snack on Lunch Ledge I decided to climb the original “Brown Spot” 5.5 variation since I always take the Slabs Direct 5.7 variation. I quickly discovered why I never take this variation. The bolt protecting the move is one of the nastiest old 1/4 inches I’ve ever seen. The climbing itself doesn’t feel any more secure than the 5.7 variation. I stopped a little higher on the next ramp to belay to keep the rope drag down, and while I thought replacing the bolt might be a good community service I think it’s probably better to just stick to the direct finish. It’s MUCH nicer in every possible way.
It was only 12:30 so we ate some lunch and made our way down the hiking trail. Oliver was interested in going over some of the various anchor strategies we used on this climb so we drove over to The North End of Cathedral Ledge. There we spent a half hour or so going over some new and old techniques of constructing anchors. To wrap up our day we took a quick spin on Child’s Play, the fun 5.6 crack climb, then headed back to the shop.
Oliver’s got a couple more days planned with me this Fall before his Yosemite trip and is getting a few training days in at the tres-new Salt Pump Climbing Co. gym that recently opened in Scarborough, ME. If you are Downeast you should definitely check this amazing climbing gym out!