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 Friday I co-guided a group of 8 guests to the summit of “the rock-pile” to spend the night in the famous Mount Washington Observatory. This is really one of the most unique trips EMS Schools offers. It combines a typical Mount Washington Ascent with a very atypical evening in a weather station on the highest peak of the Northeast, commonly referred to as “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”.
This opportunity allows guests, after climbing the mountain, to step inside a weather station that feels like it could be in the middle of the North Pole. We get to interact with the staff and learn about their important work in regional forecasting and research. We’re fed a hearty dinner and relax in a cozy lounge equipped with classic old books on mountaineering along with modern amenities like a Keurig & Netflix. While this was the only “Obs” trip I’ll be a part of this season I was reminded of what a unique experience each and every trip up there has been, and I look forward to the next opportunity to return and introduce more of our guests to such a wickedly awesome place.
We entered the Sherman Adams Summit Building at about 4pm. Kaitlyn O’Brien, Co-Director of Summit Operations, greeted us and welcomed us to the “MWOBS”. After an orientation and safety briefing we relaxed in the new guest lounge located in the new “Extreme Mount Washington” weather museums.
After a very hearty ham dinner served promptly at 7pm we took a tour of the weather room.
Some participants took a tour of the weather tower and got to climb up into the “parapit”, the highest point on the summit about 30 feet higher than the geological summit. It is quite the experience. Others relaxed and watched a goofy comedy in the lounge before turning in. The weather for the next day was quite different, and many wanted a full night’s rest.
The next morning a hearty breakfast of bacon, sausage, pancakes, eggs, and toast was served by the excellent MWOBS members/summit volunteers who were spending a week up there cooking and performing light house keeping for the staff. We then geared up an prepared to descend with this weather outlook:
“In the clouds with snow early… Winds S shifting W at 4-55mph increasing to 55-75 mph w/ gusts up to 90”
We had a couple 70mph gusts just as we were leaving…
The winds were manageable for most, but the visibility was about 40 feet at best. Staying on the trail from the summit to Split Rock was quite challenging and a few corrections with compass bearings brought us to Split Rock. From there we nailed the bearing to the Alpine Gardens Trail and made it all the way to Lion’s Head before encountering our first “up” traffic of the day. A Saturday at the end of a holiday week is sure to see many parties on the mountain and today was no exception.
Climbing down through “the steeps” of the Winter Lion’s Head Route we encountered parties of various experience, from guided groups who were moving efficiently to those realizing they had bit off a bit much we did our best to descend without impeding on their progress. Inevitably we hit a couple bottle necks, especially at the lowest technical portion, jokingly referred to in the local guiding community as “The Hillary Step”. This portion of trail, while no steeper than 45 degrees, can challenge people not familiar with moving in steep terrain with crampons and ice axe. I’ve seen groups paused on this .1 mile stretch of “trail” for the better part of an hour while new climbers cautiously negotiate 50 feet of climbing with limited experience.
Our group of 10 pretty much split in 2 with half of us down climbing the step with coaching & spotting by Justin while the other half went down a steeper alternative after receiving instruction on the esoteric skill of “arm wrap rappelling”.
Our strategy worked and we cleared the up going crowds without losing to much time. Two hours later we were back at EMS North Conway turning in gear with many sharing contact info to trade photos & video they had taken during the two day adventure.
A day later, after spending a day with some returning clients out climbing on Willey’s slide today (post tomorrow), I find myself reflecting about what a cool opportunity this is for aspiring new climbers and just those who want to try some thing new. To sleep on the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast, to learn about what makes this mountain so intense, to form a common bond with strangers though such a challenge… well it’s something I think should be on everyone’s bucket list.
If you’d like to see a bit of video about this opportunity here ya go!
We’ve only got a few spots left in the last trip of the season (April 9-10). If this sounds like something you would like to experience you can learn more (and book) right here.
Willey’s Slide trip report tomorrow… thanks for reading!
Yesterday concluded our first AIARE 2 Avalanche Course of the season. Despite less than optimal field conditions the course was super productive in large part to the considerable amount of experience brought to the classroom discussions by the varied participants. We were fortunate to have 8000m veteran expeditionary leader Phil Crampton, owner and operator of Altitude Junkies, in attendance.
Phil’s resume of high altitude peaks is amazing and his personal experiences with massive Himalayan avalanches and vibrant story telling ability led to more than one topic derailment. These vivid first hand accounts were more than welcome however for both their educational real-life value and entertainment.
We also had Jerry Isaak, Chair Associate Professor of Expeditionary Studies at the University of Plattsburgh. He has worked as an expedition leader and guide in Canada, the USA, Morocco, Scotland, Austria and the Arctic. Personal climbing and skiing expeditions include journeys in Kenya, Nepal and throughout North America. He was here to observe the course as part of the requirements of becoming an AIARE Course Leader, but he did much more than observe. Throughout both classroom and field session Jerry took advantage of opportunities to share his extensive knowledge and experience and all of his contributions were greatly valued.
A graduate of Jerry’s program, a local professional sailboat racer turned back-country skier/mountaineer, and an EMS Climbing Guide/Electrician/EMT rounded out our class by staying fully engaged and generating thoughtful questions throughout.
There is a lot of information to cover in an AIARE 2 Course. Anyone that thinks an AIARE 1 is information overload will be amazed when they attend an AIARE 2. We managed it fairly well and for the most part stayed out of the weeds. Feedback at the end of the day yesterday seemed consistent that everyone had acquired the skills needed to become an quality avalanche, snow, and weather observer. All that was needed now was practice.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to re-visit an area I haven’t been to in quite a few years. Champney Falls, (Pg 138, An Ice Climber’s Guide to Northern New England, 3rd Edition), a beautiful if not somewhat overly crowded top-rope area at times. On a Tuesday, after a busy IceFest weekend, we found some solitude on the mellow walk in while breaking trail in a few inches for very light powder that fell the night before.
This was just the first day of a 2 day regional Eastern Mountain Sports training involving about 40 EMS store employees from over a dozen stores, organized in collaboration with EMS Schools and Dave Karl of Petzl/Sky Ambitions. More than just an “ice climbing lesson” discussions throughout the day were focused on what products were best for what customer. From crampons to helmets, experienced EMS Schools Guides shared their opinions on the best climbing equipment EMS sells in an effort to continue the tradition of having some of the most knowledgable and authentic outdoor retails sales staff in the country.