ESAW re-cap and Ice Season has started!

The official start to winter may be over a month away but for many of us in the Northeast the proverbial snowball is rolling now! This past weekend is when I flip the switch from Fall rock climbing to thinking a lot about snow and ice starting with attending the 7th annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop (ESAW) this past weekend.


It started Friday evening with the kickoff party and social hour hosted by International Mountain Equipment and the Friends of Tuckerman Ravine. My son Alex was super helpful setting up our American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) info booth!

Eastern Snow Avalanche Workshop
Alex and his sister help set up our AIARE table at IME

Word among the climbers in the crowd was how the Black Dike saw its first ascent of the season today by the insatiable Zac St. Jules and team.

ice climbing black dike
Zac gets the first 2017/18 season ascent of the Black Dike with another party reportedly right behind them! Photo by Phil Schuld


On Saturday over 150 attended this gathering of avalanche professionals, educators, and recreationalists to learn more about managing risk in our beloved mountain ranges. All of the speakers gave great presentations and I’ll link Jonathan Shefftz’s detailed write-up for The Avalanche Review as soon as it is out of draft! After a solid day of presentations we continued to chat all things snow while mingling with the dozen vendor booths that help support ESAW’s mission.

Eastern Snow Avalanche Workshop
Attendees mingle and learn about some of the best brands, organizations, and guide services in the industry!

While this was going on my Instagram feed showed me Fafnir, the Black Dike’s more burly neighbor went down to a couple of local climbers.

I also saw that Zac did not need a rest day after the Black Dike for he and three others including my friend Dave Dillon of Chase The Summit, bagged the first ascent of Pinnacle braving some really burly cold conditions during a 4 AM start! Both the Black Dike and Fafnir got subsequent ascents and I made plans to head up to Pinnacle early the next morning to attempt the second ascent of Pinnacle.


Assuming the cat was out of the bag we met at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center at 5:30 AM hoping to get a jump on other early season ice addicts. My friend Mike Leathum and Andrew Maver, both of IMCS, were all ready to hit the trail with Pinnacle as the objective but since we were a party of three we would probably not catch them since we were still in the gear organizing stage. We hit the trail by headlamp at about 5:45 and reached the base of Pinnacle right at 8 AM. Mike and Andrew had decided to head over to a tasty looking North Gully so we roped up and started up Pinnacle.

Ice Climbing Pinnacle Gully
The author starts up Pinnacle Gully- photo by @bennylieb

I lead in “parallel” and Benny² simul-ed with me a bit to reach the pin anchor. The ice was great and easily took 13 CM screws when needed.

Ice Climbing Pinnacle Gully
The “Benny’s” at the pin anchor
Ice Climbing Pinnacle Gully
The author at the largest open hole on the 2nd pitch. We did not wear hard-shells and were able to stay dry pretty easily

I ran the second pitch together with the third and was soon sticking somewhat frozen turf shots as I pulled out onto the top of the buttress. By 10:10 AM we were all on top enjoying some sun and grub. I watched some other climbers start up Yale Gully and would only discover while writing this post (thanks Facebook) that they were my friends Joe Cormier and Andrew Blease! I also noticed Mike and Andrew had finished North Gully and were likely already heading across the Alpine Gardens.

Ice Climbing Pinnacle Gully
Top of Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine

We packed up and headed up, over, and down Lion’s Head Summer Route but first took a look into Tuckerman Ravine. Left of Left Gully looked good and there was ice all over the Headwall. We saw some climbers heading into the floor of the Ravine that were likely our fellow Northeast Mountaineering Guide Matty Bowman and Mike Pelchat who would climb the aesthetic “Open Book”.

ice climbing Tuckerman Ravine
Mike Pelchat on the “Open Book”, the “best pitch of ice on the headwall”- photo by Matty Bowman

After posting this I saw over on NEIce that Standard Route went Sunday as well!

Other reports of climbing from over in Vermont and the Adirondacks also appeared on NEIce and with no real warm temps in the next 10 days I’d say we are off to an EXCELLENT start! No doubt Dracula and Willard will see ascents by next weekend (or sooner?). Shoestring Gully is likely to get done this week. It’s time folks! Get your gear together and get out there!!!

Related Posts:

Getting Ready for Ice Season

Ice Screw Comparison Review

Winter Gear Prep- Part 1

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Winter Climbing 101 Course, Frankenstein Cliffs

This summer I got to meet 16 year old Harry for a very rainy day of rock climbing. Most of the day was spent indoors covering rope skills, which he was keen to acquire. He would later climb with EMS Guide Ryan and was following 5.9 routes his second day out. Soon after he started leading traditional climbs. This kid is getting good fast! He returned today and was joined by Wildcat Ski Instructor Marissa for an introduction to winter climbing.

We pulled into Frankenstein around 9:30am. The upper parking lot was full and cars on the side of the road almost reached the lower lot. I wondered if Lost In The Forest would be swarmed.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack
Crossing the trestle at Frankenstein Cliff- sweet pack review coming soon! #hyperlitemountaingear

We saw one party on Chia and later heard parties climbed Smear, Hobbit, Pegasus Rock Finish, The Blobs, and Bob’s Delight… all looking quite good. There was no one in the Trestle Cut or at the Trestle Slab. When we arrived below Lost In The Forest we could easily see a large group, probably 10+, around Walk in The Woods/Lost In The Forest. On we walked…

My back-up plan was the slab to the right of The Hanging Gardens… we got there after passing a very busy Standard Route.

Standard Route, Frankenstein Cliff
Standard Route, Frankenstein Cliff

We had the slab to ourselves and had lessons in crampon technique, ice axe use, and belaying.

Ice Climbing Frankenstein Cliffs
Marissa prepared for her very first ever climbing experience while Harry provides a solid belay
Ice Climbing Frankenstein Cliffs
Marissa crushing our first route of the day
Ice Climbing Frankenstein Cliffs
Harry getting after it

After a couple of laps here we ate some lunch and moved down and over to Standard Route right as a few parties were finishing. We opted for a quick climb up the center to the cave and rappelled.

Ice Climbing Frankenstein Cliffs
Harry reaches the cave at the top of the first pitch of Standard Route

On our way out we had a quick lesson in ice screw placement and building V-thread anchors. Marissa seemed to enjoy her first experience in the vertical world of ice climbing and Harry is chomping at the bit to learn more. He’s heading out tomorrow with another EMS guide for some longer multi-pitch type climbing and I’m sure he’ll do well. At this rate I expect to see him climbing up a storm in the next few years. Get after it Harry!

I’m heading out again tomorrow with another group, so stay tuned and see you in the mountains!



State of the Ice: Crawford Notch

A rare combination of a day off, day care, and no pressing household matters to attend to let me escape up to Crawford Notch this morning for a quick solo ice climb. I figured I’d grab some pics and try to get a sense of how this past weekends 1-2 inches of rain had impacted our late starting ice season. I was pretty happy with how well things held in there.

Driving by Frankenstein I noted Chia looked climb-able, along with Pegasus Rock Finish, but Pegasus proper was still a raging waterfall. I didn’t stop for pics here as Al Hospers of NEClimbs got some good shots yesterday:





I wanted to focus on Mount Willard and pulled over to get a shot of the south face:

Mount Willard South Face, Crawford Notch State Park

Gully #1 looked like it had survived, and while not “in” it looked climbable. Cauliflower Gully looked similar. Cinema looked scary thin. Climbable? Yes. Protect-able?…. ehhhh…

Higher up the notch both Silver Cascade & The Flume still had high volume open water on the main flows, with climbable ice to the sides. I saw one party of two when I was leaving working their way up the far right side of Silver Cascade:

Silver Cascade, Crawford Notch
Zoom into the top right to see the two climbers. Silver Cascade, Crawford Notch

Elephant’s Head looked good to go, the thin section getting into the upper right finish had really filed in and to me it looked better than last week. Great plastic growing ice at the start…

Elephant’s Head, Crawford Notch

I parked at the top of the notch and quickly threw my pack on. That has to be one of the coldest parking lots in the Northeast. I briskly followed a set of fresh tracks to the base of Hitchcock Gully, first grabbing a quick pic of the growing “Snotsickle”. That right hand start came in great last year and looks like it might be returning this year.

ice climbing crawford notch
Snotsickle… not yet

I reached the base of Hitchcock Gully as two climbers where setting off and followed them up the washed out approach gully of Hitchcock. Quite a bit of frozen rock climbing but things were locked up enough to make the going quick.

ice climbing new hampshire
Start of the washed out Hitchcock Gully

Jamie (from Boston) and his partner were heading up Lower Hitchcock so at the cutoff to Left Hand Monkey Wrench (LHMW) we chatted briefly and parted ways. I headed north and cut over to the base of LHMW. It was fat & plastic looking on the bottom half:

ice climbing new hampshire
Left Hand Monkey Wrench

Side note… I’ve done the direct uphill tree swim to reach this route a half dozen times, as well as the Hitchcock Gully approach. Using Hitchcock Gully is without a doubt easier & faster than the uphill tree swim approach IMO. Just sayin’…

The climbing was plastic ice for the start, then drier and a tad brittle at the moderate “crux” of this route. A stem here and a stem there and I was hooking nice looking roots to the great frozen turf shots at the top. I realized at the top this was my first solo of this climb. Meh, it’s just ice climbing, no need to celebrate. Up I went to the base of East Face Slabs Right, which looked quite fat:

ice climbing new hampshire
East Face Slabs Right

A quick walk over to check out fat & plastic Upper Hitchcock:

ice climbing new hampshire
Hitchcock Gully

I decided to look down Lower Hitchcock and see if I could spot Jamie and partner, who were starting the last bit of technical climbing of the lower route. The route was pretty washed out but Jamie reported climbable ice to the sides and made quick work of the rock moves to finish that half:

ice climbing new hampshire
Fun mixed climbing finishing Lower Hitchcock

After another social chat I headed up to my exit, The Cleft. The very bottom was washed out but thick ice came soon.

ice climbing new hampshire
The Cleft

The climbing in here was actually slightly un-nerving. First off, the ice was very dry & brittle in comparison to LHMV. No speed soloing happening here. Second, the winds were being funneled up The Cleft in a way I’d never seen before. It’s usually dead quiet and serene in here but the wind chill was pushing me to keep moving in my light soft shell. I reached the classic chockstone crux I’d seen mentioned and pictured in FB posts over the last couple weeks and for a second wondered if it would go well. It is awkward… no question about that. I did get a spark off a pick trying for something I knew wasn’t there. I also managed one nice knuckle bash before relaxing, getting a solid 4mm stick in some fresh verglas, then stemming the right leg on that little rock edge, and pulling the move right before my leg would have cramped.

Most epic Grade 2 move ever. If only I had a film crew to capture it for Reel Rock 11. Oh well. The rest of the route was easy cheezy.

I spent a little time at the summit. I realized I hadn’t stood on a winter summit alone in over a decade. All my winter summits are shared with clients or friends. It was kind of nice to be up there for a bit alone. A feeling I almost had forgotten. I don’t intend to delve into this deeper now in a general conditions report but I might come back to it at some point…

Anyways, the descent trail, the Mount Willard Trail… looks like this:

Mount Willard Trail
Extreme micro-spike terrain!

I hiked all the way out in my Black Diamond Cyborg crampons as I did not bring micro-spikes. No regrets. Car to car in 2.5 hours. Ok, no more bragging. Summary of ice conditions:

We survived the rain. Things are pretty good in many places. Long range forecast is quite promising:

NWS Forecast for Crawford Notch

This Afternoon
Snow. High near 16. Southeast wind around 10 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. Total daytime snow accumulation of 1 to 2 inches possible.
Snow, mainly before 10pm, then a chance of snow showers after 10pm. Low around 12. Wind chill values as low as -3. Blustery, with a southeast wind 10 to 20 mph becoming northwest after midnight. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.
A 50 percent chance of snow showers before 4pm. Mostly cloudy, with a temperature falling to around 7 by 5pm. Wind chill values as low as -15. Windy, with a northwest wind 25 to 30 mph.
Wednesday Night
Partly cloudy, with a low around -2. Wind chill values as low as -23. Blustery, with a northwest wind 15 to 25 mph.
Partly sunny, with a high near 15. West wind around 15 mph.
Thursday Night
Mostly cloudy, with a low around 9.
Partly sunny, with a high near 25.
Friday Night
A 40 percent chance of snow. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 19.
Snow likely. Cloudy, with a high near 29. Chance of precipitation is 70%.
Saturday Night
Snow likely. Cloudy, with a low around 18. Chance of precipitation is 60%.
A 40 percent chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 25.
Sunday Night
A 30 percent chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 10.
M.L.King Day
A 30 percent chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 16.
Monday Night
A 30 percent chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 6.
Partly sunny, with a high near 14.

Final thoughts: Otterbox Defender case is trapping moisture in my iPhone6+ making pics “foggy”, didn’t notice that with my older 5s. I’m researching a solid point & click dedicated camera. I miss my old Olympus 1030sw and want something comparable. Suggestions?

Windchills were kicking my phones butt today. Will be making some revisions to previous smartphone navigation post. Don’t worry, I still think it’s an option… but probably better to stick with dedicated GPS for anything below 20F.
That’s it. Thanks for reading. See you in the mountains,