Two Parties Rescued off Mount Washington

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:

HikeSafe

Mount Washington Observatory Higher Summits Forecast

Mount Washington Avalanche Center

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.

Mount Washington Ascent 12-19-16

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!

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!

Cathedral & Whitehorse, Rumney & Huntington Ravine

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).

Anchor building clinic
Cathedral Ledge

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.

Cathedral Ledge Rock Climbing
Rappelling the Barber Wall, Cathedral Ledge, Echo Lake State Park, NH

We then took a quick trip up Upper Refuse with a focus on seconding proficiently and transition efficiency.

Cathedral Ledge Rock Climbing
Thumbs up
Cathedral Ledge Rock Climbing
Topping out Upper Refuse, Cathedral Ledge

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.

Whitehorse Ledge Rock Climbing
Whitehorse Ledge

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).

Rumney Rock Climbing
Brendan cleans “Rose Garden” at The Meadows

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.

Rumney Rock Climbing
Brendan reaching the first pitch belay ledge
Rumney Rock Climbing
Pretty scenic spot

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.

Rumney Rock Climbing
Clip a Dee Doo Dah
Rumney Rock Climbing
Brendan finishes the last climb of the day

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!

Mount Yu Shan
Mount Yu Shan, highest point in Taiwan: 3,952 metres (12,966 ft)

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!

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

La Sportiva Batura 2.0 GTX Mountaineering Boots Review (and Giveaway!)

I have just finished my 2nd winter season climbing in the award winning La Sportiva Batura 2.0 GTX Mountaineering Boots and I should have shared my impressions of this boot long before now. As the saying goes, better late than never!

La Sportiva Batura Review
La Sportiva Batura Review- Photo by http://www.brentdoscher.com/

Shopping for a high end mountaineering boot is stressful. Climbers will pour over online reviews, solicit advice from guides, climbing partners, shop employees, and so on. No doubt about it pulling the trigger on a $500+ purchase while imagining black toes, blisters, or cold feet can feel as sketchy as running out 50 feet of verglas with no protection. While there is some truth to the saying “If the shoe fits” the unfortunate reality is few climbing shops will stock the high end models, and special orders may seem risky with various return policies and shipping costs. What is a prospective buyer to do? Read, read, then read some more. To that end I’ll add the following personal opinions to the plethora of  positive reviews already out on the interwebs.

But first, context. It would be good to know what similar products the reviewer has experience with if in order to validate their opinion. These are the boots I have climbed in extensively over the last 16 years, both leading ice climbs up to Grade 5 in difficulty and countless mountaineering trips up Mount Washington.

Koflach Verticals (discontinued)

Koflach Degre’s

Asolo Cholotse’s

Scarpa Mont Blanc Mountaineering Boots

Of these the Cholatse’s have a special place in my gear room as I am on my 2nd pair and are worthy of their own review. Long story short they are a tad lighter than the Batura’s but can not compete with the warmth of the Batura’s. It’s not a fair comparison though as the Cholatse’s do not have the built in super gaiter. I’ll get into more detail on the Cholatse’s in another review. Let’s focus on the guest of honor.

La Sportiva Batura 2.0 Mountaineering Boots Review
La Sportiva Batura 2.0 Mountaineering Boots Review

Style:

Is it a single boot with a gaiter? A synthetic hybrid? A double boot? What exactly are we looking at here?

The President of La Sportiva NA, Jonathon Lantz, calls it a true “1.5 boot”. Half way between the best single boot and the best double boot for warmth. An accurate description would be a technologically advanced single leather/synthetic hybrid with a built in super gaiter. Quite a mouthful, but there really is quite a bit of technology put into this boot! Before we dive into that though let’s look at fit:

Fit:

I am a very standard US Men’s Size 9 with a noticeable “Morton’s Toe”. The European size 42 fits me perfectly, as it has in the Asolo’s & Koflachs I have also worn. When comparing them to the Asolo Cholatse’s there is a slightly noticeable narrower feel to them. While my feet are medium width they are definitely not to snug for me but wider feet might have an issue with these. Narrower feet will really like the lacing system I am about to mention but low volume feet should consider swapping the factory insole out for a thicker insole like my well loved Superfeet REDHots.

Lacing:

Tucked underneath the velcro protected waterproof zipper is the boots lacing system. What sets this apart for other lacing systems is the integrated ratchet system just over the top of your foot. This ratchet system lets you get a snug lace which really holds the foot in place in the boot, critical for preventing toe bash on long descents and while repeated kicking into hard waterfall ice.

Waterproofness:

La Sportiva has essentially matched the bombproof waterproofness of a plastic boot but kept the boot breathable and much lighter. How? Two layers of Goretex. One within the boot itself, and another within the attached “super gaiter”. This technology was tested on one particularly drenching descent off Mount Washington this winter with 8+ inches of slush on the trail. I was not expecting my feet to stay dry given the conditions and felt a bit guilty when back at the shop my clients were wringing out their socks (they all wore plastic boots, so I’m thinking they must have stepped in a deeper flow at one or three of the waterbars that cross the trail).

Warmth:

I’ll need to confess a bit before I start talking about warmth. I have very warm feet. Fellow search & rescue members have raised eyebrows in the past when I’ve turned out with my Asolo Cholatse’s on, and while they have kept me warm while staying on the move in -20f temps with wind chills around -50f I have become more cautious about what I select for these missions that may involve a overnight bivouac with a patient. To that end if the mercury is down I’ll be in my Batura’s. Here’s why. The boot uses “Gore-Tex Insulated Comfort Technology“. While La Sportiva/Goretex doesn’t go into much detail about this technology there is noticeably more insulation in the boot than my 200gr Thinsulate Cholatse’s. The doubling up on the Goretex linings undoubtedly adds warmth while maintaining a small amount of true breath-ablility. The super-gaiter definitely adds a lot of warmth and I’m really a fan of having laces that never freeze (because they are 100% enclosed in the super-gaiter).

Coldest temps I’ve tested these: -27f ambient air temps with wind chills -50f to -60f. Feet were toasty while moving but I wouldn’t want to stand around for a hour. My sock of choice is the Smartwool Mountaineer Socks.

Were they as warm as my experiences with double plastic boots? Quite close really. The real difference here is the lack of a removable lining. This has implications for multi-day expeditions. A 5 day trip to Katahdin? No problem. A month long trip in Alaska? I might miss having a remove-able liner and would probably take a very close look at the La Sportiva Spantiks. As for day trip convenience if you don’t have one already pick up a decent boot dryer. I’m able to dry mine out daily during the busiest part of the guiding season and the drier really cuts down on any potential foot odor.

Comfort/Performance:

So how do they feel? Over the last two winters I have worn them up & down Mount Washington about 12 times, and ice climbed 30+ days in them. My feet were quite happy at the end of every day, which is saying something considering our low snow year has not given us the smooth sailing trail conditions we are used to. Mile after mile of uneven rocky scrambling, often with micro-spikes on to contend with acres of water ice covering trails most the season, and never a sore foot. While ice climbing the stiff carbon insole provides a stable platform while front pointing and the flexible uppers make flat footing super casual.

La Sportiva Batura 2.0 Mountaineering Boots Review
Comfy feet on the summit of Mt. Willard

Crampon compatibility:

For mountaineering days I paired them with my older style Petzl Vasak crampons. They fit perfectly and the combo made for a very light boot/crampon match. For ice climbing I spent this season in the Black Diamond Cyborg crampons, again, a perfect fit.

La Sportiva Batura 2.0 Mountaineering Boots Review
Solid ice climbing performance- Photo by http://www.brentdoscher.com/

Summary:

If you’ve read all this, or read any of the other reviews around the web, you’ve probably heard enough by now. They are one of the best single boot for ice climbing/mountaineering in the lower 48! They score high across the board and if you can find a shop that stocks them take a few minutes to slip a pair on. You can also order them from Amazon here!

Contest/Giveaway: Edit 5/1/16 (CONGRATS TO WINNER TODD R!)

It’s been far to long since I’ve offered up some tasty shwag to my readers so today I’m offering up something that any outdoors person should be psyched to get. A VSSL Supplies Kit, worth $109.99! You can read my review of this clever product here. Simple to enter, just comment below on what your favorite boots are. Hiking, climbing, skiing, it doesn’t matter. Just keep it about footwear and you’re entered! All commentators will be entered into a climbing helmet and the winner will be drawn and announced on 5/1/2016. I think we’ll have a video clip of the drawing as Alex is pretty pumped about being the lottery official.

You can now follow North East Alpine Start on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as signing up for email notifications at the “Follow” link at the very top tight of this page.

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which help to fund this website. 

 

 

 

 

 

Washington From the West 3/26/15

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.

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

As we worked our way up along the river bits of blue came through the otherwise overcast sky.

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

We reached Gem Pool in just under an hour.

122

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.

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

Under-cast spilled out to the west as far as we could see.

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

As we approached treeline we started encountering the first of many massive ice sheets, all by-products of the Lakes of the Clouds drainage.

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

I took a panoramic from the center of one of these huge ice sheets with the summit of Mt. Washington looming behind Kevin.

130

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).

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

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.

EMS Climbing School
Mt. Monroe with descending climbers on the sky line an a group we caught starting up

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.

EMS Climbing School
A slightly steeper ascent of Mt. Monroe

The party we caught here offered to get a group shot of us on Monroe summit.

EMS Climbing School
Mt. Monroe

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”.

EMS Climbing School
Looking back on Mt. Monroe and our boot track around the larger 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.

EMS Climbing School
Weird how there was no riming anywhere else that day….

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!

EMS Climbing School
Looking down a 20% grade of the Cog

Walking was easiest to the sides of the Cog linking snowfields where ever we could.

EMS Climbing School
West with Bretton Woods and Franconia Ridge in the background
EMS Climbing School
Burt Ravine drops off behind me

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/Contest Update:

Review for the LaSportiva Batura’s coming this week along with gear giveaway contest! Subscribe at top right!

La Sportiva Batura Review
La Sportiva Batura Review- Photo by http://www.brentdoscher.com/

See you in the mountains!

NEAlpineStart

Mount Washington Windless Ascent 3/20/2016

While I have over 50 winter ascents of Mount Washington I can count on one hand how many of them allowed me to stand on the summit with zero wind. Yesterday David, Charlene, and Sam returned for their third climbing day of the season with me, having previously climbed some ice at Cathedral Ledge and Willey’s Slide, today’s objective was a winter ascent of Mount Washington, all in preparation for David’s next attempt on Mt. Rainier this August.

EMS Climbing School
Charlene, Sam, and David hitting the trail at 8:15am

Trail conditions had improved a bit and micro route finding got us to the Summer Lion’s Head Trail without resorting to micro-spikes or crampons. Where the trail steepens, at the first avalanche path, we stopped and donned micro-spikes. Again, micro route finding and a little coaching got us up to tree-line without having to resort to our mountaineering crampons. The small avalanche prone snow slope just before treeline provided some brief introduction to snow layering and “what causes avalanches”. It even provided some positive hand shears for reference.

We made good time up to a windless Lion’s Head and took in the view while refueling.

EMS Climbing School
Nice to hang out on top of Lion’s Head instead of huddled in the alcove below
EMS Climbing School
Couple of skiers heading up Left Gully in Tuckerman Ravine

A casual walk to the base of the summit cone then up to Split Rock.

EMS Climbing School
Charlene & Sam close in on Split Rock while David & I count the 7 ski resorts we could see with 100 mile visibility

By 12:30 we were on the summit reveling in the rarest of conditions with dozens of other climbers. A quick check of the weather station info indicated the current wind speed was 3 miles an hour.

3mph. On Mount Washington. Yup, it was pretty nice up there.

EMS Climbing School
Blue sky for miles and miles

We relaxed for a bit then headed down at 1pm passing a few large guided groups on our descent, arriving at Pinkham right at 4pm. It was another great day with these three adventurers and I look forward to our next trip together. Rumors of a Franconia Ridge Traverse and some rock climbing this Spring were heard, and I can’t wait to hear about David’s Rainier climb this August!

PSA:

Heads up, it’s still winter on Mount Washington! Today Mount Washington Avalanche Center has posted Considerable Avalanche Danger. Don’t let the calendar fool you into thinking your don’t need to be snow smart while recreating up there. Also look out for each other. I ran into a teenager in blue jeans at the bottom of the Summer Lion’s Head trail who’s two friends had gone up to “see where this trail goes” without any traction, maps, headlamps, etc… Spring usually brings a fair share of search & rescue calls so if you see something a bit sketch consider sharing some friendly advice.

Gear Giveaways Coming!

Also as the winter guiding season draws close I’m planning a more detailed recap of the avalanche course season and a few product giveaways. Early in April I’ll be giving a VSSL Supplies kit away in a contest ($110 value). I reviewed this clever little kit here. I’ve you want to find out how to enter please follow this blog at the top right so you’ll be notified when I post the contest no later than mid-April.

See you in the mountains,

-NEAlpineStart

The 2015/16 Avalanche Course Season has ended!

Yesterday we finished our last avalanche course of the season with an AIARE 2 on Mount Washington. With back to back AIARE 1’s and two AIARE 2’s I fell behind on a bit of blogging so below you’ll find photos from these courses:

AIARE 1 March 4-6

AIARE 2 March 9-10/16-17 (Split Guides Course)

AIARE 2 March 11-14

Despite it being a rough winter snow wise every avalanche course had interesting conditions and productive field sessions. I’m heading back up the hill on Sunday with some clients and with the incoming weather I might get out of the skis a couple more times but I’m definitely thinking about warm sunny rock as well…

A big thank you to all of our avalanche course participants for contributing to another great season.

See you in the mountains!

-NEAlpineStart