I hope everyone is out there enjoying the best rock climbing weather of the year! Yesterday I finished three solid days of guiding for Northeast Mountaineering starting with a fun Friday at Rumney Rocks with Jennifer.
Jennifer used to rock and ice climb all over the west before moving East and focusing on her career in Boston for the last decade but as the saying goes, once a climber, always a climber! The mountains were calling and after booking an upcoming 4 day climbing trip to Red Rocks she wanted to come up north and refresh her climbing skills and I was lucky enough to get to re-introduce her to the sport!
Week with Pete
Crowd Pleaser Pitch 1
Crowd Pleaser Pitch 2
Clip-A-Dee-Dah Pitch 1
Taking it all in towards the top of Jimmy Cliff
I can’t wait to hear about your Red Rocks adventure Jennifer and I look forward to climbing some ice with you this winter!
Whitney-Gilman Ridge, Cannon Cliff
Saturday I got to meet up with my good buddy and regular client Larry for his first taste of NH alpine climbing. Larry started his mountain adventures about 20 months ago when I led him and a group on a winter ascent of Mount Washington. We hit it off and he returned multiple times to ice climb with me before going out and sampling other climbing areas all around the country. We planned to tick off both of New Hampshire’s classic alpine ridge climbs starting with the Whitney-Gilman Ridge.
There were a few parties in the climber lot when I pulled in at 8:10 AM. A couple from Canada was heading off for Whitney Gilman and a party of three was heading for Lakeview. I filled out a climber sheet then hopped back in the car and drove down to Lafayette Campground, in my opinion the preferred approach for a Whitney-Gilman day. Larry arrived on time at 8:30 and we were heading up the trail by 8:40 AM.
As we got closer to the ridge I could see the Canadian couple finishing the 1st pitch and confirmed when we reached the alternate starting ledge there was no one else on route. Our timing was perfect as while we climbed the first two pitches right behind the Canadian couple no less than 3 or 4 parties arrived below. Some headed towards Duet/Reppy’s and two parties of two got on route behind us.
Despite it lightly raining a few times on the approach the rock stayed relative dry and the climbing went well.
We topped out a little before 2 PM and were back down to the car by 3 PM. While Larry has only been rock climbing a short time he has climbed in quite a few areas and he was certainly impressed with “New England 5.7″… to think of this route being first climbed in 1929 with hemp ropes and no pitons is quite awe inspiring! We parted ways for the evening but would meet up at 8 AM the following day for a trip into Huntington Ravine!
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
For our second day we headed high up Mount Washington for a super fun day on the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle. Since I have a season pass to the Auto Road we skipped the long approach from Pinkham and were hiking down the Huntington Ravine trail a little before 9 AM. Luckily we had Northeast Mountaineering intern and super talented photographer Peter Brandon join us for the day and all images below are his!
I took advantage of this 4th class descent trail to practice some short-rope technique.
There was no one route yet when we arrived and one couple also using the “Euro” approach still making their way down the Huntington trail but with it being a beautiful weekend day I knew more folks would be arriving soon so we got racked up and moving.
I’ve been practicing transitions from The Mountain Guide Manual and decided to lead the first two pitches in “parallel” so I could belay both Larry and Peter at the same time. We cruised up the first two pitches in no time and I then switched us to “caterpillar” for the 5.8 crux pitch.
While Larry was working the the crux moves a fast moving party of two, Micky and Ben, caught up to us. We let them play through and leap-frogged them once when we headed for the “Fairy Tale Traverse”. We held up here and let them pass again so we could get Peter in position to shoot this awesome last pitch.
Great meeting you Micky and Ben, your positive vibe was contagious and the wine & cheese spread you had waiting for your better halves at the top was most impressive!
After Peter led the last pitch we freed his rope and he pulled it up to get into a good position to shoot this last pitch. I then started out across this easy but exhilarating traverse.
We soaked in some sun and coiled our ropes to hike back up to the car but first we had to look down in the abysmal Pinnacle Gully, a route Larry had ice climbed with me just last winter!
And so Larry ticked off two NH greats in two days, but he isn’t done yet. As I type this he is en-route to climb in Acadia National Park where I am sure he will continue to gain knowledge and technique that will serve him well on all his climbing adventures. It is always awesome climbing with you Larry and I’m really looking forward to hitting the ice with you this winter!
I like setting small reachable goals to keep me motivated in climbing. These goals are quite low compared to the inconceivable feats achieved by climbing’s greats, like the recent mind-blowing free-solo of Freerider by Alex Honnold and Kilian Jornet’s 26 hour climb from Basecamp to the summit of Everest and that’s quite OK! Mere mortals need goals too!
Last summer after a relatively quick climb of the Northeast Ridge of Pinnacle I wondered if I could cut my car-to-car time down to 2 hours. Last week we did it in 2 hours 37 minutes but we saw ample opportunities to shave more time and I think this goal is in reach for me this season. My only self-imposed rule is I must fifth class belay the whole route with some limited simul-climbing allowed (no straight up soloing) and include the 5.8 variation and the Fairy Tale Traverse. While skipping these pitches would lead to a faster time these two pitches make this a classic route in my opinion.
Here’s a video I made of our attempt. Below it I share some resources, gear lists, and general strategies I’m using.
The Auto-Road Approach
First let’s address the “alternative” approach we used, the Mount Washington Auto Road. Within minutes of posting my video to Facebook some folks bemoaned the use of the auto-road for the approach. While I don’t think I need to defend a tactic that I feel is valid for my own personal goal I do want to encourage anyone who has never climbed this route to do so first via the traditional approach (Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Huntington Ravine Trail). This approach is about 2.8 miles and 2700 feet in elevation and takes most parties 2-3 hours to reach the route. After topping out the hike across the Alpine Garden Trail and down the Lions Head Trail can be very scenic and enjoyable, and will take most parties about 2 hours, for an average trail time of 4-5 hours. Strong parties on fair weather days might even include a trip to the summit but be advised that adds considerable mileage and elevation to your day.
Another reason to stick with the traditional approach is on questionable weather days. If there is any chance of afternoon thunderstorms it would be more prudent to approach from below. This makes descending in bad weather an easier choice… not so easy if your vehicle is parked 1000 feet above you!
And finally cost is something to contemplate. For a party of 2 the entrance fee to the auto-road is $38! This year I decided I would be spending a lot of time up there so I took advantage of a “locals” season pass for $99. I’m planning over a half dozen forays up there this season for various projects and expect my actual expense to come down to about $8 per person per trip which makes the next couple of points well worth it!
The Auto Road can cut the approach time down to 25 minutes. This is basically jogging down the Huntington Ravine Trail, a really steep trail with lots of 4th class terrain on it. You drop 1000 feet in only .4 miles! There are multiple places were a slip could result in serious injury so care needs to be taken here. After topping out the technical portion of the climb it’s another .4 mile 700 foot climb back up to your car, taking about 25 minutes.
Bottom line is using the Auto Road can cut the total hiking time down to less than one hour.
That leaves me about an hour for the 7 pitch climb to meet my 2 hour goal. Much of the route is easy fifth class and can be simul-climbed by competent parties in approach shoes but I do carry my rock shoes to make the 5.8 pitch feel more secure.
Once I reach this goal I’d like to combine it with some other area classics. Whitney-Gilman Ridge is an obvious choice, but it might be fun to link up some stuff on Mt. Willard or Webster Cliffs as well… and Cathedral and Whitehorse always like to be included in long day link ups.
Higher Summit Forecast <- only 72 hours out, if any chance of unsettled weather use traditional approach from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
Current Summit Conditions <- useful for real time updates on changing conditions and elevation specific temperatures, I have this book-marked on my phone as cell coverage in Huntington Ravine is quite good with Verizon.
Mountain Tools Slipsteam Pack <- I recently got my hands on this 11 ounce alpine speed pack and it’s perfect for this type of mission. Full review coming!
Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles <- I never considered carrying trekking poles on a technical climbing mission until I tried this pair. They only weigh 8 ounces each and pack up so small you can fit them into any “bullet” style climbing pack. I’ve noticed I can more downhill much faster with them so I’ll have them for the majority of my trips now!
Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch <- After testing 5 different GPS watches for the Gear Institute this one won my heart and I’ve been using it year round for both it’s GPS tracking capability and heart rate info
GoPro Hero 5 Session <- The small size of the session was what convinced me to start rolling with a GoPro again… above video was made with this. I really like how I can stream videos to my iPhone on the drive home and then do all the editing with iMovie on my phone!
Petzl Zipka Headlamp <- The new 2017 version of my longtime favorite headlamp has doubled its brightness. The retractable cord has been my favorite feature as this light does not get tangled up in climbing gear!
Petzl Sirocco Helmet <- my original 2013 review is here but stand by for a new review on the 2017 model coming this summer!
The below rack is slimmed down from a normal rack based on intimate route knowledge and personal comfort running out long sections of easy 5th class terrain. For those on-sighting the route I would recommend a “regular rack”, i.e. set of nuts, 3-4 smallest tri-cams, set of SLCD’s up to a #2 Black Diamond Camalot or equivalent, 8 alpine draws, cordelette or two. My slimmed down rack for this mission:
Set of DMM Wallnuts sizes 1-11 racked on two wire-gate oval carabiners <- these are noticeably lighter than the Black Diamond Stoppers I have retired to when I need to double up on nuts
Petzl William Screw-Gate Locker with 5 alpine draws and 2 “mini-quads”… more on the “mini-quad” later!
For this mission I’m taking one of my older Sterling 9 mm Nano ropes and chopping it to 30 meters! This might seem dramatic but it makes a lot of sense to me on this route. The first concern many might have after reading that is “What if you need to bail?” Obviously retreating with just a 30 meter rope could be problematic on many similar alpine routes. Two points to justify this decision. 1) You can escape into 4th class terrain to the left of the route at just about any point on this climb. 2) I’ll only be attempting this with really favorable weather conditions. The savings are not just in total carry weight, but also speed of stacking and coiling at every transition. Even the 5.8 pitch is only 25 meters long so a 30 meter rope will allow us to belay the pitches we are not simul-climbing.
(EDIT 6/26/17- Having reached my goal last week we ended up using a full 60m Sterling Nano and I think that is probably more prudent. Where we could have saved some time was having the second use a backpack that could fit the whole rope “pre-stacked” so when we reached the route zero stacking would be required. At the top of the route the larger pack would let us stuff the rope vs. coiling it saving another few minutes.)
Kong GiGi Belay Device <- currently my most used belay device. Since I’ll be leading the whole route no need to carry a tube style belay device. I really like the following carabiner combination pictured above to use with the GiGi for security and simplicity… more on that later perhaps.
For ounce counters the entire pack and contents above come in at 15 pounds sans rope!
Pre-hydrate. I mentioned this earlier but I want to emphasize that only carrying 32 ounces of water is a risk management issue. I drink a full Nalgene during the night before and another 32 ounces on the way to the mountain.
Early start. If we are at the gate at 7:30am we can be on the trail by 7:45am, and climbing by 8:15am. I’ve easily made it back to the car by noon on multiple occasions. Most parties using the traditional approach would need to start hiking by 5:30am to start climbing the route at the same time.
Rack at the car. While I didn’t do this in the above video I can easily see how this will save 5 or more minutes. That means harness and helmet on at the car, gear organized to lead and belay, and off you go. Clock doesn’t start until I leave the car so might as well maximize prep time here!
One climber does all the leading. No question swinging leads slows the team down. We lost at least ten minutes switching driver seats for the crux pitch. One leader means the leader gets a good rest at each belay.
Have fun. This is really why I want to do this. Moving quickly and efficiently in this type of terrain is really enjoyable to me. At the end of the day whether I hit the 2 hour mark or not I enjoy the planning, the anticipation of trying again, the time spent in the mountains, and the friends who enjoy the same.
I hope this post helps you come up with your own personal climbing goal this season. For many it’s “climb a grade higher”, but this season I think I’ll be focusing mainly on becoming more efficient, which I think will ultimately lead to climbing a higher grade. It will definitely lead me to climbing more! Wish me luck, and see you in the mountains!
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See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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