Speed Climbing the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle

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!

Northeast Ridge of Pinnacle
Northeast Ridge of Pinnacle

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.

Resources

North Conway Rock Climbs by Jerry Handren <- Best guidebook for the area. Pages 282-284.

Mountain Project Route Description and Comments

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.

Auto Road Hours of Operation (opens at 7:30 am starting June 18th, closes at 6 pm)

GPS Info

Huntington Ravine Trail Parking Lot

5.6 miles from Auto Road Gate

UTM 19T 0316913 E 4905267 N WGS84 5725 feet

Start of climb

UTM 19T 0317371 E 4604895 N WGS84 4692 feet

End of 5th class climbing

UTM 19T 0317295 E 4904871 N WGS84 4911 feet

Personal Gear

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!

Mountain Tools Slipstream Backpack
Mountain Tools Slipstream Backpack

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!

Revo Cusp S Sunglasses <- high performance sweet shades!

LaSportiva TX 2 Approach Shoes <- My current favorite approach shoe! I need to order another pair before I wear these out and they stop making them! Full review here!

In the pack

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket <- a really nice ultralight jacket that I reviewed in detail here.

Patagonia Sunshade Technical Hooded Shirt <- another staple of my summer wardrobe, you can read all about it in my detailed review here.

AMK .7 First Aid Kit <- my basic first aid kit with some personal modification

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack <- weighs 4 ounces, lives in my pack

Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle <- I only carry one bottle but I pre-hydrate like crazy, use Nuun Hydration Tablets, and carry a small bottle of iodine tablets in my first aid kit for emergency use.

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!

Petzl Sitta Harness <- review here!

Five Ten Rogue Climbing Shoes <- my comfy all day trad shoe

Five Ten Rogue Lace Up Climbing Shoes
Five Ten Rogue Lace Up Climbing Shoes

Rack

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:

Racked on a nylon shoulder sling:

Black Diamond Ultralight Camalots sizes .4 – #2 racked on Black Diamond Oz Rackpack carabiners <- loving the lightweight of these!

Black Diamond Camalot X4’s sizes .1 – .4 racked on a wire-gate oval carabiner <- these have replaced my long loved CCH Aliens!

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

Light climbing rack
Light climbing rack

Petzl William Screw-Gate Locker with 5 alpine draws and 2 “mini-quads”… more on the “mini-quad” later!

Alpine Draws and Mini-Quads!
Alpine Draws and Mini-Quads!

Rope

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.)

Belay System

Personal Climbing Gear
Personal Climbing Gear

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.

Black Diamond Vapor Lock Carabiner

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner

For ounce counters the entire pack and contents above come in at 15 pounds sans rope!

Strategies

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!

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
The author heads out on the exposed but quite moderate “Fairy Tale Traverse” a last pitch variation of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle that should not be missed!- photo by Benny Allen




Book any course at Northeast Mountaineering and use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout. This will enter you into a monthly raffle to win a free guided day of your choosing!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Family Rock Climbing (8/21/16)

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.

Rock Climbing New Hampshire
On our way to the cliff
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Alexa was dying to go first!
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Coming down took some getting used to but we got there!
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Ricky takes on the challenge. Heights isn’t Ricky’s thing, but he gave it a solid shot and I hope he tries it again!
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Alexa liked belay duty as much as climbing!
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Hanging out at the base of Thin Air in the afternoon
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Alexa took multiple laps on the route
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Definitely hooked on climbing!

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!

See you in the mountains,

-Northeast Alpine Start

Mt. Forist, Berlin NH

I’ve been hearing about the climbing out at Mt. Forist for a couple years now. One can’t drive through Berlin and not notice the prominent looking 500 foot cliff on its northern outskirt. I only had time to today to jump on 5 of the 20+ routes listed in the new mini-guide published by Matt Bowman “matt@whitemountaincafe.com” but I will definitely be heading back there soon to explore some more. I’ll keep this post super short and share a video I threw together, largely with the help of some cool new cell phone tech I am reviewing for The Gear Institute (and will also publish here).


See you in the mountains!

NEAlpineStart

Family Rock Climbing 8/7/16

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.

Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Kids first
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
No hands
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Echo Roof looms above mom & daughter
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Casual
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Belay practice
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Camouflage

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.

Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Resting
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Afternoon light

Everyone took a spin on Child’s Play, then we headed for the top for some rappelling to round out our day.

Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Family pic before going over the edge
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Over the edge
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
And down we go
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Still got energy
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
Hooked on climbing
Rock Climbing New Hampshire
#adventurefamily

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!

http://www.emsoutdoors.com/north-conway/rock-climbing/

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

 

 

Rock Climbing Summer So Far…

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!

Congrats to Ed. S. for winning the Friendly Foot giveaway on the LaSportiva TX2 Approach Shoe Review and Taylor for winning the Colonial Knife giveaway on the Petzl Bug Backpack Review! I have a quite a few more product reviews & giveaways planned this season so if you’re into that sort of thing be sure to subscribe to the blog.

Here’s our pics from yesterday as I introduced Maya and Seth to multi-pitch rock climbing!

 

See you in the mountains!

You can also follow NEAlpineStart on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Standard Route on Whitehorse, and the dreaded Brown Spot!

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).

Lots of options!
Lots of options!

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.

Oliver with Cathedral Ledge in the background
Oliver with Cathedral Ledge in the background

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.

Oliver cruising the upper slabs
Oliver cruising the upper slabs
Mount Washington clear & crisp in the background
Mount Washington clear & crisp in the background

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!

Thanks for reading,

See you in the mountains,

-NEAlpineStart

Private Rock Climbing with Kat & Hardy (and Wilderness Navigation blurb)

I was fortunate to spend the July 4th holiday with yet another awesome couple. While Hardy has dragged Kat along on some long fly fishing trips this birthday present was all about Kat and reconnecting to her passion through a private rock climbing course. Given the expected crowds on a beautiful Saturday, July 4th, I decided to reverse the flow a bit and we started the day by rappelling down Barber Wall and climbing Upper Refuse first thing in the morning.

No question, she's having a good time!
No question, she’s having a good time!
Look at that face!
Look at that face!
This couple was so cute & supportive of each other through-out, it was really awesome hanging out with them for the day!
This couple was so cute & supportive of each other through-out, it was really awesome hanging out with them for the day!
Kat remembers how she used to coil rope
Kat remembers how she used to coil rope

After topping out to a very crowded vista we enjoyed a bit of lunch over on Airation Buttress. For the afternoon we headed over to Whitehorse Ledge. It was the first time I’ve seen the rockfall from this past Spring near the Dike Route, quite impressive!

Recent rockfall below the Dike Route
Recent rockfall below the Dike Route

Kat wanted to work on some gear placement skills so we set up shop on Beezlebub Corner. We did a couple of laps on that, one where Kat did a “mock” lead”.

Hardy liked climbs with big hand holds... if you got guns might as well use them!
Hardy liked climbs with big hand holds… if you got guns might as well use them!

Kat was also looking for a burn before wrapping up the day so I dropped a top-rope on the 5.10a test piece, Seventh Seal. With a tight belay and a few rests both made it up the route, a great ending to a full day!

Kat dancing up to Seventh Seal... having a past in competitive ballet definitely helps your climbing!
Kat dancing up to Seventh Seal… having a past in competitive ballet definitely helps your climbing!

The connection these two share was quite apparent through-out the day. Between “atta-boy’s” and “go get it’s” they had just the right amount of loving encouragement without living inside a Hallmark card. It was a real pleasure to climb with them both and if I’m right about Hardy, and I think I am, I’ll be seeing them both this upcoming winter for a spot of ice climbing. and maybe a Mount Washington climb!

Today also concluded another Wilderness Navigation Course. Emily & Al joined me for the day while we covered the in’s & out’s of survival navigation, map skills, compasses, and bushwhacking. A bushwhack up Hurricane Mountain and some compass work out on Black Cap… It was a good day to tramp about in the woods!

Our circuit
Our circuit

Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

-NEAlpineStart