I’ve been publishing posts on the Alpine Endeavors blog for about a year now in addition to the posts I publish on this site. Below is a post that’s published on both sites.
At Alpine Endeavors winter guiding in the Catskills, with an occasional trip to the Adirondacks, is the normal routine. If there’s interest though, we love guiding in northern New England. For the second year in a row I’ve spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s up north.
I must confess, I love climbing up north. Maybe I missed my calling. As a younger climber I cut my teeth at the Lake (Willoughby), wallowed through chest deep snow in Smuggler’s Notch, and scrapped my way up routes on the steep ice and bulletproof granite around North Conway. The climbing there is sure to put a smile on any climber’s face – shoulder width runnels of steep ice on granite and seas of sluggable ice make mind happy.
Richard and I made plans for this trip before Thanksgiving. Old Man Winter doesn’t like plans though. As it began to snow on the 26th I had a feeling that our plans were about to be derailed. Alas, they were not. Richard’s flight, from Orlando to Portland may have been the only flight that landed in the northeast all day. I’m not really sure. What I do know is someone needs to give that pilot a raise. I’ve never been to an airport on a windier day. My phone buzzed. I had just recieved a text from him at about 4 p.m. on the 27th “the plane has landed, thank the Lord”.
We were off in minutes and headed for the north country. For true northerners, the north country actually begins above the notches, on the gentler, colder slopes that drain towards the St. Lawrence. It’s close enough for me though, being the flatlander that I am. 2 hours later we were eating at May Kelly’s, one of a myriad of fine dining establishments found in the Mt. Washington Valley.
We awoke on the 28th to the storm windows of our motel room rattling in the wind. While it had stopped snowing it was definitely still blowing. Our sights were set on the confines of Cathedral Ledge where some shelter from the wind could be found. After a lap on Goofer’s, a beautiful long WI 3 slab, we headed up towards Crawford Notch. According to the forecast the winds would be abating midday.
Much to our chagrin the wind was still howling. I gave Richard the tour of Frankenstein. We arrived at the Standard Route, a classic three pitch WI3+, to find climbers covering the cliff like ants on an anthill. They were everywhere. Doh! Even bad weather won’t stop ice climbers on vacation. A steeper line right of the cave belay was, strangely enough, wide open. This would be the test I was looking for. If Richard seemed comfortable on the crux we could head to Lake Willoughby the following day. Despite being only his fifth day ever climbing ice, it seems that Richard’s attention to detail had paid off; he was climbing well into the WI4 range, climbing and cleaning gear meticulously.
Lake Willoughby feels far away from everywhere. A two hour drive landed us on Rt 5a below Mt. Pisgah. Anyone who’s climbed there knows the feeling. When approaching the lake from the south you are afforded an amazing view as you round the last bend and drop towards the lake. It can make one either excited or horrified. We were excited, and after a pass or two to view conditions we were approaching the climbs. Previous climbers had broken the trail through 2+ feet of snow making our work easier.
We decided to climb “Float Like a Butterfly” one of the two-pitch WI4 flows on the right end of Mt. Pisgah. Climbing at the Lake is a unique experience, and if one is comfortable climbing WI4 it’s not to be missed. Full 60m pitches go on forever, requiring stamina and the proper mental headspace. Top things off with some really exciting rappelling and you have quite an adventure.
- The last two days of the trip found us back in the Mt. Washington Valley, again at Frankenstein Cliff and Cathedral Ledge. The granite in the valley is superb, and there are several routes that climb narrow runnels of steep ice, surrounded by beautiful gray and orange colored rock. Routes like Hobbit Couloir, Pegasus (rock finish) and Repentance are unforgettable. Solid stems, steep corners and good sticks make every move memorable and rewarding. I was impressed with Richard’s stamina; this was only his second ice climbing trip ever and he was showing no signs of fatigue after three full days.
Our final morning together, just before the usual early January thaw, was spent back at Cathedral Ledge. After a quick warm up on the Thresher slab we headed to Repentance. Without enough time for the whole route, we climbed the stellar first pitch. It’s enough to give one an appreciation for harder mixed climbing above though – the climbing is steep with rock protection and great stems on solid granite edges. There can be no doubt, Repentance is one of the finest ice climbs anywhere.
- With our trip, sadly, at its end we departed for PWM midday on New Year’s Eve. With no drifting snow, our drive was simple and quiet. The hills of the north country slowly unfold into the flat coastal plains of southern Maine. I sent Richard on his way and headed for my home in western Massachusetts.
It’s easy to get a bit depressed after great trips like this one. Where does one go from here? How come the rest of my life isn’t always this exciting? I was left with a three and a half hour drive to think about these things. I’m sure Richard was thinking the same thing on the plane, and wondering what the passenger next to him had done with his holiday. Ultimately though, one can’t get mired in these thoughts. I think it’s best to just look forward to the next trip. There’s no doubt it will be just as memorable.