Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Not Yet...

Looks like a slow start this ice season, but warm temps, some rain and a good amount of sun have been great for late season yard work. We'll just have to consider tonight's forecast, a blast of wind and 1-2 inches of rain, money in the bank. Its supposed to begin to cool down over the next few days - maybe even some snow over the weekend and early next week.

I'm beginning to hope for my early season favorite, a good old fashioned rainstorm and a cold snap - the formula for the best adventure around. We'll see if it gets cold enough to make Cannon go off, then I'll see if I can find my crampons. That first early morning mission to scrape around in the cold after scrambling all night to put together a full winter kit is priceless. All the annoyances are quickly forgotten at first light on a clear morning. Especially a first light that reveals long, thin drips of yellow, twisted Cannon ice where you had been debating there might be. It often reveals something that makes for a change of plan, sometimes even a change of venue.

I've admired Cannon's medieval, green masonry from random belays all over the cliff. Sometimes those long, cold belays were enough to make me promise to quit climbing and ponder getting a real job. But it never took much; a sip of tea, a look from a partner, or the sudden shift to an engaging lead to straighten out those misguided thoughts. Each December unknown drips, torquing picks, turf shots, pitons, bright cold moons and pitch black drives across the Kanc reenergize and refresh me. If its not this one, maybe the next storm.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's Next?

There is a taste of winter on these cold, clear mornings, only to be erased by the 50 degree sun come afternoon. Its the perfect time for late season rock climbing; getting tucked away at a south facing crag and enjoying the relative quiet in the low, direct sun.

I can't remember a year when there hasn't been some good ice climbing in December, although it seems unimaginable right now, but a shift of just a few degrees and, boom - put away the chalk bag and find the v-thread tool.

Here's some shots to help get psyche up...

Cathedral Ledge

Snow for sloggin'

Toko Crag

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Laughing Lion

The second pitches and up.

The routes are from left to right:

Unamed 5.11c, FA Ray Rice, sport

Mane Line 5.11d, FA Bob Parrot, mixed gear, four pitches

Unamed 5.11d, FA Ray Rice, sport

Rainbow Route 5.11d, FA Bayard Russell, Maddog Drummond, Chris Bassett, mixed gear, three pitches

Unamed 5.11a, equiped by Bob Parrot, FA probably Bayard Russell, Freddie Wilkinson and Maddog Drummond, mixed gear

Acid Wall 5.12d/13a?, FA Bayard Russell, sport, three pitches

Unamed 5.12c, FA Bayard Russell, equiped by Dave Sharrat, mixed gear

Oracular Vulva aka Whiteboy 5.13a FA Dave Sharrat, equipped by Bayard Russell, sport

The Pitchfork 5.9 R, FA Ray Rice, trad

Far, Far Away 5.11c, FA Bayard Russell, sport

Lazy Boy 5.11a/12a, FA Ray Rice

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The First Day of Summer

Summer is finally here. Wow, what a wet, nasty - well anyway way, no news there. The sun came out yesterday and I realized how much I missed the hot, humid, go-jump-in-the-river kind of summer day I normally spend July and August complaining about. Sweat hoggin', it burns the gunk out.

All the wetness has lingered around my forested home. I've been whacking back the underbrush and scraggly hemlocks that clog up the air, looking for some elbow room and some sunlight to dry up the dankness. I knew yesterday was different from the minute I pulled open my underwear drawer in the morning and its swollen wood didn't offer up a fight. The sun dried everything up in the yard, too.

All this coincides with the beginning of "Lion season". Its like big game hunting, but without the danger - all the bolts we placed make sure of that. At the height of land in Evan's Notch sits the four pitch Laughing Lion, on the eastern slope of East Royce Mountain. Due to a family of peregrine falcons the cliff stays closed through the spring and most of the summer.

This year they had successful mating season and we got up there before the usual August 1st cut off. And what a treat. At roughly 2000' it stays fairly cool, and with this south westerly flow a breeze snuck around the corner of the east facing cliff. A pitch off the ground and the overhanging wall was dry and the sharp edges felt crisp. The peregrines put on an ariel show including a tumbling fight over some carcass's thigh. They were repeatedly flying into a protected nook, forty feet from our belay, completely ignoring us, and pulling out animal parts, all the while screeching with their shrill call that proves to me they are the direct descendants of pterodactyls.

Ray had put up a new pitch up there that I hadn't had a chance to try - and it was a beautiful. Typical Laughing Lion technical, gently overhanging face climbing with all the requisite exposure and excellent friction. The mutlipitch cliff has really become a climbing area and I'm looking forward to sharing it this fall.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Other Side of the Coin

Every time something happens around Cathedral, something major, like the recent retro-bolting of Thin Air and its subsequent chopping, I find myself climbing there more often. There is a need to look after the cliff, to see whose around and what's going on. I may solo Thin Air when I would normally go up Fun House, or just go cragging there when I might otherwise go work on my latest sport climbing project or new route. Events like this, while divisive on the local website, bring large parts of the community here closer together. Most of my good friends, whether 23 or 60, are people that I see at the cliff after work, on the weekends, on a Tuesday. They own the cars I recognize that are parked in front of the kiosk in the dirt. They are the people I spend my free time with, I will invite to my wedding and share a rope with, and for the most part we all have very similar opinions about what the future of style on Cathedral Ledge should be.

In an ideal world, I would love to see every retrobolt on Cathedral and Whitehorse removed, but I realize that's unreasonable. So we, the elitist locals (as we are often referred to on the local website), pick and choose our battles, and Thin Air is the obvious choice. Before I chopped four bolts on it in 2003 its sorry state was used as an excuse for retrobolting other routes, "Look at Thin Air, its got bolted cracks all over it, fuck it, North Conway doesn't have any ethics anymore". For almost six years the bolts stayed away, and with a lot of quiet support from the local community, making the point that this is a climbing area where you can actually learn to climb traditionally, practice the skills and then go to the mountains having a clue. It was an uncomfortable silence though, one which no one thought would actually last after the pendulum swung the other way for so long. Then, one day this spring, it was over. The bolts on the so called pedestal belay reappeared, and they reappeared in a manner more typical of a Ken Nicols style bolt chopping, quietly and without any ownership of the action.

It was a sad day for me when the anchor reappeared. In our little community of Cathedral climbers, those ones with the cars I recognize, the frustration built up quickly. No. There is simply too much pressure on the cliff from its proximity to Rumney. Convenience has become expected, people can't even be bothered to take their gear home with them at the end of a day. In this sport climbing world, all we are looking for is a little niche where protection skills are a part of climbing. A place in a state park in North Conway, NH where climbing is not just about gymnastics. What we are asking for is actually pretty reasonable, especially on the granite crags in the White Mountains, let the perogative of the first ascencionsit stand. Let that person choose how to establish the route and then let it be. If we're talking about a sport route, whatever, but on a granite route, established at least in part as a trad route, let it exist as such. The gear might be a bit sketchy, but so what, climbing doesn't have to be all about movement and safety. There are plenty, plenty of safe places to climb. Let the mental challenges of protection and its associated skills have a place to flourish. That is why New England climbers do so well in the mountains and in other climbing areas, we have a variety of climbing skills - variety is an asset.

I have drilled hundreds of bolts on new routes all over the White Mountains, I have chopped quite a few retrobolts too. In Britian they have a well known ethic concerning the gritstone, no bolts. That works for them, but they have tiny cliffs and need to perserve their adventure. Our cliffs are lot a bigger and we have a long history of using bolts. A history that no one, but maybe Henry Barber, has a contention with. With the exception of one unfortunate and isolated incident at Crack in the Woods, that, in hindsite, even the chopper admits wasn't a great idea, no one is talking about chopping other people's routes. Its not even on the table. The only problem anyone up here has with bolts is with the ones that appear on established climbs. Thats it, its simple. If the established routes are left alone, those of us who have chopped bolts in the past and would in the future, are happier to just go climbing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Quiet Cliffs, Turkey Hunting and Black Flies

Early spring, right until the black flies swarm in early May, is probably my favorite time of year for rock climbing. The winter season gives all the tendons in my fingers a chance to rest while the large muscle pulling of ice and mixed climbing leaves me feeling healthy. The psyche is high too, after months of gloved hands and belay jackets the simplicity of rock climbing is refreshing. After so much time sitting saturated in the absurdity of modern mixed climbing, rock climbing feels authentic and real.

Its been a great spring since then too. We've been quietly plugging away putting up new routes at an undisclosed location in western Maine, I shot a turkey on a beautiful morning with my father at our family place in Jaffrey, NH and the neighborhood here in Madison keeps growing as a couple of good friends finally bought a closeby farm, and stacked it with itinerant climbing bums.

The weather has been great, the black flies are only just now starting to get bad, and the forecast is still good. June is settling in and the next guiding season is approaching. Soon we'll be wrapping up a day of guiding with a dip in the Saco, cooling off before the evening cragging session at Cathedral.

Friday, March 6, 2009

John Henry: The Hammer Swinger

Leaving the ice. Freddy Wilkinson photo.

When we started bolting routes in the quarry in Evan's Notch it was a free for all. In two days we had four mixed lines, all with substantial sections of ice climbing. No one was hurt, there aren't any plants to kill, and after the dust settled we had some great projects.


To make a good mixed climb you don't need much more than a chossy overhang and a little dangling ice. Steep terrain is the important part. I've had visiting friends from out west tell me the overhanging choss we were climbing was really good compared to what they had at home, so its all what you're used to. But, when Ray Rice took Eliot Gaddy, Freddy Wilkinson and I out to this abandoned quarry in Evan's Notch I thought we might be on to something, and as it turned out, the Mica Mine, had some great choss.

It also has ice, so when we first rolled into the cave it didn't take long to put together the line that would become John Henry. There was a twenty five foot flow of shoulder wide grade 3+ ice in the back of the cave and a hanger at the lip, separated by twenty five feet horizontal dry tooling. There were other options too, and Ray Rice had already begun equipping one of the best, a hard M7 pitch that came to be called Gold Rush. A true mixed climb with an easy ice start, some mixed climbing around an amazing hanging blob and steep drytool moves out to a free hanger. One of the best pitches of the grade around, complete with a bit of up-side-down dangling.

The line that was to become John Henry was all dangling, and it took a few days of effort to finally to send, and an uncomfortable morning to equip. There is only one way to bolt such a steep route, from the ground up (and over, as the case may be). Me, an aider, a home-made daisy chain, my ice tools, my Bosch and a two hour belay from Freddie got most of the route equipped. Make a couple of hook moves hanging from your tools, drill a bolt, repeat. I aided as far as I could but the hooks ran out and my kidneys were bruised. After a break on flat ground, I jugged the fixed line up towards the hanger to drill the last bolt, feeling really nervous there wouldn't be any holds out there. There were, they were just hidden, and really far away.

Its a long way up.
Freddie WIlkinson photos.

Most of John Henry is fairly straight forward, positive drytooling; fluid and fun, right to the lip of the cave. Outside of the cave, the wall is about forty five degrees overhanging and there is body length section of blankness. Its a funny moment, dangling from a figure four at the end of the traverse of the concave roof, no where to put your feet and looking up to what seems like completely blank rock. The shallow hook you're hanging from, with the inside of your knee locked over your opposite wrist, is positive but not huge. There is nothing else to do but swing. With a bit of momentum, and lots of flailing learning the move, I could eventually grab it, a good positive hidden hook in a quartz pocket. The climbing isn't over yet, a couple of drytool moves followed by the thin ice of the hanger, but it definitely gets easier.


John Henry is a great route to work, the climbing is fun and unique, it's in a beautiful, quiet cave. It's an ideal modern mixed route in that you begin on ice and drytool to some more ice. Hopefully, we'll continue to find good conditions at the Mica Mine. It takes a few years to develop a sense of what a crag needs to form, but this one has the right ingredients; its wet, dark and cold.

I'm not really sure of how hard the route is, New Hampshire routes of comparable difficulty are mostly in the dry Cathedral cave where I haven't spent a whole lot of time. Some well traveled hard man will have to swing by, onsight it and tell me what the grade actually is. I figure it to be somewhere in the M10-M11 range. Let me know.

The Mica Mine

Friday, February 27, 2009

Busy February

The middle of February is when most of New England gets time off, and that's when we get really busy, and thankfully so! There have been a few days on Mt Washington and a bunch of days guiding around the ice crags of New Hampshire.

Eugene Kwan on Supergoofers, Cathdral Ledge, NH, NEI 5

Euegene on Dropline, Frankenstein Cliffs, NEI 5

Amos Beninga on an unnamed mixed route in Madison NH, M6-ish

Aurthor from Cincinatti ice bouldering on a beautiful day in Chamapney Falls

Its been a beautiful year. Right now the north facing routes are growing fatter with the current freeze-thaw cycle, but the sunny routes are starting to get blasted. The truly fun spring mountaineering and skiing season is just ahead, and Mt Washington has tons of snow. Should be a great spring of sunny sport climbing and skiing on the mountian, but winter is not over yet!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Love Diet

Leading out on the second pitch of Love Diet.

Bob Baribeau's route, Love Diet, is incredible. All I know about the history is that he rope soloed the route in the mid 90's, but I can imagine it might have been a lonely day.

Love Diet is on a 350' seldom visited, beautiful and steep cliff called the Laughing Lion. The yellow drips that are the route's second pitch hang from the left side of a twenty five foot roof. It usually takes until January to come in. Unlike a route like Dropline, where ice bonds to a vertical wall, Love Diet drips off the edge of the roof, its water droplets free-fall over a hundred feet, building up a mushroomed pedestal and dozens of icicles. On some years a continuous line of ice develops, on many years not. The top of the second pitch overhangs its base.


Its lucky we even got to the cliff that day. At 10:30 the night before, after what wasn't our first beer, Freddy Wilkinson and I hatched a plan to try the route. We were in the middle of a 20" snow storm and its a five mile ski out there, but that never really crossed our minds. The next morning, after digging out our respective houses, we got on the road at about a quarter to nine. After an hour's drive to the trial head, the first few miles of skiing went smoothly, thanks to a snow machine packed and groomed trail. Once away from the Ski-Doo trail though, the snow got deep. One of us would break trail, plunging knee deep on skis, while the other would hang back and have a snack. After a ten minute break you could catch up in two minutes only to take the lead. The usual two and a half hour approach took four hours.

Somewhere along the trail, where it had seemed especially bad, we had decided that we should call the outing a cardio work out and just try and get to the cliff. Josh Hurst and Ian Austin were coming out the next day, so at least they would have a good trail and somebody would have a chance to send the route. But, after a sandwich and some hot Tang, we got psyched.

Fred sent a variation to the first pitch, called Love Diet Direct, one of three excellent NEI 5+ pitches that are within fifty feet of each other, and the only one in good condition.

Freddy Wilkinson on the Remission part of Love Diet Direct.

The pitch is like climbing the Remission column right off the ground only to end up right in the middle of Repentance. He casually fired the candled and impossible to protect first twenty five feet of the pillar, chatting with me the whole time. When he got in the chimney I could hear him hooting with excitement over how good the pitch was.

By the time I got to the belay he had the next pitch all mapped out for me, or so we thought.

After pulling over an ice roof the climbing got dicey. It was the narrowest neck of the route, sunbaked and poorly bonded. If I hadn't seen gear past this section of a couple of body lengths I probably wouldn't have done it. But once past it, with some good rock gear in, the ice came back around and eventually I was able crawl into an ice cave big enough to stand in. This was an incredible position, half way out a huge roof, standing on a perfectly flat blob connected to the back side of an enormous icicle. Off to the right was nothing but air.

As I began to down climb to get back in position to finish the pitch, I could see higher up behind the enormous curtains of yellow ice. I noticed a good crack and what looked like a way to get out from higher up. After some wild climbing that sometimes resembled caving more than anything else, I found myself behind a pane of ice thirty feet higher. A few minutes of chopping and I was back out on the front side of the ice, way up high on the cliff with only fifteen feet of bombproof vertical ice between me and the trees.

Poking my head out the freshly chopped hole high on the route.

We got back to the base of the route as it got dark and had a horrific ski out in climbing boots with fifty pound packs in deep snow. It was a beautiful night, but it went unnoticed while I was buried in a bush up to my ears in powder, not able to get up. Luckily the guy who grooms the snow machine trail passed, and by the time we got to the height of land we only had to stand there and slide the remaining few miles back to the truck.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Painted Wall Icicle

Kevin Mahoney working the 100' of M9 drytooling up to the base of the ice.

People have been looking at this route for years and and it was a multi-party effort just to get up to the ice. Dave Moore and Jay Sterner were the first, they put in an aide route with the goal of eventually reaching the ice. They ended thier line at a hanging belay roughly half way. After some hairy aid climbing and a string of hand drilled bolts, the pair left behind a perfectly bolted stretch of rock climbing and drytooling up to a chain anchor. They didn't get out unscathed however, a RURP popped on Dave, and he took a twenty foot fall and seriously hurt his ankle, leaving Jay to carry out two backpacks while Dave slid out a couple of miles on his ass. They called their effort Borrowed Time.

Two seasons ago Doug Madara got the ball rolling again on trying to get up to the icicle. We had all been thinking about it, but it took someone like Doug to break the ice on this intimidating project. Eventually, Peter Doucette, Kevin Mahoney and I hauled a drill up to the Painted Wall to try and get all the way there. I aided and drytooled to the previous highpoint on Borrowed Time, then bolted the remaining unclimbed 50', aiding off ice tools, to gain the ice covered ledge at the base of the free hanging pillar, and installed an anchor.

A slew of people tried this first pitch as a mixed climb that season, but tricky sequences, small footholds, hidden holds and a deep pump kept us all from climbing the pitch with no falls. Last year the ice only briefly came in, and I don't think anyone had a chance to get on it, so when it formed this year Josh Hurst and I quickly headed out to give it a try. We had a great day in the sun, stayed relaxed and I surprised myself, sending the pitch on my third try. I was psyched, but it was still only one of two pitches.

Josh followed, almost sending it, and we reconvened at the foot wide belay ledge at the base of the icicle. Unfortunately, the ice was in awful condition. It was poorly bonded, candled, and tiered in a series of overhanging icicles and curtains; not the more solid column of two years previous. The icicle's right hand sister flow offered the best chance, but was detached from the wall, although the climbing looked like straight forward grade 5 ice. As the sun started to set and the temperature dropped, we started to rig a rappel as the ice began to make very strange hollow, popping and creaking noises, affirming that bailing was the right decision. There was still one last option though, the only problem was it would take a bolt to get from the ledge to the first piece of gear.

Josh Hurst following, about to gain the belay ledge.

After a rest day we went back out to finish off the route, this time carrying the drill. Still feeling the effects from the effort a couple of days earlier, I started hanging the draws for Josh to try and send the first pitch. When I got up to the base of the ice though, things looked different. The day before had been warm and the ice had taken a hit. The little ice ledge where we had belayed was falling apart as I swung into it. I tried to get on it one last time, high stepping my frontpoint, and a huge chunk of the ledge feel off on my other thigh, not leaving much behind. The ice above looked worse. I lowered off the pitch's last bolt, having been within five feet of the belay.

I drove past the route yesterday morning and half of the right hand sheet had fallen off in the sun. So it goes, at least nobody got hurt. A couple of years ago we couldn't climb the rock, but the ice looked relatively good, this year, the opposite. We'll see what next time has to offer.


Take a look at this shot of the route from Peter Cole's website taken in 1978, photo 2857.
Look for a pair of huge icicles visible on the far right hand of the photo of the Painted Wall. Those years in the late seventies saw the biggest ice ever, and the route looks huge!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Big Expedition for Cancer Research

From left to right: Matt Farmer, Bayard Russell, Kevin Mahoney and Dawn Glanc just below their highpoint on peak 8290', Glacier Bay National Park, AK.

This past June, after a year of preparation, Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center launched its first Big Climb to Conquer Cancer. This is a unique and unprecedented PR tool for raising awareness about the challenges of cancer research which was built on the similarities between cancer research and, not just climbing, but climbing an unclimbed objective. The unknowns, tedious hard work, sometimes overwhelming challenges and occasional successes all combine with the broader simile of knowing right where one wants to get, but not exactly how to get there. Whether the goal is finding a cure for cancer or standing on a virgin summit the path is full of dead ends, unsuspected complications, surprises and you may end up somewhere you didn't anticipate.
The climbing team consisted of four guides, two whose home base is in Washington state and two from back east, Madison, NH. Dawn Glanc, who just won the Ouray Ice Comp, and Matt Farmer, an IFMGA mountain guide and rock solid climbing partner comprised one rope team. Kevin Mahoney, another IFMGA guide and accomplished alpinist, and I formed the other. In the end, we bailed off our route due to snow conditions, loose rock and lack of anchors. We had gotten to within a few hundred feet of the pyramidal top of the mountain known only as 8290', and although we would have loved to stand on that summit, realty set in and we had to adapt. As is the case for cancer researchers, who in their massive task of finding a cure for cancer are faced with unforeseen complications and simply must, on occasion, start over. In either case, however, lesson are learned that may help in the future.

Find out more at

Breaching humpback whale.

Getting dropped off at the head of the Reid Inlet, Reid Glacier in the background. The beginning of the 16 mile approach to base camp.

Dawn hauling one of three loads up onto the ice on our first day.

Grizzly bear tracks.

More grizzly tracks, this time eight miles from the beach.

Taking a break with our objective, 8290', in the background. Its the pointy summit directly above Dawn's head (pink hat).

Farmer skinning up to the col that separated our basecamp from 8290'.

We climbed in relative darkness, so the only actions shots are of the descent. Bayard and Kevin down climbing, Kevin is in the background.

More down climbing, Kevin and Bayard.

The base of the ridge we attempted, 3/4's of us assembled.

Heading home in perfect travel conditions.

Our last night on the glacier was beautiful, Glacier Bay in the background.

Kevin and Farmer relaxing on our way out of the Reid Inlet, starting the fifty mile boat ride across Glacier Bay and back to civilization.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Neihborhood Craggin

On the most blustery of days its time to go mixed climbing. It just works out that a surprising amount of the single pitch mixed crags we frequent are sunny, and sheltered from the NW wind that tears across NH this time of year. Its perfect. Hike out in a pair of warm Sorels, slip on some "fruitboots" and have some fun in the sun, knowing full well you could be shivering in the wind while your partner rains down hunks of brittle ice.

Neighbors Kevin Mahoney, Freddy Wilkinson and I spend a lot of these days at the local crag, tucked into the hills of East Madison, NH on Kevin's family's own land. Today, down there in the sun, the climbing was comfortable and the ice was growing, despite the single digit temperatures.

Freddy Wilkinson on an unamed mixed route, Toko Crag.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cathedral Style?

In a town surrounded by dozens of crags you only have to tell a North Conway local, "meet me at The Cliff" and they'll know right where to go. And getting there is easy; park a few hundred feet from your route, or drive right to the top. Convenient it is, but Cathedral Ledge is also packed with more than its fair share of year round adventure.

Bayard on Refusal, Cathedral Ledge (NEI 5+ M7+)

Its the hub and a better home crag couldn't exist. Its where folks figure out how to make an anchor, handjamb, use their feet, fiddle in a nests' of RP's, and finally, how to go for it. The climbing is cerebral and technical in the summer and it retains those qualities throughout the winter, but with the added excitement of verglas, spindrift and the heavy metal rhythm of steep, fat, blue ice.

A long climbing history and a passionate group of devoted locals form the backdrop to the slabs and cracks of the cliff. The community is real, hardworking and littered with characters. Its a hard group to leave, and it's open to whomever is ready to trade an ordinary existence for a climbing life in a place without ready made careers. On a summer evening after a route and after dark, you sit and have a beer in the dirt with three generations of climbers who have made similar decisions and sacrifices for this way of life.

Anne Skidmore photo of Bayard on LA Bubblebath (5.11d), Cathedral Ledge

"Cathedral style" is a way we describe a type of thin, balancey, thought provoking climbing with fidgety gear and technical sequences. Its old school and usually less than vertical. But, when away on a climbing trip and a friend tells you, "don't worry the next pitch is Cathedral style, you'll be fine," more than just the slow, cerebral tic-tac of Cathedral Ledge footwork comes to mind. I think of summer nights, great belay ledges and PBR in the parking lot with friends.