Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pole Dance

Click to enlarge.

Pole Dance, NEI 5-ish, gains the attractive pillar
hanging over the roof in the upper right of the photo.
Kevin Mahoney lead the business on the first ascent
on December 17th.

After an exciting afternoon on the ground dodging missiles in the south facing sun, Poledance went down. This new route at Frankenstein is right of the Bragg-Pheasant in a spot I had never seen any real ice before. The oblique afternoon sun cooled things off and we went for it. We all had a chance to lead the easy first pitch, but it was Kevin Mahoney's turn when we finally had a chance to do the pitch that mattered.

What looked like M7 from the ground revealed itself to be NEI 5 or 5+ up and out a corner/roof and onto a hanging pillar, or pole - the route's namesake. Classy swings into an iced up crack, a good stance right where it mattered and a beautiful upper tube of bubbling, blobby steeper-than-it-looked ice climbing made this thing really fun to climb. I would say, "go and do it", but two days of sun and temps hovering around the freezing mark must have taken a toll.

Fun to break a streak of early season, getting-it-back-together shenanigans on a great new route with two great friends. Here are some shots of Matt McCormick following the business, and one of me up on the route's upper "pole".

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White Mountain Conditions

All that rain did some good things up in the notches here in NH. The rare formers are super fat, while the more reliable routes at Frankenstein are suffering from too much water, and are undermined by the massive flow. This week's forecast of moderate temps hovering around the freezing mark will be great for shady routes, especially higher up where there is still some snow on the ground. I wouldn't expect too much of anything in the sun.

Here are some shots.

Frankenstein's south face.

Standard to Dracula, Frankenstein.

Close up of, from the left and in the sun, Dropline, Last Exit, Welcome to the Machine.


Elephant Head Gully

South Face of Mt. Willard

Diagonal and Mordor, Cathedral Ledge

Monday, December 6, 2010

What's Happening

I couldn't get a good read on what was going on with the ice up in the Notches so Elliot Gaddy and I decided to go check it out, and burn off the previous night's birthday party haze while we were at it. I hadn't expected much, but was surprised to see even less; there was almost no substantial ice at Frankenstein. There was snow on the ground, but nothing just south of the Frankenstein turn off. Should have gotten plenty today, though.

Instead we took a run up Shoestring Gully on Mt Webster and had fun swinging the tools into the sticky, fresh stuff. The right had finish, up a three foot wide runnel, was in great shape.

It seems to me that by next weekend there will be plenty to climb in the White Mountains, and judging by some shots of Lake Willoughby I saw today on NEIce it looks like it'll be good to go in no time.

Monday, November 8, 2010

November Rain

Early season drips on Cannon Cliff.

This is the time of year when climbers go from dismissing horrible weather by saying, "we've got the water, now all we need is the cold," to embracing it as we scramble to find a partner for a last second predawn start in the season's first sub-freezing temps. With all the holiday obligations we have this time of year, finding the time to get in some early season climbing can be really difficult, especially with the short warning typical of the changing seasons. The reward for the observant and flexible ice climber, though, can be some of the season's most interesting climbing, right when you're the least used to it.

Bayard on an unfinished early season stratch-fest on Cannon.

Cannon Cliff is where quite a few seasoned New England climbers' eyes turn this time of year; waiting for just that sort of weather pattern that disgusts most people, late fall rain. Not just any rain though, the kind that gets followed by a ferocious clearing wind and falling temps. The flash freeze. Cannon gets "locked up" in January's persistent cold, but in December it is still in transition, and long, hard-to-get-to drips can be the result, dangling up high over some obscure overlap above the Big Wall, off to the side of Omega or over the Old Man's dog.

Smaller, but subject to the same effects of bad early season weather is the cliff above Greely Ponds in NH's Mad River Notch; most well known for hosting The Drool of the Beast. It has been a productive, mostly single pitch, Cannon-esque, traditional mixed crag; complete with yellow drippy ice and requisite pin placements. One wall in particular, shown below, now has a couple of interesting routes, put up on the lead, still with a little more potential for bolt-free, back country, mixed routes.

Peter Doucette getting the ball rolling on Doghouse, M7. Visible on the left side of the roofs
is the prominent overhanging corner of Kevin Mahoney's Ironclad Reactor, missing it's icicle.

Kevin on the FA of Ironclad Reactor, M7+.

Peter up high on the Doghouse. We finished up the hanging
icicle above, a fixed pin now protects those final moves.

Both of these routes, and a third called the Drool of the Bitch, M6+R (Wilkinson/Russell/Mahoney), haven't seen a second ascent. Probably the same is true of a route or two on the east side of the ponds reportedly established by Joe Terrevechia.


After the early season spasm of winter's first freezes, the most jaded of ice climbers quietly retire to indoor workouts and plans of trips to the south rock climbing. It is the interesting thin fresh ice that won't survive January's cold sublimation that parallels that rare individuals motivation. This recent spate of cold temps has me thinking we're almost to it's beginning.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I packed up the computer with my ice tools and just found it again, buried under a stack of bills. It's been a busy spring, though, full of wedding planning, rock climbing and a little work here and there. Here's the fun stuff.

The first trip of the season was down to the east side of the Sea of Cortez, to Guaymas, Mexico for our friends James and Marcia's wedding. The 12 piece mariachi band was a hit with the gringos.

After the festivities Anne and I were able to get some climbing in, in Cochise Stronghold, outside of Tuscon, AZ. One of the most easily accessible cliffs is a beautiful formation called Sheep's Head. The classic 7 pitch, 5.9, Absinthe of Malice goes right up a prominent buttress visible from miles away (just left of the thin shade line that runs from bottom to summit on the tallest formation in the photo, right above the horses).

The second trip of the season was down to the Red River Gorge, which is the perfect segue from ice climbing to rock climbing: it's steep, but the holds are good. Check my fiance Anne Skidmore's Bivuac Blog out for some great shots from the trip. After ten days there, staying in a house with a posse of 10 mostly from the Conway area, we rolled to the New and had a blast on the more technical, and unforgiving routes on the rugged Nuttal sandstone with our own personal local tour guide, Pat Goodman. We all really enjoyed the warm community in Fayetteville, very reminiscent of home.

A return to the climbing in New Hampshire is always exciting after a great trip, and the motivation is usually up. Promptly after getting back my friend Eric Eisle got me out to a cliff west of his beloved Berlin, and not Mt Forist. It's called Square Mountain, one of three "Squares" in the White Mountains, and it's way back in the Kilkenny Range. He had the 1 1/2 hour approach sussed and we marched right out there, taking a compass bearing from a small clearing for the final approach.

We got out there and repeated a two pitch 5.10 which had a good, steep, wide crack on the first pitch and rappelled off. Taking a walk at the base we spied a line that looked an awful lot like Cathedral Ledge's Mordor Roof. An old 5.8 approach pitch, complete with 1/4" bolts, got us to a great belay under the 6 foot roof, where I tipped-toed out to a hand jam over the lip, almost. My second try got me over the roof and into a perfectly clean, unclimbed 70m crack system! I belayed at a good ledge and Eric led the final 60m of 5.9 crack climbing, though some great features, corners and overlaps, to the top. Check out his blog, The Last Print Journalist, for more on the route and, more importantly, in-depth discussions of the life and politics north of New Hampshire's notches.

Taken from Eric Eisle's blog,

Eric at the first belay on The Pikey, Square Mountain, NH

The next project of the spring was out at Owl's Cliff, another confusing name shared by multiple NH crags. This one is above Sawyer Pond, off the Kanc. Ray Rice and I tromped out there to find Brady Libby's single pitch crack climb that was rumured to be stellar.

Ray Rice on a slightly wet Crack of the Future, Brady Libby's stellar 5.12 crack.

It took me three trips out the 4.7 miles of mountain biking and hiking to finally send this dead vertical finger crack and face climb. This pitch is one of the best in NH.

Most recently, I just got back from a week in the Gunks, staying with and being shown around by local guide and friend Ryan Stefiuk. Check out his website at for Catskill ice climbing beta, how to make your own fruit boots and a variety of other stuff including a recent big day on Cannon Cliff. Most memorable was doing Fat City Direct, 5.10d, at the Near Trapps, it completely blew my mind. While climbing it I could have sworn, continously, for about twenty feet, that the next move would be 5.12. It never was though. What an amazing pitch on an incredible route, on of my all time favorites.


I'm back home on the first rainy day in over a week getting caught up with details, which include getting a suit picked out for my August wedding. Here's to good weather.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Another Square

In my experience all the good granite in New Hampshire is close to the road, and I've spent quite a few hours testing that theory. Its not always the case, but most of the back woods cliffs just don't come together the way Cathedral or Cannon do. Their too blocky, too rotten, its always something.

My friend Eric Eisle told us to look across from Success where we were camping toward the Kilkenny range north and west of Berlin. There was a cliff over there I was familiar with from tight topo lines on the map. It looked like Cathedral just as he had claimed. And although it was hard to tell from about 15 miles away, it seemed clean..

I do enjoy hacking around the woods, especially up north were the spruce and fir conceal partridge and the moose droppings are deep, so when Eric said he was heading out there last week I took an extra day off from the two week climbing trip I had just taken and met him early. He had the approach sussed from an earlier recon trip, a huge advantage cause all I had to do was fall in line behind him for the hour and a half approach.

The cliff wasn't quite the dead vertical dream Eric had pitched it as, but I had been taking it all with a grain of salt and it really did look pretty good. He had a line in mind already, right up the profile you would see from Berlin, and he lead a good pitch up a wide crack to get us started. I could could hear a little disappointment in his voice when I yelled down to him about ancient looking rappel anchor on the second 70m pitch. We topped out and established the rappel line we would use again later that day.

Once on the ground we walked further west along the cliff to see what there was to see, and I quickly became convinced of the line to do. It had slabby, but featured first pitch, with an old 1/4" bolt visible from the ground, followed by a 6 foot roof that a hand crack made it just down to the lip of before blasting off, seemingly to the top of the cliff another 70m away.

Eric lead a slightly dirty, wandering and run-out Conway style 5.8 slab pitch up to a good ledge under the roof and got in a gear anchor. We reconvened below the roof I took a stab at a direct line and settled for a traverse left to the obvious crack system we had seen below that ran straight up to the trees. We fiddled around a bit figuring how to do the traverse, high or low, and I eventually crab crawled below the roof, back cleaning cams to straighted out the rope which had a few bends to make make still. Feeling like was at Cathedral Ledge, poking gear into the Mordor Roof, I eventually got something to stick and almost pulled the 5.11 hump up and over the lip until tight hand jam popped. Next go I settled into a better jam and was able to pull some surprisingly gymnastic trad climbing to get settled into a perfect, but sharp, clean hand crack. Another 30 feet of perfect hand jams got me settled into a belay stance with a good another gear anchor.

From here Eric lead a 70m 5.9-ish crack pitch that involved all sorts of minor obstacles from face moves between systems, a corner, overlaps and the occasional pocket when the crack would peter out for a bit.

We rapped down the rappel line we had established earlier, getting a core shot right in the middle of my brand new rope as it scraped over the edge of a ledge on the rappels.

Eric did a great job hitting the end of the flagging tape which marked the trail we had taken in, across half a mile against the grain of brooks and terrain. From there it was a almost a simple slog, except for the beaver flooded section of old woods road which wanted a pair of rubber boots, great grass hummock hopping skills of a lack of concern. Back at the car, still a light to spare I marveled at how well the day had gone. Thanks to Eric's earlier recon we scooted right out to the cliff, climbed two routes, one with two new pitches of clean crack climbing, at an interested grade, ground up with the same rack I would take for an after work cragging session on Cathedral's well worn routes. It was truly a rare opportunity.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Snake Mountain, Vermont

Doing the second ascent of a burly little Snake Mountain rig, Fang Shui.

Photo by Josh Worley.

There is this thing happening over in the up-side-down state. After driving past this cliff on their way to the Daks for years, huge icicles just hanging there, climbers, especially Josh Worley, started poking around up there, power drill at the ready. What they found has changed the way good wholesome Vermont boys are introduced to winter climbing. Lake Willoughby? May as well be in New Hampshire (I concur), these guys are climbing M10 before they ever chug up a WI 5 column and strap themselves into a screw belay. This phenomena has been on display at the MWV Ice Fest's dry tool comp, held annually in North Conway - most of the contestants are employed at the Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Josh Worley's recruiting ground for the dark arts of upside down mixed climbing. Pounding pins, and grabbing turf shots? Why bother when you can sip a latte bought in town while cruising through the Iowa like fields of the Champlain Valley on your way to your own personal mixed crag, complete with fixed draws on every route? Winter climbing now follows summer's lead west of the Connecticut River; instead of scaring the shit out of yourself learning to trad climb and ice climb, you can get as strong as a bull first and then slip into ice climbing and traditional mixed climbing (when it feels like a warm-up). Snake Mountain: the new gateway drug?

Note: I should be clear, all the developers over at Snake are hardmen who have put their time in freezing their asses off at places like Lake Willuoghby, and crankin hard rock routes in the summer time. I just love the opportunity thats afforded the new generation in the Champlain Valley by the proximity of a world class mixed crag, but not mich local ice. I probably should have written the above in the future tense.

Bayard on Solid Gold, an excellent Josh Worley route on great limestone.

Photo by Ray Rice.

The man, Ray Rice, on one of the best, and truly mixed, mixed routes you could find anywhere, Matt McCormick's Paradigm Shift.

Josh Worley checking out the moves on a great looking new line.

Paradigm Shift's upper icicle, not shown is the 50' of vertical ice above.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Photos of February

Tim Keenan on the Unemployment Line, M9, Madison, NH

Lion's Head on a beautiful day.

Bayard onsighting Something About You Makes Me Wild, M8, Frankenstein. Steve House photo.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ice Fest to mid February in Nothing Flat

This happened to me last year too, February came, the MWV Ice Fest soon followed and the next thing I know its almost March.

After a great start to the climbing season, I've been taking it easy, guiding and resting some. The Ice Fest was a blast, with an estimated 300+ people attending the Steve House slide show/Face Off at the Cranmore wall. Steve's show focused on personal growth and partnerships and even included a public declaration of man love for his climbing partner, Vince Anderson. I love that sorta stuff. Steve rounded out his visit by soloing both Repentance and Remission before 11:00am Monday; one of only a handful of solos of Repentance and Remission's first ever. An impressive and bold feat that was harder on the man than he expected. Keep your eye out for Jim Surette's video of the ropeless climb, it's an incredible piece of north east history and we're lucky to have it for posterity.

The Face off was a success with participation ballooning from last year's handfull to 16 competitors. The Vermont sporto mixed climbing scene is largely responsible, with a whole host of young guys hitting it hard over at Snake Mountain, just south of Burlington, and getting good at this esoteric offshoot of something climbing related. I hear there were some strong showings, but could only hear the crowd blow up and the occasional thunk of a tool into the Ice-Holdz from the behind the scenes where they had the competitors in isolation, playing basketball.

Jim Ewing did a great job setting the route. I was the only participant to get to the top, although others got damn close, and was rewarded $100 and a down OR vest. Whit Magro came in second and also received another OR piece, an Alibi jacket. Thanks to OR for donated the prizes. We had a blast the whole weekend, a huge thanks to Anne Skidmore, Sarah Garlick, Rick Wilcox and Brad White for throwing one hell of a party. Great job!

Looking forward to seeing what next year offers..

See some great photos from the weekend here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Bossman

The Bossman, M9, High Falls Crag,
Adirondacks, NY. photo.

Matt McCormick and I hemmed and hawed a bit, looked at some other options, but couldn't resist trying the line. Some good climbers had been up there, and they definitely cast a shadow, but what the heck, you can always go down, right?


I whined a little bit starting the first pitch, on unbonded thin ice, but pounded a specter hook in some turf and muckled up onto a ledge anyway. The other folks who had tried this route had all taken a right hand chimney/corner system, but the second pitch's crack we wanted to climb begun here, down low on the first. Matt and Steve House, who had been up here a few days before, had rapped over this unclimbed section and said there was gear. With that in mind I cautiously started up and found plenty of protection, some mungy, but it kept coming. The climbing was good too, thin ice, pick cracks, turf shots and steep for this kind of climbing; at one point maybe just past vertical. Things were melting though, including the turf - a clump of which blew out as I was making the crux move, leaving me dangling from the rope after a clean, short fall. "Damn," I thought, and finished the pitch.

Matt following the first pitch.

Matt followed, and we figured the pitch was about M7, well protected and a classy example of typically scrappy Adirondacks mixed climbing.

Now, however, we were below the business. I had reinforced the belay of two knifeblades, one not very good, with three more shitty pins, and felt good about strength in numbers. When I first got there water was only dripping from the outside of the icicle above, and I could lean inside to stay dry. This worked well for a while, but as Matt was putting in the work, finding the bomber gear and figuring out the hard moves, it began to drip from all over. Soon there was nowhere to hide. By the time he had it fully sussed and had done the crux move, he had been hard at work for an hour and a half. Tired, Matt lowered off he asked if I wanted to try. "No." was my emphatic response, wringing out the cuffs of my belay jacket.

Matt putting in the good work on pitch 2.

But, I quickly realized my error, pulled the ropes and tied in. Long, kinda dynamic moves are natural for me, so I was optimistic, and after watching Matt I knew where all the holds were. I got the gear Matt placed clipped, and down-climbed to the ledge. After a short break I got back up, hitting the hard move first go; a long reach to a tiny but positive hook with bad feet. A couple of more thin hooks, with worse feet, and I was looking at a sideways jab at the hanging curtain. I took a whack, a low percentage sideways swing, and my tool stuck in the soft ice. "Shit," I thought, "I'm in."

The ice climbing above was strenuous, but forgiving due to the temps, and very wet. After pulling one more hanging icicle I eventually found a good place to belay off right; tied to a wobbly cedar and a couple of small cams. Matt followed as twilight begun to settle in. From my perch I could see the final icicle above and off to my left, and I really wanted to finish up it - for the proud line and a third and final new pitch. I havn't had the chance to climb with Matt alot, and I knew that not a lot of people would have gotten excited about this prospect, but McCormick was all over it - despite the impending darkness and being completely soaked from his belay session. He squirmed through a tiny gap behind the icicle, chopping his way through until he was able to swing into the intimidating dangler. He managing to sneak in some good gear before topping out and bushwhacked into the cedar to find a good anchor. The pitch, while short, is memorable. One 70m rappel deposited us at our packs, in the dark.

We had some fun, laughed a lot and never expected much from the day. Sometimes that works out the best. I'm looking forward to some more adventures with this guy.

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This section of the High Falls Crag, in the Adirondacks' Wilmington Notch, has a short, but interesting history. The corner systems right of the ice were first attempted by the prolific, and entertaining, Joe Szot with partner Will Mayo.Then it sat for a few years until Quebecois LP Menard and Maxime Turguon went up there on the recommendation of the Adirondacks' main man, Matt Horner. They got up the first pitch and tried to add a second, but bailed after a fall. Matt Horner decided he better have a look and finished the Canadians' second pitch, but headed down below the top, he told us. Inspired, Matt McCormick and Steve House went up there the Thursday before this year's Mountain Fest, this time trying a new and direct second pitch; up an overhanging and improbable looking seam. Steve approached it in incredible style, Matt reported, fiddling in tiny gear and going for it. He eventually fell and blew a piece, and zippered the rest - except the one that caught him, a small wire. After three more falls they opted for Horner's original second pitch and added a final one as well, topping out twenty feet right of what would become the Bossman's final icicle, thinking the line was about M6.

The Tuesday after the Mountain Fest Matt McCormick and I had a chance to head up there. We added a direct first pitch, with some effort lead Steve's second pitch clean, and added a direct third pitch up the final icicle. I just wish I hadn't blown out of a turf shot on the first pitch!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cocaine and Strippers?

When this line, next to Cocaine,
came in this season at Frankenstein,
it already had a name.

My buddy Steve used to always say, "Strippers love cocaine, man. Its not their fault, they're just strippers!"

He would know, he moved to L.A. to live with one that he met on his credit card company's customer service line.


Josh Hurst and I humped the whole kit up the hill, and got to work. The route looked beautiful, fatter than I had ever seen it, and I had taken that hike a few times before with my eye on this usually sunbaked and poorly formed, hanging tube. Guiding the previous week, I had seen what might be a good start to the main icicle, connecting blobs and smaller hangers coming in from the right. On closer inspection last Saturday morning it looked like the way to go.

Drilling away. Josh Hurst photo.

I headed up and drilled the first bolt, hanging off a good tool in an icy crack. Josh got in the next, off a bad cam, and I aided up a blade crack high enough to get in the third, to protect the transition onto the ice. Most of the day gone at that point, I headed up on the lead, firing the initial sequence of overhanging mixed climbing, feet on crumbly rock, and tools in little blobs of ice. The transition to the coveted column was so classy that afternoon. The sun had been just strong enough to soften up the surface, making for some great ice climbing.

Good mixed climbing down low. Josh Hurst photo.

The daylight dwindled as I tried to figure a way through the roof above, and we decided to come back in the morning and have a closer look.


The next day we climbed up Cocaine and rappelled over the, soon-to-be, Strippers roof to check it out from above. Convinced of the proper path, and it's thuggishness, we headed for the ground to give it a go. I was feeling lousy and popped off down low a time or two, and just couldn't muster the mojo to really go for it up high where it counted; pulling the roof through one of its offerings, a small nut crack which turns into a slightly vegetated seam. I did get fired up though when Josh took over and sent the pitch on is first go of the day - it was impressive, the final roof suiting his style of climbing - extra burly pull-ups.

Josh Hurst about to fire the FA of

I headed up next, and popped out of the roof. After lowering to a good ledge atop the ice I tried again, this time hanging on through the powerful sequence. Above the roof I was forced to remember what a good climber Josh is, as I performed the mandatory turf-shot-mantle, on bad feet, above a spooky fall.

Nice work Josh!

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Painted Wall Icicle, part II

The Painted Wall Icicle M9 NEI 5+,
in unusually fat condition. Peter Doucette following.

"I had this little feeling, and started back aiding away from the ice. Then I heard that noise, you know, that sound, and saw what I thought was a little chunk falling. But it was the whole second pitch," my friend Josh Hurst related to me after an unexpectedly sunny day at the south facing Painted Wall, trying for the second ascent of the cliff's now infamous icicle. "It was like getting passed by a tractor trailer!"


Luckily, a couple of days before, the high clouds that had persistently been lingering over the White Mountains all weekend held their ground. A longer than usual ski out to the Painted Wall, due to some bridge work crossing the Swift River, worked me over. We had come loaded for bear, all the usual winter kit, plus extra tools and even a drill. But when we got there it was all forgotten. The ice looked amazing.

My phone had been ringing all weekend while I was out guiding, "Man, I saw a picture of your route on the web, you been on it yet?", "I drove past the Painted Wall, that icicle is huge!". Tuesday came, my first day off, and the posse had grown to four people, Doug Madara, Kevin Mahoney and Peter Doucette and me. We all trudged out there together.


Some thin moves down low on the first pitch. Kevin Mahoney photo.

It all went really smooth. After a warm up hanging the draws, I got on the wall, breathed more than my usual share of O2, and fired the first pitch; this year grabbing soft ice well below where I had ever seen it before.

Approaching the ice on the first pitch. Kevin Mahoney photo.

Now, back at my previous highpoint, clipped to the bolted anchor on the ice ledge, I was back in a familiar position; confronted by the prospect of leading some really intimidating, steep-ass ice. This year though it was huge, the ice was soft and I had a three man cheer-leading crew. They tagged me up the necessary gear for the ice pitch above and Kevin followed the M9 pitch below, still learning the moves himself.

Peter Doucette photo.

Up I went. What a pitch of ice climbing that was, forced out early onto the front side of the icicle, there was nothing to do but plug away, way up and out over the Swift River valley. The ice was featured and the column, that just below dropped away into space, was bonded and solid.

Peter Doucette photo.

I topped out and everyone got a chance to follow, which was humorous to say the least; like a steep, cold, hard version of Thin Air on a busy summer Saturday.


We had gotten unbelievably lucky with our timing, the next day the south facing cliff baked in the sun and the icicle fractured below the belay ledge. The following day, despite a forecast for clouds, the sun came out again catching Eric McCallister and Josh Hurst off guard. With Josh clipped to a bolt just feet away from the sixty foot, unsupported column that is the second pitch, he watched it just slipped away, and crash to the ground.

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