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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