Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Mica Mine

I think it's safe to say that modern mixed climbing has fully arrived in the northeast. There are now multiple areas that have radically overhung routes that include both ice and rock climbing at a very high level of difficulty. Exit 30 Crag in the Adirondacks, Snake Mountain in Addison, VT, the Cathedral Cave, Toko Crag in Madison, NH and the Mica Mine in Evans Notch all have amazing modern mixed routes. Many of these routes are bolt protected and fruit boots and modern mixed climbing ice tools are pretty much required. I know, the traditionalist in you is saying this is silly. Well, it is. And it isn't - the climbing is hard, and a lot of fun.

I had the opportunity to check out the Mica Mine in Evans Notch a few days ago. I went in there with Matt McCormick, Josh Whorley, and Jeremy Dowdy from Vermont. Bayard Russell and Anne Skidmore met us there later in the day. Bayard and a few other North Conway are locals have been very active in the Evans Notch area. Our first impression was "whoa, this rock looks like crap". It is. But it turns out that the climbing is really fun, and no one's going to complain about the high quality rock being scarred by picks and crampons. It turns out that it's the perfect type of place to put in hard mixed routes.

The lighting in the mine, basically a round hole in the ground, wasn't that good so bear with the photos. What's spectacular is the climbing. It's sheltered from the precipitation and the wind - the perfect spot for nasty days. I'm hooked. Now the only thing I have to do is find a pair of fruit boots in size 15....

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Lake (Willoughby)

Lake Willoughby needs no introduction.  If what you want to do is climb multi-pitch ice routes in the United States there is no better venue. A 500' tall, .5 mile long cliff situated on a steep hillside overlooking the deepest lake in Vermont, "the Lake" as climbers call it, is the finest pure ice climbing area in the United States. Argue with me if you like, or just spend some time getting to know the place and likely you'll agree.

Living in southern New York state most of the year, it's a challenge to get to Willoughby at all during the ice season. It's not the first venue to form up and the late winter sun takes it's toll on the climbs. The window for climbing there is shorter than in the higher elevation, shady New England climbing areas. The past few years I've only climbed there once per season. Several years ago, while living in Vermont, the Lake was my favorite climbing area, and I climbed there a few times a week during the winter. Since then my visits have been less frequent. It's a challenging place to get to for most of us which really makes it a special place to climb.

Another challenge, ironically, is finding a partner for weekday climbing. It's pretty hard to find reliable partners that have the same schedule as you when you work weekends. My partner for this day was Mike Wejchert. He's a young guy (23!) from Connecticut who's talented and experienced for his age. He's one of those fortunate individuals who's very motivated and was introduced to climbing by his father at a very young age. Mike is definitely a guy to keep your eye on over the next few years. He seems psyched to climb big alpine routes and harder winter routes here in the northeast.

The intention was to climb something I've never done before (long list); it was only Mike's second visit so he was psyched just to be there. I was hoping that Solstice would be in, but was just about willing to settle for any line there, they're all really good. Solstice was a no go. The sun was definitely out last week and the thinner climbs were looking a little baked. I was worried the bottom of Solstice might fall off under the weight of a climber, not to mention there's very little protection on the first pitch. We "settled" on Called on Account of Rains, which was in and is relatively close by. I followed this route several years ago and, knowing that the start was the psychological crux, was eager to lead the first pitch.

The first pitch went pretty smoothly. It was unbonded and a bit hollow sounding (the norm for p.1 of Called).  The following three pitches went very smoothly and Mike and I found ourselves on top of an amazing route in a beautiful spot. Climbing at the Lake is great, pure fun with a bit of terror mixed in. After all you are climbing enormous columns of ice that are, at times, barely attached to an exposed 500' tall cliff.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's Official, Winter's Here!

It's been consistently cold throughout the northeast for about 4 days. That's enough time for ice climbs to start forming. Like many other climbers, I recently dug out my winter kit. After a lot of searching in my storage unit I finally found everything I own for winter climbing. So, I've added that to what I carry around with me in my small vehicle (a Toyota Yaris hatchback). I'm still keeping the rock gear with me too because there's always the chance of a warm, sunny day.

I'm a pretty laid back person, but early season I can become pretty anxious. I live for northeastern winters. When I haven't climbed ice in 8 months I frantically pack, repack and prepare for the first day out winter climbing. Yesterday was a little different though. Everything was in my car, but nothing was packed. Monday, after some convincing, I was able to get my friend Erik Eisele to agree to meet me over at the Cannon trailhead on Tuesday morning. I wanted to do a recon mission and I felt that four days was plenty of time for the cliffs to have some ice.

The ride up, for both of us, was a bit disheartening. I saw almost no ice on any of the roadcuts along interstate 93. Erik, coming from the Mt. Washington Valley, told me that he didn't really see any ice at all along his drive through Crawford Notch. Not good news. Maybe it wasn't a bad thing that I didn't bother packing my things three times the night before. Adding insult to what already seemed like injury, we were going to have to schlep up to the base of the cliff because we couldn't see a damn thing. Cannon was shrouded in clouds. If you've walked up to the base of Cannon in early season you know that walking back down the talus shouldn't be part of your plan. Descending that talus is like gambling, but if you're the unlucky winner you get a hyperextended knee or tib/fib fracture.

I packed my stuff (Erik, who's more organized than me was already packed) wondering the whole time what I was forgetting (actually remembered everything). We missed the approach trail first time around (oops, too much chatting), found it and continued up. Omega looked promising so we headed there first. Along the way we noticed that the ground wasn't frozen anywhere. It's been such a warm fall that the Earth's surface hasn't cooled off too much quite yet.

Omega just wasn't there, and Prozac to the right had a lot of ice in the middle. Prozac (WI 5+, M6 ish, the name says it all) didn't seem like the best choice for our first route of the season though. Oh well, back towards Whitney Gilman Ridge to have a look at the dike....

As we looked up into the Black Dike we were pleasantly surprised to find normal December conditions up there, with several inches of fresh, soft new ice to climb and no one else around. Score!  The climb looked great and after a couple rounds of rock, paper, scissors Erik determined that he wanted the crux pitch.

As we started up the route we found good climbing conditions - soft ice which is friendly to climb, but too new and soft to hold reliable screw placements. Well it's never in the planbook to fall on lower angle ice anyways so off we went. The rest of the climb went very smoothly. The Black Dike is an absolute classic, and feels that way no matter how many times one has climbed the route.

I'm hoping to head up there again over the next couple days. I haven't climbed on Cannon much in the winter (being from NY state it's a long ride). I'll post more details if I head up there Thurs/Fri.  For conditions and additional information about climbing in Franconia check out NEice.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving and the Ability to Choose

As I ran through the streets of Philadelphia this afternoon, I thought about a conversation I've had a few times recently with a friend of mine. For the past six years I've made the choice to work as a climbing guide, a profession I enjoy immensely. I have a place to live, clothing, food and access to any other amenities I might want in my daily life. I can afford to have a car, to pay for health insurance, and to take occasional trips to other climbing areas. I don't even work full time to afford all of these things.

A friend of mine, with whom I climb frequently, likes to remind me that being born in the United States is like winning the lottery. She grew up in a place where people are born with nothing and they're taken advantage of by their government. Financial support for the people in these areas is frequently siphoned off by corrupt government officials. Being born in the United States is like being handed a lottery ticket at birth. Yes, I know this is an oversimplification of the truth; there's poverty, hunger, and a lack of healthcare in the U.S. too. However most of us have it pretty good. If things begin to go badly in our lives we have friends and family to lean on and to bail us out financially. We don't need to bribe police officers when we get a ticket and we don't need to sweeten the deal when buying a house or vehicle. And for the most part we are safe in our own homes, even with the doors unlocked.

On this Thanksgiving day I am grateful that I even have a choice at all.  Using some rough calculations of population there's about a 1:20 chance that you're born in the U.S. Add Europe and there's a 1:7 chance that you're born a a developed country. Those odds are better than the lottery but I'm still thankful for the position I'm in.

Just some food for thought... Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Red Rocks

Well, I've just returned from a 2 week trip to Red Rocks. If you haven't been there to climb it is definitely worth checking out. The rock is very high quality sandstone with a lot of features - cracks, flakes, edges, and tons of chickenheads. It's a climber's dream and a rappeller's nightmare.

I spent the first week staying with some friends from Boston in a house (a rental). This worked out very well with people pretty much being able to choose who they were going to climb with for the day. The choices varied from sport climbing to long multi-pitch routes.

My second week was spent guiding for Alpine Endeavors. We won the lottery this year! Well actually we were one of the guide services chosen to receive a permit to guide at Red Rocks for 10 days throughout the calendar year. We ran one 5-day trip in the spring and one 5-day trip this November.

Here are some of my better pictures from the trip:

Having returned just returned from Red Rocks, my next few posts are going to be related to rappelling. I've been thinking that I will cover different options for rappelling, and the different rope systems you can use.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Indian Summer in the Gunks

We've had some great weather here over the past few weeks. It seems like the rock season has pretty much ended up north and we've had many New Englanders scouring the Gunks over the past few weekends. This weekend yielded a few days pretty close 60 degrees and very sunny weather. I won't rub it in, I just wanted to share a few of the pictures I've snapped over the past couple of weeks. I'm coming off a very bad cold (not H1N1!) and a pulled shoulder muscle so I've been pretty much down for the count aside from work.

I am headed to Red Rocks tomorrow and am looking forward to climbing some long sandstone classics. I'll post some of the images as soon as I can. Enjoy these photos for the time being.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Matt McCormick - Climbing Adventures, Training Programs, and Coachingfor Climbing

Matt McCormick on a free ascent of Another Whack and Dangle Job at the King Wall in the Adirondacks
It rained again this past Saturday; a perfect opportunity to catch up with some friends at Bacchus during the middle of the day. Matt McCormick was in town to climb, only to be rained out. If you haven't heard of Matt yet you will. He's one of the most motivated, hard working climbers in the Northeast. I've been crossing paths with him for many years now, but didn't have the chance to really sit down with him until last Saturday.

Matt's resume is long and diverse, but recently he's chosen to focus mainly on high-level rock climbing. The image at left is of the first free ascent of an old aid line at the King Wall in the Adirondacks. He also just sent a project at the Spider's Web that checks in at 5.13c R. This bold new line called "Wheelin N Dealin" heads up and right of Drop, Fly or Die on minuscule footholds and an incipient seam. Check out this link on the Mammut Team Blog of one of his falls while working the route.

We chatted over a few beers and Matt mentioned that he's begun developing individual training plans for climber's looking to improve their performance. Matt is a really talented climber, but one of the things that makes him stand out is how hard he trains. If you're looking to improve your performance for the upcoming ice season, or to train for next year's rock season you may want to contact Matt. His personal blog is called Matt McCormick - Climbing Adventures, Training Programs, and Coaching. His rates for consultation are really reasonable and he and many of his friends have had success using his training plans to improve their climbing performance.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fall Foliage: Last Licks?

Vic Benes at the top of p.2 of Easy Overhang
Vic Benes at the top of p.2 of Easy Overhang

It snowed last week, was really sunny and warm this week, and it's torrentially raining out there today. Welcome to late October in the Hudson Valley. A friend called last week to let me know he'd climbed Pinnacle Gully already and that I should come up to ice climb. Now why would I do a thing like that? There's dry, warm rock in the Gunks for at least another month.

I was out yesterday. The forecast was calling for a chance of rain and cold and windy conditions. Great for climbing. I had the chance to do a few routes with Vic Benes, of Millburn, NJ who's been climbing in the Gunks since the mid-60's. More than a full decade longer than I've been alive. It was a pleasure and we were able to do some classic routes that I haven't done in a while. I can only hope that I'm as mobile as he is when I'm his age.

I have posted a picture, and you can see the foliage is definitely past peak, but it's still very beautfiul outside. The yellow-orange color of the hillsides is unique to a few days of the year during the fall. Our climbing season here doesn't really end for another month or more, but it looks like today's rain and wind may actually bring many of the leaves down.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

AMGA SPI Course 10/09/2009

I just finished teaching my fourth AMGA SPI Course on my own just a few days ago. The American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) Course (aargh, all those silly acronyms!) is a 3 day course geared towards new instructors who want the requisite skills to work in a single pitch climbing environment. It is great for people who guide occasionally, work only in a single pitch environment, or work for a camp/outdoor program where climbing isn't the only focus. It also happens to be a great course for people who are looking to solidify their anchor building, belaying and basic rescue skills. For this reason I suggest it to anyone who feels like they may someday teach friends/loved ones how to climb.

My most recent course included a diverse group of individuals with varied levels of experience. I took lots of pictures during the course and have a selected a few of them for this post. They clearly show many of the concepts introduced throughout the course.

Here is the link to the photo album.

Below is a video demonstrating a good load transfer to remove an object that is jammed in a rappel device: