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.

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