Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dawn Patrol

I'm in New Hampshire right now and I had a little taste of this thing the 9-5 crowd calls Dawn Patrol. I'm sure I'll be moving more slowly while guiding today, and I don't think my partner for the day will mind that.

6:27 a.m. - Leave car.
7:00 - put crampons on below first bulge in Shoestring Gully.
7:26 - Top out via the rock chimney finish.
7:58 - Return to road and head to AMC Highland Center for another coffee before meeting my client for the day.

I could get used to this.....

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I've been sitting on this link for almost a year now. I wanted to share it but held off, knowing that Chris wanted to do something special with the images. Some of them appeared in a recent issue of Rock & Ice magazine.

Last winter, 2010-2011, Chris Beauchamp and I hit the Catskills pretty hard. The end result was the discovery a climbing area called the Dark Side (I'm going to post information about that soon), new route development of the upper Devil's Kitchen, and Chris's production of this album of really amazing photos.

One of the coolest aspects of the album is that 90% of the pictures are of obscure or new routes. I was with Chris many of the days, and the work involved in getting good images was substantial. Chris uses a flash for much of his work, and he frequently carried a large flash on a boom, plus a motorcycle battery to power it. The boom would get rigged off a tree, out over the cliff at the top of the route. His pack was large many days, and he routinely carried a smaller pack up front. This man is motivated!

Again, here is the link to the edited version: I LOVE CHOSS - A Visual Exploration of Mixed Climbing in New York's Catskill Mountains

Here is a less streamlined compilation with many more images from last winter.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gros Morne

Well, we finally made it to Newfoundland. The climbing here does not suck. More to come when I get home and process the photos...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

West Quaco

Michael Wejchert, Alden Pellett and I are on our way to Newfoundland for nine days. I've always been inexorably drawn to northern maritime areas. The juxtaposition of mountains and oceans in maritime Canada is beautiful.

Our overnight ferry yesterday from North Sydney, Nova Scotia was cancelled due to extreme wind (up to 110 mph! ). We decided to take a short detour to view some of the seaside climbing in St. Martin, NB, on the Bay of Fundy.

Despite the rain, which prevented us from climbing, the area was worth visiting. All of us agreed we would like to climb there in the future.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Toko Crag

Chris Beauchamp just emailed me a couple of photos he took during our visit to Toko Crag last week. It's steep!! For more about Chris and what he's been up to visit his website here and his blog, which shows some of his recent work.

All set up for the crux on "Unemployment Line"

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Black Diamond Fusion Pick

From what I've seen over the past few seasons, I'd be willing to bet 60% of climbers on the East Coast are using Quarks or Nomics. 30% probably use BD tools, and the other 10% are spread out among Camp and Grivel. I've used both Petzl and Black Diamond tools pretty extensively and find that both work extremely well. Choosing a tool nowadays is like choosing a car - many brands perform well and last a long time. It all boils down to one's own preferences.

I suppose this is as much a review and endorsement of BD's more conventional ice tools as it is a Fusion pick review. Over the past three or four seasons I've used a pair of BD Vipers or Cobras for all of my guiding and most of my personal ice climbing. When the climbing gets harder or turns to steep mixed terrain I use a pair of Nomics. It's funny, I want to love the Nomics. They swing easily, climb ice and rock well, and have almost no learning curve. I've climbed many new mixed routes in the Catskills with them.

However, most days over the past two seasons I've left my Nomics at home in favor of my Cobras. I know, some of you are thinking I'm crazy. I've come to appreciate the stiffness and simplicity of the Cobras. The pick angle is less steep, meaning you need to use more caution on cauliflower ice but once they're placed they feel very solid and secure. They seem to work better on low angle ice and stick easily on the first swing too, once you know where and how to swing them.

The stock pick for the Cobra is the Laser pick. It's thin, sharp and displaces very little ice, making it good for really steep pure ice routes. In fact, the Laser pick is so thin and sharp that it can get stuck easily. One needs to be careful not to overdrive the top-heavy Cobra on steep ice.

The Laser pick isn't durable though. I replaced my Laser picks with Titan picks immediately last season. I was, and still am, puzzled by the shape of the Titan pick. It's nearly identical to the Laser, but with a chiseled front edge and a thicker profile. Initially, placing the Titan felt like trying to stuff a square block into a round hole. After a bit of filing, to make the Titan look like the Laser, it climbed well. It's like a Laser pick that displaces a little bit more ice. This all makes sense, right?

A close-up of the serrated top

A very similar shape to the Laser pick

This season I purchased a pair of Fusion picks to use on the Cobras. The Fusion pick is nearly identical in shape to the Laser, with the exception of a thicker profile (like the Titan), serrated top (similar to the Petzl Astro/Rock pick), and a slightly longer front tooth. You'd think, with the near-identical shape to the Laser that they would climb well right away, wouldn't you?

Nope. For the first day they were the bounciest picks I've ever used (kind of like the Fusion tool on ice). I was a bit irked. What gives? However, after a few days of mixed climbing the front tooth gradually began to shorten. As this occurred they began working better. Honestly, I'm not sure if they're working better or if I've learned to swing them differently, but I'm loving the Fusion pick. It's the pick I'll be using for most of my climbing from now on.

So, if you're using BD tools and feel like your Laser picks are wearing out quickly because you accidentally strike rock once in a while give the Fusion picks a whirl. After a bit of playing you'll barely notice a difference between the two.

Monday, February 6, 2012


I don't have too many winter climbing partners from southern New England. Chris Beauchamp, from West Haven, Connecticut is one of my only regular winter climbing partners that doesn't live up north. He's a capable and motivated climber who enjoys mixed climbing as much as he enjoys ice.

Chris and I have been making quick two-day blasts to a few of the northern venues to climb ice and mixed routes during this very warm winter. Last Thursday and Friday Chris and I went to New Hampshire for some mixed climbing. For Chris, this trip was a sort of initiation. He'd never climbed ice in New Hampshire and was new to the technical mixed climbing on granite found throughout the Mt. Washington Valley.

Thursday morning, after enough coffee to make an elephant jittery, and with an alpine start (11 a.m.) we headed to Trollville. Trollville, in Jackson NH, is a small cliff with a number of engaging mixed and thin ice lines. A few friends had established a new, traditionally protected mixed route there the week before and I was eager to try it.

After warming up on 3 moderate ice routes we decided to try a few of the mixed routes on the main face. They're all traditionally protected, and the rock is crumbly granite. This means you can swing, scratch and scrape all you want and never worry about damaging the rock. It also means the rock is loose and protection is, at times, less than ideal. It reminds me a lot of the traditionally protected climbing found on the crags throughout the Catskills.

By the end of the day we'd climbed three routes on the main face including a spectacular thinly iced corner on the far left end (The Laminate?). Ultimately, we decided not to lead the new Eisele/Doucette route Seams Thin. There are five pitons on the route, and a few of them protect climbing near the ground. One, a small knifeblade wiggled a bit by hand, making both Chris and I nervous. Despite having straightforward M6+ climbing the fall potential felt too great. After all the new-routing I've done in the Catskills there's one thing I've learned - there's no glory in a second or third ascent, especially when it means you could hit the ground if you fall.

North Carolina climber and guide Ron Funderburke
warming up at Toko Crage

We decided to visit Toko Crag the following day. Toko Crag, in East Madison, is a small cliff with a handful of radically overhanging secure mixed climbs and a few more moderate mixed and ice lines.

Having never been to Toko Crag, we asked locals to give us the beta. After a confusing description from Bayard Russell and Elliott Gaddy over Narragansett tall boys at Flatbread we managed to procure a map of the approach.

The best beta we could get from Elliot and Bayard over beers at Flatbread

Armed with our awesome map, fruit boots, a hyperactive Labradoodle (my dog and partner in crime these days) and a witty red-headed southern boy named Ron Funderburke, we marched through the snow to Toko Crag, only to find rotten ice crashing down everywhere.

The sun swung around behind the cliff, ice stopped falling and we began working on our objective for the day - a route called Unemployment Line. After a few tries to find the good hook placements, we'd wrapped our brains around the wild one-armed swinging crux and began trying the line for real. By the end of the day we'd worked out the sequence and I'd sent the line to the top of the cliff, where the ice hangs down.

On the hike out, feeling nostalgic already, we vowed to visit again this area again. It's so much fun to crag with friends and climb steep, secure mixed climbs. Like every other climbing trip I've taken, this one ended too soon and we were sad to leave. With so much good climbing, the Mount Washington Valley is deserving of many future visits.