Monday, February 6, 2012

Initiation

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.