Monday, February 25, 2013

Monumental Achievements

One of the great things about climbing is that it's an extremely personal pastime (call it a sport if you want). You challenge yourself as much or as little as you like. Like many other sports endeavors it's counterproductive to compare yourself to others. It's best to set personal goals, and then try to achieve them. At the same time climbing can be intensely social, and the bond you develop with your partners is a special one.
I spent five days last week climbing at Lake Willoughby with two individuals who were relative newcomers to "The Lake". For some, ice climbing at the Lake is a stepping stone to even bigger and harder climbing objectives. For most, however, climbing at the Lake is a gigantic notch in one's climbing belt and a great goal to shoot for as an ice climber. There are more big ice routes here, in one place, than there are at any other spot outside of the Canadian Rockies and Newfoundland. If you're an ice climber in the US it's a "must visit" spot.

If you've never climbed at the Lake, it's a trip. Full 60-meter pitches test your fitness, strain your calves, and require precise tool placements. If you put a pedometer on your arms, the number of swings per day would likely number in the thousands. It's quite the proving ground for ice climbers looking for a challenge.

Here are a few shots from my trips there last week.

Maryana leading on the Tablets

The second pitch of "Road Warrior" has outstanding traditional mixed climbing.

The awesome traverse on pitch 1 of "Road Warrior"

Maryana leading pitch 1 of The Glass Menagerie. I suspect
 we'll be hearing about her a lot a few seasons from now.

Moonrise at Sunset. A lovely place to be.
Fern, swinging for the fences with his new Grivel Quantums 

Art Mooney and Mike on the Tablets

Hanging with straight arms is good technique.

Fern looking solid near the top of the Left Tablet on
a very warm sunny day, quite the treat.
Thank you Maryana and Fern for being fun, safe partners and solid climbers during our days at the Lake. Looking forward to seeing you both soon!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rookie Mistake.

We left our skis at the end of the first pond. Wind was gusting strongly overhead and blowing snow filled the air. A set of moose tracks led the way through thigh deep snow over the small notch toward the "inner pond"(a Newfoundland term for "fjord"). After what felt like an eternity of wallowing through the tuckamore (a Newfoundland term for the stunted alpine vegetation found every along the west coast) we regained the snowmobile track down to the inner pond. Relieved to be back on the "ice" of the frozen inner pond, where the walking was easier and quicker, we began crossing the corner of the pond. Our objective was "just around the corner and over the hill".

Three minutes later the ice collapsed beneath my feet. Instinctively, I leaned forward to spread my weight out on the ice ahead of me. I crawled out of the hole and glanced back at Alden. He was further from the shore than I was and had a look of alarm on his face. We were 8 miles from the nearest road, there was no one else nearby, and the only person who knew where we were was my partner Dolci, who was 1200 miles away in Massachusetts.

Not too long after, Alden and I threw in the towel for the day. We'd already skied 7 miles and wallowed for a few more through knee and thigh deep snow. Our climbing objective, which remained unseen by us, was still several miles away in another fjord. Despondent and exhausted, we began the long, windy, snowy ski back toward the trailhead and our car. Two and a half hours later we sank into my carseats, elated to get wets boots off our sore feet.

This mini-epic provided just a few of the several lessons Alden Pellett and I learned on our third trip to Newfoundland. We realized we're really just rookies when it comes to "big" ice climbing in Newfoundland. Nearly all of the big ice routes in Gros Morne National Park are challenging ice climbs in hard to reach locations. Locals know better than visitors when the ponds are frozen, where they don't freeze and the way to get to all the amazing backcountry spots. Trying to find climbs in zero visibility, during intense snowfall and incredibly gusty winds is a bad idea.

Instead of buying a snowmobile, like Joe Terravecchia and Casey Shaw have done to facilitate access to the backcountry climbs, we've decided that we're going to rely on local's knowledge of the place and use local drivers to get into the ponds. It's easy to bury a snowmobile in a drift, or tip it over on the trail. It's even easier to sink one (and drown yourself) in one of the many ponds you must cross getting to the climbs. Navigation, through tuckamore and with poor visibility is a recipe for disaster.

Despite a few difficulties, our trip was an overwhelming success. We climbed three routes on the C-Wall (Cholesterol Wall) that we'd never done before and enjoyed one of the most beautiful days either of us has ever had as climbers. On this day we climbed a 700' route called Strato-Chief. 450' of thin, spray ice led to a spectacular vertical corner system. There was just enough protection during the whole climb for things to feel reasonably safe.

I'm convinced Newfoundland is the best place to ice climb in North America. We're already planning our next trip to Newfoundland and looking forward to exploring more of the climbing there next year. Thanks to Mammut USA and for helping to support this year's trip. Here are a few images I captured during the trip.

Here is a link to a gallery of images from our 2013 trip

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Local's View of the Devil's Kitchen

Here is a link to an article I wrote recently for It's about the Devil's Kitchen, and how the challenging climbing at the Catskills' biggest ice destination can be hard to grade. It was a fun piece for me to write, as it allowed me to think back on all of the experiences I've had there as a climber.

As an aside - if you use regulary, like I do, consider donating money to help maintain the site. Doug Millen, the owner and manager of the site, does an amazing job keeping it current and making sure the content is interesting. Additionally, it's the best place to find out about current northeast ice conditions.