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 NEice.com 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