Saturday, March 21, 2015

Monkey Wrench & Upper Hitchcock - Spring Ice Climbing

At the base of Upper Hitchcock with Crawford Notch in the background

Left Hand Monkey Wrench (WI3)
Upper Hitchcock (WI3-)
Mount Willard
Crawford Notch, NH

Forecasts called for cloudy skies and some snow. But all that gave way to blue skies and sunshine by the time Jeff S. and I reached the base of the Hitchcock Gully. We pretty much broke trail up Lower Hitchcock, traversing right to Left Hand Monkey Wrench, then onto the base of Upper Hitchcock. It was slow going but we took our time anyways since there were only two other teams in the area climbing.

At the base of Upper Hitchcock

It was my very first time on Upper Hitchcock and it was a lot of fun, except when my calves cramped up. Attributed to, according to Jeff, dehydration and probably due to my just getting over a cold. I have had my calves ‘pumpy’ before but not so much that they cramped up. Had to have Jeff ‘take’ so I could rest.

Left: Looking down Upper Hitchcock from the Rap Station

Jeff and I at the Rap Station above Upper Hitchcock

I wanted to climb this second pitch of Upper Hitchcock. It's a short section just above the rappel station but didn’t want to take any chances with my calves cramping up again. So Jeff and I rapped the entire Hitchcock Gully, right down to the tracks.

Two weeks ago we couldn’t get onto Upper Hitchcock, but today was a different story. We had the climb all to ourselves and when we rapped down, Laura and Chris came up to check it out. They decided not to climb UH but took a couple of photos of Jeff and I before heading off towards The Cleft. 

East Face Slabs Left

I do cartwheels with Jeff's rope and he ends up untangling them. ;D

Jeff rapping down the Lower Hitchcock Gully. 
He stopped at this section to check out a piece of fixed pro.

It got warmer as the day went on and the sun stayed out until we got back to the parking lot. Surely a mellow day of Spring ice climbing up the side of Mount Willard!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Cinema Gully, East Face Slabs & The Cleft – Multi-pitch Ice Climbing

Cinema Gully (WI2)
East Face Slabs Left (WI3)
The Cleft (WI2+)
Mount Willard

Crawford Notch, NH
I love when Jeff S. takes me ice climbing with him - I get to do some freaking fun climbing on a little alpine playground! Mount Willard is home to some awesome ice and alpine routes. Today I had the opportunity to climb two more of those routes and then finish off on The Cleft.

Cinema Gully(WI2)
It was cool to see a bolt at the belay station of the 1st pitch. Jeff asked if I wanted to set a belay station there or walk up a bit to a thin sheet of ice. Since it would mean one-and-a-half roped pitches, I choose the latter and Jeff and I walked up to the next belay station where the ice was full of screw holes. It was a gorgeous day…see the sun and blue skies in our photos! :)  After topping off we ascended a bit more to sit and eat our lunches and then traversed over towards the Upper Hitchcock route.

Looking up at Cinema Gully from the train tracks

Jeff and I at the 2nd belay station

Looking up at our last pitch

East Face Slabs Left (WI3)
Our intention was to climb Upper Hitchcock but there were folks already on it. So we climbed the East Face Slabs Left. I thought I was being a good second, all hero and all. I spotted Jeff’s backpack at the base of a tree and thinking we were walking off once at the top, I had the genius idea to haul it up. But when I got to Jeff at the “rap station”, I found out that we were rapping down. I wasn’t paying attention when he mentioned that we were rapping down. 

The base of the East Face Slabs Left

Jeff at the rap station of East Face Slabs Left

It wasn’t easy hauling that backpack up. I hitched one end of a sling to it and the other end to my belay loop on my harness. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. On the vertical areas of the route that backpack became “really heavy.” It was a good workout pushing up on my feet to get up the vertical sections with that backpack dangling below me! And yes, I also had my own backpack with me! **Thinking back on it, I should've just shoved Jeff's backpack into mine. LOL!

The Cleft (WI2+)
Afterwards we traversed to The Cleft which Jeff led in one pitch. The Cleft is a geological gem-of-a-feature. There was more ice and snow in this slot since the last time Jeff and I had climbed it making for an easier ascent. We topped off, packed our gear away and headed to the Mt. Willard Trail. The last 10 minutes of our hike out was done at dusk. 

Definitely a mellow day of ice climbing Mount Willard! We got 5 pitches and a little over 900 feet of climbing in, hooyah!!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My First Ice Lead – Ice Climbing

Willey’s Slide Center (WI2)
Mt. Willey
Crawford Notch, NH

Super stoked! Did my first lead on ice today! The second pitch of Willey's Slide (center) with Geoff N. Didn't go too far....about 40 meters to set up an anchor on the face of a fat bulge. Placed two pieces of pro (very snowy pitch).

The approach (steep uphill) wasn’t what I was looking forward to. But once at the base of the climb, it was all but forgotten. The Slide looked different. When Sean and I were here this past January, there were hardly an rolling bulges. It was a different story today. There were rolls and rolls of ice, most of it on the left side. Geoff decided on the center of the Slide.

There was a group of 3 in front of us and Geoff and I quickly set up to come up about 20 feet to the right of them. In the meantime, a group of half dozen showed up, plus two more teams which set up on either side of us. The entire climb went on without a hitch. It was a bit chilly and few periods of sunshine, but hardly any wind. At the first belay station I stayed focus on belaying Geoff, it made me less nervous not to think about leading the 2nd pitch. 

Once at the 2nd belay station Geoff asked me if I wanted to lead the next pitch. There was no pressure to do so. In fact, he told me that I could place a few pieces of protection and lower down if I didn’t want to continue. Or I could continue to a bulge and set up our 3rd belay station. I decided to go for it. We made sure I had all the necessary gear for my lead. At first I was a bit nervous and slightly anxious. But once I left the belay station and started climbing, I was able to focus and relax. I don’t know why, but there’s something about ice climbing that always relaxes me.  

The pitch was really snowy so I didn’t have to place much protection. Two pieces to be exact….in some small bulges where I found safe stances. My ice screws went in easily - love that color-coded handle that makes it so easy to place/remove. I also made use of a couple of my Yates Screamers. At the belay station I set up 3 ice screws for anchors, clove-hitched myself into them and attached the cordelette for the Direct Belay. I didn’t know it then, but I should’ve been much lower than my belay device. It would’ve made it easier for me to take up rope. Once Geoff got up to the belay station, he gave me feedback. He demonstrated how easy it was to take up rope when well below the belay device and he critiqued my belay/anchor system. It was a good day! :)

Geoff's GoPro vid of my lead up the 2nd pitch. At time 43/44 seconds the ax slips out of my left hand and I thought to myself, "c'mon, get your butt going!" LOL!

We ended up climbing the Slide in 4 pitches. That group of 3 (guide and two students) on our left took the “good tree” for an anchor so Geoff set up anchor just slightly right of the middle of our finish. We finished at the very tip-top of the Slide and that last pitch stretched out the 70m ropes to their very ends.

Back in the parking lot I had forgotten to hand Geoff his orange rope.  When I got home I didn’t empty my pack right away. I left Geoff’s rope and all my gear in my pack and weighed it….33 lbs! Didn’t realize I had hauled that weight up and down Willey’s. 

Overall, this was a fun day, but then again, any day climbing with Geoff is great! I do have to admit, however, it was tough. I thought climbing the Slide was tougher than climbing Lake Willoughby the week prior. Don’t get me wrong, the leading part was easy. But climbing that angle of the ice was tough on my calves. And shit, I even got a cramp in the arch of my right foot! LOL!  But I really enjoy leading ice, and look forward to doing more leading. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Tablets Center - Ice Climbing

The Tablets Center (WI3-4)
Lake Willoughby State Park
Westmore, Vermont

A tiny branch, really? I damn well knew it wouldn’t be secure but I grabbed onto anyways. Why that small branch and not one of the tree trunks that the rap webbings were around or the two cordelette that my leader Geoff had set around the tree trunks….I have no idea. I do know that in that very moment that I lost my balance, fell back and that tiny branch I had grabbed snapped, I felt incredibly stupid. But I was lucky today. We were 4 feet from the edge of a ledge and Geoff still had me on belay. So when I fell, Geoff caught me. (so now you're reading this blogpost instead of a news article on how-I-fell-from-a-rap-station-because-I-wasn't-anchored-in-and-hanging-onto-a-tiny-branch.)

I heard about the “big ice” in Vermont. So when a meetup (Mountaineering, Climbing & Backpacking of New England) got posted for a day of ice climbing at Lake Willoughby, I quickly RSVP’ed and made my reservations with the local inn down the street.

I drove up to stay overnight on Saturday. The next morning Geoff and I met up with 6 others at the off-road parking area on the south side of the Lake. We geared up and walked north along the road a bit, then headed into the woods and up to the Tablets flow. It was a pretty steep ascent and Microspikes helped. I couldn’t help but think how much fun it was going to be to butt-slide down. :)

At the Tablets Center there were already two other parties climbing and Geoff and I set up for our ascent. To the left of us the others in our Meetup set up on two steeper routes.  After 2  pitches, Geoff and I traversed about 60 feet to our right and into the trees. From there we rapped down using the webbing, cordlette and rap rings set on trees. I packed everything into my pack and enjoyed the butt-slide all l the way down to the road!

From our roadside parking

The Tablets Center approach

Looking back at Geoff



I'm loving my Eddie Bauer First Ascent

The rest of the gang

Geoff & I at the 3rd belay station

Route 5A

Back at the base of the climb and cleaning things up

Beautiful sunset over Mt. Hor

At the Willoughvale Inn & Cottages
Willoughvale Inn & Cottages is just under 5 miles North from the crag. This was my first stay here. It’s a very pretty inn but there were several  issues I found to be an inconvenience; they had lost their chef, so no dinner served at night. Breakfast served at 8:30am but I spoke with the innkeeper and she was able to get me breakfast 30 minutes earlier. If you have Verizon as your service provider, forget about texting, emailing and phone. I did, however, manage to find a spot in the corner of my room where I was able to receive/send calls, texts and emails.  In between the crag and the inn is the Willoughby Lake Store. It’s owned and run by a couple Jim & Sandy and they have a Blue Shar Pei named “Buddy.” There’s one gas pump outside and they serve hot/cold sandwiches, pizza and soup. Not to mention several “Made In Vermont” items. I made sure to purchase some to send home to my mom in Hawaii. 

Ice fishing shantys on Lake Willoughby

Climbing at Lake Willoughby felt like climbing at Cannon.....its that same expanse, that same exposure.....that same gratifying feeling of climbing something so much bigger than yourself. I loved it. Also, the weather was beautiful! Warm temps of mid-20's with periods of sun and hardly any wind, we lucked out!!! I hope to be back again to climb at Lake Willoughby, gotta get my “big ice” stoke on.  So long Mt. Pisgah ice!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Crampon Frontpoints - Ice Climbing

Last season I climbed with the AMC-NH Mountaineering Group and got some good advice on my crampons. Tom Sintros noticed that the frontpoints of my crampons were too far back. He adjusted the toe bail for me and in addition to my Frontpoints protruding further, this adjustment got my secondary points to protrude past the front of my boot as well. And this adjustment prevented me from hitting the ice with the toe of my boot. *thumbs up*

Here’s a great post from Will Gadd’s blog on getting front and secondary points stability;

And here’s some photos of my setup: Boreal Krangi ice boots, Mountain Tools Insulated SuperGaitors and Petzl Lynx crampons.

Toe bail in farthest back position to get
frontpoints foward as much as possible.

Top view:
The secondary points protrude just slightly past the front of my boot.