Tuesday, February 11, 2014

AMC Ice Climbing Program 2014

As a recent graduate of the AMC Rock Climbing Program, I received an email inviting me to consider applying to the AMC Boston Ice Climbing Program. I didn’t know too much about it but heard that a spot in the program cannot be guaranteed. The program is very popular and usually there are too many applicants, that even qualified applicants get rejected. Unlike the AMC Rock Climbing Program, registration in the Ice Climbing Program is not on a first-come, first-served basis.

The program teaches waterfall ice climbing and technical mountaineering skills. And also focuses on the equipment, techniques, and practices that are useful on the mountains and crags of New England as well as ice climbing areas worldwide. Prospective students are required to have rock climbing skills and some winter sport experience such as winter hiking, snow shoeing, skiing, etc.  You’re not required to know how to lead climb, but it would help you both in getting selected and in mastering the skills that will be taught during the program. To prepare for the program students are encouraged to climb as much as possible, do some leading and take a Self-Rescue course. Students are also encouraged to do some winter hikes and events with other AMC climbers as well as the AMC Rock Climbing Program held in the spring. And you are asked if you are certified for Wilderness First Aid training.

There are two lectures prior to the weekends of ice climbing. I attended the mandatory first lecture at the AMC Cabot Hall in Boston. At the hall there were about 50 other students. A slide show of ice climbs were shown and afterwards, each student was required to demonstrate belaying and catching a leader. I didn’t bring my harness or belay device, but there were several already provided. We broke up into smaller groups to be tested. Each student was evaluated and we were told that we would be notified by either Christmas or the New Year if we were accepted. Just a word of advice; there are different evaluation levels, of appropriate competency, if you may. Demonstrating really good belay techniques will help you get selected.

I got my email notice a day after Christmas. I was really stoked especially since I got all new ice climbing gear for Christmas from my husband! Those of us who are admitted to the program (22 are selected) attended a follow-up instructional and administrative meeting at the AMC Cabot Hall in Boston. At this second meeting there was a slide show presentation with photos of past programs. And several of the volunteer instructions spoke about Clothing, Gear, Where To Rent, Logistics and early technique instructions.

Laura and Tom covered Clothing and brought their full backpacks. It was interesting to see what they pack especially since Laura is usually colder than Tom. I noticed that Laura also had an Osprey backpack and made note to talk with her on how she packed her ice axes.  John covered Gear and I was really liking his Chernobyl backpack from Cold Cold World! Alyssa covered Logistics where we learned what to expect at the Harvard Low Cabin in addition to each day of ice climbing. We’ll have the option of either following a leader, hard top-roping/mixed ice or Alpine climbing. And to close the night, David showed a YouTube video of Will Gadd solo ice climbing in Marble Canyon. The second time the video was played David pointed out Gadd's climbing technique. Gadd's technique is wicked smooth and I really admire his quiet feet placement - check it out!

The next day I started going over all my gear to make sure I had everything. I had ordered a Big Agnes 0 degree sleeping bag from Campsaver.com the week before. It’s a petite sized bag with a fantastic sale price - and I bought their last one in stock. I picked up a couple of stuff sacks from EMS. And I took advantage of their sale on the NEMO Cosmo Air & Pillowtop sleeping pad as well. I contacted the Harvard Low Cabin Registrar and found out that there are no showers at the cabin, just an outhouse. But 6 miles up the street, at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, are showers available for use 24/7. All you need are some quarters and your own towel. I also bought a couple packages of Fresh Bath Wipes, just.in.case!  ;)

On the AMC Boston Mountaineering website there are the necessary program handouts for downloading: Logistics, Handbook, Gear/Food/Clothing Checklist and Harvard Cabin Information. These handouts should be read prior to the start of the program.

So hey, stay tuned! My next blog entry will be about the two weekends of ice climbing instruction in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. 

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Instruction for Saturday of the first weekend was spent at Frankenstein Cliffs. The ascent from the tracks to the crag was hard for me. But then again, I absolutely hate walking in crampons. I have no problems climbing ice with crampons, but off-ice I hobble around in them. It’ll probably take a while for me to get used to walking in them. \m/

In Spiking we learned uphill and down climb techniques with crampons on. Self Arrest  was done with one ice axe and without crampons. We had to demonstrate self-arrest while sliding down a hill in a forward sitting position as well as on your belly and then upside down. I had no problems self-arresting until I had to slide down the hill upside down. With Jon holding my left leg and Darrell holding my right leg, my head facing downhill, on my back and poised to slide, I ended rolling twice onto my face and cut the inside of my lip as I slid downhill. But hey, I did manage to self-arrest! Practice drills consisted of climbing with two tools, one tool and then no tool; Low angle, steep climbing and leashed and leashless climbing. 

This first day at Lost In The Forest was also supposed to include placing ice screws and climbing at the nearby Walk In The Forest - which I never did get a chance to do because we ran out of time. Even with all the leaders and assistant leaders present and being at the venue that entire day, I wasn't able to do those two tasks.

At the Harvard Low Cabin I had set up my sleep pad and bag for the weekend. But dust allergies cut my cabin stay short and that first night I got all but 3.5 hours of sleep.  So I ended up getting a room off-site and had to pass on the Saturday night dinner at the cabin with the rest of the students. Had to medicate and get to sleep!

The next morning we all met up the Glen Junction Diner for breakfast. Students and leaders were split up into groups. The group I was in had 5 students and 4 leaders. We headed out to the North End of Cathedral Ledge. There I followed Tom to clean pro and I for the first time, experienced the "Screaming Barfies!" It was an intense pain and although I didn't feel like barfing, I did want to scream. I also got to rappel for the very first time in crampons! LOL! I personally don’t like ice climbing slabs and prefer to climb vertical - my calves were killing me afterwards. Hopefully I’ll be climbing more vertical routes during the 2nd weekend. Here are a few photos I took of the North End Slab at Cathedral Ledge.

Tom leading up the Slab

* * * * * *
The 2nd weekend of the Ice Climbing program was the coolest - I got to do my very first multi-pitch ice climb! On Saturday I was paired with Nancy and Al. I met them at the Glen Junction Diner and after breakfast followed them to the parking lot of the Webster-Jackson Trailhead. From there we walked down to the Silver Cascade waterfall.  Al climbed the first pitch with us but had to leave due to cramping and difficulty in front pointing. So I seconded Nancy the rest of the 5 pitches. It was amazing, the climb was mellow and so was my leader Nancy. 

Too bad my DSLR is too heavy to bring along on multi-pitches. And too bad  I didn’t think to bring my iPhone along because the views of Crawford Notch on the way up and from the top were phenomenal!!  I was so stoked after climbing 6 pitches, I could barely sleep that night! You know how that works, you don’t want the day to end and keep playing it in your mind! :) Anyways, I didn't bring my DSLR up on the climb with me, just took a couple of photos at the base of our 1st pitch.

On Sunday, for those of us (students and leaders) that had to check out early, we climbed at Cathedral Ledge. We shared The North End Pillars with the Paradox Sports group, who set up next to us for their annual NH ice climbing event.

Because I didn’t get a lot of sleep, I just did one climb. I did, however, take a couple of photos of some of the climbers in our group. Also got a few photos of some of the climbs along Cathedral Ledge.
 John T.