On the sharp end! Thresher (WI3)
Cathedral Ledge, NH
Today I had my second private lesson with Alexa Siegel of Cathedral Mountain Guides. We headed out to Cathedral Ledge for the day. It was warm and we didn't know if it would be good for me to start leading, but there were cold temps for several nights providing some good enough ice. So when we got there, we found that the conditions of the ice were ideal for learning to lead. I had good sticks and feet all day! I ended up leading two easy short routes at Cathedral; the North End slab (WI2) & Thresher (WI3).
At the North End Pillars I did a warm up climb on top rope, then a mock lead climb on top rope. On my warm-up climb I got to try out Alexa's Nomic Ice Tools and they were definitely aggressive and weighed differently from my Quarks. She also had pick weights on her tools. Following my warm-ups, I got a lesson in building an anchor with one ice screw and a v-thread.
Leading up the North End Slab
My anchor. Oops, that rope is supposed to be in the right side of my belay device! I did have a bit of trouble with the v-thread. At first, the two holes didn't quiet match up - the right side was just a wee bit higher than the left. After several unsuccessful attempts to thread it, I realized I should just take that extra 30 seconds and re-do the hole. Sure enough it worked. Alexa said I shouldn't rush. Also, once I clove-hitch into my anchor, I should let my second know that I'm "off belay".... forgot to do this on both my leads and kept Alexa waiting on my belay.
Coming up on the second pitch
Hauling & LoweringAfter our lunch, Alexa set up an anchor on a nearby tree and we went over more skills sets. We went over Lowering and Hauling again, but this time I really had to lower and then haul her up. Alexa set up an anchor onto one of the trees and we both tied in. We were on an incline and I had to lower her and then haul her up. And Alexa didn’t let up either….she put all of her weight onto the rope and made me haul her – it was a lot of work, even for just a couple of feet!
I have never liked extending my rappels and always attached my “third hand” to my leg loop. But Alexa said that setup allowed for possible tipping if stopped suddenly. And it was also possible for the leg loop to come undone. I learned how to extend my rappel with a Nylon (not Dynema) tether, and to connect my “third hand” onto my belay loop - especially handy/quick for multi-pitch raps.
I got onto Thresher (WI3) for my second lead. By that time of the day there was so much water running. Alexa advised me to place a second piece of pro as high up and directly above my first piece of pro. If the ice is questionable, back up the first piece of pro in case it fails. I continued on and placed my 3rd piece of pro just below the bulge. Once over the bulge and on the ledge, I brushed away the snow looking to place another piece of pro, but all the ice underneath was baked. So I ended up running it out and set up an anchor on the tree in the back. Then I brought Alexa up, and we both rapped down. Such a mellow day of learning and climbing!
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On my last lesson I got the op to try out some OR gloves. Using the discount Alexa gave me, I purchased a pair of OR Women's Stormsensor Gloves which I received in time to use them in today's lesson. They are fabulous! They fit well, I don't have to remove them when using my iPhone, they are the perfect "lead gloves"! I also bought a Sterling Hollow Block 6.8mm to use in place of my Prussik cord. Faster for setting up Autoblocks for rapping, hauling and lowering! Yup!
I also bought a new v-thread tool. Practicing threading the cordllette made me realize that the Candela v-thread tool wasn't for me. It couldn't catch the cordlette like the one that Alexa had. Her's had a pointy hook on it and catching just one thread on the cordlette was enough to pull it through to set up the v-thread. So I ended up getting the Cassin Scoprio V-Thread Tool.
I don't know what I don't know
Which is why I took private lessons from a AMGA Guide for learning how to lead ice. I learned a lot in my two days of lessons with Alexa - she was patient, positive and clearly loves to teach! There was no "winging it".... I was confident that not only would I learn the skills necessary in order to lead, but learn the most current skills used in the industry. Alexa's services as a guide are invaluable and the one-on-one professional instruction was perfect for me. Not once did I feel overwhelmed, afraid or unsafe. I was indeed nervous when it came time to actually lead, but it was partly because I really wanted to do well at leading and hoping I wouldn't forget anything.
Like my first Private Lead Ice climbing lesson, I also got an outline of everything that was covered so that I can practice the new skills.
Thank you Alexa for an awesome two days of lessons, it was fun and gratifying to learn new skills for ice climbing. These private lessons were a milestone for me. I have been ice climbing for 5 years and seconding (both ice & rock) for 3 years. I wanted to be a "strong second" before learning to lead ice. And a final thanks to my husband for his love and support - these private lead ice climbing lessons were his Christmas (2015) gift to me!
Alexa Siegel works year round as a climbing guide for Cathedral Mountain Guides, Mooney Mountain Guides, The White Mountain Climbing Camp and The Kismet Rock Foundation. She is an AMGA Certified Single Pitch Instructor and Wilderness First Responder. Along with Janet Wilkinson, Alexa started a Ladies Only Climbing Series with Cathedral Mountain Guides teaching women of all abilities ice climbing and mountaineering skills. She is a grassroots athlete for Outdoor Research and a member of Mountain Rescue Service.