Archive for January, 2011

Sc(hoh)arie Ice

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Been wanting to push my icicle lead-head, and today I certainly did just that. Bruce has sung the praises of a secret ice stash near his home for the past year, so today I drove down to Schoharie County to have a look for myself.

From a distance, it looked fantastic. We geared up and began walking toward the gleaming white ribbon draped down the cliff across the field. I hurried Bruce along, impatient to get to and on this incredible-looking flow.

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Oooo. Looks a bit steeper up close.

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Definitely steep.

Once I stood below the beast, things changed. Up close, it looked really, really hard. No question, well out of my comfort level. Whoa. No longer so sure of myself, we took a few minutes to consider our options – and to settle my nerves. After awhile, I felt calm enough to go for it.

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Suck it up and go, man!

Long story short: we did it. Lotta jitters on my part, but no one fell, no one hung, we made it up and, though somewhat sketchily, down without injury. It took forever – well, my lead took forever – so we didn’t have time to climb anything else.

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We did it!

Sadly folks, the flow is on private property. Bruce got permission for us to take a shot at it today. Sorry to all my ice climbing buddies, but it’s off-limits to the public.

Tablerock Corner Ice

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

tablerock_corner.jpgAnother day, no calls; started to get worrisome. With a day open, I planned to break trail to the Black Arches Wall – but forgot my snowshoes. Too lazy to go back down and get them, I decided instead to hike up to Tablerock Corner and climb it, then head home and do chores.

That went well. Crane’s summit trail is well-packed, so without postholing, I made it to the route. Despite having a lot of snow and losing much of its ice to the early thaw, the corner is in fine shape. There are even a few spots where one might get a screw or two sunk home! I would still recommend a cam or chock for the crux, as the ice is narrow and thin enough at that point to make tool placements tricky, and there are good rock cracks to be had.

Less than two hours, door-to-door from my house. I’m guessing the climb is a full 150′ or more tall; the approach takes about twenty minutes. Can’t miss this climb: it lies on the first cliff that is directly above the summit trail, at the point where it levels off momentarily. Enjoy.

Measles Wall Ice

Friday, January 21st, 2011

With very little time to spare, I wanted to sneak some ice climbing into the day. My general fall-back is a quick run to the Waterfall Wall for a first pitch sprint and back home, but today I decided to check out the conditions at my rock-climbing fall-back, the Measles Walls.

This small crag is not much of a destination in the summer; even less so when ice climbing is the name of the game. However, there are four short lines worth soloing, and it isn’t a long walk from there to Wedding Cake, a slightly taller route with enough variety to provide grade 2 to 3+ climbing; so for those times when two or three hours is all that is available, it fills the bill.

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The left flow of the Lower Measles Wall. It’s 10′ to the top of the ice pillar.

My first chore was breaking trail: the BAW path hasn’t seen a lot of traffic since snow started falling hard. What takes about ten minutes in summer took me about twenty today. I finally arrived at the Lower Measles Wall, and scoped out my first option, the left flow. This is only about twenty feet high, with starts of WI2 on the left and fairly interesting WI3 on the right. Both quickly join on low-angle ice ten feet up. The thick snow and cold temps have combined to make that upper slab a tad skinny, though not bad; I quickly climbed up the right side and downclimbed the left, then moved on.

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The center flow of the Lower Measles Wall, ~20′ tall.

The corner that is always dank and slimy in the summer usually ices up very well. For some reason, it wasn’t in great shape today. Good enough to climb, but it seems thinner than usual; unexpected considering it lies on the main drainage of the cliff. In any case, it wasn’t difficult to climb, perhaps barely grade 3.

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Looking toward the left side flow of the Upper Measles Wall.

I plodded higher, to the Upper Measles Wall. There is one flow of ice on the extreme left, but it leads disappointingly into a cave under the cliff, where it apparently issues directly from the ground beneath it. The face to the left of El Muerte Rojo has more useful ice. It did today, though its lower extremity faded out before quite reaching ground level. And it was thin: I had to hunt for a couple small pick placements strong enough to do a pull-up on while searching for divots my crampons would stay in. That start made it interesting to continue: I wasn’t certain I could reverse it if the need arose. Where the face turns onto a slabby ledge, I had to traverse right eight feet to follow what ice there was. Once up, I descended climber’s left, downclimbing that cave flow.

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The ice by Hydrophobia, about 30′ tall.

A good flow issues from the top of Hydrophobia. Once again, I found its bottom nonexistent, and had to plink away for some time before finding viable pull-up spots for my picks. The angle of the slab here is low enough to hold snow, and this cover made the underlying ice very suspect, styrofoam-like in texture and strength. It took some time to work my way to the top, sweeping off the thick snowcover and scratching around before finding good placements. As always, the ice dies out just before the angle eases, and I spent some anxious moments looking for adequate patches of ice or dry-tool placements before hitting the crowning lump of ice and moss that marks the route’s end on the ledge above.

With easily 100′ of accumulated climbing in, I decided to continue to Wedding Cake anyway. Postholing up the BAW path another 200 yards, I cut off and down just before reaching the trail’s high ground. I knew there was a good descent gully to climber’s right of the ice formation, but from the top, I couldn’t traverse straight over into it. Or could I? I gave it a go, crossing a snow-covered slab along the way. At first, this was easy enough, but as I stepped toward safety, my feet shot out from under me, and I began sliding down a now bare rock slab. I came to a halt at a small ledge above the last thirty foot drop. Whew. Tiptoeing much more hesitantly now, I reached safety and climbed down the gully to the base of the route.

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Wedding Cake, all forty feet of it.

Wedding Cake isn’t in as well as it was last year, but it is in well enough, at least the left side is. The right side is still a bit skinny, though well within doable range, and certainly better than the first outing of this season. The first tier of the “cake” on the left side is slabby, the second tier is steep for a short bit, and then it’s more or less over, just a small upper bump to negotiate.

That would be enough for today. The sun shone bright in the sky, but a bank of dark clouds was about to engulf it, advance scouts of the bone-chilling air mass predicted for the weekend. Already, a cold breeze was whistling around the mountain. Saturday and Sunday might be rough for us outdoor types.

Back to Fifi

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Since Tuesday’s visit, I’ve been anxiously awaiting a chance to revisit Fifi’s Frozen Fingers. Today, the opportunity came. Mike Prince and Tom Lane showed up at my doorstep, looking for some ice to climb. I took this as a fantastic method of breaking trail to the Waterfall Wall. We packed up, donned snowshoes, and headed into the forest.

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Mike sets out to lead the Waterfall Wall’s first pitch.

With three of us, the trail was in good shape by the time we finished the hike and stood below the friendly, familiar ice of my home turf. Mike was enthusiastic about leading the first pitch, so he jumped on the sharp end, while I belayed and Tom dealt with hardware issues.

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Tom deciphers old-style crampon straps.

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Mike at the first pitch belay.

In short order, Mike was at the top. A bit of confusion ensued about how to get two of us up there and Mike down so he could walk around with his dog, but it was easy enough to solve. Without much delay, Mike was at the bottom, while Tom and I continued upward, stringing the second and third pitch together (we found out this can just barely be done with a 60 meter rope).

From there, we coiled the rope and walked off left, looking for a non-technical approach to Fifi. It was easy enough to find: near the top of the escape ramp, a narrow ledge meanders across the face, providing just the right avenue of ascent to reach the base of our targetted route. We hollered out to Mike, who had found the ramp and was plodding up toward its top, while his dog, Mammut, raced ahead to join us.

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Mammut, the wonderdog joins us below Fifi’s Frozen Fingers.

Soon we were all together on the sloping bench below Fifi’s Frozen Fingers. Looking up it as I racked gear, it looked somehow steeper than Tuesday. It was doubtful any tectonics had ensued in the meantime, so I chalked it up to sharp-end nerves. Still, I loaded for bear, adorning myself with every screw available and a cam or two, just in case.

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Leading the charge up Fifi’s Frozen Fingers

Despite the nervous jitters, the lead went well, Tom cleaned most of the pitch, and Mike finished the duties, then tip-toed his way up a fine smear of verglas on the left. Tom took a swing at the skinny, too; then I played around on a mixed line to the right of the main flow. By then, the sun was sliding behind the mountain, and the air no longer felt “brisk” but downright cold. It was time to go home.

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Tom Lane, colorfully and quixotically clad.

We trudged out, tired but happy, having enjoyed a fair selection of ice for the day. And with six passes, the Waterfall Wall approach is in great shape!

Visit to Fifi

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

The morning dawned overcast, cold, and damp; but by ten o’clock, the sun was poking through the frosty haze. I donned a medium-sized load and headed to the Waterfall Wall. My plan was to make a quick reconnaissance of conditions on that route, then wander over and drop a top-rope on Fifi’s Frozen Fingers. If it was in good enough shape to bother: I thought the warmth and drought would have reduced it to unclimbable verglas.

The inspection of the Waterfall Wall went quickly, and well. While the Tempest variation isn’t in well enough to lead, it is probably safe enough on top-rope; and the rest of the route is OK. First pitch is in fine, a bit skinny at the top, but no worse than it often is. Second pitch is fine. The corner of the third pitch is fine; the face to the right is showing rock in a few spots; I climbed up it about seven feet to the right of the corner without ill effects. The fourth pitch is a walk, of course. The fifth pitch is very emaciated; climbable but not protectable for most of its length. The last pitch was so baked and starved I didn’t bother. The sight of it didn’t bode well for my next inspection tour.

I walked left and down the steep ramp leading to the base of Fifi, then cut up a gully to reach the route’s top. From that vantage, I couldn’t see anything except the last thirty feet of low-angle stuff, which was snow-covered; its ice condition was hidden. With a shrug, I began rappelling for a hands-on inspection. That low-angle finish is almost bare, but as I came around the bend to the main course, I was pleasantly surprized.

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No doubt, the warm spell took its toll, but apparently Fifi’s Frozen Fingers gets her fair share of meltwater and runoff. A seven to eight-foot wide swathe of thick ice lay on the face all the way to the ground, surrounded by even wider patches of thin ice and verglas. Enthusiastically, I arranged my TR set-up and began climbing.

It’s hard to grade this line. From below, it looks ridiculously steep, on par with Crystal Ice Tower up near Chapel Pond. It is steep, but somehow it climbs so smoothly it doesn’t seem that difficult. After first doing it, I gave it a WI4- rating, and that is probably where it will stand; but for those ready to break into the low end of four, this seems a prime target.

After top-roping the line, it was getting late enough to hustle back down, stash gear, and begin the odd combination of walking, downclimbing (and alas, one more rappel) to regain the regular walk-off ramp leading back to the base of the Waterfall Wall. I did stop to take a picture looking up at Fifi’s lower pitch.

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This goes at WI3/3+, and is really a series of short, steep walls separated by large ledges. It’s a nice way to reach the meat of the route, and it does save all that climbing and descending to do so via the Waterfall Wall, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the second pitch. To reach it, walk climber’s left from the base of the Waterfall Wall, staying on the Crane-side of the ravine. After passing next to a short, steep rock wall, walk up and right, toward a large boulder on the slope above. Walk to the uphill side of this boulder: above and slightly farther right, the lowest tier is visible.

Draw Blood

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Got my comeuppance today. Aaron, Bruce, Peter, Jason; I now join your ranks, the legion of lacerated ice climbers.

It all began with this gorgeous, sunshine-wrapped day. No calls for work, so after putting it off, I decided to take a walk along Crane’s SSW flank and look for potential ice climbing opportunities down low. I drove up to the top of Sky High Road (currently Ski Hi, a spelling I detest) and began walking westward. The trailhead road is still driveable with four-wheel drive, good tires, and high clearance; none of which my Elantra has, so I perambulated en pied, hiking a short way up the direct summit trail, then cutting off near the ramp boulder.

I wandered up and down a bit, but mostly maintained altitude. The side of the mountain here is a series of benches cut by occasional gullies. The tiered layout makes close-up inspection difficult. I could scope out the wall above the bench I walked along, but couldn’t tell if there was anything on the bench above that, nor the wall below me. However, I’ve walked along this side of the mountain before, knew I had scoped out a lower bench in the past, and been up higher as well. I hoped this level would reveal something I hadn’t seen before.

I dropped into one of those gullies soon after leaving the trail. This had to be the cascade that parallels the direct summit trail. I glimpsed a sparkling ice flow as I passed under it, perhaps 200′ away and 50′ higher than me. Too bad that doesn’t maintain the same steepness as that last fifteen feet: it would be the best climb on the mountain if it did. In any case, I’ve been up along it, and it is mostly WI1, with a couple avoidable WI2 steps.

Continuing on for another ten minutes, I spied an ice-smattered wall above me. Eureka! Sure enough, this looked promising, not huge, but decent. A steep slab ran up about 30′ to a 20′ headwall with an overhang. In several spots, ice blobs pasted themselves over the headwall, draping down in front of the overhang. This looked good.

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The Fifty Foot Ice Wall

 I walked over to the cliff and geared up. I didn’t have much: crampons, tools, harness, helmet, a 42′ hank of rope, ‘biners, and a cordalette. No screws! Musta left them home. Hmmm. Well, looked feasible enough…

I set out, walking back and forth awhile before choosing a line that rose up along a small, right-facing corner of rock that poked through the ice fifteen feet above. The ice was in as good a condition as I could hope for, given the weather fluctuations we’ve had this winter. I worked up steadily, to a stance beside the top of the little corner. The ice reared up steeply here; not quite vertical, but definitely getting close. I would need some high plants to get over the bulge onto lower-angle ice not far above. I worked up the face a few times, testing the placements, kicking better pockets for my feet; then losing heart and backing down. Finally, I felt it was all set, everything was good to go, each placement secure, each footstep mentally mapped out.

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I stepped up to my previous high point, moved my tools a bit higher, stepped the left foot over to the top of the rock corner, and pulled up. Kicked out a good right foothold. Moved up higher, brought my left foot level with the right. Swing the left tool, happily a solid thunk resounded. Now I would have to reach for a good plant with my right tool before committing to the pullover.

I chucked, I ducked, but looked up too soon. The spray of ice hit my helmet, but I hadn’t felt the resultant dinner plate break away until I glanced back up. It hit me just above my lip, and just beside my right nostril, thankfully: it was big enough to break teeth or nose. It hurt plenty for a couple seconds, then passed. Rubbing my face, I saw no blood on my gloves, but knew from the continuing tingle there must be more than a bruise. Eventually, I did see a few scarlet drops adorning the pure white ice, but it didn’t gush like facial wounds often do.

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A mere flesh wound. I’ve had worse.

Which was good: I was in no place to deal with such issues. I swung the right axe again, and this time, it settled firmly in good ice. In a few seconds, I stood above the bulge, looking up at the last obstacle, a narrow band of ice cascading over that overhang. To my left, the curtains looked poorly connected, but my line appeared to be well-attached, and the ice was certainly less sun-baked. I went for it, and, although not easy, it wasn’t particularly hard either, just one more committing move – with a longer pause before looking up to check my tool placements!

It was an easy one to name; in a nod to Mr. Zevon (RIP), I culled a snippet from Werewolves of London.

I spent another hour there, climbing various lines, including almost trying one of those bigger curtains. Looking at the one inch gap between it and the rock dissuaded me, however, and I opted to traverse off to a handy rappel tree rather than risk riding the carapace down 30′ of cliff.

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So now I’m proudly wearing my own Ice Climber’s insignia. Hopefully, I can get back out there avec belayer and we can send a few more of those lines. Without adding more facial scars to anyone.

Mike’s Secret Ice Stash

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Well, turns out it isn’t so secret. And it isn’t really Mike’s; Neal Dunkley showed it to him originally. But, it is a nice, steep chunka-freeze; great place to toast grips and arms. Unfortunately, it’s probably on private property, and even if it isn’t, one has to cross private land – probably several different parcels – to access it.

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The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Mike at the Ice Flow

Mike thought he had contacted the property owner and received permission for climbing there, so Saturday, we drove to the hinterlands of Minerva, parked in the suggested driveway, and began hiking. Our starting point was different than Mike’s original excursion with Neal, and with a year between that one visit and ours, we were soon wandering cluelessly among a series of old roads, log roads, and ATV trails, looking for ice to no avail. After an hour, it was time to regroup. We headed back to the original jump-off point and retraced the tracks of Mike’s memory, which did the trick: we quickly spied the flow on a hillside quite a long way from our earlier search zone.

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Mike at the base of the flow. We climbed the face directly behind his head, and TR’d the pillar to his right.

It isn’t as tall as Mike remembered it to be – he was new to the sport back then, and any ice seemed imposing and huge – but it was a good fifty feet or more, and very steep. Near the left side, a chute looked like it might offer a WI3 ascent option, to its right, a steep face might go at 3+. Farther right, the ice became quite steep; except for a few corners, it would all be 4 or 4+.

We laid out the rope, and I won the choice of lead, picking that 3+ face. It did indeed turn out to be well in that grade, pushing close to 4-. It was a pretty consistent 75 ° with very few features for rest. I had foolishly limited gear to 4 screws, and was wishing for one more by the time I poked a welcome pile of moss-choss and pulled to refuge on the top.

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Mike ascends our initial line.

Mike cleaned the pitch, then rapped. I ran around the top, arranging directionals for a couple steep TRs, and we commenced dangling our way up those lines.

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The acrobatics here are due to the…
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…very stuck axe visible here. Ten minutes of hanging on to extract it!

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Mike takes a turn, climbing the notch between two vertical pillars.

After several runs, it was time to head home. We wound down the talus, clomped through moist woodland, found a faster way out, then trudged up the road to our cars. After a quarter hour playing with the irrepressible Mammut, impending darkness and other duties pressed us each to our homes.

2011: Warm Start, Cold Finish?

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

January 1st: Instant Replay 

A very warm welcome to the New Year for all ice climbers was a less-than welcome way to begin the season. Here on Crane, the mild temps, coupled with a drought that has seen snow fall in every direction except here for weeks, pretty much put an end to the high ice: it was sun-baked and meltwater-starved to near-extinction.

Lower along the mountain’s flanks, the major drainages continued to provide. The Waterfall Wall, oddly enough, became anemic on the left side – doable, but definitely thin – while the Tempest variation thickened. Farther afield, the Northern Cascade was in fine shape despite the balmy weather. Bruce Monroe, Mike Prince, and I had enjoyed a good day there on New Year’s Eve; the ice was in fine shape: easy and fun on the right, challenging and pumpy on the left. So when Val & Kevin pulled into my driveway the very next day, I suggested we head that way.

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Kev, Val, & Louie gearing up at the Northern Cascade.

The four of us (Louie, the amazing Dak Dog, accompanying the climbers) tromped a mile and a half, then set about climbing. I led a direct line near the center, pushing the grade from easy WI2 to the vicinity of easy 3. Once at the top, I meandered among the trees, routing the rope with an anchor to come over that entertaining left corner. Val followed skilfully and quickly, and in no time, we were ready to TR the harder stuff.

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Val works her way up the standard flow of the Northern Cascade.
The tough stuff lies in the background.

That’s when the real fun began. I had played the game a day earlier, so I knew the script. The corner demands creative technique without a lot of dawdling. It’s steep, so strength helps, but brute force won’t win the day alone. Imaginative moves (like Bruce’s flying back-step the day before) managed the skinnier, overhanging sections, while a disciplined reliance on tenuous point-placements provided occasional rests. With yesterday’s rehearsal still fresh on my mind, I was able to make it look pretty easy…perfect sandbag set-up.

Kevin and Val took their turns after me, and the trap was sprung. Val tackled the corner in her usual tenacious style, refusing to give up until she solved each step and stood triumphant on top. With the corner thoroughly examined, we turned our attention to the face, and once again, our arms were pumped to the max as we worked up the solid but desperately steep ice there. No clever maneuvers here: just hang on and climb.

Finally, we were all exhausted and ready to head out. It was late enough that headlamps came into play before all of us exited the forest and headed to our respective homes. We had all begun 2011 in good style. I was ready for a rest day. Or so I thought.

January 2nd: Alpine Ascendancy

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Travis King

Travis King has been a partner-in-climb for over a decade, so his return to the North Country is a welcome event. A phone message was waiting for me when I arrived home: Travis would be up tomorrow, looking for adventure. I looked at the forecast and wondered what sort of adventure we could have. Two days at the Northern Cascade were enough for awhile; and the Waterfall Wall wouldn’t tweak either of us. I went to bed without a clear plan for what to do the next day.

Morning sunshine decided the schedule. All the high hard ice of Crane was either gone or deadly, so when Travis arrived, we discussed the options, and decided to climb the South Corner Cliff, alpine-style, then bushwhack to the summit. We packed ice gear, plus a few cams and chocks just in case, then headed out the BAW path. Arriving at Stairway to Heaven, I spotted Michael Gray’s pack, along with another, unfamiliar one. We gave a holler, but no answer. Somewhere in the distance, I thought I could hear people talking, but not close.

We shrugged and headed over to the ramps where Aslan’s Memorial Highway and Robin’s Rainy Day Route begin. The going was steep but nontechnical; mostly lunging for handy trees while our feet slip-slided up and down on the icy duff. Knowing our goal would be challenge enough, and without good rock shoes, we opted to take the easiest route available at first; but when we came to the juncture of the long traverse ledge that accesses the better pitches of Gray-Harrison, we chose the fat, dirty crack to the left. It was terrain I had probably climbed somewhere in the dark distant past, but couldn’t remember where it led or what it entailed. That turned out to be a moment of knee-wedging, axe-in-the-duff stuff, somewhat protected by an adequate cam. Once up that, Travis swung the lead, battling past one of those ubiquitous mangle-limbed oaks, tip-toeing around a pile of loose blocks suspended over an airy brink (the second, and last piece of pro on the route went in here), then wandering without much trouble back and forth on a series of ramps. My turn took us into the thickets near the top of the South Corner, where we unroped, took in the view, and packed up the technical gear.

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View from the top of the South Corner Cliff

We wandered around several sheltered bluffs, crashing through the tangle of spruce and balsam as we made our way upward. Finally, we stood on the false summit. Across the high divide, Crane’s summit Prows glowed in the sun. We worked our way over to them, climbed the Access Slot to the top of the ridge, then walked over to the summit.

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We stood in sunshine, but a stiff breeze was blowing, and all around us, dark clouds cloaked the sky everywhere but this one small region. That sense of impending change hung in the air: this springtime weather was about to end. Looking at those dark legions surrounding us, we thought it wise to tarry briefly, then hightail it downward. At last, the descent justified packing our crampons: the trail, without any snow, sported several long, gleaming sheets of ice, a solid WI1 for most of the way down.

The temps did drop significantly, though we got barely a dusting of snow overnight. Still, I would get my first rest of the year the next day, barely stepping outside. Instead, I worked on an article for the Adirondack Almanack, caught up on some chores, and fought the urge to wander out whenever the sun broke through.

January 3rd: Multiplication Gully

Todd Paris suggested we head up to Wilmington Notch on Tuesday, and I was more than ready to oblige. One day in restrainer was plenty, I wanted out. The weather was really beginning to brew in the morning, finally there was snow falling, enough to look like the first realistic accumulation since winter began. We were undeterred, skidding up a relatively-clear Northway and Route 73 en route to one of the most famous ice lines in the Adirondacks: Multiplication Gully.

Despite the heavy snowfall as we rounded the last bend on Rt. 86, we found the correct parking space, gathered gear, and headed up to the climb. No other cars around: we had the route to ourselves. We stacked ropes (always bring doubles for Multi), racked screws, cams – oops, forgot cams, never mind -, slings, and quickdraws, and began climbing.

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The view from the start of Multiplication Gully.
Note only one car. That’s good.

The first pitch is not difficult,  but today, it gave the first hint that the climb would be harder than normal. The ice seemed soft, but extremely laminated: ever strike seemed to produce dinner plates. Clearing these and sinking the picks home deeper often produced a series of increasingly large plates, a few of which were frightfully big. Drop one on somebody and it might kill them. Fortunately, the belays are securely sheltered, and hey, we were alone on the route, right? I pulled up to the top of the first pitch, anchored, and brought Todd up.

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Todd approaches the top of the 1st pitch.

Joining me at the belay without breaking a sweat, Todd informed me that we were no longer alone. Another car had arrived below, and a twosome was on the approach as he left the bottom. We would have to be careful, and hope that they would be both lucky and forgiving.

I led out, climbing through the steep but comfortable opening headwall, then came to the meat of Multi’s challenges, a tight, near-vertical pillar of ice squeezed between rock walls. To my left, chandeliered, wet ice cascaded over an overhang for fifteen feet, to my right it lay tight against bare rock. I placed a screw and began working up the drier, less-aerated ice in the center. Four feet above the screw, a series of dinner-plating swings convinced me to place another piece of pro. It was nearly vertical here. I clumsily began the process: sink the tools, pull a screw off the clipper and –

Clang! A second screw had come off my clipper, and it clattered downward, twirling like a throwing star and careening off the ice, vanishing into the depths below in an instant. I was furious. In my haste to start climbing, I had put too many screws on my clipper. Now I had watched that $60 item tear earthward, perhaps tearing into someone along the way.

Fortunately (?!), I was in no place to dwell on the mistake. It was done, other things needed doing now. I shoved the screw in hand into the ice, twisted it home, and clipped, then moved up. A large shelf afforded me some rest before going on to other difficulties. Except for the exit, nothing else was terribly hard, and that last bit was more interesting than anything else, a sort of mixed finish rather than the usual steep ice I had seen in past runs here. Anchored, I hauled rope and began belaying Todd, just as another climber surmounted the last bulge of the first pitch and began doing the same down there. Apparently, I hadn’t killed anyone with my metal missile.

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This is your brain. This is your brain on ice. Any questions?

Once again, Todd arrived without losing his casual style – couldn’t he at least make it look hard? Oh well, we were happy to have the chance for a day out, both safe, and no casualties below. We would be even happier when, after rappelling to the base, we found that errant ice screw. A bit of honing and it would be good as new.

January 4th: Scoutabout on the Eastern Corner

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The Eastern Boulderfield. 

I headed out alone on Wednesday, looking more for exercise than technical ice. Walking beyond the Northern Cascade, I wound through the giant boulder pile that guards the last section of cliffs and ice that Crane’s Southeast Flank has to offer. I could see Leap of Faith; it looked terribly gaunt, and since I had opted to bring soft hiking boots and flexible crampons, there was no chance of attempting that route. Instead, I came upon a gentle slab of ice just above the boulder piles. It ended in a short steep step that didn’t look too hard. It was the perfect option for the tools at hand. I climbed most of this pied en canard with piolet canne, only occasionally switching to pied troisemme and an anchored axe for security.

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The Easy Route. Sixty feet of WI1 Slab with a short WI2 step at the top.

The final step was easy enough, landing me on a steep, rocky slope. I continued upward, toward a short, steep flow. Arriving at its base, I guessed it was about twelve feet tall, maybe fifteen tops; and decided to give it a try. Suffice to say, I survived, but with floppy boots and flexing crampons, it was the scariest twelve feet of the week. At its top, I slanted up and left, eventually meeting the gully that transports water to the Northern Cascade. I followed it down to that flow and, for the shear fun of it, climbed the easier side of the Cascade, then downclimbed the narrow righthand chute, making full use of the dead pine frozen into it. That was plenty adventure for one day.

January 5th: One More Inspection of the Low South Corner

I’ve wandered the route from the trailhead to the Waterfall Wall many times, but figured one more inspection wouldn’t hurt. With the paltry amount of snow on the ground, I thought it might be a good day to spy hidden ice lines. With that in mind, I headed out the BAW path once again, but this time I left the path before reaching the Measles Walls. Cutting cross-slope, I reached the cluster of boulders below Wedding Cake, then cut across, hoping to arrive at a good point to join the Waterfall Wall approach route. This turns out to be a bit high, it is better to take a lower gully and save some unnecessary climbing.

Regardless, I worked my way into the small ravine and up the other side to Parallel Ridge, then began descending. I had chores to do up at the BAW, so I couldn’t take the time to follow the route all the way to the Waterfall Wall, but I did reach a point where the going was straightforward enough that I felt I had a good sense of the route for describing it to others. With that done, I cut left, up the mountain, arriving at the base of the BAW Portal ice flow. This looked feasible, so I geared up (good boots and crampons this time) and began to climb. The ice was barely secure enough to do so: lacking meltwater, it had become poorly attached. I tread lightly all the way up, scratched bare rock on the final slab, and stepped right to the Isobuttress Left flow. This turned out to be equally bad, and in spots very thin. At one point, the ice at my feet began to disintegrate; not quite terrified, I hastened up and off that part of the route, finding better ice to the right. It was still unpleasantly hollow and sun-baked. I don’t recommend this one unless and until it heals some.

So too with the rest of the BAW ice. Fr.E.D. is dead for the time being, High & Dry has evaporated, Hunt & Peck would be an exercise in futility, and even DR. Drip looks untenable. I’m sad to report, this area needs meltwater badly.

With my ice fetish satisfied, I called it a day, taking the BAW path straight out. The sun was still shining, but it was growing late as I came out of the woods and went home. Overall, it was a saddening excursion. The snowfall of the previous day was meagre to say the least. It wasn’t enough to supply all the water required for the ice to reform and reconnect. That could be a long while, maybe not even happen this season.

January 6th: Rocksport Gym

Yep, indoor gyms to the rescue. I spent Thursday evening at Rocksport. Led the ceiling three times, top-roped with Robin and others, and chatted with a bunch of good folks. Thursday nights have become a wonderful opportunity to work those rock-crimpin’ muscle groups and keep in touch with the crowd that doesn’t slam ice. Highly recommended to all: every Thursday night until outdoor rock season begins, the Adirondack Adventure Club meets there.

I would take another rest day to round off the first week of 2011, and the weather would take this day to turn around. Real snowfall, cumulative amounts of the stuff, began in the night and continued all day long. Before day’s end we had 5 inches of the stuff; not much but a lot more than any other time this winter. Snow would come, on and off, for the next full day, so perhaps Crane’s higher ice has a chance to form again and provide some excitement before the 10-11 ice season winds down.

A Crane Mtn New Year’s Eve Party

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

How does a mountain celebrate its most productive year ever? With people gearing up for a classic ice line.

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Bruce Monroe suits up for the Waterfall Wall.

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Tackling the 3ish line between the standard finish and the Tempest Variation.
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Ice climbing drives you nuts.

…and top-roping a tougher one.

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Touring another excellent ice flow. 

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Bruce leads the right side of the Northern Waterfall.
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Nearing the top of the Northern Waterfall.
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Mike Prince follows Bruce up the Northern Waterfall.

And then TRing some harder options on the same flow.

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The author climbs an overhanging corner on the left side. Photo courtesy of Bruce or Mike!
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Bruce does the backstep tackling that scrappy lil’ corner…closeup:
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We all took a turn on that vertical flow as well. Here’s Mike P. starting out:
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 Meanwhile, other climbers made an alpine style exploration that included woodland scrambling…

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Val ascends the first part of an alpine exploration of the South Corner Cliffs.

…sections of mixed climbing… 

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Higher along the route.

…ice climbing…

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…and even barefoot rock climbing!

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Michael Gray tackles a rock pitch, barefooted, in shirt sleeves, 31st December 2010.

The reward: great memories and a fantastic view.

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Since 2010 was so big for new routes on Crane, why not cap off the day with a mixed-route FA?

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Michael leads off on a new mixed route at the Height-of-Land Walls.
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Here’s to the biggest year ever on Crane, and to the hope that the only thing better than the memories we have of 2010 be those we gather in the years to come. Thank you to all the folks who enthusiastically played around in my back yard!

Ed. Note: Many of the photos we took evaporated in the digital twilight zone. I found a few this morning, after a long search, but I’m afraid the bulk didn’t make it onto my computer, and I’ve erased the disk (doh!). My apologies to Bruce M. and Mike P. for not having more shots of those awesome TRs we did on the Northern Waterfall.
– I see on
Facebook that Mike has named his routes du jour: SCC Mountaineer’s Route 5.3 M1 400ish’ (not counting the wild barefoot TR, which goes ~5.9+), and Immigrant Song WI3+ M2 40′. Kudos to the pair for the official last FA of 2010!