Archive for March, 2011

More Dutton Ice

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Took another traipse around Dutton Mountain Tuesday. The snowpack is still good for walking on top of it, at least mostly, so I put a lot of mileage on the inspection tour this time. The forecast isn’t for warm the way I’d like it, but it’s going to make mush out of the snow up there, so I wanted to get close to a full tour before slogging is the only option.

This time, I parked the car right where Bullhead Pond Outlet crosses Northwoods Club Road, and began from there, hiking under the slopes of Venison Mountain so I could have a look at its flanks as well. Saw a lot of ledgy stuff, nothing large, and no definite ice lines. I crossed the stream that divides Venison from Dutton and began walking along the flank, higher than previous times at first, but soon, ice and steep slopes forced me down to the original bench we used before.

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The short headwall of Chickadee. I took the groove left of the prominent white column left of center.

Soon, I spied the first ice Mike and I had seen last week. Two narrow runnels descended from a common headwall tucked uphill and behind some conifers. Switching from hiking pole to crampons and axes, I walked easily up the righthand flow to the base of the headwall. Here, I found out my footwear wouldn’t cut it on steep ice. Literally: I couldn’t get the front points to do much more than chip away at the ice. And my boots were far too flexible to allow serious frontpointing in any case. I shifted my original plan of attack to the left slightly, climbing a groove near the center of the headwall flow. Above, the ice continued, winding up the tree-shaded slope for a couple hundred feet of easy wandering. Chickadee goes at WI2, though that headwall has some WI3 options on it. I didn’t climb the left runnel, but the headwall appears to have similarly difficult steps over there, and there is more ice running up in the woods above.

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Chipmunk lies up and left of the Wolf, ducking into the icy glade above.

I walked upslope to lower-angled woods with less ice and continued south. Spying the main ridge ahead, I dropped down again to have a look at the ice tucked in above the Wolf. Knowing now the limits of my crampons, I was a bit hesitant to tackle it, but it was short and angled low enough to make it feasible. It wasn’t all that bad; in “real” gear, Chipmunk would be a fun WI2, having a short crux section at the bottom and of course, that shaded ice in the woods above.

Having done all the ice I was confident doing with the equipment at hand, I set out to find the rock cliff. From the railroad tracks, a large cliff is visible facing south, perched near the upper plateau of Dutton. Sure enough, I rounded a bend, shocked a couple deer, and as they scampered off, I turned to scope out the mountainside. Scruffy, broken ledges here, but over the next rise…? I plodded up one last ridge, and there it was: over a 100′ tall, perhaps 400′ wide in all. Looked pretty broken up, and dirty. Oh well, I brought those climbing shoes for something.

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Dutton’s rock cliff: the line I climbed begins on the prow left of center and ends up traversing into the groove. Note the black rock, with some lingering ice, right of center.

I spend quite awhile working my way up the cliff, defeated time and again by loose rocks, steep dead ends, and the awkward feel of a pack on my back. But somehow, I managed a line not quite up the center, but close enough. There were several moments along the way, if you get my gist. The top is a gradual transition from blocky rock to pine needle and ice slope, in some ways it was the crux of the route climbing that last bit, because I could find no safe haven to change footwear. Climbing shoes do not do well on ice!

It was time to begin heading homeward. I wound circuitously back north, dropping down to look over ice slopes, climbing up to avoid a few of the scarier ones, and in general wandering like a fool all over the place. Not sure I added any knowledge doing that, but I suppose exercise counts for something. Staying higher than normal, I did get to see some nice views as well; a hike up Dutton in summer or autumn would be a rewarding visual experience.

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Looking west up the Hudson River Gorge.

Now there are five ice lines on Dutton. And one rock route, though not a good one. I do think there are some ice lines that form on/near the rock cliff however; if so these would be excellent additons for climbing earlier in the year.

Dutton Mountain Ice

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Last week, Mike Prince & I skied up the tracks from North River to the trestle crossing the Hudson at the mouth of the gorge. I planned to scope out potential climbing along the eastern side of Black and Middle Mountains, but it turned out we could not see them from the tracks. What we could clearly see were the slopes of Dutton Mountain, across the river from us. Ever ready to record the possibilities we saw, I pulled out my camera – and dropped it in the snow. No long-term damage done, fortunately, but unfortunately, the lens had moisture on it and all the pictures were “smudgy,” hence no decent visual record of the event. All the photos that day had that out-of-focus style popular with the Sasquatch-sighting crowd:

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Hey, I think I see Bigfoot!

We could see several definite ice lines. The questions remaining: how could we get to them, and were they tall enough to make worthwhile climbs?

Todd Paris & I took the first foray to answer these questions, an expedition that effectively ended before it left terra cognita, when I suffered a debilitating injury, compliments of car keys and ice (don’t ask). We did spy ice on the side of Black Mountain, so the trip wasn’t a complete failure, but as it turns out, we never got close to the objectives on Dutton.

Back home, poring over maps, I reconsidered the approach. Todd & I had come from the southeast, using Fourteenth Road. However, since that road is not passable for at least a mile before the jumping-off point where we struck out into wilderness, it wasn’t really any closer than coming in from the north via Northwoods Club Road. I determined to make the next attempt from the latter.

Thursday night, Mike Prince called, suffering an extreme need to decompress. That settled it: Friday morning we met and, along with Mammut the wonderdog, headed to the parking area at the southernmost bend in NWC Road. Striking off SSE, we dropped into, crossed, and climbed out of the Bullhead Pond Brook drainage, gained the height-of-land below the northernmost ridge of Dutton, then turned due south. Soon, we were traversing along the steepening side of the mountain, across a series of small ridges and gullies. At each one, we began to see tendrils of ice draped along the north and western sides. and I openly wondered if perhaps these were the vestiges of what we had seen over a week ago. They were shorter and thinner than expected. Perhaps it was too late, the sun had reduced them to mere tendrils. Had perspective distortion made them seem much larger from our vantage across the river?

All these doubts were settled as we rounded one last small ridge and saw ahead of us, a large, conifer-crowned one, slashing up the side of the mountain. Decked out along its height were several gleaming, sinuous lines. Looking west, we could see the railroad tracks above Bus Stop rapid, where I had snapped those blurry photos a week ago. The sun had indeed done some damage, but there was plenty of ice left for us to explore.

Knowing the sun would hit the southernmost flows first, we continued past these first ones, looking for the large flow we knew lay in that direction. The cliff swept downward, ran south, then angled upward again to this last flow. Our first look was a bit disappointing. It appeared to be only about fifty feet tall, and was definitely hit hard by the thaw and sun-baking. Still, we were here, and it was worth tackling, so we geared up and began climbing.

There appears to be an easy line weaving up right and back left, but we chose a direct assault up the middle of the face. Reaching the first steep section, I adjusted my initial estimate from WI3 to 3+ for our line: the ice was steeper than it looked (always is). Working up through this to a stance below the last steep section, I realized it would require a bit more tweaking: this route was turning into a real bear. The final pillar was vertical, scarred with thaw grooves, and fileted by sunshine. With trepidation, I climbed upward. Without massive ice, I was forced to poke holes and thread runners. At one point, the axes were almost useless, I bear-hugged the pillar, laybacking up to decent feet. Reaching the overhanging upper end of steep ice, I realized I would have to plant my axes well away from the edge or risk blowing the pillar off the formation. I spent a long while seeking other solutions before surrendering to a cramped, wide stem using underclings to gain the reach I needed for those salvation swings. Fortunately, the ice was good well back from the lip; I thankfully pulled over the last difficulty onto easy terrain.

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The Bear, our first route on Dutton Mountain.

 The Bear turns out to be about 75′ tall, and goes at WI4-. I suspect that, in fatter conditions, it is even steeper, probably weighing in at a firm 4. The flow is wide enough to yield two or three more lines, possibly more in prime conditions. To each side, these look to be very challenging, in the 4+/5 range. The name is both in regard to its difficulty and to commemorate a friend of mine affectionately known by the same name.

The sun had just peeked out from behind Dutton’s shoulder as we finished. We walked back into shadow, passing a couple enticing mixed-route possibilities, to the triplet of flows farther north. The rightmost looked far too thin and steep for tackling, certainly after the efforts on The Bear. The leftmost flow was the shortest and appeared to be pretty easy. The middle line had a steep section, perhaps ten feet long, but the rest looked fine; perhaps it would be the Goldilock’s option.

Once again, I found out the hard way that ice is always steeper than it looks. Longer too; while the difficulties on this route end after about seventy feet, I ran the entire rope out, climbing over gentler grade 2 and 3- flaps before straining to reach a belay tree in the woods above. Having applied animal nomenclature to the first route, we continued the trend: The Eagle also goes at 4-. In the future, I would establish a belay at the seventy-foot mark and either forego the remaining length or climb it as another pitch.

Our belay lay in an incredible sloping forest of conifers. Hemlocks, pine, and occasional cedars dotted the steep hillside, while between them tendrils of fat ice crept downward. To climber’s left, we could see ice flowing above us another hundred feet or more above the steep lower section. While both of us were tired by now, seeing that ice among the trees enticed us into tackling one more route.

We rappelled and moved the belay up left to the first flow and commenced climbing. Grade 1 and 2 ice gave way to a short section of 3 before settling back into that magical forest. I set a belay at 100′, Mike climbed by and up another pitch of equal length, before we called it a day. The Wolf offers easier climbing, really only one challenging spot, with enjoyable moves all the way into the woods.

We rappelled once more, by now approaching bone-tired, still having the march back out to accomplish. Two bone-weary boys followed that ever-bouncing pup homeward, reaching the car with the waning light of dusk.

By this time of year, climbers are usually on rock, either snatching sunshine on crags along Lake George or hauling themselves to the Gunks for a day or two. This has been a peculiar season for ice: with cold air dominating the Adirondacks, the ice climbing is about the best it has been, and it is still too cold for rock climbing. While we yearn more and more for rock season to take over, Mike and I made the most of the weather handed us last Friday, establishing three new ice routes at a new crag. With at least three more distinct lines possible, Dutton Mountain is a grand addition to the wilderness climbing venues in the Adirondacks.

Mike Prince lugged a GPS system out and back. Here’s the details he sent me on the routes: The Bear is at LAT 43.786473N LON 74.043581W ALT 1591′; The Wolf & The Eagle lie at LAT 43.788866N LON74.043189W ALT 1582′, with of course an unclimbed line between them. Thanks, Mike!

It Exists!

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

The ’10-11 Ice season wasn’t a bust in the Adirondacks, but it won’t go down as one of the best. A lot of things here in the southern area of the park didn’t form up enough to give them a try, and the snow piled up so high that getting to remote ice was very, very difficult. I didn’t get much opportunity to search out new ice.

But today, I had a change of luck. The cold spell we’re back into has made the mashed potato snow solid enough to ride atop of, so with a pair of skis and skins, and accoutred with all sorts of other gear (most of which would turn out to be nothing but ballast), I headed out and was able to make it out to one of those mystery locales I’d mapped before the winter and find some ice.

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 It wasn’t as tall as I’d hoped, but it was certainly steep enough. Dead vertical, in fact. Wow. It was also a bit sunburned.

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I opted to solo TR it. Me an’my pretty lil ice climb.

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 Can’t wait to get back out here next season!

This flow lies on the east flank of Black Mountain – yes, one of about two dozen in the Adirondacks. This Black Mountain is the one just off from Route 28 between North River and Indian Lake. It lies in the same “complex” of mountains of which Starbuck is a part.

Pitchoff Quarry

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Tom Lane and I took a ride up to the High Peaks area for his first ice climbing off Crane Mountain. Big shock in store for him: no thirty minute (or longer) approach, no snowshoes needed. After looking around the Chapel Pond area, we decided to continue on to Cascade Pass, where we settled on Pitchoff Quarry.

We started off on one of the easier routes, then worked our way up to really, really hard stuff. Long story short: we fried our arms on a lot of wild, steep ice. Great weather, great day, great climbing.

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