Archive for January, 2012

Search for a Mountaineer’s Route

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

One of my goals for this season is finding a good “Mountaineer’s Route” up Crane’s South Corner area. Ideally, said route would involve lots of exposure with some single tool ice climbing, some easy rock, and a minimum of thicket-thrashing. From its top, one could make a relatively easy walk to the summit ridge, and finish up with an ascent up the Access Slot. Yesterday, Tom Lane and I took a stab at finding that passage. While our exploration didn’t uncover the perfect venue, it is indicative of what one can expect when exploring that area.

We began by hiking out the BAW path, which runs eastward along the base of the mountain, meandering through the Boulderwoods, running along the flats, then cutting uphill to the Measles Walls and continuing upward to the Height-of-Land, where we cut off and headed uphill. It’s an unofficial path, so don’t expect to find it on a map; if you choose to explore here during the winter, you will have to park at the top of Sky High Road (don’t block driveways!), walk west along the trailhead road until you see State Land signs on the right, then cut toward the mountain for a couple hundred yards before reaching the path and turning back eastward. You shouldn’t have to climb up very far before crossing the path; it should be within five minutes of leaving the road.

At the Height-of-Land, we cut up and left, reaching the left edge of the Blueberry Ledges. Here, Eyebrow Ice, a low-angled slab with a steep initial start touches the ground. Bounded on its left side by an impressive, arching overhang, this is some of the easiest ice of any length on the mountain. It’s also quite thin. Don’t expect much, if anything, in the way of gear. After the first ten feet, the climbing was trivial until we reached the top of the slab. Here, the thickest ice, often poorly bonded, presents the crux of the route (one can move right to reach easy duff-pegging). Once on walkable terrain, we moved straight up to belay at large oak tree with a handy huge horizontal branch on its downhill side, near our 70m rope’s end.

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The easy Eyebrow Ice starts off this route.

Above this, our options were more limited. Slightly to our left, a thinly-iced, very low-angle slab yielded easy progress, accessing the gully to our right while avoiding the dense tangle of brush and trees down low. There, we stood under an overhanging, left-rising wall. The slab below it was pretty much dry, and very low-angle, it would be pretty easy to ascend. More attractive was the buttress to the right of our gully. Twenty feet up, a shelf led out onto that prominence, where a boulder offered purchase to reach easy-looking terrain. We chose that option, and roped up for the attempt.

The gully gets very steep just before reaching the escape options; I tip-toed up then across a near-vertical blueberry slab to get around a small thicket and reach that shelf. A good horizontal crack ran along with it, but there was little else for purchase, and no ice or deep snow for footing. Without any rock gear, I slung a tiny spruce sapling, backed it up with a small mouldering stump, and began working out right. Underclinging the shelf/crack, I stepped up high to get the only foothold I could find, then stood up, using a small edge above to steady myself before moving farther right. Reaching the edge of the boulder, I welcome fist-jam secured me enough to get my feet up on the shelf. Grabbing a locking carabiner, I attached a sling and tossed it into the crack above my hand, where it settled soundly into place. Ah, makeshift, solid pro!

Scrambling around to the front and then top of the boulder was easy enough; the next fifteen feet was lichen-covered, barely-angled rock. It was scary but not hard, walking on all fours, carefully situating each crampon before trusting the step. A bit of thrashing up and left, and I stood on top of the promontory, slung a thorny spruce, and off-belayed. Tom followed rapidly, commenting on the concept of rock-climbing in January as he did so.

We enjoyed the scenery for a short while, but the wind was damp and cold, our time limited, so we didn’t tarry or go upward. We could see skyline through the spruce trees beyond us, so perhaps it wouldn’t be hard reaching the summit from there. Instead of checking it out, we headed downward, mixing three 35m rappels with some easy walking descents in between to reach our packs and thence make the walk out.

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A colorfully-clad Tom at the top of our route.
Thanks to him for the photographic evidence of our climb.

Return to Dutton

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Last ice season ended with a flurry of trips to Dutton Mountain. It is 2+ miles to reach the ice on the west flank, every bit of it bushwhacking, so going there is no picnic. It isn’t terribly hard, mind you: no blind thrashes through spruce thickets or nerve-wracking climbs up gelatinous krumholz; but it is a slog. Starting from Northwoods Club Road, one has to cross Bullhead Pond Outlet, ascend wooded slopes 200′, then link a series of benches via rock-strewn ramps, carefully descending just the right amount, or the end result is a nasty talus-climb back up to the proper height where the ice lies. I haven’t exactly put it off so much as wait for the best conditions to develop before heading out there. This season has not provided those conditions in any form of longterm fashion. About the time ice formation is getting substantial, a thaw comes along and sets everything back. Northeastern ice has taken on the quality of good ol’fashioned MsDOS: Abort, Retry, Fail? is the all-too frequent message.
With another onset of rain in the forecast (now come to fruition), yesterday was a good day to make use of fair conditions, so Todd Paris and I decided to make the trek to Dutton for the first time this season. Without a lot of preparation, we hustled into our respective vehicles and met in Olmstedville, passed gear into the vehicle deemed most likely to succeed, and drove to our destination parking area. I had a map in the back seat, but left it there, deeming it unnecessary for the hike. We set off, optimistically trusting my memory and luck to get us to the ice. We crossed the brook and began walking uphill at a slant, curling west around a promontory before hitting the first of the slopes heading downward and south. Here, I made my first error, dropping far too low, before the nearby sound of the Hudson River issuing from the gorge made it clear our elevation was wrong. We cut back upslope, but by this time far too little, too late, to regain the proper height. What can be done in forty minutes took us over an hour, and necessitated that nasty talus climb. At least we got to see some new terrain.

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At least we got to see some great bouldering opportunities.

We had glimpsed the first flows wall above us, but elected to stay low until we could see Bear, the rightmost formation on the west flank. After heaving ourselves up to its base, we decided to try a mixed line next door. There’s a very tempting line just left of Bear, but it also looks difficult. Farther left, a notch in the rock wall leads easily to a ledge, above which we could see a nice finishing flow of ice. This was to start our day.
Getting through the notch wasn’t difficult, and above it I was able to sling a small oak tree. A short rock corner led up right to another stance, this one below a narrow slab covered thinly in wet ice. This was the crux for me, as the last pro was a small sapling at the base of the ramp. The climbing wasn’t difficult, but it was heady. Reaching good choss above the verglass, another stance led to fat ice and an easy slope of frozen heath to a good pine tree belay. We dubbed the route Porcupine, guessed it to be M1 W3-.
A quick rappel brought us back to the base of the cliff, where we decided to climb a pure ice route, the already-established Bear. As always, it seemed a lot steeper once I was on it, and in the end, we both agreed that the grade we had given it last year is probably accurate: 4-. There is probably a grade 3 route weaving through the flow, and in its present condition the right side looked like it might be on the easy side of that, but our “standard” passage runs through a couple short vertical sections, the topmost of which requires good ice judgment to climb.

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Bear, 90′ WI4-, the rightmost formation on the west flank of Dutton Mountain.

Rappelling once more, it was clear we didn’t have a lot of time to dawdle. Knowing the way back lay above us, we traversed north to Wolf (WI3-) for one last climb.
Carrying our packs, we climbed the route, then began slanting up left to make our way home. By now, snow was falling steadily. Our view gradually closed in until we could no longer see the peaks around us. Confident in my recollection of the way back from this high bench, I led along for a long while, until fading daylight and no visible navigation markers began making me question our heading. To be safe, we cut leftward, searching for our footsteps in order to retrace them. After dropping down the slope a hundred yards or so, we found our tracks – leading upward. Had we kept to our bearing, we would have saved ten or fifteen minutes, but it all worked out.
In darkening twilight, we hit the road and walked to the car, barely avoiding headlamps. We drove in near-whiteout conditions back to Olmstedville, and thence to our respective homes, two bedraggled climbers, exhausted but happy with the first successful visit to Dutton for this ice season.

Thank you, Todd Paris, for the photos. My lil camera died, if anyone has an old digital point’n’shoot they are willing to donate, it would surely help me illustrate these trips.

Ice on West Mountain

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Back in April of last year, Tom Lane and I traipsed out along the southeast flank of West Mountain (not the one with the ski resort on it; but the ridge that includes the well-known Hadley Mountain) to investigate rock climbing potential. Coming off a long, snowy winter, that first exploration was a snowy slog, during which we spied several skeletal fingers of ice clinging here and there to a few gullies and ridges. Tuesday, we returned to the mountainside to see if any of these warranted a wintry ascent.

Those familiar with this blog will know we spent a lot of last summer on the southern tip of this ridge, putting routes up on the Rods’n’Guns Wall, and accessing that area via hunting club property, of which Tom is conveniently a member. On this trip, we utlized the public access from the Hadley Mountain trailhead. Walking up the trail about twenty minutes, to a point well above the #3 marker, we cut south, contouring along for about ten minutes before coming to the first significant cliff band.

This cliff is about fifty feet tall, and currently has several steep, short ice formations toward its right terminus. More interestingly, a longer flow runs down a ways left of its tallest section. We were tempted to jump right on this flow, but chose instead to continue our inspection.

Another five minutes or so, and we came to the Whaling Wall. At eighty feet, this is the tallest cliff save for the Rods’n’Guns Wall itself. Earlier inspection had revealed several wet lines dripping off its outer buttress, but they were discouragingly lacking ice this time around. However, the gully at the cliff’s right end high point sported a long white line winding up the notch. After walking a farther hundred yards or so and seeing nothing better, we returned and clambered up the long scree slope to the base of this formation.

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Scots Gully, WI 3+ M2, 80′

Our line began steeply, up a fat pillar of ice tapering off at a constriction fifteen feet above. Past that, we could see a icy chimney, and higher, a steep slab deeply covered in ice. With no decent platform for stowing gear and donning equipment, we secured our packs to icicles or trees and began suiting up, struggling to pull on harnesses and strap on crampons without sliding down the icy slope. With those chores done, we were underway.

That first obstacle is definitely the crux of the route, placing it in the 3+ category. After whining my way to the top of the pillar, the ice ran out into rocky frozen choss, where it took a bit of braille to find decent sticks before I could relax again. While shaking out the pump, I could see that the fattest ice led up to that chimney, but if conditions improved, a line might form heading to the right. It wasn’t in good enough shape at this time, but it may be worth reinspection at a later date.

In any case, it was the chimney for me. Thin ice festooned its right side, the left was bare rock. At first, it seemed imposing, but the security of bracing my back against the rock and working my crampons up the ice on the right made it seem almost comforting after the strenuous start. At the top of the chimney, another bout of rock-tapping ensued, as I searched through the duff to find pick purchase before extracting myself from the cleft. Another choss ramp led to that ice slab. Escape to the left was possible, up a thinly-iced short wall leading to duff, but the slab looked far more interesting. Getting established on it was tricky, but with a short screw comfortably at head height, I made the transition without too much quaking. It was a comfortable grade 3 run for fifteen feet, then a final twenty foot search for thick choss on otherwise thinly-mossed rock slab to a belay tree.For its mixed nature, we dubbed the eighty foot route Scots Gully.

There is ice scattered on the slope above the top of this line, but we had limited time on this trip, and while some of that higher ice looked interesting, we saw no line that looked more than twenty feet tall. We rappelled, went back to the first crag we had passed to inspect the other nice ice flow, but didn’t have time to climb it. The flow is very steep, almost dead vertical, but all the ice flows down into a convenient ramp that is probably easy grade 2 ice, so this would be a good run for someone looking to lead an easy line and TR a harder one. Hopefully, that someone will include us, not too long from now. I would like to come back, climb this flow and then work up the ridge on whatever little ice bands we find all the way to the top some time.

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The biggest flow at the first outcrop.

Thanks to Tom Lane for the photography.

re: Adirondack Avalanches

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

It may seem ironic, given that this year we’ve had the lowest amount of snowfall I can remember, but I want to mention this avalanche article written by my good friend, erstwhile climbing partner, and Adirondack historian extraordinaire Dick Tucker. The article covers both the conditions that cause avalanches and a long list of recorded avalanches that have occurred here in the Adirondacks. It’s a good, thorough read for anyone who gets out in these mountains during the winter, climbing, hiking, skiing, or what-have-you.

I can add to the list at least two avalanches I’ve witnessed on Crane Mountain. The first was in 2000, at about the same time the skier was killed on Angel Slide. I recall the snowpack was heavy under a crust that had an additional several inches of surface snow. Walking through level woods would frequently elicit those scary “whoomphs” of snowpack, radiating unusually far from me. During one hike, I walked up the southeast flank of the mountain, reached a bench running along the top of a steep slab, and began walking along the top of the slab. In short order, my steps initiated that snow-settling sound, which triggered a small avalanche on the slab, about 7′ below me. About 25′ of the slab’s snowcover peeled away and swept down the hillside, plenty enough to injure anyone under it.

The second was last year, while guiding a client on the Waterfall Wall. I was at the top of the first pitch, when I heard a noise to my (climber’s) left. A small slough avalanche slid off the slab, dropped into the walk-up gully, and triggered a massive release down the entire chute. Once again, there was plenty enough to injure someone had they been in that gully.

Having one good friend miraculously survive an avalanche (once again, at Angel Slide on Wright Peak), I think it’s important to know that avalanches can and do happen in the Adirondacks. Often, the classic signs are all there, but the feeling that we’re in the East and things like that don’t happen lull us into a false sense of safety. With the burgeoning numbers of both backcountry skiing and ice climbing, that misconception can kill.

I would also add that the avalanches here in the East occasionally confound established wisdom. I know that my friend and his partner dug a classic snowpit and studied the snow structure before moving on and into danger. What deceived them was a relatively solid snowpack – albeit extremely deep one – on a lubricated rock slab. The entire snowpack released. Avalanche lessons cover the contact zone of snowpack to surface, but the bulk of these courses emphasizes discontinuities between layers of snow. The former is often the case here.

So wander over to Drew Haas’ blog and give Dick’s article a careful read.

What will the New Year Bring?

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Well, 2012 is here. Eerily like 2011, it began far warmer than January should be, killing the ice on Crane (and most other places as well). The cold snap is coming on a bit sooner this go-round, so perhaps we will see a rapid reformation. Let’s hope so.

    Goals for Ice Season 2012:

  • Lead Positive Reinforcement (done, on Jan 1st!)
  • Lead Multiplication Gully
  • Lead Lions on the Beach
  • Lead Leap of Faith
  • Lead something new at the Wayout Wall
  • Explore Humphrey Mountain for ice
  • Put up a couple more routes on Dutton Mountain
  • Lead Black Mountain Pillar

I’ve got a muleload of rock goals, as always; but with a rapidly collapsing house, I expect my free hours during the warm season to be few and far between. There’ll be a couple clean-up items from 2011 to do, so I’m trying not to add much in the way of new things to the rock list. That was a major reason we pushed so hard in 2011.

High among the important items of life I must consider is our upcoming 30th Anniversary. Whoa, thirty years. Poor Ra, looks like she got the life sentence. I’d love to take her to Germany to visit Elbsandstein…but there’s that house thing, again. I’d put the house off another year, but there are plans for 2013 as well; and I very much doubt it’ll make it another three.

Despite mental denial, that left shoulder is heading for the same fate as my right did in 2009. That’s something I will try to put off for a few more years. The left knee is following suit, though, and I’m not sure how long I can put that off. Immobility will make staying in shape difficult, if not impossible.

Perhaps I shouldn’t concern myself overmuch with longterm plans such as housebuilding. If the Mayans are right, this old house only needs to stand until December 21st!