Ice on West Mountain

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.

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