Return to Dutton

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.

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.

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.

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