Wild West Ice

We found the “big” ice on West Mountain.


Way back when – early 2011 to be precise – Tom Lane talked me into looking over the cliffs along the southern ridge of Hadley Mountain (more properly, West Mountain, of which Hadley is part). Those early spring wallows through thick snow led to the development of the Rods’n’Guns Wall. Much of 2011’s rock season was spent there, scrubbing, rehearsing, and sending a couple dozen routes.

In the earliest phase of that development, I noticed a brilliant patch of ice high on the ridge as I drove to meet Tom. We had walked the length of the ridge from Hadley Mountain Trailhead to our new crag, and while we had seen some ice, it never looked big enough to match the flow I could see from the road, miles away. During last ice season, we forayed out again in search of ice, with “mixed” results: a short bit of icy choss near the Whaling Wall. Still no “big” ice, nothing noticeable from a distance.

We made one more search, this past December, before the snow piled up. Walking from the trailhead, we traversed the entire ridge, below the Whaling Wall, then to the broken cliffs above the Rods’n’Guns Wall. From there, we climbed to the ridgetop and began walking back northward. Hugging the dropoff along the east side, we finally stumbled upon the likely suspect. By the time we found it, we were both tired and running out of daylight. We couldn’t see a lot from the top of the slope, but it was obvious that a lot of the cliff running back south of us was coated in a thin glaze of ice, far too thin to climb, but then, nothing had formed up anywhere on Crane yet, either.

The snow came in one fell swoop, making travel difficult. I kept putting off the slog out there, but when a Saturday dawned without obligation, I thought two people might manage the arduous task of breaking trail out there. Unfortunately, Tom’s day was scheduled in, but a call from Mike Prince renewed the plans.

Neither of us were terribly motivated. Coming off from a long bout with the flu, and carrying an increased load of holiday feasting, coupled with the prospect of what I knew would be difficult snowshoeing, made procrastination the mode of the day.

We arrived at the Hadley Mountain Trailhead after 10:30, loaded up, and began ascending the trail. This leg of the journey was at least well-packed. Snowshoes were unnecessary as we hiked slowly upward, passed at regular intervals by hikers who had resisted that second drumstick, hadn’t wrestled illness, or were just plain made of better stuff than we two.

Reaching the height-of-land, the idea of leaving that trail made me cringe. But leave it we did, contouring along West Mountain’s ridge below its top. On and on we tromped, Mammut racing ahead, and so at least slightly breaking trail for us, from time to time. The trek seemed to go on for hours – did, actually – but we finally saw ice glimmering ahead of us.

Our first good look at the northern rampart

This was obviously the formation I’d seen from the road. We dropped down the slope to peruse the objective from below. The northern end of the flow is truncated by a long, vertical cliff forming a right-facing corner running up the side of the mountain. That face itself peaks out at 60’+, was coated in verglas and had several bands of fat ice. To the south, the ice flowed down through a series of rounded ledges dividing steep bits of wall. The rampart blocked much of our view in that direction, but the ice appeared to run on for nearly a hundred feet or more.

The upper part of the rampart ends in a wide
chimney capped by an overhang

We were already running late, but both of us wanted to climb something, so we looked things over and opted for what appeared to be the only “3ish” line nearby. We climbed up a snowy ramp to a continuing rock rib. Blocked by an overhang at 20′, we traversed 6′ left along a steep face to a stance on the “stepped”, east-facing cliff. A few short vertical steps with those stances between led to the top, all-told about 80′ of WI 3+ ice.

Mike stands below one of the low-rampart flows

We didn’t have time to TR the really good-looking stuff, such as the 60′ vertical flow near the upper end of the rampart, or the mixed chimney at the top, or even the shorter vertical flows along the rampart below. As it was, our escape barely beat nightfall. Rather than retrace our steps, which led upward a long way, we cut north and down. Ten minutes of wallowing led to a feasible chute that brought us down alongside a small outcrop with a large overhang at its bottom, a feature I had looked at on earlier trips. Moments later, we were on the path Tom and I knew well. We walked north, below the Whaling Wall, below that nice boulder, along the boundary of a private inholding, and downward yet more, passing a small crag I’d not yet seen, but will definitely return to in rock season.

Forty feet of armbar, anyone? 

After gawking at that cliff for a minute or two, we continued to walk north and descend when possible, hoping to meet the trail lower, but even doing this, we still had almost fifteen minutes of clomping down the Hadley Mountain trail before reaching our vehicle.

The Wild West Wall (keeping to the W theme we picked up somewhere along the way) lies near the top of West Mountain ridge, south of the Whaling Wall, in fact not far from the southern end of the ridge. There is a large, marshy level spot on the summit that drains down a channel to the east, feeding this ice. If you go, expect an hour or more approach time.

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