Weekend Review

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Poster Poser. I did not make it to the top.

After last weekend’s discovery of the ice at (drum rolllll…) Starbuck Mountain, this weekend was sure to bring a crew of interested climbers to the same locale.

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Saturday 

When Scott and I pulled in to the snowclad parking at Cleveland Road’s end, Mike, Kris, Roger, and Ryan were already gearing up, and Lukasz’ parked car was mute testimony that Ben and he had already gone in. We grabbed our gear and began marching toward the latest ice kingdom.

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Scott cleans our first route of the day – and another FA to boot. 

When Scott and I reached Starbuck Central, we chose a line for warming up. The main face is the most alluring, but it is also badly baked out. The fat flow to the left was in fine condition, but Mike was setting up to lead that for his friends. However, a rock rib clove that flow near its right end, providing a fat slice of ice that draped down, covering an overhang with a vertical, shining white curtain. That would do.

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With the main face of Starbuck Central behind him,
Roger sets out on the crux of his first ice climb ever.

It was challenging, but we were up to the challenge. Scott and I climbed the line, then tied Roger in for his first-ever ice climb. He had an afternoon appointment, so he didn’t have much time to try the sport. How would he do, wearing mountaineering crampons on soft leather boots and wielding tools for the first time? As it turns out, very well.

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Ah! The thrill of victory. Roger went out that day and bought ice gear.

After Roger’s successful initiation, Ryan pulled our anchor. Scott and I packed up, eager to move on, catch up with Ben and Lukasz, see new ice, and maybe snag a few more FAs. I’m told Roger went out and bought ice gear later that day. Seems another addict added to the enclave.

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Starbuck Right.

We hiked less than ten minutes west to Starbuck Right, where we caught up with the criminals in action. Lukasz had just led his second FA of the day, complex series of overlapping curtains near the left side of the area. He had already climbed a narrow winding band of ice to the right, a stout-looking piece he dubbed Vanilla Latte. Both his lines were very tempting, and one untouched line looked like it might hold together long enough for a send, but I had wanted to explore farther east, across the ravine to the flanks of Black Mountain, and realized we might not have time to do that if we tarried here.

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Looking back at Starbuck Right. Vanilla Latte is, I believe, the
line just left of center. The other “done” lines are to its left.

So we waved good-bye to Lukasz and Ben and moved on. It’s a bit of a slog, crossing the ravine that separates these two mountains. A private land boundary hugs the slopes just barely below Starbuck Right, so we had to stay high and walk sidehill for awhile before descending to the low point between them. In the hollow, we strapped on snowshoes; after postholing a few times, it seemed the wise choice.

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For ten minutes, then fifteen, we saw little ice of interest. Here and there, a trace of something that might-have-been hinted at what the broken crags above might offer earlier in a good season, but nothing was remotely “in” anymore. About 20 minutes from Starbuck Right, we turned a corner and ran into Black Mountain’s westernmost ice. A wide swathe of easy ice led to a short, steep top-out. I’d hoped for something a bit more challenging, but looking down the mountainside, saw nothing obvious.

Scott stood by the flow while I made that inspection farther, and by the time I returned, he had made a decision. He wanted to lead the route. I hesitated at this idea. Scott had never led anything before. While he is strong – a stronger gym climber than I am – his technical skills are just beginning to develop. He hasn’t worked with rock gear much at all – had never touched a cam until our recent mixed routing day – so I wasn’t enthusiastic at first. But Scott has done a lot of ice climbing, and followed a lot of leads. He knows how to place and remove screws, and we’ve talked in depth about ice quality and balance stances and all the other important aspects. I looked over the route again.

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Scott sets out on his first lead ever.

Scott wanted this. I would be taking something away to lead it myself, and would gain little challenge from it. In the end, we both agreed that he would sew up that upper portion and take it real carefully all the way up. After one more reminder that in ice climbing, the simple rule “Thou shalt not fall” always applies, and Scott racked screws, quickdraws, slings, and ‘biners.

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Nearing the crux of his first lead, and an FA to boot!

Suffice to say, he did admirably. He climbed the bottom without a problem, and made it through the headwall, despite a slight glitch of Z-clipping at the last of three screws there. At that potential debacle, he stayed calm, reached down, and solved the problem, all the while remaining solid on firmly-planted tools and feet. He was ecstatic once he stood safely on top.

I cleaned his lead, checking each placement along the way. He’d done a good job. None of the screws hit rock, all the placements were as good as the available ice could offer, and we were both alive and unharmed. What more can you ask for?

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While Scott led his route, Ben put up another next door.

Ben and Lukasz had caught up to us while Scott racked. Ben had led a narrower, steeper line just right of ours, then the two had continued scrambling upward. We hurried to catch up, but they had disappeared.

We scrambled up an easy gully system – all leaves and trees, snow and a patch of ice here and there – to the top of a narrow ridge. Cresting this, we found a small ravine across and, across it, a formidable short wall of ice draped over a series of large overhangs. Lukasz was already standing at the top of one, belaying Ben up another FA. Can’t keep up with those two!

We ran over, found ourselves a decent-looking line, and climbed it. There are a lot of good possibilities here, but for many, it is too late this season. Couch-sized blocks of ice litter the slopes below; apparently the ice is so narrowly-attached to the overhang that the intense solar radiation it receives makes it questionable. Lukasz had snagged the most-secure fat ice. We snagged a mixed corner leading to a narrow plume of fat ice well-snuggled in a rock dihedral.

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Scott poses on the ridgetop. Moxham Mtn. lies in the background.

After this, it was time to go tourist. Lukasz and Ben had already done that bit and were descending. Their early start left them hungry and tired, so they were ready to head all the way outward. We waved good-bye once more and turned uphill. It was an easy scramble to the top. We walked around, enjoying the view, which takes in the mountains to the southeast, southwest, and northwest; the Hudson River as it winds past the Barton Mines Plant, and the valley leading south toward North Creek.

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Looking down at the Barton Hudson River Plant

The sun was getting low, and we had a lot of descending to do. At the bottom, we judged it too late to attempt any more, although we passed a temptingly easy enough nugget as we headed back to our packs. It would be a long, tortuous slog as we attempted to cut directly across to Route 28 from Black Mountain – don’t do this! – but we got back without needing headlamps.

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We passed up this grade 2ish line on our way back to our packs.

For those intending to explore Black Mountain, there is a lot more to discover. I visited the mountain’s eastern flank a couple years ago, and found a great small flow. Nearby, lay several options that might be good early in the season, and there is at least one other tight-flanked ravine running up the mountain between our latest exploration and my earlier one. I did not see anything of note on a walk up the ravine separating this mountain from Starbuck, but I didn’t go all the way up. Who knows? There may be plenty more new ice to climb.

Sunday

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Lukasz and I were the only returning climbers the next day. Lukasz showed intense motivation by arriving in the morning; I took a more casual approach and joined him by 1 o’clock. He had kept busy, soloing a route or two and ice-bouldering up the short steep pillars at the base of Light’n’Sweet. We looked up at the main face of Starbuck Central and decided there was one line at least not too baked out to try.

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It was a close thing, but barely secure enough for the moment. After tucking another FA under our belts, we were anxious to try something well out of our comfort zones. Lukasz in particular was drawn to a line that led from relatively ice to a steep, bare rock gap. An overhang blocked the way, but a hanging pile of ice offered escape – if we could reach it.

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Suffice to say, this was a blast. I never managed the feat, falling off repeatedly as I tried to reach the transition point; but Lukasz pulled it off twice. After his second shot, we both felt satisfied with the weekend’s fare. Who wouldn’t be?

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