Ice Season: November and December 2013

Jekyll & Hyde couldn’t be happier with this season’s weather. We’ve had extended bouts of wickedly-cold weather, bounded by bursts of springtime warmth, which usually involved lots of rain. Which always meant severe deterioration of the ice. We have not been stymied however. It has been a decent season so far.

Unintended Initial Ice

Despite the meteorological setbacks, we’ve managed to get out fairly often. Crane Mountain’s Waterfall Wall played an early role, allowing us to reacquaint ourselves with pointy tools and slippery slopes before pressing on toward steeper objectives. Starbuck offered those opportunities aplenty, and proves itself capable of withstanding the severe rains that came our way. We even hiked along Black Mountain, where we paid a visit to an old friend I’ve not seen since 2011, which turns out to be located at the same place that summertime rockclimbers call the Elvis Wall.

Verglas on the Beaverview Wall

November, and verglas coats the slabs of the Beaverview Wall

While I didn’t plan on climbing ice, and brought none of the usual gear, one might say the season started with an ascent at the Beaverview. I wanted to climb Heart Thrills, which I’d not done since its FA way back when (sometime in the 90s). The original start was its usual chossy mess, but it was also very icy. Without crampons or an axe, I deemed it wise to look for a different place to begin. I walked across the Beardsley Buttress to its left side, where I found a notch with enough indigenous vegetation for handholds, to make upward progress. The jumble of loose blocks at its top were thankfully frozen in well enough to maintain their position as I clambered over them to a narrow, brushy ledge. From there, I worked my way up to the large, sloping platform at the top of the buttress, below the final 100′ or so of slabs to reach the top.

Selfie at Beaverview

Requisite Selfie: mainly to show the usual path of Heart Thrills, which takes the cracks directly above my head.

That’s where I ran into open rock – plastered with a thin veneer of ice. With or without crampons, this was going to be tricky. The original route moved left over the void, surmounted an overhang, then traversed left to reach the top. That wasn’t an option today: the initial slab was thick with wet, treacherous ice, the overhang itself festooned with brittle, little white fangs. It didn’t, in fact, look hopeful anywhere: swathes of black ice seemed to block passage wherever I might attempt to go upward.

I did finally puzzle out a weaving line up the initial icy slab, obtaining a dirty wide crack and using every bit of it to gain a ledge. There, I recomposed myself, thrashed through a short tangle of dead pine and scrub, jittered up a very icy bit to reach a left-leaning chimney/gash. That weakness broke through the final steep slab to easy ground. Sans crampons or ice tools, I’d completed the first mixed line of the season!

Early Season Premiere

Crane Mountain's Waterfall Wall in early conditions

Early Season glazing on Crane Mountain’s Waterfall Wall

I began the real ice season scraping up thin ice on the Waterfall Wall, as usual. My first inspection came in late November, often too early to try climbing. This time, it looked maybe barely sufficient, but I’d lugged the whole ice-gear enchilada with me, and was determined to use it. Cautiously, I pecked my way up, avoiding the streaks where open water streamed down the slab. It was dicey, but I was able to poke my way up the original three pitches before calling the effort fait accompli  and walking off. At this time, rock season wasn’t quite over, but the early ice formation boded well.

Rockin’ in Ice Boots

Top-roping Aquarius

Not enough ice? No problem, we’ll climb Ben Brooke’s rock route Aquarius in ice boots!

Hungry for another taste of ice, I convinced Robin to join me on the short walk to Starbuck Right to scope out its early-season ice potential. Snow was beginning to pile up, but the ice was yet to form. The rock was clear enough however, to give it a shot, so we clambered to the top, set a top-rope, rapped down, and climbed Ben Brooke’s Aquarius, the easiest rock route at Starbuck Right.

Robin belays me up an early winter rock ascent of Aquarius

Robin belays me up an early winter rock ascent of Aquarius

As the Freeze Sets In

Tom works his way up Dark Roast during one of several deep freezes.

Tom works his way up Dark Roast during one of several deep freezes.

Tom and I returned to Starbuck Right for another inspection. This time, it was the mid-December deep-freeze: the high for the day didn’t make it to double digits, and it was well below zero during the night. We bundled up, hiked in, and, deeming the ice and our forearms too thin for leading, set a TR on Lukasz’ & Ben’s Dark Roast. Tom climbed up, a bit tentatively at first, but faster and surer with each tool-plink and kick. We swapped roles and I began to climb, only to find the ice totally rejecting both picks and points. I fell repeatedly: turns out super-cold ice does not respond well to blunt weapons. I’ve resolved never to replace picks and points before New Year’s Day, and on this trip paid the price of my foolish vow. My tools, heavily dented, filed well past their proper lifespan, smashed hopelessly against the armor plating. I never got a good single-swing stick, but instead had to pummel my way up the ice, blasting huge dinner plates along the way. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…

Inescapable Pitchoff Right

Despite the thaw, Pitchoff Right provides the necessary glaze for an intro to ice.

Despite the thaw, Pitchoff Right provides the necessary glaze for an intro to ice.

Plans on using the Waterfall Wall to introduce Jeff Peck to the esoteric delights of ice climbing fell through with the season’s first thaw, which culminated as he drove up from Maryland. Our trip day’s high temperature required a change in venue. Once again, Pitchoff Right was the ace-in-the-hole, and certainly sufficed in providing lessons and burn.

Puttin’ the In-Law on Ice

Brian ice climbing on Starbuck

Brian Ferkaluk reaches the only fat portion of ice on our Christmas Eve hunt for Frosty. The thaw hadn’t left much.

Christmastime brought family home to the mountain, and whenever that happens, I have to lure somebody out for ice climbing. Brian was the victim du jour this Christmas Eve day. Despite the warm spell, we hiked in to Starbuck Central in hopes of finding climbable ice. We managed, barely: the flows had taken a beating from the rain, and the ensuing warm temperatures hadn’t allowed any reformation. We finally climbed the fattest ice we could find: a hodgepodge of thin tendrils leading to one fifteen foot fat blob lying shakily on the naked slab above. Most of us were content to watch Brian tackle this one; preferring to wait for better conditions when the next cold spell came in.

Brian tip toes his way up the naked slab to top out on our only climb of the day.

Brian tip toes his way up the naked slab to top out on our only climb of the day.

Return of the Waterfall Wall

Nearing the top of his first ice climb ever. He's lovin' it.

Nearing the top of his first ice climb ever. He’s lovin’ it.

As 2013 drew to a close, cold temps returned. Good thing, too, since a friend from the city came up with a couple ice climbing newcomers. We were able to spend a full day climbing up the Waterfall Wall, enjoying a bit of sunshine along the way, and even throwing one newbie on the sharp end for the easy pitch.

David leads up the first pitch of Crane Mountain's Waterfall Wall

David leads up the first pitch of Crane Mountain’s Waterfall Wall

Last Call 2013

Mike Prince about to climb up Cataract Falls

Mike Prince about to climb up Cataract Falls

Mike Prince and I (along with Mammut, of course) took a quick jaunt of Cataract Falls, on Eleventh Mountain, a couple days before year’s end, closing out our icecapades for 2013. We climbed the entire falls in a little over an hour, then, on a whim, bushwhacked westward along the upper plateau. This devolved quickly into a miserable thrash through dense balsams and blowdown, while the weather deteriorated into a damp, heavy snowfall. Soon, we were sopping wet and soaked, careening back and forth on our way down the mountain. Despite the conditions, we had a good time, got down safely, and headed home, happy with the last climb of 2013.


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