Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Back on the Mountain

Tuckerman Ravine from Hermit Lake Shelter. You can see a fresh crown line from an Avalanche the slid Saturday night.
(bowl center)

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent this past weekend on Mt. Washington taking a Level 1 Avalanche Course taught by Marc Chauvin. A few years ago, I took a High Angle Self Rescue Course with Marc and I learned an enormous amount of useful information which really changed a lot of the things I do when climbing, making my outings even more safe. Marc is one of the most highly accredited guides in the valley, also one of a few AMGA certified guides in the area. He has over 30 days of formal Avalanche Training as well. Saturday, the first day of this two day course was spent primarily indoors going over the text book information. There were eleven people in the group, mostly skiers or snowboarders and only 1 other climber, Joe, who is actually from Portsmouth, NH. We all introduced our selves and our reasons why we were there and some words about our background. There were some very interesting people in the class. A lot of them had big trips planned, one to Colorado, and one to Chile, one to the Sierras and on and on. I shared my reason for being there...I wanted to get a greater awareness of how, why, and when Avalanches happen. After 17 years of climbing and hiking in the White Mountains and the recent avalanche death of one of my best friends and climbing partners, I felt the need to further my knowledge of my surroundings. I have been in Avalanche Terrain quite a bit throughout my time as a climber and mountaineer; thankfully I have been lucky so far. Plus, it forced me to get back up there since the awful events of January 18th. I am glad I did too. I found some peace and gained some strength while I was there, which I really needed. The weather was beautiful as you can see in the photos.

After Lunch on Saturday we did some Avalanche beacon training. Essentially, learning how to locate a fellow climber who may be buried. A friend of mine Derek Fox, recently gave me a brand new and very expensive Avalanche beacon. So I was able to use my own tools and learn about how to use it. It was very interesting and I certainly plan to carry mine with me on my travels into avalanche terrain in the future.

Marc pointing out pockets of instability in Hillman's Highway as well as
wind loading taking place high on the Boot Spur ridge.

Sunday we ventured up the mountain, hiking up the Tuckerman Ravine trail. As a group, Marc had told us the day before to make decisions as a group, hike, climb or ski as a group, basically instilling good team work ethics in our minds as we headed up the trail which increases the safety of the whole team. That brings me to Sand Bag # 1! He had said in class on Saturday he was going to "sand bag" or "trick" us and less than half a mile up the trail, we learned that we had been taken! Marc was at the front with some of the younger skiers and they were skinning up the trail. When I say "skinning up the trail" what I mean by that is they have climbing skins on the bottom of their skis that allow them to ski up steep inclines with ease. I was hiking but only just behind the leading group. I quickly caught up as they stopped to shed a layer or two of clothing. It was ten minutes between the leaders, mid-pack hikers and skiers and the tail end of the team. One of the kids (as I call them) set a blistering pace from the start. Marc was happy to allow this to happen since the lesson was that we needed to keep everyone together as a team, fast and slow hikers/ skiers alike. When we all were back together he pointed all this out and prepared us for the next trick or two. The rest of the hike I remained close to Marc, listening to him tell stories of his past trips, pointing out features of the mountain I had never seen, talking about his daring ski descents of gullies like Yale and Damnation in Huntington's Ravine. He even pointed out the avalanche prone slopes which are the reason they shut down the Summer Lion Head hiking trail in the winter and even the gully where Albert Dow had been killed in an avalanche while on a search and rescue looking for Hugh Herr back in 1982. All of these things he was talking about had my ears glued to what he was saying.

That leads into sand bag #2! He started up the Summer Lion Head trail; we all walked by the bright orange sign that says "TRAIL CLOSED IN WINTER". I quickly thought to myself surely he is not going to take us up this trail but he probably has something to show us out of harms way. We stopped at the base of a slide path with obvious avalanche debris where we were standing. He then asked "Where are we?" We all looked around, up and down, left, right, finally someone said "We are in Avalanche Terrain" "That’s right" said Marc. "And how many of you thought as we were hiking by the trail closed sign, where are we going?" "Why didn't you say something?" he asked. The lesson was to communicate and prepare as a team before heading into that type of terrain so everyone is in the know as to where the group is going....We all thought well, he is the guide and there must be a reason he is going up here! Exactly what he wanted us to do...Lesson learned! The Gully he took us into is appropriately named Sand Bag Gully.

Recent destruction in the slide path of Hillman's Highway.

Mount Washington is currently in a 15-20 year Avalanche Cycle. What that means is, because of the heavy snow fall this season; the slide paths that normally run are going BIG, HUGE in fact. Hillman's Highway is one of them, trees some 80 years old have been snapped like tooth picks! It is quite incredible to see actually. If you're interested, hike up to Hermit Lake Shelters near Tucks and see for yourself, but read the Avalanche report before you go, even thought it is just a short distance from the shelter, it does get you into Avalanche terrain pretty quickly.

High winds moving snow into areas down off the Boot Spur Ridge.

We arrived at Hermit Lake shelter and had a bit of lunch while Marc and his assistant guide disappeared to set up a mock rescue scene. He returned about ten minutes later and went to the USFS Snow Ranger cabin to get Chris Joosen, Lead Climbing Ranger/ Avalanche Forecaster on Mt. Washington, so Chris could speak to the group about what the Snow Rangers do. It was very interesting listening to Chris talk about their typical day and what that entails. He answered a few questions and then we all took off to rescue our (fake) Avalanche victims. The first exercise took way too long! Nine minutes before we had our two victims found. The same was for the other group. The second time, we took charge and cut that down to three minutes. It was fun to be put into this practice scenario.

I took in a lot of useful information during this training course that will make my adventures into this type of terrain much safer. It really comes down to making good decisions based on all the available tools at ones disposal. As Marc pointed out to us, "As scientific as they are, avalanches are somewhat unpredictable in that, even on a low risk day, things can still go bad. It is critical to be able to asses your level of acceptable risk on any given day, travel in the safest terrain possible, read the Avalanche reports, check the weather before you go, take observations along the way and don't be afraid to call it quits and return to safety. The Mountains will always be there another day."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ring around the Moon

This week has been a bit somber and after 3 days of The Daily Grind, I was ready for some stress relief. The rain we had again on Monday, followed by the cold temps, convinced me that the trail riding would be pretty sweet. I met up with the usual suspects Wednesday night for a Mountain bike ride at Mt. Agamenticus. It was cold, about 15 degrees but, no wind! Once you hit the woods you warm very quickly if properly dressed. This was just the case since we were soon shedding a layer or two. The snow on the trails was firm and fast with a lot of ice. I forgot my knee pads so I was a bit more cautious, not wanting to go down and take one in the knee cap. The group I was riding with has been on the ponds a lot this winter and I was eager to get out there for my first time this year. One of them will usually carry a short rope and a few carry some Ice fishing spikes in the event someone takes the plunge, so we all felt pretty good about getting out there. We hit upper Folly pond and rode the ice down to a nice spot we could check out the near full moon. It is pretty spectacular when you can ride on the ice, at night. The vast expanse of ponds on this side of the water district is amazing. It really allows you to get to a lot of different areas quicker than during the summer.

Oops someone got a flat!

You can see the eclipse starting in the picture above.

I estimate we rode about 10 miles or so. It was the ride of the winter for me since a couple of approaching snow storms may take a toll on the current stellar riding conditions. At this point, I want spring as much as anyone, but when I get in a ride like last night, it alleviates some of the pains of winter! Another thing that cures a bit of that is. Manny is now at spring training and the Red Sox hold their first full team workout of the year tomorrow. I hope they can find some room for both Crisp and Ellsbury. Both players are incredibly talented. Steph and I are trying to go to at least 4 games this year but, getting tickets is very difficult and expensive.

This weekend, I am taking an Avalanche Course with Chauvin Guides. The course is on Mount Washington. The first day is mostly classroom with a clinic on using avalanche beacons. Day two is in the field up in Tuckerman's Ravine. I am anxious to be on the mountain. I am hoping to find some solace in being back up there.

Saving the best for last but, I am happy to report that the Roy family is very relieved that their Pop Paul Roy is well on his way to recovering from his Heart surgery last week. After a few scary moments and some nail biting, he took a big turn for the better. He was reported to be smiling, joking around and walking the halls to get on his feet. Apparently, he may even be home tomorrow (Friday). Congratulations to you Paul Roy! We continue to send you prayers and healing vibes. Keep up the good work because I can smell the fresh air of the Allagash and anxiously await getting up there with you the Roy Boys for some R & R.

Thanks for reading and I'll have photos and a report on my Avalanche course and experience on the mountain next week.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Walk On Brother

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike." ~John Muir

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Only 1 speed!

So as life is sometimes, it's too easy to get caught up going a million miles an hour. At times, I need to just go 1 speed. When I woke up this morning I checked the weather on Mt. Washington. The outside temperature was -18 below zero and the winds were blowing at 80 mph! Yup, it's a good day to crawl back into bed with Steph and the felines. That mountain will be there another day!

After some French Pressed Java, I was ready to do something. What is all this about going 1 speed you ask? Well, I built myself a fancy new mountain bicycle last fall for winter riding.
First in early December it snowed a ton and the trails were buried, then I had some medical issues, well finally after staring at the bike at work for 3 months, I decided to take her for a spin. My Cannondale 1 FG! I'll leave it to you to figure out what the "FG" means. This is a slick ride. I haven't ridden or owned a hard tail since Steph and I were in Moab, Utah in 2001. This one is special though, it only has 1 gear! (Just gave you a hint at "FG") I figured with all the rain we had on top of the snow the other day that the snowmobile trails would be pretty sweet for some winter mountain biking.

WOW! What a blast! I drove up to Mt. Agamenticus here in Southern Maine where we normally will go Mountain Biking and thankfully the trails had been packed out pretty well by the ATV's and Snowmobiles. It's called riding the spine of the beast! You know that ridge that the snowmobile track makes in the center of the two ATV tire tracks. The beast's spine was firm and fast! One bummer this time of year is that you're at the mercy of the machines...I ran into a lot of dead ends. My studded tires were nice and grippy for passing over the occasional frozen stream crossing or water hole. I was tempted to head onto the ponds for some pure ice riding but, it looked a bit sketchy and I was alone, so I played it safe! I managed a fairly long ride combining a couple of cool trails. I did get a nice cardio work out too! My lungs were a bit painful though from the cold air.

I thought about wanting to be in the mountains today, though I am glad I saved it for another time. While making my way out of the woods, I planned to ride to the top of Aggie on the paved road. It's a steep mountain road with a 13% grade in spots, but it is short only 3/4's of a mile to the top. I thought I could at least get to 690 feet above sea level today! While I was rounding one of the hair pin turns on the road, I spotted a deer on the side of the road just a ways ahead. A truck was coming up the road behind me and I waved them to slow down then I stopped and watched her make her way into the woods. After the truck passed, I went to the spot where she went into the woods and watched her for a few minutes. She was curious, but not enough to stick around. So I continued my climb up. This bike is cool! I'll be anxious to ride with it this spring and summer. Not only is it a single speed but, it has the Lefty fork also. No frozen derailleur cables or frozen derailleur! With the lack of gears it is a bit more of a work out, especially climbing up this road!
I could see Mt. Washington from the top of Aggie as well as the Ocean as far north as Kennebunk. The water was crystal blue, and Washington was pure white and full of snow!


Friday, February 15, 2008

Why Blog?

Half way across the Presidential Range 4/1/07

Well....Why Not!

I admit I have been thinking about doing this for a long time but, I was really never motivated to follow through with doing it. Then I found
Tom and Atticus's Blog.
That was the crimper, I mean clincher! I do like to write and when I found Tom's blog, I was convinced I would give it a try. I hope you tune in and find something interesting about my blog! What is a crimper you ask? A famous quote from a climber friend of mine....When asked "What is a crimper?" His response was..."Something you pull out of your nose!". I think the person who asked him that was completely floored by Ro's response. I guess you had to be there!

So back to Tom and Atticus! They are on quite the quest to climb all 48 New Hampshire 4000 footers TWICE! Yes, Twice this winter! All to benefit,
Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. When I found his blog, I immediately felt connected. Steph and I took our beloved Gus to Angell when he was battling Heart Disease. I contacted Tom about dedicating one of his peaks to Gus and he so graciously accepted
. A donation for their efforts is in the mail! Atticus looks like such a cool dog!

There is a reason I chose Mt. Eisenhower for Gus.
I did a Presidential Traverse last spring with a friend of mine Peter Roux (RIP) in preparation for Mt. Rainier last June. We had an amazing stretch of weather! It was a bit cold, but sunny both days. After summiting all the peaks on the Northern section up to Sphinx Col Saturday, We planned to camp around the Sphinx Trail junction just down off the ridge. Anyway, we got to Eisenhower around 4:00 in the afternoon on the Sunday and hung out for a bit snapping photos, snacking, etc. All of a sudden, four birds (what quickly looked like Canadian geese) cam flying by, in paceline formation, riding the winds so gracefully at about 200 feet above us and a bit south. It ends up that they were Loons making their Journey north, rather than the traditional “honk” the CG would have made, it was an eerie, traditional, yet somewhat muted loon call. It is/was one of the most amazing displays of nature I have ever seen on a mountain summit. So when I saw it was open, I thought about that trip with Pete and that very experience and Gus, it just made sense! We hit all 8 Peaks on this trip and I finally summited Mt. Clay.

I am hoping to climb Mt. Washington tomorrow 2/16/08. I'll get into the reasons why when I post my trip details but, I am headed for the summit via the Lion Head Winter Route, solo.
It's been since April 1st 2007 (see the photo at the top of this post) since I was there and the Mountain is calling me!

One final note, say a prayer for my great friend Paul Roy today. He is having open heart surgery to replace his aortic valve. I hope he recovers well and has minimal discomfort.
We need him around for many years to come.
Paul Roy; The Great Teacher!

Sparky over and out!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Some Happy Ice Climbers!

Todd and I on Mt. Willard

I was able to venture out Ice climbing with some friends on Saturday 2/9/08. We knew with the Ice Fest going on in North Conway and out at the local climbing spots we would have to get an early start. We met in Rochester, NH at 5 am for the journey north on RT. 16. The ride up was uneventful as I was driving, though; I was occasionally getting a laugh while my passengers were "head bobbing" trying to keep from falling asleep!

We make it to N. Conway just in time for some fresh Java at;
Front Side Grind. A local coffee shop in the Eastern Slope Inn. Traditionally, Todd and I will hit the local post office/ convenience store/ gas station/ deli/ grill in Bartlett, NH for the homemade breakfast sandwiches. You know the place, it's just over the bridge from Glen. Coffee, food! We are good to go! We drive north on 302 into Crawford Notch. The Ice at Frankenstein looked mint for the Ice Festers. Standard Route is Big and Blue! Dracula as FAT as can be! Looks like lots of Ice and Snow in the Webster Cliff Gullies...

We arrive at the Willard parking to no wind and a relatively warm temperature. So many times getting ready to head out is the CRUX with the wind racing through the Notch. We install our boots, clothes, and strap implements of destruction to our back packs and head down the railroad tracks. Wow! The snow is deep! A beautiful Sun shines down on the three travelers; Sparky, Todd and Liz. We locate the bottom of the Gully and begin our ascent. I quickly discover that I'll need my crampons, so Todd and Liz stop well below me and put theirs on as well. We make a quick climb out of the lower snow section of Lower Hitchcock Gully. I find what looks like previous tracks and a worn path through trees toward the base of Left Hand Monkey Wrench (LHMW). Along the way we encounter deep snow and some questionable slope stability issues, with all the snow this season up North, it is no surprise that a lot of areas not normally concerning for Avalanche issues are now growing with questionable slopes. I proceed with caution and my fellow mountaineers follow. We arrive at the base of LHMW and I quickly encourage Todd to lead this pitch, I had other motives!

Todd makes quick work of this pitch and anchors off on a tree up top and brings Liz and me up, we simu-climb to the base of the steep ice (pictured above with Todd on Lead) and tackle it separately. Liz moves quickly and I do as well...What a great feeling, Swinging Tools, Climbing with my feet, freeing my mind! Soon I am at the belay and moving through the trees and up a steep snow slope towards the upper tier of Mt.Willard and Upper Hitchcock Gully. We arrive and a party of two is cleaning the climb of their pro. I am psyched to lead this pitch. I fuel up with some energy bars and power gel. We decide to wait as Ice chunks fall into my line. Better to not get nailed in the head with a big piece. I finally am able to climb and it is SWEET! I feel confident and happy to be Ice Climbing while on the lead! Todd and Liz second and clean my pro and we rappel off the route. We further rap down Lower Hitchcock Gully and descend back to the Railroad Tracks.

What a FANTASTIC DAY of Climbing