Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Climbing above the ice on the first roped pitch of Damnation Gully in Huntington Ravine, Mount Washington

I have been pretty busy as of late....So this could be quite long. I promise it will be a good ride. So read on and dream my dreams, walk in my footsteps, climb up and down with me...

I'll start with Monday March, 10th. I hired Marc Chauvin to guide me up an ice climb on Mount Washington in Huntington Ravine. Sure I have climbed there a lot in my life. I have done all but one of the gullies many times over. A few of them with out any rope at all and often solo. This trip was different for me, this was about finding peace within tragedy and relieving some forms of recent desperation in my life. Marc and I met in North Conway and drove together to Pinkham Notch where we started our hike up to Huntington Ravine. The hike was quick and the conversation about all kinds of stuff was great. There we were in the floor of the Ravine looking up at all the Gullies. It was an amazing day, light winds but fairly cold, certainly not a typical March day but, this is Mount Washington! The snow was very stable after a recent rain event and quick hard freeze on the mountain and the Snow Rangers had given Huntington a Low probability of avalanches for the day, so we felt good about heading up. I had initially asked Marc to take me up Odell's Gully to retrace my good friend Pete Roux's steps in some way but, when we got there Marc asked me if there was anything I had not climbed in Huntington's. Since I follow his blog in the winter when he writes about the ice climbing conditions up north, I know he guides a route called Damnation Buttress a lot. This route combines the lower section of the regular gully with some mixed rock/ ice climbing on the buttress. So we altered the plan. I feel he knew what I wanted to get out this day and so he decided we would go up Damnation and descend into Odell's Gully and down further into the escape route which leads to another gully called South Gully.

Climbing up the lower reaches of Damnation Buttress.

The climb up the Buttress was really cool! It was fairly easy climbing, then again, I was not leading it. I feel comfortable going back there someday soon to lead climb it. It had some great mixed climbing moves with some good exposure when you could see since it fogged up pretty quickly the higher we got. Marc made quick work of the climbing. He has been guiding and climbing on this Mountain for 30 years so he knows right where to set up the anchors and belay. I learned a lot from him on this climb up. I am happy to have been able to get this one in as well.

Topping out on the Alpine Garden at the top of Damnation Buttress.

We made our way quickly from the top of the climb over to the top of our descent route. Marc knew right where to go with out any delay in thought. I could have found it, but probably after some time. The fog allowed for fair visibility down into the various gullies along the way. We got to the top of Odell's and looked into it from an angle to see the very top from a good vantage point. We agreed it looked solid and given the day's stability forecast, it was an easy decision. Starting that descent into Odell's was really wild! We were roped together about 2/3 meters apart. The snow was bullet proof and very steep. As I stomped my feet aggressively with my crampons into the crusty snow, small chunks of ice and snow quickly went down the gully. A fall on this type of terrain with failure to self arrest instantly, could be deadly and that was a serious factor to consider. I held off major emotions due to the seriousness of the descent and Marc's careful plotting of our route via certain landmarks and terrain features as we down climbed. But, Pete was in my constant thought as I ventured where he spent his final moments on January 18th. I believe I found a spot on the way down where Pete was in some of his photos from his climb. To be there with him descending with me in spirit and look down that gully and think about him getting avalanched brought me a lot of peace with his death. As I told Steph on my drive home that night, I feel as if a ton of weight is off my shoulders. I hate that he is gone from all who loved him but, he continues to teach me even though I can't call him up at any given time.

Further down Odell's, Marc and I actually had to step down off of an 18 to 24 inch crown line from a recent avalanche that probably was pretty big considering the size of the crack which actually went from one side of the gully to the other. That was frightening, but fun in some twisted way. We made our way just to the top of the first ice section of Odell's and continued our traverse/ descent over to South Gully. A few quick maneuvers through some small trees and a quick belay from Marc down a steep but turning gradually lower angle snow slope and we were in South. We completed the loop, finding our only pocket of wind slab snow just at the base of South Gully. We took the time to dig a shallow snow pit to check the sheer plane of the snow. It was pretty firm and took some effort to slab away. We were completely in safe terrain and it was an interesting test of the snow stability. We made our way down the mountain very quickly. It was an amazing honor to climb with Marc and I am thankful for him showing me Odell's gully from a different perspective. I am plotting my next trip with him sometime in the near future.

Tuesday March 11th, Steph and I had the day off together so we went to Boston and saw the IMAX movie called The Alps. In some way, this story was kind of relative to my previous days adventure on Washington. I highly recommend this movie if you have a chance to see it.What amazing scenery, especially in the IMAX theatre. The Alps are certainly on our list of places to visit, maybe even be fortunate to climb there someday!

Steph inspired!

Before the movie, we also went to IKEA south of the city. I had never been, so Steph gave me the full tour. We had fun and even ate some Swedish meatballs! Well, I ate some anyway....YUM!

Momma Moose!

Saturday March 15th, I met my longtime friend Erik in North Conway for some Ice climbing in Crawford Notch. This was Erik's first climbing in two years, ice or rock, so he was pretty excited. We were hiking down the railroad tracks on the approach and I spotted a fresh pile of Moose droppings. I said to Erik, "I'll bet she is right around here somewhere"..Sure enough, just a few feet down just off the tracks there she was.

Me leading the Monkey

We started out by climbing up lower snow section of Hitchcock gully and traversing right towards a climb I did earlier in the year with my friends Todd and Liz, called Left Hand Monkey Wrench. This is a great climb and it was in big and blue! The ice was in classic soft condition but, good for placing screws. Erik ripped right up it, taking out my protection as if he'd climbed just the day before!
"Just like riding a bike" he said....

Erik climbing out of Hitchcock Gully

After the Monkey we made our way up and over to Hitchcock Gully. Todd, Liz and I had also done this route a month or so ago but, I knew it would be a way to break Erik back into climbing after a long time away. I love climbing on Willard and on these specific climbs. It is a beautiful place to be that can be quite sheltered on the worst of weather days....How about that slung ice column in my picture above? Good old natural pro! I was even able to clip a never before seen bolt down a little lower in the Gully. Erik had a blast! He smiled ear to ear all the way up. I had the rappel set and ready for him when he got to the top of the climb. We both were down and took a little lunch break.

Erik solos up the lower section of The Cleft.

Erik and I plotting our next move, to take out the rope and finish with a little more safety in the system!

After the first two climbs, I suggested we go over and finish up a climb called The Cleft. This climb is relatively easy but, awesome in that it climbs blue ice bulges and snow up a huge slot in the upper cliff band of Mt. Willard. The walls on either side the deeper and higher you go tower above you. After a short solo up the first section we decide to rope back up and finish the climb. I lead the way and bring Erik up the last pitch. We coil up the rope and pack the gear away for the hardest part of our adventure...The bushwhack to the Mt. Willard hiking trail! A party in front of us started to pack the trail but, they could not find the hiking trail and were returning in their steps to rappel the route. I convinced them that it was very close by and they questioned how many times I had done this before...I assured them and left the choice with them to decide....Follow or rappel! Erik and I switched off trail blazing, falling in up to our arm pits in snow at times! We make it to the trail pretty quickly and I push him on to go for the Summit. We are tired but, it is only a short distance further and a small mountain but, the views down into Crawford Notch are well worth the extra effort.

All in all, a great day of climbing with an old friend!

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