Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Charm ?

Sunrise from near the top of Kancamagus Pass, a beautiful start to the day.

As the saying goes, "The Third Time is a Charm". Yesterday was the Third time I set out to do an Ice Climb in Franconia Notch on Mount Lincoln, appropriately it is called "Lincoln's Throat". Back in December 2006, myself, my friend Todd Ringelberg and two other friends, Tim and Jeff tried and came very close to climbing this route. We broke free from the main drainage too early and ended up climbing a short interesting ice gully and then with a lot of determination, but not much reason, bushwacking up the unnamed and trail less west ridge of Mount Lincoln. What a BRUTAL trip that was. At one point, I seriously thought I was going to collapse from exhaustion! We were surmounting little rock ledges, pine trees and chest deep snow drifts. It was an EPIC by all accounts. On our second attempt, Todd and I were stymied by the deep snow of Winter 2008 and enteri
ng the drainage too low down from The Old Bridal Path hiking trail. We tucked our tails back and headed home. After reading reports from other folks who climbed this route just last weekend, I rallied Todd and we decided to give it another go. Lincoln's Throat is not necessarily an "Ice Climb". Climbing this is more of a mountaineering adventure and a non-typical climbing up a mountain. The amount of roped technical climbing is small in comparison to the whole trip. The start is from the Lafayette Place Trail head, where the Old Bridal Path and Falling Waters Trails begin. You hike about a mile up the OBP at the "hair pin" turn and descend down off the trail steeply, through thickets and pine trees to the Walker Brook which drains off of Mount Lincoln. Once your at the drainage, you navigate up along the stream bed which gets significantly steeper the higher you go.

The train of people climbing up the drainage.

The day began at 4 am. I made a thermos full of coffee for the climb and a huge mug for the drive. On the road by five, the drive was pretty quick. I caught the sun coming up by the time I hit the top of the Kancamagus. Then, as I was coming off the Kancamagus Highway merging onto I-93, I saw the RIngelberg mobile creeping up the road, good timing! We knew we were behind at least one party of two as we saw them leaving when we drove into the parking lot. What we didn't expect was, the hordes of people who also intended to climb this route on this day, it was an International event! Besides Todd and I, we met two Canadians, and a group of Russians (7 in the party) and another couple of Americans behind us. The Russian group steamed past us, clogging up the drain shall I say. One of the Russian ladies came by us and said " So much for peace and quiet, there are seven of us, and a few more people, we thought we would have it to our selves" Well if you ask me, a group of seven is not my idea of Peace and Quiet lady...Not really wanting to race all of them to the base of the "climbing" we let most of them go by us and we slowly made our way up higher, stopping to put crampons on and to take out our Ice tools. We waited and waited and waited for these people to climb through the throat. Some in their own party broke off right up the low angle slabs to the top. All this waiting and the day is coming closer to an end.

Ice Climbing is 90% waiting and 10% climbing usually and while your waiting in the cold you can only dream of summer as your digits begin to freeze....Usually you get impatient with your buddy as he leads the pitch and you freeze. My feet got really, really cold and I kept trying to "swing" them to get the blood flowing again. Finally the coast was clear and I heade
d up. Todd belayed me from a snow ledge we chopped out and I was able to find a nice nut placement. Ok good I thought, a bit of protection in the system. I climbed the snow higher right to the base of the ice. It was very brittle and hollow. I just could not get a screw to bite very good anywhere. I tried climbing up higher, searching for a good placement. With the most difficult moves right in my face, I just could not focus and climb through. So I backed off and went back down to Todd, who had moved up to my nut placement and was now belaying me from there. Back at the belay, we swapped the necessary gear and I found a spot for another nut and secured the anchor a little bit more. Todd was now at the base of the ice and actually found two fairly good screw placements to give him mental confidence to climb through. He worked it out in fine style I must add and moved higher up near the end of the rope and set up his belay. I was REALLY cold at this point and became impatient (like I mentioned earlier) I hastily dismantled my anchor and moved to the base of the ice and the screws he had placed. I was not a happy climber at this point...Really feeling the cold feet or actually I could not feel them which was the problem. I yelled climbing before I even knew if I was on belay or not and got an ANGRY sounding "Hang On".

Todd- Placing an ice screw at the base of the Throat.

Todd- through the difficulties.

Finally, I was on belay and climbed through quickly to see if I could get some warming of my feet and blood flow going. I am so glad I did not lead it, my first climb of the year and I was not ready for the difficulty. Thanks Todd, nice work! I arrived at the belay and moved through pretty fast. Looking up, there was a large snow slope that was not very consolidated the higher up I got. I put a runner around a small tree to give me some protection and ran out the rope as far as I could. The timing was perfect as there was a nice thick pine tree I used for an anchor. Bringing Todd up went by quickly and we wondered how much further to ridge line it was...?

The sun setting over Mount Moosilauke.

We swapped one more full and one short roped pitch and I was on the Franconia Ridge hip belaying Todd up. The views of all the mountains around me were incredible. I took quick note; The Presidential range far to the east with a very white Mount Washington dominating the view. The Pemigewasset Wilderness, the Owl, the Bond Cliff range seen in the immediate foreground with Mount Garfield and the Twin Range and a towering Mount Lafayette up the ridge immediately to the north. Due west Cannon Mountain, the HUGE wall of Cannon Cliff and the Kinsman peaks.

Todd climbing up the final snow slope.

It was 3:30 when we topped out and we knew we should move quickly to our descent on the Falling Waters Trail. We hiked down off the summit just enough to get out of the wind and decided to put the rope away and get rid of some of the technical gear. The hike down to Little Haystack was uneventful but, very enjoyable while daylight faded and the white mountains lit up the sky.

On the summit of Lincoln with Mount Washington and the Presidential Range to the East.

Just below the summit of Little Haystack we met a Canadian guy who was with some other folks down the trail that we met later. They were doing a nighttime traverse of the Franconia Ridge, Falling Waters north and down the Old Bridal Path. It must have been a great night for it.

Mount Lincoln from Little Haystack.

We hiked the 3.2 miles from Little Haystack down in about two hours. Along the way I felt an incredible burning on my right big toe. We stopped and had a look, my toes were numb from being cold earlier and they never really fully thawed. I had a nice blister on the underneath of my right big toe. Moist to the touch, it was tough to say though if it wasn't just a friction blister. The numb toes were the concern along with that. When I got home last night I soaked my feet in water and have several times this morning. Besides numbness on all my toes on both feet, the pads of both big toes but more so the right, are harder to the touch, scaley feeling and I have some nice blisters, only water blister though, no blood filled or "black" colored ones. I'd say Frost Nip for sure (numbing) and some minor Superficial Frost Bite (blisters). I am having a bit of a tough time walking and have to keep my toes pointed up. Hmmm...where is my vicodin from last years kidney stone battle? I had a small bit of frost nip on my right index finger about 12 years ago from a day of hiking in Subzero temps (actually on my last New England Four Thousand Footer, Carter Dome) and it took over a month for the numbness to go away and my skin cells to regenerate a bit. It's weird but, the skin peels in this area several time a year and can look discolored and swollen when my hands get real cold.

We celebrated the days accomplishment with some excellent food at the Woodstock Inn. I had a HUGE cheeseburger with fries and started things off with classic french onion soup that hit the spot. The drive back up and over the Kanc was nice, the snow on the peaks lit up the night sky. After the effects of a full belly took over, the rest of the drive home was tough, I had to pull over for a quick cat nap. In the end it was a very long day for sure. I saw the sunrise and go down and covered a lot of terrain during that time.

Here is the GPS track image from Motionbased.

View Larger Map

Also more pictures from the day-
Lincoln's Throat

1 comment:

The Rabid Outdoorsman said...

Back in the day my buddy and I used to drive over to NH and the Whites at every opportunity. Some of my favorite climbing was Shoestring gully, Damnation (Huntington Ravine) and Cinema Gully. We would climb all weekend and then if we didn't get enough climbing we would do some more in Bethel at Grafton Notch on the way home.

Good time, good times . . . your pics are great!