Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Central Gully, Mount Washington

3/17/09 Climb up Central Gully in Huntington Ravine.

I'm SAD, I am suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder! The last few weeks I have been yearning for Spring, though you would not know it's finally now spring this morning. The last week or so we really had some nice weather and after a 60 mile week on the road bike, I rode over a hundred miles on the bike the very next week, a good first start to the cycling season, I even rode one day at Mt. A on the frozen trails. My mind works in odd ways, after two long rides on 14th and 15th, I looked at the extended forecast for early in the week. It looked really nice to hit up Huntington Ravine for some Alpine climbing. My good friend Al Hospers and I have been trying to climb together for a few years and it just has not happened. We committed earlier in the year to climb this ice season and we had been exchanging emails about the very day we were going to have, blue bird, stable snow, light winds and warm temperatures.

What does this have to do with being SAD? I had nearly written off winter this year when the we hit 55 degrees and the snow started disappearing on the seacoast. But, you just can't let go can you? After all, who would pass up a beautiful day climbing in such a spectacular location. I cleared the day off in short notice, it's nice to have pre authorized "blue bird" days. Al and I met for 7:00 AM, which for me means a 3:30 wake up call and on the road for 4:15. Believe it or not, that is the hardest part. After about an hour and fifteen minutes, we were hiking past the Harvard Cabin. I have been reading the Avalanche reports faithfully every day all season and the snow pack stability had improved to perfect mountaineering conditions. Having arrived at the floor of the Ravine, we had been watching climbers assemble at the base of various gullies and our options for climbs were thinning out. Al said he would be happy climbing Central Gully and I agreed and mentioned we should solo it. We ditched his rope and hiking pole at the Albert Dow rescue cache since we had also decided to descend the Escape Hatch right back to the base of the Ravine.

South and Odell gully with a load of snow on the lower scrub and rock talus.

We started hiking up the fan and got about a third of the way up and stopped to put our crampons on and take out an ice axe. There were two very serious accidents just two days before our climb and one of the guys fell right from the ice bulge in Central Gully about 800 feet to the rocks below, suffering multiple facial injuries, a broken leg, and arm. I hope he is recovering with some relative comfort. This is the problem with such good climbing conditions, it is absolutely vital that you have solid mountaineering skills and your self arrest skills turn on in a flash. Now I am not saying this mountaineer had limited experience, I am saying I was on red alert, closely paying attention to how and where I planted my feet and axe as I climbed up a beautiful snow slope.

Looking down at Sparky (me) climbing the Fan.

If you are a savy "Adventures of Sparky" reader, you remember I had been up here last November, climbing after a fresh snowfall that was just enough to cover all the rocks with a slick snow surface. This was easy climbing by comparison, all those rocks were now feet below me buried in snow. As I was climbing up, I really started tuning in. Climbing without rope, on terrain that you feel very comfortable on is bliss. I really needed to get back to this level of mental stability with my "level" of acceptable risk. The healing continues....

A very FAT first pitch of Pinnacle.

Al and I were behind a three person team of ski/mountaineers who were also climbing Central Gully. We figured they intended to ski back down, so just before the ice bulge we hung out and chatted, admiring the view and watching the climbers file into the lower Ravine and scatter to wait for their choice climbing line. After a few minutes, we started seeing small chunks of snow come down from the turns above. Then the first skier arrived at the ice bulge.

Brian Post at the top of the Ice bulge in Central Gully.

A couple of side steps down to better position himself for the "crux" and one nice swoop turn and he blasted by us churning and turning, with a hoot and a holla, eventually stopping just before the exposed rocks from the fan. Skier number two up next, Actually, I took a cool video of this guy, Jesse Billingham.

The Third guy, I actually never got his name, with all due respect, looked the least comfortable up there and almost lost his edge as he faithfully took that swoop turn off the ice. He actually hung on tight and went into his turns down with great style and control, well done! That was really cool, I had never seen anyone ski Central. You wouldn't catch me up there skiing that's for sure! Sounds odd considering I was up there climbing, with out a rope. Funny how you get up on the ice bulge and remember just how long it is as you peer down through your crampons to the exposure below. It was a few good climbing moves to clear through the ice and onto the super stable snow slope above the ice.
Looking down from just above the Ice bulge in Central Gully.

Looking up at a rope less Al Hospers and the remainder of the climb.

Al and I made pretty quick work of the upper gully and before you knew it we were at the top with stunning views of the upper mountain and a windless Alpine Garden.

A successful climb with thumbs up approval!

It's days like this climbing on the mountain that take all that SADness, (Seasonal Affective Disorder) away. All the pains of the Winter 2008/2009 gone. A realization of soon to come days of paddling across an open lake in the Allagash, a long bike ride through killer single track or a hundred miles on the road through the notches of the north. This day, a great day with a great friend! The last couple of pictures are of our descent down the Escape Hatch, steep snow, but not terribly difficult.

Al Hospers makes his way down the Escape Hatch, look for the shovel handle three clicks south of the Pinnacle Buttress.

The red line shows our descent down the Escape Hatch

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Word! Nice pics and video of psycho skiiers. I finally made it out to climb with my friend Dave, (you met him @ Snow Hill) and we did Wileys Slide. We were climbing the same day as those accidents on Washington. It was awesome. We led it, then descended. Then we soloed it!! Tommy-C