Friday, March 11, 2011

Reflections from the Brotherhood of the Rope

The rope, the rope, the rope!  How thankful I am for the rope. It's quite a connection! The safe, confidence inspiring feeling you get when "tied in" makes climbing in the Alpine Zone or any "zone" for that matter, so relaxing.  I'm just back from an amazing day on Mount Washington.  As we've done so many times this season, Todd and I roped up, our intent this day on getting up Damnation Gully, his first ascent on this one and the fourth time I've climbed it.  We had initially planned on making Pinnacle Gully the climb for the day, but a bit of a late start, other climbers hiking through and heading that way, opened up Damnation as our option, especially when Todd said he'd never been up Damnation Gully.  First attempted by Robert Underhill and Lincoln O'Brien in late winter 1929, the first complete ascent of Damnation did not happen until January 31, 1943, when William L. Putnam & Andrew J. Kaufman made it to the rim of the ravine.  Damnation is the longest gully in Huntington Ravine.
 Photo above and left is of Todd starting our first roped pitch.

Huntington Ravine 3/9/11

The weather was absolutely stellar for us, blue skies, no wind and warm, by Mount Washington standards. Together, we climbed Odells Gully on November 28, 2010 in quite opposite conditions and we had made other attempts to get back into the ravine, but either weather or higher than acceptable avalanche danger turned us back to go off and enjoy excellent days of climbing in Crawford Notch. 

We followed the boot pack of a skier who climbed to just below the first ice pitch in Damnation. We found him anxiously awaiting our arrival to a safe zone, which allowed him to ski down through.  Todd and I moved to climber's right below a large rock and told him to "send it".
Solar gain was working to his advantage, but a very thick layer of rain crust was still a factor in his descent.  He seemed to be a very controlled and experienced skier as he jump turned past us, exclaiming how good it was to be up here on this day! Watching his turns down the lower gully and into the fan, he nailed the whole run in fine style.  Pictured in the photo above is the skier we followed into Damnation.

Speaking of "sending it"  Following Todd's most excellent lead on the first pitch, I took the sharp end on the second pitch. One bomber screw, a very well placed nut, followed by a long 150 foot run out on super stable, but steep snow and I was at the second belay stance, happy, calm, confident and thinking only good thoughts.

Todd climbing up the steep, stable, snow slope on the second pitch

My sweet rock pro belay anchor at the top of the second pitch.

Quote of the day "I love placing rock pro when ice climbing, it makes me feel so happy"  Aside from making me feel so good, it definitely is needed with conditions such as we had.  Little in the way of available or good quality ice to place screws, yet ample cracks and crannies for placing rock gear.  A long fall on this steep terrain with the slick crusty coating could spell disaster.

On that note, and to my point of the bond and brotherhood of the rope, what a difference a day makes! Yesterday, 3/10/11 at 10:30 AM, a solo climber triggered an avalanche in Pinnacle Gully (photo left) just above the first pitch, which swept him over the first ice pitch (about 180 feet) and he then proceeded to fall in total 1300 feet to the floor of the ravine.  Details are still emerging, but this climber is most certainly feeling lucky to be alive!  He is reportedly recovering in the hospital with a broken femur and other injuries.  I'm not willing to Monday morning quarterback his climb, but I wish him well in his recovery.

I am barely visible in the photo above on the crux pitch through the rock band.
Photo -Todd Ringelberg
The third pitch of the day climbed more low angled snow to the crux of the climb. Arriving at his belay anchor I took Todd's advice to climb straight up through the rock band, keeping to the right of the gully. I found some spicy moves on thin ice covered rock and good mixed moves finishing up a steep snow slope to a meager belay stance with marginal (at best) protection placed at the anchor.  I hunkered down, belaying while sitting, with feet firmly placed in the event of a fall from Todd, I would have to hold his weight while belaying from my waist, in true mountaineer style.  As expected, he did not fall and quickly joined me at the anchor, where we exchanged pleasantries about the pitch I had just lead, then he moved on through to the final pitch.  I was relieved to have him place a solid nut, followed by an ice screw just above that, which allowed me to worry less about my anchor having to hold us in the event of a mishap. Then he disappeared, as I quickly fed out rope in meters.  Knowing he had arrived at the top of the ravine, I began to dismantle my sketchy anchor and quickly started to climb after getting "the signal" (energy through the rope) that I was on belay. The exit moves up the final snow slope were just amazing and I finished up the gully seeing Todd, sitting in the snow, all bundled up belaying me safely through the finish.  I looked left and the sun was shimmering through approaching thin clouds showing the summit cone just full of snow and gleaming from the shiny crust covering the entire mountain. 

Another Great Day on the Hill!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Eagle Eye Vision

Just spent a great day fishing with friends on Lower Range Pond.  Well, they fished, I just hung out in the sun.  I took the above photo, which I dedicate to David, Luisa and Bobby Jo.  Left to right, a peace sign, a read between the lines, and a sarcastic thumbs up.  After a long year away, Myself, Brothers Roy and Pop Roy reunited together again with nothing to stop future gatherings. 

The Boys were busy chasing flags. After a slow season, I'd like to think it was merely my energy and presence that brought them such good luck.  Jim was first, pulling out a large Bass, then J-Roy with a Brown trout. A few stolen bait later, it was Pops turn. A nice Rainbow Trout which was the only fish not tossed back into the respective holes. 

We had seen one of the resident Eagles who graced us with a fly by earlier in the morning, then again in the afternoon, flying directly over our base camp with nothing but a pure ulterior motive, taking stock of the Rainbow Trout being chilled in the snow. With little thought a few minutes later, Jason grabbed the trout and started walking a hundred feet or so on the ice away from base camp, he tossed out the fish for the Eagles.  Little did we know, but another Eagle had seen him grab the fish and before he was able to get half way back to us the Eagle was hovering over J-Roy's head, as if to thank him in some way, then he swooped down, grabbed it and flew back toward the nest. What a beautiful gift to witness such nature in action!

The hover!

The Swoop!

Thanks for the great day guys!