Saturday, January 29, 2011

Return to my old stomping grounds: Smuggler's Notch, VT

It was so great to be back in Vermont today experiencing the ice I learned to climb on! Smuggler's Notch in Northern Vermont is among my favorite places to climb, and has the greatest concentration of alpine-like ice on the East coast. I was lucky to meet up with my long-time climbing partner Frank, and fellow FMG guides Karsten and Lindsay made it up from the Catskills in NY. We were a little worried about the Smugg's Ice Bash festival taking place, so we got up and left the house by 7:15AM. Parking was easy to come by and it only appeared that a couple other parties were heading out. We worked our way to Jeff's Slide, Lindsay taking first lead with Karsten in tow, and myself starting up to their left with Frank belaying.

On Jeffersonville Slide (WI3+) with Frank belaying. Happy to be done freaking out!

Further up Jeff's Slide loving the blue ice hidden under the snow.

I started the day with a little bit of a sketch fest. I chose one of the harder starts available with about fifteen feet of vertical before a bulge. I got up a little over half of that, put in a screw, and started further up. Nearing the bulge I started pumping out big time! I don't know if it was the Fusion tools I was trying out, or the backpack I was climbing with, or just bad technique, but I decided to furiously down-climb to hang on the screw. It was probably a combination of all those things, but poor technique contributed the most. I started up again slightly to the left and finished the rest of the route, taking my time and focusing on my movement. The second pitch was short but fun, and we hiked down to meet back up with Karsten and Lindsay whom finished before us.

Lindsay likes coiling rope!

So do I! I look silly while dancing to keep warm.

We hiked up to ENT gully, looked at the rad mixed line out the overhanging wall to the left, and decided we didn't have the stones to take it on. The gully had a group on it so we went back to the road and continued further into the notch. We were scoping out both walls and spied a couple vertical pillars on the east side of the notch. I think this is called the Playground or something like that. We hiked up an already broken trail and split up between the vertical pillars and a longer flow of WI3 of the left side of the gully. This was a really fun lead for me and I felt really fluid on it. Karsten lead one of the vertical pillars only to find that it was nearly completely detached at the top. Yikes!

Leading the WI3 in the Playground with Frank belaying me below. The background is the other side of the notch some distance away. I love Smuggs!

Karsten, Lindsay, and I left Frank's place early the following morning to drive across the state two hours to Lake Whilloughby. Mt. Pisgah on the east side of the Lake has the hardest ice climbs on the east coast! Super sustained WI5+ routes of 3 pitches and more. We were aiming for a 'rest' day and got on an easier WI4. A great route none-the-less. Sorry no photos, we forgot the camera. I'm inside working all week but can't wait for next weekend when our Fox Mountain Guides NH trip starts. NH ice here we come!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Choss Mountain: The Future of Winter Climbing in North Carolina

When I first moved to North Carolina I figured the only way I would end up ice climbing was during Christmas vacation back home in New Hampshire. In the past six weeks I've been proved dramatically wrong! I've climbed some of the raddest, improbable ice here I've ever seen and I've lead my hardest lines to date. And this is all thanks to a wonderful little crag called Choss Mountain on the west rim of Linville Gorge.

Ron Funderburke on the left, describing some interesting moves to me before the first WI2+ pitch of a possibly new M5 WI4. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

Aptly named, Choss Mountain is the home to some significant drips of water running down broken metamorphic rock, and often free falling when the wall overhangs. On the couple occasions I've climbed here routes were formed, but much of the water was still dripping. The waterfall you reach upon finishing the approach hike up a creek bed is impressive by any account. It spans a width of at least 70 feet with the potential for 50 foot free hanging columns on the right side. Above the vertical section is another 100+ feet of WI 2-3 terrain. Unfortunately this flow is heavy, and temperatures haven't been cold enough long enough to freeze this properly in place. According to Ron Funderburke, this could be the most impressive formation in all of North Carolina, given it comes in.

The right side of the heavy waterfall. Photo by Karsten Delap.

A handful of other impressive lines are present, often with a dry tooling move or two thrown in for good measure. One of these is a M5 WI4 that Ron and I may have made the first ascent of January 15th. I started with the lead, trying to unlock the crux start taking a fall or two onto a brown tri-cam and backing off a hand full of other times too. I got a bit pumped and handed over the reins to Ron, who quickly fired the route with grace. A mix of rock pro and solid screws yielded a really enjoyable line. There's another few routes of similar style to the left and right of this line. Ron and Daniel Councell did one of them back in December.

Ron topping out his probably new M5 WI4, helmet cam in tow. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

A couple hundred yards to the right of the entry water fall holds a few more short lines. I've lead two of them, one with some cool mixed scramble moves into and out of a cave. The pure ice line goes at WI4 and the mixed line might have M2 or M3 moves on it (I really don't understand mixed ratings). At any rate, they're really fun lines.

Pulling the first few moves of the mixed line. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

Getting up high in the cave to place a couple cams. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

Moving onto the ice above the cave. A couple more moves and I got a solid 13cm screw. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

Cruising to the top of the mixed line. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

A top-down angle of the pure water ice line just to the right of the mixed line. Photo by Karsten Delap.

Cool vantage with a fish-eye lens distorting the edges. Photo by Karsten Delap.

Ron and I were graced with a couple paparazzi whom captured great stills and video of the day. Eric Crews is responsible for the great video below, and many of the still photos are Ryan Sigsbey's work. Also a few shots from Karsten Delap.

There are a few hanging daggers along the wall, one of which Ron gave a shot on top-rope, pulling what looked like 5.10+ moves with gloved hands, crampons, and ice axes in order to reach the ice. More heavy flows abound that could yield serious WI5 columns. And that's just the few hundred yards of cliff we've seen. There could be a bit more just around the bend to the right or left. Anyone with strong mental fortitude and a solid lock-off should be flocking to this crag! I'd love to see what could be made of all this potential!