Author Archives: ethatcher89

The day you stop learning is the day you die…

As part of receiving a scholarship this year for an AMGA course of my choosing, I had to write a reflective essay post course. The AMGA recently put it up on their blog and I thought I’d share it here. Below is the opening paragraph and a gallery of photos from the two AMGA courses I took in the past year. The full essay can be found here

In the past year I focused heavily on growth in my skills as a guide. This growth started in March of 2016 with a Level Two AIARE course. It continued last summer with the AMGA Advanced Rock Guide Course in Estes Park, CO. This past February, it culminated with the AMGA Ice Instructor Course in Crawford Notch, NH. I was partially supported on this final course through the AMGA’s Fallen Guides- Strength of Character Scholarship Fund. This scholarship comes with the responsibility of writing a short essay on the experience. This process has given me a much-appreciated opportunity to reflect on guide education as well as my fellow guides unfortunate accidents in the mountains. Combined it made me reflect on trying to live a long and fruitful life while pursuing a career that, at it’s core, consists of trying to manage a plethora of risks both known and unknown. The connecting theme in my reflection is that humility is the key to growth and longevity in the mountains and in the mountain guiding career.

It’s Alive – Follow up.

I found a new tool through for comparing aerial imaging. It turns out you can easily see the extent of the destruction from the Duet Buttress rock fall between the two most recent imagining surveys, so I wanted to share that here to add to the blog post below.

I also thought I’d point out that Jon Sykes used my “It’s Alive” blog post in his newly released guidebook to The Notches. The guidebook covers a lot of previously unpublished routes in areas like Crawford and Kinsman Notches and the Zealand Valley. It also has a lot of fun historical short stories and tidbits. You can find it on amazon or directly through the local publishers here  “It’s Alive” can be found in the intro to Cannon Cliff.






It’s Alive!!

Cannon Cliff. The Beast of the East. For young aspiring trad climbers in New England this is the test piece cliff. From the beginning of my climbing I was taught to have a special respect for the dangers and challenges of climbing on Cannon Cliff. No doubt, this is for good reason, as any one who stares up at it can tell from the relative size of the talus slope to the size of the cliff. Of any cliff in New England, its safe to say that this is where the largest and most frequent rock fall occurs. While none of the major rock falls have resulted in fatalities, loose rock, caused by the same forces as the rock fall, has been responsible for  all but two of the climbing related deaths on cannon, and significant majority of the accidents. (all of the deaths but two have happened on one notoriously loose route as well, Sams Swan Song. See here, here and here for examples)

A recent walk along the cliffs base after a day of cragging made me mentally catalog the recent major rock falls of the past few years. With more frequent visits to cannon and a resulting increased familiarity with it, I’ve come to realize that this cliff is very much alive. At the hands of geologic forces set in motion hundreds of millions of years ago, combined with weathering events happening each and every day, this cliff is constantly changing, dangerously shedding old skin for new.

How & Why

Exfoliation Domes

While I am certainly no expert on the subject, I’ve gathered some relevant information from a few different sources to present a broad picture of whats going on here, so get ready to get learned. As Imortal Technique says (and appropriately for geology facts) I’m about to drop knowledge so heavy it leaves the earth un-balanced. Cannon Cliff, along with other outcrops of Conway Granite, were formed roughly 180 million years ago as bubbles of magma that penetrated the earths crust thousands of feet under now extinct volcanoes. As a geologic reference this was when all of the continents were joined as the last great super continent, Pangea. Here, under the massive weight of earth and mountains above them, these bubbles cooled and solidified. The weight of the earth above these bubbles, called plutons by folks in the know, is referred to as overburden. This overburden is eventually removed through mountain uplift and erosion, bringing these plutons up to the surface. Once the overburden is removed, the pluton is no longer under compression and starts to expand. As the force from this expansion reaches a certain threshold, the outer more rapidly expanding rock sheers off. This can happen in stages forming a number of layers separated by what are called relaxation joints or stress relief fractures. This causes the recognizable onion peel look of exfoliation domes.

(Some cool resources regarding this):

Beyond Granite: The Geology of Adventure by Sarah Garlick

Exfoliation Domes


Geoff approaching the slabs on Cannon which have the “peeling onion” layered look common among exfoliation domes


Once the rock is exposed two types of weathering affect it in such way as to make it even more loose and unstable. Mechanical weathering happens when water gets into cracks in the rock and freezes, expanding and pushing the rock further apart. The second kind of weathering is called chemical weathering and happens when certain elements in the rock react with elements in water or air causing the rock to dissolve or crumble as bonds are broken.


I’m using this equation to give a false sense of credibility to my words. Actually, its the equation for carbonic erosion, more common on lime stone cliffs.


Recent Rockfalls

Cannon Annotated

Cannon Cliff, Summer of 2016 with rock fall origins and destruction pointed out.

Duet Buttress

Probably the largest rock fall in recent years. I believe this happened in 2013. In the picture below you can see the large white rock scar where the rock fall originated, as well as the treeless area at the base of the Duet rock climb.


Duet Rock Scar (upper left) and DZ (bottom right

This rock fall left pulverized rock dust across the ground and clinging to the cliff a few feet up. It completely obliteraed healthy trees, left pock marks on the lower part of the cliff and even bent over several bolts on a popular rock climb called Sticky Fingers. Check out this awesome gigapan image of cannon (gigapan ) done by Jim Surette. The high definition image allows you to zoom around the cliff. If you zoom in over the base of Duet you can see the pock marked slabs and destruction at the base. If you really explore you can even find some climbers.

Here’s a couple of old pictures showing the tree cover at the base of the cliff here before this rock fall.


From the Whitney Gilman looking north along the cliff base


Directly above where the rock impacted, on Raven Crack. You can see the vegetation that was there before the rock fall.

And another after shot!


Ted Climbing Lightening Cracks with the destruction from the Duet rock fall at the base below. Some revegetation after 3 years.

The Bung Hole


James Otey surveys the scene

If you refer back to the map of rock falls on cannon I posted earlier you’ll see an odd cave like feature called the Bung Hole. This is a section of incredible rotten rock between the classic climbs Moby Grape and Union Jack. Believe it or not there’s even a route that goes right through the bung hole. This rotten rock has eroded away leaving large overhanging roofs of more solid, but now unstable rock above. Some massive blocks have recently fallen out of there, last summer and then again early this spring.


Otey on Reppies Crack with remnants of the first rock fall below

The first rock fall here was relativly small and didn’t really affect the bases of any climbs. The second one was larger and spread to either side as well as further down the hill. The starts of Union Jack and Vertigo, to the north, are now open and covered in fresh debris, and a couple of large blocks even bounced over to the start of Moby Grape, destroying the rescue litter stashed there in the process. This latest round also took out the top section of the approach trail for this part of the cliff. All the photos below show the most recent destruction as of summer of 2016.

A little out of order but here is a shot looking down Vertigo, showing the formerly tree covered base.


Alex rappelling down vertigo with trees covering the base in August of 2015

Lesser Rock Falls

There’s been three lesser, but still noticeable rock falls as well. Around the same time as the Duet rock fall there was fresh debris found just to the south of Moby Grape. This Summer, a fresh scar and debris pile was noticeable on the Cannonade buttress, home to Matt Ritter’s two new mixed alpine routes from this winter. Finally, about a year ago there was a rockfall over on Henderson buttress that was significant enough to take out trees. Relatively few folks climb on that part of the cliff, however, making it not super significant.


Historic Rock Falls

While Cannon’s massive talus field is evidence that there have been many many major rock falls here throughout history, there are two significant ones in the past two decades worth mentioning.

The Old Man

Perhaps the most well known, and well understood of the rock falls was the demise of the Old Man of the Mountain. This iconic rock profile graced our license plates, state road signs and the New Hampshire quarter. I remember the day it came down, the flag at my elementary school was lowered to half mast to mourn the loss of New Hampshire’s official state emblem.


From, “The Geology of New Hampshire’s White Mountains”

I say this is probably the best understood of the rockfalls because the delicate nature of the profile was studied and noted as far back as 1906. In fact, starting in 1916 measures were taken to secure the rock that comprised the profile. Many of these attempts have left remnants that are still visible today including steel cable, metal arms and epoxy drainage systems.  Before I-93 was built the NHDOT went so far as to do a seismic study to determine if blasting and other construction processes would cause enough vibration to knock the profile down.


Jay Conway cruises up “Lake View” Which finishes atop the Old Man. Reinforcing bars that used to hold the Old Man in place hang off the cliff

On his way down the Old Man impacted the slabs at the northern end of Cannon. To this day a lot of loose rock that is unmistakably from the old man litters ledges across the slab. A few years ago I dodged a pinwheeling rock set loose by my partner in this area. It had a steel bar epoxied to it that was clearly part of the old man. A route below the Old Man, Consolation Prize, used to have a finger tips thick crack that was climbed on the second pitch. After the old man fell, it was found that this crack was now as wide as a few inches (thick hand jams). Whether this is from rock impacting the slab and causing it to move, opening the crack, or it happened independent of the Old Mans demise, it certainly illustrates how shockingly mobile massive slabs of rock can be on the cliff side.

Whaleback Crack

Just South of the old man, was an even larger rock fall a few years prior. Here, in 1997, a feature known to climbers as the Whale Back Crack fell off. This massive rock fall hit the talus slope with such force that it was picked up on seismegraphs and created a rock slide 500′ wide by 1/2 a mile long. A large block, believed to be from the crux of the route, made it all the way down to the bike path along the floor of Franconia Notch. To this day the smooth white slab left behind can still be seen. Again, here’s the Gigipan image   of Cannon done by Jim Surette. You can find the location of Whale Back Crack by finding the slabs at the north end and following the cliff to the south where the slabs transition to a more vertical wall. in this area you can see a section at the base of the cliff that looks like recovering vegetation. Straight above here is the smooth rock scar.


Whalback Crack rock fall, taken from “The Geology of New Hampshire’s White Mountains”

Shortly after it fell, a few locals climbed though “the Zone” as it’s now known, and established a new route they called Whale Watchers.


Jon Sykes on the FA of Whale Watchers with the clean rock scar clearly visible.

This picture came from a write up Jon did on the rock fall and ensuing first ascent for Alpinist, check it out here.

In some ways it seems a miracle that Cannon isn’t a more dangerous place. In climbing, “safe” is a four letter word that we dare not speak. While we can mitigate risks we can never fully control them for a “safe” expereince, and every time one climbs they are subjected to risk, just like every time one gets into a car. what we can do is be smart, respectful of the danger and stack the odds in our favor by avoiding cliffs like Cannon when rock fall is more likely (spring, after rain, during the freeze thaw..), climbing on sections known to have cleaner more solid rock, and being mindful of the blocks we pull and push on.

After Thought

Cannons exfoliation is far from the only geologic processes happening in Franconia Notch. Frequent mass Wasting (read, landslides) on the east side of the notch also contribute to an ever-changing landscape. In the time span of the most recent rockfalls , there have been two landslides on the east side. Neither of these have been as serious as those in the past some of which have covered the road on the floor of the notch with over 12′ of debris. Here are two photos, again from “The Geology of New Hampshire’s White Mountains” that show the scope and scale of land slides on the east side of Franconia Notch. (click on either image to see a larger version)


Brain Fodder

If you’re as curious about the geology of the mountains you play in as I am then I highly recommend checking out these books that are both incredible informative and easy reading.

The Geology of New Hampshire’s White Mountains

(Holderness School friends, one of the authors of this book is an Alum)

Flakes, Jugs, and Splitters: A Rock Climber’s Guide to Geology

by Sara Garlick

Sara is a local crusher of climbing and science who, as well as writing a climbing centric geology book, curated a museum show focused on the geology of adventure in the White Mountains. While the exhibit has ended, the work lives on in the Gigapan image I’ve linked multiple times here, this article she wrote for it,Beyond Granite: The Geology of Adventure, and this awesome video that was put together to promote the show.

Beyond Granite

JT and Amanda climb the Whitney Gilman with MMG

A week ago I got the opportunity to climb the awesome Whitney Gilman Ridge on Cannon Cliff with two inspiring teens. JT and Amanda tackled the physical challenges of the 600′ 5.7 climb with relative ease. Add on the hour long approach straight up a 1,000′ talus field, and the knee numbing hour long descent straight down (welcome to hiking northeast style) , and they had one heck of an outing. What really impressed me though was that coming with relatively little experience (first day outside for JT, one of the first for Amanda) they handled the “exposure” on this infamous climb as though it were nothing. To those who aren’t hip to the climbing lingo, exposure refers to how the hight of a climb feels. This being a ridge climb with a straight drop on one side, and truly being situated on the side of a mountain, the exposure is real. To get a sense of what I mean, check out the photos here…

Here’s a little teaser!


It doesn’t get much more exposed


JT on the pitch 2 crux

P.S. the history of this route is pretty fascinating. See Yankee Rock and Ice for more detail, but it was first done in 1929! Hassler Whitney, one of the first ascensionists, was also a famous mathematician

Brown Outing Club

I was lucky enough to wrap up this years odd winter guiding season with one of he most fun weekends of guiding I’ve had. Good friend and Co worker, Tim Mijal, and I got to guide for two separate Brown University Outing Club ice climbing trips. Mooney Mountain guides has formed a great relationship with the university that we hope to see grow, as working with their students and trip leaders is a great time.

On Saturday we had ten intrepid climbers of various backgrounds and experiences from freshman to nearly finished med students. The ice was borderline but we were able to get ropes on a number of the more entertaining steep lines, including Hanging By a Moment which has a puzzling mixed finish. The gang was psyched and climbed well into the afternoon getting as many laps as they could.

On Sunday we had another group of ten. Arriving at the cliff, it was apparent that the lack of freezing temperatures the night before really did a number on the ice climbs. The two lower angled ramps were still climbable and safe but unfortunately we weren’t able to offer this group the same variety of climbs. Despite that, they showed their psyche by running lap after lap on the climbs, sometimes only with one tool or none at all. They said I was making them, but really I think they were excited for the challenge. This group also had a couple of trip leaders who were eager to learn more of the technical side of climbing, so we were able to make an anchor and practice clove hitches and munter hitches. Hopefully everyone not only had fun but learned something new and will remember this trip for a while to come!

Below are galleries from the two days. You can click on any image and it will come up larger and allow you to scroll through.




Big thanks to B.O.C for coming out with us yet again. A lot of you guys shared some exciting climbing plans for the coming year, (Joshua tree, red river gorge, learning trad etc.) I hope all goes well and perhaps on next years ice climbing trip (or Mt Washington?) I get to hear how it all went!


Return to Normalcy

Much Like America in the 1920’s, what I need over the next month is a return to normalcy, however much I hate to use a republican campaign slogan. The past two months have been filled with a significant change from my past winters and lots of time thinking of the idyllic job of running a high school climbing program. This work, while awesome and very meaningful to me, has made me soft.  Half Days in the field, not enough time to get above tree-line or on big terrain, regular sleep ins… What I need now is a concentrated block of activity and adventure to make me feel a little less sedentary. Luckily I got to kick off my March vacation in the perfect way, with three full days of fun adventure back to back.

Lake Willoughby – Friday


Heading Home. 20 Below Zero Gully on the left, Glass Menagerie on the Right

My friend Andy shot me a message Thursday night to try and talk me into going to the Lake with him. I was hesitant at first because I’ve only had one full day of ice climbing this season, and am feeling out of shape for the hundreds of feet tall pure ice lines of the lake. I had the day off, as my students were taking practice tog et ahead on work for Saturdays adventure. After first saying no, I capitulated and we ended up having an awesome day.


Andy getting to the belays on Crazy Diamond & 20 Below Zero Gully

We swung leads up Crazy Diamond and then 20 Below Zero Gulley.  Between the pouring rain two days prior, and a long season of sitting in the sun, the ice on these climbs had undergone some serious metamorphoses, leaving it in an odd state and resulting in some funky climbing. I haven’t spent much time in the lake but its awe-inspiring for so many reasons. The size of the pure ice climbs are an order of magnitude bigger than anything else in the region, and situated above a wind swept lake, the sight of which makes the area feel arctic.


Andy on the final pillar of Crazy Diamond. 

Beyond the ice climbs themselves, the cliff is of a foreign nature. Its limestone, which we have very little of around here, and the resulting affect on the soil means the top of the cliff, and even the sides of it, are covered in huge, gorgeous cedar trees. While I see Cedars when climbing in upstate NY, these ones seem massive, old, weathered, and like they could come alive as if some creature out of Lord of the Rings. Sitting at an ice screw anchor 200′ up puts you in another world at Lake Willoughby, surrounded by an unimaginable amount of ice, foreign looking rock and unique trees, and often times in the sun, while you watch the wind hammer the brave (or stubborn?) ice fishers below.


Big Ice, Limestone & Cedars. Andy on the second pitch of 20 Below 

Mt. Washington- Saturday


My Ice Climbing/ mountaineering team has gotten a lot of good practice in over the past two months. The school schedule is ideal for this, as students get out of class around noon and I frequently have 5-6 hours to get them out in the field. That being said they hadn’t yet had a full day in the mountains. Luckily, I was able to get them out of class on Saturday to use a full day for our “culminating experience.”


While trail conditions were some of the roughest I’ve experienced with this odd winter causing the trail to basically be a 4 mile long luge run, the weather was some of the best. With the weather being so good, and my students moving very efficiently, we were able to come back down a different trail and get a great tour of the mountain and its awesome features. We went up the Ammo and across the Crawford Path to the summit. Came down the Tucks side, and cut back across the Bigelow Lawn. Not only were my students able to see all of the terrain and potential for fun in the presidentials, but we were able to see various mountains they’ve hiked or might hike while at Holderness, and could even pick out Lake Willoughby where I had been the day before!


View of the Southern presidentials with Mt. Carrigan just left of center. Many Holderness students will hike it during Outback, the schools 11 day winter backpacking trip.

More picture of this adventure on Holderness School’s Smugmug page:

Milton Academy Ice Climbing –  Sunday


Two of the girls in particular were unstoppable, no matter how steep of lines we set up!

Sunday was my first day back working for Mooney Mountain Guides since before the start of my ice climbing season at Holderness. It was a fun reentry into guiding. I’ve worked with Milton Academies Outdoor Program in the past and am really impressed with what they have going on. Making it even more fun, the trip was lead by friend and co worker, Todd Goodmen, who teaches there. It was a great day of catching up with him, getting 6 young ladies on ice, and hearing of some fun adventures a few of them have planned for the near future.


Milton faculty Matt Bingham taking a lap

Now I’m sitting back on the couch enjoying my hour long morning coffee time. The best part about it is that after 3 days on, waking up at 4:30 every morning, this time I feel like I’ve earned it!


Mammut Trion Light; the alpine everything pack

As a self diagnosed gear-geek I’ve come to realize that there are certain types of gear that I get more excited about than others. A rope? sure I’m psyched if it helps give soft catches, if it repels water well, and if the colors are sexy, but I’m not going to “ooh” and “ahh” at certain features, or in some cases its lack of features. I’ve realized that when it comes to gear, the backpack, one of the oldest pieces of outdoor equipment, can be the most exciting piece to me. Nowadays there’s a backpack for skiing, one for multi pitch rock, one for cragging, one for alpine climbing, and of course the all-arounder. This means there’s a plethora of features for each discipline, and an infinite number of combinations of features for a multi- use pack. How exciting!

An alpine pack at home on a desert big wall?


James nearing the roof on pitch 2 of Levitation 29

As a New Hampshire native and home state fanatic I was climbing with packs made in New Hampshire. Two companies here make bare bones, durable packs that last forever and have a cult following. Neither of them use frames. To some this is a weight savings, and they feel that the pack climbs better than if it did have a rigid frame. I was in that camp until our friends at Mammut gave the Mooney Mountain guides the Trion Guide packs. I quickly remembered the other side of the frame vs. no frame pack argument and realized that, for me, the trade off in weight savings is not worth going frameless, and the new frame systems climb wonderfully and are easily removable, if so desired. After this reintroduction, I turned to Mammut’s alpine pack line to find a light weight alpine pack. Below is a run down of what I chose, the Trion Light 28L.

At home in the Alpine 


Sunrise on Adams during Presidential Traverse. PC: Kurt Schuler


What appealed to me initially about the pack is how modular its various features are. It can go from full framed, padded hip belt approach pack (@990g), to light weight compact climbing pack (@690g) in a matter of seconds. This is crucial for alpine style climbs where you often have a hefty approach carrying a good amount of climbing equipment. Once on the climb, most of that equipment is on your harness and being used, while you then want a compact pack to carry for the climb. Just reading the description for the Trion Light made me realize that it was going to function well, but using it in real life  and seeing how easy the transitions are has still impressed me. There are essentially 3 components of a pack that need to be modular in order for the pack to be equally as well suited for long approaches to long climbs; hip belt, the lid and closure system, and for some people, the frame.

The Trion Light Stripped down for climbing


The Armadillo, Katahdin. PC: Geoff Wilson



James leading the crux pitch of Levitation 29, 5.11+ V

Hip Belt: Its common place now to see removable hip belts on climbing packs. What sets them apart is how easy they are to remove and replace, and if their ability to help bare the weight of the pack is compromised by their removability. The Trion lights hip belt slides through a slot formed by the back of the pack and the lower back padding. It Velcro’s into place there. The straps, which are permanently attached to the pack, then get passed through loops on the end of the hip belt padding and velcro into place there. The whole process takes less than a minute and is easy to do with gloves on. The hip belt in this design isn’t directly attached to the frame, meaning the load transfer isn’t ideal. That being said, since its only a 28L pack, I’ve never been able to load it down enough that this was an issue. A good trade off in my eyes.


Starting up the Black Dike in Mid November PC: Art Mooney

Lid and Closure System: This is my favorite part of the pack, and what initially drew me to it. The main body of the pack has a roll top closure. This makes the pack more water resistant when the lid is removed. I also find I like how roll top packs function better than those with a drawstring closures when the lid is removed. Depending on the days objective I frequently leave the lid at home, fitting everything into the pack body and closing it up tight with the roll top. The pack still functions normally as there is a buckle on the main pack body to connect the front strap too even with the lid removed. That buckle system, plus a removable rope strap, allow you to easily carry items over the pack even without the lid. The lid itself has the standard mesh under pocket, and a large upper pocket. I found I have to be particular about what I put in the upper pocket because its so large you can really add a lot of weight to the top of your pack, which is not where you want it. So instead of keeping heavy food, GPS and other heavy items up there, I pack my goggles, mittens extra hat and other light weight items I might want quick and easy access to.

Kelley O., an MMG guest using her own Trion Light on an ascent of Mt Washington. 

The Frame: This part really surprised me as they do not mention how easily removable the frame is in the packs description. While I tend to just leave it in there,  all one has to do is un velcro the compartment and pull the frame out.


Removing the “Butterfly” frame

The beauty in this packs design is not only how easy it is to remove the modular items, but how well the pack functions in either the stripped down or fully loaded configurations. There are a few other notable features of this pack. The main body is made out of a light weight triple ripstop nylon. This keeps the pack weight low and the overall durability reasonable. While I’ve put a few holes in it over the past two years of heavy use, the triple ripstop has kept those holes from growing to tares that would render the pack useless. The bottom of the pack is wisely made with 420 denier nylon, the standard fabric for pack making. The key use of sturdier material in bottom again adds to its durability. It also has reinforced ski straps, which seem to be standard on Mammut alpine packs and are great for carrying skis in an A-frame.While I don’t generally use a hydration bladder, this pack has all the features you need to use one, if thats your system.


How I attache my hammerless Nomics. The other strap has been partially tucked into its “garage” to illustrate how they can be tucked away when not in use.

The Ice tool attachment system on this pack is the old school loop on the bottom with a velcro loop up top for the handles. We’ve all come to love the new pick sleeves and buckle system for carrying ice tools, but I think the chosen system is appropriate for this packs intended use. Some extra care is needed when attaching tools with out hammers (think Nomics) but once you figure out your system its no problem. Needless to say this set up saves a bit of weight and contributes to the packs all around streamlined, no frills appearance. Further to that end, the loops tuck into built in pockets when not in use, such as all of rock season, and really make the pack streamlined!


Finally, the attention to detail really shines through in the packs compression system, and well thought out use of buckles. Seriously, this one caught me by surprise. I’ve already mentioned that the main closure strap can work with the lid removed, which is some what exceptional to this pack. The side compression straps also have alternating buckles, on one side the female end is on the straps, on the other side its the male end. This allows you to clip them in the opposite direction, strapping something larger to the very back of your pack. Similarly, the roll top buckles match up to the buckles that hold the lid on. With the lid on the pack you roll the top closed and clip the two ends of the pack top together. When the lid is removed, you have the option of rolling the lid closed and clipping either end down to the side.


The left picture shows the roll top closure as if you had the lid on, and the right shows the option of clipping it down to the side when the lid is off. Both illustrate the extra female buckle on the back to use with the main lid strap when the lid is removed. 

What I love most about this pack is its broad functionality with minimal bells and whistles. Instead of adding straps left and right, the designers paired it down to the bare essentials and made the necessary straps as versatile as possible. It seems to me that the Trion light is essentially two separate packs, one for the approach and one for the climb, seamlessly married together with no extra fluff.

At Home in the Desert


James Otey in Red Rocks

In the market for a new pack? check out Mammut’s alpine pack line here. While I’ve only used a handful, they have all show the same durability and attention to detail that has so impressed me with the Trion Light, and at a very enticing price point. Can’t find Mammut packs in a store near you? While it’s always a good idea to try packs on first, if you’re looking online, Mammut now has an online store







Starting an ice climbing team during the leanest winter in recent memory has forced me to get creative. I have an opportunity 6 days a week to deliver an experience to 4 high school students that will hopefully leave a significant impression on them. When the weather doesn’t allow me to get them on ice, and the practice periods are too short to tag a summit, where do I turn? I’ve been faced with that quandary more than I would’ve liked this year, and I’ve had to get creative. Days spent practicing map and compass skills, sharpening tools, going over technical rope systems, and even learning how to sew their own stuff sacks. All worthy things but really just relevant ways to kill an afternoon. On a handful of days I’ve turned to areas of the map and oddities in the hills that I’ve been curious about.


Even pups have a sense of adventure

It turns out that while we don’t often have the time to get above tree line and tag a summit, we do have time to explore something in the woods that makes for a memorable day. There have been 3 days throughout the season where we ended up doing this, and they’ve reminded me a good bit about the feeling of adventure.

The first such excursion was before the snow had even fallen in November. I wanted my students to practice using a GPS to navigate to a coordinate. I had heard that there was a WWII bomber that had crashed into a mountain side above North Woodstock. I did some sleuthing on line and found the coordinates. Not knowing how it would go, I drove the team up and we headed down an old logging road. A few hours later, after following a intermittent heard path and our GPS, the students stumbled upon the wreckage.

The second day was well into winter, and I wanted to get winter hiking milage under my students boots. The smaller summits around campus that we can drive to and reach during an afternoon have become a little tired with how frequently our teams go there, so I looked north for an idea. Every time I drive through Franconia Notch, there is a prominent mountain pass on the right side, near a 300′ cliff that I’ve always been curious to explore. After referencing the map I noticed that the Greenleaf  trail passes right through it. Not knowing what we’d find I led the team up the hill, wondering if the hike was going to be a dud. It turns out, Eagle Pass as its known, offers incredible views of Cannon Cliff framed by an impressive topography, and a playground of intricate boulder caves.


Cannon Cliff, from Eagle Pass

The third adventure was just this week, and arose from the same situation, looking for something new to do with my students. I had seen on line that there was a 3rd, and much more elusive cliff face profile in Franconia Notch which can only be seen from one small position atop a steep gully after a bushwhack. I didn’t know if we’d have the time to reach it, or the nerve to get up a loose gully, but at the very least we’d stumble around a cool hillside and hopefully walk past the Eaglet, a cool rock feature I frequently point out to my students. After turning off the Greenleaf trail at a cairn marking the climbers path to the Eaglet, we quickly lost the path. Using the prominent spire as seen through the trees as our guide, we bushwhacked through boulders and dense evergreens laughing at the absurdity. Walking on branches covered in snow, avoiding deep caves between boulders and putting are heads down and pushing through thick evergreens likes a running back through a defensive line. We finally found the talus slope sticking down from the alpine cliff and followed it up past the Eaglet and the cliff beyond. We encountered the multiple gullies leading to the ridge line and picked the least steep and exposed one, trying not to knock loose scree down on each other. We made the ridge line and bushwhacked to where we thought the view of the profile was, and then beyond, to what turned out to be an even more incredible view.


The Watcher

For a while now, my outdoor adventure medium of choice has been climbing. Hiking has some what lost its appeal to me unless its a big objective above tree-line. At the same time I feel the spirit of adventure less and less in climbing. More often than not I’m visiting the same cliffs. In that case climbing is more about the process, the movement, and the people I’m with, all of which still make it very much worthwhile. The days I feel adventure are exploring new climbing areas that are unknown, something that generally only happens when I’m traveling now a days.


The bonus

Reflecting on where that sense of adventure went, and why it was so present on these three days with my students lead me to realize that a core aspect of adventure is a sense of unknown, and a strong possibility of “failure.” I put failure in quotation marks here, because, as part of the process its something to expect, but never something to feel bad about. Its motivation for future attempts, and keeps you on the edge as you explore. On any of these three days, we could have not made it in time, we could’ve been disappointed by a less stellar view than expected. The fact that I had students with me, and was anxious for them to have a good time as well, upped the stakes for me as the leader, and made the adventures seem much more real.

I feel that after rediscovering this feeling of adventure again, and realizing I can come across it so readily in what is essentially my backyard will lead me to explore the nooks and crannies of these hills more frequently.

I’ve included pictures of these three destinations to entice, but have withheld more detailed information in an attempt to inspire and help keep alive the sense of adventure for anyone who may read this and decide to check them out for themselves.

Ice Fest – 2016

The Mount Washington Valley Ice fest is an institution in the New England climbing scene. Many others have come along, in New York, and Vermont, but this festival, held for over 20 years in North Conway is the biggest and baddest (or best?) Growing up as an ice climber in New Hampshire I always held this event and those who ran it in high regard, so I was thrilled to be asked to be a guest guide this year.


Jim Shimberg, friend, mentor, and clinic co-instructor amid the chaos of the morning meeting

Following will be a run down of my weekend, but first I wanted to reflect on a memory of of attending an ice fest during college. My good friend Paul and I made the trek up to climb, check out the apres hour and watch some slide shows. After the slide show we drove to the parking lot for Frankenstein. We figured camping there, in the back of my Forester, would give us a jump start on the crowds the next day. Being perpetually prepared and thinking ahead, Paul suggested we make Sausage Gravy and Biscuits the day before to warm up for breakfast before climbing. He woke a few minutes ahead of me and by the time my eyes were finally open he was bringing a pot of warm sausage gravy and biscuits back into the car where we sat in our sleeping bags dipping the biscuits in the gravy. Best start to an ice climbing day I’ve ever had.


Standard Route with Paul as soon as the sun came up

We were on top of the first pitch of Standard Route by 7:30 that morning, well ahead of the crowds. We also climbed Hobbit Couloir to the Pegasus Rock Finish. It’s fun looking back on early climbing memories. The bar of what was “adventure” back then was so much lower that it seemed every day on the ice or on a mountain was exciting and pushing the boundaries.


A favorite Link up; Hobbit Couloir to the Pegasus Rock Finish


I got to start off Ice fest 2016 on Friday the best way possible. I had been paired up with my former climbing instructor and mentor, Jim Shimberg, to teach an Ice Climbing for Rock Climbers clinic. The idea of this clinic is that participants have already learned the basics of belaying, tying in and putting on a harness, and perhaps understand some of the body mechanics of climbing. The benefit to these groups is it often puts together folks who will accelerate a bit quicker through the learning curve. We had a great group with a range of abilities and dreams of where ice climbing will take them.

Perhaps one of the biggest take aways of the weekend wasn’t about climbing though. One of the guests commented “Jim has such a great perspective on life.” I reflected shared with them how I had a rough time freshman or sophomore year of college and was talking with Shim about it. I mentioned how climbing was so helpful for me at the time as it provided a mental escape from “real life.” He sounded surprised and commented that climbing is real life, and encouraged me to approach it as such. That’s advice I took to heart and has substantially contributed to where I am and what I’m doing with my life today. Its hard to express how rewarding it is to share climbing with others, and even more rewarding when you help them realize, or you reinforce, a more positive way of seeing the world and its opportunities. In this instance I was sharing in that revelation with the participants, provided by my co instructor 7 years apart.


Kicking and Swinging. A big part of learning to ice climb is learning to use the tools


Eager students wanted to learn more about ice climbing than just the climbing


The group in “The Blue Room”


A fun little flow



Sunrise from Spruce Lodge

I consider myself lucky to have such good and generous friends in the climbing community.  From Shimberg who taught me so much about climbing and more, to Mikey and Alexa who graciously offered me a couch for ice fest weekend. It was great to begin and end the chaotic ice fest days with familiar faces in a friendly cabin. Several other friends were crashing there as well, and it was a good opportunity to catch up and escape the hustle and bustle of the fest for a few hours each day. Perhaps the nicest part of the whole experience was the sunrise over Double Head mountain each morning, as seen from the couch where I woke up.


Saturday I was scheduled to offer an Alpine Style Climb. There’s two general ways of breaking down a day of guiding. The clinic style day, that is heavy on education and instruction, and the objective day where you’re getting people on a particular climb or mountain and trying to help them fulfill a goal. The Alpine Style climb was the latter. I ended up having two ice festers, Mitch and Tom, who I had just had in Ice Climbing for Rock Climbers the day before. Being relatively new to ice climbing, a link up of features ascending the East Face of Mt Willard provided a significant amount of adventure and challenge for these two. That being said, they moved quickly and efficiently on the ice and appeared to have a good time in the mountain environment. We were slowed waiting in line multiple times but their psyche never wavered, and we were rewarded with the incredible view down Crawford Notch.


Sunday was my final day and I was instructing Ice 101 with Tim Farr of Petra Cliffs in Vermont. Teaching beginning ice climbers always reminds me of the significant difference in rock climbing and ice climbing. Most of the time beginning rock climbers are following intuition and the way their body feels to get up routes. Ice climbing differs in that first you have learn how to use ice tools and crampons. Because of that, teaching it feels much more like teaching some one how to work with tools the right way. Once the use of the tools clicks, folks tend to take of and fly through the learning curve.

This was a fun group of folks, with a friend of mine in the clinic, as well as a young crusher and 6 friends from U.R.I. A diverse group of folks who all seemed to enjoy the experience equally!

Thanks to the friends who organize Ice Fest for asking me to join this year, and all the participants and friends I got to spend the weekend with!


Winter, at last.

Just as winter was very much delayed this year, so too is my sharing of some of the recent highlights. The most exciting adventure I’ve had so far was actually back in Mid December, right before going on vacation. A friend, Kurt Schuler, and I decided to do the Presidential Traverse in a day. While we were half a week shy of it being a true “winter” traverse, the ground and rocks were coated in snow at least giving us a winter scenery.

The traverse is roughly 20 miles long depending on how you do it, with a good portion of that, perhaps half, being above tree-line and very exposed to the elements, and the views. Hiking isn’t my usual choice for a days activity, but with little snow or ice and a strong need for an adventure going into the holidays, I thought that a hike of this magnitude would fit the bill. We woke at 3:30 and shut the car doors at the Appalachia parking lot at 4:20. My idea was to start early, both to get a sunrise from a summit, and so that we would minimize hiking in the dark at the end of the day when tired.


We got to Madison hut, 4 miles up Valley Way, in a little under two hours. We dropped out packs and scrambled the short way to the peak of Madison. From here we could see glimpses of sunlight over the low lying cloud bank. It became just bright enough that we were were aware of the monstrous presence of Mt Adams behind us. We grabbed packs and  started scrambling up Adams. For some reason i felt like I was sucking wind, and this was the hardest stretch for me. We made it to the summit in perfect time for a spectacular sunrise.



Generally, folks start the Press-Traverse in the north. here, in rapid succession you have the summit of Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and finally Washington. By the time you summit the biggest of the rock piles you have most all of the 8,800′ of elevation gain out of the way, and just have to tag a few more minor bumps on the way out. The northern half is also by far the most scenic with incredible views of the major summits, Great Gulf, Kings Ravine, Castle Ravine and more.


Washington and Jefferson in the Distance


Kurt in front of Great Gulf with Jefferson and Adams behind him

All in all we did just shy of 22 miles in about 11.5 hours. We summited Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Pierce and Jackson, accidentally missing the cut off for Eisenhower in the fog. Ironically, since I spent 25 days in the presidential last winter alone, Mt Washington was the only one I had summited before! The best part about the trip couldn’t be described in numbers or names, but only conveyed in photos. The sun rise, exceptional undercast and contrasting blue bird skies above made for the most gorgeous day I’ve had in the mountains.


Panorama of the traverse from Monroe. Washington to the right, and the bump of Eisenhower to the left. 


My next real winter adventures didn’t come until the last week or so. My first day on ice was a bitterly cold one with friend and long time partner Alexa. We went for linking a slew of pitches on the East face of Mt Willard, which coincidently is where i took her for her first ice climb years ago. We had to bushwhack around the crowded lower tier to get up high, and then ended up doing The east Slabs, upper Hitchcock and the Cleft before rappelling back down and doing Elephants head gully on the way out. The next morning I got to climb at Echo with Spencer, and then had one more morning on Ace of Spades with Alex. All in all I’m way behind on past ice climbing seasons and ready for the climbing to pick up!