Category Archives: Guide Days

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…https://goo.gl/photos/RS7YUbdkeE5faX6KA

Here’s a little teaser!

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It doesn’t get much more exposed

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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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hassler_Whitney

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.

Saturday

Sunday

 

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!

-Erik

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Mt. Washington- Saturday

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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.”

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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!

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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: https://holdernessschool.smugmug.com/Sports/Winter-Mountaineering-Ascent/

Milton Academy Ice Climbing –  Sunday

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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.

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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!

coffee

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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The group in “The Blue Room”

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A fun little flow

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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.

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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.

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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!

-Erik

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Washington and Jefferson in the Distance

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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.

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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!

Tranquility

tranquility means :

The noun tranquility means “a state of peace and quiet,” like the tranquility you feel at the shore of a quiet lake or inside a beautiful cathedral.

Alex embodying tranquility, at the top of Tranquility.

Now that my fall climbing team has come to an end I have a few days of reprieve before heading off to Red Rocks. Among my list of must do’s before leaving and not returning until “winter” was one day of required climbing for my self. Luckily Alex was psyched for the same.

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So in synch we even dressed the same! Mooney Mountain Guides logo’d Mammut Ultimate Light Hoodie’s

We went to the South Buttress of Whitehorse, which has some of my favorite climbing in North Conway. The good thing about the South Butt right now is that it’s south facing. The bad thing about the South Butt most of the season, is that its south facing. Because polished granite only feels greaser in the sun, and I work a lot in the fall and spring, I rarely get to climb here.

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Views of Cranmore, Echo Lake and more from the South Butt

We were able to quickly tick off Hotter Than Hell (5.9 face climbing), Inferno (5.8 hand crack) and Tranquility (5.10 glorious finger locks).

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My Lady Slippers, and Alex following one of the cleanest hand cracks known to Conway Granite

With a twin rope set up you can easily zip around here combining climbs up to and off of the large ledge in the middle, and get back down easily in one 60 M rap for each section.

Mammut 7.5 Twilights felt super light on long pitches and allowed us easy full 60 meter rappels. Coupled with Bionic Screw gates and the Wall alpine belay device, we were light and fast.

Mammut 7.5 Twilights felt super light on long pitches and allowed us easy full 60 meter rappels. Coupled with Bionic Screw gates and the Wall alpine belay device, we were light and fast.

After leading Tranquility, which just flowed incredibly well for me, I hollered down to Alex that I got in that “Flow State”, a moment of being experienced by climbers, skiers, surfers etc. where you simply ride the rock, the wave or the snow, and seem to effortlessly work with nature to tick off your objective. Its’s a state of Euphoria, and that combined with a warm blue bird day and a killer granite crag all to ourselves made for a day of Tranquility. Rightfully so.

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Alex starting up the final pitch of Inferno

The only blemish on an other wise perfect day lay at the base. A monument to human wastefulness in the form of a golf course replete with 5 star hotel, swimming pool, luxury housing complex and engines of various lawn machines buzzing in the back ground all day long.

Alex topping out with views of the Golf course below.

Alex topping out with views of the Golf course below.

The High Grade Wall

My buddy Jay has been stoked on trucking out to Marshfield VT to climb on the High Grade wall recently. A funky new .13a went up there with super unique climbing, and since he can effortlessly huck laps on every other 5.13 in the state, it makes it worth the drive for him to get on a new climb! In reality a day trip there is not that absurd. A 4:30 wake up and a 5:15 meeting time get us there right as its warming up, after a pretty drive through central VT and hike through the state forest. The cliff its self is rather long and 200’+ tall at its highest. The high-grade wall is somewhat of a diamond in the rough, A relatively short, clean overhanging section of rock sitting above a small ledge most of the way up the cliff, surrounded by sopping lichen and moss covered slabs. The approach involves jugging up about 200′ of fixed line to the ledge.

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Jay on the final Fixed Rope

The bulk of the climbing there happens on a somewhat dizzying cluster of link ups revolving around the mega classic, Groton High Grade 5.13a. This route climbs the overhanging wall on crimps, and then makes a crux move to the arete where the climbing eases. A harder alternative is to move left, instead of right into the arete. The ensuing boulder problem this way is hard enough to merit .13b, then finishing at the same anchors. Finally, High Grade the Hard Way starts right of High Grade with a difficult boulder problem, crosses High Grade at the rest jug before that climb splits, and then tackles the harder boulder problem on the left. When all is said and done that Hard Way clocks in at 5.13d

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Alex Descending the Second Fixed Rope

I had an awesome day of climbing there with Alex and Jay this week. After a couple of warm up burns, which happen on the projects for lack alternatives, Alex and Jay started to Crush. Alex sent the High Grade Direct at .13b and then proceeded to make progress on the High Grade and The High Grade the Hard way. Jay had a riveting send of the Hard Way  his first rip of the day, just pulling it off and leaving success in doubt until the final hard move. He then used some key beta alex had unlocked to send The High Grade, sneakily getting through a move previously too hard with his wing span. I got reacquainted with The High Grade and progressively worsened on it through my 3 burns. Luckily I also brought a spare rope and my camera, and got some pictures I was excited about. A successful day can come in many forms!

You can click on the first image in any of these Galleries and scroll through them. Its pretty fun to view them like this as some are a series of a single move that you get to follow from start to finish. Enjoy.

Jay

Alex

Erik (Photos by Jay)