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.
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.
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.
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.
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.