Adventure?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

November Wild Card

It’s pretty incredible how much of a wild card November can be for climbing in NH. Today was sunny with a light breeze and I climbed more than comfortably in a long sleeve shirt and a wind breaker. but backtrack to last year around this time (Nov. 14th) and I was doing a wholly different kind of climbing on Cannon…

Starting up the Dike in Mid November

Starting up the Dike in Mid November

And throw it back 2 days shy of 2 years and I was hypothermic doing this in a blizzard!

Matt Ritter on a wintery early November Ascent of Cannonade on Cannon Cliff

Matt Ritter on a wintery early November Ascent of Cannonade on Cannon Cliff

Matt Ritter and Erik Thatcher on a Wintery ascent of the Cannonade Buttress on Cannon. PC: Dustin Portzline

Matt Ritter and Erik Thatcher on a Wintery ascent of the Cannonade Buttress on Cannon. PC: Dustin Portzline

But back to today, having the cliff to ourselves but for the military planes blasting through the notch below us, was exceptional. The Whitney Gilman Ridge is a climb I’ve done more times than I can remember, but it remains an exceptional spot to bring friends, clients, or in the case of today, a former students, for a first real taste of exposure and alpine rock…

I was psyched to be able to share the climb with Jack, one of the first students I’ve had at Holderness who really got psyched for climbing. Getting to link up with those students after their holderness career is a pretty exceptional feeling.

Fall

The end of summer and through the fall has been chaotic. Lots of coaching once The Holderness School year started, and free time spent in the garden, and even a bit climbing. With not having the time to dedicate to projecting, most of my recreational climbing has been put into alpine-esque multi pitch routes.

Going all the way back to August, my good friend Geoff and I did a mini road trip to Katahdin, the premier Alpine climbing area in the east. As a freshman in college i hiked the classic knife’s edge traverse. Along the way I snapped this picture of climbers on the most climbed feature in the Cirque, the Armadillo.

Climbers on the Armadillo

Climbers on the Armadillo

Since then I’ve wanted to go back and climb it. Geoff, having gone to college not far from here has done the armadillo and many other adventure climbs in the in glacial cirques on the mountain. On the hike in two other climbers caught up to us and we chatted the rest of the way to Chimney Pond. Luckily they were nice folks and we were easily able to share the route with them. Geoff and I decided to approach the climb from the left hand side, gaining the top of the large flake by a 5.9 crack called Wind in the Willows. We did an opening 5.8-ish Chimney pitch to get to the base. After wards I realized there was a picture of this chimney in Yankee Rock & Ice. It was one of the original routes on the Armadillo formation, dating back to the mid thirties!

The route in its entirety was about 400-500′ of technical climbing followed by another few hundred feet of fourth class ridge scrambling to where it intersected the Knifes edge.

In addition to Katahdin I’ve been spending a fair number of days on Cannon. I’ve been up the Ridge twice with two groups of friends as Batchelor parties. Had a fun outing on the VMC Direct Direct with Alexa, another on Vertigo with Alex, and pre work laps on Moby with James and Weisner’s with Geoff. Its great being able to call this cliff a crag, and walk up to do a half day of dragging on the awesome granite. Or, in some cases, the not so awesome granite.

Needless to say a good amount of time was also spent harvesting from the garden and farm.

Most time of all has been spent coaching at Holderness. The team has had an exceptional year…pictures on the team website: https://www.holderness.org/rock-climbing


Catching up! Wildwood, Quinn, Acadia & the Farm!

Its been a busy past couple of weeks with limited access to internet. So here’s a quick run down!

A couple of weeks ago Todd and I did a two day portion of a camp for Wildwood, which is associated with Mass Audubon. The campers where in the White Mountains for a week, doing some hiking and trail work in addition to their two days with us. We had a good time showing them the ropes on Rumney’s single and easier multi pitch terrain!

Last Monday I was joined by Quinn at Rumney. Quinn’s dad takes his sons on various cool adventurous trips, but climbing was a first. Quinn, or “muscles” as his dad called him, lived up to his nick name. For a first day we were able to climb a good number of pitches at a relatively difficult level.

Immediately after climbing with Quinn, my girlfriend and I took off for Acadia in ME. I use to vacation here frequently as a kid, and now my dad care takes at a campground on the island. We had a great visit with him and his wife, along with sentimental, for me, stops in various towns along the ME coast (Bath, Woolwich, Rockland, Camden, Belfast…) and a good time paddling climbing and hiking around the Island.

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Paddling around Solmes Sound in my dads home made wooden kayak (and a plastic LL Bean one) We had two gorges mornings on the water accompanied by seals, porpoises, fishing Bald Eagle and Osprey, and some salty Lobstermen

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An afternoon and evening of climbing classics. Story of O on the South wall, and some of the fun climbs on the Sea stack at Otter Cliffs!

In between work and vacation I’ve been trying to catch up on work on the farm and more importantly visiting it for nutritional and spiritual sustenance during this hectic time!

Mom sending the Freedom Rangers (Meat Chickens) to freezer camp

Mucked out the Sheep Stall. Been getting lots of good food for the pigs this year thanks to Longview Farm and Squam lake Marketplace. The Turkey’s enjoying a little free range 

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The Three Sisters(Corn, Beans & Squash) working together in a synergistic fashion

IMG_2194Borage volunteers aiding in the 3 sisters garden