Tag Archives: Mooney Mountain Guides

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.

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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

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?

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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 

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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

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The Armadillo, Katahdin. PC: Geoff Wilson

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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 http://mammut.shptron.com

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Mammut Product Reviews

We’re pretty psyched to be able to work with Mammut North America at Mooney Mountain Guides. a couple of rainy days ago I spent a while reading up on Mammut’s corporate philosophy and how they act on corporate responsibility. These are major concerns of mine for any product I’m going to spend money on, let alone promote in any way. I think we all need to spend more time reading up on what we buy and what kind of corporate philosophy we are supporting by voting with our dollars. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least, that this company which I didn’t know much about had taken some great social and environmental initiatives. To name a few, all of their ropes are manufactured in a wind powered factory in Switzerland, many of their products boast Blue Sign certified materials and organic cotton, and they have a whole section on their website dedicated to explaining their philosophy on their own self dictated corporate responsibility to people, communities and the environment (found Here ). In addition they have a wealth of knowledge on their website on how to use and care for the products you buy.

The last couple of years I’ve written a couple of reviews of their products for our company blog at http://www.mooneymountainguides.com . While I’m not personally sponsored by Mammut, the guide company is. Every season Mammut hooks the guides up with a given product to check out in the field. The most recent review I did was a collaboration of thoughts from all of our guides on the Ultimate Hoody which Mammut has furnished us with the past few years. last year I also wrote a review of the Togir Click harness which I went out and bought on my own. This harness is awesome and unique, and it surprises me how rarely I see it out in the field! If you’re a gear nerd like my self, check out the few reviews below!

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Alex T rapelling The Promenade in an Ultimate Hoody, reviewed here

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My self climbing Repentance with the Togir Click Harness, reviewed here

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A collection of quick Mammut gear thoughts from a road trip are gathered here

Wait a Minute

There’s a saying in New England about the weather, especially in spring. If you don’t like it, wait a minute. Today proved that point wonderfully! Yesterday we were out skiing corn in 50 degree weather. Today conditions on Washington ramped back up to full on winter. When Ben and I met at the Highland center it was drizzling rain, right at freezing at the base and with winds in the teens. By the time we hit tree line conditions had ramped up to 1″/hr+ snow with zilch for visibility and steady winds between 60-80mph. By the time we got back to Gem Pool the summit was recording gusts near the century mark and a -25 wind chill. Guess we have to wait another minute until spring returns.

Ben joined us, as many do, to train for an upcoming Mt Rainier trip. While the summit wasn’t in the cards today, we had all the conditions to train for the ultimate goal of Rainier. Heavy crampon use, layering and gear choice, and how to protect your self in extreme weather. We even stopped on the decent to practice mountaineering axe use and self arrest, before butt sliding to the finish line.

IMG_1269Blowing snow collecting on bare faces. A good time to don goggles and balaclavas

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Zilch, on the official visibility scale

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Gnarly

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The rarely captured, glissade action pic.