Last weekend I embarked on a little New Hampshire adventure. Part 1: Ice Climbing. Part 2: Hike/snowboard down Mt. Washington. Part 1
Ice climbing is something that I have always wanted to try out. Growing up in NH I had ample opportunities to go rock climbing and have enjoyed it over the years. As a camp director at a large summer camp I spent many hours perfecting my belaying skills helping campers learn how to climb. Ice climbing, though, never really presented itself to me and it was not until a friend invited me on a trip that I was finally able to try it out!
The day started early up in North Conway, NH. We met our guide, a young, yet seasoned climber, who geared us up for the day.
Their little gear room had everything you would ever need for a day out in the notch. Specialized crampons, ice axes, ropes, harnesses, ice screws, helmets, and alpine hiking boots. We quickly found our appropriate sizes and packed all of our borrowed gear for the day.
Our climbing location was only about 20 minutes from North Conway, just before Wildcat Mountain on route 16. The parking lot was an easily missed turn off and was devoid of any other cars besides ours. It was a gorgeous day as we set off from the lot.
This really cool walking bridge crossed a little river adjacent to the road.
After the bridge it was a nice hike along the banks of the river and then up for about half a mile to a spot called "The Amphitheater". This was a massive cliff face entirely covered in light blue ice.
We watched as he scaled the ice cliff, inserting ice screws along the way for safety. Every step of the way he was teaching us the best tactics to safely and efficiently climb utilizing the massive crampons on our feet and the curved ice axes in our hands. He made it look way too easy...we found out quickly - and then again and again for the next eight hours - that ice climbing was not easy at all!
This is how it worked for the day. The four of us rotated through different faces of the ice while belaying or climbing. While on belay, we were safe to climb and, sometimes, fall, without getting hurt.
I have to admit that one embarrassing event happened to me during the day. A veteran ice climber will use his/her legs far more than his/her arms. I was relying almost entirely on swinging the axes and pulling myself up, barely using my legs to push. Nearly at the peak of the most difficult ice face of the day, I felt my arms getting weak. Barely able to swing the ice axes, I eventually lost my grip on the one in my left hand. I hung for a few seconds by my right arm, frantically trying to land my crampons in a secure space and recover before totally losing my grip. Alas, it was not to be. I felt my right hand slip from the ax and I fell, putting all of my weight onto the rope and hanging there like a puppet on a string. My belayer lowered me to the ground but before I could take myself off the rope someone managed to capture a picture of me at the bottom, ice axes still securely affixed to the ice above.
Ice climbing was fun. I cannot wait to try it again.
Part 2 coming soon; hiking and boarding on Mt. Washington.
It is technically spring up here in NH but you would not know it by the weather and lingering snow. The slopes are all still open but when I'm not on my snowboard I like to explore the networks of trails around the lake.
While hiking on one of the paths I found this carpet of leaves, revealed under the melting snow. It was pretty cool.
A few miles around the back of the mountain I came across this little frozen pond and a stand of white birch.
In Goffstown, NH there are two little peaks called the Uncanoonucs. In an otherwise urban and populous area these two mountains feel like you are far away from civilization. The above ice cave was about a quarter mile up the trail on North Uncanoonuc.
From the top of North Uncanoonuc you get a nice view of the south peak.
Just because there is not too much snowboarding to be done this winter does not mean I can't talk about it! I hit up Sunday River this past Saturday and, while most of the snow was man-made, it actually was not too bad for one day of shredding. While riding around their multiple peaks I assembled in my head a ranking of the different types a snow you could encounter while riding. Here is my ranking which is by no means a universal standard, just what I like!
Top 5: Types of snow for riding
- Pow!- Powder is by far my favorite condition to encounter while riding and, to me, the more the better! Last season I was fortunate to be at Squaw Valley, in Tahoe, for a 100" storm. Each day was better than the one before. There is nothing like riding through waist or chest deep, light, fluffy, powder. In the northeast we are lucky if we get a handful of pow days a season but we definitely know how to take advantage of them when they come! The best spot in New England for finding pow is indisputably Jay Peak, located in the far north in Vermont.
- Spring Slush - Like I said, this is not a universal ranking, just my preferences. Maybe it's the spring temperatures and riding in a t-shirt that sways my emotions, but I love spring conditions. As the mountains start to thaw you can usually ride all day on a nice layer of wet snow. It is great for throwing hacks, surf style, and is pretty forgiving when you are in the park and take a spill. You will get wet, this stuff is notorious for making its way through even the most waterproof of outerwear, but luckily it will be sunny and warm!
- Man-made/granular - If I can't have natural powder I can deal with some man-made stuff. Some resorts have perfected the art of producing snow and can create relatively light, nice snow for riding. I guess I would include "cord" in this category, for corduroy, or freshly groomed by a snowcat. I'd rather the mountains never groom but they have to try to keep the snow down somehow.
- Crusty/hard-pack - We get a lot of this on the east coast. It may not snow for a few weeks and what is left is a windblown, over-groomed, sun-baked surface.
- Ice - It is often said that if you learn to ski/ride in the northeast you can do it anywhere in the world. Seasons spent scraping down the sides of mountains perfect your edge skills and harden you physically through countless falls onto the rock hard ice. When riding backcountry in New England it is overwhelmingly likely that you will spend the entire day on ice unless you happen to find some pow (see #1).
Those are my thoughts for the day...here's to powder!