Mark Richey is one of the country’s most accomplished Himalayan alpinists, a business owner who grew a basement wood shop into a hugely successful architectural woodworking company and an all around pleasure to spend a day cragging with. Ray Rice, him and I skied out to Western Maine’s Shell Pond in mid-March for a good day of heckling on some steep, dry spring rock.
It literally happened over night. Sunday afternoon was above freezing, but when those guys looked up at the cliff from the parking lot on a cold, clear Monday morning there was ice all the way to the ground; numerous 1000′ smears.
Now, there’s a little more to it than just showing up, as we all know. These guys were the ones that did though and they looked up again at this ridiculous looking route from the base, packs in the snow, and still decided to give it a go. This can thin out the willing pretty quickly, too. But you gotta try, especially when it might not ever be around again, and you’re actually there with a willing partner. It’s the same thing pitch by pitch and actually, truthfully, move by move. It can all seem too much when you look at it all at once, but they didn’t, and they never a had a good enough reason to turn around.
I have had a precious few days like this, we all have in our own ways, where pitch by pitch I simply cannot believe what is still happening, is still happening. It is a glorious feeling, flawlessly and safely passing pitches that just shouldn’t be there, and didn’t seem like they could be climbed. It is the beauty of ice climbing; all the million factors that had to come together to get this fleeting strip of ice where it is and where it probably shouldn’t be. I can appreciate how those boys felt up there on the wide open center of the “Big Cliff”, banging out pitches that would not be climbable even that afternoon as they rappelled; delaminated and turned to mush by the sun. But they were in a spectacular place I have never been. They were right were New England’s best ice climbers have wanted to be for generations, climbing that top to bottom strip of ice up Cannon’s Big Wall.
Congratulations guys, you sent the thing that was at the center of all this great climbing that has gone on around here over the years. I keep coming back to the feeling that everything else just seems peripheral.
But there’s more, after all that they went back Thursday and sent a line just right of Icarus, also to the top, in windy, snowy condition. Elliot slept for three hours the night before, driving to Franconia Notch after a short trip to central New York, a trip he had begun from the same parking lot three days before. That’s what it takes though, the drive to get there (no pun intended) .
It should be noted, however, that all this motivation comes at a price. After climbing Icarus, Elliot, sound asleep in a chair, got his toenails painted by a couple of friends in Madison.
Kevin Mahoney’s blog is up and running again with a post about a memorable couple of days during a winter season I look back fondly on, 2001-2002. There was nothing to climb anywhere but Cannon, I had just gotten dumped, moved to the MWV and my good friend Josh Hurst and I had been climbing up there all season without seeing another person – until we met Kevin and Ben Gilmore one morning, before sunrise, in the parking lot.
I remember those two trying to get up to this out-of-this-world looking smear of ice on the “Big Wall” section of the cliff, and not quite getting there. They blew our minds with the speed they were climbing, the runnouts and their audacity; if they had gotten to it they would have had to try and climb it! My approach was different, I just looked away and wandered off to a turf filled corner with a good Lost Arrow crack in the back.
At some point in the afternoon Josh and I were scratching up Sams Swan Song’s crusty first pitch when those two came running, and I mean running, by. Turns out they were calling it quits with the “Big Wall Smear” and headed south to the Omega amphitheater, but they stopped for a few minutes anyway to see what we were up to. Seeing the scrappy mixed pitch we had picked for ourselves they advised us we should go to Alaska – so we did (we figured these guys knew). A year later Josh and I landed on the Kahiltna Glacier, set up camp just like we saw in a Climbing magazine “Tech Tip”, and I layed down for my first night, ever, of snow camping. I didn’t manage to climb much during my first four weeks of snow camping, but eventually got up Mt. Hunter’s West Ridge with a just graduated Freddie Wilkinson and our great friend, and total ringer, Dana “Maddog” Drummond.
Back in the predawn Cannon parking lot, the next day, Kevin and Ben told us how they had tried this awesome new route over by Omega, but had run out of time – it must have been 1 pm when they started climbing – and they were on their way back up to try it again. They did the FA of the still unrepeated Prozac that day. I have no recollection of what Josh and I climbed, I just remember him saying at some point when Kevin and Ben were out of earshot, “Those boys can dance…”.
Still can to – check out this video Freddie W put together. That time lapse is Kevin Mahoney doing the first two pitches of Endangered Species in one, long go!
The ice swell was ON at Poko-Moonshine cliff this season, the winter of 2010- 2011. My friends Matt Horner, Matt McCormick, and Bayard Russell pioneered an amazing new mixed line just right of the Jeff Lowe test-piece, Gorillas in the Mist. Only one pitch remained to finish Endangered Species to the top of the cliff… and Kevin Mahoney was psyched…