November Rain

Early season drips on Cannon Cliff.

This is the time of year when climbers go from dismissing horrible weather by saying, “we’ve got the water, now all we need is the cold,” to embracing it as we scramble to find a partner for a last second predawn start in the season’s first sub-freezing temps. With all the holiday obligations we have this time of year, finding the time to get in some early season climbing can be really difficult, especially with the short warning typical of the changing seasons. The reward for the observant and flexible ice climber, though, can be some of the season’s most interesting climbing, right when you’re the least used to it.

Bayard on an unfinished early season stratch-fest on Cannon.

Cannon Cliff is where quite a few seasoned New England climbers’ eyes turn this time of year; waiting for just that sort of weather pattern that disgusts most people, late fall rain. Not just any rain though, the kind that gets followed by a ferocious clearing wind and falling temps. The flash freeze. Cannon gets “locked up” in January’s persistent cold, but in December it is still in transition, and long, hard-to-get-to drips can be the result, dangling up high over some obscure overlap above the Big Wall, off to the side of Omega or over the Old Man’s dog.

Smaller, but subject to the same effects of bad early season weather is the cliff above Greely Ponds in NH’s Mad River Notch; most well known for hosting The Drool of the Beast. It has been a productive, mostly single pitch, Cannon-esque, traditional mixed crag; complete with yellow drippy ice and requisite pin placements. One wall in particular, shown below, now has a couple of interesting routes, put up on the lead, still with a little more potential for bolt-free, back country, mixed routes.

Peter Doucette getting the ball rolling on Doghouse, M7. Visible on the left side of the roofs is the prominent overhanging corner of Kevin Mahoney's Ironclad Reactor, missing it's icicle.

Kevin on the FA of Ironclad Reactor, M7+.

Peter up high on the Doghouse. We finished up the hanging icicle above, a fixed pin now protects those final moves.

Both of these routes, and a third called the Drool of the Bitch, M6+R (Wilkinson/Russell/Mahoney), haven’t seen a second ascent. Probably the same is true of a route or two on the east side of the ponds reportedly established by Joe Terrevechia.


After the early season spasm of winter’s first freezes, the most jaded of ice climbers quietly retire to indoor workouts and plans of trips to the south rock climbing. It is the interesting thin fresh ice that won’t survive January’s cold sublimation that parallels that rare individuals motivation. This recent spate of cold temps has me thinking we’re almost to it’s beginning.