Well, it’s cold. It’s been cold and it’s gonna remain cold. The effects of all this wobbly weather is apparent in the ice around the Mount Washington Valley. In general, here’s what to look out for.
1. Top outs are hollow. Because of the prolonged thaw, and especially the accompanying rain, the tops of many ice climbs are undermined and hollow. Generally, and I mean generally, things have refrozen, but you will be climbing floating ice as you top out many of the area’s ice climbs, especially the major water courses. Look out for some wild looking and sounding ice – dong, dong, dong! Good cramponing skills are huge when the final bulge is delicate. Remember, keep your eyes on your front points as you top out and you’ll be in the right body position to use more feet and less arms – ass out until you can bury your head and see your frontpoints!. Don’t succumb to temptation and sink your tools as far back as you can over the bulge. This is especially important when the final bulge is a floating, water sculpted piece of modern art and there is nothing but rock out where you would otherwise plant a tool!
2. Pillars are under tension. Be wary of pillars that are connected both top and bottom. Ice, like most materials, gets smaller when it gets colder. The ice that formed in the beginning of the week, formed in warmer weather, and formed bigger. Now, since it has gotten really damn cold it is too small for the area it spans – creating tension. How it all plays out over the next 10 days of prolonged cold I don’t know, but be thoughtful. Just because that pillar felt good on the lead at the end of last February, doesn’t mean it really wants to be climbed this January… but it might. Just err on the side of caution.
3. The ice is hard. A few days ago while climbing ice on Cathedral I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my tools. They just wouldn’t stick. They just kinda bounced despite nice, new sharp picks. A few feet higher I got into some wet, fresh ice and POW! right in there. Ah Ha! This ice is just really, really hard. I’ve worked out a different swing to accomodate the conditions. Here it is: Swinging harder doesn’t do it. It’s like hand drilling a bolt; you can swing as hard as you like, but a drill bit can only go so far into granite with each blow. Instead you swing a lot and not that hard. I’ve been swinging into this cold ice in a similar manner, planning on three or four 1/2 powered swings to set the pick. Fortunately, when the ice is this strong, you don’t need as much metal in it to get the job done. This may be a hard one to get your head around, but try it out; a few well planned out, softer swings to set the pick to the 2nd or 3rd tooth when you’re encountering a lot of resistance. Also, it’ll mean less fractured ice flying around to mar your pretty face.
On the plus side there is neve all over the place so getting around is a breeze and the ice is here to stay. The bigger flows still have water moving in them, despite the cold, so many of the classics will continue to get fat.
Specifically, I climbed Repentance Wednesday. There is more ice on it than I have ever seen… hmm, tempting. After completing the second pitch pillar I vowed to stay away from it until it warms up. It is alluring, but, now, fractured and spooky. When I lead it it is was down right scary; the pillar fractured at my feet, releasing the aforementioned tension to some degree, but leaving a poorly put together bit of frozen architecture. A party checked it out yesterday, I didn’t get a chance for a debriefing.
Here’s the breakdown:
Goofer‘s looks great and fat taking long screws way down low on the pitch
Super Goofer‘s looks a little funky. Pretty cool really, but not straight forward.
Repentance and Remission are loaded with ice, but be cautious. The pillar on Remission looks great from the ground, but from the side you can see what is really there.
There is loads of ice, and it’s still forming, at the North End of Cathedral. The Thresher Slab climbs are in great shape, as is everything else.