An Alternative to the Mid-winter Blues
The Beatles proposed “Here comes the Sun” for respite from a “…long, cold, lonely winter…” The Team of Gary & Jill Rogers, Pete Volanakis and me found our solace this weekend at the three day Winter Mountaineering School sponsored by EMS. The program consists of two days of ice climbing, and an assault on Mt. Washington on Monday of President’s weekend. Due to a guide shortage – probably caused by advanced notice of our arrival – we did the second day as a self-guided school for back country skiing.
The Ice in the Notch
The first day of ice climbing was done with Sarah, a terrific guide who escaped the vertically challenged terrain of Ohio to come to the White Mountains 14 years ago after graduating from Miami University of Ohio. We climbed on the “Lost in the Woods” frozen waterfalls in Crawford Notch, named for the Crawford family that pioneered the area and built the first trail up Mt. Washington (across the valley) in 1819. Crawford Notch is a major glacial cirque which lies WSW from Mt. Washington and affords a great variety of ice and rock climbing routes.
The weather for this outing started very warm, with temperatures in the 50’s the night before. Fortunately, the temperatures cooled down into the teens for the morning, and were accompanied by winds gusting to 50 mph. The approach march was along the still active (summertime only) railroad tracks, with one crossing of a fairly sketchy trestle bridge. The ice at the site was still had frozen hard from the day before, and was thick and ready to climb.
My last ice climbing of any dedicated nature was in college, and the rest of the Team was out for their first tour. Ice climbing is always cold, frequently wet, and best executed with some wicked looking tools – including ice climbing axes (one for each hand), and crampons for the feet. These are murderous looking implements, and extremely effective both on ice and fallen commies. In fact, Leon Trotsky (a former colleague of Lenin and then Stalin) was dispatched by Soviet agents of the NKVD in Mexico City (1940) with an ice ax.
The area of our climb was about 75 feet in height, and it was perfectly reasonable to top rope. This is delightful, as ice climbing results in frequent falls, as all of the hand and foot holds are manmade (with the wicked looking tools shown above) and subject to failure along multiple fracture lines. Ice is a vitreous substance, and is also subject to conchoidal fractures, which fall off frequently in large chunks, making ice climbing a challenging and engaging spectator sport.
It was great getting back on the ice after too many years away, and everyone in the party reached the “summit” on every climb. The valley was full of climbers, and the atmosphere was a giant party. We were the oldest climbers, but held our own among the young and vigorous fellow travelers.