by Colin Aina
Check out what you missed in Part 8.
Once back from Colorado, Ben hit the cut a few times and remarked feeling better than the last. The ice conditions this winter were starting to resemble last season's in that there were seldom consistent days below freezing. The warm spells would degrade ice that had already formed, rendering it unsafe. The month of January found us in constant communication about the weather, where ice was forming in the region as well as a fair amount of whining.
It was starting to become obvious that going further north would be best to get in some quality climbing. The Northeast is revered the world over for having great concentration of quality, classic ice routes. There have been many pioneers in the ice climbing and mountaineering world that have honed their skills on the ice in New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. The railroad cut is the southernmost viable place to climb and is a short 2 hour ride from me. It makes for a nice day trip. As it was the previous year, the railroad cut was seeing some unreliable and precarious ice development. Further north, the White Mountains of NH were looking much better but the closest climbs are over 3 hrs away. The previous winter, I met up with a handful of the usual climbing suspects on a weekend trip to the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Due to weather, we clearly needed to head there this season as well.
Ben, Jason and I headed to the Keene Valley, NY over February break to climb on some of the best routes in the country. There are literally hundreds of routes within a 20 mile radius of the epicenter known as Chapel Pond. If you are familiar with clothing giant Patagonia (climbers call it Patagucci for obvious reasons) its founder ,Yvonne Chouinard, established climbing routes in this area. The weather forecast was looking warm but many routes were still looking good due to the recent colder temps in the area. We arrived at Chapel Pond in the afternoon to some rather warm 40 degree weather. You actually have to walk across Chapel Pond to access the climbs. Yes, the pond is frozen but this day the top layer of the pond had turned into a slushy mess of melted ice which felt a bit like quicksand....rather unsettling. We warmed up on a route that had some de-laminated ice but was climbable. Ben led the route and it was the first time I had seen him lead since the accident. He looked rather smooth, cautious and comfortable. It was great to see him gaining the confidence he so desperately needed. There were 2 routes that Jason really wanted to climb but upon inspection, they looked rather unsafe and we chose against it. We chose to end the day with a multi-pitch route called Crystal Ice Tower and White Line Fever. It gains 400 ft of elevation from pond level and is completed in 3 pitches. Knowing that we would most likely be finishing the route in the dark, headlamps were packed and we started the route at 4pm. We topped out in the dark at 6pm, rappelled down, cautiously traversed the slushy lake, and made it back for the obligatory post-climb beer at the car.
The next day we hiked into the rarely climbed area of Hoffman Notch State Park. There are some great ice routes that aren't regularly climbed due to their south facing direction(South faces get baked on a sunny day). Despite the blue clear skies, we figured it was worth a shot and snowshoed the 2.5miles in search of the bulk of the climbing routes. Once arriving, we noticed that although the ice was well concentrated, the outer layer was completely "baked out". We retreated further down the cliff and found a decent route and took a few laps. Again, I noticed how smooth Ben looked while climbing. He was steady and methodical, testing his ice tool placements after every swing. It was clear to me that he was feeling more comfortable despite the accident 7 months earlier. We rounded out this day like the first..with beer (and water) and a good meal. The last day of our NY trip was spent at one of the prettiest places I've climbed; North Face of Pitchoff. Getting there involves a short hike through frozen marshland followed by a steep and icy ascent to the base of the climbs. We climbed 2 multi pitch routes named Arm and Hammer and Tendonitis. With the temps approaching 50F, this was by far the warmest day I've had on the ice. So much so, that I climbed part of the day without gloves. Craziness!
We rounded out the day with another parking lot toast.