Early Season Ice in New England

This past weekend I managed to nab the seasons second ascent of Pinnacle Gully on Mt. Washington. It was truly an epic day, and some of the most fun climbing I've experienced in a while.

On Saturday Russell, Steve and I packed up the car and began the drive to NH, not really knowing what to expect at all. We spent a restless night just a few minuets from Pinkham Notch, and woke up at 5:30 to begin our day. We hit the trail by 7, just as the sun we beginning to rise. We hiked for a little over two hours under beautiful blue skies, with the sun rising on our backs. As we worked further and further up the Huntington Ravine Trail we began to notice more and more snow and ice under our feet. Eventually we got our first look up into the ravine and we could see that ice was forming up high. Game on.

Looking into the gully for the first time and discovering ice had formed in the last few days was a huge relief! 

Looking into the gully for the first time and discovering ice had formed in the last few days was a huge relief! 

We hit the base of Pinnacle around 10 and started climbing around 10:30. From the bottom, the ice was looking pretty good. There was a decent amount of buildup on the first pitch and it looked like we'd be placing screws after all. Russ took the first lead and navigated the steep first wall in thin conditions. About halfway up his pitch after pulling over the first section, the ice pretty much ran out. Russ finished up an incredible mixed pitch. Committing climbing on thin gear. 

Russ taking on the first lead of the season on fatter than expected ice!

Russ taking on the first lead of the season on fatter than expected ice!

Steve on the middle section of the first pitch. After this "ice" section we we climbing rock the rest of the day. 

Steve on the middle section of the first pitch. After this "ice" section we we climbing rock the rest of the day. 

 

After we topped out the first pitch, we could tell that the rest of the climb would mellow out a bit. Down the center of the gully it appeared that there was a decent amount of ice that would allow for an easy path with little resistance. However, this ice was actually only a few inches thick at best, and beneath it was six inches to a foot of fast flowing running water. This forced us to stick to the far left or far right of gully, where there was very little ice. I took the next lead, following up the left side. The climbing was mostly comfortable, with good rests between more committing mixed sections. Recent snow fall filled in many of the features, allowing for decent steps and decent axe placements. Eventually the left side brought me to a step bulge of totally exposed rock. The only gear I managed was a bunk knifeblade and I wasn't willing to commit to pulling hard mixed moves with no pro and 20m of rope out. I back down and moved towards the middle, probing my axe as I went, looking for solid ground. Everything was caving out in front of me. I noticed a thin ramp of solid ice on the other side of the gully, and I knew our only chance of topping out was to cross the water. After quite a bit of probing, I eventually found a section with a flat enough piece of rock underneath. I bashed out a basketball sized hole and stepped into the running water, from here I was able to jump to solid ground on the other side of the gully. I moved up the ramp which turned out to be quite thin, only about 3in of ice attached to the slabby wall. I finished up that section, and found a solid rest in a flaring corner near the top of the pitch. I placed my second piece, a small but bomber .2 X4 and realized I needed to cross the water again. This time I was unable to bash through the ice to the rock below. A steep step above (see video) exposed a large section of water, causing the spray to build a much thicker bridge over the water below. After a few solid wacks, I decided to see if it would hold me. It did, and I managed to cross to the other side and reach a fixed anchor. 

The first section of what was probably the longest lead of my life. It took me nearly an hour and a half to negotiate a protectable route though this verglas covered rock!

The first section of what was probably the longest lead of my life. It took me nearly an hour and a half to negotiate a protectable route though this verglas covered rock!

Russ getting into it on the third pitch. We actually found enough ice to swing tools in a few sections here!

Russ getting into it on the third pitch. We actually found enough ice to swing tools in a few sections here!


The next pitch went to Russ again. Similar mixed climbing to P2, but luckily an obvious path up the left existed. Russ build a solid gear anchor and brought both of us up. At this point the steep climbing pretty much ended, and we decided to solo the rest of the climb through the exit. We broke down the anchor, and the three of us topped out. Right as we did, heavy thick clouds blanketed down on the summit, dropping visibility to an 1/8th of a mile or less. Protected from the winds in the gully, we were now exposed to Mt. Washington's notorious ferocity, facing sustained winds between 60-70mph, gusting to 90. We were quite literally forced to bear crawl the last 200m to the alpine garden trail to prevent being blown over. We were able to easily follow the alpine garden across the top of the ravine, linking up with lions head for a long and icy decent. We hit the car at 4:30. 

Russ and Steve sheltered at the third belay, all hell broke lose after we moved out of the shelter of the gully.

Russ and Steve sheltered at the third belay, all hell broke lose after we moved out of the shelter of the gully.

A stunning panorama from the beginning of the Alpine Garden. 

A stunning panorama from the beginning of the Alpine Garden. 



Overall we had an awesome climb. We had no idea what to expect conditions wise, and while it wasn't exactly ice climbing, it was great to have crampons strapped to our feet and tools in our hands. We managed to make the second ascent of Pinnacle this season, beat out only by a solo climber who started a bit before us. With temperatures continuing to hold in mid-teens, it looks like ice season has officially arrived in the east. Looking forward to a killer season, with trips to Colorado and potentially Katahdin planned, its sure to be my best season yet. 


Cheers,
Max