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First Ascents, Variations, and Disappointment

First ascents, variations, and disappointment.

The winter climbing season is a great time of year. It is easy to miss the sunny rock climbing when it is -10 F and 40 mph winds lashing at your face or when the 8 inches of powder snow is followed up with an afternoon of rain. But it is exactly that which makes winter exciting.

I will admit there is a certain satisfaction to fingers on dry warm rock and the precision of rock shoes on granite. However the eight months a year, year after year of more or less the same conditions does not impose urgency. Winter can create conditions that may rarely or never form again and if you get the opportunity to climb a unique route that is special.

This winter has created some of those rare conditions and I hope they come again but if they don’t I got a chance to climb some pretty wild terrain and have some great fun with friends.

December 2010 was one of those early seasons that almost seemed to be a dud, no snow and mild temps. But the rain and ground water and just cold enough temps created some of the best conditions I have ever scene on the South Face of Frankenstein. The regular routes were BIG and there seemed to be ice in places I had never seen before.

Three trips up there in a short amount of time produced two first ascents and repeats of classics in great condition and lots of adventure.

The first was Pole Dance NEI5+ (a new ice route at Frankenstein now that is rare) with Bayard Russell and Matt McCormick. The route name came from the established theme of the wall with routes like Cocaine and Strippers already there and the climbing on a free hanging pillar. Pole Dance is located one meter’s to the right of Bragg-Pheasant.

The next FA was Runners Up M6 R with Mike Nadeau. This route is located on the left side of the far left buttress of the South Face as scene from the parking lot and follows a left facing corner with knife blades thin ice topped with a WI 4 bulge, classic. Its name came from the search for the centerline of the buttress, which was more of wishful thinking than a route.

Soon after this I heard that a friend, Peter Doucette had put up another route on the South Face. A steep rock line to golden drips, I am not sure what he called it but I know the route since I have watched it for years thinking maybe no one else had noticed it (again wishful thinking).

Next to fall was in the Adirondacks. Good friends Bayard Russell, Matt McCormick, and Matt Horner set off to climb a variation to the legendary Gorillas in the Mist (a Jeff Lowe route that has only scene 2 ascents in 15 years, two days apart and has not formed since). Where the ice formed this time was slightly different. What they created was the amazing Endangered Species NEI5 M6+.

I was working straight through the epic conditions over on Poko Moonshine and could barely contain myself when I saw the photos from the ascent. How could I have missed one of the most inspiring routes of the decade?

Now ice routes come and go in a matter of days on Poko. I know since I was there at the right time with the right partner Matt Horner (yes of Endangered Species I think he cleans up over in the ‘Dacks). We put up Pump and Dump (after a rainy Saturday at the ice festival was followed by -20 temps). That route lasted one day!

I didn’t think Endangered Species would last much longer. I tried to figure out how to get over there with only one day off. The answer was simple. Convince Freddie Wilkinson to get up at 2am drive 4 hours get on a ferry drive another 30 minutes, do the route and drive 45 minutes to a different ferry then drive 4 hours home and be ready for work the next day. It worked! We sent the route and added a stellar exit pitch. It was just what I was looking for, a route to give me a boost of energy. I drove the whole way back not sleepy at all!

One Response to “First Ascents, Variations, and Disappointment”

  1. sullivan
    February 26, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    awesome photos, such a challenge incredible u guys climb that , sheer wall, of ice how the christ u do it, lol, would make a great show on discovery or fx, would love to see it, the equipment, etc,, the weather, etc, pretty impressive,

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