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Lake Effect

Two weeks ago I was guiding over at Lake Willoughby heading for Called on Account of Rain, but a friend, Quinton and his partner, scooped us. As we traversed back to the Promenade I noticed blotchy ice linked by cracks and flakes. The climbing looked sustained and good and best of all it appeared to have gear everywhere. I tucked it in the back of my head and enjoyed the day on Bullwinkle and Rocky the Squirrel. I kept thinking of the line and fearing that I would read about it on NEClimbs or NEICE. Fortunately, I saw no activity.

I finally returned yesterday with Greg Benner and racked up with a double set of cams, pins and stubby screws. The first pitch was classic Willoughby mixed climbing, vertical to slightly overhanging turf shots, shallow torques, thin ice, and lots of pounding iron. The pitch ended at a perfect triangular roof with nothing but air for 30m under our crampons.

With Greg secure and safe under the roof I headed out unsure what would happen with what appeared to be iced up cracks and hard climbing. From the first moves off the belay the climbing was brilliant. The exposure felt more than 30m but it added to the experience. I unloaded my double set of cams while I hand jammed, fist jammed, lay backed, hooked, torqued and tapped into one-inch ice. The final move to the belay was pulling a roof with my left side in an iced up off width and my right hooking a delicate curtain. I can’t remember climbing a finer mixed pitch, ever. Greg soon joined me at the belay equally as smitten with the pitch.

The next pitch required a little commitment. I tapped the ice with my tool and the first eight feet fell down leaving a well bonded six inch chunk at knee level and nothing but blank vertical rock for eight feet. I looked hopelessly for an alternative but there was no way around it; I had to trust what remained of the delaminated ice with no gear insight. The first move off the belay was a dicey hook while stepping on the remaining chunk of ice. From there I had to tap into the shell of what once was a well-bonded ice smear. Every tap caused the whole sheet of ice to wobble. I knew I could climb the ice if it didn’t fall down on me.

While hanging on with maybe a total of less than an inch of ice under my picks and crampons holding me I decided that if the sheet cut loose I would have to push off so that I would launch past the belay ledge and take a big air fall rather than a short ledge fall. Once I settled that in my head I kept climbing until at twenty feet out I found a C3 placement in a shallow crack. With decent gear in place I had the boost to pull the final overlap fully trusting my tools in crap ice.

Once that pitch was behind us we were treated with a plastic WI 4 pitch to the trees, which Greg led efficiently. Three rappels later we were happy to coil our ropes and relive the glory of pitch two. We shouldered our pack as freezing rain started to pelt our faces and we left the gift Mt Pisgah had given us behind and glissaded down to the road.

The line most likely had formed from snowmelt during warm sunny days that Lake Willoughby is known and feared for. Our ascent was allowed during a -1F morning followed by cloud cover that Lake Willoughby is also known for. Thus the name Lake Effect was decided upon. The best mixed climb I have done in recent memory.

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