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Ten Centimeters of Steel!

With the spring showers we have the change of the season.  Yes ice climbing is done for the year but we enter the spring skiing season and rock climbing season.  In the past two weeks I have guided a little bit of everything.  Ice climbing up on Mt. Washington, ski mountaineering on Mt. Washington, and rock climbing on Cannon Cliff.  Each day is different and always an adventure.

Whitney-Gilman Ridge

Spring rock climbing

Approaching Huntington Ravine

Two separate days on Cannon Cliff presented polar opposites in conditions the first day was pleasant bare handed rock climbing with no ice any where on the cliff.  The belays were relaxed and sunny.  A week later we were racing to the top shivering and climbing in gloves wishing we had our boots and ice gear.  That is the beauty of spring!

Climbing Central Gully

Skiing up on Mt. Washington can be much the same with the conditions changin as fast as New England weather.  I enjoyed a day of corn snow when you had to be going down off the summit before noon or the snow was too wet.  A few days later even late in the day with the direct sun the snow never softened up and down climbing was the prudent choice for the entrance to right gully.  Half the intrigue for ski mountaineering is in the problem solving of the conditions that are presented.  One must be able to skin up the approach, crampon up and climb firm snow where falling is not an option and ski variable conditions with no ego, an expert skier might have to use a Stem-Christie on hard pack in no fall terrain or a Step-Christie in breakable crust, hop turns or bicycle turns  for the steeps.  All the different techniques need to be second nature.   When all else fails and no fall terrain presents conditions too difficult to be confident then down climbing must be considered.   That is the adventure of skiing in the mountains.

Skiing off the summit.

A classic ski mountaineering objective on Mt. Washington is to climb Central Gully in Huntington Ravine, a snow climb with a pitch of ice climbing.  Then skin to the summit via the auto road and pick your descent line, East snow fields back to Huntington to ski Central or over to Tuckerman ravine and enjoy big bowl skiing.  Be ready for any conditions!

East snow fields

First pitch of Pinnacle Gully

The changing of the season always urges one last climb of the year.  My last day of ice guiding was on Pinnacle gully in Huntington ravine.  It was a perfect spring day warm temps made the route very wet.  There were many parties in each of the gullies.  After the first pitch of ice we headed on to Central Buttress to avoid the water.  A party of three above was simul-climbing.  After a crampon fell off of the middle person they fell and pulled the leader off their position high up in the snow.  The chatter of two climbers falling caught my attention and I turned to see the leader fall 200 plus feet down the gully, stopping at the top of the first pitch.  A scary sight but after verbal communication it was established they were relatively okay.  There were a total of 8 climbers in the gully at this point and we all worked together to get down.  Each climber had their role and within an hour we were all back down in the snow heading for the parking lot.  In the end there was only aches, bruises, one broken finger and a few stitches, not bad for two people who fell collectively 300 feet.  What had stopped the fall of three people simul climbing was a ten centimeter BD ice screw!   When simul climbing you never want to test the system but in this case the system was tested and ten centimeters of steel saved three lives!

Great day to be out in the Mountains!

One Response to “Ten Centimeters of Steel!”

  1. Kevin
    April 1, 2010 at 5:23 am #

    thanks!

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