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Three days on Cannon

About a month ago I enjoyed the first climb of the season on the Black Dike, Cannon Cliff with Cheryl. It was one of those perfect early winter days where the air was cold, the sky was clear, and the conditions were great. The only challenge was the foot of snow over the boulders on the approach. The climb itself was just right for our first climb of the season, a little snow climbing, thin but good ice climbing, and a pre-noon top out. Conversation and a nice glissade brought us back to the bike path and the car. Cannon was kind to us.

Two weeks after I was back with Mike. A storm was in the forecast with increasing winds, but how often are they right? The day was going to be great. We would climb Omega in unusually fat conditions then head home at a reasonable time to catch the Patriots continue their perfect season against the Jets.

The drive through the Notch should have clued me in about the day ahead, but I try to be the optimist whenever possible. (Just because the normal one-hour drive took nearly two hours isn’t that big of a deal right?) I had just returned from Berkley, CA after four days of meetings and I was keen to climb and Mike is always hungry for a challenge and an adventure.

We set out from the parking lot catching up from the past six months, fairly oblivious to the building storm around. The hike through the boulders was slow and at times waste deep in snow but the hard work was what my muscles craved after twelve hours of air travel the day before.

We finally got to the base of Omega and the storm had settled in; we racked up anyway. I started up the first pitch and scratched and searched amongst the spindrift to make progress. Watching Mike follow the pitch gave the perspective that should have turned us around but we were still having fun so we kept going.

The start of the second pitch was the second red flag. I started up the ice and after fifteen feet it turned to verglass that had delaminated, impossible to protect and unlikely to climb. I down climbed. Back at the belay, we discussed retreat but an obvious dry tooling corner begged us to venture on. A short but good pitch later we were at the business, pitch three WI5 and golden in color. At this point the storm had increased and the wind was starting to be a real problem, but we had worked hard to get here and now we were at the good stuff. I decided to continue.

We formulated nonverbal communication, anticipating the challenge the wind would offer. I started up the pitch and it was perfect: full swings, thunker ice, decent screws. With every ten feet I gained the wind seemed to pick up 10 mph. Soon it sounded like a 747 at take off and did not let up. It was cold enough for me to be climbing with my down parka on, and I chose not to fasten my waste belt on my pack. This was a time for a lesson.

With every 60mph gust that roared up the cliff, it pulled my pack up and bellowed my parka like a parachute. I could feel the strain on my arms lighten and my crampons float. I had to go into “lock down” mode every time I heard a big gust coming, which seemed like every third swing. Retreat was not an option. Up was the only way out.

I knew Mike could climb the route and I knew he could handle extreme conditions but I had forty pounds on him and the wind was starting to lift me. Once to the trees I completed communications and knew he would figure it out. It is impossible to gage time when you are in extreme situations; it flies by and stands still all at once. I knew I had taken awhile so I knew he would take awhile. He arrived in time with the same wide-eyed “holy shit” look I had. After some waste deep wallowing we were in a safe spot to pack up the ropes and put away our harnesses. We thought the epic was over.

The normal trail should be a ten-minute bushwack away if we found it. We didn’t find it. After two and half-hours of waste to chest deep plowing and a lost contact, we were finally back at the cars.

Mike asked, “Would you call that an epic?”
At least the Patriots had an epic on the way to their victory as well.

Today I was back to Cannon to climb the Black Dike with Eugene. We met at the parking lot at 7am the temperature was -9F. After his drive up from Cambridge, Eugene had done an open bivy in the parking lot. (Burly!) We struggled up the boulders in -30F wind chill temps amidst swirling wind and lots of snow. By the time we arrived to the base of the route we decided it wasn’t the day for the Dike. So we headed down to freeze at the Flume. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

(Posted Jan 3, 19:03 by Kevin Mahoney)

One Response to “Three days on Cannon”

  1. Reotditsedire
    April 20, 2009 at 7:25 pm #

    wow, nice …

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