“I think we’re in big trouble”

That’s all I could think as Dave and I looked around in the storm that had changed the weather to complete white out conditions.

We were lost. Bad. And completely worn out. We had spent so much energy rushing our way to the top, we had very little strength left in out bodies. It was obvious that we had missed a turn somewhere. In our rush to get back below the tree line we had somehow gone right past our turn. We were now on a completely unfamiliar part of the mountain and it would be getting dark soon.

Nighttime on that mountain could spell a death sentence. It was -2 degrees with gale force winds and the temperature was dropping. If we didn’t get back on course soon, we could be stuck out here all night. Without a tent or bivy sack, without a stove or sleeping bag. A night out here would be disastrous.

If only we could see more than 100 ft in front of us, we could tell which way to go. I was pretty sure we had gone too far west, but how far? If we wandered too far west, we risked heading down the Tuckerman Ravine. Over 1500 ft of near sheer drop off. Going back east meant going back up hill and trudging through waist deep snow. Our legs were so already spent, we could barely walk as it was.

I looked over at Dave. He was just as exhausted as I was. “I have no idea where we are man. This is bad.” We stopped for a few minutes to discuss the situation. We couldn’t stand here long. As soon as you stop moving, you get cold. Plus, we were losing daylight.

Dave decided to head up and east to scout out a new route. Meanwhile, I’d look at the map and try and orient ourselves. I could look as my compass and see our direction, but I couldn’t find a big enough object to use to direct ourselves.   We had to find a way back down soon…..

 

 

 

It was Thursday afternoon and I was on the train heading to new york where I’d meet Dave who was up already up there for the day. He was going to grab me a couple of slices of NYC pizza, hop on the train and we’d roll the rest of the way up to Boston where we’d grab our rental that was waiting for us.

We got to Boston around midnight and I was immediately glad we decided to rent a 4×4. It was snowing like crazy. A weak weather system had gotten hung up on the east coast and was just sitting there, dumping snow all over New England. By the time we got the car and left the rental car office, it was nearly a full on blizzard.

A drive that was supposed to take a bit under 3 hours ended up taking nearly 4 and a half and by the time we arrived in Jackson, NH at the Synnott Mountain Guides Bunkhouse at 4:45am, we were thrashed. We quietly made our way inside to the one room house that featured several beds where other climbers were already passed out. With headlamps on, we found a free mattress and couch to crash out on, which we did almost immediately.

3 and half hours later, our guide Joe came in the door looking for us. We had booked an all day ice climbing class with Synnott Guides, and he was ready to get going. There were no blinds or curtains in the little house we had flopped in on the night before so the bright morning sunlight was reflecting off all that new snow and right through our window. Looked like getting up was our only option anyways.

So we threw on some clothes, test fit our climbing gear and set out for one of the many ice climbing destinations around Mt Washington. After a quick stop at the local Eastern Mountain Sports for a few last minute items and a second stop for a giant cup of McDonald’s coffee, we were at the trailhead, starting the 45 minute hike to Champney Falls.

We got to the falls, which was already covered with other climbers, and setup a top rope anchor. Our guide, who knew we were both rock climbers, took a very hands off approach to teaching us to climb. He helped us get our crampons on and basically just threw us on a wall with ice tools. 10 minutes later Dave and I had both top roped a 30 foot class 4 route.

During the way, our guide would take time to critique our technique or form. Showing us how to get better crampon purchase in the ice or the sound a tool should make when it gets a good stick. By the end of the day we were doing a 60ft class 4 plus route with relative ease.

 

 

 

 

While ice climbing is obviously a different animal from rock climbing, many of the same principals apply.  Smooth, balanced movements are preferred, using your feet to climb instead of your arms, visualizing your route, remembering to breathe…  All key if you want to have successful and enjoyable route.

We both had a blast and by the time we hiked back to the car we felt like the day had opened up new climbing avenues for both us. Too bad there’s not much in the way of ice climbing in Virginia!

We left and headed out to the gear store so Dave could get boots and crampons for the next day’s hike up Mount Washington. Afterward we stopped a local dive bar for some well deserved greasy food and ice cold brewskis, and discussed our big adventure the next day.

After dinner we checked into our accommodations at the Nereledge Inn, local B&B that caters specifically to climbers.  Steve, the owner,  gave us a big, clean room with two comfy beds and promised to have a breakfast ready for us when we were heading out at 6am the next morning.

After we got unpacked, we wandered downstairs to hang out in the common area where there was a TV and a wood fired stove where we met two older guys playing chess. We struck up a conversation and found that they had both been on some pretty seriously climbs, including several winter summits of mt Washington, a 5 week long climb up Denali and even a couple of Himalayan peaks! They told us we’d have a blast on our climb the next day, but to take care to not underestimate the weather on the mountain.

After enjoying several beers and listening to stories and wisdom from newly found friends, we retired to our room. We got in bed around 9:30pm and set the alarm for 5:45am the next day. When we awoke, it’d be time to head off the mountain for the highlight of our little weekend adventure.

 

 

To be continued…..

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