Someone Actually Let Me Have Ice Axes!

Yesterday was the first time I ever strapped crampons on, now I am on the way to Mt. Washington… I was pretty excited and totally happy. Yesterday was amazing, the feeling of the ice axes when they sunk into the frozen waterfall was really special! I was climbing with Tom who didn’t mind showing a beginner the ropes. I had wanted to try ice climbing for a long time. He lent me his old straight shaft Grivel axes, my knuckles looked like boxer’s from hitting them against the ice repeatedly, yesterday. We stayed in North Conway to be at the mountain early. We waited for the avalanche report giving us the green light to head up Huntington’s Ravine to climb Pinnacle Gully. It was an alpine WI3 route; alpine meaning multi-pitch (3 in ours) and a maximal difficulty of WI3. We had climbed a 3 yesterday so was completely eager to get going.
Washington’s base camp had a small shop with different last minute necessities like gas cartridges for outdoor stoves or even crampons. They sold books with titles, “Not Without Peril: 150 Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire”, “Accidents in North American Mountaineering” or “Don’t Die on the Mountain,” all very reassuring! There actually were many fatalities here, amazing, not even 2000 meters high, but so dangerous! I had often heard about the dangers and accidents at Tuckerman’s Ravine, where so many telemark skiers had lost their lives. I first climbed Washington through that same ravine when I was about 15 years old. I remember it was pretty exposed in areas and the narrow paths did not provide much protection from the steep slopes below. The real danger there, however, is actually the weather. Storms with arctic temperature and gale forced winds can arrive without much notice, not to mention the good old Nor’easters and the whiteouts they brought with them. We had to enter our tour into a book at the lodge with planned route and schedule.We had to list a next of kin and telephone number, as well. Gulp!! Great weather was forecast today, cold but without a storm. So we started our ascent. It took the better part of several hours to reach Huntington’s Ravine on the snowy trail through the forest. The ravine itself was a pretty steep slope covered in frozen snow called névé or firn. There were rocks all over which weren’t covered in snow, leading me to believe that there wasn’t a deep snow base. There was a short, wide and well formed ice fall called Yale, on the right side. It looked really nice, but is too short to justify the long hike in. Our path was to cross the steep slope towards the large rock face to the left where Pinnacle and Central Gully joined. We had to sidestep up the firn using an ice axe as a walking cane. I concentrated on clean foot placements with every step.We were not roped up and a stumble could result in a visit to the hospital. You don’t rope up without a way to break a fall from the other person. They call that a suicide pact.
There were already 2 groups ahead of us; one climbing Central and the other was nearing the top of Pinnacle. We had to wait until they were finished because of falling ice, but they were soon done and we started up. Tom led the first two pitches while I belayed. He quickly reached the first anchor and I could follow up. Other than pretty cold hands and some new bruises on my knuckles, everything went smoothly and I reached the anchor quickly. We swapped places and went on with the second pitch. This time, after reaching the anchor, I continued on on lead for the last pitch which was essentially hiking out. I made it to the top and sat next to a rock pulling the rope in while Tom followed up. From there on, we were walked over the frozen snowfield to the summit. My teeth froze immediately trying smile for a summit photo. We wasted no time at the summit and started down to the Lions Head trail. It was the easiest to descend in winter with only had a couple of tricky spots to down-climb. Lions Head runs between Huntington’s and Tuckerman’s Ravine back down to the base camp. Our descent seemed to take as long as the ascent and we arrived back at the lodge after dark. We warmed up there a little before stuffing ourselves with very tasty pizza.
Although the tour was easy technically, the scenery, impressions and whole experience was awesome. Thanks to the bombproof ice and rock, this turned out to be a great and safe first experience with alpine ice climbing. I’m looking forward to my next time!


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