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Ice climbing



Pinnacle Gully | Smugglers’ Notch Classics | Alden Pellett | Ice Climbing Essentials

Rab athletes putting Strata to the test in Arctic Norway. BEN WINSTON

Contents DECEMBER | 2013

8 10 14 16 18 22 30 35

EDITOR’S NOTE // Howling Fantods By David Crothers NORTHEAST NEWSWIRE // Your local news condensed Gear // Ice Climbing Essentials By Christie Stack & Brian Fencil LOCAL LEGEND // Alden Pellett By Brian Fencil FEATURE // Pinnacle Gully By Brian Fencil FEATURE // Smugglers’ Notch Classics By David Crothers Focused // Image Gallery LAST MOVE // Josh Levin By David Crothers

Desperate times call for Scottish pro. If you can’t tell, this is a brand-new ice screw completely full of frozen dirt from the first ascent of Howling Fantods (WI5) in Smugglers’ Notch, Vt.

[Photo] David Crothers 4

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InternatIonal MountaIn ClIMbIng SChool’S 21St annual



Jan 31-Feb 2, 2014

www.mwv-icefest.com 603-356-7064

north Conway, nh


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Adam Howard











David Crothers Shey Kiester Mike Lorenz

Brian Fencil Christie Stack

submissions@climberism.com climberism.com/subscribe 60 Main St., Jeffersonville, VT info@climberism.com

ON THE COVER: Ande Kahora working hard for a send that unfortunately never came at Snake Mountain in Vermont. [Photo] David Crothers Most of the activities depicted in this magazine carry significant amounts of risk with the potential for serious injury or death. We do not recommend you try or participate in any of the activities depicted within this publication. Seek professional guidance or help from someone of expertise. You assume all risks associated with your decision. Copyright Climberism. All Rights Reserved. No material in this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent.

Contributors Ryan Stefiuk is a climbing guide residing in Northampton, Massachusetts. The consumate tinkerer and gearhead, Ryan can be found tweaking websites, Android devices, and climbing gear in his spare time. He is the owner of Valley Vertical Adventures and blogs regularly at bigfootmountainguides.com

Before he had spent a rain-soaked spring in Vermont, Taylor VanRoekel lovingly considered New England to be some sort of Shangri-La. Wide-eyed and hopeful, he moved to the Green Mountains in the summer of ’12 with a car full of skis and shelves. Three jobs and four Craigslist rentals later, he can still be found hoofing around north of I-89 with his friends who sometimes call him to go rock climbing.

Doug Millen showing off the NEice UP artillery at the 2012/2013 Adirondack Mountain Fest in Keene Valley, Ny. For the last couple of years, Doug has been building droids with cameras attached to them in order to film ice climbers and the mountains during the winter. He has compiled a bunch of footage and has started screening it around the region. [Photo] Taylor VanRoekel

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[Photo] Jacon Mayer


Am I ready for this? I think to myself, standing at the base of one of the most intimidating climbs I’ve ever considered attempting. My throat sinks to my gut and my mind bends with fear. I stare at the cold, lifeless wall as the wind tears across my face, slashing it with bitter cold. The weather in Smugglers’ Notch alone will humble a man. I think of all the other things I could be doing: watching TV, updating my blog, drinking beer with friends, watching football. But that is why I am here: because my dull life spins in circles and seemingly never goes anywhere when I do things that make me comfortable. I am just like everyone else, living their lives dayto-day, except that I have an itch for fear and adventure that I just can’t seem to shake. My climbing partner, Jacon Mayer, takes the sharp end, slogging through waistdeep snow until the only direction he can go is up. As he climbs, his tracks are quickly and unceremoniously filled with snow by the whipping wind. There’s no ice low on the wall, just a dark, eerie-looking rock face with hardly any protection. “Watch me here,” Jacon yells through the wind, “I don’t have much to move on.” After what seems like hours, the rope is tight at my waist and I’m ready to follow. We’re losing light so I must be quick. Reaching the crux, I shuffle around, scratching my tools at the rock, searching for something to catch. Nothing. How the hell did he do it? I ask myself. Where do I go from here? Finding a micro edge, I test it with my weight. My tool pops, whipping back toward my face. I nearly fall. “Shit!” I scream in anger. Finally, I see a small sheet of ice up and to the left. It’s barely there, but I give it a few light taps, pull, and miraculously, my tool sticks. I make a couple of quick, delicate moves and then mantle onto a right-slopping ledge. Looking up, I see Jacon’s face with a big smile. “Ready for the next pitch?” He asks. I grin. A short, thin drip of ice leading to a blank slab of rock awaits me with no protection for at least 50 feet. It takes us a minute to get organized, the wind and snow cutting across our faces as I take the lead. I gently tap my tools into the thin layer of ice. It imme-


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diately spiders and fractures. Is this going to hold? I think to myself. Am I even going to survive this? I imagine us falling, getting buried by snow, and rescuers franticly searching for our bodies. I pull hard on my tool, tap, tap, tapping and testing it under my weight. I’m about 30 feet from the ledge below and I still don’t have any protection. My calves are on fire. Suddenly, one of my feet cuts from under me, making a screeching sound as it drags across the ice and rock. My heart leaps, but both tools hold. Still good, Dave, I assure myself. You’re still good. Just keep moving. Trying not to let fear overtake my mind, I see a crack 20 feet above, offering me a glimmer of hope. As the thin layer of ice I have been milking disappears, I find myself searching and sifting through the snow for small edges to torque and smear on. I pray nothing breaks or crumbles as I weight it—the rock quality in the Notch is mostly shit. Climbing on, the crack I saw from below turns out to be nothing more than fine kitty litter. Still, I place a nut and yank it hard to see if it holds. The rock explodes, leaving a scar where the nut was. I place a size bigger, gently setting it. My only piece of protection in 50 feet is no good and I am at a vertical section of inch-thick ice lasting another 30 feet. Something inside my head begins to go quiet as I make the awkward move from crack to ice. Everything is moving slowly. I feel the cold air move in and out of my lungs as if I am drowning in arctic water. I can see myself—I am fully vertical now. Each point of my tools and crampons is merely resting in the small pockets I have gently ticked and tapped out. Little by little, I delicately move higher, moving slowly, gracefully, and pausing for long moments as spindrift stings my face. By the time I reach substantial ice, I can barely swing to get any purchase, but I do. And finally, I am on top. I am breathing. I am alive. I am numb with adrenaline. A smile hits my face. I can’t wait to do that again, I think to myself. But for now, Jacon can have the sharp end and bring us up the last 100 feet of our new line, Howling Fantods (WI5 M5) in Smugglers’ Notch.—Dave


THREE M10’S, ONE DAY, NO BIG DEAL Last year, Nathan Kutcher won Ouray’s Ice Climbing Competition and competed in the Ice Climbing World Cup for Canada. This year, he has the North American Championships, the World Cup and an ice climbing cultural event for the Olympics to prepare for. He has been training all summer and he tested himself with an insane goal: to onsight three M10’s in a day. At 3 a.m. one morning, he drove to St. Albans and started ticking off routes. The first two fell smoothly, but on the third, an M10-, he popped a tool and nearly took a fall. Despite this hiccup, he sent anyways, handily achieving his goal.

[Photo] Mark Meschinelli

HARDCORE CLIMBER GEOFF SMITH PASSES AWAY AT 64 Geoff Smith, a prolific developer of Poke-O Moonshine, and a member of the Ski-toDie Club, passed away this November. Mark Meschinelli, who met Smith in the ‘70s when Smith was aggressively going after new routes, remembers him as a great guy. “His laugh was unbelievably infectious. If you met him, you would never forget him,” Meschinelli said. “He peppered you with questions about yourself, not him. That’s one of the things I loved about him—he always wanted to know what you were doing.” Smith discovered climbing as a teenager, and in the early ‘70s, he started developing Poke-O Moonshine. “He was always looking for the most unique lines, and he always wanted to experiment and push the boundaries,” Meschinelli added. “He was a great climbing partner.” Smith added over 30 routes to Poke-O, most of which went up in the ‘70s. One of them, Fastest Gun (5.10a), was one of the most iconic climbs of the era and is still one of the most coveted 5.10s in the state. With his climbing career slowing in the ‘80s, Smith eventually retired from climbing. However, he returned to Poke-O in 2002, establishing Ancient of Days (5.10b) with his two sons, Silas and Tim. Smith’s impact on Northeast climbing and skiing is immeasurable. He will be missed by many.


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THERE’S A 23-PITCH ROUTE IN MA. At the end of October, Pete Clark and Paul Handlen completed a 23 pitch, 5.11+ A2 traverse of Farley Ledge, dubbing it The King Snake: The Eternal Mystery. They had attempted the route in 2011, but hadn’t yet mastered the novelty of traversing. After 10 pitches of mayhem, bug infested sandwiches, and kicking steps in muddy corners, the team backed off the route, drinking the beers they had in defeat rather than celebration. This year, they were awarded the Live Your Dream Grant from the American Alpine Club, which helped put aid gear on their racks. With the extra gear, they completed the route just before Halloween.

(603) 986-5614 bayard@cathedralmountainguides.com freddie@cathedralmountainguides.com www.cathedralmountainguides.com


Photo Š www.kalice.fr

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Photo by Scott Adamson

Scott Adamson and Chris Wright established a base camp near the Lunag Glacier, an area seen by few travelers. After a large storm, the two hiked four miles over a snow-covered boulder field to their advance base camp below the southeast face of Lunag West. After a rest day, they started—unroped—up a pronounced couloir to the route’s crux of vertical and overhanging ice. From there, they followed a snowy ridge, summiting just before midnight. Warming temperatures had caused rock fall on the ascent and they wanted to descend before dawn in colder temperatures and more stable conditions. The team spent about five hours down climbing and rappelling to advance base camp. The new route, Open Fire (WI5, M3), took them about 24 hours. The next week, the team set off to advance base camp again with their eyes on the northeast face of Pangbuk North. They started up the mountain to the steep headwall and climbed two first pitches of rotten ice and loose rock. Bivvying on a tiny ledge at about 20,000 feet, the duo spent the night almost halfway up the headwall. The next morning they finished the last couple of pitches, standing on the miniscule summit late in the afternoon. They rappelled back to their bivy ledge, spent the night, and descended the next morning. They called the new route Purgation and rated it WI6+ M6.

Earlier this month, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson started back up the Dawn Wall project. Having started the project again this year with Chris Sharma in mid-October, the team made solid progress until November 1 when a haul bag took a 200-foot fall while attached to Caldwell’s harness. Caldwell, who feared injury, headed down to recover while Jorgeson continued on the route. On December 5, Caldwell said on Facebook, “Well, I decided to make the drive back to Yosemite. My ribs are feeling better and I can’t seem to keep this climb out of my mind.” He and Jorgeson started back up the route as ice from a recent storm came down. Currently, the two are on the route giving it a solid effort in very alpine conditions.

WOODS AND WEBB SEND AND THEN DOWNGRADE MEADOWLARK LEMON (V14/15) Daniel Woods and James Webb sent the hardest boulder problem in Red Rocks’ Gateway Canyon this December. Woods gave the problem three tries before he nabbed the fifth ascent. Webb almost flashed the route, but fell near the top. He returned the next day and sent it on his first try. They both downgraded the problem from V15 to V14 after sending it. Now, having sent the hardest problem in the area, they are looking for some new FAs.

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Ice Climbing Essentials



by Christie Stack & Brian Fencil



8 3

5 4 10


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1. JULBO BIVOUAK SUNGLASSES Many mountaineering glasses designed for total coverage end up looking like something out of a sci-fi flick. Thankfully, Julbo makes the Bivouaks, functional glasses that don’t look like something Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge would wear. The Bivouaks are the first pair of glasses with magnetic protective shields that pop off. They transition easily into more casual use when you’re huffing up mountains. To make these glasses fit a variety of head and ear shapes, the temples of the glasses can be bent to fit any shape. Julbo offers a variety of lenses with their glasses, fitting many different conditions. Plus, many of their lenses have prescription options, too. MSRP $160 julbousa.com 2. GRABBER HAND AND TOE WARMERS Disposable hand and toe warmers are easy to use, heat up in a few seconds, and provide heat for up to seven hours. Throw them in your gloves or your boots to keep those phalanges from freezing. MSRP $0.50 warmers.com 3. HYDRO FLASK 17 OZ. INSULATED FOOD FLASK Finally, a flask that does what it should, keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Before taking the Insulated Food Flask to the crag, we tested it by filling it with boiling water and leaving it in freezer (-15°F) for three hours. The clincher? The water was still steaming hot when we pulled it out four hours later. Plus, the flask has a stainless steel interior with a wide mouth that makes for easy cleaning. Coming in a 17 ounce size, there’s plenty of room for a ready-to-eat meal that will keep you fueled up for a long day in the mountains. MSRP $25.99 hydroflask.com 4. BADGER BALM LIP PROTECTION SPF 15 Badger Balm’s SPF 15 Lip Balm is clutch on bright sunny days, especially in alpine regions where the atmosphere is thinner and snow reflects UV rays. Bonus for all you crunchy granola types: it’s certified organic and biodegradable. MSRP $3.49 badgerbalm.com 5. NALGENE 10 OZ. FLASK A flask is an essential travel companion for any adventure. Nalgene’s 10 ounce lightweight plastic flask doesn’t leak, and it’s durable enough to take a fall: we dropped it from about 30 feet from a belay station on Jeff’s Slide in Smugglers’ Notch. No harm done. You can do without the plastic protection sleeve, though. It didn’t protect liquids from freezing and we found it to be more of an inconvenience than it was worth. MSRP $8.99 nalgene.com 6. OLD GRAND-DAD WHISKEY It’s cheap, but it does the job nicely. There’s nothing better than topping out and sipping whiskey while taking in the view. MSRP $17.99 beamglobal.com 7. DARN TOUGH BOOT SOCKS Darn Tough’s Boot Sock is fast-drying, breathable, and super comfortable. Made from Merino wool which is naturally antimicrobial, the socks repel bacteria and odor so your feet won’t be so funky after a long day of ice climbing. Honestly, our favorite pair of socks, hands down. They come with a lifetime guarantee, too. MSRP $22.00 darntough.com 8. LEATHERMAN THE SKELETOOL We searched high and low for a tool that offers a knife, four millimeter hexes, and pliers. Leatherman’s five ounce Skeletool (with the optional Bit Kit, $20.00) has all of these options, plus a bottle opener, making it great for apres-climbing festivities. Like all Leatherman multi-tools, everything on the Skeletool feels completely indestructible, and the knife locks open so it won’t close on its own. Best of all, Leatherman backs the tool with a 25-year warranty for those of us who just can’t take care of nice things. MSRP $75.00 leatherman.com 9. LED LENSER SEO 7R HEADLAMP The features of this headlamp, and its brightness, had all of our office staff impressed. The max output is a blinding 220 lumens (with a five hour run time) and you can select any brightness down to a minimum output of 20 lumens (with a 20 hour run time). Unlike many headlamps that have just a beam or flood option, the beam on the SEO 7R has a stageless focus between its widest and narrowest beam settings. Bonus for the environment: it comes with a rechargeable battery, helping to keep old batteries from landfills. MSRP $100.00 ledlenser.com


10. CTR HOWLER COMBO GLOVE It is incredibly cush to be able to pull out a dry pair of climbing gloves after an approach. The Howler Combo Gloves from CTR deliver just that. They are great for long approaches because they are made with a weather resistant fabric and sport a rubbery palm for gripping rock or trees on ice approaches. MSRP $24.99 chaoshats.com

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Alden Pellett showing off his skills on Dracula (WI4+), a classic New Hampshire ice climb. [Photo] David Crothers

IF YOU’VE CLIMBED ICE IN THE NORTHEAST, you’ve probably heard of Alden Pellett, or seen him soloing climbs that most of us are too scared to lead, a third tool swinging from his harness. His wild beard, perpetually encrusted with ice, and infectious smile make him a poster child for the rough and rambunctious climbing that defines New England. Notoriously good spirited with a bold, ground-up climbing ethic, Pellett’s stories will either leave you shuddering in fear or laughing with astonishment. With too many first ascents to count, he has left a legacy on the Northeast full of scary solos and daring first ascents. After over thirty years of climbing, Pellet continues to get after it with fervor, and his passion is an inspiration to the up-and-coming generation of climbers.


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YOU STARTED CLIMBING IN NEW ENGLAND IN THE LATE ‘80S. WHAT WAS IT LIKE BACK THEN? Does running around with a single ice axe and crampons count? Or is that steep hiking? I was running around the White Mountains a lot with leather boots and strap-on crampons. I forget the brand of axe—it was a big, long, orange axe and I wore ski clothes. I was really into skiing back then too, but as my knee started to get worse, I stopped skiing so much and started climbing more. It’s funny, people think rock climbing is so much safer, but I don’t trust my feet rock climbing. With ice climbing, you have these two big handles to hold onto. Even if my feet pop out, I’m still just hanging on to two big tools.

ALDEN PELLETT // LOCAL LEGEND by Brian Fencil The minute Grivel came out with The Machine tools, everything was instantly a grade easier. I think it was the first bent shaft tool ever, or at least it was the first bent shaft tool I had. I loved those tools for years, but I broke one when I was leading Curtain Call (WI6) in the Canadian Rockies. Right at the crux of the route I swung and the head just peeled back. I had soloed a different route just a week before with that tool, too. It’s funny because I always climb with a third tool, but that time I just decided to leave it. I had to place a screw and hang from it, lower a rope to Ian Osteyee, my climbing partner, and get his tools to finish the route. It was so steep that I just lowered them back to him once I was at the top.

Called on Account of the Rains (WI5+) is out there and it is one of my favorite routes. It doesn’t come in all that often, so when it does it’s a treat. Frankenstein is a fun place to run around too. I like going there and soloing a bunch of routes. WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO ESTABLISH A NEW WINTER ROUTE? I’ve watched some routes for several years before I finally got on them, waiting until both myself and the climb were in shape at the same time. Those two have to come together. Even then, I’ve

Also, I had a column break off in Acadia while I was leading on it. I heard the thing break and felt it starting to lean, but fortunately it fell only a little ways and settled into a corner. I had a piton below me, so I down climbed to that and gingerly lowered off. YOU’RE A HOUSEHOLD NAME FOR N.E. ICE CLIMBERS, BUT YOU’VE ALSO CLIMBED AROUND THE WORLD IN QUEBEC, GASPE, SEPT-ISLE, AND NEWFOUNDLAND. HOW DO THOSE PLACES COMPARE? [Newfoundland] has one or two thousandfoot long routes just lined right up. When you’re there, you look around and ask, “What world class route do I want to do today?” And you can do another the next day. There is never anybody else there, and every route you get on feels like a first ascent, unless you find an old pin or welded nut.

YOUR NAME LITTERS N.E. GUIDEBOOKS. HOW MANY FIRST ASCENTS DO YOU HAVE; WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TOUGHEST; AND WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITES? I don’t really know. For winter routes, there are probably a dozen first ascents in the Notch, four or five in New Hampshire, one in the Adirondacks and a few more that I did at Lake Willoughby...I’d have to think about it, but it is about fifty.

Needless to say, I canceled dinner plans with my wife that night.

[Photo] David Crothers

My hardest was probably I Have a Dream (WI5+ M7) in the Notch. On the ground-up onsight attempt, I was only three or four feet from the top and I popped a tool and fell. It was the only time I’ve fallen on an ice screw and I didn’t think it was any good either! The screw was a 13, but it had just hit air after a few turns. I had clipped it thinking I couldn’t hang out any longer and had to keep climbing. I fell about 20 feet and the screw held. Pipe Dream (WI6 R/X M5) up in Lake Willoughby is harder though. It’s super steep and sustained with bad gear, and the consequences are much worse if you fall. If I just have a day, I love climbing in Willoughby. I love climbing steep, vertical ice. There is no other place you can go where you can climb so much steep, vertical ice in one spot.

been up a number of different routes and I’ve just gone partway up and had to back off, leaving some gear and coming back to it maybe the next year. I think that was the case with Dominatrix (WI4+/5 M6). I can remember falling off that at least once or twice—it was in very thin condition and we were climbing with straight shaft tools. TELL US ABOUT SOME OF YOUR ICE CLIMBING EPICS. I’ve had to get stitches three times. The worst was eight stitches in my cheek bone after I caught a big dinner plate in the face at Lake Willoughby. The funny thing was, my climbing partner and I had just remarked about how safe the belay was, but you just can’t lean around the corner and look up at the wrong time. We had to bail and I left quite a puddle of blood on the belay.

People have been climbing up there for quite a few years, but no one really talks about it. They just go climbing. The guys that have been climbing up there don’t brag, and I think they just don’t care about broadcasting it. To some extent, they want to keep it a bit quieter. DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING YOU ARE CURRENTLY WATCHING AROUND HERE, HOPING TO GET A FA ON? [Laughing] That’s none of your business! There are always four or five routes I’m watching. There is some room for development in mixed climbing around here. I’d love to see people putting up ground-up trad routes. I have huge respect for someone who does trad ground-up onsights. Anyone can grab a drill and make something go—I could go up with a drill and put up three routes this weekend. But I don’t because I think if you can’t do it from the ground up, you should try to leave it for someone else who can.

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UNDERHILL AND LINCOLN O’BRIEN first attempted Pinnacle in 1929, armed with long ice axes and climbing in soft boots with 10-point crampons. Chopping steps up the first pitch of ever-steepening ice, each stance becoming more arduous than the last, the two reached the top of the first pitch after two hours. Looking up at what remained to be done and noting their slow pace, they decided to bail. Later in 1929, another team tried their luck on Pinnacle, and the route once again thwarted the climbers. Yale students William and Alan Willcox—experienced climbers—and two of their less talented friends climbed the first pitch before realizing that their snail’s pace was far too slow. They escaped off the route, but William was determined to return. The next year, he tried again only to reach the top of the first pitch before temperatures plummeted. William’s feet were badly frostbitten and his team pulled off a desperate escape. After these failed attempts, Pinnacle’s reputation as the most difficult route around became firmly cemented in the local culture. Its proven challenges furthered its prestige, and Underhill and many experienced climbers gunned to steal the first ascent. To mitigate the demands of the route, the hopefuls tried to avoid a midwinter assault, opting for warmer, longer spring days with better ice conditions.


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Despite the many experienced climbers eyeing the route’s FA, Samuel Scoville and Julian Whittlesey—inexperienced climbers at best­­—figured they would give it a go on a windy, cold day in February, 1930. The two had only been climbing a few times, and their ascent of Pinnacle would mark their first proper climb. Somehow, against the odds, they managed to chop steps up the gully in a careful, meandering line that avoided the steepest bulges, despite obscured vision caused by wildly blowing snow. They reached the alpine garden after five-and-a-half hours. Following their ascent, the two drove in an open-air car down shoddy roads in subzero temperatures to New Haven, a feat they thought more impressive than the ascent. Although the new climbers failed to grasp the significance of their ascent, they had achieved an unprecedented difficulty of Northeast ice climbing. Their development would go unmatched in caliber for four decades. Throughout this interim time, Huntington remained the most popular destination in the Northeast for winter climbing. But despite a steady procession of climbers chopping steps up established and new routes, Pinnacle Gully continued to stand just within the upper limit of the technology and imagination of

the time. That is until Yvon Chouinard brought modern ice climbing to the Northeast. During the winter of 1969, Chouinard demonstrated to a small crowd of climbers in the Adirondacks his new crampons and ice axes. The crampons were much stiffer than what had previously been used and they had two additional front points. He also unveiled a short ice axe with a drooped pick (instead of the straight pick that had been common) and an even smaller hammer with a similar pick. After Chouinard spoke briefly about the tools, he made the first stepless ascent in the Northeast on Chapel Pond Slab (WI2-3). The new stiff crampons allowed Chouinard to kick his front points into the ice, giving him a stable stance. With both feet secure, he then swung the new axes high above him. The drooped picks sunk firmly, permitting him to kick a higher stance. In the time it would’ve taken the fastest climber to chop a few steps, Chouinard had already finished a pitch and was belaying his partner up. This fast technique of ice climbing instantly caught the imagination of climbers who started front-pointing up new routes, ushering in a new era of ice climbing.

Mt. Washington with Jim McCarthy and William Putman whose eyes alighted on the new tools and crampons. Excited, they asked him if he wanted to go climb Pinnacle Gully the next day. Wilcox was intimidated but eager, and met McCarthy and Putman the next morning at the base of the route. McCarthy, intent on a stepless ascent of Pinnacle, borrowed Wilcox’s tools to lead the first pitch. While other parties chopped steps, the three employed a combination of French and German crampon techniques, climbing their way to the first stepless ascent of Pinnacle Gully. The climb took about four hours, an unprecedented speed for the giant route. The first ascent and the first stepless ascent of Pinnacle Gully changed ice climbing in an era of long axes, hemp ropes and dapper climbers. In 1930, the first ascent proved steeper water ice was climbable, and the first stepless ascent forty years later proved the validity of a new technology. Although ice climbing has since come down off of the alpine gullies of Mt. Washington and onto steep crags of water ice, eighty years after its first ascent, Pinnacle Gully is still the most prized gully on Mt. Washington.

In 1970, carrying Chouinard’s tools, Rick Wilcox shared a cabin on

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SIX SMUGGLERS’ NOTCH, VT CLASSICS by David Crothers Picture yourself standing at the base of Blind Fate (WI4) and Ragnarock (WI4) in Smugglers’ Notch, Vt., with straight-handled ice axes and strap-on crampons. That’s exactly what John Bouchard, Rick Wilcox and Steve Zajchowski did in the early ‘70s. They, along with many others, left their mark in the Notch during an era swelling with bold first ascents, for the time. During the winters of the ‘70s, ice climbing surged with excitement as New England’s toughest climbers jockeyed to grab first ascents, and gear companies strove to develop new technologies that could keep up with the changing sport. Without a doubt, new advancements in technology allowed climbers to push climbing standards higher. Tools like the Terrordactyl and tubular axes were introduced, yielding new pick and shaft advancements that outperformed even Chouinard’s equipment. Ice screws were also improved, allowing ice climbers to place them with one hand rather than two. For the climbers of the day, things were going off all over the place: Henry Barber and Al Rubin discovered Lake Willoughby, John Bragg was climbing things like Repentance (WI5), and John Bouchard and Rainsford Rouner were pushing the boundaries on Cannon. The ice climbing revolution was in full force and it was a great era to be climbing in the Northeast. Then things started to slow down during the ‘80s. Many assumed that all of the hard ice had been climbed. While a glimmer of mixed climbing excitement came with the first ascent of Remission (WI5+ M5) in 1976, it wasn’t until the mid-tolate ‘90s when things would pick up again around the region. During this slump, it became the responsibility of the next generation to stand on the shoulders of those before them in order to continue the momentum upward. Some climbers moved further out into alpine valleys, looking for remoteness to add difficulty to ice climbing. Finally, Jeff Lowe started climbing rock with ice tools in order to reach curtains and daggers of ice, and a new resurgence of climbing exploded all over the nation. So began a new era of climbers, once again pushing beyond those that laid a foundation before them. With newfound inspiration and a fresh outlook towards what could be done, New England climbers like Alden Pellett, Dave Furman, Bert Severin, and Bob Timmer began leaving their mark on the Northeast and Smugglers’ Notch. The list of classics we wrote about for this feature is just a small sample of what can be found amongst the rugged terrain in the Notch that has inspired so many. Read up, get psyched, and go climb these classics.

[Photo] David Crothers 22

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BLIND FATE (WI4) FA: JOHN BOUCHARD AND RICK WILCOX, 1974 Three years after soloing the Black Dike (WI4) on New Hampshire’s Cannon Cliff, John Bouchard started leaving his mark on Smugglers’ Notch. While attending the University of Vermont, Bouchard teamed up with Rick Wilcox to tick off Blind Fate, one of the Notch’s most classic ice climbs. The avalanche danger in the Notch was high on the day of the climb “If the snow let loose in the gully above, it would have knocked us off the climb and we would have probably been dead,” Wilcox said. “If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have done the route that day.” The second pitch on this route is the money pitch. Climb a relatively moderate WI3 pitch to the base of the column. Once there, set up your anchor anywhere you can get out of the way of ice. Finish by chugging up a steep column to the trees above. The view of Elephant’s Head Buttress is spectacular on a clear day.

[Photo] David Crothers

[Photo] David Crothers

GRAND ILLUSION (WI4) FA: JOHN BOUCHARD AND STEVE ZAJCHOWSKI, 1975 A fun and classic route up Easy Gully, Grand Illusion is tucked away in a narrow snow gully down and to the right of Dominatrix (WI4+/5 M6). This route is a relatively straightforward, but be sure to have all of your gear sussed out before you squeeze yourself into the gully—it’s tight up there. On a typical year, Grand Illusion starts on thin ice that leads to a short but steep section of ice with a bit of exposure. The rappel and belay anchor is up and to the right. After sending, sit back and take in the view.

[Photo] David Crothers

ELEPHANT’S HEAD GULLY (WI3) FA: CHET CALLAHAN, BOB OLSEN AND CHUCK BOND, 1969 Unless you’re in the Notch early in the morning, you’ll likely encounter another party on this popular climb. Elephant’s Head Gully is tucked in a narrow ravine and is surrounded by cliffs on both sides, giving climbers on the route a hemmed in feeling. The first pitch climbs low-angle ice leading to a bolted anchor. Pick your poison on the second pitch: you can either lead easy WI3 or challenging WI3+, depending on where you choose to climb the next short, vertical section of ice. There are several belay options in the trees above. There are a handful of other mixed lines that exist in this area, most notably a very cool looking route in the back of the gully called Rock Candy (WI4+ M4), first climbed by Alden Pellett and Kel Rossiter in 2011. Plus, there’s the feared, unrepeated Ice Scream (M6+ R/X), first freed by Bob Timmer.

[Photo] David Crothers

POSTER CHILD (WI4 M4) FA: BOB TIMMER, 1995 A great single pitch route. It’s hard to believe that a line like this sat untouched for 20 years while climbers ticked off things like Grand Illusion and Ragnarock all around it. But then again, until Jeff Lowe pushed mixed climbing into the mainstream, routes that required climbing rock and ice were often overlooked. Poster Child is an intimidating line from afar. The bottom of this line can be tricky, and it’s steep. Get ready for a hell of a ride. Located to the right of where Easy Gully starts to bear left, scramble up a short, rocky ice section to a nice flat belay ledge. In fat conditions, the column to the right can be done without rock gear, or you can opt-in for the mixed section to the left. Clip the pin, gain the ice above, and head for the trees.

DOMINATRIX (WI4+/5 M6) FA: ALDEN PELLETT AND DAVE FURMAN, 1998 Inspired by the likes of Jeff Lowe, Alden Pellett and Dave Furman established this line, one of the hardest mixed routes during the late ‘90s, with straight-shaft tools. Don’t let the photo fool you—the start to this route rarely forms with this much ice. Bring rock gear for the ramp with thin ice and head for an overhanging finger crack, which will lead you to more thin ice below the belay. From there, continue up 100 or more feet of steep ice. If you’re a competent ice climber with the necessary skills, this is a hard, classic Smugglers’ Notch route. [Photo] Alden Pellett

[Photo] David Crothers

RAGNAROCK (WI4/5) FA: JOHN BOUCHARD AND STEVE ZAJCHOWSKI, 1974 Ragnarock is the biggest and most variable route in Smugglers’ Notch. In three to four pitches, the line goes from thin to thick, steep to slabby, with some mixed climbing thrown in for good measure. There are many variations to choose from. The large right-facing corner offers an excellent pitch of mixed climbing that takes rock gear. Move right to find a steep column of ice, or keep traversing to steep but somewhat easier terrain. Head for the trees and descend via Elephants Head Gully. Every once in a while, the direct start comes in thick enough to offer up one of the East’s most classic lines.


PHOTO // NATHAN VINCE Unkown climber nearing the top of Power Play (WI4+) at Chapel Pond in the Adirondacks


climberism | MAGAZINE

PHOTO // DAVID CROTHERS Climberism editorial intern Brian Fencil enjoying a rising sun near the top of Grand Illusion (WI4), Smugglers’ Notch, Vt.

climberism | MAGAZINE


// Tech Tip by Matt Shove

BUILDING V-THREADS A V-Thread, or Abalakov, is an anchor used in ice and alpine climbing. Created by drilling one or two long screws into the ice at intersecting angles, these anchors are incredibly strong when placed in good ice. Commonly made on the descent and used as rappel anchors, V-Threads are often stronger than a two screw anchor system. What you need: 19 or 22cm ice screws, at least 24 inches of 7mm tubular webbing or cordelette, and a Jsnare or V-Thread tool. An ice tool or axe is useful to clear away snow and surface ice. Making the V-Thread: Make sure you are attached to an anchor—don’t just stand there or hang on a tool while you drill your holes. It’s a two-hand job. Begin by finding a section of good, thick ice. Clear away the first few centimeters of surface ice in order to reach older ice that has not been overly exposed to sunlight. An adze is ideal for this, but hammers work well if you are being direct with your cleaning. Once you’ve cleared a spot, drill an ice screw at a 45-degree horizontal angle in the ice. Place the screw to the hilt before removing it. If you have two long screws, you can leave the first screw in the ice while you drill the next screw in order to better sight their intersection point. Before drilling your second hole, make sure its entrance point is in the same plane as the first hole. This screw should also be placed at a 45-degree horizontal angle, facing towards the first hole. You will need to watch carefully to see if your holes intersect. If you miss, you will have to start all over again. Once the holes have intersected, clean them out by blowing through them. Using a Jsnare if you have one, push an end of your webbing or cordelette through the first hole. If you lack a Jsnare, you can easily make a homemade V-Thread tool using a wire hanger. Pull the cord out of the other side with your tool and tie the cord ends together. Use either a double fisherman’s knot, a figure eight bend (Flemish Bend), or a double fisherman’s bend. Both of these bends are solid and don’t come undone easily. Once you’ve tightened your knot, test the V-Thread by clipping a Spectra or Dyneema sling from your harness to the V-Thread and bouncing down on the thread. If all goes well, lace the rope through the V-Thread. With a long sling, back up the thread to your main anchor, keeping the sling slack so the thread carries the full load. In some cases, especially with cold, dry ice, you can actually thread the rope directly through the holes. This way, you leave no tat behind and it’s environmentally friendly! If you choose to do this, make sure the ice isn’t building, or your rope might freeze in place. At times, one V-Thread might not do it, so I would encourage you to build a double thread, equalizing both and providing additional security and redundancy. The first person to rappel from the thread should be the heaviest climber and the last person to rappel can remove the backup and main anchor. On a recent climb up Mt. Rainier’s Liberty Ridge, we encountered eight pitches of black, alpine ice high on the route. We carried only five screws on our rack. My partner dropped one screw following the second pitch, forcing me to build a V-Thread for every other anchor in order to protect the leads. In this case, simply thread a sewn runner through the holes and clip the ends with a locker. Sometimes you need to think outside of the box! Matt Shove is a full-time guide who owns and operates Ragged Mountain Guides LLC. He is an AMGA Certified Rock Instructor. Matt is an ambassador for Jsnare VThread Tools (www.jsnare.com).


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[last move]

“Before Livin’ Astro (5.14c), I had done three 5.13b’s.” JOSH LEVIN Interview by David Crothers Photo by: Jacqueline Ramseyer Josh Levin jumped five letter grades this fall when he clipped the chains of Livin’ Astro (5.14c) in Rumney, Nh. We caught up with the 19-year old to discuss talk school, training and his recent letter-grade jump. Climberism » You skipped a few letter grades by climbing Livin Astro’. What gives?

Climberism » How long did it take you to complete?

Climberism » How are you dealing with the balance between school and climbing?

G.W. » I wasn’t really shooting to go 5.14b/5.14c necessarily, I just really liked Livin’ Astro. I love the wall it is on, and I had at first tried China Beach (5.14b), but after a couple of times, I wasn’t that psyched about it anymore. Then my friend convinced me to try Livin’ Astro, which I liked a lot more. It matches my style of climbing more and I started projecting it instead.

G.W. » More or less a month. I was going up every weekend, figuring out what moves I was struggling with, understanding what kind of body position goes in to those moves and then training for exactly those kinds of body positions in the gym.

G.W. » It’s tough. When I go to the gym to train, I won’t have that much time, so I try to do a very hard, intense workout in the short period of time I have. I’m doing a lot of power-endurance and campus board training. That helped a lot, especially for the climbing at Rumney.

climberism | MAGAZINE


Profile for Climberism Magazine

Annual Ice Climbing Issue  

Smugglers' Notch Classic Ice Climbs | Pinnacle Gully's First Ascent | Local Legend: Alden Pellett

Annual Ice Climbing Issue  

Smugglers' Notch Classic Ice Climbs | Pinnacle Gully's First Ascent | Local Legend: Alden Pellett