The February 6th ice climbing trip was a great success! Sarah, Alex, Rebecca, Kas, Adina, and Steve spent the night in North Conway, New Hampshire to get an early start the next day to meet our guides at Ragged Mountain Outfitters. After packing up the vehicles, we headed up to Crawford Notch to the site of the "highest waterfall in New Hampshire", namely Arethusa Falls. The temperature was perfect, just a bit below freezing, enough to keep the air dry and the snow powdery. We prepared to hike one hour in to the frozen falls. Kurt took every opportunity to gather us around for his series of mini-lessons regarding even the most trivial, but necessary, points of winter hiking and mountaineering. The hike in was uphill at a modest incline punctuated only by small rivulets to jump over. The landscape was blanketed by the mossy green hues of evergreens and five shades of white depending on how the shadows fell. Our crampons made for very secure walking through the terrain and over the packed trail.
We had the great technical expertise of Ian Turnbull and Kurt Winkler, guides from the Mountain Guides Alliance. From the beginning they provided very careful instruction about the proper fitting and use of various items such as climbing boots, crampons, harnesses, and helmets. Both guides were really great and explained everything with patience and good humour.
View the photo gallery from this trip.
As we approached to within earshot of the falls, we heard that other climbing parties were in the area. The moment that the falls came into sight we were faced with a towering wall of convexing sheets of ice saturated with a faint glow of green like the color of broken glass. Through the midline of the wall came a rush of water falling 200 feet beneath a visor of fragmented, icy stalagtites.
One of the previous climbing parties had just about finished and began packing up their gear. Our guide Ian went about setting up the ropes and screw anchors on the right flank of ice. While we waited below, the other guide, Kurt, gave us a thorough explanation of the precise use of the ice axes, figure eight and half fisherman's knot tying, as well as a general history of the sport of ice climbing. He demonstrated techniques of using the axe as a cane to wade through snow fields, throwing the axe into the ice during the climb, setting your crampon spikes correctly into the ice, and the elements of the self-arrest used to stop emergency falls down lesser angled slopes.
Soon we set up shop to the right of the waterfall with two short lines, each run by a guide. These were shorter climbs with the steepest part of the climb measuring in at about 30 feet. This was our introduction to actually tying our own figure eights, and learning how to handle the axes and crampons. We were able to get a general feel for the techniques of climbing such as maintaining a triangulated posture with feet spread at shoulder width and axes thrown toward the center above us. Ice axe placement is crucial, and they must be thrown with a mechanical extension of the arm from shoulder to elbow to wrist to blade. Ideally you'd like to throw the blade into a concave depression in the ice as its reduces the risk of ice fracture and provides a stronger support.
After some practice we gained the energy saving technique of throwing the right axe above, digging in both feet at the same height, pulling ourselves up until the right axe is at the chest, then throwing the left axe and repeating with the feet. Right throw, feet, left throw, feet, etc... This method will allow you to gain more height with fewer swings when compare to a method which feels more secure, that being throwing both axes to the same height, pulling up, and placing feet.
Several us gained experience while being assigned to belay the climbers. This involves taking up the slack in the rope that goes up from the climber to an ice screw anchor, and doubles back down to the person on belay. As the climber advances, the belay pulls in the slack with the left hand, while it slides it through a small metal belay plate which fastens the rope to the waist, then pulls it round with the right. Pull in the bite of rope with your left, slide it round, and pull it out with the right, all in one fluent motion. Ideally you keep removing all the slack and maintain tension on the line not only to prevent the extent of a fall, but also to give the climber a sense of security.
Everyone on the trip made at least two climbs on the shorter runs, and each of us were anxious to start something longer. Soon Ian and Kurt each ran a longer line up the face, no easy feat for any of us, but a cakewalk for them. These lines ran to about 150 feet for climbing. Each one presented a much greater level of difficulty now, including the simple factor of increased time required for ascent which can tire the climber due to extended exertion. The ascent itself required from 10 - 20 minutes now, and had the added challenge of outward curving faces of ice.
Very often throught the day, the climbing hats were comforting insurance as numerous showers of fragmented, broken ice came raining down from above, very often in 2-3 pound pieces. One such shower took place which hurled down with it a slab of bouncing, rolling ice with the dimensions of two feet on a side and one foot thick. A good 60-70 pounder that could take your head right off. Fortunately, slabs such as this are predictable in their line of fall as they go straight down the center and orginate somewhere near the weakened interface of ice and water. At any sight of falling ice, members of the crowd call out "ICE!" to get everyone to pay attention to what fragments may be coming their way.
Each of us took at least one run up these long ropes, and rappelling down was great fun with the torso leaned way back away from the ice with a hop and a skip backwards and downwards.
As night fell, Kurt was removing the ice screws and taking down the ropes. With our daypacks ready, we headed back down the trail between the ghostly gray shadows. Most the hike back was without headlamps, and our adapted eyes made for good use in picking out the border of the packed trail.
Before long, we arrived at the cars and headed back to Ragged Mountain Outfitters to return the gear to Kurt and Ian, and to give them a big thanks for all of their careful attention, patient lessons, and hard work. The ice climbing trip came off without a hitch. All around the it was agreed upon to be a great success with everyone feeling as though they were thoroughly challenged.
Mountain Guide AllianceThe Mountain Guide Alliance has extensive lessons available with very qualified guides.
Ian TurnbullIan began climbing in Britain in 1966. He visited the European Alps in 1972, and for the next decade lived and climbed in France and Switzerland, where he introduced many beginners to the Alps. Moving to New Hampshire in 1981, he took a job with International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, and has been teaching climbing, and guiding professionally since then. His many years of activity include major Alpine climbs, both on his own and as a guide, classic high level ski tours, ski-mountaineering trips in Europe, climbing trips to Yosemite and many climbs here in New England. Guiding and teaching are a source of personal satisfaction to Ian, who considers himself fortunate to be able to combine such pleasure with his work.
Kurt WinklerKurt learned to climb in 1966 while working for the Appalachian Mountain Club's trail crew. He taught for IME and EMS Climbing Schools before starting with the Mountain Guides Alliance in 1986. He has guided both here and abroad.His climbing background includes a four day solo ascent of the Lotus Flower Tower in the North West Territories, the first ascent of La Pomme D'Or, a 1,200 foot ice climb in Quebec, big walls in Yosemite Valley and winter ascents in the Canadian Rockies. He has climbed alpine routes in Alaska and the European Alps, including Mt. Blanc, the Matterhorn and the Eiger. He has also pioneered many ascents, both in rock and ice, in New England. His wide-rangeing enthusiasm for climbing, combined with a sincere and patient teaching ability has helped many climbers develop confidence in themselves and their sport.
After packing up the vehicles, we headed up to Crawford Notch to the site of the "highest waterfall in New Hampshire", namely Arethusa Falls. The temperature was perfect, just a bit below freezing, enough to keep the air dry and the snow powdery. We prepared to hike one hour in to the frozen falls. Kurt took every opportunity to gather us around for his series of mini-lessons regarding even the most trivial, but necessary, points of winter hiking and mountaineering. The hike in was uphill at a modest incline punctuated only by small rivulets to jump over. The landscape was blanketed by the mossy green hues of evergreens and five shades of white depending on how the shadows fell. Our crampons made for very secure walking through the terrain and over the packed trail.