Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Hampshire/Maine – 2009 – Part 5

Location: Joe Dodge Lodge, Mount Washington, NH, USA

I woke up this morning ready to, finally, do some climbing. The caretaker hadn’t shown up all night, which had us all a little worried, but there wasn’t anything we could do. Eventually, the ranger showed up to give us the avalanche forecast for the day and we chatted a bit about the caretaker. He left quickly to look into it. I decided that I wanted to be the last one out, since it had snowed so much over night. So, I took my time cooking up some rice, sorting out my gear and kitting up. Brian left first, then a guide and his client, and I was next. I headed out along the trail the others had left. After only about fifteen minutes of walking, though, we all bunched up. We decided we would all work together breaking trail and made our way out of the trees and into the Huntington Ravine. We stopped and started scoping out the routes. The guide and client had talked about doing Central Gully, but were opting for some ice climbing at the base of Yale gully, due to avalanche conditions. Brian and I decided to link up and do North Gully.

Figure 1: The left side of Huntington Ravine.

Figure 2: The right side of Huntington Ravine.

As we moved across the ravine bowl, we realized the avy risk on North Gully was too high. I decided to head up Yale Gully, via a snow chute, while Brian would take a slab of ice. Once at the top of the ice bulge, we would link up and decide where to go from there. Once we met up again at the top, we decided to just continue up Yale Gully. About halfway up, Brian bailed. He didn’t want to have to come back to the ravine to pick up the gear he had left behind. This was OK with me and I continued up, alone. The route was amazing. It was mixed ice and snow, at about 55 degrees, but fun. The views were great from up there. I could see into other gullies at times, and the ravine was beautiful. Slowly, the weather closed in, as I climbed, and eventually I was moving up in white out conditions. When I topped out, I opted to down climb rather than hike out. The weather was too bad for me to safely route find an alternate route down.

Figure 3: The entrance to Yale Gully.

As the weather deteriorated, it deposited a layer of powder on the formerly crusty snow. This was bad. As I moved down the gully, small bits of snow were rolling down next to me. I stuck to the edge of the gully and moved slowly, and luckily avoided the 2mx3m slab that cut loose above me. It was nothing terrible, but definitely impressed on me the importance of avalanche awareness. The rest of the descent was relatively slow. I just kept hoping that the guide below me hadn’t opted to follow and I was kicking snow down towards him. He hadn’t and was just tearing down his anchors when I got back to them. We linked up again and left the ravine together.

Figure 4: Trying to get a picture of myself in the gully. It didn't work well.

We quickly made our way back to Harvard Cabin and I made lunch for myself. The caretaker finally returned (he ran into ski boot trouble and had to spend the night in town), so I paid my fees and left. I sped down to the trailhead, retrieved the gear I had stashed and got a room at the Joe Dodge Lodge. I sorted out my gear and got ready to head to Boston, tomorrow.

It was a great day in the mountains. I wish I had been able to climb a lot more, as planned, but am glad I went to Maine. The avalanche hazard was apparently high over the past few days and it looks like the weather will be pretty bad tomorrow. All in all, it looks like I got here just in time for a perfect weather window, climbed a great route and am ready to head to Virginia, and eventually Spain.

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