This has been a funny winter here in New England. More often than not the season has felt more like early spring than the cold an snowy winters we've grown accustomed to. I suppose that's what makes New England so unique though, one day can be -1F and then next 40F! Yesterday was just one of those days.
The forecast called for heavy rain throughout the day and temperatures nearing the the low 40's. Bayard Russell and I made plans to meet at 7:30 in the Cannon Cliff parking lot, reasoning that the temps would stay at least near freezing. As I woke up early and drove to toward Cannon the temperature was around 35F and it slowly began to rain the close I got to Franconia Notch. I have to admit I was NOT optimistic!
There were two other parties gearing up in the lot when we arrived including Matt Ritter and Jeff from Plymouth and our friends Emily Drinkwater and Lori Crowningshield from the Adirondacks. Ice climbing in the rain seemed to be the "thing to do" so we figured we would at least walk the base of the cliff.
As we rounded the corner near Moby Grape we caught glimpse of an incredible smear seemingly pouring out of no where just right of the fable route Icarus. The precipitation had eased off and Bayard grabbed the rack and took us up a beautiful approach pitch with iced up corners that would characterize the rest of the day. That pitch deposited us a the base of the incredible smear that neither of us had ever seen there before.
The Minotaur climbs the smear on the lower right side of the wall pictured here.
The ice started off thin and hollow but quickly turned thick enough to protect with screws and plastic as well! After 70ft. the smear ended and I was amazed to see a perfect green C3 size crack leading upward into a right facing corner. After fiddling some gear into the unnervingly frosted crack, I launched up the corner past a useless specter and some great torquing to a belay below the next corner.
Bayard led the next 70m pitch which zig-zagged between different corners, all iced-up with 4-6 inch runnels. The pitch was never desperate but was hard to protect as all of the cracks were filled with ice. I took us up another 60 meter pitch of quickly melting ice and turf to the base of what an overlap and left facing corner. As I climbed our friends Jeff Previte and Matt Ritter rapped passed, bailing as darkness grew. They graciously volunteered to grab our packs that we had left at the base. I knew we were now two pitches from the top as I had climbed these pitches a few years ago with Kevin Mahoney as we finished the Quartet Ice Hose. As Bayard started up the pitch, water pretty much poured from everywhere, soaking my down belay jacket and keeping Bayard on his toes as the choosy rock and turf began to come unglued.
The "big-wall" section of Cannon Cliff. The smear we climbed is left of center.
Bayard did a great job of negotiating the tricky dry tooling and made it to the belay at an old spectre hook that I had welded in years ago. By now the weather was consistently switching between pouring rain, hail, and snow. Fortunately the warm temperatures made the soaking wet conditions bearable.
It was pretty much dark as I started up the last pitch which climbed 20ft of easy dry tooling to the endless summit slabs of ice and frozen turf. I led for a full 70m with our one little headlamp and hip-belayed Bayard up.
Topping out the middle of Cannon in winter is not something you get to do very often. The setting is amazing with all the scrub pines and granite blocks covered in hoar frost. Bayard nailed the descent and we were back at the car by 7:30pm. We called our new variation The Minotaur NEI 4+ M6+.
The line of the Minotaur variation to Icarus!
The rest of the weekend was spent at the 19th annual Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest. Big thanks to all the people who worked so hard to make this year's festival the biggest and best ever!
Below are some photos from the weekend!
I was psyched to climb with Mike Burke of New Jersey on Friday and Sunday. Thanks for two great days out Mike!
Mike rightly looking psyched to max on "Sheer Elegance" a rarely climbed gem off the Kancamangus Highway
Dave Karl sharing the new NAO headlamp with Todd Asher-Bergstein at the Icefest
A shot from the previous weekend. A group solo of Hidden Gully in Smuggler's Notch, VT!