Thursday, February 25, 2010

SWPA ice conditions

I spent a couple hours this AM checking Laurel Highlands ice conditions for you icehounds.  I've got some great news... Conditions are still sweet!  Read on.

Ohiopyle State Park
Lower Meadow Run is looking good and has survived the couple warm days.  Plenty of ice to be climbed this weekend.  Get on it while it lasts.  Here are the lines as walking in on the approach trail. 

Season Finale area looking good and climbable.

Hemlock L & R both very nice

Main Flow on the left is fat and the mixed lines are in perfect condition for sends

Didn't check the Upper Meadow Ampitheater on the parking side, but I'm guessing its in good shape too!

Cucumber Falls
More for novelty.  Even when formed, the 12' of climbing after the cone isn't worth doing and quite dangerous. Here's what it looks like today.  Not this season!


Irishtown is looking a lot better than it did last week when we were there.  Its fat and blue ready to be screwed.  This is the best its looked in years.

Mouth of Madness WI4+ looking good. Top might be a little thin. Take your shorties!

Newer to  mixed? This climb is for you!  The Prow WI3+, M4 We did it last week, great fun.  Topout left.  Sling the bent tree in the middle (seemed to work well). Take a few small TCU's for the rock between ice.  Great Turf shots at the top.

Looking out of the mine opening at the back side of Mouth of Madness, PA's version of the Mica Mine.  Its possible to climb upsidedown for hundreds of yards. (Yo! Will Gadd where are you?)

Here's another shot of the futuristic roof 40' up from the aliens on the floor!

Melting Mount Rushmore in ice aliens... Am I reaching on this one? Its MY blog...

The other areas in SWPA...

Beast Wall
The Beast WI5+/6 appears to be "in" Monsta WI5+/6 looking a little "dicey". The right var. looking safer. left looking more balls out! (to me at least)  Could build a little more by the weekend.  I'd love to try Monsta!

Looking up the lines Monsta topout in upper left corner, The Beast on the right.

Right Wall
From Left to Right, G-Gully WI4+, Final Obligation WI5, The Awakening WI5, Unamed/Graded Torretti line, World of Pain WI5+, Called on Account of Security WI4 R  All routes in reasonable condition after the warm.

Infinite Area
Shot from far away, sorry for the quality.  The left line is The Infinite WI5 looking incredible.  The SICK-le WI6 M5/6 appears to have a fracture at the lip.  Way too scary for me!  I saw it come crashing down (extremely close up) once.  That was more than enough!  I'll wait...again

Well thats my photo report on the areas I visited.  Hope it helps in your planning.  This may be our last weekend in the area, so get on it while its fat.  If you have any questions, please get in touch.  If you have conditions reports, photos you think are rad.  Anything you'd like to share, get it to me.  I'd be happy to post it up for others to see.  Thanks and hope to see you out there! -Tim

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Southerner's return to ice

Day 1 (Saturday)
What a weekend!  Hope everyone got out to enjoy the current fatness.  Ice climbing conditions were perfect in the Laurel Highlands.  Longtime climbing friend Matt Johns finally made the drive up from Kentucky for some ice climbing.  It'd been about 9 or 10 years since Matt has climbed ice.  For many years the conditions seemed to have thwarted all attempts Matt has made to come climb ice.  Well this was the year.  Laura and I were in need of another rest day and Matt needed a slight refresher on the art of ice climbing. Schoolhouse was our destination for Saturday.  After a delicious breakfast at Valley Dairy, we drove to Ohiopyle.  The road into Mitchell parking hadn't been plowed so we had to park at the main parking area in town and snwoshoe 4 miles into the climb.  Matt's an adventurous guy and Laura likes to hike so we decided it was a nice way to spend the day.
Laura and Matt starting the day. Photo TA

We set off from the parking area and the going wasn't bad the first 1.75 miles.  Snowmobiles had been down the rail trail packing the snow and making for easy travels.  Stopped by a downed tree, the easy going ended there.  Breaking trail in the deep snow was the norm the rest of the way.  I was pulling Laura's and my gear on a sled and Matt was packing his own.  It took about 2 hrs for us to reach the crag.  I had been worried about the ice conditions with all the sun beating down.  Matt and Laura had slowed down a good bit in the final 1/2 mile push to the climb.  He was very excited upon his arrival at the cliff. We found the ice in snowcone condition.  I quickly geared up and climbed the route.  I belayed Matt up as Laura took some photos. 

Matt had a good time seconding the climb and getting back onto ice after so many years.  We left it rigged on the shuts and walked down.  We took turns climbing the quickly deteriorating ice.  We finished up a little before 3 o'clock.  While packing up our gear Dr. Bob and Regina came walking up the trail to the cliff.  We briefly chatted then let them get to climbing as the route didn't appear that it would be climbable much longer.  Surprisingly the hike out felt a little better than the hike in.  At one point Laura hopped on the sled with all the gear to take the easy way out. She was grinning ear to ear during her 1/2 mile of sleighing through the woods.   She was surprised I could manage the load and her.  It was the least I could do since I didn't get her a valentines present this year.  At the car we snapped a photo and made our way to dinner at Tall Cedars in Donegal.  We all agreed that the day was a lot of fun.  The weather was warm and it was great to get Matt on the elusive route.  Remember Matt, the cliff is always 10min. away!

Laura climbing Flying Dutchman. Photo TA

One of many bent trees on the way out. Photo LH

Laura's view on the Schoolhouse shuttle. Photo LH

The happy crew

The southerner says - mmm mmm good eatin'. Sneak photo LH

Day 2 (Sunday)
We enjoyed our "casual day" Saturday saving our energy for a climbfest on Sunday.  We met Joel Torretti, Dr. Bob, Regina, Mike, and Kenny at another local cliff.  I think Matt was impressed at his first sighting of the crag.  We stopped at the top and I pointed out the different lines while Laura took some pics.
Matt & I checking out the routes. Photo LH

We made our way down to the climbs.  Matt and I decided to start the day on Called on Account of Security.  It was in the best conditions I've ever climbed it.  The normal mixed start was buried under about 12' of snow.  It was still thin through the bottom, with a huge middle pillar and a slightly thin finish.  It was a lot of fun.  

The super fat middle of Called on Account of Security WI4. Photo LH

Matt Johns seconding Called on Account of Security. Photo LH

Laura was giving Joel a belay on G Gully.  He led the initial pillar and threaded off.   Mike and Kenny did the same on the Central left pillar.  Ropes were left on all the lines while we all took turns climbing each of the lines.  After our warm ups, Joel racked up for the line he tried last week.  He quickly made his thread and pushed up the next step to below the crux.  He went up to the crux, poked around a bit and backed down to the rest stance.  This happened several times before commiting to the moves.  He worked up through on the third try, placing several screws and looking solid.   He did a great job of keeping it together and finishing what he started the week ago.  Congrats on the send Joel! What's it called?

Joel Torretti on his new unamed line. Photo LH

My goal for the weekend was to get back on my attempted route from Valentines day.  Regina and Bob finished up on Called on Account of Security and it was "Go Time"  The route looked slightly better or should I say "wetter" than last weekend.  Some new blue ice graced the top of the climb concealing the V threads from the week before, all the while making the final bulge a bit bulgier.   The water was really running on the route.  Temps were on the rise and I wasn't sure if I would get another shot next weekend or even the rest of the season.  I figured it might be my last chance.  I tied in and started up the route with Matt on the catch. 

A cool perspective of me starting up the route. Photo LH

Climbing through one of the earlier crux sections. Photo LH

I found the climbing to feel a tad easier than the previous week.  Still very commiting, but not as much work clearing the rotten shit as I had on last Sunday's attempt.  Knowing the route, I utilized all the possible rests and things went well (except for dropping my lucky BD stubbie in the snow.  Gone forever!)

Finishing up the FFA of World of Pain WI 5+  Photo LH

Matt instilled great confidence as my belayer.  I placed nowhere near the number of screws as the week before.  Pulling the final bulge and not being pumped gave me a great sense of accomplishment.  I placed an anchor screw, clipped in and relaxed.  The view from the top was sweet.  In a fine show of style Matt offered Laura to second my send.  Thanks Matt!   She did incredible showing smooth, effortless climbing.   Matt was 3rd up the line doing a great job and enjoying the climb.  I'm glad my sweetie and old buddy were in on my send.

Laura seconding World of Pain. Photo MJ

"The Southerner" Matt Johns enjoying SWPA ice. Photo LH

Mike led The Awakening with Kenny as the last line of the day.  We hiked out to the cars satisfied as the day was drawing to a close.  With some luck and cold weather we'll get in another weekend of climbing.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Incredible V-day ice climbing

It was Valentine's Day ♥ and my sweetie asked for a hard steep line as her present.  Being a lover... I did my best to deliver.  For years I've refered to it as "big blue". A tall steep line that has seen only a couple TR ascents. I decided it looked good enough and took the plunge to go for the FFA.  It was Joel Torretti, his friend Matt, Ray, Laura and I today.  Laura and I arrived first and like last week we went to work on shovel duty.  We shoveled for about 30min to clear enough space for the 3 vehicles to be off the road enough for others to pass.   The snow is very deep up there.   We stopped to check the snow depth and sunk a fully extended trekking pole to the grip.
Laura and Ray snowshoeing to the climbs

After the miserable approach last weekend Laura, Ray and I opted to snowshoe in.  Joel, was on skis and Matt on his snowboard. The climbs looked amazing.  The temps were reasonable around 20° and the wind wasn't blowing too much.  The snow was so deep that Matt took advantage and did two new first descents, one down each side.

Matt midway down his run
At the bottom first snowboard descent

We setup to take a go at the new line while Joel and Matt roped up for The Awakening WI5.   I took my first go.  The ice was brittle and quite aerated.  The first good screw was up about 35'.  The route was taking a lot of effort to clean and made progress slow up the manky ice.  The climbing was burly and relentless.  I ended up hanging on a screw part way up.   I didn't find much "good" ice for screws.  I placed many, but trusted few.  Engergy was wasted trying to get good gear only to find they were mostly worthless screws.  Flash pump set in and made it hard to recover from that point on.  I made about 2/3 of the wall before I lowered off to take a break and have another look at which way to take the line as the climbing was quite commiting and a lot of work and I didn't want to end up in no man's land. 
Starting up the route

It was Valentines day and Laura was standing down there belaying for an eternity while I made slow progress to my high point.  I felt bad for taking so long.  What a trooper!  She stands on countless long belays while I thrash my way upwards.  She's always supportive and cheering me on in my times of need.  I feel lucky to have such a great partner and girlfriend.  I headed down and took over the belay.  Laura did a great job on her go.  It was pumpy for her and she hung a few times but worked up fluidly to my highpoint. 

Laura starting up the line

She came down pumped and exhausted.  We were hunkered down under a tarp at the bottom of the climb.  I had a sip of coffee and we rested for a spell.  Ray snapped this shot of us.
We're sitting under the black tarp at the bottom.  Happy Valentine's Day

I tied back in and started up.  The climbing was better after two of us had been on it.  I quickly climbed up to my high point.  Once again I was on back on the steep arm blowing climbing that required a lot of clearing and hard work.  The steepness was relentless with mostly overhanging candlestick and rotten stuff.  This was obviously the crux of the route and it continued for a while.  I slowly made my way up the crux pillar wasting engergy on bad screws.  I found myself working through the overhang about 6' below the easier climbing at the top when I lobbed off.  Yep, I took a fall, no success or true glory for me.  I was upset with myself for not hanging in there, but I just didn't have it.  I worked back up to my pro and rested for a minute before firing through the bulge only to place a screw at the lip and pumping myself into a hang.  Once again I got back on and finished it up to the end.  I threaded, backed it up and lowered off.  On the ground I realized how wasted I was.  It put me in a "World of Pain".  No more for me. 
Mid crux on my second attempt

just about through the overhanging bulge

Seemed hard to me...

Laura was up for a go at the whole line.  She did amazing.  She seconded the line with only 3 hangs. Laura is a strong climber with only a couple years of ice experience.   
Laura on her Valentine's Day present

Here's a few shots of Joel and Matt working a few lines.
Joel on The Awakening, Matt Belaying and Ray taking photos

Joel working on an unclimbed line

Last but not least a few random photos from the day
Matt getting ready for the day

Almost back to the car

Me and my valentine!

It was Valentines Day, I didn't get the clean send, but it was a lot of fun trying.  Upon our return home I realized just how hard the climbing was.  The aches were setting in.   "Big Blue" is now being dubbed "World of Pain" How hard is it?  After a little discussion we think it falls in around WI5+ possibly WI6.  The grade is irrelavant.  Its solid, commiting and lots of frightening fun. I can say its much harder and susatained than my other recent climbs.  I'd say 5+ would be conservative. Only time will tell.  We'll be back next week to give it another go (weather permitting)!  The 10 day weather outlook is good.  Below freezing temps will keep the ice in its current conditon or better.  Hope everyone is taking full advantage of this great winter we're having.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Infinite WI5 FFA

The Infinite WI5 Photo by Ray Burnsworth

As I write this blog entry, I sit here tired and satisfied with today's adventure.  28" of new snow fell on the Laurel Highlands from Friday at noon until Saturday at 5:00pm.  Roads were in bad shape. Snow was to most, a major nuisance.  As the events of our Sunday unfolded, we began to agree with the "most".   The cold weather has brought new vigor to the ice climbing in SWPA.  Everything is back in good condition and almost could be considered FAT.  Ray, Laura and I hit up our usual Sunday spot only to find the usual 2 lane road slightly larger than one lane.  Ray was already there "parked" in the middle of the road.  A 4' wall of snow denied us of our usually easy place to park.  After numerous attempted rammings with the whip, we resorted to 40 minutes of shovel duty to clear enough room to park and allow a car to pass.

We took Ray and his car elsewhere to park, otherwise we would have been shoveling X2.  We returned to find that someone had shown up to climb and taken advantage of our hard labor.  There was a red Jeep Cherokee parked right in our spot (Gotcha...I'm only kidding) Our spot was still clear and we parked without incident.  The car was officially parked.  All we had to do now was hike in and climb.  Not that easy.  Today was the worst approach I've ever encountered at our little local crag.  Our approach is normally a leisurely 15min. stroll.  Today it was 45 min. of post holeing in 3+ feet of snow.  I've never sweated so much going downhill.  It was a balmy 10° as we reached the base of our climb hot, soaked and miserable.  I was first one there, so I proceed to stamp out an area for the 3 of us to inhabit while we got ready to climb and for Ray to shoot some video from.  You can check out some of his stuff here Wildfilm Productions
Ray Burnsworth ready to video at camp2

I chose to try the line left of The Sick-le again.  It rejected Joel Torretti and I about a month ago.  We tried to send it, but were both utlimately shut down.   The line had been top roped several times over the years, but it still eluded a FFA.  The climbing is often found to be much harder and steeper than expected.  A common reaction is "That thing is overhung!"  I can't say if its truly overhung, but it is steep and funkified right now.  The single digit temps, large amounts of snow, and a nice feed of water has formed this line into a wild 3D landscape.    The climb went very well despite the mass removal of crust, snow and daggers.  The pitch was demanding.  It was apprx. 100' long and took 1hr and 10min to complete.
My gloves were soaked and in serious need of wax on the palms.  The snow on my unwaxed palms had me climbing up on my 2nd grips where I seemed to not be slipping off as much.  I lowered from a couple screws and Laura tied in to 2nd.  She loved the climb.  She found the climb to be a lot of fun and opted to take a second lap hooking up through the blobs and sicles. 

When she came down I went up, Threaded it out and lowered off.  We decided to name the route The Infinite WI5.  Due to the infinite amount of snow we received on attempted days.  We packed up our gear and made the uphill trudge out.  It was nice to have broken trail downhill on the way in.  It made the uphill at least slightly better than it could've been.
Laura post climb, 10° and wearing puffy pants

Still it took waaaaaay longer than normal.  The large snowfall made the day a little harder on us, but the beautiful landscape, great climbing and friends made it worth the efforts.  Hope your day was just as good!  Cheers
The happy climbing couple

Next week. A Sick-le attempt? Its almost in...

A few phtos Ray took today