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.


  1. Awesome Tim! Let me know about this coming weekend, conditions look great!

  2. Plus when she's 'a bit pumped', Laura can swear up a storm with the best of 'em - including me - HaHa
    My favorite Li'l #&?++XX!!!! Buddy!

  3. Hi Tim - Great Pictures! I grew up in Pittsburgh but have been living in DC for a while now. Where is "Big Blue" located--is it close to Pittsburgh? I spent the past three days ice climbing in the Adirondacks and it would be great if I could find somewhere closer to climb.