Sunday, January 22, 2012

Finally some real ice in South western Pennsylvania

The south western Pennsylvania woods are finally looking like winter

Laura and I decided to take our chances and head into Sunday School Crag to try and climb one of  the new lines I found last week.   It was a warmish 29° when we left the house and made our way up to the parking area.  Upon arrival it was 23° which made me feel more optimistic that the line would have held over the warmer days this past week.  
Parking area for Sunday School Crag
During our hike in to the climbs we were breaking through the crust that the recent ice storm left in its wake.  I knew this recent ice crusting might be of some concern on the lines we were going to try and attempt.  Sunday School Crag  is the most alpine like crags of south western PA.  

Coming out of the woods and into the crag
The temps are always colder, the wind is always howling and is usually downright uncomfortable.  The ice lines are a lot more committing than most other local crags, with traditional gear being involved in most ascents.  Most lines I've climbed here commonly involve some sort of barely held together limestone choss with varying thicknesses of verglas beteween sections of ice pillars and runnels.  In other words some seriously fun climbing that might make you stain your drawers and then smile about it after its done.

On the way in we scoped out some of the lines.  Here's a couple we want to try in the near future.

Laura below one of several unclimbed lines we eyed
One of the top options for the day!

Not sure if I should be excited or terrified for this one.
Either way its an incredible looking mixed climb that I want to try.

After checking all the other options, we headed to the long alpine looking corner route I found last week.  I was really hoping it was in.  I had thought about it all week and couldn't wait to get on it.  We rounded the corner and it came into view and was looking at least as good as it did last week.  I was afraid that the water might have started to wash it out from behind.  The temperatures must have been quite a bit colder here that at our house.  The climb had very little water running off of it and looked as if it were good to go.  The climbs to the right were running hard with water and were dropping some rather large chunks of ice.  

Standing near the bottom of our chosen climb

The climbs to right on this wall were running hard and dropping ice

We didn't waste much time.  I've never been on this line and had seen it for the first time last week.  I looked it over and scoped out a potential line and racked up accordingly.  Going ground up is always a little more exciting and I find over-racking is better than under.  The line looked a little boney so it was mostly 13cm screws.   I also racked some quick draws, a few runners, screamers, a half rack of nuts, and 3 cams.  Plus belay coat and gloves, belay device, thread tool, cordage, spare biners, a 22cm screw for a thread if necessary/possible.   I recently received a set of the new Petzl dry T rated picks (which is a whole other post in itself).  I'd been anxiously waiting to try them on an "ice" route.  I resisted the temptation to take them dry tooling and dull the hell out of them over the past couple of weeks.  Also new was a shiny pair of Grivel G4 crampons, complements of Rob "Griz" Ginieczki for helping with the second revision of Ice Climbing Pennsylvania (available for purchase soon).  All this new gear to try and on a new line,  How cool!  I'd used the previous versions of the Rambo's over the years and always liked their rigid frame for pure ice.  My last pair were hijacked by Laura (who likes them a lot as well) and I just hadn't replaced them when Griz surprised me with these.  Thanks again Griz.

Racked and excited to get on some real ice!
The climb was well... Awesome!  What a great first ice route of the season.  It went well.  The ice was mostly very thin.  There were plenty "eyelids" on the bulges from the ice storm as expected.  Lots of new ice and snow to be cleared as I ascended the runnels that flowed down the 200' cliff.  Even with a "soft" swing attitude today I still managed to put falcons beaks on both of my new picks.  They performed well and I can say that the new picks perform better on ice than the old Astro picks that I loved so much.   Now that I've used them on an ice route I can go out and trash them at will.  I have a few more sets coming my way.  I'm definately NOT a fan of the new washer design that has now made changing picks in the field a big pain in the ass.  Right up there with Grivel's three bolt system.  The crampons were sweet as expected!  Grivel has the rigid design and point configuration nailed.  The extra weight seems to help drive them into the ice with much more authority than the Petzl Darts I've become used to.

We named the line Late Bloomer.   We thought it a fitting name for our current season being the worst ice season in area history.  Climbing this line today almost made me forget how unproductive local ice has been this season.  I'm a little hesitant to grade the line.  I'm sure it'll be much easier during a normal season of cold, producing plentiful ice.  Today it felt like a commiting WI4+ in lean condition.  Protection was a little sparse and I would not recommend this climb for the budding WI4 leader.  What it lacked in vertical sections it made up for in sparse protection and lack of ice.  Here's the photos of us on the climb.

Starting up the line it got thin early on
Short thin pillars with a few mixed moves, very alpine feeling

I'm in the middle of the photo, Giving scale to the climb

Just another day in the Pennsylvania alpine
Laura moving over a lower angle snow/ice slab
Even enough ice for a V thread rap!

Laura is all smiles on this one!
Late Bloomer WI4+
South Western Pennsylvania
Is there more?  There's always more here in SWPA

The End!
So south western Pennsylvania ice season has officially begun for us.  Who knows if February will contain colder temps and provide us with more lines to try this year.  Hopefully it does.  Keep checking back for all our PA climbing nonsense.  With some luck we'll be able to send a few more of the new lines at this crag.  I hope everyone got as lucky as we did this weekend!  What a blast... cant wait to get back for more!


  1. Picture says some stories. thanks for the post.

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