Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Aid, AIARE, Avalanches, Oh My!

So I've been pretty productive as of late. I took a group up a mountain, I learned to rope solo. I practiced aid climbing. I took and AIARE avalanche course, and I almost got crushed with several hundred tons of ice and snow at the bottom of Mt. Pok-O-Moonshine. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of pictures. Cry me a river.

About three weeks ago I was visited at work by a group of high school juniors from Connecticut. It was awesome to finally get a group of students who I was actually interacting with instead of just babysitting. Unfortunately, they were boarding school jocks and fit the stereotype perfectly. Either way I got to go climb a mountain. So after trying to get people to get it together we were finally in the van and driving. We get there and the weather is alright. It's sunny and clear but still fairly cold. The peak we were headed for, Wright, is notoriously exposed and windy. So after teaching everyone how to put on their snowshoes we got moving. Keeping people comfortable in winter is difficult. Often people wear too little or too much clothing so either way they are freezing. The fact that in a group of eight their are slow hikers and fast hikers makes this even more difficult. When the fast group would stop they'd start getting cold and so when the slower hikers caught up we really couldn't stop for them to catch their breath and none of them wanted to lead. Nevertheless we made it all the way to the top and it was fantastic. Being above treeline gave us the sun and so we were warm and comfortable and amazingly the wind was absent. This is the first time I've been on top of a mountain without wind.

The weekend after the group left I got to go to my AIARE avalanche course. I got to learn that snow is in flakes until it hits the ground and then it's grains. Kind of like people in agriculture feel the need to differentiate between dirt and soil. Anyways we met near Burlington, VT to do a quick intro of the materials. Me and another person asked if anyone knew where we could sleep without being bothered. He was in his car and I was in my bivvy sack. Poverty, does a body good. Surprisingly nobody offered a room, or a floor, or a couch. I guess we looked fairly unseemly. So I ended up sleeping on a snow bank behind a grocery store. I found out around midnight that I was about thirty feet from some train tracks as the train rumbled by and scared me out of my cluastrophobic sack. The next day was more class work and we learned how to use avalanche transcievers. That night I slept up on a mountain because that is where we were meeting the next day. Luckily their were no trains there. So that next day we dug some pits, looked at some snow, and I made plans to climb ice with the other vagrant.

So I met that vagrant in Wilmington Notch and we proceeded to climb Multiplication Gully, a two pitch WI3. It was probably the coldest it has been all winter and so when my new cohort said he couldn't feel his toes afterwards I was slightly worried he'd be losing some toes. He was alright though. Besides that I lead my first ice climb! Nothing I wouldn't be comfortable soloing, but it was an important landmark. The next climb we did was the three pitch WI3 Chouinard's Gully, another classic. This time we simul-climbed (climbed at the same time). So a climb that would have taken at least two hours pitched out, took less than forty five minutes. From now on, when there's moderate climbing, I'm simul-climbing. Either way I was happy to have done my first real leads on ice. Now I just need some ice screws of my own.

Fast forward one more week. I'm not an aid climber. In fact I don't think I will ever be enclined to aid climb except for reasons of safety or because it's too cold to free climb. So when the mercury was teetering around five degrees I decided to try some new things. One was aid climbing which I had never seriously persued and rope soloing which I had never really entertained because it requires a lot of work. So there are a few ways it can work. You can either use a rope soloing device. Those cost a couple hundred bucks. You can also use a few knots, either a clove hitch or friction knots. Since I'm cheap I used a clove hith. The one thing that bothers me is how to keep the connecting carabiner from cross-loading. Anyways, most people work into this sort of thing slowly, they learn from other people, they read books, take classes, and are careful. I decided to just go for it. So I walked up to the climb, built an anchor at the bottom and started aiding my way up. Things were going pretty well until I got near the top. Since the climb ends at a ledge there was plenty of snow which hindered my progress as the crack I was using filled with ice and snow.

At my topmost point I was slightly below a small red hex. I was trying to get into another crack system which had less ice and snow. As I stretched to clip the piece I had place I suddenly had the feeling of floating and then quickly stopping. I had fallen. I had bounce tested the hex but it had been in my head that I was pulling it in a bad direction, so that's a good reason to listen to your intuitions. So that was my first fall on gear and it held. I only fell about ten feet but even so I decided not to go back up to tempt fate again, because if that piece popped it meant I was on the ground. Unfortunately, this meant I was leaving two stoppers and a draw.

Today I decided to head back and get me gear. No big deal, just climb the ledge system to the left, rap down, retrieve gear, then ascend the line and walk back down. Now it's been unseasonably warm around the Adirondacks recently which means snow and ice are melting and falling. When I pulled up to the cliff I sort of noticed the verglassed rock above where I was going to be. Since a huge ice line was to my left I was more worried about that. As I hiked at the base of the cliff I noticed the tinkling of falling ice. Since it was just small shards I didn't think much of it. It was kind of neat to see the falling, glittering pieces. Then I heard a crack and a swoosh. Looking up I saw I was about to be bombarded by ice ranging in size from baseball to basketball size. Baseball size pieces can crack limbs and knock one unconcious. I quickly ducked behind a tree. I took a few dingers on the helmet and backpack and painful one in the arm but no permanent damage. Being about thirty feet from my intended spot I made a beeline for it. That spot being a small cave. About ten feet from that spot I hear the same stomach churning crack much louder and pronounced. I don't even look up, I just run for the little cave as pieces of ice start to thud on the ground around me. As I dive into the cave and turn I see tons of snow and ice crashing onto the ground, some pieces as large as a dresser. After poking my head out cautiously I decided no more ice was going to fall and quickly headed up the ledge to retrieve my gear while the adrenaline was still pumping. All I could say as I came out of the cave was holy shit.

Overall, it's been an enlightening week and a dangerous one. I'm gonna start watching my back more often before I get myself into trouble.

No comments: