Cannon Cliff and the Black Dike

This guys star rating: 3.14/3.14

We got up early. Real early. With the time change, our bodies were feeling 4:45. Sleeping in Lancaster meant a longer drive in the morning than we wanted, but there was nothing available close to the Notch. We wanted to be in the parking lot for 7:00 which we did. Alas another group of fellow Quebecers drove in seconds after us and were quicker to gear up. They would get first dibs at the dike which meant a constant rain of ice on our heads for most of the day.

The approach

The familiar bike path usually taken to make it to Cannon Cliff becomes a snowmobile highway in the winter. We signed the climbers register and headed Southbound on the trail. At some point, somewhere around the middle of the cliff, we crossed the climbers trail and started up. From a semi-dense forest, we moved into the boulder field where the snow filled gaps between rocks made hiking delicate and precarious, and finally hit the steep 200 foot snow field which brought us to the bottom of the climb.

There seemed to be a few trails coming up … I’m fairly certain we didn’t take the right one and could have continued down further on the snowmobile path, but it worked. I wanted to avoid overheating so I kept the pace slow and steady. After all, with no one behind us and a group ahead there was no rush.

Pitch 1 (W2)

A nondescript and long pitch that brings you to the foot of the money pitch. We setup the belay to the right of the ice runnel at the foot of a bulge. You’ll want to be sure you have somewhere to take cover when the ice comes raining down.

Pitch 2 (W3-4)

The money pitch. We had it easy; the rock traverse was short (5 feet or so) and I didn’t have to swing my axe or crampons a single time. It was hooking all the way. The pitch is beautiful and unique, and in fat conditions, easy for this week climber. We setup the belay at a set of 3 pitons on the left side of the wall.

Pitch 3 (W3)

Most of the pitch is pretty easy, but not to be underestimated as there is an awkward and steep bulge midway. Once again, hooking was the name of the game. With a group rappeling below us I was tip-toeing making sure I wasn’t dislodging anything. The belay is at the top of the cliff on a tree.

Descent

Please, don’t rappel this if you don’t need to … The walk off takes the same amount of time as the rappels so why would you choose to rain down ice on people below you …

From the top of the climb, simply head South (climbers left) and follow the path. We kept our crampons on and walked the whole way down, but the people who had descended just before us had butt slid most of it (I’d say 50% of the descent can be done on your butt).

The Photos

 

The Tracklog


Mount Willard – Hitchcocks and The Cleft

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For some reason, probably because I’m weak, the walk up to Lower Hitchcock Gully puts a toll on my calves. At the railroad junction, not knowing what to expect once we start up, we decide to gear up and rope up to simulclimb the easy stuff; if we hit a harder section we’ll be ready for it. There aren’t any hard sections save for a few tiny bulges.

Having prepped at the railroad, we’re immediately ready to start climbing when we arrive at the base of Lower Hitchcock. I’ll be getting all the easier pitches today, probably because I’m weak, so this first one is mine. Fast forward to the rocky section at the end of the pitch where shit gets real. It’s a twenty foot section of thinly ice covered rock. Mercifully there’s a tree one third of the way up which can be slung for protection. I spend a few minutes carving out feet in the ice. Four moves later I’ve topped out and setting up a quick belay at a tree.

Upper Hitchcock

From the belay we take the easy walk up to the base of Upper Hitchcock where there are lines all over the place. We proceed to dispatch Rear Window, East Slabs Left, Upper Hitchcock and East Slabs Right. Apart from Rear Window which is a bit thin at the bottom, the ice is fat everywhere. I take the lead East Slabs Left which I find terribly fun. As far as belays go, all routes top out at trees and all of them drop us back to the ground with double sixty meter ropes.

The plan is to finish the day in The Cleft. I’m looking forward to this because of its unique setting. We walk North for a few minutes until we arrive at the very obvious feature. Since this is an easy climb it’s my lead. We both head up to the first bulge where we setup the belay. Starting at the very bottom would have forced us to do in two pitches. The climb doesn’t disappoint; one of the cooler ice climbs I’ve done (take that with a grain of salt; I’ve climbed roughly 12 routes in my life).

To finish the day we head up to the summit of Willard and are treated to an exceptional panorama of Crawford Notch. The walk down is quick and easy (except for when someone got burned with battery acid … don’t ask).

The Tracklog

I set my watch to record a point every 5 minutes and stopped the tracking throughout the day. The tracklog shows a rough line of how to get to Lower Hitchcock Gully from the railroad; it also shows the summit and descent trails.


New Hampshire Carters Traverse

Last Friday I did a traverse of the Carters through the Nineteen Mile bk trail and down the Stony Brook Trail. For those looking for tail conditions, here is my bullet point report:

  • I’ve started trail running, so am trying to push harder and faster on each outing. To try to say light and fast I was trying a new setup with new Atlas Fitness snowshoes. They are comfortable but definitely lack the grip found on my MSR Evos.
  • Getting up to the col between Wildcat and Carter Dome was quick and on great snow and trail conditions. I wore only micro spikes over my running shoes and I was flying.
  • The ascent to Carter Dome is steeper and I obviously slowed down. The micro-spikes were borderline insufficient on some of the steep sections. If there is no snow in the coming days or the current pack ices up, something with a bit more bite might come in handy (crampons or good snow shoes)
  • Getting over Mount Hight and the three Carters (South, Middle and North)  was also quick and the trails were in great conditions. Once again no snow shoes were needed.

Everything between North Carter and Stony Brook Trail was in complete shambles and I slowed down to a crawl:

  • Blow down everywhere
  • Bad snow conditions requiring snow shoes
  • With the blow down, the trail was easily lost. I lost it 3 or 4 times which slowed me down by almost 2 hours.
  • With no snow and a weird rained on pack, following other hikers foot paths is impossible.

I figured that this being the AT it would be better marked and in a better shape, but I guessed wrong. I can understand that the blow down may be recent and that the maintenance crews will need time if that’s the case, but the infrequent markings make this trail downright confusing (this may be the first time I complain about a trail).

Mount Whitney – Mountaineers Route and Whitney Trail

Preamble

I pulled into Whitney Portal at about noon. The morning was spent driving in from Bakersfield, getting my permit and buying a few last things I still needed. Looking at the mountain from Lone Pine, I felt apprehensive and those familiar self-doubts were nagging at me. At the ranger station I almost chickened out and asked for a Whitney Trail permit instead of the North Fork one …. but didn’t. I knew that climbing the Whitney Trail wouldn’t be a real test; the Mountaineers Route and a loop down the Whitney Trail, done solo, was something I could be proud of, and if I didn’t make it, at least I would have tried.

I had wanted to spend the night at Whitney Portal to sleep at 8,000 feet to get my body ready for what was to come but was too tired to finish the drive from Santa Clara. I spent the night in Bakersfield which meant that my body would go from elevation 0 to ~11,500 feet on this first day, something I knew would come at a cost.

The plan was to make it to Iceberg Lake, camp, head up the Mountaineers Route the next morning, then loop back down the Whitney Trail. I had enough food and fuel for another night at Trail Camp if need be.

All smiles

In the parking lot, while putting on my boots and heaving my pack onto my back, my doubts immediately disappear. Starting up the trail with my 40 pound pack, I feel light and my pace is good. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the backcountry for something big and it feels great to be “out there”.

I hit the North Fork trail sign about 30 minutes after starting. For the last few minutes, my subconscious mind is nagging me about the Ebersbacher ledges, an exposed section one has to climb to get to Lower Boyscout Lake. I hit them about 30 minutes after the North Fork trail fork. They turn out to be very easy; a few short steps on a 5 or 6 foot wide ledge followed by easy and safe scrambling brings you to the top.

Roughly an hour later, I’m at Lower Boyscout Lake admiring the views. I’ve slowed down a whole a lot though and can’t hold the pace I could 2000 feet lower. I still feel strong, if not very winded all the time.

All done for the day

The next section is much harder for my physically. I’m really starting to feel the elevation and rests are more frequent and longer.I still need to climb 1000 feet before hitting Upper Boyscout Lake but at least the grade is easy and forgiving.

Then I screw up big. At the lake I lose the trail so I pull out my guidebook to understand what comes next. Its description leads me to believe that I need to go around the lake and up towards the headwall. I think that perhaps no one has been up here since the last snow fall and I’ll just need to break trail. I spend the next hour and a half in the massive talus field, scrambling in waist deep snow, praying that I don’t disappear in a hidden hole between the massive boulders. Finally, I make it back down to the lake and pull out my map (which I should have done instead of relying only on a description). My mistake is obvious and should have been avoided. I blame 10% of it on the AMS which I’m now feeling and 90% on the fact that I’m an idiot.

With the time and energy I just lost, I decide to stop for the night at Upper Boyscout Lake which sits at ~11,300′. Darkness is about an hour away so getting to Iceberg Lake (which sits at ~13,100′) tonight isn’t possible. Given how I feel, that’s probably a good thing.

I setup camp, prepare supper, watch a movie and hit the sack. Before going to bed I take a couple of Aspirin and measure my heart beat. It’s usually at ~50 but right now it’s ticking away at 90. Tomorrow will be a long day indeed.

It’s a full moon without a single cloud, so I sleep with my head out of the bivy waking up every few hours to admire and remind myself how lucky I am to be where I am.

The Mountaineers Route

I wake up at about 6 am after a restless night of waking up short of breath. I have a slight headache but don’t make much of it. An hour later, after a difficult breakfast I head out, but in the right direction this time. Iceberg Lake is the next objective and I figure that one hour should be enough to get me there. Ha! The folly and innocence of middle-age! I need two hours to get there, gaining over 2000′ in the process.

The trail is far from obvious and I lose it more than once. Even though I can’t see it, I know exactly where Iceberg Lake sits so I make sure to follow the line of least resistance towards it. This leads me inevitably to the ledgy cliffs towards the North. Even though not difficult, when climbing this type of terrain there is always a nagging fear that you’ll end up in a dead-end. Luckily I end up having to downclimb only once and find my way to the stunning clearing where Iceberg Lake sits which offers me the first clear view of the Mountaineers Route.

From my vantage point I see a half-dozen people in the gully. They are the size of baby ants which gives me a full perspective of how long the climb will be. I now know that it won’t be a technical challenge but will be physical and mental one; right now I’m feeling like shit, can hardly take 20 steps without stopping to rest and my headaches are worsening. Those 40 pounds on my back which felt fine yesterday are now feeling like 80.

I start up.

I need almost two hours to scale the ~1400′ that will bring me to the top of the gully. I chose the left hand side of the gully which offers me rock climbing instead of snow and ice. This also gives me the opportunity to use my upper body to make my way up, using my arms and back to pull myself up on the multiple ledges. The climb is varied: pure rock, slab, mentally draining crumbly sections and waist deep snow. Every step costs me and I stop every few seconds for a breather to bring my heart rate back down.

At ~14,000′ I finally hit the top of the gully, or “the notch”.

Summit

There are two routes once you hit the notch: A 3rd class that goes further right then left, and a 4th class that goes up the first gully. This section is the one I was fearing, but looking up at the 4th class section, I decide that it will be my route to the summit; after all it looks easy.

Even though I climbed it without incident, I can safely say I’ve made better decisions. The fact that I was so tired and carrying a 40 pound pack should have given me pause; I blame this 80% on the AMS and 20% on my being an idiot. I won’t even try to describe the route I took. I ended up in 5.easy territory, chimneying through a 15 foot section and crossing exposed ledges, at a certain point ending up on top of tower which had the benefit of giving me a view of where I needed to go. In the end, I popped out on the summit plateau with the cabin just a few hundred feet away from me.

At the cabin, I take my pack off, take a selfie, sign the register, sit in the shade and try to eat and drink a bit. The hard part is over with.

The Whitney Trail back down

Getting back to Whitney Portal is a ~17km hike and loses ~6000′ of elevation. I’ve already made the decision that I won’t stop to camp for another night, so I don’t spend much time on the summit.

WHAT A HIKE! By far the most beautiful trail I’ve been on which makes hauling my pack over the mountain like I did seem like the good decision. The 99 switchbacks which I wasn’t looking forward to because it sounds so awfully boring are a pleasure with stunning views on all sides. Down to Trail Camp, I stop every few hundred feet to take in the views. As I lose elevation, I start to feel better and my pace finally quickens.

I finish the day in the dark, needing about 6 hours to get down to Whitney Portal from the summit of Whitney.

The track logs

Note: The km/miles are off because my watch was set to take a reading every second which means that when I was stopped to rest it was measuring me as moving (GPS inaccuracy). I would have to apply some track smoothing to get a better representation of the hike … but don’t really want to bother.

Equipment

For the gear junkies (which I am part of) out there, here’s what I had with me:

  • OR Alpine Bivy: I HATE that there is only a zipper at the top instead of a full length one.
  • Mountain Hardwear Lamina – Long (-30): Heavy, but warm and inexpensive.
  • Big Agnes insulated Air Core mattress: I like my beauty sleep so prefer this to a foam mattress.
  • Petzl Charlet ice axe: I didn’t end up needing it.
  • Black Diamond Serac crampons: I didn’t need these either
  • Camp helmet
  • La Sportiva Trango Ext. Evo Light GTX: I love these boots. They are light, and great to climb with. Unfortunately, they aren’t that warm, but on this trip they were fine.
  • Marmot softshell pants
  • Goretex hardshell jacket
  • Goretext pants
  • Mountain Hardware Kelvinator down jacket
  • Extra pair of socks, mid-layer fleece, gloves, mits, hat
  • Fenix 2 watch
  • Nexus 2 tablet : To watch a movie during the long evening alone
  • Levin Solstar solar charger panel : To recharge my phone and watch during the night
  • Food for two days : fruit bars, cliff shots, two dehydrated meals, instant oatmeal packs, etc
  • MSR Superfly burner and medium-sized gas canister
  • Titanium pot to boil water
  • Two one liter nalgenes and water purifying tablets
  • Aspirin, benadryl and cold medicine (you never know)
  • Matches, map, compass, multi-tool
  • Osprey Aether 85l pack

What I’d do differently:

  • Bring gaiters; while scrambling in the deep snow, my feet got very wet because of snow penetrating from the top of the boot. This set the stage for a soggy next day. Thankfully I had a second pair of socks and foot warmers.
  • An extra shirt; god dammit I stank on the second day.
  • I’ll be getting a different type of water purifying system; the water tastes nasty with the tablets and I feel I wasn’t drinking as much as I should have because of it.

Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak

Summit Panorama

This guys star rating: 5/5

The approach

The approach starts at the Cathedral Lake trailhead. The trailhead is obvious, has bear boxes (which you should use) and parking is on the shoulder of the road. At the first fork follow the direction for “Cathedral Lake”. After roughly 10 to 15 minutes of hiking, you’ll see a fairly obvious climbers trail fork to the left hand side. There was no cairn when we passed, but there’s really no mistaking it.

The first 20 minutes of the approach are steeper than the other 90% of it. Generally the grade is easy-going with a short steep section just below where the climbing starts. You’ll start getting great views of the peak at about the half way mark when the tree density subsides.

We took close to three hours to cover the ~1500 feet of elevation and ~4.5km, but most parties will likely be quicker. The sun was setting late and the forecast was for a beautiful day, so we could afford to take our time and be slow.

I’ve saved a waypoint where the climbers trail forks towards the left from the main trail. Here it is.

The Prep

Just a quick note to say that most parties we saw left their bigger packs at the bottom of the climb because the official descent trails brings you back down to the toe of the climb. I had grand illusions and lofty dreams of also doing Eichorn’s Pinnacle and descending on the Muir trail, so we headed up with everything.

Note: If you leave your packs at the bottom, make sure to hang them somewhere. A marmot passed within 10 feet of me while I was racking up (i.e.: They aren’t shy or very scared).

The Climb

I won’t give the play-by-play. This climb is documented well enough that adding anything else wouldn’t be useful. That being said:

  • We started at the very lowest point of the tongue which is the normal/classic route. A little overlap on good rock followed by a bomber 5.3 hand crack brought us up to a tree.
  • I started out for the second pitch with a traverse right, then followed the path of least resistance up to the second tree.
  • I avoided the chimney on the fourth pitch preferring the 5.7 variation found towards the left hand side. It’s a cool-cool section of knobs offering smaller protection but easy (if not runout) climbing. It’s apparently called the “Glory Arete”.
  • Don’t forget to look back. The views are something else.
  • The last couple of pitches are fairly obvious and follow big crack systems.
  • The peak is tiny; pretty much only room for a single party. Clear it out as fast as you can. I had to wait for close to 40 minutes mid-last-pitch because of this …
  • The 4th class down-climb isn’t so bad, but falling would suck dearly … We did it the suggested way: I lowered my follower who placed gear (and clipped the rope through it) on the way down. Your follower should be going through the blocky section on the South side, then turn the corner to go to the big ledge lower down on the West side. Once he’s down, he should pull the slack then give you a top-rope belay.
  • The rock and protection are great.

Gear beta: I used everything I had at one point or another (small TCU/C3 up to #4 C4). The protection is G and always where you need it.

The descent

From the big ledge (which you just 4th classed too), head South West on the ledges. You’ll have to make your way as best you can because there is no path to follow; just a set of ledges. Once you’re close to the base of Eichorn’s Pinnacle and on safe ground, head back North (back towards the summit ridge) and up. You’ll eventually cross back over the ridge and on the official trail. There are signs peppered here and there reminding you to stay on trail. It took us about 40 minutes to get back to the top of the ridge, another 30 minutes to get back to the bottom of the cliff, and finally 1h15 to get back to our car.

 

 

The Tracklog

I kept my watch running the whole day, even while climbing which explains why it’s a mess.