Pinnacle Gully – Mount Washington

The Approach

There’s no getting around it; if you’re going to climb something in Huntington, you’re going to have to go through a 2.6 mile and 2100 foot elevation gain approach. At this point, you’ll be at the fan. We took about 2 hours to get there.

The Fan

The bottom of the fan is normally a good place to change into heftier winter gear. Up to there I was wearing a single layer on the top and bottom, but the exposed nature of the rest of the day meant that adding a soft-shell and hard shell layer on the top and gore-tex on my legs was worth the stop. While stopped, I also threw on my harness, crampons, took out an ice-axe for self-arrest purposes and racked most of my gear. Because of the added cloths, we slowed down noticeably while ascending the snow field to avoid over-heating.

To get to the bottom of the ice climbing, aim for Pinnacle Buttress (see photos below). The snow field can get steep so watch your step. Getting from the bottom of the fan up to the Pinnacle will put you through another 4oo feet of elevation gain (we took about another hour to do this)

Pinnacle Gully

We did the climb in 3 pitches.

  •  Pitch 1 was about 60 meters with a belay at some fixed gear and slings on the left. This is the crux of the route and goes at WI3. I wasn’t especially hard climbing, but sustained at that level. Obviously, conditions will vary depending on the time of year.
  • Pitch 2, which I lead, is normally shorter than how I did it (I missed the belay that is somewhere around the 50m mark). I went to the end of our 70m rope and built an anchor with a few screws. The climbing was very mellow (WI2) with sections of both snow and ice.
  • Pitch 3 was snow only and finishes at the top of the Pinnacle. You shouldn’t have trouble finding a nice big boulder to belay on.

The descent

Once out of the gully, you’ll need to climb another few hundred feet to hit the Alpine Gardens. You’ll know you’re there when you see the huge cairns. Follow these cairns heading left to get to the Lions Head Trail which will bring you back down to Pinkham Notch. Some other descents exist and are well documented else where (can you tell I’m feeling lazy?)

Mer de Glace – St-Raymond de Portneuf

 This guys rating 3/5

Getting there

As per the guide-book description (which brought us there easily): From St-Raymond de Portneuf take Rue Mgr Vachon towards the North. After 3.7 km, turn left on Rang Saguenay. Reset your odometer. At 16.7km you’ll see an old coal oven on the left. At 17.2km is the trail that goes off right towards the cliffs. Park on the East side of the road. The parking at 17.6km is off-limits and private.

The approach

Once you find the trail, follow it until it joins the obvious snowmobile trail. Turn right and follow it for a few minutes. When you’re under the route (or just before), a very obvious trail will go left into the woods. Go up, up and up until you hit the first wall of ice.

Apparently certain years the ice flow goes down low, so you might need to rope up earlier than we did. Certain sections of the approach were icy and steep enough to cause problems had someone fallen but we were all confident; if you have doubts, you might want to rope up.

First technical pitch

Once we hit the wall proper we chose to follow the right hand side. This made for a pitch composed of 1) a first short wall, followed by 2) a bit of snow slab followed by 3) a taller vertical wall which ends at the first tree line. A 60 meter rope will get you through this section with no problems. The top belay was setup next to the foot trail that goes through the trees to bring you the start of the next longer section of ice.

This section of the wall is wide and has some longer and more difficult climbing on the left side. I’m not certain if a 60m rope would make it to the trees if starting at the bottom left, but if I were to guess I’d say it doesn’t; a 70m definitely does.

Pitches 2 and 3

You’ll walk through ~100 meters of trees before hitting more ice; we didn’t rope up at the very start the ice feeling confident we could make it to a snow slab at the bottom of the steeper stuff.

At this point, you have infinite + 1 options. Go where ever you feel (left, right, down, up, etc); there is ice everywhere and on a very wide section. We stuck to the right side and made it to the top in 2 pitches. People seem to like the right side more; the 2 other groups we saw were both straight behind us.


There are trees and rappel “stations” the length of the right side; always tend right and you should always find something to rappel on.

The Pictures

Average guide to moderate climbs for weak climbers in Joshua Tree by a mediocre climber and lackluster writer

Disclaimer: I’m weak so I speak from a position of authority.

Last weekend, I spent two days in Joshua Tree to do a bit of climbing and a tiny bit of hiking. Follows is my quick guide for noobs going to J-Tree (as the cool kids like me call it). It’s now my favorite place in the world to climb — and I’ve climb in a crazy amount of places, something like 12 or 13 —.

Question: Why is Joshua Tree so great and how would you compare it to Yosemite and Red Rock:

  • No crowds. None. No gift shop, no water, no big-ass camps, no hotels, no traffic (which is the case with both Yosemite and Grand Canyon)
  • A mind-boggling amount of climbs; if you come up to a climb and it’s taken, you’ll have tons to do within spitting distance.
  • The one downside is that this isn’t the place where you’ll be doing long multi-pitch half-day climbs as I like them. Most climbs are single pitch; but given their quality I’d say it’s not a big deal. 

Question: OK, but how was the climbing Michael?
Answer: I got my ass handed to me … Being a Northeast climber, I have no idea how to climb a crack. I tried to get on climbs I wasn’t ready for and paid the price in the form of lost dignity. Once I reset my expectations, it went a lot better.

Camping and amenities

We didn’t manage to reserve a site before leaving (no sites available for 3 nights); arriving on a Thursday evening, there were still sites available (we stayed at Jumbo Rocks). Had we arrived a day later, all sites in all locations would likely have been taken. If you can, make reservations or show up mid-week.

Amenities: You have dry toilets all over the park and nice fire-pit/cooking setups at the tent sites. That’s essentially it and it’s awesome that way.

Here’s how we did it: Every evening we’d drive to Twentynine Palms (15 minutes) for super and a shower. We’d then head to the grocery for the next days supplies (breakfast and lunch) which we put in a styrofoam cooler that we got at Target for 8$.

The Climbing

I used a combination of the Mountain Project mobile application and the Winger “60 Favorite Trad Climbs” guidebook. The Winger book is great for locating the different formations and finding the proper parking spots. We hit our climbs pretty much instantly using the guide. The downside to it is that you’ll have a very limited sampling of the climbs (which is the point of their guide), so you might want to complement it with another guide.

Using the Mountain Project app is hit and miss; some of the locations are well described and easy to find when coupled with the pictures; some other location descriptions are close to useless. Again, that’s the nature of crowd-sourcing, so it’s not a complaint, just an observation.

The park is big and climbing here is akin to climbing in the Adirondacks in the sense that you’ll be moving from one location to another a lot. The approaches are generally short and flat so that’s not a big deal.

Climbs don’t seem to be any more or less sandbagged than in any other area (as some have hinted at on the Internets). 5.6 feels like Adirondack or North Conway 5.6.

As well, be warned: the downclimbs can be pretty dangerous compared to most of what I’ve seen around here. If you see a guidebook telling you it’s a 4th class descent, they aren’t kidding. Be careful if you aren’t used to down climbing and scrambling.

The Climbs

Ain’t Nothing but a J-Tree Thing (5.6)
This guys rating: 2/5

The first climb we did at Real Hidden Valley. The approach is an easy 15 minutes from the parking area. The Thin Wall is easy to spot because, well … it’s a thin wall of rock. “Ain’t Nothing but a J-Tree Thing” is a nice easily protected short 5.6 that will give you a taste for the J-Tree rock. I enjoyed it, but wouldn’t call it mega-classic; it was fun.

Keep some big gear for the top anchor. The walk off is on the climbers right through some 2nd/3rd class scrambling.

Fote Hog (5.6)
This guys rating: 4/5

Our only multi-pitch of the weekend. Two pitches of great climbing; highly recommended. We did this on the walk back to the car from the Thin Wall.

  • We belayed from the ground, but saw another group setup the belay at the tree. Some have mentioned that the advantage to starting at the tree is that it avoids rope drag; I didn’t feel any drag at all, but then again, I stopped to belay at the top of the crux. Possibly, if you start at the tree you may be able to climb the whole thing in one long pitch.
  • The crux is cruxy for a short quasi-dwarf like me; I wish I had 3 inches more (I’ve heard that all too often). From the end of the traverse you’ll end up under the overhang and make for a big jug; the move can be protected using a #3 camalot over your head, therefore you’re essentially doing the move on top-rope this way.
  • The second pitch dihedral was beautiful, but too short.
  • Build your own anchor at the top of the climb and walk off to the climbers left.

Keystone Crack (5.6)

This guys rating: 2/5

There is confusion between MP and the Winger guide as to what Keystone Crack really is; we did the Winger version of it. The climb is OK but un-memorable. For this non-crack climbing climber the crux was the obvious hand crack which I failed to use properly.

  • Gear anchor
  • The descent is on the climbers left and goes down the gully that puts you back at the base of the climb.

Gargoyle (5.6)
This guys rating: 4/5

I REALLY enjoyed this because it was my first pure crack climb; the kind you can’t cheat using the face, the kind that instills pain in your feet, the kind that feels bomber the whole way.

  • The descent directly off the back is the crux. You are in climbing territory for a few feet and a fall would really, really suck. There are many ways to make it safe which will be obvious once you’re there.
  • The crack is hand sized in it’s first section and sort of off-width at the top (even a fist jam didn’t cut it). I used all my big gear and ran out the whole top section (it’s actually low angle there).
  • The top anchor can be a bit tough to setup; I would have liked to have my #4 (which I had left in my pack), but had to settle for most of my pieces being setup in the right side cracks which didn’t feel all that bomber (questionable rock)

New Toy (5.6)
This guys rating: 3/5

Despite some bashing on Mountain Project, I enjoyed this climb; well protected, fun rock, fun moves and good location.

  • Build your own anchor. I put in a bomber #3 up there.
  • Rapel rings are to the climbers left. Walk around/behind the big boulder and it’s right around the corner. Not sure how long the rapel is, but I’d imagine that a 60 meter would easily make it (I have a 70m).
  • Bring a #4 camelot to protect the middle section. The rest of the gear was finger sized.



+1. Like. Would buy again.

Winter Giant by the Ridge Trail


  1. lacking the power to perform physically demanding tasks; lacking physical strength and energy.
  2. liable to break or give way under pressure; easily damaged.

Also, see the definition for Mike McLean.

Ex: “That guy was so Mike McLean, he had trouble hiking 3 miles” or “That guys mind was so Mike McLean that I could make him believe what I wanted”

The excuses

I hadn’t hiked anything worthy of that name since I’d done the Pinacle at Mount Washington over 3 months ago. I climbed rock well into the fall, ice climbed early in the season, was felled by a nasty ice climbing accident which kept me out of the snow for over one month, and finally to cap it all off, when I was finally ready for some action I got the nastiest head cold I’d ever gotten. This weekend, I was still not 100% over the cold, but my injury was finally ready to let me do something. In a good hiking shape I was not.

But this pre-amble is yet another good indicator of how weak minded I am. Machismo dictates that I STFU about it.

The Hike

Let’s be honest; the Ridge Trail for all it’s beauty is not a long and difficult one. It starts off steep; steeper than my body wanted it this morning. And it doesn’t let up until the top. Thankfully the views from the Ridge Trail, mid-way up, are breathtaking and offer good excuses to stop and take in the views.

On this day, I saw almost no one, a first for me on Giant which I’ve visited 5 times now. That’s a good thing since talking would have been impossible for the impossibly out of breath weak man I was. I made it to the top without snowshoes relying on my crampons instead.

The Pictures

The Stats and Tracklog

I’ve published it on Garmin Connect here.

  • Giant Mountain stands at 4627 feet
  • The elevation gain when using the Ridge Trail is 3024 feet
  • The distance: 6 miles or 9.3 km
  • My time was 2h50 to get to the top, 4h30 in all



Johnny Vegas (5.6/7) – Red Rocks Canyon

2013-12-01 16.20.34

This guys star rating: 5/5

With Johnny Vegas and the long Solar Slab gully descent on the menu for the day,  it meant a semi-early start to make sure we got out of the scenic-drive loop on time. We parked at the Oak Creek trail which meant a shorter approach compared to the longer alternative; but it also meant we’d have to hurry to avoid the hefty fine that comes with being caught inside the loop road after 17hrs.

We started hiking at 8AM, were at the base of the climb at about 9AM and started climbing at just under 10AM having to wait for a couple of parties ahead of us.

I’ve done this approach twice and have lost the trail twice. Again, we made our own adventure and likely prolonged the approach by about 15 minutes as a result. The normal trail brings you pretty much straight under the gully and goes up from here. There are false paths all over the place with foot steps everywhere adding to the confusion. No matter: you can see the wall on the whole approach making it easy to simply make a beeline for it.

Pitch 1

Start on top of the boulder just below the double cracks. I chose to move the belay at the top of the boulder but some will likely belay at the bottom of it.

The pitch is stellar with great protection. Move up the cracks, passing a small roof. Once the crack peters out, move left and keep moving left until you hit the double bolt belay found at the base of the right facing corner. Just before the belay is a spicy traverse; make sure to protect your second. The belay ledge is comfy and in the shade between 10AM and noon in the winter.

Pitch 2

Another great pitch, but run-out in a couple of sections. Moving up the corner is easier than it looks from its base. From the top of the corner, move right in the crack, pass the small roof, then keep going pretty much straight until you reach another double bolted anchor setup.

There is a spicy section in the middle where you’ll be far above small protection and climbing on somewhat crumbly rock (both Cristina and I broke off a hand hold). You’ll know when you’ve hit that section; slow down, relax, breath and go. Even though a bit thinner than on the rest of this climb, the features are all there and will bring you straight up to another well protected crack system.

Pitch 3

From the belay, move right and around the arête. Make sure to put in long runners here. I didn’t and paid a VERY heavy price later in the pitch with rope drag straight from the bowels of hell.

After a bit of easy run-out climbing on the arête, you’ll join a crack in the corner. I followed the it up to it’s logical end an exited to a slab and nice crack system where I setup the belay. The documented route exits left early into the corner and brings you to a double bolt belay.

It’s worth reminding: Extend your runners early in the pitch.

Pitch 4

Not much of a pitch; a couple 5.low moves bring you to a 3rd class section. I setup the belay below the 3rd class section. We then both scrambled unroped to the top (and bottom of Solar Slab)


The abseils down the gully are cluster fuck of frustration and dangerously placed bolts. 5 single rope abseils and a last double rope abseil brought us back to our shoes. Roughly, as I remember it:

  • The first is joined by walking climbers-right from the top of Johnny Vegas and moving across the gap towards the bolts. A dangerous little 2 move scramble with dire consequences if there were a slip-up.
  • The second is joined by going to a horribly placed set of 2 bots hidden around the corner. I’m 100% certain there’s a reason for putting the bolts there, but it doesn’t take away the fact that the position is dangerous and uncomfortable.
  • The third is mid-way down the ramp where you’ll rappel off a slung rock.
  • The fourth is a bit more comfortable with a nicely placed set of bolts on the left wall
  • The next is similar with bolts on the left
  • For the last, I finally pulled out my second rope and made the 50 meter or so abseil down to the base.

I preferred to keep the second rope packed in case I needed it to get back up to a stuck one.