Combine and Conquer: The White Mountain Trail Collective

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The forested trail on the Crawford Path echoed with the shattering of rocks, lively conversation, and heavy breathing. The oldest continuously used hiking trail in the country was undergoing a long-needed facelift in preparation of turning 200 this year. Volunteers and professional crew members from organizations such as the Randolph Mountain Club, the National Forest Service and the Appalachian Mountain Club were working side-by-side clearing water bars, repairing rock steps and cleaning debris from the path. Cooperation like this is a common sight these days, but none of this would have been possible a few years ago. 

They were gathered there by the White Mountain Trail Collective, a two-year-old nonprofit that coordinates resources, training and large scale projects in the White Mountains. The group has participation from 16 clubs and crews which traditionally haven’t worked together on larger or longer-term endeavors.

Coordination is important these days because the trails are experiencing historic levels of usage, without the concomitant upkeep to properly maintain them. There are over 1,400 miles of non-motorized trails in the White Mountains which are frequented by 6 million people each year. 

A majority of the work falls on the shoulders of volunteer groups who maintain “their” regional areas. These self-organized and self-funded trail clubs have been in operation since before the the White Mountain National Forest existed, and established many of the paths used today. The regional clubs are having a hard time keeping up, and the National Forest Service doesn’t have the budget or capacity to cover all the work that needs to be done.

Courtesy: Joe Klementovich/WMTC
Courtesy: Joe Klementovich/WMTC

“Our own crew is getting smaller and older,” says Ken Smith, President of the Chocorua Mountain Club, one of these local groups. “We’re only able to complete Level 1 maintenance once per year but heavy use and huge rainfall can wash away a day’s work in a matter of minutes.” 

Stewardship projects are broken into three levels: Level 1, like Smith mentions, consists of light maintenance like clearing brush, cutting back foliage, and digging out water bars (the rocky troughs you see in a path, which acts like a gutter to funnel water to the side of the trail). This generally doesn’t involve hard labor. 

Level 2 is heavier work where actual repairs need to be made, like cleaning bogged ditches, or installing drainage. Level 3 are issues beyond repair. This is about re-building, such as pulling out dilapidated stair steps and building new ones. This involves quarrying rocks, splitting them, and moving them up and down the trail.

Level 2 and 3 projects are needed for long-term stewardship and are the least likely to get done because regional clubs don’t have the manpower or resources. These projects require a larger budget for materials, specialized tools, a dedicated crew for weeks or months (not days), and specific expertise to complete the work. Without a dedicated workforce, maintaining existing trail conditions is difficult, while improving the paths for the long-haul is nearly impossible. That’s where the WMTC decided to pool resources to help. 

“Our goal is to think 5 to 10 to 20 years out about how trail maintenance is going to get done.”

The organizing capacity of the WMTC offers the first opportunity for long-term planning to take place in the White Mountains. 

“Our goal is to think 5 to 10 to 20 years out about how trail maintenance is going to get done,” said Melanie Luce, the group’s executive director. The WMTC focuses on the large-scale challenges that need a long-term strategic plan, serving as the organizing force to build the plan and utilize smaller groups where they’re most useful. By uniting these groups around a single shared project, the WMTC allows them to divide and conquer. 

The WMTC also makes it easier for donations and fundraising to go directly towards trail maintenance. “Like most established trail maintaining clubs, our biggest challenge is always how to find funding for our pro crew each season,” said Bob Drescher, the Trails Co-chair of the Randolph Mountain Club. “Without grants, it would be nearly impossible. But instead of competing with other clubs for the same funding, the idea of combining our efforts [through the WMTC] to secure larger amounts seemed worth a try.” 

As if that weren’t enough, the WMTS also puts together specialized trainings for local trail crews, such as stone work and alpine rigging, maintain a tool cache for participating organizations to use, and organize additional volunteers to bring even more hands to projects.  

The Collective kicked off with a two year project on the Crawford Path in 2018, thanks in part to a grant, the help of the US Forest Service, and participation from many of the local trail clubs. The first project—now wrapping up its second year—was a success, and has grown to involve over 200 volunteers on the project. For 2020, the group plans to move into the Mount Washington Valley. 

“Instead of competing with other clubs for the same funding, the idea of combining our efforts to secure larger amounts seemed worth a try.” 

After each project is complete, on-going maintenance of the trails remains in the hands of the volunteer trail crews, often comprised of members who are aging out. To help develop the next generation of stewards, the WMTC partnered with Plymouth State University to help connect students to the local trails.

“With PSU this year, we helped start a conservation corp,” said Luce. “Students are being paid this summer, with funding that we raised, to learn how to do trail maintenance, so that they can come back next year to help do the work.”

This is a long-term commitment that needs leadership dedicated to the cause. Luckily, Luce is up for the challenge. “It’s not really a job for me. It’s a passion,” she says.

Thanks to the coordinated effort of the local trail crews, the Forest Service, and the WMTC, the trails of the White Mountains may very well celebrate centennials for years to come.

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Beat the Heat: Top 5 Cooler Weather Summer Climbing Spots in the Northeast

Here in the Northeast we relish the prospect of summer after the long winter months, until we’re all salty and cursing the heatwave that just won’t dissipate. For climbers, heat is a minor nuisance, but sweat makes slick sending. Luckily, the Northeast is endowed with alpine terrain, miles of coastline and countless lakes and ponds, all of which offer cooler micro-climates. Read on for our recommendations of the best climbing areas to beat the heat this sun-drenched season.

Courtesy: Andrew Messick
Courtesy: Andrew Messick

Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

Roadside Bouldering

The Notch, at a cool 2,165 feet above sea level, sits between Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak in the Green Mountain state. This hobbit hole haven offers over 500 boulder problems as well as “alpine light” trad and sport routes. Trade winds blow through, dropping the ambient temperature to 10 to 20 degrees lower than the tourist town of Stowe, 1,200 feet below. “Bouldering inside the notch has this rather enchanting appeal to it. The cold air floats out from the ice deep within the granite & schist caverns creating these cool air pockets as you walk through,” says Nick Hernandez of Time to Climb.

Cruise up the scenic 108 for drive-in bouldering. Wind around hairpin turns and roadside rocks, park at one of the many pull outs and start climbing in mere seconds. When you’re ready to unwind, head back into town to enjoy a Heady Topper at the world renowned Alchemist brewery.

Courtesy: Michael Martineau
Courtesy: Michael Martineau

Lake Champlain Palisades, New York

Deep Water Soloing

Perhaps the tallest Deep Water Solo (DWS) routes in the Northeast, The Palisades feature 100+ feet of cliff jutting out from Lake Champlain. DWS means free solo climbing (without a rope) but over water; think Alex Honnold, except if one were to fall here they would land in a lake instead of on land.

The approach won’t be easy, nor will the climbing. Located at the easternmost edge of the Adirondacks, boat or paddle from the Westport Marina roughly 4.5 miles south. You will not have to worry about touching bottom (the lake has a depth of 140 feet), however a fall from up high can cause serious harm. Make sure you know how to properly hit the water (you want to enter in a pencil-like position). A gentle breeze will help dry some of your perspiration while climbing, though it won’t do anything for your Elvis leg.

Courtesy: Tim Peck
Courtesy: Tim Peck

White Mountains, New Hampshire

Easier Access Alpine Climbing

The White Mountains are among the highest peaks in the Northeast, which means cooler temperatures and some of the fastest recorded wind speeds on earth. The climbing options are diverse, from long multi-pitch on Cannon Cliff to daring high elevation (for the East Coast) trad on Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington to moderate notch climbing at places like Franconia and Crawford. Be highly vigilant of fast-changing and ornery weather, though the Whites can be a bit more forgiving than backcountry brethren out West due to quicker access to roads and huts.

Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie
Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie

Panther Gorge, Adirondacks, New York

Serious Backcountry Climbing

For a backcountry alpine adventure, Panther Gorge is a lesser visited remote locale with a strenuous approach. “It may be one of the most remote places in the Northeast,” suggests local legend, Kevin ‘MudRat’ MacKenzie, who has put up many FAs in the area.

The gorge, at 4,000 feet above sea level, lies between Mount Marcy and Mount Haystack, the tallest and third tallest mountains in New York, respectively. Just to get here requires an eight mile hike with 3,300 feet of elevation, followed by bushwhacking about to find the climbs. You will be rewarded with over 35 trad routes that range from 5.3 to 5.10a, with a mix of single and multi-pitch lines. These not-often-trafficked climbs can be chossy, mossy, and wet, and you’ll want to make sure you are well-equipped with backcountry skills from route-finding and wilderness first aid in order to be safe. You can find detailed descriptions of climbing routes in MacKenzie’s upcoming book, Panther Gorge, on his site adirondackmountaineering.com.

Courtesy: National Park Service
Courtesy: National Park Service

Acadia National Park, Maine

Coastal Climbing

Cooling sea breeze awaits climbers at Acadia. The ocean battered granite features some of the most classic climbs in the Northeast, from the salt-sprayed Adair by the Sea (5.10b/c) to the 3-pitch Story of O (5.6), among many others. America’s most easterly national park, Acadia is the first place the sun touches in the U.S. from October to March. In the summer, you will still want to arise early to capitalize on the daily changing low tide (otherwise your rope and belayer are liable to get caught in the waves at seaside areas like Otter Cliffs). Check out The Precipice for inland multi-pitch routes or Canada Cliff for some forested bouldering.


11 Tips to Coexist with Bears in the Adirondacks and Elsewhere

Across the Northeast, black bear populations and encounters are on the rise. In fact, the number of bears has more than doubled in New England since the turn of the century. As a result, conflicts between people and bears are becoming more commonplace, especially when humans head into the bear’s environment: The woods.

While black bears get a bad rap from their interactions from humans, they are typically only in search of food, and tend to be solitary, shy creatures more afraid of humans than we are of them. So how do we limit our interactions with, keep ourselves safe, and keep the bears safe?

Courtesy: Eric Kilby
Courtesy: Eric Kilby

1. Take a Bear Canister

Erin Hanczyk of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recommends taking a bear canister on your next backpacking or camping trip. “Bear hangs aren’t working like they used to,” she says. Hanczyk recommends canisters similar to the COUNTER ASSAULT Bear Resistant Food Keg as other models have been ineffective against bears, particularly in the High Peaks.

Bears have a powerful nose and are motivated by food, so any products with a strong scent, including food, toiletries, bug spray, garbage, food waste, and more should be kept in the canister. In order to fit everything in, minimize the food you’re bringing, remove extra packaging material when possible, and leave space for waste and garbage. Pack the canister ahead of time to assure it all fits and you know how it properly locks!

2. A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear

Don’t feed bears, intentionally or inadvertently. For one, intentional feeding of black bears is illegal. But bears are quick learners and have strong memory; Males will often travel dozens of miles to past feeding areas and they will repeat maneuvers that have led to food in the past (i.e., if people feed them). Don’t help them habituate to easily preventable behavior, because euthanasia is a dramatic last resort.

3. Know the Lay of the Land

A little research and preparation will go a long way as you plan for your trip. Just as you seek trail conditions for your destination, knowing whether there are bear advisories or bear-proof food storage lockers at the campsite is important information. The visitors center of the park or the state wildlife department (which generally is responsible for bear management) will often have the details you are looking for.

4. Consider the Bear’s Calendar

Bears will travel further and take bolder actions when food is sparser, such as in early spring, or in late summer and fall, particularly during years of poor berry and nut yields and during draughts.

Bears tend to arouse from a long slumber between March and April, and during their hibernation they lose between 20 and 40 percent of their weight, so you can imagine they are quite hungry at this time of year. Pay particular caution to newborn cubs around May as the highly protective (and hungry) mother is likely close by. Mating season typically occurs between mid-June and mid-July, when males can be more aggressive.

5. Hike During Daylight Hours

Bears are most active at dawn and dusk. They may be around during the daylight hours too, though they are rarely active at night (except during breeding season, between mid-June and mid-July). Take this into account as you come around bends in the sidelong light or greet the first rays of the day.

6. Cook Earlier in the Evening

For the same reason as above, you don’t want all those lovely dinner smells wafting in the air just as bears are rousing into their most active time of day. Hanczyk urges campers to cook between 4 or 5 p.m. and to be cleaned up before dark.

“We’ve had examples of bears circling campers while they are cooking [later in the evening],” notes Hanczyk.

7. Use the Camp Triangle

The idea is to keep a distance of at least 100 feet between the three points of your camp: the sleeping area, cooking site, and where you store your bear canister overnight. This will help separate those savory smells and drippings, as well as your food stores, from your sleepy bed head. Hanczyk recommends putting the bear canister behind the bathroom facility, which reduces visibility for a passing bear.

8. Cook Only What You Need

Be conservative with your ingredients so as to avoid leftovers, only take out the food you plan on cooking with, and keep everything else in your bear canister. Make sure not to leave your meal unattended as a watching bear may use that as an uninvited opening to steal your meal.

9. Keep a Clean Campsite

Again, bears are attracted to the scent of food, so you want to keep your sleeping area clean of smelly smells. Don’t keep food or scented items (such as toiletry products) in your tent and avoid wearing the clothing you prepared your meals in to bed. After cooking, clean your pots and pans, and strain your water to filter out food particles—Put the bits in your trash bag to be kept in your bear canister. Disperse the leftover waste water away from your cooking station. If you are at a campground, take all garbage and recyclables to on-site receptacles each evening. Lastly, don’t put grease, food scraps, garbage, or other refuse into the fireplace as the items will not properly burn and may attract bears with their odor.

Courtesy: NYSDEC
Courtesy: NYSDEC

10. Keep an Eye Out

While you hike, pay attention to bear signs such as tracks and prints, tree markings, and scat. Bears have broad footprints about 4 to 7 inches wide with all 5 toes and claws typically showing. Claw marks can be found on tree trunks with parallel lines that gouge the bark or look for saplings that are broken partway up the trunk. Their scat is typically dark brown, tubular, and contains seeds or grass.

11. Don’t Leave Packs Unattended

Want to check out that vista 0.3 miles down the side trail? You will want to think twice about leaving your pack behind if you do, and no, it’s not because humans might get to it. Bears have been known to take stashed packs. Easy pickings.

What To Do If You Encounter A Black Bear

Black bears may react aggressively if they feel threatened, so avoid startling, approaching or surrounding them. In an area with known encounters, make noise such as clapping or talking loudly as you hike to try and alert bears of your presence. If hiking in a group, stay together.

If you do encounter a bear don’t run. Running can trigger their predator instinct, and they can reach speeds up to 32 miles an hour. That is not a footrace you will win. If the bear doesn’t see you, slowly back away, keeping your eyes on the bear.

Bears tend to be more curious than aggressive so if a bear does see you, your first action should be to stop, stay composed, raise your arms to make yourself look bigger, speak in a loud and calm voice, then slowly back away. If a bear stands on its hind legs, it is most likely trying to get a better view, it is not typically a combative posture. If the bear approaches you, again, don’t run, and avoid throwing your backpack or food at an approaching bear. That may condition bears to approach future hikers in the hopes of acquiring food.

If a bear charges you, stand your ground and dispense bear spray if you have it. If the bear makes contact with you, your best bet is to fight back with whatever you have at hand. But, especially in the East, those situations are exceedingly rare and it’s easiest to try and avoid that situation in the first place.


5 Big Projects That Could Improve Northeast Climbing

The Northeast is home to some of the best trad and sport climbing in the country, and the options continue to grow with new areas being developed. With this great privilege comes great responsibility, for all climbers, as our love for the sport can actually play a role in bringing about its demise. As the sport increases in popularity, it is becoming more likely that crags will face access issues due to landowner concerns or environmental deterioration. Luckily, there are dedicated organizations working to maintain our beloved crags, fighting to re-open long-lost places, and educate new climbers about how to climb in a sustainable way so we can all enjoy the rock for years to come. Here are some of the biggest projects improving Northeast climbing right now:

Credit: Anne Skidmore Photography
Credit: Anne Skidmore Photography

A Cooperative Climbing Gym in the Mount Washington Valley

New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley community has grumbled about the lack of a climbing gym in the area for years. During rainy days or over the long winter months, a local indoor climbing spot is a way to stay in shape and connected with friends. Instead, resident climbers have resigned themselves to driving 1.5 hours (and cussing all the way, one might imagine) to the nearest facility.

Eventually, Chelsea Kendrick and Jimmy Baxendell-Young had enough, and they’re now organizing their own cooperative gym in North Conway—the Mount Washington Valley Climbers’ Cooperative, or MWVCC. The local market is too small for a typical commercial operation, with a cumulative population of 20,000 people between the eight towns of Conway, Bartlett, Jackson, Madison, Eaton, Ossipee, Tamworth, and Fryeburg. They decided to engage the climbing community in creating a coop, to great success; The yet-to-exist gym already has over 75 paying members, well on its way to covering the cost of operations once it opens. The 2,000 square feet will provide bouldering and training, as well as a community gathering space. And because it is a cooperative, all members have a say into the direction of the project. If, say, enough people want to offer dry-tooling, it is in the cards for the future.

If you frequent the MWV for ice climbing or skiing in the winter, or hiking in the summer, and want to support the effort, consider becoming a member, donating, or joining their upcoming fundraising event on May 21.

Courtesy: Jeremy Gilchrist
Courtesy: Jeremy Gilchrist

Reopening Vermont’s Hardest Crag

Bolton Dome, just 30 minutes from Burlington, was once one of the most popular cliffs in Vermont, until it was closed in 1990 due to concerns from the private landowner. For decades, access was closed off to dozens of high-quality crack and sport climbs, including the region’s only 5.13 trad route and the state’s highest concentration of 5.12-s. Through it all, the Climbing Resource Access Group of Vermont (CRAG-VT) maintained good standing with the land owners, and early last year the organization was able to purchase the area with help from the Access Fund, in what constitutes Access Fund’s largest Climbing Conservation Loan to date. There is plenty of work to be done: The loan must be paid back, a parking lot needs to be built, and various legal fees to be covered.

CRAG-VT had previously secured 5 other crags in Bolton, making the Dome the newest and most significant addition. Overall, the organization works to protect Vermont’s vulnerable climbing areas, build long-term relationships with landowners, and develop the areas with responsible stewardship. Now that Bolton is protected, there is a cornucopia of potential for new routes for climbers to enjoy for generations. You can support their effort by becoming a member, donating, or joining the Bolton Dome Launch Party! on May 18.

Courtesy: Brad Wenskoski
Courtesy: Brad Wenskoski

A Sport Crag for New York’s Capital Region

Opened in July of 2017, the Helderberg Escarpment at New York’s John Boyd Thacher State Park is the newest sport climbing haven in the Northeast, and only the third New York State Park to allow climbing (Minnewaska and Harriman being the others). Located 20 minutes from Albany, Thacher sits between the ‘Gunks, 75 miles south, and the Adirondacks, 120 miles north, and is much closer than Rumney, New Hampshire, for New Yorkers. The area services the massive population in New York’s Capital Region who were once stuck with long drives in many directions in order to climb.. There are currently about 65 routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.12a, and they will appeal to gym enthusiasts as most climbs are roughly 50 feet high, with none longer than 90′.

What makes the Thatcher Climbing Coalition’s approach special is that they spent 5 years negotiating a climbing management plan with the state in order to demonstrate commitment to success and long-term cooperation. So far, it’s been a rousing success and may serve as a model for partnerships between climbers and parks around New York, and the country. If you want to help make the Helderberg Escarpment into a premiere rock and ice climbing destination in the Northeast, you can become a member, buy a t-shirt, or volunteer to help establish new trails.

Credit: Robbie Shade
Credit: Robbie Shade

Keep the Northeast’s Premier Crag Pristine

Rumney’s wild popularity is also a cause of environmental damage, a common narrative for highly-trafficked climbing areas. The Rumney Climbers’ Association aims to prevent the high usage from diminishing the experience of the 38 cliffs by getting ahead of the issues, which include soil erosion, deteriorating infrastructure, and unsafe climbing conditions. “We are tackling the problem before it’s too big, because there is a tipping point [in these situations],” says Travis Rubury, a board member with the organization. This year, RCA and the Access Fund are performing stewardship projects at three of the most popular areas: Orange Crush, Meadows Crag, and the uber-accessible Parking Lot Wall. They will construct retaining walls, install stairs, and further secure the trails to assure they are sustainable for the long term.

Rumney has become an international draw, attracting the likes of Alex Megos in 2017 when he remarkably sent Jaws II in only three attempts. The route is one of only four 5.15s in the U.S., and the only one of its grade east of the Rocky Mountains. This world class area came about through a lot of hard work, much of it performed by the RCA since the early 90s. If you’d like to support their efforts, you can become a member, donate to the restoration efforts, volunteer, or join the American Alpine Club Rumney’ Craggin’ Classic later this year.

Courtesy: Western Massachusetts Climbers' Coalition
Courtesy: Western Massachusetts Climbers’ Coalition

Fixing the Parking Situation in Western Massachusetts

Farley Ledge has experienced its share of contestations over the decades, from being closed four times in the early 2000s to notorious bolt chopping. The situation remains precarious as most of the routes are on private land. “Climbing is unique in that it is resource-dependent. We need this cliff, we can’t [easily] have another. Not a lot of sports are so tied to topography,” notes Wayne Burleson, President of WMCC. While tensions have been soothed over the years, access is not assured. These days, the primary challenge is parking (be warned: Do not park on Route 2). The Western Massachusetts Climbers’ Coalition purchased roadside land (with the help of Access Fund) in 2008 and opened a 20-space parking lot. They are exploring options for additional parking areas.

Farley has a certain mystique for two reasons: One, trad and sport routes are delightfully interspersed on the cliffs as the original developers maintained an ethic to not bolt what could be climbed traditionally. And two, you won’t find any information about the routes (and no guidebook, of course), the result of a policy agreement set up with landowners back in 2007. While this offers intrigue, it also makes it harder for the WMCC to educate climbers about local ethics and share the history, while eliminating a potential revenue stream to help fund future efforts. The coalition has been hard at work since 2000 and is one of the few areas where you don’t have to pay for access. If you want to support this important crag, become a member, donate, volunteer, and definitely don’t park on Route 2.


10 Skills to Know Before Taking Your Climbing Outside

You’ve been climbing inside and are pulling hard on the plastic, but now you’re looking for a new challenge: You want to get out to real rock. There are significant differences between the controlled environment of the climbing gym and the dynamic nature of the outdoors. In order to be safe and have fun (of course), there are key skills you need to know before you make a successful transition.

1. Pay Attention!

Climbing gyms were originally designed to help climbers master their technique without concerns for weather, approach logistics, or other impediments which can provide a false sense of security and require you to pay much closer attention once you head outside.

Watch out for environmental factors like rock falls, uneven surfaces to belay from, wet holds, slippery mud, people and nature to distract you (hello, mosquitoes!), and much more. Of course, weather will play a factor as well, from humidity to rain to blazing sun (which can lead to say, sweat seeping into your eyes). Communicating these factors with your partner becomes more important.

A common mistake for experienced and inexpereined climbers alike also comes from not double-checking their system, which includes whether or not harnesses and gear are on correctly, belay devices are set up correctly, knots are right, anchors are double-checked, and more.

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2. Proper Belaying Technique

Belaying takes on particular importance outdoors for a variety of factors.

Climbers indoors and out use what is called a dynamic rope, which means it stretches under a load and absorbs some of the impact of a fall. Gym ropes typically have less elongation, or less stretch, so the climber will not fall as far. As a belayer, it is important to understand this variable because more stretch means a longer fall, and a higher likelihood of a climber hitting the ground or other obstacle, i.e., if they fall from an early bolt or from above a ledge. This is a key factor for belaying a lead climber, where recognizing how much slack in the system is imperative. For a top-rope belayer, know that your climber will fall slightly further than they would in the gym.

3. Knots

While your gym may have required you to learn and tie-in with a figure-8 knot, many allow climbers to just clip into the end of the rope with a carabiner, which means a figure-8 (the standard tie-in knot for climbers) and several other knots are critical knowledge before heading outside. Aside from the figure-8, a barrel knot or another stopper knot are important to make sure the unused end of a rope never slides through a belay device. Other knots like the clove hitch, bowline, water knot, prusik hitch, and more are important to know for anchor building, emergency situations, or other utilities.

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4. Route Finding

In the gym, your route is marked by brightly colored plastic pieces that are easy to spot. That’s not the case outside. The challenge lies in choosing the proper hand holds and foot placements from a near limitless set of options, which often slows down climbers as they have to work out their moves. Choosing the wrong holds can make the route feel several grades harder.

Cheyenne Chaffee, an AMGA certified rock climbing guide, calls this “micro route-finding,” or the ability to read your next moves while climbing, close up and fatigued. He says it is one of the most challenging aspects for beginner outdoor climbers to get used to.

Study the guidebook for the route you want to climb and match the prescribed route to what you see on the rock face. How might that move go? Where is the bolt placed and what hold might you clip in from? Identify key reference points and look for rest spots as well as the crux.

5. Footwork

There is incredible diversity of terrain outside and it can take some time to learn what actually constitutes a foot hold. Microchips, smearing, drop knees and flagging are all skills you need to learn in order to make your way up the rock.

Chaffee encourages you to practice traversing on the lower parts of the crags or on boulders to get a feel for the precision needed for small foot placements.

6. Endurance

Another key difference is the need for physical (and mental) endurance. It is common for outdoor routes to take 15 minutes or more to climb (good climbers can scale routes so large they take days) because route-finding and proper body positioning can take longer to figure out. Not to mention, the walls outside can just be taller than they are inside!

There are also many minute muscles in your feet and hands that may tire faster than they would indoors where they are less likely to be used. Be forewarned, your core is going to get a workout as you will find yourself in more varied positions compared to indoor route setting.

Chaffee suggests preparing by doing laps on a moderately graded route indoors, with the goal of seeing how long you can stay on the wall. Aim to climb continuously for 15 minutes to get used to a typical outdoor route.

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7. How to Set and Clean a Top-Rope Anchor

Outdoor climbs don’t come with ropes pre-installed, so you’ll need to learn how to choose anchor points and set up your top-rope on your own. It is important to install your own top-rope anchor in order to minimize wear and extend the life of the existing hardware attached to the wall. Common systems include using quickdraws (if there are bolts or hangars ready to use), or using lengths of slings or static chord to lengthen the system or anchor off trees of other natural features.

Anchors are a highly customizable, technical, and critical piece of climbing, so it’s best to learn how to use them safely with an expert like the guides at EMS Schools who can teach you everything you need to know about anchors and the technical aspects of outdoor climbing, before you step out of the gym on your own.

8. Risk Management

Outdoor climbing is far less controlled than it is inside. Without gym employees to check on gear and make sure it’s in good shape, that falls to climbers. There are all sorts of precautionary measures you should consider before even attempting a climb:

  • Identify a compromised rope: When you flake your rope, check for softspots and visible signs of wear. If the sheathing is cut through that’s a serious red flag.
  • Evaluate anchors: Is the anchor rusted or loose? Can you swivel the anchor bolt around? Weigh the bolts before loading them with your weight. If they seem unsafe, don’t use them.
  • Reading the guide: Learn to evaluate what to expect on a route. Is the route new and prone to having rocks pull off? How are you getting down? Is it a walk off? How much sun does the route get? Is it prone to being wet?
  • Nutrition and hydration: Diminished attention can be caused by dehydration or low blood sugar levels. Stay sharp by packing tasty sustenance.  

9. Bouldering Safety

“I know more people who have been hurt bouldering than on a rope,” Chaffee says.

In the gym you have a uniform landing. Outside you have to place pads and spotting needs to be much more dynamic and aggressive. Take note: Where are the hazards? Where are the hard moves? Where is someone likely to fall?

As a spotter, you are not trying to catch a climber, rather you are attempting to direct their hips, and to stop their head and neck from smacking on something hard. With bouldering you always hit the ground.

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10. Ethics

Access to climbing areas has become an increasing tension and challenge as the sport has increased in popularity. According to the Access Fund, 1 in 5 climbing areas in the United States are threatened. Crags are often located on private land with easements, at a National Park, or on Forest Service property, and Howard Sebold, Metro NY Section Chair of the American Alpine Club (AAC), warns, “It doesn’t take a whole lot to get an entire crag shut down.”

It is the very popularity of the sport that is leading to some of the gravest challenges. “In many cases crags are becoming loved to death,” Sebold says, whether from trail degradation, improper waste management, or even illegal parking which causes friction with the local municipalities or private landowners.

When you go outdoors, be sure to abide by the Leave No Trace principles, which are best practices to follow to keep the land you love protected for everyone’s enjoyment. The Seven Principles cover topics from how to minimize human-impact to respecting fellow visitors. You can read the full list here.

Beyond this, there are basic “good neighbor” guidelines to follow specific to climbing, such as not monopolizing routes in an area, being respectful of fellow climbers, and donating to crag maintenance efforts to further support preservation efforts.


Top 5 Beginner Mountaineering Objectives in the Lower 48

How do you climb some of the biggest mountains in the world? Simple, you start on smaller ones.

If you have your eyes set on the likes of Everest, Denali, or even Mont Blanc, there are plenty of breathtaking beginner mountains you can start climbing in the next few months (with proper training and skill acquisition), that will help you prepare for larger summits.

But where do you begin?

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Mountaineering Basics

Mountaineering is a general term that refers to climbing big mountains in snowy and icy conditions. This style requires knowledge of movement on snow and ice, and tends to follow standard routes with less technical climbing, at least for beginners. At high altitudes, weather and environmental conditions are harsher than at lower ranges (for example, 80mph winds, whiteout conditions, and rock fall), which makes this a more challenging endeavor than hiking.

Winter hiking and backpacking are great ways to develop mountaineering techniques at lower elevations with less hazards.

Mountaineers should have experience and the skills related to glacier travel, traveling on a rope team, use of an ice axe for self-arrest and self-belay, crampon technique, anchor building on rock, snow and ice, hazard recognition (crevasses, rockfall, serac fall, etc.), traditional rock climbing, knowledge of climber’s knots, crevasse rescue, route finding, wilderness first aid, and much more. The breadth of skills needs to be paired with requisite gear and knowledge of best practices for equipment usage.

Given the broad and deep skill base, it is prudent to gradually develop your techniques and attempt increasingly more challenging climbs over time. It is much safer to refine your abilities in lower risk environments than to find yourself in a high-exposure situation lacking (or missing) the proper tools and knowledge.

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What Makes a “Beginner” Mountaineering Objective

Beginner mountaineering routes will incorporate fundamental techniques on easier terrain in the spring and summer months. For these objectives, they will take less than a day to summit and stick to Class 3 climbing and below. Generally, they will require snowshoes, crampons and an ice axe, but not roping up.

Seasons and Weather

The spring and summer are high season for mountaineering in the larger mountains in the U.S., including Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Mount Hood. These months generally run from April through September. Compared to winter, you have longer days but also a higher risk of sunburn or snow blindness. Some routes are best attempted earlier in the season to avoid rock fall. Winter ascents are a serious advance in difficulty due to harsher and more tempestuous weather conditions.

The climate at higher elevations is much different than the forecast at the base, and weather can change drastically in the mountains. Your best bet is to wait for a good weather window, and to pay attention to the dynamic conditions. As a rule of thumb, storms come from the south in winter and north in summer. Climbers often leave early in the morning (before sunrise) in order to be on the snow and ice before the sun starts to warm things up, increasing chances of rock and icefall.

Adjusting to the Altitude

The body requires time at a higher altitude to adapt to the lower levels of oxygen. A variety of maladies can occur at these heights, including Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Cerebral Edema, and Pulmonary Edema. These can be lethal. Not everybody is adapted for life in the mountains, so you want to progress gradually and pay attention to how you are responding. Generally, teams ascend to higher elevations during the day, then descend for rest at a lower camp, in preparation of a summit push.

Now let’s put it all together and consider some beginner mountaineering routes. Let’s emphasize again, these should only be attempted after proper physical training, skill practice, and preparation.

The Mountaineer's Route is the first large snow gully to the right of the summit pinnacle. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
The Mountaineer’s Route is the first large snow gully to the right of the summit pinnacle. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

High Sierras, California

Mount Shasta’s Clear Creek is the standard route on the southeast face. The route is about 5 miles and 7,600 feet of elevation one way, with some Class 2 climbing through a boulder field. Note that the trail is inaccessible in winter and early spring, though snow will still cover parts of the mountain through the summer.

The Mountaineer’s Route on Mount Whitney is a class 3 route with steep trail, with about 6,000 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles. Fast parties can summit in 10 hours in the summer, and it’s a good test for your route finding skills. Mount Whitney is the high point of the lower 48 states.

Looking up at Mount Adams from a camp on te nearby Mazama Glacier. The South Ridge is to the left. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Looking up at Mount Adams from a camp on te nearby Mazama Glacier. The South Ridge is to the left. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Cascades, Washington and Oregon

South Sister in Oregon via the south side route climbs the third tallest mountain in the state but is class 3 climbing at worst. The path starts from the Green Lakes, and is 12.4 miles round trip, with about 5,000 feet in elevation gain. It also features eight glaciers, so you can practice your snowshoe, ice axe, and crampon technique.

Mount Adams’s South Spur Route route offers an easy and popular snow climb in the eastern Cascade range in Washington. It can be done in 1 or 2 days and is known to be thigh-busting, rising 6,676 feet over 5.7 miles, with a max angle of 30 degrees.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The White Mountains, New Hampshire

Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route is best known for holding some of the worst weather in the world, which may surprise observers who see only the 6288-foot height of the mountain. This particular route is the least technical way to summit in the winter, but still offers a steep, icy ascent and the potential for very high winds at the top.

 

No matter where you are starting from, you can find an appropriate mountain goal to take you to the next level. Remember: Savor the inspiration that comes with big mountain climbing, be realistic in your progression plan, and research and prepare more than you think is necessary. 


Be My Adventure Valentine: Romantic Outdoor Date Ideas for You and Your S.O.

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and surely the outdoorsy readership of goEast won’t be keen on celebrating inside. If you’re in need of inspiration, we’ve gathered a winter’s kaleidoscope of romantic, adventurous, and outdoorsy date ideas. There are options for all levels of exposure and comfort, from ice skating in America’s oldest public park to 100 miles of snowshoe masochism to learning new skills so you can enjoy the outdoors for a lifetime to come with your sweetheart.

Courtesy: Destination Moosehead Lake
Courtesy: Destination Moosehead Lake

Something Sweet Awaits in Maine

Nestled in the great north woods of Maine, Moosehead Lake is an island-studded getaway. Spend your days snowshoeing, ice climbing, or skiing, then come back for an evening of scrumptious chocolate sampling (to replenish your carbohydrate stores, of course). Destination Moosehead Lake’s 15th annual Chocolate Festival offers over 40 delights for your sampling pleasure.

Nothing Says “I Love You” like 100 Miles of Misery

Step out into the scenic woods of the Green Mountains, and keep stepping, and then don’t stop stepping until you’ve gone 100 miles (or about 195,000 steps if you’re counting). That is what’s in store at the Peak Snow Devil Snowshoe Ultra for the couple that wants to test their mettle, and see how each partner holds up under the long haul.

Courtesy: Muddy Paw
Courtesy: Muddy Paw

A Howliday Treat for Fans of Furry Friends

Have you gone dog sledding before? What is the chance your partner has? Bingo!… one of the pack leaders, is ready to take you on a dog sledding tour through the woods of Jefferson, New Hampshire. Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel has over 80 handsome canines, many of which are rescues from “ruff” backgrounds or second chance adoptees. Tours range from 1.5 to 3 hours and you can choose to sit bundled up in the toboggan (cozy!) or try your hand at mushing too.

Courtesy: Peak Resorts
Courtesy: Peak Resorts

Are You in a Serious Relationship with Skiing—and Your Partner?

What’s more special than a day on the slopes with your one-and-only? Well, popping the big one before shredding a steep run might make your ski day extra special. Just imagine: Blue skies glimmering against snow-covered pines, and fresh pow waiting for you to say, “I do.” Thanks to Mount Snow, you’ll be riding on Cloud Nine before taking the first run of your new lives together.

The Best Partner Is a Climbing Partner

Not every winter sport has to do with ice or snow. If you enjoy bouldering in the fall, try your hand at winter climbing where the added friction might be just what you need to send your next problem. Pack a thermos full of hot chocolate, bring a kangaroo pouch full of hand warmers and enjoy the day out at the crag with your favorite climbing partner.

Check out the bouldering at Lincoln Woods, Rumney, Pawtuckaway, or these great local gems close to Boston.

Stay Close to Home and Enjoy a Winter Classic

Ice skating is a quintessential winter activity in New England, and it has a long history at the oldest public park in the United States. Frog Pond is considered one of the best outdoor skating rinks in the country, and for good reason: Its airy setting is nestled among historical brownstones and stately elms. If you don’t live close to Boston, you are sure to find an outdoor rink close to you.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Take Your Relationship to New Heights   

New Hampshire offers 48 mountains over 4,000 feet and the winter offers a chance to fall in love with your favorite hikes all over again. You don’t have to go high or hike far to enjoy a winter trek though, there are plenty of trails you can do in a half-day or even a few hours. If you are an ambitious couple, try the Lion Head route up New England’s highest peak.

 


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Nothing beats Sundays at Frankenstein⛏️

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Level up Your Relationship with a New Skill

The winter offers exposure you simply don’t get in any other season: Blustery white-out mountain conditions and serpentine columns of frozen waterfalls let you enjoy the cold in a new way. With an EMS-guided Introduction to Ice Climbing course, you can gain a complete understanding of the fundamentals in one-day, so you and your partner can pursue ever more adventures, together!

Courtesy: The Ice Castles
Courtesy: The Ice Castles

Be the King and Queen for a Day

Ice slides, ice towers, ice tunnels and arches with hanging icicles, oh my! If you grew up in New England there’s a good chance you built a snow fort as a kid, and loved it. Rekindle that magic with the adult version of the snow fort, the majestic Ice Castle, fit for a king and queen. There is plenty to explore with your date, from towering spires that rise like icy sentinels to dungeonesque tunnels you can crawl through like an arctic mouse. There is even an ice slide to cap off your romantic day together.

We wish you all a fun and safe Valentine’s Day adventure! If you go on one of these dates, please tag us on instagram using the #goEast hashtag.


Newsflash: Dreaming of Adventure in 2019? The AAC Live Your Dream Grant Will Fund It

Who says climbing grants are only for first ascents or professionals? If you have a mountain goal to accomplish this year, the American Alpine Club’s Live Your Dream Grant could help you accomplish it, regardless of scale.

Founded in 2012, The Live Your Dream grant “was born from the idea that “the most important climbs out there are our own.” The program is designed to help every-day adventurers achieve personal progression and to support unforgettable experiences. In other words, the AAC wants you to pursue your goals, to be psyched to get out into the mountains, to grow, and to inspire yourself and others. There is no dream too big or too small.

Last year, the AAC awarded $72,150 to 158 individuals with a wide-range of objectives.

Grants are open to mountain folk of all ages, ability levels and climbing disciplines. Whether you’re looking to sport climb 5.11 by the end of the year, learn the trade of trad, attempt your first multi-pitch, summit mountains close to home or abroad, or attempt a trail running ultra, it’s all on the table as long as it pushes your abilities to the next level, whatever that may be.

To apply, submit your application online by March 31st. Submissions are reviewed at the regional level (Northeast, Southeast, Central, Rocky Mountain, Western, Northwestern, and a Ski/Snowboard Mountaineering focus) and winners will be announced in May.

When applying, make sure to hone in on the specificity of your goal: “The project must accurately demonstrate a progression in skills and experience and outline a specific obtainable yet personally difficult goal. The objective should be at the edge of your physical and technical ability level. However, your individual experience level should be appropriate for the proposed objective.”

For further advice on writing your application, 2015 winners, Ben Beck-Coon and Anthony Nguyen, have outlined tips on crafting a great proposal.

Courtesy: The American Alpine Club
Courtesy: The American Alpine Club

If you’re looking for inspiration, the following award winners have shared their epic experiences:

Established in 1902, the American Alpine Club’s (AAC) mission is to “support our shared passion for climbing and respect for the places we climb.” For years the AAC funded cutting-edge and highly technical ascents with the aim of advancing the possibilities of the sport. Yet these expeditions are at the fringe and often seem unrelatable. With the growth of climbing, the AAC (in partnership with The North Face) wanted to help more people enjoy the varied disciplines of the vertical world.

Sure, the pros get the limelight, but we all experience the same joy and exaltation that comes from personal growth and achieving our mountain dreams. I for one, a 5.10 climber, will certainly be applying with the goal of climbing 5.11 by the end of the year.