9 Tips for Staying Warm While Ice Climbing

A day of ice climbing in the winter is a day well spent. But, when you’re planning for hours of ice-cragging with a group of friends, it’s easy to underestimate how cold it can really get. To stay outside and happy for the whole day, and hopefully avoid the screaming barfies while you are at it, start with the following tips.

1. The puffier, the better

Bring a big, fat puffy belay jacket to wear when you aren’t climbing. It doesn’t have to be high tech, new, or even pretty. It just has to be warm. And, the bigger it is, the better. However, this isn’t a super-light alpine-style ascent we are talking about. If your jacket needs its own XL stuff sack for storage, then you can bet you won’t be cold while you’re wearing it.

2. Stay off the ground

At some point during the day, you might want to sit down. Camp chairs are nice, but they’re bulky and can get in the way at a crowded climbing area. Instead, bring a small foam or inflatable seat pad that you can sit on when you need to take a load off. Otherwise, you will be losing lots of heat through the seat of your pants.

Courtesy: Keith Moon
Courtesy: Keith Moon

3. Plan to get wet

It may be 10 degrees out, but the waterfall you are climbing will most likely still be spraying some liquid water. To anticipate this, a waterproof outer layer keeps you dry while you climb. If you are one of those people who prefers something more breathable, however, wearing high-quality, quick-drying fabrics makes the difference between climbing all day, and heading home early because your clothing has turned to ice.

In all cases, keep your down jackets away from the water. Most down loses its insulating properties once it gets wet.

4. Warm from the inside out

During a day of ice climbing, frozen granola bars just won’t cut it. So, grab a couple of insulated bottles to bring along some hot tea and broth-based soup. And, if you have enough to share, you are sure to make some new friends. Being warmed from the inside out is almost as good of a feeling as sending that lead.

Credit: Mark Meinrenken
Credit: Mark Meinrenken

5. Climb, climb, climb

This one is easy. Get on the ice, and get your blood flowing, as the more you climb, the warmer you will be. Just make sure that when you untie from the rope, you put some insulating layers back on. Heat loss happens quickly whenever you stand around.

6. Keep moving

If you are waiting for a free rope, and aren’t belaying your buddy, keep it moving! For a suggestion, hike around to check out the condition of a nearby flow, or even have a dance party. Ultimately, the more you move, the warmer you will be.

7. Carry multiple pairs of gloves

Bring a minimum of two pairs of gloves: a thinner set for climbing, and thicker ones for belaying. Don’t try to wear them at the same time, however. Rather, keep one pair inside your jacket, where they will stay warm. If they get wet, it is even more important to keep them from freezing and help them dry out.

Credit: Keith Moon
Credit: Keith Moon

8. Don’t wear too many socks

Socks are great, but if you wear too many pairs, you will squeeze the blood from your feet and get some awfully cold toes. Circulation does a great job at keeping your feet warm, so wear one pair of good socks and give your feet some room to let the blood flow.

9. Keep your head warm

When picking out what shirts and jackets to wear, opt for choices that have hoods. Lots of blood pumps into your head, and it all flows through the neck. As a result, keeping your head and neck seamlessly covered prevents warm air from escaping through the top of your shirt, and keeps those drops of ice-water from surprising you with a cold shock down your spine.


The Crux: The NE 115's Toughest Winter Climbs

Climbing all of the Northeast’s 115 4,000-footers is a serious challenge on its own, even for the region’s most experienced hikers. But, how can you take it to the extreme? Simple: Do them all in winter. Joining that elite (and very short) list of hardy hikers requires a special skill set, gear closet, and determination that many lack. Depending on the weather, trail conditions, and other factors, any of these peaks can be perilous to climb in winter. So, here are a few of the biggest challenges, and some tips to make it to the top.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Katahdin

Baxter State Park, Maine

Katahdin is a steep granite cirque in Maine’s Baxter State Park that includes a few different summits, the highest of which is Baxter Peak. Tagging Maine’s highest peak in winter means slogging through a grueling two-day, 13-mile approach across the park’s closed access roads (typically with expedition sleds) to Roaring Brook, and then another 3.3 miles uphill to Chimney Pond. Be prepared for consistent sub-zero temperatures and frequent avalanche danger.

To increase your chance of success, plan early to obtain reservations at the bunkhouses in Roaring Brook and Chimney Pond, rather than tenting. Have a strong group, and give yourself enough time in the park to wait for a favorable weather window to attack the summit. Use the Saddle Trail or the more challenging Cathedral Trail to ascend from Chimney Pond. If your endurance and the weather allow you to summit, you will reach one of the East Coast’s most beautiful mountains.

Courtesy: Matt's Hikes
Courtesy: Matt’s Hikes

Mount Redington

Carrabassett Valley, Maine

Home to one of the least-traveled of the Northeast’s unmarked trails, Redington is a difficult enough climb in the summer. While not especially challenging in terms of bushwhacking, reaching the summit involves a few key unmarked turns and forks on old logging roads. In the winter, you should bring a GPS or a friend who has climbed it before.

The closure of Caribou Valley Road to cars in winter means you should either ski to the crossing of the Appalachian Trail or start where the AT meets Route 16. Either way, you will travel the AT to South Crocker Mountain before beginning the 1.2-mile unmarked trek off the AT to Redington’s summit. Read the stretch’s description carefully in the AMC’s Maine Mountain Guide. To make sure you have arrived, look for an old white canister strapped to a tree on the summit.

Trail signs on the top of Mount Adams. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Trail signs on the top of Mount Adams. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Mount Adams

White Mountains, New Hampshire

While Mount Washington is the King of the Presidential Range and home to some of the nation’s worst weather, its neighbor to the north, Mount Adams, is another worthy challenge. And, in winter, climbing the exposed summit requires the same precautions and gear. You will ascend nearly 4,500 feet, with almost 1,000 feet of that above treeline. Climb the steeper Air Line Trail from the AT in order to take in the majestic views of King Ravine. Then, descend using the easier Valley Way Trail.

Courtesy: Wayfarer
Courtesy: Wayfarer

Owl’s Head Mountain

White Mountains, New Hampshire

A trip to this peak involves over 18 miles of travel. This trek may include sometimes-dangerous water crossings, unmarked bushwhack approaches, and a slide climb, so make sure river conditions are good and you’re comfortable on steep and icy terrain. Many prefer to utilize the Black Pond bushwhack route on their approach. Be sure to proceed the additional 0.2 miles north from the old summit clearing to the new summit proper to make it official.

The one saving grace here is the flat and very well maintained (but rather boring) 2.6-mile section of the Lincoln Woods Trail. You’ll pass through when you start and finish your journey from the trailhead at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Information Center. Overall, Owl’s Head has a very remote wilderness feel to it that makes the long day worthwhile.

Courtesy: LakePlacid.com
Courtesy: LakePlacid.com

Allen Mountain

Adirondack Mountains, New York

Allen offers a little bit of everything. There are several river crossings, winding meadows, woods climbing opportunities, and a steep slide climb finale. Due to its roughly 18-mile round-trip distance, it’s sometimes confusing to approach. As well, because of the deep snow often faced on Allen Brook’s final, very steep slabs, this one can be challenging. Luckily, the DEC recently replaced a long-destroyed bridge over the Opalescent River, alleviating a fording concern.

In addition, the state purchased new lands surrounding the peak. So, future hikers should stay tuned to new routes potentially opening up. For now, start at a trailhead located a mile from the end of Upper Works Road, off Tahawus Road. Follow the trail to Flowed Lands via Hanging Spear Falls for just under four miles. Soon, break right onto the unmarked but well-traveled and obvious herd path to the base of the slide and straight up to the summit ridge. Enjoy the beautiful views of Panther Gorge and the High Peaks to the north from a lookout located just beyond the formal summit.

Courtesy: LakePlacid.com
Courtesy: LakePlacid.com

Seward Range

Adirondack Mountains, New York

Any time of the year, the Sewards are a challenging hike, but the closure of Corey’s Road adds 3.5 miles each way. Depending on conditions, consider skiing this long stretch in and out. Added to this are the Western Adirondacks’ deep snows and some sparsely marked trails, and these peaks, as a result, become a major challenge. You should plan an early start, use the Calkins Brook approach, and be sure to research the route.

The Calkins Brook approach will bring you to the ridge near Mount Donaldson. This path allows you to “T” the ridge, tagging Emmons to the right (south), and Seward to the left (north). The range’s isolation and remoteness have a wonderful feel in winter, but their rewards demand a long day of effort. Unless you are exceptionally fit or planning an overnight, avoid the temptation to add nearby Seymour Mountain.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Basin Mountain

Adirondacks, New York

Basin lies deep in the Eastern High Peaks’ Great Range. This means there are only a few ways up, and all involve long approaches and very rugged terrain. In addition, several steep ledges, frozen ladders, and frequent ice bulges make this trek particularly difficult in winter. As with many of these peaks, it’s valuable to carry a general mountaineering ice axe to assist with some tricky sections.

For a greater challenge, consider adding Saddleback Mountain to create a larger loop hike. Or, for the expert HaBaSa route, include Haystack within your itinerary. Be aware, though, that this will add obstacles to an already-difficult trek up Basin Mountain: for instance, Saddleback’s cliffs and Little Haystack’s icy ledges. Typically, an approach starts from the Garden Trailhead, travels past Johns Brook Lodge, and then climbs past Slant Rock, and on up the Great Range Trail. If the skies are clear, some wonderful views of the likely-more-crowded Mount Haystack and Mount Marcy, along with many other High Peaks, are yours for the taking.

 

Do you have another peak that you think is even harder? Let us know in the comments!


Alpha Guide: Mount Colden's Trap Dike in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Mild technical climbing, remote and rugged terrain, and spectacular Adirondack High Peak views make the Trap Dike a classic Northeast winter ascent.

Climbing the Trap Dike in winter—a great route for climbers looking for an adventure in a more remote, alpine setting—makes for an unforgettable experience. The approach is mellow but long, and the climb is technically simple yet committing. Once you’re at the top of Mount Colden, the descent options are plentiful, from hiking the trail back to a backcountry ski descent. Conditions vary wildly, depending on the time of season or weather, and any party’s experience can be incredibly unique from another’s, which means you’ll always be able to come back for more.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 11 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: December through March
Fees/Permits: $10 parking at Heart Lake ($8 for ADK Members)
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Start at the Adirondack Loj trailhead, located at the end of Adirondack Loj Road off Route 73 in Lake Placid. Try to arrive early, as the parking area often fills up on weekends. While a few ski trails weave throughout the immediate area, be sure not to use them for the approach, unless, of course, you are skiing in.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Marcy Dam

Travel south on the Van Hoevenberg Trail from the trailhead for 1.5 miles to a major trail intersection (44.1728, -73.9589). Continue southeast another 1.1 miles to Marcy Dam. Marcy Dam is the first landmark location for the approach to the Trap Dike, and is a destination for many day-hikers and skiers. Plus, with little elevation change between the trailhead and Marcy Dam, expect this section to have moderate to heavy traffic on weekends.

Marcy Dam offers views of the surrounding peaks and slides, as well as multiple lean-tos and campsites. For multi-day trips, this makes a great base camp location.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Into the Pass

From Marcy Dam, continue south, around the eastern side of the pond towards Avalanche Pass. The trail here will begin to climb slightly. After passing some additional lean-tos, the trail then becomes steeper for the final ascent to Avalanche Pass. Be extra careful on the trail’s beginning section; it serves as the end portion of the Avalanche Pass’ ski descent trail, so you might find people skiing down at you.

About one mile after Marcy Dam, the trail splits between the hiking and skiing paths. Always ascend the hiking trail, as skiers are not expecting anyone to be coming up. From this point, the trail climbs a final 400 feet in just over a half-mile, until it opens up to the picturesque Avalanche Lake.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Finding the Trap Dike

In the early or late season, Avalanche Lake may have little to no ice and may not be crossable. However, barring any strange warm spells, the lake freezes over and provides a direct finish to the approach for the majority of the winter season. But, regardless of the time of year, always use caution when crossing frozen lakes. The entrance to the Trap Dike (44.1318, -73.9678) is the obvious, massive cleft in Mount Colden that spills out onto Avalanche Lake’s eastern side. Here begins the route’s technical portion; so, the Trap Dike’s entrance makes for a good location to refuel, rehydrate, and reorganize gear before you begin the technical ascent.

If Avalanche Lake is not frozen, access takes a little bit longer. Remain on the hiker’s trail and follow it south, across the wooden “Hitch-Up Matildas” anchored into the cliffs alongside Avalanche Lake. At the lake’s south end, leave the hiker’s trail, and follow the lake shore north 250 yards to the Trap Dike’s entrance.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Climbing The Ice

The Trap Dike’s technical portion contains two single-pitch ice steps, with snow climbing in between. These pitches are generally rated at WI2, but early in the season, the ice steps can be thin and chandeliered, providing a challenge for climbers and offering few options for protection. Mid to late season, however, the ice becomes fat and reliable, offering greater protection and the choice to build screw anchors or snow anchors. Good rope management saves time, as the two steps are separated by a short snow field, which requires the anchor for pitch 1 to be broken down before you start pitch 2.

At the top of pitch 2, continue to hike up the Trap Dike while remembering to stop and check out the view behind you. Caution is required here. Even though the route has mellowed out to low-angle ice and snow, an unprotected slip could result in sliding out of control over the second ice pitch’s top edge. As you ascend the Trap Dike’s upper section, the large, wide upper slide will come down to meet you on climber’s right, providing an exit onto the exposed slab.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Up The Slide

Climbing up the steep slab towards Mount Colden’s summit is relatively straightforward. However, the slab’s conditions can vary greatly, depending on the weather and time of season. Early-season climbers should expect to find thin patches of unconsolidated snow, verglas ice, and bare rock. In these conditions, the push to the summit can be treacherous and difficult, requiring careful steps the entire way.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

In mid to late season, the slab accumulates more snow, which allows for seemingly endless, leg-burning step-kicking to the summit. Lucky climbers may encounter perfect neve snow, which can help to conserve climbing energy. Regardless of conditions, however, the slog up can sometimes seem endless, so it is important to stop and take in the view of Algonquin and the surrounding mountains to help recharge the spirit. Before you reach the summit (44.1268, -73.9600) and subsequent hiking trail, you’ll pass through a short band of trees at the end of the slide.

Mount March through an undercast from Colden's summit. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Mount Marcy through an undercast from Colden’s summit. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Coming Back Down

One of the best parts about climbing the Trap Dike is the multiple options for returning back to the trailhead. Backcountry skiers can choose a ski descent, with a required rappel down the ice pitches, or one of Mt. Colden’s many other slides. Without skis, however, the quickest route back follows the summit trail, heading northeast for 3.6 miles past Lake Arnold and down to Marcy Dam. Once again, be wary of skiers descending the trail between Avalanche Pass and Marcy Dam. From Marcy Dam, follow the same Van Hoevenberg Trail for 2.6 miles back north to the Adirondack Loj to complete a long but rewarding adventure.


Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

The Kit

  • A technical mountaineering tool or axe, like the Petzl Sum’Tec, is ideal for the Trap Dike. The slightly curved shaft and aggressive pick allow you to climb ice pitches with ease, without impeding your ability to plunge the shaft into the snow for climbing on the upper slide or creating a snow anchor.
  • Much like the hybrid axe or tool, a crampon that can handle both vertical ice and snow steps, like the Black Diamond Snaggletooth Pro, will make your climbing more efficient. The Black Diamond Snaggletooth brings the best of both worlds together with its unique single-horizontal spike.
  • Hikers in the Adirondacks might not be used to wearing a helmet. But, climbing is dangerous, and dropping an ice axe on your partner’s head can make for a really bad day. The Petzl Sirocco will protect your noggin, and due to its lightweight design, you won’t even notice it’s there.
  • Winter travel through the High Peaks requires snowshoes or skis when there’s more than eight inches of snow on the ground. This helps prevent postholing and protects the trail conditions for everyone. The MSR Revo Explore 25 Snowshoes are lightweight and easy to take on or off, so you aren’t fumbling around when it’s time to change to your crampons.
  • Every year, there are reports of people getting lost or rescued during winter in the High Peaks. Everybody thinks it won’t happen to them, but it is important to be prepared if you are stuck overnight and need warmth. The SOL 2-Person Survival Blanket from Adventure Medical Kits will keep you and your climbing partner warm in case of an unexpected overnight.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Keys to the Trip

  • While, compared to other parts of the U.S., the East Coast sees fewer avalanches, they still do happen, and the risk is still real, especially on exposed slides like the Trap Dike’s upper portion. So, consider educating yourself on traveling through avalanche-prone terrain with the EMS Climbing School’s AIARE training. The Trap Dike, while usually considered safe, has all of the ingredients for avalanche danger.
  • Weather predictions in the Adirondacks can be very fickle. If you are planning the Trap Dike as a day trip, consider having a flexible window open to pick the best day. While poor weather poses greater challenges, the views on a nice day are second to none, and are a great way to pay yourself back for all the hard work.
  • This guide was written for a day trip, but the Adirondacks, and particularly the Marcy Dam area, offer many other hikes and climbing adventures. Consider planning for a longer journey and camping out. As such, your return hike back to base camp will be shorter, and you will be set up to head back out for a different hike or climb the next morning!
  • After your triumphant climb, you are sure to be hungry. Lake Placid is overflowing with great restaurants, but a dependable go-to is always the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. The food is delicious and filling, and the Ubu Ale is as classic as the Trap Dike itself

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Current Conditions

Have you climbed the Trap Dike recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


VIDEO: Photographing the Milky Way Over Acadia

Video and text by Kris Roller
Video help from Nick Girard

Behind every great photo lies a story, one that describes the process and events leading up to the photograph. To me, the amount of planning and effort you put into its creation makes it that much better, and no photos require more work and preparation than astrophotos. When planning a shoot that involves the night sky, you have to take a few things into account: the equipment you are using, the location, and timing.

With astrophotography, the Milky Way is an extremely popular subject. But, depending on what part of the world you are in and the time of year, getting the perfect shot can be tricky.

Location

Generally, you want to be in an area with little-to-no light pollution. I use Google’s light pollution maps to help me pinpoint the darkest spots anywhere I travel. Also, the farther south you go, the more you can see the Milky Way and its galactic core. When you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the Milky Way always faces south. So, for this photo, I knew I had to choose a location that would allow me to face in that direction, and Google Earth 3D helped me identify possible spots. And, because I knew I was shooting rock climbers, I also had to find a climbable rock that was pretty exposed to the night sky. Acadia, Maine, turned out to be perfect.

Timing

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the Milky Way’s core can only be seen from February to late October. Depending on what’s in the foreground and where you want the Milky Way to be, you will want to plan your shoot during certain months. Various apps can help you organize this, and for this specific photo in Acadia, I used PhotoPills. The timing of the year was important, too, because I had to get the Milky Way a couple of hours into its initial rise above the eastern horizon. July ended up being ideal.

Equipment

Most DSLR cameras are great for shooting astrophotography. The equipment that I used was a Sony a7RII with a 24-70 mm f2.8 lens. Usually, you want to shoot the night sky anywhere from 14 to 24 mm—wide enough to see the Milky Way’s vastness. My setting was 24 mm 2500 ISO for 15 seconds. Generally, you can set the shutter speed to 20 or 25 seconds, but I had live subjects, so I had to keep it shorter than usual. Otherwise, any sudden movements would’ve made them come out blurry.

Post Processing

After I took the photo, I processed it in Adobe Photoshop first to bring the Milky Way’s details out. Then, I imported it into Lightroom to touch up the rest of the composition and balance the light on the foreground. After your shoot, there are numerous ways to process your work, but these two programs are the most common for night photography.

Credit: Kris Roller
Credit: Kris Roller
Credit: Kris Roller
Credit: Kris Roller

Song credit: “Pyrite Promises” by Dionysia


Ditch the Cold: 8 Wintertime Rock Climbing Escapes in North America

The bliss of cool Sendtember and Rocktober days has finally given way to downright cold, snow-, and ice-covered rock and perpetually numb fingertips. To us climbers, that usually means we either give in to the sterile siren song of the climbing gym, turn in our rock shoes for ski boots, or go full masochist and pick up ice tools to tide us over until our screaming barfies resign and our frozen fingers thaw. But, fear not. While your Rumney project is snowed-in, other climbing areas are coming into their prime, if you can escape the Northeast to check them out. So, take a winter vacation, dig your rock shoes back out, and sample some of the best winter climbing destinations in North America.

Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

The American Southwest & Mexico

The American Southwest is undoubtedly the best place to go. Plentiful sun and mild temperatures will melt away your icy Northeastern core. Whether you’re a new boulderer just getting your feet wet or a hardened tradster who isn’t ready to sacrifice your fingers and toes to the ice climbing gods, the Southwest is open to a lifetime of trips.

Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

Joshua Tree National Park, CA

The former stomping grounds of climbing legends like John Bachar and John Long, Joshua Tree’s rock formations beg to be climbed. The park is home to roughly 5,000 routes, so its variety really shines. Bring your crack skills and your rack, because you’re inside a wonderland of rocks. World-class bouldering also intermingles with trad climbing here, for those who want to stay closer to the ground.

Lodging can be had in the town of Joshua Tree, but if you really want to immerse yourself in the rock, get a spot at either Ryan or Hidden Valley Campground and walk to these world-class climbs. On rest days, go exploring the labyrinths of rock, or check out the multitude of day hikes and short loops. Don’t miss the Cholla Cactus Garden at sundown or the views of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts from atop Ryan Mountain.

Classics:

  • Double Cross (5.7+, trad)
  • Sail Away (5.8, trad)
  • White Rastafarian (V2 R)
Credit: Hayden Bove
Credit: Hayden Bove

Red Rock Canyon, NV

Its placement right outside Las Vegas makes Red Rocks a perfect winter getaway. The beautiful sandstone peaks provide ample opportunities for every sort of climber. If you’re a boulderer, check out the Kraft Boulders for concentrated bouldering, or venture deep into the canyons for a solitary experience. Sport routes are ample throughout the area, especially in Calico Basin and The Black Corridor, where great lines are just an arm’s length apart.

For the adventure climber, Red Rocks is a no-brainer, as it offers routes over 1,000 feet tall for full-day outings on bomber, well-protected rock. Stay at the nearby campground, snag a local Airbnb, or go all-out and hit the Strip to try to make back that money you spent on new cams. Rain is infrequent in this area, especially compared to the East, but if there is precipitation, be sure not to climb until the rock has fully dried to preserve the routes.

Classics:

  • Solar Slab (9 pitches, 5.6, trad)
  • Epinephrine (13 pitches, 5.9, trad)
  • Levitation 29 (9 pitches, 5.11b, mixed)
Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

Bishop, CA

A favorite among climbers, this unassuming town on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada is California’s most concentrated climbing hotspot, packed with sport destinations, world-famous bouldering areas, and alpine granite masterpieces.

The steep-walled Owens River Gorge cuts through hundreds of feet of volcanic tuft. As such, the sport climbs here are long and pumpy, favoring endurance over all else. Despite sharing the same rock as the gorge, the boulders on the Volcanic Tablelands offer more gymnastic movement, involving pockets and overhanging features. It stays much warmer here than any other climbing area in Bishop, so it’s a great option when the temperature drops.

Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

The real crown jewel, though, is the Buttermilks. These granite monoliths sit below the imposing Mount Tom on the edge of the Owens River Valley. They have a reputation as only a location for highball bouldering, but that isn’t true. Rather, there are classic climbs for people of all comfort levels.

The town is full of climbers, van-dwellers, and vacationers alike. Check into one of the hotels in town or make use of the Pleasant Valley Campground at only $2 a night. Being only 45 minutes from Mammoth means that you could be bouldering at the Buttermilks in the morning, and make it to Mammoth Mountain for some fresh Sierra powder by lunch.

Classics:

  • Heavenly Path (V1)
  • Jedi Mind Tricks (V4)
  • High Plains Drifter (V7)
Courtesy: Visit El Paso
Courtesy: Visit El Paso

Hueco Tanks, TX

The birthplace of American bouldering is a winter destination that still holds up to this day. Much has changed since the legendary John Sherman devised his V-grade scale here. Currently, two of the three areas, East and West Mountains, are closed to the public without a paid guide, due to a high concentration of sensitive pictographs. North Mountain is open without a guide, but climbers must make reservations in advance. Despite the red tape, it remains an awesome spot to spend a trip and provides a more private and pure experience than what you would find at places like Red Rocks.

Classics:

  • Ghetto Simulator (V2)
  • Moonshine Roof (V4)
  • Baby Face (V7)
Courtesy: Scarpa
Courtesy: Scarpa

El Potrero Chico, Mexico

Ever dream about doing Yosemite-esque, big-wall climbing with nothing but a stash of quickdraws? Dream no more, because, just south of the border, the small town of Hidalgo is a limestone paradise and more. Fly to Monterrey, Mexico, and catch a taxi, or punch it south from Laredo, Texas, for three hours to arrive in Hidalgo. Nearly everything is a sport line that is well-bolted and without crazy runouts, including 20-pitch big-wall routes.

If 2,000-foot epics aren’t in your wheelhouse, more reasonable multi-pitch outings and single-pitch cragging can be had all within a short walk or drive from town. Stay at one of the numerous campgrounds and climbers’ hangouts here, all with views of cliffs like Rancho el Sendero and Homero.

Classics:

  • Will the Wolf Survive? (4 pitches, 5.10a, sport)
  • Space Boyz (11 pitches, 5.10d, sport)
  • Gringo Disco (1 pitch, 5.11b, sport)

 

The Southeast

Long known for its outstanding climbing, Southeast sandstone is some of the finest anywhere. It’s perhaps best known as a fall destination because of places like Red River Gorge in Kentucky and New River Gorge in West Virginia, but drive a little further south towards Chattanooga and get ready to slap some Southern slopers through until spring. All of these destinations are close to each other, so hitting them all in one short trip is possible. Word to the wise: This is still the East we’re talking about, so it rains and will likely be chilly. Need a place to stay on your Southern journey, and you’re not into stealth camping? Hit up the Crash Pad in Chattanooga for a place to…crash, as well as pick up some beta on all the locations. It’s also a nice central location for all the bouldering in the area.

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Stone Fort (LRC), TN

Stone Fort (aka Little Rock City) has something for everyone: great, inspiring lines at all grades, slopers, crimps, highballs, and lowballs. The boulders are on a golf course, so park at the climbers’ specific lot and sign in at the clubhouse.

Classics:

  • Storming The Castle (V1+)
  • Mystery Machine (V3)
  • The Wave (V6)

Ricktown, GA

Rocktown, GA

More secluded than either Stone Fort or HP40, Rocktown is a newer area with fresh problems still being put up. The rock is similar to elsewhere in the Chattanooga area, with huecos, crimps, and a plethora of slopers leading to even more slopers and then to the top-outs. Free camping is possible in the lot for those looking for a longer-term visit or wanting to keep costs down.

Classics:

  • Ripple (V2)
  • Croc Block (V5)
  • Golden Shower (V5)

Horse Pens 40, AL

A remarkably dense boulder field that can be traversed in 10 minutes means there’s less approaching and more sending. Get your top-out pants on, because these routes are challenging and slopey. And, stock up on skincare materials—it’s like climbing on sandpaper here. HP40 is on private land in the foothills of the Southern Appalachians, so be sure to respect the owners. If you aren’t making use of the camping on site, pay your bouldering fee to ensure that we can continue to climb here. It’s less than two hours from Chattanooga, so it’s a good option to stay here for a few days at a time before returning to the other boulder fields nearer to the city.

Classics:

  • Bum Boy (V3)
  • Groove Rider (V5)
  • Popeye (V5)

The Legend of Mike Matty

There are 157 names on the wall, and we stood there, reading each one in an uneasy silence. This mountain—the one we were currently standing atop—has killed more than its fair share of hikers, climbers, and skiers.

The Sherman Adams Visitor Center’s double doors crashed open, blowing in near-hurricane-force winds and a bone-chilling cold. The man who walked in had a balaclava and ski goggles completely masking his face. The weather had turned overnight from cold-but-manageable to now dangerous, idling at around 25 degrees Fahrenheit, with wind speeds hitting 74 MPH. For a moment, everything seemed to stop, as this mysterious man strolled across the room with the weather appearing to have no effect on him. The rime ice that had been engineered onto the masked man’s shell jacket immediately started melting and dropping off behind him as he made his way to a bench.

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There weren’t any hikers or tourists up here today—the weather had turned them all away. So, I assumed he was with the state park. But, that didn’t make sense. I had become quite familiar with the team in the observatory after spending the night in their quarters, having dinner with them, and chatting it up about the weather, gear, Game of Thrones, and The Pats’ upcoming season. I didn’t recognize this guy, and the dayglow orange shell, trekking poles, and Black Diamond gloves were clearly not state-issued.

Sharon hustled over to him. “Hi…I’m Sharon,” she said in a hesitant tone that I hadn’t heard even a hint of since I’d met her the day before. As a Coast Guard commander prior to becoming the president of the Observatory, doubt wasn’t a part of her make-up. Earlier in the morning, she had been warning us that our descent down the Auto Road would be delayed, as they put chains on the Observatory van’s tires. And, there was absolutely no way she could allow our two store staff members, Amy and Eric, to hike back down the mountain. The site of this man calmly strolling in from the churning weather threw off her game a bit.

There was absolutely no way she could allow our two store staff members, Amy and Eric, to hike back down the mountain. The site of this man calmly strolling in from the churning weather threw off her game a bit.

“Yeah, I think my name is up on the wall, over there somewhere,” he said and casually strode over to a different wall made of blue name plates lining the stairs that went down to the museum for the Observatory’s top donors and members. His nonchalant attitude toward it added a new layer of curiosity. I turned and looked in the direction of his outstretched trekking pole. “Mike Matty” read the white lettering on the plate.

IMG_2339“Oh, welcome! I’m the president of the Observatory,” Sharon replied, smoothing her demeanor now that she knew the potential trespasser had literally paid his dues.

“We have the folks from EMS with us for an overnight. This is Tom,” she said as she introduced my boss.

“I’m surprised you made the trek, given the weather,” Tom commented, clearly still feeling the shock of this stranger ambling out of the roiling weather as if he were coming back from a walk in the park.

“That’s why I came up,” Mike deadpanned. “So, you work at EMS?” Mike asked Tom, our Vice President of Ecommerce and Marketing. “My nephew loves that store.”

I chuckled to myself, as I made my way over to windows in the rotunda. Outside, the rime ice flowered and grew seemingly out of nowhere, carried by the dense cloud enveloping the summit. I felt like I had woken up on a different planet. Not even 18 hours ago, our ascent up the Auto Road had been sunny, calm, and beautiful.

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“The home of the world’s worst weather” is a catchphrase Mount Washington has certainly earned. The hike up itself isn’t one the most dangerous or difficult. Rather, this 6,288-foot peak’s volatile conditions are the reason for those 157 names posted in the Adams Center.

The gusts whipping up over the western corner of the deck made it feel like you were stuck in the world’s worst washing machine. A 10-minute, 30-foot trek from the door to the corner and back had exhausted me.

Mount Washington is in a unique position. The highest point east of the Mississippi, it sits directly at the epicenter of a topographical funnel that compresses and accelerates the wind to such an extreme that the 231 MPH wind speed recorded at the summit in 1934 still stands today as the fastest-ever observed by man. It’s even said that the sheer force of the wind tore apart the measuring instruments. Only once was this record ever beaten, at an unmanned weather station in Australia in 1996.

“He’s climbed the seven peaks!” I thought I heard Amy squeal behind me to Eric. She excitedly handed her phone over for a picture with Mike. Amy’s sudden exuberance seemed odd, but I was more focused on the portentous conditions threatening to trap us on the summit. As Eric handed the camera back to her, Mike started reassembling his gear for the descent.

I thought about our earlier excursion out on the deck of the observatory. We had to gear up in MICROspikes to gain some semblance of traction, leaning into frigid, hurricane-force winds. The gusts whipping up over the western corner of the deck made it feel like you were stuck in the world’s worst washing machine. A 10-minute, 30-foot trek from the door to the corner and back had exhausted me.

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This guy had hiked all the way up in that, and was about to hike all the way back down, too. I shuddered. Mike adjusted his goggles before punching the exit door depressor. A 15-minute break had been enough to rest, dry off, and get warm before he plunged back into weather that would make the average person cower and yearn for their Uggs and a cozy Duraflame fire.

He was training for bigger things, searching for the conditions to match his more sizable feats, and found them on this windy New Hampshire peak more than 4.5 times smaller than Everest.

Sitting back at my desk on Monday, I couldn’t get the mysterious encounter with Mike out of my head. It was odd. Who was this guy? What did he mean when he said that the weather was the reason he hiked up? So, I did what any red-blooded, digitally inclined American would do.

To my slack-jawed, wide-eyed amazement, the Google results showed that Mike had indeed mastered the seven summits: Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Vinson in Antarctica, Kosciuszko in Australia, Elbrus in Europe, Denali in North America, Aconcagua in South America, and, the crown jewel of them all, Everest.

To Mike, the conditions on Mount Washington that day, September 1, were ideal. He was training for bigger things, searching for the conditions to match his more sizable feats, and found them on this windy New Hampshire peak more than 4.5 times smaller than Everest. The harsher the conditions were, the better his training.

Or, maybe that’s just how an outdoor masochist gets some exercise. Who knows.

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10 Stocking Stuffers Under $50 for the Ice Climber

Ice climbing is a notoriously expensive sport, demanding several big-ticket supplies. But, just like anything else, there are a handful of smaller, less-expensive items that are essential to any day spent kicking and swinging. And, they make perfect stocking stuffers, too. So, here are 10 pieces of rad gear that every ice climber on your list will love, and as they’re all for $50 or less, they’ll easily fit into your holiday budget.

1. Hand Warmers

To have fun ice climbing, staying warm is key. A box of Yaktrax Hand Warmers offers an easy, inexpensive solution for the problem of cold hands, and they can be tucked away into a first aid kit for those just-in-case moments.

Courtesy: Black Diamond
Courtesy: Black Diamond

2. Headlamp

Darkness comes early during the winter, and it’s not hard to get caught climbing as the sun sets. Headlamps like the Black Diamond Spot are super-bright, extremely small, and saviors when the day’s last light disappears.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

3. Thermos

Bringing a hot beverage in a thermos, like the Hydro Flask Wide Mouth, is a great way to stay warm. Durable enough to handle being shoved into a pack filled with sharp, pointy things and insulated enough for cold New England winters, the Hydro Flask is a welcome addition to any ice climber’s kit.

4. V-Thread Tool

Nothing kills a day on the ice like struggling, after all the climbing is over, to line up two 20cm screws to rappel home. Make sure your climber doesn’t have to deal with that with the Black Diamond First Shot. Open the arms and use the slots as a guide to line up your screws on the first every time, then use the metal hook to help feed the rope through. Feeling confident and safe in your rappel has never felt so easy.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Gloves

Ice climbers’ gloves also take a beating over the course of a winter. From getting dragged across ice and rock to handling sharp tools, screws, and crampons, the life of the typical climbing glove is a difficult one. The Marmot Basic Work Gloves offers the needed dexterity and is built to withstand harsh conditions.

6. Cordelette

Your climber probably spends a lot of time hanging from relatively thin pieces of cord. Since a cordelette needs to be replaced every other season, odds are your climber needs a new one. Keep your climber happy—and around for another holiday—with a Petzl cordelette.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Slings

Just like with their cordelettes, many ice climbers are slow to replace their slings. To help them celebrate safety this holiday, why not gift some lightweight and durable double-length Black Diamond runners to replace a few of their older, more tattered slings?

8. Socks

A good pair of socks is one of those things ice climbers love to have but hate to buy. A timeless classic, the Smartwool Mountaineer Extra Heavy Crew Socks are made for people who spend long days out in the cold. Give them the gift they won’t get themselves.

9. Neck Gaitor

You don’t realize how handy a warm neck gaitor is until you own one. Built from super-warm 100-weight microfleece, the EMS Classic 200 Fleece Gaitor is tailor-made for ice climbers, keeping your neck warm and ice from falling into it, without restricting your movement.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

10. EMS Gift Card

If all else fails, an EMS gift card is always appreciated. Your climber can put it toward one of those pricier items or a guided climb on one of the Northeast’s classic lines with the EMS Climbing School.

 

Of course, these are just a few of the most popular items for ice climbers at a stocking-level budget. For more great suggestions, swing into any of our EMS stores and ask for the staff ice climber—or look for the person with the red cheeks. And, if you think of something we didn’t, leave your recommendations in the comments!


Gifts for Girls Who are "One of the Guys"

Whenever I do anything outdoors, I’m almost always the only girl in the group. This means I’ve had plenty of time over the years to figure out the best gear to help me either keep up or kick butt. So, if you’re shopping for a girl who often finds herself in the same situation, here’s a list of things I use to make hanging out with a bunch of dudes easier and more fun.

Courtesy: Ashley Peck
Courtesy: Ashley Peck

Climbing: Petzl Elia Climbing Helmet

I was tired of a helmet that only sat on my head properly if my ponytail was in just the right spot. The boys were also tired of waiting for me to fix my hair before or after each climb. A few years ago, I received the Petzl Elia as a gift, and this problem hasn’t been an issue since! Other companies “girl-ify” helmets by simply making them in prettier colors, but taking it a step further, Petzl developed a headband that actually accommodates a ponytail in multiple positions. It also weighs just 10 ounces and adjusts to fit any head perfectly. So, your climber girl will probably forget she’s even wearing it and will have an extra-safe hike back to the car after a day of cragging.

Hiking and Camping: GoGirl Female Urination Device

I wouldn’t say I’ve ever wished I was, um, “built like a man.” But, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of how much easier it is for my male hiking partners to heed nature’s call when we’re out on the trail. If the lady hiker on your list has ever complained about popping a squat in the woods, treat her to a GoGirl this holiday! Not only does it have a fun name (if you ignore the medieval-sounding “Female Urination Device” part of it), but it also helps level the pee-playing field and virtually eliminates the risk of getting poison ivy in unfortunate places.

Courtesy: Ashley Peck
Courtesy: Ashley Peck

Biking: CamelBak Women’s L.U.X.E. Hydration Pack

It might just be that my husband and his friends are crazy people, but they hate taking breaks during a bike ride. If I start to get hangry while we’re mountain biking, they’ll cave and let me take a quick food break. However, I wouldn’t stand a chance of staying properly hydrated without my Camelbak Women’s L.U.X.E Hydration Pack. If the biker chick on your list has to keep up with the boys, or if she’s the ambitious one who doesn’t like to stop, make sure she stays sufficiently watered out on the trail with this super-comfy pack that holds enough fluid to ride for hours on end.

Skiing: DryGuy Green HEAT 2-in-1 Heater

Just because the weather gets cold that doesn’t mean the outdoors-woman will stop adventuring. It does, however, mean she might need some extra help staying warm. Whenever I’m skiing, snowboarding, or winter hiking with the boys, it always seems like I’m the only one whose hands are freezing, no matter how nice my gloves or mittens are. Hand-warmer packs help a little, but the DryGuy GreenHEAT 2-in-1 Heater is the BEST. It’ll warm your snow sister’s hands instantly, recharge her phone (or headlamp), and help the planet by reducing hand-warmer waste—making it a win-win-win.

Courtesy: MTI Adventurewear
Courtesy: MTI Adventurewear

Paddling: MTI Moxie PFD

Don’t let your water woman settle for any ol’ life jacket. She may have to wait a few months to use it, but when she unwraps a made-for-her PFD like the MTI Moxie this holiday, she’ll be happier than a seagull with a french fry. What makes the Moxie so comfy is its Adjust-a-Bust fit System—certainly giggle-worthy every time she and her guy friends get on the water. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Courtesy: Mountainsmith
Courtesy: Mountainsmith

All of the Above: Mountainsmith Sixer

If all else fails, the Mountainsmith Sixer is always a safe bet. For a girl who’s one of the guys, you can be sure of one thing: Beers are a staple of every adventure. And, if the mountain maven you’re shopping for is the one who supplies the cold brews at the end of the day, she’ll always be the boys’ favorite bro.


Explore Like A Local: Getting the Most of Fall in Burlington, VT

For this installment of Explore like a Local, we visited Burlington, Vermont, just as fall took hold. With its cool nights and warm days, we found this to be the perfect time of year to get outside and get after it. We packed in as many adventures as we could, but found ourselves wishing we had more time (isn’t that always the case when you’re having fun?). Given all of the possible activities in town and within a short drive, we just scratched the surface of this area—all the more reason to go back soon.

About Burlington

Located in Northwest Vermont, Burlington is nestled alongside Lake Champlain with roughly 43,000 residents, making it the most populous city in the state. The city has a distinct outdoor and progressive vibe along with a bustling restaurant scene and a busy pedestrian-only area on Church Street. The University of Vermont and Champlain College are both located here and contribute to the energy of the city. The city is served by a convenient airport and a major interstate (I-89), so getting here is easy.

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Activities

Cycling (Spring to Fall)

In Town—Activity Level: Easy

The Island Line Trail sits along the waterfront and heads north into Colchester. If you didn’t travel with your bike, head down to Local Motion and rent a bike directly on the path. The bike path is paved and almost completely flat. Approximately 35 minutes out of town, you’ll reach the amazing Colchester Bike Causeway (gravel, not paved). Ride directly out into Lake Champlain on an old rail causeway. Complete the trip out to the island community of South Hero by taking a bike ferry across a 200-foot gap, left open for boat traffic.

Stowe—Activity Level: Easy to Exhilarating

If you are seeking more challenging terrain, drive over to Stowe and the Cady Hill Forest Trail (on Mountain Road, not far from the intersection with Route 100). You’ll find a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced singletrack trails. The trails are generally smooth and windy, with some quad-burning climbs.
EMS-Burlington-MtMansfield-9124

Hiking/Backpacking (Late Spring to Fall)

Mt. Mansfield—Activity Level: Easy

For some of the prettiest views around, drive to Stowe and pay the $23 fee (+$8 per each additional passenger) to head up the Auto Toll Road. Follow the twisting road to a parking lot on the summit ridge, next to the visitors’ center. From there, hike 1.3 miles (600-foot elevation gain) along the Long Trail to the summit. Bring sunscreen, because you’ll be on exposed rocks for much of the way. Look for the geological survey marker in the stone at the tip of the summit. Fun Fact: For those who have skied at Stowe, the Green Trail “Toll Road” is actually the Toll Road that one drives up in the summer and fall!

Sterling Mountain—Activity Level: Moderate (Difficult if wet)

Sterling serves as one of the three peaks at Smugglers’ Notch Ski Resort. Hiking up the backside of the mountain in late spring, summer, or fall is a terrific way to access Sterling Pond, which sits a stone’s throw from the top of the Smuggs’ lift. The trail is steep in most spots and is slippery when wet. It’s 2.5 miles out-and-back with a 1,066-foot elevation gain. We hiked up pre-dawn with headlamps to catch the sunrise over the pond—well worth the effort, I can tell you. The views are spectacular, at sunrise and otherwise. Campers are welcome at the pond; there’s a lean-to that can accommodate approximately 10 folks, but not too many flat surfaces for tents.

To access the trail, head up Mountain Road (Rt. 108) from either the Smuggs or Stowe side and park in the parking lot at the top of the notch. The trailhead is directly across the street from the information station.

EMS-Burlington-Bouldering-1199

Cave Exploring and Bouldering (Late Spring to Fall)

Both activities are accessible from the parking lot at the top of the notch on Mountain Road (same as above). Huge boulders have fallen from the mountains over the ages and are known as the Smuggler’s Notch Boulders.

Cave Exploring—Activity Level: Easy

Just steps from the parking lot, caves have been formed within the clusters of boulders. Wander in and out of the spaces and marvel at the size of the boulders. A few of the more amazing spaces require a bit of scrambling to access the interior.

EMS-Burlington-MtnBike-9925

Bouldering—Activity Level: Difficult

Bring your crash pads and get after the amazing boulders of Smuggler’s Notch. Situated on either side of Mountain Road, the boulders present a range of difficulty levels. Pick your problem and go about solving it. Just make sure to have a spotter or two along for the adventure. It’s really amazing to see folks climbing the boulders just steps from the beautiful twists and turns of Mountain Road. A group of cyclists took a break to watch us and others work on the rocks.

EMS-Burlington-MtMansfield-0955

Rock Climbing (Late Spring to Fall)

Bolton Valley—Activity Level: Difficult

The Lower West Bolton area is a popular climbing spot in Bolton Valley, located just off Route 2 on Notch Road. It can be busy after work or on weekends in the warmer months. Take your pick between leading a route or top-roping. An easy trail leads to the top if you prefer to top-rope, and large trees and bolts are available to serve as anchors. The difficulty of routes ranges from 5.5 to 5.10b.

Skiing (Winter)

Activity Level: Easy to Exhilarating

There are five terrific options for skiers (four for riders) within an hour’s drive from Burlington. Stowe Mountain Resort is the largest of the bunch and draws the most visitors per year. With 116 trails and 485 acres of skiable terrain, Stowe has something for everyone. Smugglers’ Notch backs up to Stowe and covers three mountains. The main draw for Smuggs, as it is affectionately known, is the wonderful children’s program. Top-notch instruction, coupled with wholesome and educational entertainment, has earned Smuggs a well-deserved reputation as a top destination for families.

Mad River Glen caters to a different crowd with their “Ski it if you can” mantra. With some of the toughest terrain in New England and a skier-only policy (sorry, boarders), Mad River Glen has a cult following among experienced skiers.

Less well known is the terrific and affordable Bolton Valley. Only 25 minutes from town, it boasts 71 trails over three peaks. The closest resort to town is Cochran’s Ski Area. While it’s the smallest of the five, it’s perfect for families with small children. It’s only 15 minutes from downtown Burlington and serves as a learning mountain for little and big ones alike.

EMS-Burlington-Farmhouse-1842

Dining

The Skinny Pancake ($)

For breakfast and brunch, you need to visit The Skinny Pancake. I have two words for you: Noah’s Ark. Just order it. Trust me on this one; I wouldn’t steer you wrong (you’re welcome). The good folks at The Skinny Pancake have developed an ingenious menu, centered around crepes, that features sweet, savory, and healthy offerings, allowing this establishment to stay busy from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Vermont Pub and Brewery ($$)

Comfort food writ large. Find all of the classics (shepherd’s pie, wings, meat loaf, etc.) paired with terrific beers brewed on site. The house-made, flavored seltzers were a hit, as well. Just what you need after a long day of adventure, without breaking the bank.

The Farmhouse ($$$)

For a top-notch meal, look no further than The Farmhouse. Order communal appetizers and watch them disappear in mere moments as people figure out how damn good everything is. Better not be in the bathroom! Our visit in late September corresponded with local Oktoberfest celebrations, and The Farmhouse had filled three chalkboards with different types of märzen lagers for the occasion. And, speaking of chalkboards, we may or may not have taken over one of the boards and added a little #goEast artwork.

EMS-Burlington-Farmhouse-1887


Crawford Notch Slab Climbs for Fall Foliage

Fall is the perfect opportunity for rock climbers to take advantage of the cool air and increased friction, escape the White Mountain crowds, and do a little high-angle leaf peeping. And, those seeking out moderately-rated routes and great views won’t need to look any further than the slab climbs found in and around Crawford Notch.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Central Slab on Mt. Webster

Mt. Webster’s Central Slab has some of the region’s best climbs. Popular moderates—Lost in the Sun, Direct, and A Bit Short—all go at 5.6 or less and have bolted cruxes and belay anchors. About 1,000 feet long, each offers bird’s-eye views of Crawford Notch, Willey’s Slide, and, in the distance, the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Even better, the 30- to 40-minute uphill approach is such a good crowd deterrent that you’ll rarely encounter too many parties.

For first-time visitors, acing the approach might be more of a challenge. If you’re coming from Conway, park in a small dirt pullout on Route 302, just after the Willey House on the left. Climbers coming from the I-93 side of 302 should use the slab itself as a reference, as the pullout is almost directly across. From here, walk across the street and cross the Saco River. Orange ribbons and small cairns lead you uphill on a climbers’ path into the approach gully and the base of the climb. Pro Tip: Leave some post-climb beers in the Saco to chill.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lost in the Sun and Direct both leave from the toe, while A Bit Short starts a little up on the right. All three climb interesting slab, interspersed with some fun flakes and overlaps on mostly clean rock. Every belay station offers great views, but be sure to check out the flattish one at the end of Lost in the Sun and Direct. Here, sit down, take off your climbing shoes, have a snack, and soak in the expansiveness of Crawford Notch’s foliage, before you transition to the rappel. Note: The route requires two ropes, and there is no walk-off.

In terms of gear, first-timers should bring a standard rack up to two inches, along with a few doubles of smaller cams. As well, some of the pitches—especially on Direct—have several bolts. So, to prepare, consider adding multiple quickdraws to your normal assortment of runners and alpine draws.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The West Wall of Mt. Oscar

If long approaches are a turn-off, then check out Mt. Oscar’s West Wall, home to New Hampshire’s most European approach. Simply park at the Bretton Woods ski resort, walk 100 yards to the chairlift, and take it ($5 per person) to the top. From here, hike west on a gravel road for 10 minutes towards the West Mountain summit, enter the woods, and turn left at a wooden sign for West Wall. Then, walk downhill through a pine forest for 10 to 15 minutes to the wall’s base.

The 300-foot tall West Wall has about nine multi-pitch routes ranging in difficulty from 5.4 to 5.7. The slab climbing is fun, with bolts where you want them and generally good gear interspersed. Moreover, it’s a great place to take less-experienced leaders. Specifically, the pitches are short, and every belay station includes bolted anchors with rap rings. However, the shade-induced dampness does make the climbs’ first 10 feet a little slippery.

Once you get above the second pitch, make sure to turn around and enjoy the wilderness behind you. From left to right, you’ll see Mt. Tom, Zealand Notch, the Pemigewasset Wilderness, Mt. Hale, and the Sugarloafs. As you climb higher, look for Mt. Carrigain looming in the distance.

Most West Wall climbs eventually converge into Guides Route, which becomes markedly easier on the fourth and fifth pitches. As a result, many try a route’s first few pitches, rappel to the ground, and then head back up another route. When you’re done, simply keep climbing up Guides Route, until you can scramble on third-class slabs to the West Mountain summit. From there, savor the views as you unrope and pack your gear for the short hike back to the chairlift.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Main Slab of Mt. Willard

Mt. Willard’s two-tiered slab looms as one of Crawford Notch’s most prominent landmarks. Home to some of the Whites’ first technical climbing, this is the place for fantastic views and fun, history-steeped routes.

To get to Willard’s Main Slab, park on Route 302 at the dirt pullout just south of the Silver Cascade parking lot. A well-tread trail leaves from the back, heading directly uphill to Hattie’s Garden and a railroad track. Turn right, and follow the track for five to 10 minutes to the loose gully that climbs up to main slab’s bottom left side. Pro Tip: Put your helmet on here. Hugo’s Horror Revisited, the slab’s “easiest” route, begins here. The starts for two other popular routes—Time-Space Continuum and Across the Universe—are along the climbers’ path to the right.

Compared to similarly-rated routes on West Wall and Central Slab, the climbing on Willard is stout. Further, although you’ll find some bolts in between the bolted anchors, the runouts sometimes feel spicy, and you won’t always find good gear in between. Some loose, crumbly rock on a couple segments also complicates matters.

All that said, the view down is unparalleled, especially during peak foliage season. Mt. Webster’s slabs command it to the southeast, soaring above the Saco River and Route 302 to the notch’s southern end. In the west, Mt. Willey’s forest and slides reach 4,000 feet in elevation.

 

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

There is much to love about climbing in Crawford Notch, and in the fall, these crags get even better, as the bugs go away and friction improves. Best of all, after a rope-length or two, you’re far removed from the leaf-peeping masses and get rewarded with a view that beats anything they’re seeing down below.