Video: First Teaser for The Dawn Wall

In January 2015, the world held its breath as Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson worked at the first free ascent of El Capitan’s notoriously difficult Dawn Wall. But for Caldwell, the climb was more than simply a six-year effort. This video is just a taste of what we’ll be looking for in the full film, coming later this year.


5 Hikes That Will (Almost) Make You Forget You Started The Day in New York City

New York City has just about everything. The great outdoors, however? Not so much.

If you’re like me, escaping the concrete jungle and its outer reaches every few weeks is a must. There’s no better way to do that than by lacing up my hiking boots and exploring some new terrain.

In fact, you may be surprised by all the opportunities around the New York metropolitan area. From a “surprise” lake in North Jersey to a killer rock scramble up the New York State Thruway, here are five day hikes to get you out of Manhattan and back into nature.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

1. Storm King Mountain (Cornwall-On-Hudson, New York)

Never climbed a mountain before? That’s okay. This is the perfect trip to get your hiking legs under you.

Storm King Mountain in Cornwall rises only 1,340 feet above sea level, but packs sweeping views of the Hudson River, Hudson Highlands, and the Catskill Mountains. At 2.5 miles roundtrip and only one hour and 15 minutes from Midtown, it’s a fine alternative to Breakneck Ridge, its overcrowded cousin across the river.

Set out from the parking lot along the northbound lanes of Route 9W, and pick up the orange-blazed trail at the lot’s north end. But, be ready. You’ll be sweating almost immediately as you quickly gain elevation when climbing over the exposed rock.

Follow the orange trail markers to the yellow/blue-blazed trail, which will take you to the summit. Stop and take in the view over lunch before heading back to the parking lot along the white-blazed trail.

If you’re thirsty after conquering Storm King Mountain, be sure to stop off at Industrial Arts Brewing Company, a fantastic brewery housed in a pre-Civil War era warehouse in Garnerville, New York. It’s just a quick 30-minute drive south on Route 9W.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

2. Bald Mountain (Stony Point, New York)

If you’ve done much hiking in the New York metropolitan area, chances are you’ve spent some time in either Harriman or Bear Mountain State Park. Bald Mountain, located in the latter, is a short but steep hike that leads to a wonderful view of the Hudson River and surrounding landscapes.

At just over three miles roundtrip, this out-and-back hike gains more than 1,100 vertical feet before giving way to a rocky, mostly bald summit that overlooks the iconic Bear Mountain Bridge and surrounding highlands.

Expect about an hour-and-15-minute drive from Midtown Manhattan. Park along Route 9W north across from the Ramapo-Dunderberg and Doodletown Brook trailhead. From the road, follow the blue-blazed Cornell Mine Trail for 1.45 miles—here’s where you’ll be doing most of your climbing—before turning right onto the red/white blazes of the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail. Then, you’ll need to do just a bit more climbing before hitting your payoff at the top of Bald Mountain. Head back the way you came.

If you’re looking for another post-hike haunt, check out the Peekskill Brewery on the east side of the Hudson River. But, be prepared, as it’s often packed with hikers on weekends.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

3. Bearfort Ridge to Surprise Lake (West Milford, New Jersey)

Hike to the remote Surprise Lake near the New York/New Jersey border, and enjoy a refreshing swim on a hot summer day, all just an hour from Midtown.

For non-hikers, this will be a challenging but rewarding adventure. At just under six miles, it has a little bit of everything: plenty of up and downs along the Bearfort Ridge, occasional rock scrambling, a rhododendron tunnel, and, of course, Surprise Lake.

Park in one of two small pullouts along Warwick Turnpike (near the intersection with White Road) in West Milford, New Jersey. Then, enter the forest just east of the barely-noticeable concrete bridge. Start on the white-blazed trail, and hike for about three miles, before picking up the yellow-blazed trail. Follow this path to the rhododendron tunnel, located at the 3.3-mile mark right before you reach Surprise Lake.

After a swim and some lunch, head back to the road along the orange-blazed trail. If you’re still sucking wind, don’t worry. The return trip will be far flatter and less challenging than the hike up.

Credit: Jorge Quinteros
Credit: Jorge Quinteros

4. Bonticou Crag (Gardiner, New York)

If a true rock scramble is what you seek, this is the hike you’ll want.

Bonticou Crag in the Mohonk Preserve near New Paltz, New York offers a short yet physical challenge for anyone wanting to use all fours on their next outing. Atop this jagged boulder field is a sunbaked summit–more of a ridgeline, actually–equipped with stunning views of the surrounding Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains.

While you have many route options within the preserve, climbing Bonticou Crag before continuing to Table Rocks makes for a nice six-mile outing.

As a word of caution, this hike is not for small children and non-hikers. You’ll need to use some upper body strength while completing the 20-minute rock scramble, but it’s an exciting challenge to tackle. Also, be prepared to pay a $15 fee per hiker.

Credit: Patrick Villanova
Credit: Patrick Villanova

5. Hunter Mountain (West Kill, New York)

I know what you’re thinking: I’m not driving 2.5 hours to go hiking!

It’s a long ride, yes, but if you’re really in need of a break from the city, Hunter Mountain and the stunning view from its fire tower make for a great experience. Get an early start, because at the end lies one of the Catskills’ best pound-for-pound hikes.

At eight miles roundtrip and with approximately 1,900 feet of elevation gain, Hunter is certainly the most ambitious on this list. It’s one of the Catskills’ only two 4,000-foot mountains, but well worth the effort and time it takes to get there.

Park in the first of two lots near the end of Spruceton Road. Then, ascend the mountain on the blue-blazed horse trail, which passes through a dense and fragrant conifer forest en route to the summit. It’s about 3.1 miles to the top, but once you’re there, you will be greeted by one of the Northeast’s tallest fire towers. While the summit is technically flat and forested, the fire tower offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. For my money, it’s the Catskills’ best view.

After you’re done taking in the scenery, make your way down by following the yellow blazes, which lead to the red-blazed trail. During your descent, you will pass through more of the lush conifer forest before reaching the Devil’s Acre shelter. Stop there for a quick break, but don’t dilly-dally. Less than a mile from the end of the hike, you’ll have the chance to cool off at Diamond Notch Falls, a pair of 15-foot waterfalls just off the red-blazed trail.

When you reach the end, walk back along Spruceton Road for a few minutes to return to the parking lot. But, before heading back to the New York State Thruway, be sure to stop at the West Kill Brewery, just a mile from the trailhead, to celebrate bagging the Catskills’ second-tallest mountain. You’ve earned it.


3 New Hampshire 4,000-Footers That Everyone Avoids

It’s too long, it’s too far out of the way, it’s too flat, and it’s too hard are just a few of the reasons people give when somebody suggests hiking Owl’s Head, Mount Isolation, or Mount Cabot. But, hikers putting off these three New Hampshire 4,000-footers are missing out. Here’s what to tell your friends next time they start making excuses for skipping these hidden gems.

Crossing a stream en route to Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck
Crossing a stream en route to Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck

It’s too long!

We get it. Owl’s Head and Isolation are long hikes. Indeed, the normal route on Owl’s Head—the Lincoln Woods Trail to the Franconia Falls Trail to the Lincoln Brook Trail and up Owl’s Head Path—is roughly 18 miles long, while Isolation involves an approximately 14.5-mile round trip via the Rocky Branch Trail, Isolation Trail, and Davis Path.

But, don’t let the length of these hikes deter you. Isolation’s summit rewards hikers with some of the White Mountains’ best views. Seriously, please forgive us for not including Isolation in this piece. Although the same can’t be said for the tree-enclosed summit of Owl’s Head, the hike itself takes you into the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, one of the coolest places in the White Mountains. Moreover, the majority of the terrain isn’t very challenging, so you’ll barely notice the effort—at least until you begin climbing the Owl’s Head slide.

Looking north from near Cabot's summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking north from near Cabot’s summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland

It’s too far away!

At approximately 10 miles round trip, the hike up and down Cabot seems “too long.” So, expect your buddy instead to claim that it’s too far out of the way—and they’ll have a good point. Cabot is out of the way, with the normal route beginning at the Berlin Fish Hatchery, about 30 minutes north of Berlin. It’s a long way, especially for out-of-staters.

But, here’s the thing. The drive deters everybody else as well, so you won’t encounter the hordes typically on the Whites’ most popular mountains. Also, Cabot is a great hike, weaving through a hardwood forest to a ridgeline with intermittent views of northern New Hampshire’s mountains.

Nearing Owl Head's mediocre summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Nearing Owl Head’s mediocre summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

But, you only get one summit

Since Cabot, Owl’s Head, and Isolation stand alone, they’re difficult to combine with other peaks. So, we totally get it if your Type-A peakbagging buddy throws some shade on your suggestion to hike one of these summits. But, here’s where you need to remind your buddy to look at a map. The Presidential Traverse, Pemi Loop, and Franconia Ridge aren’t the only routes that link multiple peaks.

Seeing that Cabot is a half-day outing for many, you can easily broaden the loop to add two peaks from the New Hampshire Hundred Highest List: the Bulge and the Horn. Another option is a point-to-point hike traversing Cabot and Waumbek, with a car stashed at the end for a quad-busting, 16-mile day with almost 5,000 feet of climbing. For the even more ambitious, there’s the Kilkenny Ridge Traverse, which extends the Cabot-Waumbek traverse another 11 miles north.

Options abound on Isolation and Owl’s Head, too. One interesting combination and big-mileage day can be found by summiting Isolation and then using the Davis Path to link up with the Southern Presidentials near Lake of the Clouds. After Isolation, much of the hike is above treeline with spectacular views. For Owl’s Head, consider making it part of a Pemi Traverse, beginning at Lincoln Woods, climbing Owl’s Head, and then exiting up and over Garfield.

Get creative, and you’ll discover a bunch of other interesting ways to tick these peaks off with other mountains. And, if all that doesn’t work, remind your buddy that hiking all three is essential to finishing all 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers and becoming a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Four Thousand Footer Club.

Mount Washington from Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington from Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck

They’re too flat

If you’re like us, when thoughts turn to peakbagging, images of stout climbs and exposed ridges spring to mind—not long grinds along flat trails through the forest, which is something that both Owl’s Head and Isolation have plenty of.

Of course, if you’re looking for bragging rights, those long, flat sections allow you to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. For example, Owl’s Head is just a few miles shorter than a Presidential Traverse, but can be done in a half-day by a fit hiker. Start early on a summer day, and you can be at an afternoon BBQ later, impressing your friends with the fact that you did an 18-mile hike and summited a 4,000-footer that morning.

Like Owl’s Head, most ascents of Isolation also start on the Rocky Branch Trail, an old logging road. Offering just under four miles of moderately graded terrain, the Rocky Branch Trail connects with the Isolation Trail for another relatively gentle two and a half miles. Unlike Owl’s Head, the terrain is less-conducive to moving fast. However, the climb’s gradualness allows hikers to spend an unusually long amount of time in various zones—you can almost feel the changes as you move up the mountain—and delivers a unique experience not found on many other 4,000-footers.

Franconia Ridge from Owl Head's slide. | Credit: Tim Peck
Franconia Ridge from the Owl Head’s slide. | Credit: Tim Peck

 

They’re just too hard!

Although the common routes to the summits of Owl’s Head, Mount Isolation, and Mount Cabot are far from the Whites’ most challenging, they are not without their difficulties. On Owl’s Head, hikers face a few formidable water crossings that stymie even experienced peakbaggers, and its slide’s reputation for being steep and loose is well deserved.

Likewise, hikers heading to Mount Isolation’s summit will encounter numerous water crossings. If you’re lucky enough to survive them with dry feet, conditions on the Isolation Trail typically vary between wet and muddy. Many hikers are left hoping that summit conditions will allow them to dry their shoes off for a few minutes while they take in the expansive view from the heart of the Dry River Wilderness (ironic, we know).

Finally, although Cabot presents comparatively lesser difficulties, watch for your friends to claim “It’s too hard to do in a day” because the drive is so long. If the drive really is too much to do in a day from where you live, you can turn Cabot into an overnight by staying at Cabot Cabin, 0.4 miles from the summit. And, if glamping is more your style, there’s car camping (free with your White Mountain Pass) right near the Fish Hatchery.

Have you avoided a mountain due to its reputation, only to eventually discover that you loved it? If so, tell us about it in the comments.


9 Tips for Taking Your Climbing from the Gym to the Crag

With ropes hung, routes marked, and a trained staff on hand to ensure safety, the rock gym is a great place to learn how to climb. But, pulling on plastic just isn’t the same as climbing on real rock, and many climbers eventually look to expand their horizons to local crags. If you’re considering taking your climbing outside this year but aren’t quite sure where to start, here are some things you need to know.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Pick Your Discipline, Then Get the Gear

Bouldering and top-roping are the main options for most new-to-the-outdoors climbers. Both styles involve some common gear, namely shoes and chalk, but also require some items specific to the activity. Thus, deciding on a style is an important initial step.

Bouldering is a popular way for gym climbers to transition outdoors, because it doesn’t require knowledge about anchor building or belaying. When bouldering, climbers use a crash pad, rather than a rope, to protect themselves when they fall. Bouldering crash pads come in a variety of sizes and styles, and it’s not uncommon to use multiple ones to protect your climb. Although bouldering requires less technical knowledge, the physical climbing encountered is often more difficult than what’s found on top-rope routes.

Climbers who have been top-roping in the gym can replicate that experience outside if they know how to build anchors and have the gear required to do so. The specific gear will vary between locations, but a static line, a few slings, a cordelette, and a handful of locking carabiners—larger carabiners like the Black Diamond RockLock Screwgate are great—will usually do the trick at areas with first-timer friendly setups. In addition to anchor-building gear, invest in a belay device, your own climbing rope, and a harness, if you’ve been relying on a gym rental. Top-ropers should also add a helmet to their kit, as time spent below a cliff exposes you to the threat of something being knocked down on you.

Some climbers who lead in the gym may also want to take the sharp end their first time climbing outside. For those looking to jump right into sport climbing, check out our sport climbing gear list.

2. Get the Guidebook

Doing some research before picking a destination saves a lot of time and aggravation. For example, does the area you’re planning on visiting have fixed anchors, or will you have to build your own? Guidebooks are a valuable resource for learning about what to expect at a climbing area, and offer up information on everything from where to park to what gear to bring. Although guidebooks are helpful, an internet search lets you broaden your knowledge of an area and get up-to-date information about access and conditions.

Pro Tip: If it’s your first time out, avoid routes that the guidebook says require trad gear (camming units and nuts) for building the top-rope anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Pick the Right Location

Choosing the right location for your first time climbing outside can make the difference between success and frustration. Boulderers will want to find spots with a wide variety of problems and safe landings. A few popular destinations for newer boulderers in the Northeast are Hammond Pond, just outside of Boston, Massachusetts; Lincoln Woods, a short drive from Providence, Rhode Island; and Pawtuckaway State Park, about 30 minutes from Manchester, New Hampshire. Fellow gym climbers can also be a great resource, so don’t hesitate to ask around the gym’s bouldering cave about nearby areas to visit.

New outdoor climbers looking to top-rope should seek out sites with easy setups. Ideally, the location will have a diverse grouping of climbs, easy access to the cliff top, and simple anchoring solutions. Greater Boston has a plethora of excellent crags for first-time top-ropers, including Hammond Pond, Quincy Quarries, Rattlesnake Rocks, College Rock, and Crow Hill. So, too, does Connecticut, with Ragged Mountain being a popular destination.

Pro Tip: A 75- to 100-foot static line is a great solution for when the guidebook recommends bringing “long slings” for top-rope anchors.

_W0A9226

4. Partner Up

No matter if you’re bouldering or top-roping, a good climbing partner is critical. Although bouldering can be a solitary sport, it’s much easier and safer (and more fun!) with a partner. A good bouldering partner spots you when you fall and moves the pads underneath you as you climb. They also are great for helping you decipher moves and keeping the stoke high.

A top-roping partner is essential, as they will literally be holding your life in their hands while belaying. In a perfect world, a new outdoor climber’s partner will have more experience and can serve as a mentor through the transition.

5. Don’t Set Your Expectations Too High

Although gym and outdoor climbing have many similarities, the transition may be challenging. For instance, the grades are harder. So, even if you’ve sent all the “hard stuff” indoors, don’t plan on crushing your first day on real rock. You’ll also need to re-train the way you think. Outdoors, the routes aren’t marked with brightly colored tape and may be difficult to follow. In addition, real rock holds may be hidden and may be greatly different from what you’ve encountered at the gym. Along with these points, indoor climbers often start to learn a gym’s holds. While the gym may change specific routes, climbers have likely gotten familiar with approaching particular holds.

6. If You’re Climbing on a Rope, Learn Some Basic Skills

If you’re going to be climbing on a rope, get familiar with some basic skills. Even something that you’ve been doing in the gym, like belaying, can be complicated outside due to hazards like rocks, uneven ground, and roots. Furthermore, if a climber is heavier than the belayer, the use of a ground anchor might be necessary. Speaking of belays, if you had to execute a belay escape, could you? To prepare, spend a few minutes at the end of each gym session to practice these skills before going outside.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Hit the Books (and Not the Guidebook)

Before heading to the crag, take a moment to hit the books, and brush up on the techniques and systems needed for outdoor climbing. A Falcon Guide: Toproping is one of many great books available to new outdoor climbers. For climbers interested in learning to advance their systems, in addition to their skills, to the next level, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills covers everything from basic to advanced topics in all climbing genres.

8. Safety is Critical

Whether you’re climbing inside or outside, the sport is dangerous. But, the outdoors has far more hazards to manage. Here are a few tips to keep you safe:

  • Close your top-rope system by tying a knot at the end of your rope. That way, you can’t lower the climber off the end.
  • Always be mindful about where the cliff edge is, especially when you’re setting up a top-rope anchor. Anchoring yourself in while building your anchor is a great way to stay safe.
  • Rocks break and nearby parties sometimes knock stuff off while they’re setting up. Wear your helmet even when you’re not the one climbing to protect your head.
  • Boulderers should scout the descent and be comfortable with it before committing to the climb.
  • For boulderers, falling is almost as important of a skill as climbing. Practice correctly falling—ideally, with slightly bent legs to absorb impact, and avoid leading with your hands to protect your shoulders, arms, wrists, and fingers—and spend some time identifying safe landing zones before you head up.

_Y7A8629

9. Take a Lesson

If you’re interested in getting outside but don’t feel confident doing it yourself, sign up for a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. In no time at all, the Climbing School’s AMGA-accredited guides will have you familiar with the fundamentals of building a top-rope anchor and mitigating outdoor climbing hazards.

Can you think of any other gym-to-crag tips? Share them in the comments!


Don't Be a Fool. Stop Doing These 10 Things While Climbing

Every year, we celebrate April 1st with practical jokes and hoaxes. But, if you’re practicing the following climbing habits, the joke’s on you. Here’s a list of 10 safety tips for you to employ this year, so that you’re not climbing like a fool.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. The end is near

It seems every year there’s another story about a climber making the foolish, dangerous, and potentially deadly mistake of rappelling off the end of their rope. Easily avoid this imprudent error by tying stopper knots at the ends or otherwise closing the system before you rappel.

2. Reckless rappelling

In addition to stopper knots, learning the right way to rappel can prevent you from looking like a fool. Start by extending your rappel device and using a third-hand back-up. Don’t know what we’re talking about? Here’s a good video from the AMGA showing the whole process.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Don’t lower your guard

These days, both sport climbs and ropes come in a wide variety of lengths, increasing the odds of making the misguided mistake of lowering your partner off the end. Make sure the joke isn’t on you by tying a stopper knot on the free end before you start climbing.

4. Crack jokes—not your head

Whether it’s falling debris from above or an impact during a fall, your head is exposed to all sorts of danger when you go rock climbing. Considering that helmets have gotten increasingly light and comfortable, in addition to protecting you from a potential head injury, you’d have to be a fool not to wear one at the crag.

Rapping-Lost-in-the-Sun

5. Does the trick every time

Sometimes, the oldest tricks work best. For example, the tried-and-true act of checking to make sure the climber’s knot is tied correctly and the belay is rigged properly before you leave the ground is an excellent way to avoid a joke that falls flat.

6. Aging antics

While some old tricks work great at the crag, old gear certainly doesn’t. We get it—climbing gear is expensive. But, risking serious harm or death over the cost of a sling, harness, or rope is more than foolish; it’s dumb. Learn about your gear’s lifespan and replace it accordingly. Not sure where to start? Check out our goEast article “When Should I Retire My Gear?”  

7. Cleaning anchors is no joke

A potentially catastrophic mistake commonly seen at the crag is climber-belayer miscommunication when cleaning anchors. Before hastily heading up a route, confirm your course of action with your belayer, and stick to the plan. Even better, stop being a clown, and learn the right way to clean an anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Buffoonery at the belay

There’s plenty of time for tomfoolery at the end of the day, and the real trick is getting everyone home safely. Since the belayer literally holds the life of the climber in their hands, all of the attention should be focused on them—not on clowning around at the base of the climb.

9. Don’t be a one-liner

Driving to the crag alone is awesome…April Fools! Don’t do this—it’s expensive, it’s bad for the environment, and most crag parking lots have a limited capacity. Try carpooling, even if it’s only for part of your drive. While you’re at it, check out these outdoor podcasts to keep the drive from getting monotonous.

10. The price of the put-on

Thinking that access, fixed gear, and keeping the crag clean just happen is the pinnacle of buffoonery. Consider donating to the Access Fund, or a local climbing association, like the Rumney Climbers Association or the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition. Better yet, volunteer for a cleanup day, or perform the ultimate stunt by practicing Leave No Trace.

 

Do you have a good tip to avoid being the crag jester? If so, we want to hear it! Leave it in the comments below.


The Day I Thought I Might Die

Zack asked me a pretty interesting question for the video this morning: “Are you scared?”

My answer was a bit of a surprise to me, but it would be the same as I write this now.

I’m not scared for me, per se. I’m not scared of getting sick, getting cold, getting blisters, or getting hit by a rock slide. I’m not scared of dying, not because the odds of summiting are low, and certainly not because I welcome death.

I’m afraid of failure. Not failing the summit. Who gives a crap? Four days ago, I spent an entire day with kids battling terminal illness. They are fighting for their lives, their families by their side.

I’m fighting for, all things considered, a fairly meaningless accomplishment. We’ll have about 20 porters carrying our stuff and setting up camps, and a guide to lead the way.

This isn’t chemotherapy. It’s not close.

I’m at ease about maybe not getting to the summit. Once my feet hit the trail tomorrow, I only have two options: up or down. I can’t control AMS, HAPE, or HACE, so I’m not afraid of them.

I’m afraid of letting my team down—this team with me and my Flowfold team back home. I’m afraid I pushed the limits of the crew with a 5.5-day ascent. I just don’t want to let anyone down. That’s really all I’m worried about.

Because that I can control.

Other than removing and cleaning up a few swear words (I apparently curse like a pirate when fatigued and stressed), this is verbatim from my journal, written during the trip. What you see below is exactly what I was thinking and feeling along the seven-day journey atop Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Sunday, March 4, 7:04 p.m.

High Camp, 12,539 feet

I thought I might die today.

But, I’ll get to that. Let’s start here: I summited. 19,341 feet. Check.

As predicted, I couldn’t sleep. At 10:30 p.m. last night, I took all my summit clothes that I had packed a few hours before and put them in my sleeping bag. I spooned them for about 15 minutes to get them warmed up. I got changed, packed up, and met the team for some tea, and we started our summit push around midnight.

It was a full moon but cloudy, so we went slow, working step by slow step under headlamps until around 6:30 a.m. By that time, we were meaningfully higher than we’ve ever been (I’d assume near 18,000 feet) but still hours away from the summit. It was right around then that I started to get emotional.

It had been a cold and dreadfully slow 6.5 hours, but the conditions were tough, and the mountain demanded difficulty. My toe warmers felt frozen at this point and may have been working against me. I was cold, very cold. But, as light started to hit the horizon, I turned behind me to see our porters lending a hand to other members of the Flowfold team by carrying their bags (on top of their own bags, mind you). They were holding the struggling climbers by the arms, encouraging them and even singing to them. I was blown away by the showcase of human spirit.

Although I had no signs of AMS [acute mountain sickness], several on the team were pushing themselves beyond the limits that any of us thought possible. It was was gut wrenching and heart warming at the same time. My heart broke for a member of our team who had to turn back. She fought so hard. Harder than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. I am amazed by her as I write this. But, the mountain was not worth her life. It was the right decision for her to turn back. It was a brave decision. Without the guides, I think two other climbers would have likely turned back with her. I’m not a spiritual person, but the guides were angels for us that day—myself included, as I would later find out.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

We continued to climb on well into the morning, until we reached Stella Point (18,885 feet). Although not the summit, this is effectively when the push is over. We had been told that it was just a short trek to Uhuru Peak, the true summit at 19,341 feet, and that Stella Point was the real challenge and even had the better views.

The views didn’t matter much. We summitted Uhuru in a whiteout and could basically only see the person’s heels in front of us. We all completely broke down in tears at this point. Zack was trying to interview me, but I was sobbing too hard to actually say anything. All I was able to get out was, “I’m just so proud of the team.” Then, I saw Matt crest the summit, porters by his side and Jerald, our head guide, singing to him. I walked over to him and embraced him with Chris and Adam. We stood there, holding Matt, all crying as he just kept on saying, “This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” I will never, in my life, forget this moment. I really hope Zack got it all on camera.

Up until this point, my climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro had been comparatively and relatively easy. But, I did not escape her without my own hardship. Ironically, everything went bad for me after I summited.

We took pictures at the summit but started heading down as quickly as we could. Conditions were worsening, and the normal six- to seven-hour summit push had taken us over 10. It was late to be on the summit, and we needed to get down, quickly.

I didn’t have goggles (the rainy season had come early, and no one was expecting conditions like this) and had to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from the blinding snow. But, because of that, I couldn’t wear my balaclava to protect my face. My sunglasses would fog up, leaving me blind. So, I had to decide: Do I protect my eyes or my face?

“Luckily” for me, I had sort of prepared for this. I had purchased a specific type of sunscreen designed for high-altitude mountaineering. It was supposed to shield my face from the sun and wind. The wind was sending snow directly into our faces at this point. It was unrelenting. So, I lathered my face and lips with the sunscreen. A thick coat. In a twisted case of irony, I had saved this sunscreen for this very moment. I hadn’t tested it before. This could have cost me my life.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

As I started walking back down towards Stella Point, I made it about 200 feet before my lips and face started to burn. And, then, my eyes started to water. And, then, my face started to swell up. I didn’t know what was happening, but when both of my index fingers (the fingers used to put the sunscreen on my face) became red and burned like my mittens were an oven, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was having a reaction to the sunscreen. I’m on top of a mountain at this point, 19,000 feet up, and when my lips started to swell up, I thought I might actually die. In my mind, I just assumed my throat was next or my eyes would swell up, and I wouldn’t get off the mountain.

Remember when I said there was something spiritual about Jerald? I don’t really understand this next part, but here goes. Jerald was never around me during this hike. He was always helping other people. I was in good shape for the whole hike, so he didn’t need to pay attention to me. But, as soon as I realized I was in trouble, I got myself off the trail. I took off my hat and my gloves, and I used the rest of the water to wash my face.

I used my hat to wipe off as much sunscreen as I could, but I didn’t have a towel or any wipes or anything, and it all still burned. My lips were still swollen, and I was still terrified. Then, out of nowhere, Jerald appears with a full jar of Vaseline. A whole thing of it. What was he doing with that on a summit day? I lathered it all over my face, and the burning and swelling started to go down. My heart rate relaxed, and I continued onto Stella Point.

But, I wasn’t out of the hot water yet. Not even close. It’s hard to describe Kilimanjaro. She was mean. She was equal parts stunning and wicked. Beautiful and conniving. It was freezing cold, windy, and snowing on the way up to the summit. But, here I am, 19,000 feet up, having an allergic reaction to sunscreen, and the weather turns. From Stella Point on, from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., it was the hottest I’ve ever felt in my life. I cannot describe just how uncomfortable it was. All of us took every layer off. Long johns, fleeces, hats, and gloves, it all came off. There was this strange haziness everywhere. You couldn’t see without your glasses on.

I couldn’t see the sun, but it was the brightest day I’ve ever seen. It was blinding, and we were completely exposed. We were prepared for bone-chilling cold. We didn’t have bandanas or flat-brimmed hats on us. We were on the trail roasting, for over three hours with no shade anywhere. We were 18,000 feet up. Trees don’t live up there. To make matters worse, my face was covered in Vaseline. As I write this, my lips are swollen, and I’m in a tremendous amount of pain. I’ve been told I don’t look good. I don’t know what I’ll look like in the morning or whether or not I’ll need medical attention. I’m in rough shape and I’m scared.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Monday, March 5, 6:04 p.m.

Aishi Machame Hotel

I don’t think I need medical attention. My lips feel like they have a mix of chemical burn and sunburn on them and are extremely painful. But, I was able to shower and wash my face off. At this point, the swelling has gone down, and I’m no longer dealing with the allergic reaction. I simply have to deal with the burn. I have the feeling it’s going to be an uncomfortable few days flying home.

I’ve had a little time to reflect at this point, and the overwhelming feeling I have now is gratitude. I’m about to go have our last dinner with the team, and I’m so grateful for them. I’m so proud of them. They all fought so hard. I’m likely done documenting at this point and plan to soak up any time I have left with the team.

Bottom line, we survived, and this has been the single greatest accomplishment of my life.

Time to go home.

 

Editor’s Note: James Morin is the COO and President of Sales at Flowfold. This post has been excerpted from his blog post documenting the climb. Read the full post here

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Three Crags for Early Spring Rock Climbing

With spring’s mild weather arriving early this year, it’s time to venture outside, and remember what it feels like to be on rock. If you’ve spent the winter pulling plastic or you’re simply excited to get outdoors, check out one of these excellent early-season climbing destinations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lincoln Woods, Rhode Island

Just minutes outside Providence sits Lincoln Woods State Park. Home to some of New England’s best bouldering, it’s a frequent first stop for many of the region’s climbers. Thanks to its southerly location, it’s rarely exposed to as brutal of a winter, often making the problems dry and climbable, while snow still buries other popular areas.

With various boulders scattered throughout, “The Woods” almost always has something to climb, no matter the conditions. In fact, it’s possible to do everything from chasing the sun to hiding from the wind or even avoiding an unexpected spring shower. Even better, because most of the park’s classic boulders are in close proximity, it’s easy to move between them in search of better conditions or a different grade. Just use the park’s loop road and a handful of well-developed climber paths.

In March and April, cool mornings and evenings provide the perfect temperatures for finding friction on the area’s granite boulders. Later, cool nights keep the bugs at bay. Further making The Woods a great early-season destination, the wide variety of problems, in terms of both style and grade, allows climbers to acquaint themselves with crimps, cracks, and slabs while gradually increasing the difficulty.

While bouldering might be the primary attraction here, Goat Rock has a small amount of top-roping. This roughly 30-foot tall cliff offers some easy slab climbing on its flank and some truly hard climbing on its steep, overhung face. If you are planning on top-roping here, either bring some trad gear or a long static line for anchor building, and beware of broken glass.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries, Massachusetts

Quincy Quarries is another fantastic early-season destination. Located just seconds from I-93 near Boston, it offers great single-pitch routes on solid granite, as well as a smattering of fun, moderate bouldering. And, just like Lincoln Woods, it is often dry and climbable well before the region’s other areas.

While the heartiest among us come here year round, the season really picks up in early March, when area climbers begin longing for “real rock.” During warm weeknights and weekends, you’ll often find locals sending the most popular routes on C Wall, K Wall, M Wall, and Knight Face. Most parties seem to top-rope a variety of routes during their sessions, moving around the crag from one easy-anchor setup to another. You’ll also encounter some solid trad climbing and even a few sport routes. Whichever style you choose, be forewarned. The grades are old-school, and the layers of graffiti covering the first 10 feet off the ground only make the routes harder.

As long as it’s sunny, the Quarries can deliver a great outing even on the coldest of spring days. The walls of Little Granite Railway Quarry, noted in the Boston Rocks guidebook as A-F walls, form a natural reflector oven, heating the surrounding area as much as 10 degrees above the ambient temperature. If you end up there on one of those days, definitely check out C Wall’s many top-ropeable routes.

Of course, because the Quarries is a multi-use urban park, the climbers tend to head elsewhere once areas to the north and west “open up.” But, this shouldn’t deter you from checking out the early-season scene. Moreover, once you’ve spent a day or two placing your feet on spray-painted nubbins, the friction everywhere else will feel fantastic.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pawtuckaway State Park, New Hampshire

Pawtuckaway State Park, or P-Way, in southern New Hampshire is best known for its bouldering. But, it’s also home to some fun top-roping and short-but-challenging trad climbing. Because of this, Pawtuckaway has become a popular destination. Generally, it’s the perfect place for getting in early-season pitches and problems while you wait for winter to leave and before the bugs arrive.

Top-ropers will want to visit P-Way’s Lower Slab for its selection of easy-to-set-up moderate climbs and the large open space at the bottom of the cliff. These factors also make this a popular area for large groups.

While the Lower Slab is ideal for rediscovering technique and working noodley winter arms back into shape, the Upper Cliff—located a short walk uphill—offers some stellar crack climbing that can either be top-roped or lead on traditional gear. Before you tape up, don your hand jammies, or go au naturel, however, be aware that what the cracks lack in height, they make up for in difficulty, and the ratings are old school.

Tim-P-Way

No trip to P-Way is complete without trying at least one of the area’s renowned boulder problems. A short walk from the cliffs, the Round Pond area receives a lot of sun, and is home to a diverse group of problems. Thus, it’s an ideal place to visit early in the season. Also a short walk from the cliffs, the Boulder Natural area is home to many of Pawtuckaway’s classic problems.

Don’t forget to visit Pawtuckaway’s Blair Woods bouldering area. Separate from most of P-Way’s other climbing areas, Blair Woods delivers a large amount of easily accessible and moderately rated problems without the crowds. Like everywhere else in Pawtuckaway, bring the bug spray just in case, and be prepared for the park’s skin-eating coarse granite.

What’s your favorite early season crag? Tell us about it in the comments!


MntnReview: 'Meru'

Meru_PosterwebThere isn’t a “wrong” time to watch Meru. But, the best time may be after a trip that didn’t quite go as planned.

Maybe you were a half-mile shy of the summit when a massive storm rolled in and turned you around, and torrential rains made the descent a little spicier than you’re used to. Maybe your day at the crag got cut short after a whipper left you too shaken to get a good grip on even the juggiest holds. Or, maybe you had to call it quits and head into the lodge while your friends kept skiing because you tried to make a jump and ended up snapping one of your skis (but thankfully not your leg) in two.

These kinds of days are best for a film like Meru. You and I both know that, even though your luck didn’t hold this time, it’s not going to stop you from trying again another day. And, that’s exactly the point Meru so beautifully proves.

This mesmerizing 2015 documentary, recently released for streaming on Netflix, tells the story of one of the toughest first ascents in climbing history. In 2008, Conrad Anker and Jimmy Chin—two of the world’s most notable expedition climbers—attempted to summit the Shark’s Fin route of the Himalayas’ Meru Peak with up-and-comer Renan Ozturk. However, the trio ended up stranded in their portaledge for four days. Snow pummeled down on them, and their rations became low.

When the weather finally broke, they set out, determined to summit before depleting their remaining food supply. Yet, they bailed 100 meters from the top, because each of the men were totally spent. It’s funny how that happens when you try to make seven days’ worth of food last for more than two weeks. And, completing the route would have also required bivvying at 20,000 feet—a risk they were unwilling to take.

When the weather finally broke, they set out, determined to summit before depleting their remaining food supply.

Three years and several less-ambitious-but-still-badass trips later, the team agreed to try summiting Meru again. However, on a video shoot in the Tetons with snowboard legend Jeremy Jones five months out from the trip, Ozturk suffered near-fatal injuries in a skiing accident, while Chin watched helplessly. Four days later, once Ozturk was stable in the hospital, Chin returned to finish the project, only to get swept away in a 2,000-foot avalanche. Miraculously unscathed (physically, at least), Chin took some time off from adventuring before ultimately concluding that “the idea of not skiing and not climbing and not being in the mountains was too much to imagine.”

Somehow, despite two-thirds of the team coming face-to-face with mortality mere months earlier, Anker, Chin, and Ozturk managed to return to Meru in September of 2011. While team members had not fully recovered and may have suffered a stroke halfway through the expedition, they successfully summited the Shark’s Fin this time around.

“It’s hard in this really complicated way. [It’s] defeated so many good climbers.”

During the 90-minute film, Jon Krakauer describes Meru as, “Not just hard. It’s hard in this really complicated way. [It’s] defeated so many good climbers. It will probably defeat you and me. It will defeat everybody for all time. That, to a certain kind of mindset, is an irresistible appeal.”

Meru is an extreme example, of course, and is out of the question for most of us. But, those of us who routinely heed the mountains’ siren song indeed possess Krakauer’s mindset, even if it is on a smaller scale. Whether you’re a weekend warrior tackling a 4,000-footer or a team of professionals scaling a previously unsummitable 21,000-foot peak, adversity is part of the game. And, it just so happens that it’s the part that appeals to us most. Specifically for us, there’s nothing more satisfying than defeating the obstacles that try so hard to defeat us first.


EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch: The Every-Condition Jacket

You might think that creating an article for goEast is as simple as sitting in front of a computer and writing about your favorite trip, piece of gear, or outdoor activity. However, the reality is, for most articles, you spend just as much time outside taking photos, recording GPS tracks, and refreshing your memory of a trail’s nuances. With deadlines looming this winter, we’ve often had to take trips in typical Northeast winter conditions—think cold temperatures, high winds, and snowy weather. It’s here that we’ve come to appreciate the EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch.

The Ascender’s versatility managed to give us a good time up and down this ultra-classic route.

On a recent reconnaissance trip up Mount Washington via the Winter Lion Head Trail, the Ascender proved its merits. There, we made frequent stops—in spite of the winds gusting up to 100 mph—to gather waypoints and shoot photos for an upcoming article. Layered under our hard shells while we were above treeline, the Ascender performed equally well when we dashed across the Alpine Garden as it did while we stopped for photos. Throughout, it breathed on the move and insulated when we stopped, thanks to its Polartec Alpha insulation. Overall, the Ascender’s versatility managed to give us a good time up and down this ultra-classic route—always a concern during the short days of winter. In part, this was due to not having to dig around our packs for a puffy every time we stopped.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

A recent ice climbing trip in Crawford Notch further highlighted this go-to layer’s value. Ice climbing’s mechanics involve working hard and getting warm while climbing, only to stop and freeze at the belay. The misery builds up if you’re pausing here to take notes or photos for an upcoming article, like we were. The Ascender proved its versatility once again, however. That day, we wore it as our outer layer and found that it breathed while on the go and still kept us warm when we stopped. As well, the insulated hood fits well over a climbing helmet. We also appreciated the large internal pockets for stashing a notebook, camera, snack, and gloves.

These days, it seems every innovation gets labeled “game-changing.” But, the EMS Alpine Ascender truly is the next step forward.

The Ascender looks and functions like a traditional puffy coat, making it easy to pigeonhole. But, we’ve discovered that it’s so much more. In fact, this winter, we’ve used the Ascender just as much as a traditional midlayer as we have as a lightweight belay jacket. Accentuating that, the Ascender is much warmer and more packable than a traditional fleece midlayer, and you can still wear it like a standard soft shell.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

These days, it seems every innovation gets labeled “game-changing.” But, the EMS Alpine Ascender truly is the next step forward. Particularly, its overall construction increases the functionality of an essential layering piece.

Over the past year, we’ve tinkered a lot with active insulation. With the Ascender, we’ve been trying to find the perfect application for it within our layering strategies. At the end of it all, we’ve concluded that it will be either on our bodies or in our packs on most trips. Whether you’re freezing on the ski lift and then shredding downhill, working hard while ice climbing and cooling off while belaying, or doing any other activity that involves varying exertion levels in cold environments, the Ascender should be a key part of your layering system.


New England's Top 3 Manmade Ice Crags

Anybody who’s slipped on black ice knows that it can form in the most unexpected places. When that ice starts to freeze vertically, we, as ice climbers, typically want to climb it. How that desire manifests is sometimes quite ironic, however. In the Northeast, you’re equally likely to find climbers swinging their way up a roadside culvert, an abandoned quarry, or the walls of an old railroad cut as you are an alpine classic, like Shoestring Gully.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Auburn Ice Canyon

When most people think of ice climbing, their minds turn to frozen waterfalls, alpine cliffs, and remote gullies. What they don’t think of is shopping plazas, busy roads, and concrete, much less Worcester, Massachusetts. However, that’s where they’ll discover one of Massachusetts’ most popular ice climbing destinations: Auburn Ice Canyon.

Located at the corner of Worcester, Millbury, and Auburn—just minutes from the Mass Pike and Route 290—Auburn Ice Canyon started as a flood diversion channel for the greater Worcester area. Later, some discovered that the channel’s steep walls and melting snow above consistently icing over created steep ice climbs. Although the entrance can be seen from the busy local road, Route 20, you’ll find the best climbing and longest routes by following the culvert to its end. Here, the rock walls turn to concrete and the channel into a tunnel.

Because Auburn Ice Canyon is a drainage, its floor may consist of varying levels of water. Thus, the best time to visit is after a long-enough cold stretch, which then freezes the canyon’s floor. Popular with beginners and experts alike, Auburn Ice Canyon delivers routes steep enough for strong climbers to get a workout, and top-rope friendly attitude that newbies will appreciate. Leaders, beware: Suspect rock and interesting top-outs may make straightforward-looking climbs spicier than anticipated.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries

Although most people associate Quincy Quarries with rock climbing and graffiti, you’ll also find solid ice climbing at this close-to-Boston locale. Operating as a quarry from 1825 to 1963, Quincy Quarry earned the nickname “The Birthplace of the Granite Industry,” as places and businesses across the nation used its stone. More prominently, the Bunker Hill Monument features it to some degree.

For the best ice climbing at QQ, start with “A Wall,” the first wall on the left after you make the five-minute approach from the parking lot. Depending on conditions, QQ has as many as five distinct ice flows, each providing 35-foot vertical climbs with multiple variations. The climbing itself is Scottish-like, mixing sometimes quite-thin ice with rock moves and turf sticks. This is especially true at the starts of the routes, with the best ice usually found higher up.

Of course, the ice here can be ephemeral. As a good rule of thumb, hold off on visiting until after a heavy rain or snow followed by two to three nights of colder temperatures. Although the ice usually hangs around once it comes in, it doesn’t survive every thaw. So, before you set up your top-rope, it’s a good idea to scope out A Wall from across the “Cove.” And, if the ice has unexpectedly come down, you’ll find fantastic dry tooling on Layback Corner and M Crack on M Wall (both 5.8) and on Finger Flux (5.11) in the nearby Swingle’s Quarry.

As you work your way around QQ, you’ll easily notice remnants of the historic operation. Climbers regularly use the old “staples” for anchors, and even some “feathers”—shims used to help split the granite—are still in the rock. Particularly, you’ll see one at the base of a route on A Wall. And, if history is your thing, make sure to check out the Granite Railway on the Quarry’s backside. Established in 1826, it was the country’s first railroad and is now a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Find it by walking down the path between J and K walls.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keene Railroad Cut

Keene is known as a quiet college town located on the New Hampshire-Vermont border. However, long before Keene State was founded, the city, like many in New Hampshire, was based around manufacturing. In part, the Cheshire Railroad spurred this development, carrying goods to market and outdoor enthusiasts (including Henry David Thoreau) to Mount Monadnock and the surrounding region. Although the railroad hasn’t run since the 1960s, the send train runs all winter on the Keene Railroad Cut’s walls, provided it’s cold enough.

Approaching the climbing is easy, as it’s a short walk from an obvious pullout on Route 12 near the city limits. Even better, the approach is almost always packed down, thanks to the snowmobiles that frequent the Cheshire Rail Trail. This 42-mile long trail begins near the the Massachusetts border in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and ends in North Walpole, New Hampshire.

You’ll know you’ve made it to the Keene Railroad Cut, or simply the Railroad Cut, when you get there. Here, the walls sharply rise above the old railroad bed, and numerous ice flows line its sides. Most routes stand between 20 and 30 feet tall, and while short in stature, they deliver steep climbing. And, convenience isn’t only found in the location and approach here. As well, sturdy trees, fixed anchors, and straightforward walk-arounds make top-roping a simple affair. Thus, it’s a popular destination for newer climbers and locals looking for a workout.

Pro Tip: Play nice with the snowmobilers, and keep your kit out of the middle of the trail. Their cooperation is key for access.

 

Although these three spots are not natural treasures, their local outdoor communities appreciate them for their easily accessible, close-to-home ice climbing. Have a manmade spot you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments, so we can check it out!