Video: Ice Climbing A Frozen Niagara Falls

Who’s ready for ice climbing season?


How to Buy Climbing Ropes

Whether you’re new or a seasoned sender, the process of buying a climbing rope is surprisingly confusing. Multiple styles, various widths and lengths, and other features make it difficult to know where to even start. While they’re versatile, knowing what you plan to do with your rope and what you’re looking for narrow down the choices and help tailor your purchase.
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Dynamic or Static?

Climbing uses two kinds of ropes: dynamic and static. The former is used for belaying the climber (i.e., holding a climber who falls), while static ropes are designed for anchors and hauling. To “hold a fall,” these ropes stretch when weighted. Elongation then dissipates the fall’s energy and reduces the force placed on the climber and their gear. This process dramatically reduces the potential for injury or catastrophic failure of anchors and gear. Unlike dynamic ropes, however, static options stretch very little, making them ideal for building anchors but dangerous to climb on.

GO: Dynamic | Static

Elongation

The UIAA’s two measurements—dynamic and static elongation—indicate how much a rope will stretch. Dynamic elongation is how much a rope stretches during its first UIAA fall. More elongation means a longer fall, but also less force exerted on gear and the climber. The maximum amount of dynamic elongation allowed by the UIAA is 40 percent.

Static elongation measures how much the rope stretches with an 80kg weight hanging from it. The maximum amount of stretch allowed for single and twin ropes is 10 percent, while half ropes can stretch 12 percent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Single, Double, or Half?

Single

Climbing article assetThe most common type, single ropes are easily identified by the “1” marked in a circle on their ends. That simply means, when you’re climbing, you only need that one rope.

Thanks to their incredible versatility, they are the logical choice for almost every application. Indeed, they are used in all manners of climbing—top rope, sport, trad, multi-pitch, ice, and mountaineering. First-time rope buyers, take note!

Single ropes, however, are not perfect for every application. So, if you’re planning on doing long multi-pitch climbs like Lost in the Sun (which has seven 60-meter rappels) or just really enjoy pitches that wander, a two-rope system might be a more suitable choice.

Twin

With a circled infinity symbol (∞) on their ends, twin ropes are the simplest of the two-rope systems to use. Designed to be used as a pair and clipped simultaneously for protection, they offer multi-pitch rock and ice climbers two main advantages. First, they add redundancy to the system, as the leader is attached to two (as opposed to one) ropes. Second, in contrast to single ropes, where a climber can only rappel half the rope’s length, the two ropes allow climbers to make full-length rappels. Because you climb with two, they are typically narrower in diameter than a single rope.

Twin ropes, however, are still susceptible to rope drag on wandering routes. As well, they may complicate rope management at belay stations—something that can be particularly challenging for newer climbers.

Half

Half ropes—sometimes called double ropes—are the other two-rope system. The main difference is, unlike twin ropes, they are clipped to alternating pieces of protection. If this is done correctly, half ropes reduce drag on wandering routes. Because they are clipped independently of one another, half ropes also lessen the force a fall puts on protection. For this reason, they’re a favorite of climbers operating on delicate mediums, such as an ice formation. For identification, a “½” mark is added to their ends.

GO: Single Ropes | Twin RopesHalf Ropes

If all of these options sound appealing to you, you’re in luck! Rope construction and technologies are improving so rapidly that manufacturers can construct one that meets the standards for two, and sometimes all three (e.g., the Sterling Nano), of the aforementioned categories. If in doubt about a rope’s intended use, simply check the rope tag—located on both ends—and look for the corresponding symbol.

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Diameter and Weight

Rope diameters range from less than 8mm to more than 10.5mm. Traditionally, single ropes are wider (9.0 to 10.5mm) than twin and half ropes (7.8 to 9.0mm). In general, thicker ropes are heavier and more durable, and skinnier ones are lighter and less durable. For this reason, thicker ropes are typically used for activities like top roping, and skinnier ropes are better for sport climbing. Climbers looking for one rope to do it all will be happy with a rope ranging from mid-9mm to low-10mm, as they offer a good blend of performance and robustness.

Because the way rope manufacturers measure the diameter isn’t standard—for example, some are measured under slight tension—the rope’s weight can help paint a clearer picture of its intended use. Heavier ropes tend to be built for longevity, while lighter ones are constructed with performance in mind.

Length

Ropes today come in a wide range of sizes. You’ve got gym-friendly 35-meter lengths to pitch-stretching 80-meter monsters. As a general matter, 60 meters is the most common, and will work at the majority of crags for everything from top-roping to ice climbing. That said, due to the recent trend of developers putting up longer sport routes and rope weights falling dramatically over the last 15 years, 70 is quickly becoming the new 60. A good recommendation is, be familiar with standard pitch lengths at your crag and purchase accordingly.

As leading in the gym has grown in popularity, ropes shorter than 60 meters have, too. They offer a more affordable (and more transportable) option, but if you take these ropes outside, be extra cautious and confirm the rope will be long enough for the route. Don’t be the fool who lowers your climbing partner off the end of a too-short rope!

GO: Under 50 meters | 50 meters | 60 meters | 70 meters

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Dry Treatment

Ropes lose a considerable amount of their strength when wet. Furthermore, a wet rope weighs significantly more than a dry one. Because of this, most ropes come with the option of a dry treatment. More expensive than their non-treated counterparts, dry-treated ropes are favored by ice climbers and mountaineers for obvious reasons. But, dry-treated ropes offer a host of advantages for most climbers. Particularly, a dry treatment decreases rope drag and helps ropes run smoother through gear. More importantly, the same treatment that keeps your rope from absorbing water also helps to keep dirt out of your rope, thus extending its lifespan.

Dry ropes come in three forms: ropes with dry-treated sheaths, ropes with dry-treated cores, and ropes with dry-treated sheaths and cores. Treating the sheath (i.e., the rope’s outer shell) helps repel water, reduces the rope’s friction on the rock (thereby reducing abrasion), and gives the rope a nice slick feel and handle. For the core, dry-treating reduces the amount of water a rope will absorb and also reduces the likelihood of dirt and grime working its way into the core, the rope’s most important part. Dry-treating both the sheath and core combines the two treatments and offers the most water protection. However, it is also the most expensive and perhaps best reserved for ice climbing, mountaineering, and other climbing done in wet conditions.

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Middle Marker

Middle markers aid in a wide variety of ways, such as indicating it’s safe to lower a climber to ease in threading rappels. Most ropes today feature some kind middle-mark indicator—with features such as changing patterns, a distinctive mark, or a special weave to highlight a rope’s midpoint. Bi-color ropes offer the clearest indication, but also tend to be the most expensive. Ropes with colored middles offer a cost-effective solution, but the color can fade with use, and the middle mark can be difficult to see in fading light.

UIAA Fall Rating

The United International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) tests climbing ropes to see how many falls they can hold before failing. For single ropes, the test involves dropping an 80kg weight on the rope. With twin ropes, 80kg is used for both ropes. For half ropes, a 55kg weight is dropped onto a single strand. Single and half ropes must withstand a minimum of five falls, and twin ropes 12. Any rope that meets the UIAA fall standard is considered safe for climbing.

As a note, the lab tests subject ropes to more force than they’ll likely encounter in a real-world scenario. More so, the outdoors subjects ropes to hazards like sharp edges and worn fixed draws. So, get in the habit of inspecting your rope, especially if you’ve taken a big whipper.

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So, Which Rope Should I Get?

Although most ropes are pretty versatile, here’s a quick breakdown by activity:

Multi-pitch ice climbing: You want a rope that is long, skinny, and dry treated. Consider half and twin ropes—or, even better, ropes that rate as single, twin, and half—if your ideal routes involve long approaches and rappels, or if you’ll often be climbing as a party of three.

Top-rope cragging: Pack a beefy, durable single rope in the low-10mm range.

Sport climbing: For clipping bolts, a 60- or 70-meter single rope of medium diameter (9.4-9.8mm) is ideal.

For multi-pitch rock climbing: Bring a 60- or 70-meter rope of medium diameter (9.4-9.8mm). As with ice climbing, consider half and twin ropes—or ropes that rate as single, twin, and half—if your ideal routes involve long approaches and rappels, or if you’ll often be climbing as a party of three.


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.

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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.


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!


Outings for a Presidents' Day in the Presidentials

Presidents’ Day falls on the third Monday of every February. In the Northeast, New Hampshire’s White Mountains make the perfect place to celebrate the holiday. Home to nine 4,000-footers named after past Presidents, they offer numerous outdoor activities with a historical connection. So, whether you’re looking to ski, climb, or hike, here’s how to have a genuinely Presidential Presidents’ Day.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Forget the White House – Visit the White Room

Presidents’ Day originated in the 1880s to commemmorate George Washington’s birthday. For those looking to slide on snow while also honoring the nation’s first President, the slopes of Mount Washington deliver something for everyone.

The Sherburne Ski Trail, often called “the Sherbie,” links the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center with HoJo’s, the caretaker’s cabin at Hermit Lake. Dating back to the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal Legislation, built the Sherbie just for skiers. Considering the innovations since then, most will find the Sherbie sufficiently broad for turning and never extremely steep. As David Goodman notes in his book AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast, the Sherburne never exceeds 24 degrees and is as much as 60 feet across at its widest point.

Although many advanced skiers view the Sherburne Trail as a quick way to descend from the steeper Tuckerman Ravine, it’s a worthy destination by itself. Because of its moderate pitch and tree-lined location, it’s a great place to head when the weather above treeline is unfavorable, if avalanche danger is high, or to just gain confidence on less-consequential terrain.

The trail, however, is for downhill use only. You can access it via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which also leaves Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Heading up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, skiers will notice various entry points to the Sherbie on their left. As another popular option, you can cut over below HoJo’s to avoid the trail’s flat upper portion.

Of course, the Sherbie is just one of Mount Washington’s fantastic ski routes. You can find other intermediate backcountry skiing along the Cog Railway, while the Gulf of Slides and the iconic Tuckerman Ravine present more advanced options.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Better than Climbing the Political Ladder  

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

In the 1970s, Congress officially moved Presidents’ Day to the third Monday of February to give federal workers more three-day weekends. But, many believe that the move also broadened the holiday’s scope by additionally commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 15th). If you fall into this camp, get your presidential celebration started on Mount Lincoln.

While most people get to the summit via Franconia Ridge, ice climbing Lincoln’s Throat is the most direct way up. Viewed from a distance, Lincoln’s Throat is the pronounced gully between Lincoln and Lafayette that tops out on Franconia Ridge just below Lincoln’s summit.

The route also offers a bit of everything (except crowds) for alpine climbers. You’ll hike or bushwack off trail, do steep snow climbing, climb a single moderately rated WI3 ice pitch, and have the opportunity to summit a 4,000-footer. Or, if you choose to descend down the Old Bridle Path, you’ll get in two 4,000-footers.

If Lincoln Throat’s sole ice pitch isn’t fully formed, is rotten, or is over your head, consider alternatives. However, those involve mixed climbing, and not the type you’re thinking of. Instead of rock and ice, you’ll find krumholtz and snow. These might be less treacherous, but they’re also slower and more frustrating.

Consider making this trip early in the season or in low-snow years. But, if you’re going when heavy snow covers the ground, be sure to bring snowshoes, an avalanche kit, and the knowledge of how to navigate avalanche terrain.

Of course, if this President-worthy climb gives you a case of the willies, you can always check out the beginner-friendly Willey’s Slide in Crawford Notch. It’s not on a peak named after a President, but on a clear day, you’ll get a great view of the southern Presidentials.     

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Don’t Settle for Fake Views

Over time, the public consensus about Presidents’ Day has broadened even further. These days, we think of it as a celebration of all past Presidents. Fortunately, the White Mountains include eight more 4,000-foot peaks named after Presidents (Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Garfield) or with a Presidential-sounding name. For the latter, Jackson is actually named after New Hampshire State Geologist Charles Jackson, not the seventh President, Andrew Jackson.

Of these, Mount Pierce—named after the only President born in New Hampshire—and Mount Garfield are both great options for a moderate day hike with fantastic views. For more of a challenge, Mount Adams (named after John Adams) is one of the Northeast 115’s toughest winter climbs. And, if you’re supremely motivated and the weather is good, consider attempting a Presidential Traverse. In one trip, you’ll hopefully bag Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson.

Although the President might spend his days in the White House, you can get out of the house, away from the office, and into the fresh air to honor our nation’s past leaders. Let us know how you spent your Presidents’ Day in the comments below.


Senior Superlatives: Valentine's Day Adventure Dates

Whether you’re looking to slide into romance, hike into their heart, or tie the knot this Valentine’s Day, consider one of these awesome outdoor-inspired trips to stoke the adventurous spirit—and the passion—between you and your special someone.

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Most Likely to Make Your Date Feel Like Royalty: Ice Castles, Lincoln, NH

Treat your significant other like the king or queen they are by surprising them with a trip to the Ice Castles in Lincoln, New Hampshire. If you tour the castles early, you can finish the day toasting to your relationship at Seven Birches Winery at the RiverWalk Resort less than a mile away. If wine tastings aren’t your thing, spend the day shredding the gnar at Loon Mountain instead, and hit the Ice Castles at night to see them all lit up. Once there, check out a fire dancing performance, and stay warm with cinnamon buns and cocoa.

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Best Place for a Romantic Outdoor Getaway: The Berkshires, Western MA

No matter what your winter sport of choice is—skiing or snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, or cross-country skiing—there are plenty of places to do it in the Berkshires. So, make Valentine’s Day last an entire weekend by treating your beloved snow bunny to a little bit of everything this winter wonderland has to offer: ski under the lights at Jiminy Peak on Friday night, hike Mount Greylock on Saturday, and then, spend a few hours Nordic skiing on trails designed by seven-time Olympian John Morton at Hilltop Orchards. And, be sure to end the weekend on a high note at Furnace Brook Winery while you’re there. Accommodations in the area range from quaint Rockwell-esque bed-and-breakfasts to lavish five-star resorts, making it easy to find the perfect place to turn up the romance (or just recover from the day’s activities) each night.

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Most Likely to Earn You a Gold Medal in Dating: Olympic Sports Complex, Lake Placid, NY

Much like the Berkshires, Lake Placid is basically a winter athlete’s paradise. In addition to world-class skiing and so many great winter hikes that it’ll be hard to choose which one (or two) you want to tackle, this cold-weather haven nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks takes it a few steps further with some of the best ice climbing in the northeast, miles and miles of fat biking trails, and, of course, the Olympic Sports Complex, where you can take a run in a real bobsled, take a biathlon lesson, or ice skate on the same rink the 1932 USA Men’s Speed Skating Team made history with a gold medal sweep. If a date here doesn’t get you a podium finish, nothing will.

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Coolest Date (Literally): Guided Mt. Washington Trip with EMS Schools

Bring your Valentine to the top of the world, or at least of New England, on one of the literally coolest dates ever: a winter ascent of Mount Washington with the EMS Climbing School. Bundle up and head to North Conway, New Hampshire to show the “world’s worst weather” that you’re not afraid of it. Because even if the snow is falling and the wind is blowing, it shows you can weather the storm; you’ve got your love to keep you warm.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Best Way to Warm Their Heart: With a Big, Fancy Rock…Climbing Trip in the South

Even people who truly enjoy winter eventually reach a point in which they’d like to escape it for a few days. If you and your honey are tired of the cold, use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to head south (or southwest) for a warm-weather climbing trip. I’m someone who is typically so anti-Valentine’s Day that my mom sends me a Halloween card every February 14th, but the year that my now-husband took me to Horse Pens 40 for a mid-February bouldering vacation was the best Valentine’s Day I can remember. In fact, I almost surprised him with a Vegas Valentine’s weekend to climb at Red Rocks this year, since we both loved climbing there so much last spring. If you’re into grand gestures, a trip like this is perfect…and even if it’s not the rock she was hoping for, I promise she’ll love it.


Alpha Guide: Ice Climb Shoestring Gully

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Easily accessible alpine-style climbing at a modest grade and in an amazing setting make Shoestring Gully a must-do climb for ice climbers of all levels.

An ascent of Shoestring Gully in New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch is a rite of passage for aspiring ice climbers in the Northeast. Offering 2,500 feet of varied climbing, an incredible view of Crawford Notch, and an alpine feel without the above-treeline weather and exposure, Shoestring Gully is perhaps the best moderate ice climb in New Hampshire.

Quick Facts

Distance: 4 miles round-trip and 2,200 feet of elevation gain
Time to Complete: Half day
Difficulty: ★★★ (WI2, Grade III)
Scenery: ★★★★


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Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Turn-By-Turn

Shoestring Gully is located off Route 302 a few miles south of Crawford Notch and the AMC Highland Center, with the best parking at the Webster Cliff Trailhead (44.170673, -71.388153). The parking area accommodates anywhere from five to 10 cars, but space fluctuates depending on snowfall. This is a popular climb, so parking spots fill up quickly. There is additional parking available along 302 in both directions, but will add roughly an extra half-mile of hiking in each direction to your outing.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Acing the Approach

From the Webster Cliff Trailhead, the most straightforward approach to the gully is crossing Route 302 and hiking up the Webster Cliff Trail. The trail is flat and, after you walk for a few minutes, comes to a bridge that crosses the Saco River. Take the bridge across, and at the trail junction slightly uphill from the river (44.171936, -71.385475), turn left (upstream) onto the Saco River Trail. The trail is often icy, however; if you find that’s the case, this is a good spot to put on either MICROspikes or crampons.

Follow the Saco River Trail for approximately 0.5 miles, until you see the climber’s path leading uphill on the right (44.175751, -71.391571). Looking for a clue that this is the right gully? As a great landmark for heading uphill, a large boulder displays large painted trail markers for the Saco River Trail. Also, thanks to the popularity of this climb, the approach heading uphill is usually pretty broken in.

Historically, climbers have approached by parking roughly a half-mile further north on Route 302 and crossing the Saco at an old dam. Over the years, however, the crossing has gotten a bit spicy. Although this approach puts you directly below the gully and is shorter overall, it also means a road march back to the car on the descent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Getting to the Start of the Climb

The climber’s path slowly gains altitude as it steadily moves into Shoestring Gully. Once in the gully, the trail steepens as you ascend a bouldery stream bed that gradually opens up near the first ice flow. If you haven’t yet put on your crampons, this is the place to do so, as this section is often slippery, and the “real” climbing is fast approaching.

After roughly 1,000 feet of elevation gain, climbers will encounter the day’s first ice flow (44.178432, -71.386986) at the top of the stream bed. Just below this bulge, a well-worn flat spot is perfect for getting kitted—harness, helmet, crampons, ice tools, rope, and protection—for the climbing above. It’s also a convenient place to have a drink and a quick bite to eat before the rhythm and mechanics of climbing are involved. From the trailhead, it’s roughly 45 to 60 minutes to get here.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The First Ice Bulge

Most years, Shoestring Gully has a short (20- to 30-foot), moderate ice bulge at the base of the climb. The bulge’s right side is typically less challenging, but one of the joys of Shoestring Gully is the opportunity to increase or decrease the climb’s difficulty to meet your skill level. On top of the bulge, climbers will find trees on both the gully’s left and right sides to use as anchors. As a tip, building an anchor on the left side offers a better view of followers, while building it a little higher on the right provides an easier transition to the snow pitches that follow.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Snow Pitches

After the first ice bulge, the next few rope lengths of the gully typically consist of moderate snow with a few interspersed ice patches. Climbers use a variety of techniques to move through this terrain, depending on experience, comfort, and conditions. Some parties will simply pitch out the snow, as they would on any other type of multi-pitch climb. Others will shorten the rope and simul-climb—that is, climb together with running protection between them. No matter how you choose to approach this terrain, however, the ice patches and occasional trees on the gully’s sides provide protection and anchor opportunities.

This section is also a great place to give your calves a break and show off your French technique (or practice it), thanks to the angle and nature of the snow. When the snow starts to transition to ice, the pitch begins to steepen, and the gully’s walls grow in prominence, build an anchor, and get ready for the day’s most technical climbing (44.17893, -71.385422).

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Climb Some Ice

The next three to four rope lengths are Shoestring’s “Ice Pitches.” They begin with a one-to-two pitch climb up several steps of moderate ice, before eventually transitioning to steep snow. The most consistent ice in this section is typically on the gully’s right side.

After a brief snow climb, the gully widens and becomes comparatively steeper. From here, there are three ways up. The rightmost variation climbs the line that hugs the wall on climber’s right and is generally considered the easiest route. The center variation heads directly up the middle of the gully, putting climbers on steeper—closer to WI3—and more difficult ice. Heading farther left puts you on even slightly steeper ice. Beware not to take the fun climbing on the far left variation too high, as it eventually climbs out of the main drainage and will require some bushwacking to get back on course.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

No matter which option you choose, the gully narrows after about two more pitches, with terrain turning into a combination of snow and intermittent ice patches. Trees line the left side, providing some protection and anchor-building opportunities. After roughly one-and-a-half rope lengths of snow-ish climbing, exit the gully into the woods.

Pro Tip: Parties that move quickly through the Snow Pitches can sometimes catch up to slower climbers just starting the Ice Pitches. Although the much-wider gully makes the Ice Pitches a tempting place to make a pass, be careful to avoid tangled ropes or getting stuck at an unprotected belay below a climber who’s raining down ice.

The optional WI3 finish looking thin. | Credit: Tim Peck
The optional WI3 finish looking thin. | Credit: Tim Peck

Optional Finishes

Shoestring Gully offers two alternative finishes for those looking to do more than simply slog up the snow at the top. The first option involves climbing the obvious rock wall on the climber’s right roughly one rope length below the woods. The climbing is moderately rated at 5.5, but finding protection can be tricky, especially if the ice is thin. The second alternative is found above the rock finish, and involves climbing a corner with ice rated up to WI3.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Descent

From the proper finish, climbers should continue walking into the woods until they reach the Webster Cliff Trail (44.179947, -71.382828). The path to the Webster Cliff Trail is often well-broken in, making it easy to locate. The intersection of Shoestring Gully and the Webster Cliff Trail is a great spot to regroup, pack away the climbing gear, and have something to eat. Once everything is packed and you’ve refueled, simply follow the Webster Cliff Trail back to Route 302 and your vehicle. As you head down, make sure to stop at the overlook just a few minutes from the top for a fantastic view of Mount Willard, Mount Willey, and the rest of Crawford Notch.

If you didn’t bring MICROspikes, leave your crampons on for the descent. The Webster Cliff Trail descends several steep sections and is often extremely icy. You’ll want the extra traction.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Never climb steep ice without a helmet. Shoestring Gully gets a lot of traffic, and the potential for someone knocking ice down is high. The Black Diamond Vector is a long-time favorite for its great fit and minimal weight.
  • Lugging a heavy rope 2,500 feet up is no fun. Consider lightening the load with the Sterling Rope Fusion Nano 9.0 dry rope.
  • The Black Diamond Dirtbag Gloves are just warm enough for most winter days, durable enough for ice climbing, and offer enough dexterity to handle the rope, making them a key to any Shoestring Gully kit.
  • Whether you’re pitching it out, simul-climbing, or mixing the two techniques, an ascent of Shoestring Gully often involves several stops and starts. A jacket like the EMS Alpine Ascender is the perfect insulation piece, as it keeps you warm when you’re stopped at the belay, but breathes when you’re on the move.
  • Winter days are short, and everything from conditions to other parties makes it longer than anticipated. Avoid getting stuck in the dark with the super-bright and easily rechargeable Black Diamond Revolt.
  • The Petzl Caritool Evo can be added to most harnesses and makes it easy to keep your climbing gear organized.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Get there early! This is a popular climb, and arriving early is the surest way to beat the crowds. And, thanks to Shoestring Gully’s moderate grade and fun climbing, expect to encounter people of all abilities—from people taking their first turn on the sharp end to climbers going ropeless.
  • Shoestring Gully gets lots of sun, so it’s a great option even on cold days.
  • Be willing to do variations. There are ample opportunities to pass slower parties by doing different (and sometimes harder) variations of the route’s pitches.
  • If you finish with time to spare, consider climbing to the summit of Mount Webster, approximately 1.5 miles further up the Webster Cliff Trail. Or, consider climbing another of the area’s moderate multi-pitch routes, including Willey’s Slide, Flume Cascade, and Silver Cascade, to name a few.
  • If you worked up an appetite climbing, Fabyan’s Restaurant, located across from Bretton Woods, is nearby, or head into North Conway to visit Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Co., which is the place for climbers to congregate.
  • Not sure if you’re ready for Shoestring Gully? Contact the EMS Climbing School to arrange for a guided ascent, or spend a day brushing up on your ice skills with one of our guides.

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Shoestring recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


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.