Opinion: Is Fleece Dead?

In the not-so-distant past, fleeces of varying weights and purposes stuffed our closets and backpacks. You needed stretch fleeces, with their enhanced mobility, for climbing in cool weather, Windstopper fleece for above-treeline scrambles, and trusty 300-weight fleeces just to leave the house in winter. Of course, microfleece suited your summer escapes and offered an outdoorsy alternative to sweaters in winter. In recent years, though, a host of new insulation choices have crowded the fleece out of our closets. In response, we’ve asked ourselves, “Is fleece totally dead?”

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There are far superior technical outer layers…

Fleece is no longer the premier technical outer layer. That much we know for certain, for three main reasons.

Better Fits and Packability

First, packability. When some of us started hiking, climbing, and skiing, down coats packed reasonably well. But, put one on, and you immediately resembled the Michelin Man. The synthetic coats of the day cut a slimmer profile, but packed about as well as fleece.

By contrast, today’s down coats use super-high quality down to create the same amount of warmth, without making it look like you’re impersonating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, while taking up far less pack space. As well, jackets with synthetic insulation now provide a less-bulky fit and have begun to rival down in terms of packability. Fleece outer layers? They still don’t pack well. And, who really wants to carry a giant pack solely to accommodate a technical fleece jacket?

Lighter Weights

Second, options. Much like the fleeces of the past, available in a wide variety of weights and features, down and synthetic jackets now come in an incredible range of sizes and styles. You’ll find everything from ultralight insulation, like the Arc’teryx Atom SL (men’s/women’s), to heavyweight pieces, like Marmot’s Men’s Guides Down and Women’s Aruna hoodies. Because of this, puffies have replaced fleece everywhere, from slightly cool summer summits to bitterly cold winter belays. Companies are even developing hybrids, like the EMS Impact Hybrid Jacket (men’s/women’s), which combines active insulation with lightweight, stretchy materials to keep weight down and packability up.

More Tech Features

Third, wicking. Within the outdoor community, fleece has long remained a staple for one significant reason: It keeps you warm, all while wicking away sweat. However, the advent of active insulation diversified the options offered. As such, today’s synthetic jackets provide more warmth, offer comparable breathability, and pack better than fleeces of similar weights. For these reasons, puffy vests are a four-season staple for us. As well, you’ll rarely find us in the mountains during winter without an active insulation-based midlayer, such as the EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch Jacket.

While active insulation has fueled the growth of synthetic options, technological advancements have further targeted common issues associated with down – most notably, its susceptibility to water. Hydrophobic down—down that’s resistant to water—and DWR (durable water repellent) treated shells on coats like the EMS Feather Pack (men’s/women’s) have helped minimize this insulation’s Achilles’ heel. No longer pigeon-holed for dry climates, down coats are now commonly used in soggy environments, like the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast.

All that said, abrasion resistance still gives fleece a leg up. It’s comparatively harder to tear.

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…But, don’t be fleeced into thinking it’s dead just yet

Despite synthetic and down insulation filling many of its former roles, we’re not ready to bury fleece just yet. Stretch fleeces, like the EMS Equinox Power Stretch Hoodie (men’s/women’s), are staples of our ice climbing and in-bound ski kits. In addition to being great for cold-weather pursuits, its adaptable design is a must-have for fall cragging. It’s also hard to beat the next-to-skin fuzzy texture of The North Face’s Campshire (men’s/women’s), especially when you’re wearing it around town. Lastly, a cozy microfleece lets you keep up appearances and stay warm while kicking back after a hard day playing outdoors.

For these reasons, fleece isn’t leaving our gear closet just yet.


Video: Discomfort in Antarctica

“I think I’m still figuring out where my line of comfort and discomfort is with climbing.”


How to Choose a Climbing Harness

Your climbing harness is a vital piece in the safety chain. But, unlike your rope or helmet, it not only needs to be functional and safe, but it also needs to be extremely comfortable. Every time you take a fall, make a rappel, or sit back to work out a few moves or haul on some gear, your harness becomes the seat you’re sitting in. The bad news? You’ll come across a ton of options out there, all with different features and comfort levels. As such, for both new and seasoned senders, it can be dizzying to know which is right for you. So, how do you make sense of it all?

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Climbing Harness Construction

Step one: Know what you’re looking at, and for the type of climbing you plan to do, know which features are important.

The Belt

The belt, also known as the waist belt or a swami belt by old-school climbers, plays a vital role. It connects the climber to all other parts of the harness, as well as to the rope. More so, no other aspect is more integral to the harness’ overall comfort.

Made from a diverse collection of materials, harness belts come in a wide variety of widths and padding levels. As a good rule of thumb, models with more padding are more comfortable and aimed at climbers who will spend considerable time hanging in the harness, like multi-pitch and big-wall climbers. Harnesses with less padding, meanwhile, are streamlined for those who will not be hanging for an extended period of time—for example, sport and gym climbers.

Belts are more commonly adjusted using a single buckle. However, some styles—usually those accommodating a wide range of waist sizes—use two. While most modern harnesses feature self-double-backing (or speed) buckles, some buckles still require climbers to manually double them back. While speed buckles are great for convenience, you’ll have an easier time putting on a harness while wearing crampons with a manual option.

Pro Tip: Whichever closure method you choose, get in the habit of ensuring your harness is closed properly before you leave the ground. As well, confirm that your knot is tied correctly and your belayer’s device is threaded the right way.

Leg Loops

Usually padded and ventilated to match the belt’s material, leg loops come in two types: fixed and adjustable. Fixed leg loops are built with some stretch to accommodate different leg sizes. For this reason, they provide a fast and easy on-and-off solution for gym, sport, and other climbers who will not be mixing and matching multiple layers under their harnesses. Adjustable leg loops, meanwhile, are great for ice and alpine climbers, who may be wearing thin softshell pants one day and then multiple layers the next. As well, adjustable leg loops are ideal for climbers needing one harness to do it all.

Much like belts, adjustable leg loops use a variety of buckles. Make sure you’re familiar with the type of buckle your leg loops use, and get in the habit of making sure they’re closed correctly before you leave the ground.

GO: Adjustable Leg Loops | Fixed Leg Loops

Courtesy: Petzl
Courtesy: Petzl

Gear Loops

Most harnesses today come with four gear loops, which are designed for holding everything from quickdraws to cams to cordelettes. Made using a range of materials, gear loops come in a variety of shapes that affect how your gear is carried. For instance, you’ll find molded plastic on Black Diamond harnesses and sewn loops on Petzl models. Additionally, positioning varies between brands and impacts how easy gear is to access.

Pro tip: Almost any harness with four gear loops works for sport, gym, and top-rope climbing. However, if you’re planning on carrying a rack on your harness, consider trying the harness on with the rack first. This way, you can make sure you like how your gear is stored, see if it’s easy to reach, and test how it clips and unclips from the loops.

Ice Clipper Slots

If you’ll be using the harness for ice or alpine climbing, consider purchasing one with ice clipper slots. These small pieces of fabric allow for the use of ice clippers—a special piece of gear for racking ice screws and axes. Without the clippers attached, the slots are barely noticeable and add minimal weight. When the clippers are installed, they make organizing winter essentials on a harness easy.

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Haul Loop

Many harnesses feature a haul loop—a loop of cord, webbing, or plastic—on the rear. A useful addition, haul loops let you bring a second rope up routes that require full-length rappels, and further offer many other functions. For example, they’re a great spot to clip a chalk bag or to attach shoes for routes that you walk off.

Pro tip: The haul loops found on most harnesses are not rated to carry weight. Even if a haul loop is rated, you should never belay from or tie into it.

Belay Loop

Designed primarily for belaying another climber, this load-bearing vertical loop connects the two tie-in points. The width varies by the intended use: Many sport climbing harnesses have thinner belay loops to reduce weight and bulk, while general use and trad-focused harnesses often have more robust options to increase lifespan and durability. A feature on some models, wear indicators—different-colored nylon underneath the belay loop and tie-in points—indicate when it’s time to retire a harness.

Tie-In Points

Used primarily for tying into the rope, the tie-in points are the two loops connected by the belay loop. One is on the waist belt and the other is right in the middle of the leg loops.

Pro tip: What’s the difference between a belay loop and a tie-in point? The latter is ideal for use with fabrics, such as climbing ropes, personal anchor systems, and slings, while the belay loop is built for metal products, like carabiners.

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Fitting a Harness

Because everyone is shaped differently, the easiest way to determine a harness’ fit is to try it on. To get the ideal fit, you first want to position the belt above your hips and also be in the middle of adjusting the belt and leg loops. When you tighten the belt, it should be snug but not uncomfortable.

As well, you’ll come across women’s-specific harnesses, which, beyond the colors, are designed differently from the men’s models. Specifically, a women’s harness has a differently shaped waist belt, an increased rise (the distance between the leg loops and belt), and larger leg loops relative to the waist size.

Pro tip: How do you know a harness fits well? The belay loop and tie-in points are centered on the front of your body. If a gear loop sits at your belly button, try another size.

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Suggestions

Top-Roping, Gym, and Sport Climbing

Because almost any harness works well for these activities, make sure to prioritize comfort and fit. As well, none of these climbing styles require carrying an extensive amount of gear, so the number and location of the gear loops aren’t as important.

Traditional Climbing

Trad climbers need a harness with gear loops large enough to accommodate such gear as cams, nuts, and draws. The harness should have enough space for the equipment and carry the weight comfortably. For this reason, and because trad climbers frequently find themselves hanging in their harnesses for extended periods of time, these models typically have more padding than other offerings.

Ice Climbing  

Most ice gear racks fit better on a harness with ice clippers. Because of this, any harness for ice climbing should have these slots. As another feature, adjustable leg loops better accommodate the fluctuating layers worn over the course of the winter climbing season.

Mountaineering

Compared to other climbers, mountaineers don’t spend as much time sitting in their harnesses, and on routes measured in miles rather than feet, ounces quickly turn into pounds. For these reasons, many mountaineering harnesses are stripped down to the essentials. Also, for putting a harness on over crampons and skis, look for leg loops that open all the way.

GO: Aid Climbing | All-Around | Caving | Glacier Travel | Rescue | Steep | Winter Climbing | Work

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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.