Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Epic Failing of Parlee Brook

Saturday was pointless... well, not entirely so... I got a beer out of it.
Jon, Anders, and I set out to find the infamous ‘approach from below’ at Parlee brook. The rudimentary directions in the ice climbing guide have apparently thrown off several other climbing parties this year. I wasn’t worried... in fact... the night before I was full of cocky optimism. When talking to Jon late Friday night he pleaded with me to bring a map... a suggestion which I balked at replying: “I’m not worried... how bad could it be?”

When the morning arrived I was psyched. I’ve never been into Parlee brook but the pictures I’ve seen looked really cool. Steep narrow gorge covered by ice in all directions... permanently in the shade. The forecast called for a high of 0°. Perfect. Anders was confident that it was going to be the day of my first ice lead.

We passed Sussex and turned southeast towards Poley Mt. First problem where is Parlee Brook Road? I had incorrectly assumed that it was the same road which is taken for the more commonly used ‘approach from the top’. It isn't. It actually is the last road heading southeast before the entrance to Poley. Once at the end of Parlee Brook Road we parked behind some familiar cars belonging to fellow climbers from Saint John. A good sign. On the way in we passed a disheveled looking crazy person who we could only assume lived in this hobbit hole at the end of the road:

I assumed this is ‘The Abbey’ mentioned in the guidebook... although it’s impossible to be sure? What the hell is an abbey anyway? Shouldn’t I see monks or something?
The only advice in the guidebook is to ‘follow the trail for 1.8k until seeing a cabin on the left’. From there you should see some ice in the distance. Looking around I saw several trails... which one to take? Deducing that the guidebook must be referring to the unplowed section of road as a ‘trail’ we set off. It only made sense at the time since that’s where the cars belonging to fellow climbers were parked and a fresh set of snowshoe tracks and snowmobile trails went off in that direction.

Slogging through snow can be misleading... it’s tough to tell how far you’ve gone since you’re unsure how fast you’ve been going. It’s certainly slow business. We passed several cabins on the right side of the road which was a promising sign since we were looking for a cabin on the left. Also promising were periodic piss-holes in the snow... a sure sign that coffee-driven climbers were here just ahead of us. The road was following a well flowing stream through a steep valley. This was definitely the right terrain.

After what seemed like at least 1.5 km we saw somewhat of a small ice fall off in the distance through the trees to the left. Convincing ourselves that our landmark ‘cabin on the left’ was just ahead we continued. At some point we found a bridge over the brook leading to a cabin on the right. Why hadn’t the guide mentioned this bridge? Where had the snowshoe tracks and associated piss-holes gone? WTF?

A steep hill was just ahead. At this point we felt like something wasn’t fitting. Going up the hill would get us to a good vantage point though so we headed on. Ever been on an endless hill? You know, one of those hills that looks like it finishes in just 100 more meters only to trick you? We must have been tricked by that effing hill about a dozen times. When we made it to the top we realized that we’d cleared all of the steep valley terrain and had come out at houses on a plateau and a road marked ‘long settlement road’. Fuck. We’d been beaten. My cocky approach to finding this place came back to haunt me.

Jon was convinced that we should try to hitch hike back. I was pretty tempted looking at my heavy pack and thinking about slogging back the same way I came. I didn't know though... since we were in the middle of BF nowhere who knows when somebody would drive by willing to pick up 3 men who are armed to the teeth with medieval looking ice axes. We ultimately walked it back.

Getting back to the car went quickly for some reason. We dumped our packs and look for where we went wrong. 100’ back from the Hobbit hole we found an ‘Arnold’s Hollow’ road sign leading off at 180° to where we’d been. This road looked more like a trail and was well beaten with snowshoe tracks. How’d we miss it earlier? It was now 1:00 and the day was shot. Knowing we’d have to slog another hour in the snow to get to the climbing we quit, packed the car, and headed out.

The guide mentioned another nearby little climbed route named Dragon’s Den just 5km past Poley in the community of Cedar Camp, NB. It sounded neat ‘A free hanging ice pillar over a cave’. It was supposed to be visible from the road and with only a 15 minute approach sounded possible for a day now more than half shot.

We found it but the only obvious approach was blocked by signs indicating ‘no trespassing, no parking, and beware of dog’. Not a very hospitable place. Not willing to risk another epic we booked, and ended up at the bar at Poley... the only success to an otherwise total ice climbing fail.

I make it sound bad but I think any other reasonable person would have actually chalked it up to a great day to hike in the woods with a few buddies. I guess that’s true.

Tomorrow, I’m pulling all the air photos I have for the area and whenever I return, I’m posting a comprehensive guide to the ‘approach from below’... complete with maps and photos... as it should be.

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