Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Be Solid at the Grade"

When climbs are described simply with: "be solid at the grade", climbers should take note. 

I went to finally check out McQuirk's Mt. yesterday. Located near St. George (N.B.'s "Granite Town"), this crag, along with it's sister Utopia, make the trip to Charlotte County quite worthwhile. Several years ago... someone telling you that they found a true multi-pitch granite crack-fest within a short 10 minute mostly flat approach from a main road in southern NB would sound like complete horseshit. This thing is seriously tall (most routes are two full pitches) and is seriously obscured from the road. 

Hint: Park at 5.3km south of Second Falls 

First, I'll say Kudos to Greg H., Mike D., and anyone else who excavated cracks, cut trail, and installed rap stations here. This place has been developed right. Relatively new routes are completely clean and free of loose rock. Want a view of what it probably looked like 2 years ago? Climb something at the far right end of New Crack City wall and look at the sea of lichen off to the side. Incredible effort. 
What a sweet campsite!
Now the climbing. Apply tape liberally before heading out. Some pro instruction here. If you're like me and you want to warm up on easy stuff before venturing anywhere where folks say "be really solid at 5.9" then head towards New Crack City. We accessed the tree ledge by climbing After Midnight which turned out to have a spicy section of face climbing (entirely possible that I was off route). When you get to the first anchor you'll see a huge spread of clean cracks in front of you. Just launch and pick the one that looks best. I have no idea which I climbed... but it was sweet sustained jamming. The crux of the day will be to not get stuck climbing every pitch on this wall. They all look good... but there is better stuff waiting. 
Tape fist bump!
Next we climbed Fifty Mission Cap with Chris H. gunning for the onsight. The intimidating looking roof turned out to be heady but easy face climbing. The thin corner is absolutely the crux. A heinously hard move to transition into a crack on the left face tuned out to be the crux for both of us. Summon your inner gymnast and stem wide like a hero! This felt way harder than 5.10c but admittedly... I'm out of shape and have only 2 days of rock so far this year /hangs head/. Superb route. 

Finished the day by trading leads on Magic X. Found the route description a bit misleading but we headed up a big blocky corner and that seemed to put us on the right track. The highlight of the first pitch is an airy step off a big ledge out onto a pocketed face. An anchor on the ledge make it seem like the right place to stop but if you're climbing the second pitch I'd recommend clipping one bolt with a long draw and making the step as your last big move on the first pitch. I think it would be more scary as a first move off the anchor if you choose to stop at the big ledge. There is a second anchor just slightly higher up and left which is a perfect belay for the second pitch, which is sustained and sweet 5.8 crack climbing. Bring at least 3 green Camelots... and more if you have em'. 
Topping out. Sorry, no climbing shots possible today.
From what I saw and the 5 pitches I climbed... this place is pretty much the quality of Cathedral Ledge. I'd say it's certainly as good or better in quality than Cochrane lane or the Precipice in Maine. It's got the quality if not the sheer quantity. The rock has a bit of loose crystal which will exfoliate quickly with traffic. I'll be back for sure. Neutral Tribe looks absolutely stunning... top of my tick list now. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Control your Fear, Place your Gear, Earn your Beer!

Yeah... that's a leopard tube top at the crag.
Climbing partners are worth their weight in gold, or DMM offset brass nuts... whatever works for you. For me, the equation balances when a person's willing to learn, willing to teach you new tricks, and is focused on a mix of improvement and fun. Despite appearing like a total gong-show in this image, and despite chucking various objects at me from heights half the day yesterday, I vouch that Sonia is a really good climbing partner. 

Both of us jumped at early-season opportunity yesterday on what was a busy, perfect weather climbing day at Cochrane lane yesterday. Sonia led About a Rope which is a terrific moderate and is no means a walk-up. The leader's got to think about rope drag, ledges, protecting the second on traverse, and a high crux that's got tough gear to place at the grade. Get on it if it's at your grade!

Small cams can hold big mans!

At the end of the afternoon I jumped on Sticky Fingers despite having wimpy fingers from a winter of non-climbing (ice doesn't do much for crimp strength or tip toughness). After doing a better than I expected I found myself through the thin crux and placing a final blind piece from a secure finger lock. Clipped er' and just as I was committing to the final move my smear blew. This old yellow TCU... one of my oldest pieces held like a champ. Not that it was a big fall (8' or so)... but the first one of the year always feels bigger than reality. Beer earned!

We weren't the only climbers around yesterday, the place was full of locals, visitors, men, women, and even a very psyched kid out for a hike. Cars were parked to the end of the field and lots of people were thinking about goals for the season. What are your goals for this year? 

Sonia leading Sparky Start

Happy to top out About a Rope

Tracy over on Pass the Moonshine

Sunday, April 20, 2014

First rock 2014... only about 3 weeks late

Well as of yesterday it was still snowing in the morning... but I think that's finally done. Spring is weeks late and most crags will be seeping snow-melt for a while. Cedar Pt. is good though... as always bone dry and warm.

I caught up with a good crew of Pepper Creek climbers for a few quick laps today. Not climbing in the gym over the winter hurts though... tonight my fingers ache, my tips are raw, and my calves are still white-hot burning fire! All the jogging / cycling / and chin-ups in the world don't compensate for a lack of climbing. Still though... was a terrific day to be hucking myself at warm rock with good company.

I've noticed that someone's contributed a lot in terms of chains and quick clip biners for this crag. Excellent! Perfect place to have them and a real service! I have noticed very quick rust accumulation on the galvanized chains. Marine environment and mixed metals perhaps? Check out this image of Stef belaying us up on these chains... I don't know if they are even a year old? I don't remember them last year.

Placing inexpensive equipment contributed out-of-pocket is a necessity for a place like this. Stainless quick-clip anchor installation is an expensive proposition and nobody's going to do it in a place that's got a history of anchor chopping (I had one removed that I placed a few years ago). That could  be a different story if we had a bit more security on the access however. If climbers knew they had a permanent right in this area it could make a great project for Ascent NB to work on. As it is now... I think it's a good example of how unsecured access leads to use of budget hardware (and rightly so). Not trying to knock the contribution someone's made... it's totally safe and appreciated... but just trying to image a future that could include fancy bling anchors!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Late Season Ice

For the past few trips, I've been climbing at the Hatchery... but decided to give it a rest given the recent access concerns (which are now thankfully solved). A week or two of reduced pressure there may help the situation further.  

Sonia and I decided to gamble on the conditions at Mt. Misery. We knew that it was likely to be mostly sun-baked and rotten, but it's been cold enough at night still to have hope. 

Before talking about the ice I'll mention the scene that greeted us. Upon dropping our packs and making our way to the anchor trees we found a scene of harsh natural selection.  A deer had been cornered at the edge of the cliff by coyotes and was freshly torn apart a few hours before we arrived. Not much of it left to look at... a bit of fur, part of a rib-cage and spinal column, and most of the lower guts. You are going to go right through it if you want to top-rope there for now. I tried my best to get Sonia to pose for a selfie with it... she was game right up until we found the cute little hooves.  Too bad.  

Not your typical scene!
The ice was rotten, but stable and full. We top-roped a few pitches and one was lead at the upper tier. Screws were marginal and took a bit of time to remove the bad surface ice. The melt-patter has actually left most of what's left in steeper conditions than normal... and very fun. The ice has the consistency of dense hard Styrofoam... and every swing is a guaranteed stick! I think it will survive until next weekend! 
Late season ice

Baked but full conditions.
I also realized the best part about late-season ice isn't the hero texture. When it's early-mid season my ethic is to leave daggers and overhangs alone. They are forming... and may yet touch down for someone to enjoy. During the late season that ethic goes away and I go out of my way to smash, bash, and drop anything that will make a big crash. Makes me think there should be a date on the calendar around March 15th for this. Fuck ice ethics... Super fun! 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ice Hub

Yesterday Dom and I got out for a day of ice at the Hatchery.  As I said last time, this is a 3-star ice crag. It will prove to have some of the best late-season ice in N.B... that's my prediction. Yesterday's temperature called for +6 degrees and full sun. The 48 hours before that were all above zero as well with some rain reported. A spell like this would seriously bake any ice in the Welsford valley or the coast but the Hatchery had actually put on girth to it's already fat ice.

The ice cave behind the first pillar is rapidly shutting itself in. It may be blocked in the next week. 
Having a 60m rope and being out of shape we were definitely a bit limited. I led the long WI3 Standard Wall which proved to be a rope stretcher. Nice pitch. I also picked the weakness and led the WI3+ variation of Le Mur Des Barbots. This puts you in excellent position to top-rope any number of grade 4 and 4+ lines if you don't feel up to leading them. Some are strait-shots while others offer interesting stemming.  The variety, length, and accessibility of this place is great.

We did find that the heavy snow that fell the week before had covered many of the slabby sections. Some of it had clearly sloughed off into the gully in mini-avalanches. I'd say the snow in spots was 10'-12' deeper than it was 2 weeks ago. A person caught under it would be in trouble. It also made possible for us to cut off about 10m from our climbs making them more feasible 60m rope. Simply scramble a short snow-slope and build a belay anchor on the first ice you find. Voila:

Don't trust v-threads? Set one... weight it... then start chipping away ice with a tool. You will surprise yourself.
Between the Hatchery, the Aquarium, Glebe, Parlee, Hullhomes, Truancy, and the coastal ice ranging from Quaco to Walton Glen I figure Sussex could market itself as a destination-quality ice hub. There is easy ice with short approaches, long and committing ice, and everything in-between. A guiding business centered in Sussex would be sustainable. I'd pay for a snow-mobile shuttle ride into Parlee or Walton Glen. Add dependable ice to the possibility of other winter adventure sports in the area and I think it's a winning equation. Too bad nobody local to Sussex really is aware of what they've got. Would be nice to showcase non-consumptive uses of the landscape in the area and set a model for other communities like Welsford. What do you think?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Ice - The Hatchery

I need to write about The Hatchery. Believe the hype.

Last Sunday I agreed to help the Rock & Ice club with their annual ice school. For several weeks, I'd been hearing rumors and hearsay about a new ice place that boasts huge volume, and the shortest ice approach in N.B. How can this be true? It's generally accepted that southern N.B. is completely tapped for opportunity right? Wrong. Marty T. and Luc G. have thoroughly laid waste to that idea.

Their plan was to make a grand unveiling... and rather than invite the experienced members of N.B.'s ice community, they decided to make it first available to never-climbed-before beginners at ice school. A great opportunity for their $50.

So after a 15 minute and easy hike through the woods east of the Parlee Brook Abby, we turned up a steep ravine and smack... there's the ice. This spot seems to have a perfect mixture of terrain, seepage, shelter from the sun, and cold weather. We walked past deep blue ice from WI2 - WI4+. The variety is excellent: pillars coming over caves, dead-vertical pitches, and long moderates. Marty estimates about 30 independent lines formed this year with a few other very large and very steep smears promising future opportunity. If you subtract the snowfields that are common during most winters at Parlee Brook, I think you'd say that this area about as much ice! It is certainly going to be one of NB's premiere destinations.

Topo can be found here until the new ice guide is compiled. Excellent work on the discovery Marty & Luc!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Glebe Ice

A lot about ice conditions can change in a few weeks. Right after I wrote about the great ice formation in the early season the weather took a turn for the worse. I won't make that mistake again. A few weeks of positive temperatures and rain wrecked most of the ice in the province. The only exceptions were the ice gullies of the Waterford area: Parlee and Glebe.

Sunday Stef and I went to Glebe. We drove in as far as we could with his 4x4 and snow chains cutting the hike in half. Plenty of climbers in there (a dozen or so) for a remote area. We actually waited in line for ice routes!

Mike D. leading what looks like a killer steep pitch. You need to remind yourself that snow doesn't stick to vertical ice. 

After trading a few leads on the slabby fat stuff we made for the main entertainment of the day. Stef hucked himself at what I think was 'The Cardinal's Realm' in solid WI4 condition. Hard steep ice gave him a workout I think. Great climb. While I was cleaning it I also got a great show looking across the gully at Greg H. tackle "Knight to Bishop" which I'd say was in questionable shape. It's pillar wasn't touched down by much and made a sickly hollow noise with each strike. As Greg made it about 4 m up a crack split across the main pillar... which led to a swift descent. First time I've seen a climber swinging from a single point of ice contact. Exciting. I wish I'd had a video. Text seems like it doesn't do the scene any justice.

Hope to report lots more ice yet this year!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fat Ice

Is the title referring to the climber... or the conditions?  The answer is probably both.

On Sunday I was very happy to be swinging tools again. Great first day of the season for me. Pete and I checked into Mt. Misery and it is forming up better already than it's been in several years. We climbed laps on Strait Up, Main Street, and I actually made a go at leading one of the easy slabs on the right. We finished the day playing gently on the pillars at the left end of the lower tier which are already touched down and solid (Golden Pillar I think?)

Golden Pillar is in.

Main Street is fat fat fat!
Being the father of a 6 month old I am finding myself at least 7 months out-of-shape. There has not been a lot of climbing in recent months (evidenced by the lack of activity here). Although I'm trying to keep up in noon-hour workouts it's just not the same as climbing, and I felt it on Sunday. On pitch 6 of the day my arms just couldn't get into a good lock-off... and when that stops working ice climbing gets sloppy. Not surprising... but I think I need to dial back on the cookies if I'm going to be aiming to lead WI4 again this year. Less cookies = more ice.