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Thread: "Is it worth it?" My take on early season ice climbing.

  1. #1
    Senior Member leaf's Avatar
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    "Is it worth it?" My take on early season ice climbing.

    Over Halloween weekend, I went into Huntington Ravine with Frodo to catch some early season ice. I had watched the weather all week, read the forecast for that weekend, looked at the webcams every morning and talked to a friend of mine I knew was headed in there a day before I was to climb. Conditions looked favorable but certainly nothing was guaranteed. The idea of trying to catch it at the right time was exciting to me. In October and November, its all about planning and timing. I love to hunt for ice at a time when the difference between climbable and non-climbable ice can be mere hours.

    After getting a closer look at Harvard slab at the start of Yale Gully, we saw too much water flowing underneath to safely climb it. We explored around the corner and found a great pitch of decent ice in a corner to climb and start up the gully. After that, there were good patches of ice here and there and some of the climbing up high required dry tooling on exposed sections.



    Getting in the first ice of the season


    Dry tooling up an exposed stretch near the top

    A weekend later, I went back in with Jeff Stone hoping for another chance to climb ice. That day, was a no-go as the ice looked too sketchy to climb so we decided to attempt Pinnacle Buttress under 'winter' conditions. It was a very challenging climb, numb hands, breaking the ice off hand and foot holds, dry tooling.. a good honest attempt that ended with a bail off after the third pitch.


    Looking up at the start of the second pitch

    Over this Thanksgiving break, I headed back into the Ravine, solo this time. I was able to climb Odells Gully, but under brutal conditions.. waist deep snow, rotted and hollow ice and very high wind gusts. It was a struggle and it took me 7 hours car-to-car to that day. In some sections there was potential for both the ice to collapse and the snow to slide underneath me. It required heightened awareness and careful climbing.


    Snow tornadoes blowing around at the top of the Ravine


    Odells Gully, center of photo

    Were any of these weekends worth it? Was it worth it only getting a 100 feet of thin ice to climb? Was it worth it to struggle up three pitches of icy rock only to turn around and rap off? Was it worth the struggle in Odells to top out?

    To start off, is this really 'ice climbing'? If I get one pitch of scrappy ice, can I say I went climbing? I've gotten a lot of opinions during the start of this ice season from both non-climbers and climbers alike. There was an article written that made the front page of NEice.com where a climber spotted Frodo and I in the ravine over Halloween weekend and he questioned whether we were 'proper climbers' or 'two unfortunate souls'. I also have gotten a backhanded reply to one of my conditions posts on this Thanksgiving weekend as 'it's still missing some ice to call it ice climbing'. For most it seems, the ice season hasn't started yet. In response to those questions and comments, I not only view my time so far in Huntington Ravine as climbing, but I feel that attempting early season ice embodies the true spirit of climbing. Climbing for me is defined as adventure. Its the unknown.. not knowing what's around the corner, taking the chance of getting totally screwed and finding no ice to climb, not knowing what the conditions are like before setting out but planning and watching the weather days before you decide to climb to figure out the best time and place to go for success. Going out there without guarantees and making the most out of the day is what climbing means to me. Heading into some ice crag with full knowledge that it's in and fat, is it fun? Of course! It's a blast. Is it adventurous? Not so much, in my opinion.

    So is it worth it? Was one day out of the three I wrote about more worth it than the other? I put out the feelers to a few of my partners for each of those weekends to see what they thought. One reply that stuck out in my mind was 'I'll go into Huntington Ravine when it's worth the drive'. It was a little taken back, and as I do respect their definition of 'worth it' since they can only afford certain weekends free to go climbing and they want it to be guaranteed ice from bottom to top.. I can't help wondering if they are missing out on a little excitement and adventure. Realistically, I can't afford to head to the big mountains all the time.. if I'm lucky I get a chance to go west for one ice trip and one rock trip a year.. to the North Cascades, Colorado, the Sierras.. and those are great adventures for me. So I feel, in a way, getting up north as much as possible during the early seasons is a way to bring a little of the big mountain excitement into my climbing weekends.

    Each of those weekends, the first swings of the season, a challenging rock climb in cold and icy conditions and the struggle up Odells Gully were completely worth it. If I were to shy away from the possible challenge of a windy day or thin ice, or not climb at all until mid-January, I feel a lot would be lost in something I consider my biggest passion. This isn't to say that I seek out hazardous or risky conditions, don't get me wrong. I have a strong sense of self preservation. It's about exploring my limits and experiencing adventures in my backyard. It's about capturing what I consider the true spirit of climbing.


    An awesome moment as my shadow passes through the center of a Brocken Spectre on Lions Head after climbing Odells Gully.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Bobby's Avatar
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    Hey Leaf, nice write up and great pics. Is it worth it? Well, I've been grounded for a few months now. The way I see it is that it is always worth it. It's what you do, what you enjoy, so it can never be a waste of time. Even if the conditions aren't what you want, you still get some outdoor time. Just my two cents....
    "Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic." Crash Davis -"Bull Durham"

    photo link

  3. #3
    Senior Member prino's Avatar
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    I would say it was very much worth it... judging by those fantastic pictures. Thanks for sharing!
    What am I doing on this damn computer.... I should be out on the trails!!

  4. #4
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    So its mixed climbing... All part of the game. Some people enjoy and even prefer it.

    If the purists want to stay home, then that much less crowding on the climbs for you. If you want to do it, then go for it--let the peanut gallery contemplate ascents of Barstool Ridge while you actually climb something.

    FWIW, I've enjoyed a few (short) spots of mixed myself.

    Doug
    Last edited by DougPaul; 11-26-2011 at 12:22 PM.

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    Why would you possibly care whether or not I or anyone else thinks your day on a mountain was "worth it"? You're the only one who can make that call. You grab your pack and your pointy weapons, you play on the mountain, you have fun. End of story. Why the need for affirmation or validation from others?

    For what it's worth, I have not one iota of interest in rock or ice climbing. So even in the best mid-winter conditions, what you do is not "worth it" to me, and yet I check out all your trip reports. You write well, and you take nice photos from cool angles that I'll never see. That's enough to keep me coming back.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------

    Trip pictures

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    Member slevasse's Avatar
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    Any time you can get into the mountains, it is worth it. The trips where you get shut out or have to back off can be just as instructional as those days that you get to climb great ice. It's may not be as nice to climb on ice that is brittle and crappy, but getting your mileage on it can mean the difference between finishing or having to back off from climbs on those once or twice a year trips.

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    Senior Member JimC's Avatar
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    Your Reports are Worth It To Me!

    Leaf

    Climb your vision. All else is just noise.

    I enjoy your well written and graphic reports.

    Don't let the bastards get you down!

    Jim

  8. #8
    Senior Member leaf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Billy View Post
    Why would you possibly care whether or not I or anyone else thinks your day on a mountain was "worth it"? You're the only one who can make that call. You grab your pack and your pointy weapons, you play on the mountain, you have fun. End of story. Why the need for affirmation or validation from others?
    I don't need affirmation or validation for what I do. Nor do I care what others think, honestly. I was just thinking about what I've been hearing lately and made me think about what climbing really means to me. So I thought I'd share that. 'Was it worth it' was a rhetorical question.

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    Quote Originally Posted by leaf View Post
    It's about exploring my limits and experiencing adventures in my backyard. It's about capturing what I consider the true spirit of climbing.
    You go girl!
    I love your post. Have read it 3x and totally appreciate what you have taken the time to share with us. This last sentence sums it up beautifully. You climb with "heart". You can't go wrong if you hang on to that as tightly as you do your rope. You have found the secret to peace, and happiness. No one can ask for more.
    Here is a little poem for you.
    "Only as high as I reach can I grow,
    Only as far as I seek can I go,
    Only as deep as I look can I see,
    Only as much as I dream can I be."
    ~Karen Raven

  10. #10
    Senior Member cushetunk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DougPaul View Post
    let the peanut gallery contemplate ascents of Barstool Ridge while you actually climb something.
    I've never heard of Barstool Ridge, but I have heard of Barstool Mountain:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QY6b7Gel1c

    Leaf, if I ice climbed, I'd be out there early season. Winter is too short to not take advantage of whatever you've got!

  11. #11
    Senior Member Michelle's Avatar
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    Personally, I think just getting that last amazing shot of your shadow in the "rainbow" makes it all worth it!
    ~Chickety

  12. #12
    Senior Member Woody's Avatar
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    Ya, it's worth it anytime you can get into the Mountains. Go Court!
    Woody

  13. #13
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cushetunk View Post
    I've never heard of Barstool Ridge,
    Barstool Ridge is an old traditional bad weather objective...


    (In case anyone still does not get it: go to the bar instead of the mountains.)

    Doug

  14. #14
    Senior Member Frodo's Avatar
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    Awesome pictures! I am now going to refer you as "Saint Courtney".

    Regarding the topic, IMO, it is far better to experience (even if it is somewhat dangerous), than to just exist. We are all on this Earth for a short time, and we should experience as much as we can, while we can...
    "The goggles, they do nothing!"

    - Raineer Wolfcastle

  15. #15
    Senior Member The Unstrung Harp's Avatar
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    Cool thread. That last pic is amazing.
    0/1 NH48-THRU

    Trek For Peace

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