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Thread: Gothics North Face - A Perfect Day on 2015 March 29

  1. #1
    Senior Member Mudrat's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Lake Placid Area

    Gothics North Face - A Perfect Day on 2015 March 29

    Duration: 9 hours
    Mileage/elevation gain: approx. 12 miles/ 4,000 feet
    Weather: Clear, 8 – 40 degrees Fahrenheit
    Partner: Nangaparbat (NP)


    Over four weeks, I’ve taken four long duration backcountry climbs on Gothics East Face, Panther Gorge and Colden’s west face.

    This trip found me returning to Gothics North Face. It was an impromptu outing with friend and long-time climbing partner NP. I went into it without any preconceived goals or notions, it was just a way to wind down and relax. Additionally, I looked forward to carrying a pack without the weight of a rope or technical gear. In addition to the usual layers, I simply packed a backcountry harness, an ice screw, a few slings and biners in case of an emergency.

    The weather forecast called for crystal clear skies, low winds and a cold start at 8 degrees Fahrenheit that would warm into the 40’s. This was a stark contrast to our January 2014 trip up the New Finger Slide of the North Face in whiteout conditions with 40 mph winds and a sub-zero wind chill.

    We left the Garden at 8:30 a.m. and reached the base of the face at 10:30 a.m. The approach was hard-packed and in similar condition to the Orebed Trail. My excitement peaked as the face shone through the sun illuminated trees. New fallen snow from the prior day was beginning to melt on every branch. The trees sparkled as thousands of small icicles refracted the light. Icy drainage slabs were buried under feet of snow with ski tracks zig-zagging back and forth across the path.

    Above, First full view of the North Face.Below, a party of three on the face.

    We’re usually alone on our adventures. This day we found 10 other people near or on the face. Three climbers were a few hundred feet up the “Old Route” that begins on the left-hand side. Two women with skis were working their way up the extreme left-hand side through deep snow en route to True North Slide. Three others were roping up to climb along a route adjacent and left of where we planned to climb.

    The view was breathtaking. Instead of feeling oppressive, the face seemed welcomingly beautiful as the sunlight cast shadows across various overlaps and ice flows. Most of the face was covered with new fallen powder. Only the ice and a few of the steepest stone pitches were blown clean. Already I knew this could create difficulties by obscuring the details of the route—thick ice, verglas (very thin ice), consolidated snow or bare rock?

    I suddenly heard NP yell. The three unroped climbers were down-climbing. One lost his footing and slid about 200 feet to the bottom (see video at :55 seconds for the bottom of the slide). What could have resulted in a broken leg ended up being a sprained ankle.

    I continually assess both external and my internal conditions. The fall triggered a hyper-pensive state of mind within. While it didn’t shake my confidence, it certainly sharpened my resolve to climb safely. Since we were going to climb unprotected, every step and swing of the axe mattered.

    NP and I followed the roped party up a pitch of vertical ice and onto the bottom of the face. The hollow thud of late spring ice answered my boots as I kicked the crampons in. The next hundred feet amounted to ascending consolidated snow (neve). Whereas the roped team took a line up toward the northeast shoulder of Gothics left of the large tree islands, NP trended right toward a more direct and exposed line along pure ice. I climbed portions of it and skirted the edge other times. A couple thin alders offered the only protection during the first 500 feet of elevation gain. We front pointed much of it so resting near the trees was a welcome respite to our burning legs.

    Above, NP heads toward the first pitch. Below, NP on the first run of ice.

    The new fallen powder presented a few problems. Psychologically it felt better to climb with a little snow underfoot rather than on the ice. This was entirely psychological since I was actually climbing on snow covered verglas (very thin ice). Only the tips of the axes and crampons held me in place. Suddenly, my axe rang differently as it hit bare rock under the powder. I found thin ice above and continued up into secure neve. I grumbled inside as this also meant I’d have to resharpen them after the trip.

    The snow got deeper as we approached larger islands of trees. I led the way and photographed NP from the protection of a more mature alder. The biners and slings hung unused from my waist, but I felt comfortable in my position. This was like so many things we’ve climbed before only more sustained. It felt good to be on exposed terrain with a friend under bright skies and the Upper Great Range in the background. Life doesn’t get better.

    The next couple hundred feet entailed climbing through deep snow and some wind-packed slab...I’d rather have ice. We spied a wide swath of exposed climbing on neve/ice between tree bands. This route led to the summit ridge. I traversed left and life suddenly got very interesting.

    Above, Kevin on good neve. Below, NP about 500' up the face.

    An underlying bulge of the face made the slope steeper than 45 degrees—no problem. The ice thinned slightly, but I adjusted my technique to compensate. I continued left and felt the crampon tips catch, but barely. Soon I’d reach the neve...right? I gambled and found myself on a large section of powder covered rock.

    The crampons held on the nubs of stone as I swept away the snow in search of even a thin layer of ice. An eight inch would have made me feel secure. Lichen and cold stone was all I could find for what seemed an eternity. It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to quash concern before it gestates into panic. Blessedly, I’m not prone to losing my head; instead I focus.

    I finally located a small area of verglas that accepted the tip of one axe. I breathed deeply and continued without looking down to the bottom...800 feet below. Inch by precious inch I lowered myself making sure each placement was secure before moving. A crampon tip suddenly caught on something more solid, something more icy. After a few more minutes the ordeal was over. NP asked why I backed down; was I tired? Before I could reply, his axes were scraping on rock. The answer became obvious.

    The climbing was easier once on safer, if not steeper, terrain. We’d caught up to the other group and followed up along a thin ice flow. Firm Styrofoam-like neve felt good underfoot. A few minutes later we topped the ridge and broke through the 8 foot cornice to the Range Trail. Thus ended another spectacular day! Our specific line encompassed about 1,800 feet over 920 feet of elevation gain (from the vertical ice pitch).

    Above, obvious mixed conditions...blown free of powder. Below, nearing the summit ridge.

    We exited down a blown-in cable route toward Saddleback. The rest of the exit was relaxing and we arrived at the trailhead 9 hours after beginning. The packed approach trail paid off with the dividend of a short day out on a classic Adirondack face climb.

    The takeaway from this trip is nothing new to seasoned climbers. For those who aren’t as familiar, the face often doesn’t come into condition until late February, March or sometimes April. Avalanches are a real possibility given the right set-up. Once there, the condition of Gothics North Face is often mixed. New snow makes route finding difficult and it’s easy to climb yourself into trouble. Protection is minimal especially on the more exposed lines so keep your head and be ready for anything. Finally, make sure you’re in shape for a sustained leg-burning climb. Ok, I’m off my pedestal!

    To finish, reflect on the words of Don Mellor in Blue Lines. “Remember that when the ice is lean and the wind howls across gray spindrifted rock slabs, this Adirondack north face can be a test.

    Cornice on summit ridge.
    Last edited by Mudrat; 04-01-2015 at 11:27 AM.
    May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.
    Full list of trip reports, photo galleries, mosaics & video at:

  2. #2
    Member MylesLI's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Long Island, NY
    awesome trip and a GREAT video/pics report!!! I'm sooooo jealous!!

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