An Ice Gumby takes the Sharp End

(Ice climbing with Hector Briceno at Newfound Lake, NH Saturday, Feb 5, 2000. This wasn't an official MITOC trip - we were going to meet up with the Mt. Washington group on Sunday - but it was fun anyway. This TR leaves out much of the detail of the day, and ignores some really nice ice climbing by Hector, and some of the more amusing - but unrelated - stories. Sorry. You'll have to write your own TR, Hector. :-) (* - see disclaimer at end)

Sometimes, life hands you a really big carrot.

On Saturday, I felt like Bugs Bunny in the farmer's field.

I'd gone to sleep at 4:00 that morning, and Hector had called at quarter to five to awaken me for our ice climbing trip. I scrambled out of bed (about a 5.9, unroped), dumped hot water in my bottles, managed to splash a little water on my face, and met Hector just as he pulled up outside my apartment.

An interesting start to the day, but during the two hour drive to Newfound Lake, NH, I managed to get a few catnaps, and was fairly awake by the time we arrived.

Newfound Lake looked weird. It had obviously been found, because the surface was dotted with strange little huts from which strange little people were trying to catch strange little fish. One ice fisher was actually using half of a schoolbus as their ice hut. Impressive.

A quick approach, and we discovered that we were the first ice climbers at the cliff. Excellent! This is my first season ice climbing (I can still count the number of times I've been, so that should speak volumes), but I decided that I wanted to do some leading on ice. An interesting decision, considering my inexperience, but I'd started to feel very comfortable on lower angled ice, and love leading rock, so I figured I'd try. Or, perhaps I just hadn't had enough sleep. Hard to say.

I conservatively scoped out an easier-looking flow on the right side of the cliff, while hector decided on a really nice fat flow of ice up the middle. He took the first lead, and started climbing as other parties began to trickle in. While the other parties started leading the route I'd looked at, Hector started heading up the middle route - a really nice, wide WI 3 (?? I don't have this grading thing down quite yet. Maybe a bit easier; only short sections of vertical ice). He was a bit hesitant at first, which I attributed to the fact that our rack consisted mostly of stubby BD express screws. Cute, fast, and scary.

Eventually, Hector topped out after doing a solid job of leading the route, and asked what I wanted to do. Since by now there were lots of other people around, I shouted up that he should rappel, and I'd lead the same route. "The pro is pretty thin, Dave. You might want to follow it first and then lead it!" he shouted. "Nah. I want to lead it. C'mon down!"

Erm. I can be a little stubborn at times.

Hector rappelled, and cleaned the route. One of the people waiting at the base, Mark, was there with a family friend whom he was taking ice climbing as a 16th birthday present. Katie took to the ice like water, and was running up the routes. Mark was about to lead the flow to the right of mine as I was getting racked up, so we chatted briefly - he's from Wyoming, and we share a common passion for the City of Rocks, Idaho. He noticed my rather meager ice rack. "Would you like to borrow some longer screws?" I happily obliged, stealing two of his full length ice screws, and started climbing up.

The first part of the route is pretty easy. The ice was perfect - it was about 32 degrees that day, and the tools were sticking like glue. Yum! Eventually, I got to a section of the route by a big chunk of granite, where it looked like I'd be able to get a good stopper placement, but the crack turned out to be much smaller than it appeared from the ground, and no nuts would quite go in it. No problem: I'll place my first ice screw!

(Hush. It was my first time off the ground. It was exciting).

The screw went in smoothly, and I started climbing up again, and about twenty feet later placed another. I was having a blast. The climb was gentle - it gave you rest spots in all the right places where you could stand flatfooted on a bulge, calm down, and place pro. This was happy.

The climb continued up, meandering around some thick icicles. I got a nice stance with a tool hooked inside of a big column of icicles, and stemmed out with my crampons between the sides of the small ice chute I found myself in, and started placing another screw. This time, my luck wasn't quite as good, and each time I twisted the screw in, the ice would fracture around it.

That's not a good feeling. But happily, at this time, Mark pulled up on the route next to me, and I blushed, glanced over, "So, I have another stupid newbie question for you, if you have time?" "Go ahead," he replied amicably. I described the fracturing problem, and he pointed out that I was placing the screw into a bulge, and that I should look for screw placements like I'd look for pick placements. Ah-ha! I followed his advice, and the screw went in much more happily. Soon, I was off again. The top of the pitch was tricky - a bulge of vertical ice, with a grundle of snow on top, so the tool placements were insecure. But I had a great nut a few feet below me, and managed to avoid doing too much damage to the sapling I hooked pulling myself over the top.

I wandered up the few feet of lower-angled snow, tied off onto a belay tree, and danced a little jig - I'd survived my first ice lead!

It's interesting. Leading a pretty easy ice climb (from the follower's or top-roper's) perspective is a vastly more challenging experience. Placements where as a second I'd just hook and cruise past, on lead I felt the need to sink my tool into. A much less secure experience than leading on rock, but very fun, too.

I got down, and Mark, Katie, Hector, and the party next to us all congratulated me. What a nice warm fuzzy feeling.

We finished the day with a few more easy leads, and a borrowed toprope on a mixed climb that Mark put up. It was an incredible day - the weather may have been the best I've seen since moving to New England, Hector was extremely patient as I bumbled and muttered my way up the climb, and the other climbers around us were equally patient as I wasted time on the climb, and all were exceptionally great companions for the day. My hat goes off to all of them, including the people whose names I never caught but were climbing the routes to the right of us.

Love them carrots!

(*) Disclaimer: Please note that I don't advocate leading ice when you're still pretty much a novice, which I am. I'm a pretty experienced rock climber, and more importantly, I'm a moron. Caveat Emptor.

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