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     TALES FROM THE WET SIDE: Greg and Tuan Do New England Ice

    It all started when Dave Kriegman and I got an e-mail from Tuan
asking if we were interested in doing some ice climbing in New
Hampshire.  Answer: of course we're interested.  But then Dave decided
it would be more interesting to check out a major natural disaster on
the west coast, so he had to miss out on the fun.

    I found Tuan at the Portsmouth bus station fresh in from France,
and we headed North.  Along the way we discussed the climbing in New
Hampshire---mainly the cold.  Tuan was a little nervous about the
cold, so much so that he showed me how he had filed his tools to a
razer edge to cut into that hard, hard ice.  We checked into the AMC
lodge, bought a guide book, and questioned the locals about
conditions.  According to them, if was "fat" this year.  Back in the
room, Tuan sorted gear and noticed that he had forgotten his gaiters.
Oh well, gaiters aren't that important in New England; the ice is
always hard and dry.  We also discussed strategy since we had two 11
mm ropes and only one 9 mm.  Hopefully this wouldn't be too much of a
drag on the leader (a.k.a Tuan).

    We woke the next day to find a foot of new snow on the ground,
more falling, and the promise of precipitation through the day.  Tuan
grumbled something about having to clean snow from the climbs.  Off we
headed to do battle with the frozen north.  Oddly, though, as we drove
it seemed that the show was melting faster and faster.  We arrived at
Frankenstein cliffs in a wet sort of sleet.  The drive up to the lot
was still a foot of ever wetter snow, so we parked at the bottom of
the drive and hiked up.  I ran into the fellow who lives at the end of
the climb and checked if parking down there was ok.  He said it was
fine, although the snow plow operators took sadistic pleasure in
burying parked cars in snow.  Great!

   We broke a new trail through the snow to the amphitheatre where
many of the ice climbs are located.  As we trudged along things got
wetter and wetter.  Tuan asked if this was normal?  Ahhh, well, what's
normal?  As we got there, we saw several climbs were in.  What to do?
We eagerly pulled out the guidebook and, well, it sort of turned to
mush in the now poring rain.  So, we just chose the first available
climb---Bob's delight rated 4/4- in the new New England (mushy) guide.
We waded through the snow, set up the climb, and Tuan started leading.
The first time he had climbed ice in the rain.  Funny no one else was
out.  Tuan cruised, then I cruised, and we had bagged our first climb.
For amusement, we decided to top-rope it and try another line.  After
wringing out my gloves, I took the more vertical right side, Tuan did
the same.  We wrung out our gloves, rapped off, wrung out our gloves,
and dragged the wet mass the used to be our rope through the wet snow
toward the next ever wetter climb (it was really raining now).  After
wringing out our gloves, tying into the wet rope, and wringing out
our gloves Tuan started to lead Widow's walk (5/5+).  For the
uninitiated, Widows is a bulge, ramp, and short vertical leading to
about 50 feet of vertical frozen waterfall.  As Tuan sloshed up to the
piller, he squeezed his hands to get the water out of his gloves and
remarked that his hands were quite cold.  Since it was now reaching
torrential downpour proportions, I suggested we get ourselves out of
there and see if the car had been buried.  So, we wrung out our
gloves, packed our gear, wrung out our gloves, and hiked out.  The car
was not buried, but the roads were basically ice covered with water.
After about an hour, we stopped at IME (the local climbing spot) to
find some dry clothes for the next day, and so Tuan could buy some
gaiters.  We arrived to find flooding, and no power.  After trying on
some gear by the light of headlamps, we skidded up the road to the
hut, had dinner, and spent the rest of the evening wringing water out
of all of our gear.

Day 2 dawned sunny and mostly clear.  The temperatures overnight had
set new records from the valley to the top of Mt. Washington.  But, at
least some of our gear had dried overnight, and we had one fresh dry
rope.  The roads were ok.  So, we were off to do battle again.

As we arrived, we could see the climbs sparkling and glinting in the
sun.  This was not surprising since they were all running water like a
fire hose had broken.  Oh sigh.  Well, Widows was looking a little
thinner than yesterday; I guess she'd walked off some weight
overnight.  According to the locals, this was a late afternoon climb
when the ice "firmed up."  That is, Widows is directly in the morning
sun, so it is usually a little softer than the locals like.  But Tuan,
being used to the softer alps ice, found it to his liking.  An hour or
so after we set up, he had pulled over the top.  Interesting guy to
watch climb.  Never waste a move; never misplace a foot; take a rest
whenever you can.  Still, it looked like a hard climb from the bottom.
Once I got on it, it looked even harder.  I did the first bulge and
the initial vertical feeling ok.  I cleaned screw by pulling it out;
the placement had melted completely away! The same with the second.
Gee, if they are all like that cleaning will be a breeze.  Hah.
Naturally the screws in the column had to be unscrewed laboriously
while I hung from one hand on a secure axe.  Finally, after lots of
whining that my hands were getting tired of hanging in the wrist
loops, I cleaned the pitch and hauled my carcass up.  While I was
wringing the water out of my gloves, I asked Tuan what he though of
the climb.  In this words, "eet was a leetle beet pheesical for me."
Oh, really.

Moving onward, we dragged our rope up to the cave route (NE 4).  A
couple of Boston slugs were top-roping it off on the side.  We decided
to go up off to their right.  We wrung out our gloves and Tuan started
up.  But as he went, he kept moving left further.

Tuan, what's up?  

Zer iz water coming off zee climb.

Oh, really?

Tuan finished the lead and it was my turn.  Although the cave route is
nominally the same grade as Bob's delight, it seemed to be a much
trickier climb requiring more thought.  In that sense, Widows was also
easier; it was more grunt with little finesse.  Tuan agreed; we gave it
a rating of 4+ GT (Greg and Tuan) scale.

We wrung out our gloves and headed up to the next climb.  The
temperature was dropping, so some of the water on our harnesses and
ropes was beginning to freeze.  As we dragged the ropes through the
snow to the next climb, they became real cables.  Chia (NE 3+/4-) was
the next climb up the hill.  We planned to go up the left side and do
the impressive pillar at the top which would up the rating to a good
solid 4 or 4+.  As Tuan prepared to start off we decided to use only
one rope.  That would already weigh him down considerably considering
the gallons of now frozen water it had soaked up.  Moreover, as he
started off I ascertained that I couldn't use my belay device.  A hip
belay was all that I could offer.  Tuan said he would "be careful."

As Tuan climbed, I watched a super slug nervously try his first ice.
This provided a sharp contrast with Tuan's superb technique and quiet
manner.  I had to wince at some of the moves the slug tried.  This guy
was clearly not cut out to do ice ever in his life.

Tuan climbed the left side for about 60 or 70 feet.  After placing a
screw, he worked his way up a bit further, then



Zer eez water on zee climb.  It eez freezing when eet heets me.  I weel 
downclimb and go right.

Oh, really.

So, he climbs down, does a traverse and heads up the right side.  At
this point its getting late and I am thinking he is going to do the
easy diagonal exit and we'll get off to dinner.  However, at the base
of the pillar, he moves left, sets a screw, and starts up an inner
corner between the pillar and the wall.  He starts by doing some
extremely elegant stems between the pillar and the wall, gaining
height as he goes.  The instructor points this out to the superslug
and extolls the virtues of this technique.  About this time, several
of the local guides come by with their charges in tow.  They had
crossed the rail trestle when we were on Widows, so they knew Tuan had
led that.  Now he was doing this amazing ice dance up above.  They
wanted to know who this was, where he came from, etc. etc.  By the
time Tuan finished, there was a sizable crowd gathered.

After putting on a dry pair of gloves, I proceeded to follow.  As it
was late, I climbed as quickly as possible, but exercising caution as
Tuan was forced to use a shoulder belay with the stiff rope.  Still, I
reached the traverse in a few short minutes.  At this point, I
discovered that the "water" was really more of shower that froze on
contact.  Moreover, Tuan had placed the screw right in this shower.
After knocking the ice off of it, I managed to get it out and finish
the traverse as quickly as possible.  I sheen of ice now coated me
from head to foot.  Hang on Tuan, the iceman cometh!  Up I went.  As I
neared the base of the pillar, Tuan called to ask if I was at the last
screw.  I was.  After cleaning the screw, I checked out the route.  It
was essentially an overhanging ice bulge of about 15 feet.  On the
adjoining wall a corner had formed.  I went up the same as Tuan.
Place two axes, step up, and stem out.  At first this was great fun.
However, the bulge and the corner got further apart until my final
stem was a wild stretch to place the far foot.

I theenk you should probably just go straight up now.

Oh really.

A few more strenuous placements and pulls and I was over the top.  We
quickly walked off the top of the climb (now that we had found the
walkoff) dragging the rope behind us.  We were in a hurry to get back
to the lodge for dinner, so I immediately started packing.  Tuan looks
around, and then says in a puzzled voice, "I thought I had zree
tools."  He puzzles some more.  "Zees eez amazing."  I coil the small
rope which is a little cable.  "Zees eez really strange."  Finally,
after meditating on the novelty of this situation, he finally puts on
his light, searches back and finds his tool on the trail about 20 feet
away.  He continues to be amazed as I struggle to coil the 11 mm cable
that used to be a rope.  Finally, I resort to wrapping it around my
body.  However, once so coiled, the rope has become so rigid the only
thing we can do is strap it to the top of Tuan's pack like some dead
animal we had discovered.  He headed out to the light of his lamp,
stowed our gear, and drove back.

After just making dinner, we retrieved the icicles that used to be our
gear.  We dragged the rope in in front of the fire and tossed it down.
It hit with a thump AND SHATTERED INTO A THOUSAND PIECES.  Well, ok.
It didn't, but it felt like it could have.  We arranged the rest of
our gear in front of the first as the other people amused themselves
with our interesting ice creations.

Day 3 dawned bright and crisp.  About 10 degrees above zero and a
light wind.  Finally, some real New England weather!  No more fricking
water on the climbs.  We packed the small rope (pretty dry) and the
driest of the 11mm's and headed off.  This time we headed down past
Standard and checked out dropline.  Dropline had dropped, but was not
fully in.  Moving on, we saw Dracula.  It was thin but in.  Some
climbers were checking it out, but started heading down.  On the way
up I asked.  They said the climb looked good, but it was above their
ability level.  It also looked a little wet.  Naaaw, it can't be.

As we got there, we saw that the climb looked thin and heavily icicled
and candled.  But, it was in.  Tuan suited up.  I pulled on some extra
clothes, and he was off.  He climbed slowly, being forced to bash away
much of the fresh ice to find solid stuff underneath.  About 20 feet



Zer eez water on zee climb.

Oh, really.

He continued up, taking an awkward line to avoid as much water as
possible.  After another 30 feet or so,

Zer eez a rope heer.


Someone has left zer rope heer.  Eet eez frozen into zee climb.

Well, clip into it then!

So, he clips it as a piece of pro, and continues to move up slowly.
He finally heads way left, traversing under the water towards
hopefully dryer conditions.  After some interesting and exciting moves
in an extremely tight notch, he decides that this is not the way up.
The final pillar is too thin and icicled.  He downclimbs, traverses,
and heads up the right side.  At this point, his progress becomes
truly painfully slow as he scopes each placement, bashing out icicles
to find solid ice.  Finally, two hours after he starts, he pulls over
the edge.

I take him off belay, pull off some clothes, put on gloves, and proceed 
to warm myself up, looking forward to what appears to be a challenging 
climb.  Then, I see that Tuan is rapping toward me. 

What are you doing?

I'm going to belay from zee bottom.

As he descends, he must unclip the rope from the ice screws.  But, he
reclips after the screws.  I think this is a little weird, but decide
he can do what he wants.  No big deal.

When Tuan gets down, we pull on the large rope.  It's stuck.  Luckily,
after a big heave hoe we manage to free it and the knot in the ropes
appears over the edge.  Tuan continues to pull, and then ...

Uh, Tuan.  Something is weird here.


Well, the knot is coming TOWARD THE CARABINERS!

Sure enough, he had clipped the wrong rope!  What to do?  Well, we can
go around and climb up.  Probably a 20 minute or more exercise.  Tuan
doesn't want to.  He'd rather ascend the rope (well, maybe "rather" is
a little strong).  So, he sets up with a prusik and a soloist to do
this.  But, the rope is too slippery.  It would take him all day to
get up there.  So, he decides to climb using the soloist as protection
(no way I'm going to try that one!).  Off he goes.  After some cursing
and swearing he gets the rope reclipped and is ready to rap.  I give
him some slack.  He fits the rope into his device and

Sheet!  Foock!


My rappel device dooz not work on zees frozen ropes.  Sheet.

He flounders around trying to hold himself up while he does
god-knows-what with the rope and the device.  Finally, he realizes
that there is no other solution and commits himself to
rappel/downclimb while I belay from the bottom.  Luckily, there is no
major incident and he arrives at the bottom.  It's now about 3:00 (we
arrived around 11).  I'm finally on deck for climbing.  We have to be
at the car by 4:30 if we hope to get Tuan back to his bus to Boston.
I love climbing with a frozen rope under time pressure.

Since the rope is again a cable, Tuan decides to belay by backing down
the hill while tied to the rope.  I begin to climb.  It is a cool
climb requiring a lot of thought to get axe placements and foot
placements that are secure.  It is also tiring trying to bash through
the ice.  I see why it took Tuan so long.  It is also pouring water on
the main part of the climb.  The temperature had sunk to 0 degrees, so
the water once again froze where it hit.  And, of course, Tuan had
placed one screw right in the downpour.  It was a block of ice buried
under more ice.  I finally knocked it loose and beat the beaner open
to attach it to my harness.  I continued upward in the deluge.
Through the tight spot, out on top to stem between the ice and a
boulder.  Pulled the screw, and traversed under the deluge to the
pillar.  How did Tuan lead this?  Water everywhere.  Icicles,
candlestick formations.  Lots of bashing gets me near the top.  But,
the rope is off on the side and pulling fiercely.  Nothing to do but
traverse right into the middle of the main water stream while I'm
hanging on the top bulge.  Pretty grunty yet delicate work.  To make
it even worse, when I pull my axe out, little artesian wells spring up
and add to the fun.  I finally pull over.

Luckily there is a ring there.  I could walk around, but lowering will
be faster, and its already nearly 4:00.  So, I hope to God the rope
doesn't freeze on the way down.  It doesn't and I touch down.  We do a
double time packing gear.  Some of it is so frozen that there is no
hope to pack it properly.  One sling has a solid inch of ice on it.
Tuan's crampons are frozen on.  We make do and head out.  We finally
reach the car, do a quick gear sort, and break the ice off as much as
possible.  Tuan piles in and I drive while he undresses.  Two hours
and much traffic later we arrive at the bus station at 6:50.  The 7:00
bus is the last one. As we are packing Tuan's gear, the bus pulls up.
We stuff in the last pieces, say a quick goodbye, and he's off to

So that was our trip.  I learned a few lessons.  
     1. Gore Tex is NOT waterproof.
     2. Always beat the ice off the carabiner BEFORE you drop your tool.
     3. Don't ever depend on New England weather.
     4. When the going gets tough, expect it to get even wetter.
Wonder what next time has in store....

Greg Hager, New Heaven 1 March 1994

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