We all know the expression “time flies when you are having fun”. Which sounds a lot like our last month here in New England. Although, it would probably be more along the lines of “time flies when you’re climbing and being lazy”. Which more accurately sums up all of our time here. If we weren’t climbing we were resting on the couch, enjoying the RNR.
We have managed to have gotten plenty of great climbing in recently. We ventured out of the White Mountains in New Hampshire and went a little more west to Keene Valley in the Adirondacks of New York. Keene Valley is well known to ice climbers. So much so, that we happened to hear of an ice climbing festival, called Mountain Fest, going on in the middle of January, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go and see what it was all about.
We packed up the car and headed to New York on Friday night. Each night throughout the weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) there was a presentation from an ice climber. On Friday we listened to Scott Bennett. Since it was our first time at the Mountain Fest we didn’t really know what to expect, but we were intrigued by Scott’s adventures. It’s great listening to somebody else describe their adventures, it inspires you to get outside and keep exploring.
On Saturday we woke up to a sea of ice climbers. Coming from an ice climbing community of about eight in Idaho, I was shocked to see that so many other people actually knew what this sport was. We spent most of the day just getting the lay of the land. We drove the car around from one popular ice climbing area to the next, and I lost count of how many times I caught myself wide eyed and mouth opened in amazement at the amount of ice in the area. We walked out onto Chapel Pond, the frozen lake dividing the road from the mountain of ice, and watched in envy as talented climbers ascended multi pitch ice gullies, daggers, and slabs all across the cliff face. We spent that evening laughing and socializing with other climbers at a spaghetti dinner inside the local volunteer fire station. The firefighters graciously put on a spaghetti munch for all the climbers as a fundraiser for the department. Afterwards, we listened to Kelly Cordes give us a hilarious, well spoken, and inspiring presentation on a life well lived.
That night we walked by moonlight to try to scope out some climbs for the next day. One climb in particular caught our eye. We woke up bright and early the next day, but even so didn’t beat the climbing guides out to the ice. Climbers were already on the climb that we had scoped out the night before, so after getting information from them about ice just a short ways down the canyon, we decided to head that way. We walked up to an 80ft piece of water ice that put a smile on both of our faces. Joe got creative and put a top rope up above the climb, and with that we spent about 4 hours lapping the ice and working on technique, and just having a great time. Needless to say even though we didn’t climb the ice we had originally planned on, the day worked out really well!
That afternoon was spent napping in the car and killing time until our last presentation from Kevin Mahoney. A well known climber from the area who just so happened to have climbed big mountains all around the world. Many of the out-of-towners had peaced out so it made for a slightly different vibe that last night and there was a fun feeling of comradery.
After a great weekend, with sore muscles and renewed inspiration, we hopped in the car and drove back to Massachusetts that night. Just one day after our weekend away we hit the road again to go visit Joe’s Mom and her husband. I had yet to meet them so I was looking forward to a trip up to Eastport, Maine. We ended up spending around 4 days there enjoying good food, seeing new places (including seeing the easternmost point in the Continental US), and spending time with family.
We had set aside some time to go climbing with Joe’s sister, Melissa. After making our way back to Massachusetts (and waiting out some crummy weather: warm temperatures and rain) we finally got a good weather window and decided to head back up to the Adirondacks.
In Keene Valley, there is so much ice you could probably spend months, or even years, finding new places to climb. There are just endless options for ice climbing. Though we are still pretty limited, being that we aren’t leading ice yet. Once we arrived Tuesday afternoon, we decided to go to a fairly popular piece of ice. Pitch Off Right isn’t very tall, but it is a good place for beginners and ice climbers who need to rub the rust off, and that was exactly what Melissa needed. By the time the sun went down we all got a chance to climb a few laps, the temperature was quickly dropping and the snow and wind were picking up. We grabbed an $8 pizza at the great gas station and warmed up before finding a camp spot out by Chapel Pond. It surprised us all when we were able to fit all three of us in the Suzuki quite comfortably, and we were all able to get a great night’s rest after a long day.
One of the pleasant surprises of this climbing trip was the lack of people. Especially because last time we were up there for Mountain Fest the valley was filled with other climbers. The fact that we were there in the middle of the week made a huge difference, and though we did see a few other climbers, we pretty much had free reign of the ice.
So with that in mind we chose a 100ft, very vertical WI4 called “Hot Shot”- the climb we originally wanted to climb last time we were here. Joe went ahead and set up a top rope and I was the first to climb. This climb ended up being probably the longest and hardest climb I have done to date. After all was said and done, we were all able to climb it 3 times, and were pretty impressed with ourselves, or at least I was! At one point while I was climbing I had placed a tool and heard a crack within the ice that never seemed to end. There’s not many things that can remind you of the risk you’re taking more than hearing the ice crack under your tool. Luckily all was fine and the climbing proceeded without any problems. It was a day very well spent, not only that but it was great fun to have Melissa out there climbing ice with us.
We have arrived back in Massachusetts and are spending time once again regrouping and drying out gear, but more importantly we are reorganizing and getting ready to hit the road once more. That’s right! This week we plan to shove all our belongings back into our humble mobile abode and start driving back to Idaho. Not without a couple of stops along the way of course! Including another stop in New York, an ice festival in Michigan, and seeing some great friends in Bozeman, Montana.
So with that, we will be saying our goodbyes to New England and ice climbing our way back to the Northwest!
Follow more of Katie and Joe’s travels on their blog – Miles to Go. All photos are credited to JDStylos.