En (and off) Route
I spent today doing various, but chiefly the time was heisted by the soul-devouring act of shovelling what I estimate to be about 900 cubic feet of snow. I've been doing a lot of this lately. I knew I'd have to. But I really hadn't counted on it sucking so terribly. It does.
Last weekend I got out and pretended to climb. I drove the slightly less than two hours to North Conway, NH, pulled in to Crawford Notch, and headed up to Horseshoe Gully. Or, I should say, what I desperately hoped was Horseshoe Gully. I have a bit of trouble with the routefinding... I was going to say "on occasion," but, yeah, pretty much always. So anyway, I went up onto the west face (I'm just not gonna capitalize it - it's 2,500' high, it's true, but - I'm just not gonna) of Mt. Webster, in search of Horseshoe Gully. Horseshoe is a long, alpine gully with some easy ice. I am told.
I could see the route from the Saco River. Most of the climbs in the area had been washed out by heavy rains. Mt. Willard was bare. The long, alpine routes on Webster looked anemic. Horseshoe, too, looked punked out. There is a point where the route forks; left to an easier finish, right to a gully offshoot (that's what it looked like, anyway, from the bridge over not at that moment troubled water). To the left it looked thin, putting it kindly. To the right it looked hard. Below all of that, it looked broken up and nasty. But... I'd come a ways. And often things are a lot better once you're on them. So I went up.
Unlike prior attempts, I cleaved my way through the snarled woods and rubble fairly quickly and found myself at the base of the gully in a few minutes. The heavy rain the area had gotten the days before had melted and compacted the snow to styrofoam. Easy going. Once in the gully proper, it was simple travel for a couple hundred vertical feet... until The Thrash began. And then it started: The Pain. Slick boulders with a dusting of snow. Slippy-slide, tumble-Mikey. And now, running water. He wobbles. He absolutely will fall down.
After a couple hundred more vertical feet of this, I found myself at a series of ice steps, all extremely thin and cascading with water. I bailed off right, climbed up and out of the gully over downed everything, and started to slowly, painfully slowly, pick my way up the little ridgelet off right. I kept looking back down into the gully, hoping there would be a logical place to drop back in. But the way up the ridgelet was steep, very loose and rubbly, and the snow was wind-scoured to verglas in spots. It was difficult staying near the gully wall, while at the same time remaining safe, and I felt myself getting worked further and further right. All the while I could hear water coursing down the route. I knew it wasn't good. There I was, up there, alone, not climbing. Scrumbling. Just like old times. Except, I must say, just the slightest bit less stupid than previous. Because I heard, quite clearly now, The Voice.
Here I am, considering my options.
I went up another couple hundred vertical feet before realizing that I had climbed above the point where the route forks - probably about half the way up the route - and I concluded that this was really not going to happen. I couldn't find a decent place to drop in, couldn't find a safe way to get over to the gully, to be honest, and I wasn't going to be able to solo the harder alternate gully anyway. Downclimbing back to the fork wasn't possible; for starters, I didn't have a canoe. So I pulled out my little 7mm x 60m pink cord, and I bailed.
And I was cool with that.
After a couple of raps I heard voices below me, and pretty soon two guys from Manchester (those mean streets), NH, came up. "I hope you didn't follow my tracks," I said. "Didn't really have a choice," one of them replied. We talked about how wet things were. I volunteered what a coward I was. What with the pink rope and all (complete overkill really, except for the first rap, but I must admit, it was such a pleasure to fiddle with gear again after two winters basically not climbing). They asked me if I had done the route before. Involuntarily I blurted: "This is Horseshoe, right?" They respond in the affirmative. "No. I have never... made it on to this route before," I self-edit. It absolutely made my day to learn that I was on my intended route. Sort of, anyway. I went down, they went up, though they didn't look like or sound like they were enjoying it any more than I. I doubt they got much higher. I wished them luck, downclimbed back past the first ice step and on down the route to the road.
It was fun to be pretending to climb again. Fairly quickly I started to remember all of the little organization tricks, all of the ways to stay warm: wiggle the toes; when you take the gloves off, put them inside your jacket to keep them toasty; stay home in bed. That sort of thing. It all comes back.
A day out. It was good. No matter on the up and then, shortly thereafter, the down. Coffee in North Conway at Frontside Grind's new digs (new to me, anyway). A stop in IME, a hey to Maury and Rick Wilcox, who I had sign the new edition of An Ice Climber's Guide to Northern New England. Dork think to do, but he was there, he was ringing me up, he wrote it, and there was a pen. Leisurely drive back home. Drinking hot chocolate by 5pm.
Two-hour drives to eventually bail beat 11-hour drives to eventually bail any day.
Which brings me to... Tomorrow I go down to Virginia for a week. Which I'm okay with. I expect the getting out of Maine to be hell, what with the Nor'easter and all. (Arrrr... She blew a gale... Arrrr...) What's sort of unfortunate is that the climbing and skiing will probably be incredible here this week, and where am I off to? The land of 70-degree Januarys (except that, yes, they did get some snow too). Weeeee.
I saw Other People's Pictures in Boston last week, a nice little indie film about folks who collect snapshots at the Chelsea Flea Market in New York. If you get a chance, please check it out. Really very good. NPR thought so too. NPR is so smart.
I came in after the second bout with snow, the first bout being prior to Mr. Plow making an appearance (the city plow likes to dump another 40 feet of snow in my driveway after I've already cleared it - hey, thanks) to find out that Johnny Carson died. I grew up on SNL and The Tonight Show. Late-night TV raised me. Johnny was just the coolest. That self-deprecating thing he did - it made a big impact on me. Once he retired from the show, I never watched it again. I'm really sorry to see him go.
When I haven't been moving the white stuff or trying to make my way up it, I've been writing some new music. I should be getting out to play live soon, and I have a couple of recording projects I'm starting to scratch my way through. I'm really enjoying playing these days. I hope to see you soon.
Okay. Here I go. Be good.
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