Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Firery Reds of Indian Summer

Got up to North Conway (NH) this past weekend and found the colors to be unusually spectacular on the west side of the Kancamangus Hwy - meaning more reds than I have noticed before. Strangely, once on the east side of the pass and in North Conway itself the colors are muted, not even close to what we see west of the pass. The temperatures the past few days are abnormally high.

View north from the Kancamangus Pass, White Mtns, NH
While is rained up until Friday night, Saturday was cloudy and humid.  The stillness and humidity did not provide for fast drying on the cliffs. After killing some time looking at the very wet route starts at Whitehorse Ledge and Cathedral Ledge, we retreated to climbing plan B - go to the local climbing shop!  Always fun to stop into IME and cruise the consignment shop - or just plain "talk shop" with the owner and staff.  After killing a little time there we decided to take a peek at Humphrey's Ledge to see if we could find anything dry.  While most routes were indeed soaked, we found all dry rock on Wanderlust.  A fun face climb with a tricky little crux for us shorter folks.

 Then Sunday we thoroughly enjoyed Toe Crack and the 2 Saigon routes on the Thin Air face. It had been quite a while since I had climbed these, so it was a fun revisit.

Temps are scheduled to get cooler beginning tomorrow and into the end of the week, along with the dreaded rains again.  But we sure have enjoyed these past few sunny, hot days.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Danger Ruts"

Well, it has been almost exactly one month since Irene annihilated our great State of Vermont. Recovery is quick in some views and painfully slow in other views.  The road crews have been tremendous in working sun up to sun down 7 days a week.  Many roads are still closed around here, but new openings occur every week. The drive to and from Ludlow to Reading (and such parts) goes on beautiful back roads.  There is this funny place on one of the roads where a dip or rut is. To provide caution to local drivers, someone was kind enough to put signs up in each direction warning of the rut.  I guess whoever created the signs had a dearth of materials though.  Red spray paint on a small cardboard box makes for a somewhat comical warning.
Can't help but wonder how long this sign will hold up
I've been able to do a little climbing in the past month.  Feel sort of guilty leaving the town behind with so much more homes to cleanup.  But we keep checking in and offering to help where and when we can. There is a good email system letting folks know who needs help and when.

Annie and I made it over to Poke-O-Moonshine in the Adirondacks and climbed all pitches of the classic Gamesmanship.  We had done this route 4 years ago and I got spanked on the fourth pitch.  I figured this time with much better weather conditions and improved skills it wouldn't present a problem. I was wrong. The 4th pitch is a beautiful "hand crack" (translates to "off-fists" for me).  It is rated only 5.7+ compared to the first pitch crux rating of 5.8+.  I had to French Free the damned thing to keep from pumping out and falling off!  The first pitch is long and sustained, but in my opinion not nearly as hard as Pitch 4.  The crack presents itself to me like this: when the hands get more secure the feet are terrible - when the feet get more secure (read "painful") the hands are lousy (way too wide). Makes for some interesting and strenuous climbing.  There are no face features to bail you out - it is pure jamming, so if your appendages don't fit the crack, get ready to grunt!  This is another typical example of a climb being rated by men with large hands. I am sure it is 5.7+ for Mr. Big Hands!  Pitch 1 was more my style and great fun.

Anyhoo, the ride over there is darned nice if you break it up with a ferry ride.  Here is a short video on the "approach" to Poke-O.

Now it's raining again, but it should subside enough to get on some rock before the end of the day Sunday.  I had an AMC trip to co-lead on Whitehorse which was postponed to Sunday...looks like I won't be needed since the trip is no longer filled due to weather regrets. So Annie and I will hope to get on some cracks up there on Whitehorse or Cathedral.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wetter is NOT Better!

Just a little more than one week after Vermont was devastated by tropical storm Irene, the steady rain remnants from Lee continue to wreak havoc.  I never before recall in my lifetime seeing this type of destruction in such a widespread area.  Since the storm on August 28th, large equipment such as backhoes and bucket loaders have been out in force.  I wish an aerial view could capture how many of these mechanical monsters are out there all day, every day, raking, scraping, digging and dredging. Just a photo of a one mile square area could make the point - they are everywhere, working frantically.  Flash flood warnings have been streaming in all week as we get another 1 to 4 inches of rain on already saturated ground and in the stream and riverbeds.

Route 106 washout along the Black River (some 70+ feet below!) - this is 4 miles south of us

Everyone in our town continues to chip in and do all they can to help those most seriously affected.  Heather has made great progress and has qualified for FEMA money. On Monday, Annie and I joined a small team of folks to dig out the 6 inches of dark, heavy river mud from another neighbor's cellar.  This mud looks and feels like cement mix, ready to mortar some bricks or stones.  When you stand in this stuff it is difficult to step out of it as it sucks your foot in like a hungry swamp beast.  One shovelful and bucketful at a time are carried up the steep and narrow cellar steps to the bucket loader waiting outside.  The bucket loader then motors down the street to a dumpster and plunks the gook in.

1969 Gravely awaiting final rescue after hand digging

Lisa and Wayne's surreal yard with swing set and
flowers in the foreground for profound effect

Thanks to good friends and family members who own and operate earth moving equipment, Lisa and Wayne's place is really shaping up.  This was the place whose yard became a huge boulder field.  Their cellar and garage are all dug out and even the 1969 Gravely has been rescued from the rocky debris!

To my surprise, Lisa showed up with shovel and gloves to help the digging team Monday! I said "What are YOU doing here?" She said "I am so tired of digging out my own house I thought I'd come down here to help." Wow.

Needless to say we haven't been climbing much.  The rains have not only made much of the rock unfavorable, but while the weather was good there was cleanup work to be done.  We took a break on Saturday and got in some routes in northern Vermont where we had never climbed before.  I was quite surprised that the rock was dry enough to climb.  It dried as we climbed and by end of day was pretty decent!

This is my favorite time of year to climb in the Adirondacks (fondly, "the DAKs").  However, the Keene Valley where so much of the great climbing is located was also up-ended by Irene.  Roads are closed and washed out throughout the region there, and homes were destroyed and damaged.

I have been pondering the environmental impacts of this storm a lot lately.  Any marine life that existed before in the streams and rivers is completely wiped out I expect. Fish gone. What about the insects, earthworms, snakes and frogs that live in the wetlands, fields and near the waterways?  And then there's the TRASH and debris.  All across the affected areas there is litter - some from washing downstream and being deposited on land that otherwise is a long way from the water. Tree limbs, weeds and grass-like debris were all swept across open areas and lodged against obstacles such as other trees, banks, walls and bridges.  And lastly, the rebuilding and cleanup efforts are so intense and urgent that the impact of truck traffic, cars and foot traffic seems unprecedented. I expect our roads will be in terrible shape this winter as the heavy trucks take their toll on the pavement which is already cracked and heaved from previous winters. Funds will certainly be exhausted so that normally scheduled repairs are likely to take a back seat or fall off entirely.  All of this at a time when our environment and economy is so fragile.  I find it hard to be optimistic considering all of this.  Where is the silver lining? Can someone show me please?

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Video Documentation of Irene

Here is a 13 minute video (with some humor as well) chronicling the storm in our town. It includes the hatching of a chick - we named the first chick to survive in honor of the storm. Irene is now 5 days old and doing well.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Sunday was my birthday and I have so much to be thankful for.  My brother and sister-in-law called that morning and we had a fun morning chat full of laughs and stories. Then my mother called and instead of her usual practiced voice song, she spent all morning in her house finding the right size glasses, filling them with just the right amount of water until getting each musical note just right. And then she practiced and perfected the Happy Birthday song with a spoon tapping each glass.  She played this for me over the phone and I was astounded - delighted - tickled.  She said she was up since 6am getting this all together.  Some special mom, eh?

Saturday Annie, Carol and I had a fantastic day of climbing on our nearby cliffs. It was the calm before the storm as we had been preparing for Hurricane Irene to arrive. She came and when she hit she did so with a powerful punch!  We were forecasted to get up to 7 inches of rain and 45-55 MPH sustained winds with higher gusts.  Here in southern VT the high winds never came. But the rain sure did and we measured well over 8 inches of rain in our rain gauge.

The wash out on Route 106 in Reading
On Monday morning the skies were crystal clear, bright blue and the sun shined like a spotlight upon the debris and horrific damage caused by the storm.  In our town the Twenty Mile stream raged past Main Street (Route 106) just barely north of the bridge and instead of destroying the bridge it was diverted by large debris (mostly trees I think) and tossed the asphalt pavement around like child's building block toys.   Near its path were several houses, none of which were swept away or ruined but were badly flooded.  A good friend whose home is on the south side of the torrent was away on vacation.  Her house was cut off from assistance until Tuesday when a local community member volunteered his own time and equipment to dam the stream. He redirected the flow back under the bridge, then filled in enough stone and gravel that we could walk across to Heather's house.  (She was driving frantically home from her vacation in Kentucky). The damage to her place is disheartening.  The water punched a hole in the side of the foundation and ripped through the basement carrying debris and tons of river sand and silt. Unfortunately, as a result this some of her furnace fuel oil leaked or spilled.  The house in inhabitable until professional advice is received on proper removal or cleanup of the hazardous waste.  (Hopefully when power is restored the main breaker is off!)  Her dogs were all rescued by the folks looking after them while she was away (before the storm hit they were evacuated) and the cats who were left to their own devices with plenty of food and water on the second floor needed to be evacuated once we gained access to the house and smelled the fuel.

The construction crews are making great progress on Route 106 and soon we should be able to drive out of town to the south again.  Everyone who resides near the stream or lies low is still busy pumping out water, cleaning up river mud and repairing damages.  Of those affected, no one here who I have spoken to yet has flood insurance.  However, there is hope that FEMA funding may be able to help those people.  I remain hopeful, despite the horror stories I have heard on federal assistance funds getting to those in need after a disaster.

Helicopters are buzzing about the skies.  Large dump trucks are roaring to and fro with loads of fill dirt and gravel for road repair.  What is most different however, is the feeling around town and in the state.  Everyone wants to know how everyone else is doing and if they can help.  It brings us closer together. I am getting to know the names of people in my town I have never met before!  Most chip in where they can, although sometimes it is frustrating knowing who, where and how to help.  In our case, we are doing what we can to help Heather who is alone there and can use a few friends to assist in the cleanup.  She has a home-based business of doggy care, so getting her back to work and living in her own home is critical.  I can only imagine what it would feel like if it had been our home.  In times like these, it lends tremendous perspective.  We are lucky we suffered no real damage to our property and our town is lucky it fared better than places south of here, many who are still completely isolated and without power or water.  When we watch the impact of natural disasters, wartime refugees and epidemic disease on the news, we are often horrified and helpless.  The earthquake in Haiti. The BP oil "spill." Middle eastern and African conflicts driving refugees out of their countries.  The quake in Japan. But when disaster strikes YOU or those all around you, the impact is no longer surreal. Yup - lends perspective.
Heather's house swallowed in river mud

Up the road these folks now have nothing
 but boulders for a backyard.

I will be putting some video on YouTube including footage during the storm and publish here in the blog as well.