Monday, September 24, 2012

A Re-Visit to "The Valley"

The nice weather continues in northern New England.  Watching the forecast for rain it looked like the best weather was going to be in North Conway, so off we went, leaving early Saturday morning.  Clear skies were the rule until we began the initial drive up the Kancamangus Highway when we entered a dense fog, misty rain coating the glass - intermittent wiper variety. Unfortunately it was no better in North Conway, in fact, seemed even a bit wetter.  We were aiming for the Whitehorse slabs because it has been years since we have climbed the big slab routes and I wanted to see if I could find my mojo on those runouts again.  Everything was wet and climbers were scattered about hanging around waiting for the fog to lift so they could once again climb in the sun.  We made a trip over to IME to pass the time, hooking up with friends Joe and Judy Perez.  The sky cleared an hour or 2 later and we accepted our late start to the day.

Annie starting up the Wheat Thin Arete
We opted for a newly developed route on the far right side of the cliffs.  First ascensionists Paul Cormier and Chris Magness put up the line about 3 weeks ago, so it was exciting to think about climbing something new on such a prominent slab.  This route shares the first pitch with The Beginner's Route to get you to the big tree. Then it breaks slightly right and up and follows a beautiful thin flake.  In El Cap style, they named each pitch, this one called the Wheat Thin Arete.

What a nice job they did on this natural line - while it was surely climbed 40+ years ago, it would have been done with minimal protection and no one "claimed" it or named it.  Chris and Paul placed bolts and anchors right where they are most needed to keep the harder moves protected and the long runouts reasonable.  The 4th pitch (The Open Book Pitch) finishes with a traverse across a "Sea of Green" lichen on slab - this was soaking wet when I got to it, so I down climbed and found an alternative way around to the left over steeper and protectable rock.  Unfortunately, the lateness of the day made it undesirable to top out (5 more pitches up easier terrain shared with Beginner's Easy), so we walked off into the woods and headed for Echo Lake State Park where the festivities were brewing.  Can you spell "F-R-E-E  B-E-E-R"?

What a nice job the American Alpine Club (AAC) is doing this year.  They have been increasing their membership tremendously thanks to an active campaign, improved marketing, benefit offerings and more.  I think they are collaborating with the Access Fund as well, making for a stronger voice and influence on the behalf of climbers.  Vendors were there pushing their newest line of technical gear and clothing and a sizable amount of Tuckerman's Pale Ale was on tap, FREE to members.  Here we could rub elbows with greats like Freddie Wilkinson, Henry Barber and Ed Webster.  Of course there were plenty of other accomplished climbers there whose names are well known among climbing enthusiasts. Everyone is super friendly and supportive and I found this part of the day to be most enjoyable.  The highlight was a tug-o-war contest, captured in part on my iPhone.