Thursday, January 26, 2012

Where there's a will there’s Mt. Willard

LAST Saturday I finally connected with my climbing partner after several weeks of missed opportunities due to the dazzling uncertainty of New England weather, hectic family/work schedules, and weekend taxi dad gigs. We both know a day free is a blessing and drive straight through the morning dawn to the steep and narrow gorge of Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. Preceding north the barometer sharply drops as the landscape fills out with broad mountains and snow covered northern hardwoods. We give exciting schoolgirl glances as we pass highway drips of blue waterfall ice – a positive sign of things to come. By the time we park the car the digital thermometer displays 5 degrees – BrRrr! What drives us to this very spot you ask? Ice, high up on the southeast face of Mt. Willard.

Mt. Willard’s Sweet Spot

Considering Mount Willard is a 2,815-foot spur in the Willey Range by New England standards it’s more of a molehill than a mountain but in full winter conditions Willard transforms into an icy chimaera. It’s not to be underestimated with more than 1000 vertical feet gain, numerous technical gullies, and everything from steep-snow to grade 3-4 waterfall ice (WI3-4) to short sections of tricky mixed climbing.

     Trestle tracks through a granite gorge lead to a steep snow climb. Out of breath we stand at the base of Willard’s sweet spot an impressive rock chasm named Hitchcock gully. 

Fluffy snowflakes slowly twist and turn in the frosty air. I hesitantly rack up for my first lead on ice while my partner graciously assumes the lonely and cold belay stance. A few good sticks’n’kicks and I’m fully committed to the climb. With each move I note the ominous almost medieval sound ice screws and carabineers make as they clang together on my harness, while gripping two ice axes one can let his imagination run wild. I climb up my chimaera, ceaselessly climbing, grudging myself the time to rest; indefatigable and I holler “off belay”!

We rap back down and traverse right to a more technical line that leads to a memorable perch above the notch.

After a couple more raps and some glade sliding we're finally back on the RR tracks. As we shove gear into our packs the sun dips below the ridge - it's been a bitter fun day.

Back in the car crank up the heat, blast the tunes,

grab a bite & beer at Moat Mtn Smokehouse, back in car - - pop some red bull, more tunes and it's back to the hustle and bustle of the city. 

Once again I’m content; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.