Gays On Belay

By Andrew Manning.

Winter Snow and Ice
Bitter winds numb face and toes
Kick back with crampon!

And so I open this trip report with a Haiku. I feel inspired, have been all week. I’ve been buzzing with extra energy, despite my sore muscles on Monday. It could be that I am twitterpated with love, and that is most likely the case, but after a weekend of fun in the winter winds I could not have been happier.

Winter, Snow and Ice

Preparation for Mike’s winter mountaineering clinic started a few weeks ago when I took my boyfriend, Colin, off to MEC, a national outfitter chain in Montreal, to buy clothing suitable for what a New England winter can deliver. I felt guilty for tempting him to spend so much, and that faint look of panic as he saw the final tally on the register made my guilt twinge even more. However I knew that if Colin where to enjoy the outdoors the way I do then he would need the gear.

We both had Friday off, so we headed down to Jay Peak for a day of skiing. Jay had received about 6" of snow earlier during the week. The hill was still in excellent shape by Friday, and the snow was really fast. We both fairly flew down the hills in wild abandon. I was skiing so fast that I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop on a dime in case of an emergency. I didn’t care, the thrill, the speed and knowing that my lover was matching me all the way down was all I needed to feel complete.

However a series of flurries and my aching quads told us it was time to take our leave of the mountain and head for Waterville Valley NH for our next adventure. Our light flurries rapidly turned to crap in the Franconia Notch, but the road wasn’t completely snow covered and as we descended the roads just became wet with melting snow. We were the first to arrive so Colin, Mike, and I settled in to a quick meal of frozen entrées. Beth, Roger, Tom, John, Mike, and Jonny arrived later on during the night with more colorful expressions of what it was like to drive up from the Boston area.

Bitter Winds Numb Face and Toes

The next morning we casually got ourselves ready for a hike up Welch-Dickey. Our day of ice-climbing had been switched to Sunday owing to foul winter conditions. So we pushed Jonny’s car out of the driveway and then we traveled down the road to the trailhead.

Mr. Boisvert checked out the trail and promptly announced that somebody skied it recently so it was pretty tapped down. "No need for snowshoes!" He declared, and he being "Fearless Leader" and all, we willingly believed. Or so we thought.

As we ascended the "ski trail" rapidly disappeared underneath the snow. Yours truly was third in line and my more earth-bound weight of 220lbs sank waist deep into the snow banks while the twinkle-toes of "Fearless Leader" and Jon Normand just floated over the crystalline white. After much trudging we "topped out" on what was the first of several ledges.

"Yay – we are at the top!" I cried. Then the snow cleared just enough to see a high dome appearing out of the mist.

"No Andrew that is the top." Replied our Fearless Leader, as he pointed to the top of the dome.


So with more trudging through three-foot drifts I plodded on to an open bowl near the summit. This time I brought up the rear which greatly reduced post-holing issues. Here we broke for a quick snack break and then some fun practicing self-arrest techniques with our piolets (ice axes). Although we were able to make some speed we rapidly discovered that heavy wet snow is not the best material to slide on. Next year Mike we will have to bring our krazy-karpets® and use them to slide on.

After playing in the snow we packed up and made for the summit of Welch. The winds picked up and snow came fast and furious. This wasn’t just horizontal snow, now it was almost a barber’s wind, where the crystals would shave the whiskers right off of you. I squeezed my way through the lemon juicer with relative ease, trying to use my climbing technique to get me through the trickier sections.

Once through that I hit the tree line and was immediately blasted by the snow. I had considered stopping to change into my face mask, but I figured we weren’t staying on top for very long so I would tough it out. After the traditional summit photo, yes that’s me in between those snowflakes; we descended to the col of Welch Dickey by means of the 20 ft butt slide off of one of the ledges. With our recent practice of self arrest it made my descent much more interesting.

After a quick break we were back to climbing this time it was a short hop to the top of Dickey. Upon reaching the top we paused briefly while "Fearless Leader" tried to find the trail down. Soon we were all into the act looking for the trail, leaving all kinds of rabbit trails for the next poor slobs to come up after us.

Note to Chiltern Mountain Club (a Boston’s gay outdoor club that maintains this trail). Your blazes are great, but can you put a few on some trees on top of Dickey, it’s kind of hard to find paint blazes on rock when it is under 3 feet of snow. As we descended into a trail that was closed in with snow laden branches, I created quite a stir amongst the other participants as my tall pack would flip branches and snow at those behind me. I remain unapologetic, as tailgating is always a dangerous activity.

Eventually we left the woods and came out to a series of open bowls and ridgelines. I loved it! It had to be one of the best backcountry ski routes that I had ever laid eyes on in this corner of the universe. I promised myself that I would come back and do this trail again with my alpine touring skis.

Soon we entered the woods and left the open ridges for the last time. Although walking on the open ledges was fun, even without good visibility, we were all glad to get back to the cars and to drive back to the GO Mad River Lodge, to prepare for dinner.

Kick Back With Crampon!

The next day we were up at 6AM. Everyone got some good shut-eye as most people retired for the evening around 9 or 10 PM. Thank God we had the early start as it took me a while to get everything organized, as Colin and I were heading straight back to Montreal from the climbing. We met Art, Brady and RJ at the tourist bureau in Waterville Valley, and then reconnoitered with them again at McDonald’s in Lincoln.

From there we drove up to Kinsman’s Notch and unloaded our gear for the short, yet arduous approach to the ice routes. As we were the first to arrive we also got the pleasure of tapping down the trail. I was carrying my own climbing gear in the off chance that I was going to second, or maybe even lead an easy pitch. So add the pack weight to my own and I was puffing pretty hard to get up there. Art got us going up pitches pretty quickly. I belayed RJ as he set up a route, and I seconded up after him. After I got down I scooted over to a ledge where I snapped as many pictures as I could of those going up. I got the distinct impression everyone was having a good time, and really enjoying the challenge.

Initially I was a little worried about bringing Colin along on an ice-climbing adventure. We had been dating for a little over a month, and a bad experience climbing might have spelled the end of what we had been building together. This comes from personal experience when I had taken other poor hapless victims into the woods saying, "C’mon it’ll be fun!" It was anything but that. However Colin blossomed out there on that ice. His first pitch went off without any problems. His second pitch was on more vertical ice. He made it up to the last pitch of vertical ice when his legs gave out, but it was an excellent effort nonetheless.

Lord knows I’ve bailed on other routes sooner than where he ended up. After a rejuvenating lunch we tackled the other pitch that Brady was managing. Mike, Tom and Roger were just finishing up their runs, and while waiting for my turn I watched RJ lead this pitch on an ice tower topping out with this great mixed-ice foot brace on a tree. The view from directly below was great and a comment from me got me smacked in the head by Brady. Honest Brady I was impressed by the move, not RJ’s tight ass! Well Ok the move and RJ’s tight ass.

Then it was Colin’s turn to head up the steeper pitch. I yelled encouragement and pushed him to go on when he felt he had no strength to continue. I guess he was able to reach down and find some more because he ended up topping out close to the top of the belay. I was so proud of him and his achievement. Then it was my turn. I decided to go up the ice on the left hand side. This was much steeper and more vertical in sections offering class IV ice in sections.

I tackled it as fast as I could. The ice was not very good at the surface and it sometimes took several tries to chip into the good stuff. Where I could find a good rest position I took it offering my arms a break, knowing that a continual death grip on the axes would spell complete exhaustion before the run was half way over. I popped up to the first ledge and then decided to traverse over to the right where there was better ice than the untapped snow and questionable ice directly in front of me.

I pushed myself up that last pitch of vertical ice. My muscles were starting to scream at this point, but I was determined to hook that biner, the mountain had given it permission to climb it, I would not deny myself this privilege. A last stab and I tapped the biner with my axe. After that it was the quick descent down to the deck and the inevitable whoop of joy that always accompanies an adrenaline rush. It was a good day.

After that run both Colin and I were spent, and I was quite happy to head back to Montreal before I got too tired to drive. We left knowing we had made new friends, had some great experiences, and learned new things like new ice axe design should have elliptical handles, which we shall let Beth design as a prototype. We also enjoyed new phrases like our Scottish friend who described ice screws falling out of melted ice as "shite out of a goose’s ass", my constant advising of the guides that I might say "a sec" for tight rope as I climb with mostly French climbers. However I ended up shouting in Yiddish every time I slipped. Fortunately "Oi" is universally known.

Both Colin and I look forward to further adventures at the GO Mad River Lodge with Mike "Fearless Leader" Boisvert. We will be back for sure and you can count us in on the next climbing adventure! I’ll close with Jon Normand’s poem about ice climbing. He really captured what it feels like to struggle with the ice:


Ode To ICE
By Jon Normand

On Belay - Face the ICE - Face your FEAR

Work it with the axe

ICE shatters - rewhack & drill that pick in

Pull feet up - kick in crampons

Cracks and pops - ICE resists

Rip out the axe

Moving on up this ICE River

Scared - Exhilarated & finally bliss as the crown is reached

Confidence gained on this blue tinged ICE monument to winter

© 2005 Gay Outdoors; All Rights Reserved.

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