January 14, 2017 –
My alarm went off at 4AM and I didn’t smash the snooze button. My gear was packed, crampons and ice tools freshly sharpened. My Stoke? That was high and plentiful.
This could only mean one thing… It was time for another adventure filled day in the mountains with my friends at Northeast Mountaineering!
After some coffee, I hit the road by 4:45AM to begin my journey to Pinkham Notch. I arrived at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse by 7:30AM. The temperature was in the low single digits… it sure was chilly! Today I’d be climbing with Jared Heath and Jesse Wall. Both intimidatingly accomplished guys that I’d have the pleasure of climbing along side of today. Both were also incredibly friendly and excited to get out there!
Our initial plan was to climb Hitchcock Gully on Mount Willard. However, as we were in route we all stared out from the car windows at the ice filled high gullies on Mount Webster. After a short conversation about adventure and enjoying a day of slogging uphill, we shifted our destination to Landslide Gully on Mt Webster.
Heading Into The Gully
Landslide Gully is a Grade III WI2 snow and ice climb depending on conditions. It’s about 2500 feet from bottom to top starting at Rt 302 leading up to the shoulder of Mt Webster. This would be an adventure into the unknown as the three of us had never taken this route before. We parked at the lot off of Rt. 302 adjacent to the Willey House and began the hike into the base of the gully.
We appeared to be the only people interested in this climb today. The bushwhack up to the bottom of the gully was still filled in with fresh snow and showed little signs of traffic. Eventually we popped out of the trees onto the open stream bed at the base of the gully. This is where the slog would begin! We continued to hike uphill. Post holing every other step in knee deep powder. It was still cold out, but the steep hike up the stream bed kept me plenty warm.
Eventually the soft powder hardened up into a dense snowpack and blue ice was visible in the distance. We decided this would be a good spot to get our crampons, and ice tools out. We started to switch back left to right using the french and mixed technique with our crampons to gain elevation.
A large slab of ice came into view. It wasn’t very steep but a fall here could be catastrophic. This is where we decided to rope up. Jared decided that he’d lead climb up to the top to set a belay for Jesse and I. He climbed about halfway up, set a screw and continued on. He wrapped a sling around a tree and anchored the rope to belay Jesse and I on our way up. Jesse climbed first, and I followed cleaning the gear that Jared had placed. After clearing the first large bulge of ice we continued to climb with a running belay as a rope team. Jared lead with the rope coiled over his shoulder. Jesse and I followed behind.
Vertical Ice Pitches
After the first low grade ice pitch a much larger, steeper pitch of ice came into view. Jared set a couple of screws to belay from and began to lead this pitch.
Once he was up, both Jesse and I followed. There was water flowing down from the top of the ice. I was happy to have my hard shell on because it was pouring down my back. However, I was only wearing thin liner gloves so my hands got soaked and extremely cold. As soon as I finished climbing I hung my pack from my tools and swapped to my heavier waterproof gloves so I could warm them back up.
The gully narrowed a bit and lead up to another steep section. This time two pillars of ice. The left side seemed sketchy and aerated. Just tapping it with an ice tool caused it to flake apart. Jared decided he’d lead us up the right side pillar which seemed slightly more stable.
Once over the technical spots we continued on to more snow climbing. As we approached the top Jesse noticed a large fracture in the top of the snowpack. An indication that we were on avalanche prone terrain. We used caution here, staying as close to the edge of the snowpack as possible. There was also a deep hole in the snow with a gush of flowing water under it. We took extreme care crossing this section.
The final stretch was a thin chimney of rock and ice. This lead us up to a final ice bulge before heading back into the trees.
Finding Webster Cliff Trail
At the top of the climb there was about 1/4 mile of bushwhacking through deep snow uphill to find the Webster Cliff Trail. This was probably the most exhausting part of the day. It felt like I wasn’t moving despite how hard I was working. Some drifts were waist deep.
Eventually I heard Jared yell “Woo hoo!”. He had found the trail! We took a second to remove our crampons, and put away our technical gear. I had a snack and drank some water. We geared up for the hike out. A short walk later we popped out at the first viewpoint along Webster Cliff Trail. The view was amazing! We took a minute here to appreciate it.
Shortly after the breathtaking views we popped back into the trees to continue our slog out. Webster cliff trail was made up of packed down snow with some steep icy sections. I threw on my microspikes for the entirety of the hike out.
We finally hit the Webster Cliff Trailhead on Rt 302. This wouldn’t be the end of our walking. We still needed to walk the road all the way back to the parking area where the car was parked.
Another awesome day with new friends in the books! I can’t wait to get out and climb again!