Saturday, November 11, 2017
We’ve had a group text message going for about 3 weeks now between my buddies Zac (Instagram), Billy (Instagram), and myself. “Think it’s in yet?” “It’s cold enough right?” “lets get it boys!”. The objective was to be the first party to climb Pinnacle Gully in Mount Washington’s Huntington Ravine in the 2017-18 ice climbing season! This climb is somewhat of a prize among the local climbing community because it’s usually the first ice to come “in” due to the harshly cold environment it takes residence in. It’s also relatively remote compared to a lot of popular climbing spots in the area and requires a fair bit of hiking before and after. That tends to deter a lot of climbers since it can be a gamble this early in the season whether or not there’s actually any ice to climb. Today we had enough stoke to go for it. We’ve seen pictures floating around on social media of the climb in rough shape just a day or two before our attempt. However, with the insane cold that came in Friday night (nearly 50 below windchill!) we knew it would help our cause.
I pulled into the parking lot at Pinkham Notch Visitor center by 4:40AM. Zac and Billy were in their cars booting up and putting on layers. I could feel my car being blown around as I sat there in my cozy warm Subaru. The temperature in the parking lot was 15F degrees with a windchill below zero. I stepped out of my car and felt like I was being hit with a brick wall of cold. I quickly grabbed my pile of gear and stumbled over to the entrance to the “Boot Room” inside of the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Billy and Zac soon joined me. After some conversation it became clear that none of us thought we’d be able to finish this climb in the conditions we were seeing outside. We decided to gear up anyways. Worst case scenario? We take a walk in the woods and turn around at the ravine floor if the conditions don’t improve.
We started our walk down the Tuckerman Ravine trail in the dark. The walk went quick, we chatted about our kids, what we’ve climbed and hiked lately, and how stoked we were for ice season to come back. We turned onto the fire road towards Huntington Ravine. The trails were very quiet this morning. As we passed Harvard Cabin we noticed that the trail ahead was unbroken and covered in snow. Good sign! We were the first here!
We approached the ravine floor and began the bushwhack through thick scrub and precarious boulders all the way up to the base of the head wall. This was a taxing exhausting effort. Constantly getting smacked in the face, getting my boot stuck between rocks, and scaling sketchy boulders hanging over large empty voids. After the bushwhack we scaled up the talus field to the base of Pinnacle Gully. As we peered around the overhanging corner of Pinnacle Buttress we were granted a view of Pinnacle Gully in all its glory. From our perspective the climb was in! It was thin, but definitely climbable!
We geared up at the base of the first pitch. Man… it was cold sitting in the shadows and out of the sun. I threw on my belay parka, heavier gloves and began my stationary dance party and arm swings to keep the blood flowing. It had to be single digit temps at this point with a windchill below zero. Zac took the lead on Pitch 1 making it look easy. Solid kicks and sticks!
As Zac continued to climb P1 another climber approached the base where we were belaying. His name was Austin (Instagram) and he hiked into the ravine solo just to see how things were shaping up. After a short conversation Austin decided to join us for the rest of the climb. We were happy to have another stoked climber in our team and he was happy to have a rope to share.
We continued to climb using purely ice screw belay anchors and protection. No rock gear necessary today! Billy took the lead on the final pitch. A wet one! Large voids of high current flowing water and super thin verglas ice made for some delicate moves on both rock, and ice. After we all topped out we celebrated on top of the iconic Pinnacle Buttress with a swig of Billy’s Mezcal Whiskey.
I looked down at my watch and realized it was 2PM. This climb took much longer than we had anticipated! Way behind schedule. The combination of having multiple climbers in a single party, and thin ice conditions ate up a lot of time… We still needed to hike out!
We scrambled up over boulders and brush to the established trail above and began the long rugged walk over the Alpine Garden. We’d be hiking down Lion Head trail back to Tuckerman Ravine trail where we started our day. The sun began to set, we made some friendly conversation with passing hikers curious about the ropes and ice tools we were carrying. We tried to keep a brisk pace but we didn’t get back to our cars until almost 4PM.
A successful early season first ascent of Pinnacle Gully in the books! Trips into Huntington always make for an epic day. This one was no exception despite it taking way longer than we expected! It was nice to meet a new climbing partner and I’m definitely stoked for more ice to come in this season!
It was surprising to us that no one else was in Huntington Ravine Saturday morning. As it turns out everyone was waiting for Sunday to make their move including Dave Lottmann a guide for Northeast Mountaineering. You can read his re-cap at his website HERE.