Last week, IU Outdoor Adventures offered trip leaders the opportunity to participate in a training session for ice climbing. Originally scheduled to be held in Governor Dodge State Park in Wisconisin, it was moved to Poultney, Vermont due to uncooperative weather. Here is my account of what happened.
Scheduled as our departure date, questionable ice conditions delayed our start until Thursday. Wednesday was spent learning how to build anchors, tying knots (prussik, munter hitch, bowline, figure 8 follow through, girth hitch, autoblock, klemheist, clove hitch, double fishermans) and generally preparing for the trip.
Thursday afternoon was spent gathering food, equipment, and vehicles. With 10 participants, we needed two Suburbans to carry ourselves and all the gear. At 4pm, we started our 16 hour trek out to Vermont.
We rolled into our destination hotel at 9:00 Friday morning. Most of us had not gotten much, if any, sleep on the drive over. Our motel rooms were not ready, but the nice lady in the office allowed us the use of one room for a short time while we waited for our instructor to show up.
At the Panorama Motel
Some of us took the opportunity to get some sleep, for what it was worth.
Sara sleeps like a cat in the sun
At 9:30, our instructor, Tom Stuessy, arrived. We loaded back into the vehicles and drove into town for some breakfast at Tot’s Diner. After driving all night, nothing hits the spot like bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee. Lots of coffee.
After breakfast, we drove to our mountain. There we put on our big plastic boots and crampons, and prepared to make the ascent to the top of the ice waterfall. We used hand lines for part of the ascent, in case someone fell. That way, they wouldn’t slide very far, since we were all clipped onto the line with carabiners. On Sunday, Sara was kind enough to demonstrate their value by falling and sliding 30 feet back down to the nearest anchor point. Thanks Sara!
Up up and away!
Once on top, we spent the rest of the day learning to build anchors and belay redirects for climbing. I was too busy to take pictures. We stayed up there until it got dark, and had to belay down the steeper part of the mountain. About half of us thought to bring our headlamps, so we of the light helped those in the dark down the remainder of the mountain. Back at the motel, we collapsed, took long awaited showers, and ate dinner. Stuessy came back through and we ran a debrief of the day until it was obvious exhaustion was not going to allow any more productive activity to occur. Then, glorious sleep.
I woke up 8 hours later, and after 20 minutes, wished I could fall asleep for another 8. Breakfast was followed by frantic gear outfitting, followed by a drive back to the mountain. 3+ inches of snow was forcasted for the day.
Our group was split in half, with the more advanced group going back up on top of the ice to practice belay redirects, and the noobs (like me) staying below and doing top rope climbing on the ice. Here is what we climbed:
It’s bigger in person
As you can see, I should have set my exposure compensation a little higher because of the snow, but I was a little nervous and not thinking about such things. :-)
Since the group was split up, one of Stuessy’s students showed up to help us novice climbers. He also set the ice screw anchors that we used for our top rope.
Brian, free climbing to set our anchor points
Once the anchors were set, it was time to climb. And it was totally awesome! Being able to hit the ice and make your own holds is great!
Jenna works it on the ice
Occasionally the group up on top would send a climber over, which would send chunks of ice sliding down towards us. We didn’t have any major collisions, fortunately, but some of those things came down like meteorites.
After climbing all day, we went back to the hotel and Kyle, Andy, Chris, and I cooked burritos for everyone. I suggested a technique that Chris Eller taught me, wrapping up everything in the burrito then cooking the whole thing in a skillet with some butter. They were a hit!
Saturday night, Stuessy came back and we learned to do belay escapes. They are used to get a belayer detached from a climber without sacrificing the climber’s safety.
Then, once again, glorious sleep.
I rose before the alarm and showered, then began packing all my stuff up for the last day of climbing and the drive home. The plan for the day was for the advanced group to lead the novice group up to the top of the ice and belay us down using the techniques they had practiced the day before. Then we would climb up and do it again.
I was paired with Mary.
My fearless leader
Once we made it up to the top, we waited while our leaders assembled their anchors and belays. Once that was finished, it was time for us to go over the edge. I’d never gone over an edge outside. Mary got to see me scared (at medium fear, for those who know what that means – I just learned at the IUOA trip leader meeting last night. I wasn’t peeing myself or anything). Anyway, I made my way over the edge and Mary lowered me about 25 feet. I then climbed back up. About 3/4 the way up, she locked me off and leaned farther over the edge and took some pictures, which I’ll post when she gets them to me. Here you can see Chris, finishing off his 50′ climb:
Chris makes it to the top
I went over again, and it was much easier the second time. And even more fun. I wish we could have done that all day. But no, we had to pack up and get back to Indiana.
But WAIT, due to some miscommunications, one of our group was going to get stranded. He was supposed to go to Conway, New Hampshire to attend a Wilderness EMT training on Monday, and didn’t have a ride. I volunteered to go with him to Conway, and drive the Suburban back to Vermont. We sent one group back to Indiana that afternoon, so they could make their morning classes and work. Jamie agreed to ride with Andy and I to Conway and navigate for us. Mary and Chris stayed in Vermont to clean our gear and have it ready to load up when we got back.
We were given information that Conway, which is on the far east side of NH, was 2.5 hours away from Poultney, which is on the far west side of Vermont. Both Suburbans left at 4:30. At 6:30, we were still in Vermont. See, there isn’t really an interstate..or even a major highway, running East-West up there. Just small state highways. And lots of small towns.
We rolled into Conway at 9pm. The drive back to Vermont involved many funny stories shared between Jamie and I, while seeing an extremely beautiful section of the country…in the dark. We arrived in Poultney at 1:30am.
The next 17 hours is now a blurred mess in my mind, but memories of chocolate frosted donuts, gummy foods, naps on vibrating car seats (which was sort of soothing to fall asleep to, but churned a full bladder into a froth that could not go long ignored), breakfast at Cracker Barrel, highest sound/lowest sound contests, and screaming with the windows rolled down percolate like bad coffee through my consciousness.
When we finally pulled into the IMU and raced for the door, we found Lindsay and Sara waiting for us. I was very happy to see their friendly faces, and they were happy to see our…eh…exhausted faces.
When 28 hours in a car you reach, look so good you will not! heh heh heh *cough* *cough*
All in all, it was a wonderful trip. I really enjoyed getting to know my IUOA co-leaders better. I love those people. And I think ice climbing is amazing. That’s why I’m going again in 2 weeks. :-)