Winter season 2015/16 is here. I can hardly wait to pack my bag with the ice kit, sharpened tools, hot thermos, a bunch of gloves and the gumption to ascend some old classics and new routes. Adventure is calling and this is really all I can think about, however, I should probably take a moment to appreciate the rock climbing season since, it tis the season to give thanks!
Opening season was rewarding because I had the opportunity to show many people lesser-known climbing areas along Maine’s coastline and interior mountains. These areas are ripe with adventure and largely unclimbed. Maine isn’t particularly well known by the climbing community as a destination, especially when compared to its neighbor New Hampshire, “The Granite State”. Maine is simply farther from civilization and less accessible. This is really a non-issue, in my opinion, because the very nature of climbing in Maine facilitates a closer connection to wildness. Not true wilderness, but you’re more likely to see a moose with a big rack then a tourist with one (*climber joke), or hear the chug of commercial lobster boats while climbing pink-hued sea cliffs that geologists say separated from the coast of England during Pangea.
Summer and fall rock climbing in northern New England and coastal Maine in particular lends itself to the giggles, that feeling when earthly reverence and human joy fill your life cup. Sounds romantic doesn’t it? You could say I’m in love with this place. I am grateful to call it home.
Back to winter, yeah bring it on! People ask me on a regular basis if I prefer rock to ice climbing. Generally speaking, I don’t claim to make preferences, but I do love climbing ice. I mean seriously people, it’s ice, and we climbers ascend these ephemeral formations safely. After doing so for 15 years it still blows my mind.
I recently moved winter operations to North Conway, New Hampshire. This concentrated region has an abundance of impressive ice formations, front country and backcountry alpine objectives. Drive times and approaches are usually short and sweet unless you’re tackling Mount Washington. The terrain is great for honing your skills and learning the craft or, climbing some of the hardest mixed and water ice routes in the country.
What really gets me psyched though is heading back home to Maine, where the snowmobile waits patiently for trips into remote, backcountry areas to climb first ascents. “Red Sky” NEI 5, 5.9 required a 19-mile approach, followed by three big ice pitches, one snow pitch and a 220’ section of dry-tooling. This gem is one of many waiting for first or repeat ascents. It is here where true adventure awaits, in my backyard. A Baxter State Park Ranger told me that there is no record of any human travel in one of Katahdin’s remote basins during winter. My climbing partner, Peter and I were the first and only to do so.
I love that kind of freedom.
(*For those of you non-climbers out there, the climbing term “rack” refers to the protection pieces used by climbers to aid their ascents)