Tuesday, December 27, 2005

At Home on Ice

Right before Christmas, I spent three great days climbing ice with my wife at Crawford Notch in New Hampshire. Conditions were excellent, and I took lots of pictures, then I left my camera on the roof of my car as we pulled out of the parking lot at Frankenstein. So…no pictures. This is the second small digital camera I’ve lost or destroyed in six months. Now that I’m using leashless ice tools, maybe I need a leash on my camera.

I learned to climb ice in New Hampshire, and it’s always fun to come back, especially when conditions are fat. I suspect many New Englanders don’t know how good they have it for ice. I live in the climbing mecca of Colorado, but to go ice climbing I either have to walk or ski for hours to reach a single climb, drive to Vail and suffer absurd crowds, or drive six hours to Ouray or Telluride. Places like the White Mountains, Green Mountains and Adirondacks that have abundant, relatively reliable, easily accessible ice in huge variety are very rare in the Lower 48. Easterners: Count your blessings.

The old, familiar climbs of Frankenstein also offered the perfect place to ease into leashless climbing. Earlier this month I got Black Diamond Viper tools with the Fang grips, and this was the first time I’d been able to try them. On Day Two in New Hampshire, I unclipped the leashes, and now I doubt I’ll ever go back. I loved the ease of dealing with protection and ropes without having to fiddle in and out of leashes and the freedom to shake out and warm my hands when I needed to. We only climbed about 10 feet of mixed ground the entire weekend (Pegasus’ rock finish), but, as promised, climbing leashless on rock felt much more like real rock climbing than with traditional tools. And unlike a lot of specialty mixed-climbing tools, the Vipers worked great on ice—the swing is different from my old Pulsars and Quasars, but once I figured out the right flick of the wrist it was like butter. I may drop a tool now and then, but probably not as often as I once thought: Since I no longer have to place or hang a tool close by when I'm fiddling with gear (so I can easily get back into the leash), I'm less likely to knock it off accidentally. The only time I imagine inevitably dropping a tool is if I fall off, and in more than two decades of ice climbing I've never taken a leader fall. But maybe now that I'm a rad leashless dude I'll be falling all over the place....

Anyway, I am sold.

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