Ice on Lafayette's flank
The goal: to find some moderate ice not oft' climbed on the flanks of Lafayette.
The route: essentially a bushwhack along Walker Brook (shortened by a judicious usage of the Old Bridal Path before it really veers upward along the ridge), to a choice of gullies leading toward the summit.
Saturday, February 4, 2012
Sam Bieri (aka, the other Swiss Machine), Ale Colombo (a lazy Italian), Kris Brewer (also maybe known for helping with the filming of the 2012 Winter School), and Lara Thompson (your narrator)
This trip came together in large part because of the overwhelming popularity of the Mt Washington hikes for the final weekend of Winter School. As a co-C leader bent on hiking along Franconia Ridge, with no available C leader to 'lead' me, I took matters into my own hands and arranged for my nominally rock climbing friends to skew their ice cragging Saturday plans into something more "wild" culminating, yes, in the Franconia Ridge.
Of course, as a strange (Canadian?) way of seeking revenge on these single-minded C leaders, I tried to pit them against one another in a Summit Photo Competition with the supposed criteria of 1) originality, 2) creativity, and 3) conveyance of the means and destination of their MITOC trip. [Results of this competition were dismal but that's for others to judge potentially since…] Matthew G, however, challenged our own Sat outing to join in this photo competition. Fair enough. At this point, to not ruin the 'surprise', suffice it so say that I sought outside creative inputs and, as a group, our clever recasting of Franconia into something expressible with a mere 4 people got more and more obscure.
Our meetup in Lincoln was delayed: Kris and Sam were 20 min late, after Ale and I showed up 20 min early… We set out of the parking lot around 10am. Heading up the trail, the weather seemed pretty warm and we gradually took more and more layers off (I was down to my base top layer until the bush whacking). We quickly realized that Ale and Sam were the fittest and should be the weighed down with ropes (yes, two 60m ropes, 6+4 ice screws + gear).
When the trail started to veer leftward up to the ridge, we broke off left (according to Eric G's advice: thank you). We traversed and dropped to the Walker Brook, post holing a bit (or, in Kris's case, rather a lot), but overall, we still didn't regret our lack of snowshoes/skis/random flotation devices. The brook was open and flowing where we met it and we struck a path along the south bank that seemed less steep and more open.
But the snow got deeper. Along the brook, we spent several hours trudging, crawling, dropping (to hips, sometimes catching a seemingly bottomless drop!) beside and, after it had frozen over, on top of the brook. If ever you need to break such a painful and exhausting bush whack in deep snow, be sure to bring along a fit and sure Swiss Machine. Although Sam is far too modest for comparisons to the original Swiss Machine (google it if you don't know), I'll say it nonetheless: he is most certainly the Other Swiss Machine (or at least, Another). Where mere mortals like me were crawling, or as Ale was taking one slow, plunging step after another, Sam carried his momentum forward, churning a path -- truly incredible. Although Kris didn't often break trail, truthfully, he was _always_ breaking trail (since the other three of us weigh the same lesser weight). Much of this early part of the trail + bushwhack was compiled in a time-lapse video (with photos every 30s) by Kris and can be viewed here.
However, navigation wise, we didn't quite choose the ideal path. Now, whereas Sam was happy to strike a straight, least-resistance path to the summit, losing sight of any icy gullies, Ale and I kept pushing to traverse more and more (admittedly through rather dense pine -- more scratchy but with far less snow so it was more like climbing from tree to tree than swimming through snow uphill). Eventually: we broke free and a beautiful gully of ice opened before us.
We were only separated by a small stretch of icy slope (there's a photo of this first view) from icy bliss (even the trees looked icily frosted over -- gorgeous!). Adorning crampons and taking out axes (actually, Sam already had both of his out for the uphill 'swim', Ale and Kris had one out while I preferred to dig out tree branches to 'climb' uphill along those), Sam quickly traversed in the lead. I followed carefully -- the ice was pretty flaky/crusty and my crampon skittered loose in an early step making me overall rather careful to kick secure footing.
Ale followed without incident, but Kris, at the rear, lost it and slid on his back down the whole open slope to a snowy (phew) bottom. He had tried to self arrest but somehow the two small sleds on his back (those tiny saucer with handle ones) kept him sliding and unable to flip over. He tweaked an ankle in the fall but was still all smiles (in his usual style) when he rejoined us for a brief photo shoot as he finished the traverse.
We soloed small bulges if the runout was safe and admired the ice walls up the sides of our gully. When we approached a choice of ice that finally warranted leading, the late hour and Kris's tweaked ankle, turned us to the left gully over the (more tantalizing) right gully, leaving both ropes and all that metal in our packs.
It got colder and windier and the views closed in as we approached the summit. The summit itself was rather anticlimatic with the direction markers pointing out trails and an otherwise unremarkable outcropping of rocks lost in whiteout. But, maybe it's my bias toward a whiteout summit from my times in BC, or maybe it was the starkness of finally reaching above treeline, but Lafayette felt like a _mountain_.
Even donning our down jackets we were getting cold fast on the summit so our summit shots were rushed. Our clever idea began from a false interpretation of a "Franc" as a frenchman and we'd figured to dress Sam up as a frenchman (him being Swiss and our closes thing to the frenchman that we had). We carried up a baguette and brie for this purpose. We realized, even before the trail, that a Franc is a type of German rather, but instead of ditching the baguette and brie we brought them for a summit lunch (that turned into a rather cold halfway-down-the-trail hungry snack). But how can we portray Sam as a German? No, a frank is also another word for a hot dog. We guessed we could do something to dress him up as that kind of frank, but without prep time, the most we could hope for was photoshopping him. I guess he saw it coming, so in the summit shot, rather than get "on" our spelled out "I-A" (for a witty "frank" on "IA"), he hid behind us.
After summit shots, we high tailed it down the trail, out of the clouds toward the sunset. Ale and I quickly uncramponed and ran and slid and whooped down the trail. Sam and Kris were never far behind. That baguette and brie (and a dry salami!) were split into hunks and scarfed down (I guess we ignored some Winter School advice to eat regularly) before our fingers were too numb to hold the food (that brie was hard and cold!).
We made it back to the car sometime before 7pm, finishing the last half of trail by moonlight alone. Although the bulk of our pack weight was never put to use, we never regretted carrying it up and down (for training?) and, despite being more lazy rock cragging climbers at heart, the trip was deemed a huge success by all. Enjoy the photos!
Owner: Lara Thompson
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