Ice Climbing in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire

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I made my first trip up to New Hampshire over the MLK holiday for a long weekend of ice climbing!

There is an amazing amount of ice to be climbed up in the White Mountains and it was an absolute blast: we got on some multipitch water ice climbs and did a long alpine-style gully climb.

It was also really, really cold… I was certainly colder than I’ve ever been before, and I even ended up with a little frost nip on my fingers.

My buddy Sameer and I both took off from work on Friday so we could take advantage of the cheaper flights on Southwest and give ourselves a little more time to head up north.

We messed around in Manchester for a while upon landing—picking up some snack foods and grabbing lunch at an Indian restaurant—before heading out on the two hour drive to Conway, NH.

We stayed at the Merrill Farm Resort—which is a great little place between Conway and North Conway that offers an inclusive, and delicious, breakfast, has a sauna on site (great after ice climbing) and offers reasonable rates. Thanks to Natalia for the great recommendation!

Frankenstein Cliffs

Saturday morning Sameer and I headed up to Patch’s Market up north in Glen, NH to meet up with our guide, Kel Rossiter. Kel runs Adventure Spirit Guides out of Vermont and came well recommended by friends in the DC Mountain Madness group.

I was also looking forward to climbing with Kel because he’s a Washingtonian originally and grew up in the same town I did… He also guides on Rainier during the summer months so I was glad that he has experience in the same environs that I have been targeting in my climbing goals.

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After refilling on coffee and stocking up on hot water in our thermoses, we headed out for Crawford Notch for a day of climbing at Frankenstein Cliffs. It was a cold day, of course, so after gearing up and sticking on hand and foot warmers we hiked off along the train tracks to find some ice.

The approach couldn’t be easier—just follow the tracks until you find some open ice along the adjacent cliff. We headed for an area known as Lost in the Woods so we could set up a top rope and get in some laps and practice technique.

The ice was of a moderate angle—WI2—but it was quite cold… I got my first case of the notorious Screaming Barfies when I came off the first climb.

The Screaming Barfies are a unique phenomenon in ice climbing that is caused by the extreme cold and the fact that your hands are frequently over your head while climbing, thus the blood runs out, but when you stop you drop your hands down and all the blood comes rushing back to your hands…

It causes an intense and painful tingling and a sick feeling in your stomach, resulting in you screaming in pain from the tingling while feeling like you are about to vomit—thus the Screaming Barfies.

Yeah, ice climbing!!! Thankfully once you get them during a session they don’t tend to come back the same day.

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After getting in some laps at lost in the woods, we broke down our setup and headed back down the tracks to find a multi-pitch route.

We ended up hopping on Pegasus (WI3) so we could get a feel for following a multi-pitch ice route. Kel put us on separate ropes and spaced out the respective protection for each so that Sameer and I could climb simultaneously.

The climbing was quite enjoyable—not too strenuous, good purchase with the tools. We did another mini-pitch up to the rappel station (we did not do the second pitch of Pegasus) and then rapped back down to the ground. We packed up our gear and headed back to the cars…

Interestingly, when I tried to use the keyless entry device to get back in our rental car it was completely unresponsive… Uhh, great.

We’re out here in Crawford Notch and unable to even get back inside the car… Hmm. I had kept the key in my packs internal pocket, so I was hopeful that it was just the batteries acting up due to the extreme cold.

We jumped in Kel’s car while he blasted the heat and I warmed up the thing over the vent… After 5 minutes or so I gave the unlock button another push and, thankfully, the lights flashed and we were able to get in the vehicle!

Lesson learned: when it is ridiculously cold out your batteries will be affected, but definitely be mindful of your car’s keyless entry! Our rental car also had seat warmers, which was absolutely awesome and is a must if you are renting a car for ice climbing!

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Shoestring Gully, Mt. Webster (III, WI2)

Sunday morning was even colder… And unfortunately the forecast for the day did not show much warming up whatsoever. We decided we needed to spend the day on a route that would keep us moving with minimal standing around in order to stay warm.

We headed to Shoestring Gully (WI2) on Mount Webster for a long alpine-style gully climb that featured mixed snow and ice up the gully and a rock finish at the end.

When we pulled up at the trailhead the car’s thermometer was at -2F… It was terrible gearing up outside along the road, but it was important to remember that we’d be warming up as soon as we started hiking…

We crossed the river below and began the hike up through the trees to approach the gully. At the base we encountered our first patch of ice where we decided to rope up and break out the ice tools.

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I was wearing my Scarpa Invernos, Smartwool Mountaineer Socks (with toe warmers), Outdoor Research Arete Gloves, Patagonia Capilene 3 long johns, NW Alpine Fast/Light pants, Icebreaker 150 t-shirt, NW Alpine Black Spider Light Hoody, Patagonia R1, Feathered Friends Jackorack windshirt—and was still quite chilly.

The temps certainly did not increase over the course of the climb, and in fact dropped as we continued to gain altitude and become more exposed to the wind once we were out of the trees. I soon thereafter added my Patagonia Nanopuff to climb in as well, which helped to some degree.

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The climb essentially alternates between moderate ice bulges and snowy ramps over the course of at least 1,000 feet (from road to summit is approximately 2,500 vertical feet). Kel kept us moving at a pretty good pace, preventing us from getting too chilled.

But it was still probably the coldest I have ever been… We were estimating -10F with windchill, but who knows.

There was a lot of feet kicking and hand shaking to keep the appendages warm. Before long we reached the fork in the road—left was the standard ice finish and right was a mixed rock finish.

My camera stopped functioning at about this point, but we headed right for the mixed finish. Holstering one tool we set off up into the chimney, trying to avoid getting sucked in too deep.

Sameer was in the middle and I was in the end, which resulted in me getting blasted with loads of spindrift as Sameer moved higher up the rock…

I had a death grip on my one tool, crampons scraping up the rock, spindrift flying down on me—I joke that it was like a shot you’d see in Alpinist Magazine.

My hands started locking up terribly from the cold—particularly my right hand, which was clutching the tool.

Finally popping out above the rock—on the summit of Mount Webster with an extraordinary view below—yet it was extremely anticlimactic as I was doubled over with a terrible case of the screaming barfies and then a lingering numbness in my right fingertips…

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We shuffled back into the cover of the trees along the summit and took a short food and water break. I got out my big puffy and also put on my big dumb mitts (Outdoor Research Alti Mitts) to try and warm up my still numb fingers.

The hike back down to the road was long and uneventful—there was still good snow cover throughout and there weren’t any problematic ice patches. Mostly my thoughts were consumed with worrying about my fingers and whether I had done any real damage to them, as well as how cold and damp I was from all the spindrift.

We made it back to the cars before too long and headed back to Glen for some gas station pizza and hot drinks. Our plan was to head to the Harvard Cabin that evening to put ourselves in position for a climb up Mount Washington via one of the ice routes in Huntington Ravine…

But I was having second thoughts about this as we sat in the gas station, still with numb finger tips and still quite deeply chilled—we were going to hopefully snag a spot in Harvard Cabin (first come, first serve), but if not we’d have to sleep out in a tent adjacent to it…

Would I be able to dry my gear before the climb? Would my fingertips recover by then?

I just wasn’t feeling up for it anymore and, with Sameer in agreement, decided to forego an attempt on Mount Washington and instead head back to the hotel with a plan to just get in some more multipitch ice the next day.

Of course I had some regret about not heading to Washington—that had been the primary goal at the outset—but it was mighty nice to return to a WARM hotel to dry out gear and then hop in the sauna once again…

Standard Route – Frankenstein Cliff (II, WI3)

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Monday morning we met up with Kel once again up at Patch’s in Glen and then headed off to climb at Frankenstein once again.

We hopped on Standard Route (WI3) which is one of the area classics. The day started off at -8F, according to the car’s thermometer, but it warmed up into the low 20s later that day, thankfully.

The climbing at Standard featured three pitches of great ice climbing and we topped it off with the WI4 curtain finish—which I found pretty challenging and I fell on a couple times.

We hiked off of standard and headed a little further down the train tracks in order to practice some skills relating to placing ice screws, strategies for leading on ice, creating v-threads and a-threads and things of that nature.

After a few hours of that it was time to say goodbye and hit the road back to Manchester for our bright and early flight on Tuesday morning and then straight to the office…

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In Conclusion

All in all it was an awesome weekend of climbing… New Hampshire has so much to offer in the winter and I would love to spend a little more time there.

It is really, really cold though. My fingers were certainly frost-nipped and remained numb/tingly for a number of weeks.

My gloves were totally insufficient for the conditions and it prompted me to upgrade my gloves to the Outdoor Research Alpine Alibi II gloves which are certainly more cold-weather climbing oriented gloves and feature some synthetic insulation.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Shoestring Gully climb, and despite the frostnip, it remains one of my favorite and most memorable climbs. I still want to get on Mount Washington though!

Trip Details

Trip: Private Ice Climbing
Guide: Kel Rossiter with Adventure Spirit Guides
When: January 14 – 16, 2012 (3 Days)
Where: New Hampshire’s White Mountains
Cost: $495 (per person for a group of two)

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Ice Climbing in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire trip-reports, ice-climbing, alpine


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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Comments 4

  1. Hi, I love your photographs, particularly the Frankenstein Cliff, would you mind if I based some paintings on them? I wish I could visit myself, perhaps one day. Many thanks

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