Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Buttermilk Falls

Well, my goal last week was to do more mileage than the previous week. This should have been easy considering the fact that I only did 10 miles that week. I guess running just hasn't been a priority because I barely got another 10 in for the week. Sure, I could have run on the weekend, but Tango lessons, climbing gym, and ice climbing were planned. After yoga class Friday night, I was too relaxed to get out of bed Saturday morning for a run. No worries though. I've managed to get 2 runs in on the treadmill so far this week, and have a grand total of 11.25 miles to report so far. Woohoo! I might be able to break 20 miles this week!

So, what have I been doing? What could possibly be more fun than running for 8 hours on a Sunday? Well, let me tell climbing at Buttermilk Falls in the Catskill Mountains. You don't believe me? Pull up a chair and read on...

I've heard stories about Buttermilk Falls for years. It's the kind of place people talk about with excitement in their voices. They say with dismay, "You've never been to Buttermilk Falls? Oh man, it's awesome! You HAVE to go there!" I would catch a glimpse of it on the internet from time to time and it definitely looked like there was a lot of ice. It looked like an ice climbers paradise!

This year would be the year! I had looked for a partner for awhile, and then Bob asked if I wanted to go while we were eating pizza last week. I jumped at the chance (after clearing it with Dawn, of course ;-)

We met around 7AM for the drive up to Tannersville, NY. Tannersville is near Hunter Mountain, NY which is where I did a lot of skiing as a kid. I has distant cousins in Tannersville back then, so going the trip brought back a lot of fond memories for me. We took the back roads through Northwest CT. It was a very pleasant 2.5 hour drive, and then we were ready for the hike in. We could see the ice from the road and it looked like a long way up into the ravine. Temps were expected to be low with a high of 18 for the day. The climb would be in the shade on the Northface, but there was no wind which was a blessing.

We dropped into the valley, crossed a stream, and started hiking up into the ravine. It was a bit of a slog and I worked up a good sweat. Bob, known for his slow hiking, kept up just fine, and we pondered the quality of the ice.

The climb is known to be 7 pitches in length. Basically, it is the equivalent to 7 individual climbs with a 60 meter rope to get to the top of the flow. The good thing about this climb is that it is 7 tiers, so there is a flat area in between each pitch. So, it really does feel like 7 short climbs. This cuts down on the risk factor because it is easier to belay and gives more options for retreat if the weather gets bad, etc.

Bob, a very experienced rock and ice climber, had done this climb at least 6-7 times prior to this trip, so I was very comfortable climbing with him. Bob is a better ice climber than me, so he took the first pitch. The pitch had a nice vertical pillar on one side, and Bob did a great job placing 5 screws on the way up. In ice climbing, the leader places 4-6" long hollow ice screws into the ice and clips the rope to the screw for protection in case of a fall. Now, it was my job to follow and take the screws out. We were climbing with our packs on our backs since this was a long, remote climb. This allowed us to have extra clothing, food, and water, but made the climbing more difficult due to the weight and restriction of movement. My pack was riding too high, so I could barely lift my head to look upward. The ice was brittle which made it hard to get a good stick with the axes and crampons. I managed to get up the pitch without incident, but I was happy that I did not attempt to lead it. Unfortunately, I was mentally a little challenged to get my lead head on for my turn on the sharp end of the rope.

Bob took the next pitch because it was short and easy, and then it was my turn to lead. I looked up at the pitch and picked the easiest line. It had a short vertical section, but seemed manageable. I placed a screw and moved up, pulled through the hard section and got another screw in. Cool! The pitch was sweet. I looked at the next pitch with awe! It was a beautiful long pitch of blue ice. Wow! A few minutes later, Bob asks me if I want to lead it.

Hmm, I looked at it again. This would definitely be the hardest lead I have done on ice to date. I could see a line that looked doable. I accepted the challenge, and got my self prepared. I went up a few feet, and got my first screw in. Bob suggested I move a little left and stem across to the left wall. I moved up and left and tried placing a second screw. The screw went in fine, but I had a heck of a time clipping it. My left calf was cramping and I was getting tired. I adjusted my stance and tried to relax. Then, I clipped into the screw and got moving again. Whew! I climbed up the vertical ice knowing I should place another screw, but too tired to hang out to do it. I got to a decent stance before the exit, and jammed in another screw. After clipping without problems, I let out a big sigh of relief. Woohoo! After making the exit move and clearing a few more minor tiers, I was at the belay tree. Yes! My best ice lead so far!

Bob followed the pitch and led 1 more tough pitch, then I led pitch #6 without trouble. Pitch #7 is known as the crux pitch and it rated as Grade 4 ice. I haven't led Grade 4 yet, so Bob took the pitch. After getting psyched for it, we both quickly realized that this was one of the easier pitches. The top tier opens up into a beautiful amphitheatre of ice, and there are many options for the leader. The easiest line was the most traveled path, but it still looked tough. Although it looked intimidating, it really was quite pleasant. Bob said, "Steve, the pitch you led seemed harder than this one". This was music to my ears.

In reality, Bob's first pitch was the crux pitch for the day. We considered doing another pitch on one side of the flow, but it was getting late. We decided to call it a successful day and head for home.

A day of climbing ice in the Catskills. We saw about 6 other climbers all day, and the trip cost us nothing other than food and gas. The weather was great, and the sights were amazing. We challenged ourselves and had a great time doing it. Bob and I shared some stories and a few laughs, and life was good all over again! Peace.


Scott said...

Sounds awesome. Very cool. I haven't been running much. I'm going to get back into it this wknd... I need to at least get a few runs in before Hyannis! Glad to see you're staying active this winter!

Steve said...


Buttermilk falls is WAY cool. Looks like I'm not going to get to ICE climb with you this season .. Sorry I'm off to CAlif for 2.5 weeks and bike road race season starts the weekend I get back with CRIT in Bethel 3/1, then every weekend in March Crit near your house every SAT @ the airport.

I will try to keep some good posts - sorta like a journal going on my blog when out WEST.

LAter Steve D