Ice Climbing at Frankenstein Cliffs
Near North Conway, NH
March 20, 2005
When my brother Mark and his wife Penny moved to Boston several years ago I immediately bought the book An Ice Climber's Guide to Northern New England. While most of our family has made the long trip east to visit them in summer, Kim and I were the only ones who wanted to visit in winter. Boston is just 2 and a half hours from North Conway, New Hampshire home to more established, accessible, ice routes than anywhere else in the US. Yummy! Kim and I had hoped to make the trip out for the past few winters but things kept getting in the way, so we were really excited when it all worked out this year.
Since Kim could only take a few days off from work, we made the most of our long weekend with a direct flight to Boston. We met Mark at Logan International where he had just flown in from a trip to Washington DC. His plane was right behind ours taxiing to the gates and pulled up right next to ours. So we were really surprise to greet him there at the gate! Mark and Penny live in the town of Hull, which is out on a small peninsula of land which often serves as a breakwater for Boston when the tremendous "Nor'Easters" pound the coast. To get to Hull we took a small passenger ferry across Boston Harbor. In the summer the ferry has a sundeck where passengers can relax and enjoy a drink, but since Boston was just coming out of the throws of winter, we took in the views inside!
Penny met us with the car at the ferry and we all piled in with our luggage and drove up the hill to their Hull Cottage. We spent the evening sharing a delicious meal and playing Mark's new Martin guitar! The next morning we took the ferry back into Boston and spent the day touring historic sites and eating wonderful Italian food in the North End. The next morning we packed up and drove to New Hampshire to find some ice!
Each day was sunny and beautiful so we had great views along the way. We stopped at Sabbaday Falls along the Kangamangus Highway and made the short hike back to the frozen falls. Seeing the snow and ice really made me anxious to get on bigger ice! We continued down the highway into North Conway and found our Bed and Breakfast where we would be spending the weekend. The Buttonwood Inn was nestled into the forest just above town and our hosts Jeffery and Elizabeth made our stay very enjoyable.
North Conway is a great little town nestled in the heart of the White Mountains with lot's of gear shops and good food. We only had one day to climb so we looked in our guidebook and chose Frankenstein Cliffs since the ice was so accessible. Sunday morning after a wonderful breakfast, we drove 20 miles north of town on highway 302 and pulled off at a wide spot on the right side of the road about a half mile past the Crawford Notch State Park sign. Most climbers park at the main parking lot and walk along the railroad grade to access the climbs, but the area we were looking to climb at was at this end so took the direct approach. We followed some foot prints through the snowy trees up to the railroad grade which had a well packed trail.
From the railroad grade we spotted a large flow which we believed to be Dracula. Two other climbers had followed our tracks in from the road and while talking with them they suggested either routes in the Amphitheater or A Walk in the Forest which go at WI 3/4. They were locals but had visited Washington the summer before and climbed Liberty Ridge on Mt Rainier. We ended up following them to A Walk in the Forest and set up shop there.
The left side of the wall of ice was mostly shaded so it was in much better condition than the right side which got a lot of late afternoon sun and was pretty much rotten. After they climbed up, Kim put me on belay and I started up. Since we were trying to go light for this trip, and we knew that we would mostly be top roping single pitch routes, we just brought one set of ice tools, one rope, one set of crampons, and one helmet. We could have used another helmet. I tried to climb carefully and not dislodge too many ice chunks since Kim was lidless.
At the top I set up an anchor around a large tree and rappeled down. It had been about an hour since the two climbers before us had climbed up, so Penny had started to get cold so she and Mark had hiked back down to the railroad grade to seek sun and warmth. While we were waiting for them to return, I belayed Kim up the route. Meanwhile two more climbers arrived, Jonathon and Sam, who climbed to the right of our line. Since the ice they were climbing on was in the sun and much more pourous, a lot of ice chunks were falling down and Kim was accidentally hit by a large piece about a foot long. Fortunately it missed her head but it did get her left shoulder. She tried climbing up higher but it was too sore so I lowered her back down.
Meanwhile Mark and Penny hadn't returned yet, so I hiked back down to the railroad grade and followed their snowshoe tracks across the trussle bridge to the other side They had been exploring and enjoying the sunshine out of the trees. I had really wanted to have them try the route but Penny had recently had surgery on her arm so she was unable to climb, but Mark was willing to give it a go. So Mark and I hiked back up to the route while Penny walked back along the trussle to the main parking lot where we would later meet her with the car.
I gave Mark a quick "Ice Climbing 101" spiel and sent him up the route. Mark is training for the Boston Marathon next month so he is in really good shape. Even though he had never ice climbed before, he cruised right up the WI3+ pitch. When I lowered him back down he commented how amazing it was to see just how little metal it takes to stick in the ice. Having already bungee jumped out of a hot air balloon, I was afraid that ice climbing might seem a little boring to him, but he really enjoyed it and wants to do some more. We had told Penny that it would be about a half hour for Mark to climb the route, but I forgot that I still had to re-climb the route to retrieve the anchor slings and carabiners, so Mark headed down to meet Penny at the parking lot. Kim and I really wished we could have stayed longer but we kept telling ourselves that this was just a reconnaisance trip for future longer stays!