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Shoestring gully – January 2015

While the main HMC group was across the Saco river at Frankenstein cliffs preparing for the Daks, my partner, Florian Huber, and I headed over to Shoestring gully on Mt. Webster for our first ice climb of the season. Shoestring gully is an easy ice and snow climb that makes for a fine mountaineering adventure. It is roughly 4-5 pitches of technical climbing and has several short sections of grade 2 ice. The day started off chilly, see my car thermometer on the drive up:


We arrived around 830 as the first car in the pull-out in front of shoestring gully. At first glance up the gully, it looked very intimidating! A long line of snow snaking up the mountain through forest gives way to a deep gash in the rock cliffs, filled with ice. From the pull-out it looked steep, and we had remind ourselves that summitpost promised it won’t be so bad once we were there. Within 15 minutes, we were joined by 4 other cars in the pull-out, whose teams quickly threw on their packs and sprinted to get ahead of us and one another. The cross over the saco river was basically right at the pull-out, across what looked like an abandoned beaver dam. There were plenty of boot tracks to mark the way. Another team coming up from the Webster cliff trail parking lot made it just in front of us there as well. Soon, we were hiking up the steepening stream bed, sweating away. Four other groups toiled not far ahead of us.

Within no more than 45 minutes, we reached the first ice bulge – 20 feet of grade 2 ice above a snowy, flat platform. One of the slower parties of 3 was flaking out their rope, but many of the parties, including us, decided that the bulge was easy and safe enough to be solo’ed. Up we went. The first technical ice moves of the season felt awkward. My swings bounced off the brittle ice and my front pointing was imprecise. Luckily, the ice was fairly low angle, tucked in a reassuring corner, and we quickly moved up onto the lower angle snow slope above.


200 feet of snow, often hardened wind slab, lead us to the next ice bulge. This one had a less ideal landing, but was also low angle and tucked in a corner, so we solo’ed it as well.


My partner got to fight some spin drift, giving it a real alpine feel.


After another 200 feet of snow, we reached what looked to be the crux ice pitch, a 40 foot narrow slot of 55 or 60 degree ice. As we arrived underneath it, the first party was beginning to lead the pitch, with two other parties waiting as well.


We donned our down jackets, snacked, and hunkered down for the long wait. After what felt like 1.5 hours, all three parties ahead of us, and a party of three free soloists had all finished the pitch and it was our turn to start. I led up fairly picked out and secure ice to the top of the 40 foot bulge. A short snowfield led up to the base of a slightly steeper, 50 foot bulge of ice with an obvious weakness through it. After dropping my new petzl ice screw (later recovered), I finally got a solid screw in and pushed through to the top of the bulge, making a belay in a nice section of fat ice. After my very cold partner came up, he led up an easy 120 feet of snow and made a belay below the final short ice bulge.


The sun had finally emerged and we could tell we were close to the top. I led over the final ice bulge


, and was presented with three choices – a mixed 5.6 finish, a thin grade 3 finish, and the easy snow to the top. I eyed the thin grade 3 finish for some time before ultimately deciding that my first time on water ice in 9 months was already a success and I didn’t need to risk a potentially embarrassing signature Drayna freakout to tarnish the day’s fun. 100 feet of 35-40 degree snow led into the trees and quickly to the webster cliff trail on the top.


The descent was a pleasant but surprisingly long 75-90 minute walk down the Webster cliff trail to the parking lot, and a quick jaunt up the road to our car at the pull out. We arrived at 330 – about 6.5 hours car to car. If we had been the only party I guess we could have done it in about 5 hours.


Overall, the climb was a blast. It was a great first ice climb of the season and was high quality climbing and mountaineering the whole way. It felt like an easier version of Damnation gully on Washington, except also less approach and less committing. I would seriously recommend this route to anyone in the club.

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