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#3563 - 01/08/02 09:33 PM A Winter Tale: Gothic NF
Frank Florence Offline

Registered: 01/05/00
Posts: 529
Loc: moved to Bend
N face of Gothic Peak, Adirondacks High Peak Region

Alternating freeze/thaw conditions brought good ice conditions to the Adirondacks in mid-winter a few years ago and encouraged Mark Kahrl and me to consider a trip to the north side of Gothic Peak. We agreed that we’d most enjoy tackling it as a one-day event and so met on a Saturday at the St. Moritz hotel in Lake Placid, a reasonably cheap and heated base camp from which to make our alpine start. At dark-thirty we drove to the Gardens parking lot in Keene Valley, road head for the popular trail to Johns Brook Lodge. The morning was cold, with temperatures close to zero and the air was dry. Although we’d brought both skis and snowshoes, it was obvious that the rocky, snow-packed trail required neither. We abandoned the idea of skiing but brought the snowshoes along, in case we needed them higher up.

We followed the trail on the north side of the river to within about 0.4 mi of the lodge, then crossed south and continued along the Orebed Creek trail. About one-half mile past the lean-to, we crossed a moderately large drainage system, and then turned up it and headed towards Gothic. With the packed and firm snow conditions, the overall hike to the base of the climb required just over two hours from the road head. Dawn brought a clear blue sky and we felt temperatures decreasing as we gained altitude. By the time we were roping up it was between 5 and 10 degrees below zero.

The climbing conditions were very good. We chose to start a little to the right of what might be viewed as the most “direct” line in order to take advantage of a little more bare ice that was exposed over that way. Our line contained patches of crusty, frozen snow (evidence of recent thaws) with a few inches of powder on top. Between these snowy patches were 20 foot and longer sections of water ice. The slope angle we encountered was on the order of 45 degrees, which is typical across the wide, north face. This is quite a bit less than one finds when icicle climbing but steep enough for us to use four or five screws for belay anchors and protecting the leader. We also made good use of a snow fluke and on one pitch, when we were close to some trees, put a sling on one of these for a belay.

The solid ice conditions, cloudless weather, and a three-day long Presidents’ weekend had combined to bring a fair number of parties out onto the route. We were one of four rope teams and I saw one additional climber soloing up through the trees. The face is quite wide, so even with this many parties, we never felt crowded. Depending on the specific line selected, the climbing can be done in a traditional, belayed manner, or a party could simul-climb. Virtually all of the other climbers carried two modern style ice tools, a number sported foot fangs, and without exception were cloaked in enough Gore-tex to significantly raise the value of Wm. Gore and Associates’ stock. I didn’t think too much of this until after we’d topped out and we were talking to some of the other climbers. One Quebecer and I made polite conversation but I realized that he wasn’t making eye contact with me - he was staring at my tools. I had my circa 1975 Chouinard Zero piolet in one hand and my old Chouinard Alpine Hammer in the other. I’ve found this combination to be quite useful on a number of climbs that I’d done out west, including routes in the North Cascades, theTetons, and on the North face of Borah, in Idaho. Because I generally prefer skiing to climbing ice, I haven’t invested in newer, recurved pick tools. (If I was to get involved more in the sport, I would outfit myself with these improvements, but I find that belaying is just too damn cold. Plus, what skier wants to put himself in a situation where might end up bitching about a deep, fresh snow fall?) Anyway, I don’t have modern gear, and I wasn’t wearing any especially new clothing, so I guess I can’t blame this guy for staring at me as if he was looking at some Paleolithic throwback.

The sour note to the day was that Mark’s fingers tips developed frostbite. Gusty winds of 10-20 mph pushed the wind chill factor to well below the -5 degree air temperature. Mark had gotten very cold hands a couple of weeks before while climbing in Huntington’s Ravine when it was 20 below, so he was already sensitive to cold conditions when we started up the north face. And it was a very cold climb. On the first belay, my own fingers had gone numb and I had to bite my lip as they rewarmed and burned when I started climbing. When I passed him, Mark said much the same happened to him, but later he told me that his fingertips really hadn’t warmed up. When we got to the top and I looked at them, the tips of the three middle digits on each hand were waxy and cold. We were both surprised that they’d frozen, since at no time on the climb had Mark had his lycra liners off and he was careful about handling metal gear only with mitten-covered hands. We both remarked on having cold feet, but once we were out of the wind our toes quickly rewarmed on the descent. Mark was careful about not holding anything or putting pressure on his hands during the walk out, a safe measure since his fingertips were partly thawed by the time we got back to the car. From the road head we bee-lined it for the Noonmark Restaurant, where Mark soaked his fingers in a sink in the bathroom to complete the thawing process. Despite the frostbite we were both in good spirits and Mark gamely tackled a slice of berry pie with napkin spacers separating each of his digits.

The following day, he went to see a doctor, who advised him to take the rest of the season off. Mark ended up with few blisters and within a couple of weeks, most of his fingertips peeled, costing him his hard earned calluses. However, there was no deep tissue or bone damage and no recurrent problems ever developed in the subsequent winters. Still, it was an undeniably close call and an important lesson to remember in future trips.

#3564 - 11/12/03 05:07 AM Re: A Winter Tale: Gothic NF [Re: Frank Florence]
FBN Offline

Registered: 04/02/03
Posts: 62
A couple of winters ago me a freind attempted this route. I was new to the whole ice snow thing and had crampons on for the first time just about 3 months before. My friend had the same amount of experience as I on verticle ice at this point , three months of weekends. But he had many hard earned years of mountaineering experience and is fairly fearless in my experience. He suggested we should do the north face of gothics. I, in my total innocent trust and naive bravery said yes. I suspect now that he had his eye on this gem for some time and had no suckers yet to take with him to hold the other end of the rope.
The details are fuzzy to me now but we got up early in the morning and did a monster hike in and went straight for the face. Up we went, the ice was too thin for screws so after a thin scary move with about a 500 foot fall potential on solo we got to the snow. Then since we could sling the trees we got out the rope and roped up. We used running belays up the center of the face on steep snow. He led the whole way, as this was a new element for me It was somewhat difficult for me to get a feel of what was possible. At the top there was
no ice or snow only bare rock for the last few hundred
feet. Before we decided to do the climb I thought it would be possible to lead the rock section, I did
have several years of rock climbing experience.

When we got to the rock he led off, fearlessly it
seemed to me. Up he went, scraping and clawing
his way up the rock, at the edge of falling at every
moment. He forgot to take the marginal rock pro we did
have, a set of tri cams. I had my heart in my mouth
as I watched him climb. I stared at the 4 inch diamater
tree that I was belaying from, I was not happy. Finally
after runing out about half the rope he got to a stoping
point. He had a hand jam in the rock but couldn't get
in any ice pro or snow pro as he was on bare rock.
He slipped and scratched around for forever and finally
he was able to tie off a marginal sling over a horn. In the process he dropped a ice axe, as it was wipping past me I actually caught it!!! Left handed.
He decided to come down, we decided it would be
best that I would lower him so I did. Thankfully he got
down to me safely.
Now it was my turn, being the rock climbing jock
of our two man team. I really didn't trust the placement
he put in but it did hold him for the lower and the shortest way out , was up. So I went for it, also
scratching my way up the face. It was like friction climbing with crampons on, trying to get a axe or crampon in small sections of ice/frozen moss when
you could. Finally I got to the sling, and quickly added
a tri cam and a sling. I have unusal tri cams they have
wire on them instead of slings and are made by Via Mont if anyone who got it, reads this. I really didn't feel
good, my hands frozen and the crampon friction thing
really sucked. I pulled a move above the tri cam and looked around, too much friction, no pro, or hand holds
ahead. I then scratched over left to what looked to be
easy climbing, that is in rock shoes in summer. I chickened out and my friend lowered me off to him.

We had planned for a one day climb and had no
bivy gear at all so we decided to bail out. The down
climb was scary as hell for me. I just couldn't force myself to face downward and walk down the steep
sections of ice, as one slip and I would tumble down
the face for hundreds of feet. So I down climbed facing
in, but it was too exhausting and time consuming. My
friend then actually had to lower me down the face while he followed me, he down climbed facing down/out using french techniqe. I was really impressed by his skill.

I was so happy to be alive after we got down.
A couple of weeks later we went back by that time the
ice was melting off fast so we just did a snow climb
on the left hand side of the face, I wasn't dissapointed.

I will never forget the first time I saw gothics north face,
to me it looks like a mini Eiger in winter....

Take this climb seriously. Only experience people should go, as even the "easy" trail decent route is dangerous on solo.


#3565 - 11/12/03 06:28 PM Re: A Winter Tale: Gothic NF [Re: FBN]
RAF Offline
site supporter

Registered: 04/12/02
Posts: 793
Loc: Colorado (!)
Sounds like FBN had a vintage Gothics experience!

May I witness now?

I did it alone years ago because nobody else I knew was interested, and it was already March 20th, and I didn't want to wait for another year.

The forecast for perfect weather didn't materialize; when I left The Garden, it was 28 degrees and snowing. I had to stop every quarter mile to wipe off my glasses so I could see.

The ice was thin, but periodic slides of spindrift cleared off the ice surface enough for me to weave together the thickest sections. The only ice I found that was more than about 3" thick dinner-plated when I placed my tools. The crux for me was a traverse right on rock beneath an overlap, with most of the face below me; I was glad visibility was so bad that I couldn't see very far into the void. It seemed a lot steeper to me than I know that it actually was.

The final moves onto the summit ridge were up a rock corner with tufts of frozen grass in it. I gingerly placed my picks in the grass and stepped up. I gained the ridge about a hundred feet left of the summit and waded through hip-deep snow over the top and down the trail to the Gothics-Saddleback col; it was 'way too windy to contemplate stopping to put on my snowshoes until I got lower down.

I agree strongly with FBN, this is a serious climb, an order of magnitude harder than any other "NEI 2" ice route I've ever been on. It was also a tremendous experience that I treasure in my store of memories.

I drove home from the Adirondacks that afternoon, my wife and I immediately conceived our first daughter, and I didn't climb ice again for 16 years. But now I'm back!

#3566 - 04/23/04 03:14 AM Re: A Winter Tale: Gothic NF [Re: FBN]
FBN Offline

Registered: 04/02/03
Posts: 62
Me and Partner went back this season for a go around. A lot of people where on it by judgeing the deep trail up toward
the face. There was a lot of snow fall a few days before so we still had to break trail which was hard even with snow shoes.
Looking at the face from a distance it looks steep as hell(mini eiger) and it seemed hard to pick out a way up it.
The ice was super thin up the center of the face, my partner did a almost a full rope run out before he got in a good screw.
We made it to the the top still scary but more in my level. If you ever do the route look up to your left at the steepest part
at the high left center of the face. This is where we tried to go the first time out....



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