Sunday, November 17, 2013

Suckers Aren't Made...

Snowy.  Our compact little range.
Hermann Buhl.  And his stupid grin.

I blame Hermann Buhl.  That rat bastard.  For those of you who don't know (a lot of hands are still up), Hermann Buhl was the Austrian nut who soloed his ass off in the 1950's.  He rode a bike, hitchhiked, slept in hayfields, and did all sorts of stupid stuff to go climbing.  This culminated in his epic, 41-hour solo ascent of Nanga Parbat in 1953.  Unfortunately, it also killed him the next year when a cornice broke on Chogalisa (no, not a Mexican restaurant, a big mountain in the Himalayas).  When I was in High School, I read his book, Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage about as many times as I watched Star Wars: A New Hope.  A shit ton.

Starting Out.
PF Flyer

I am, for those who know me, relatively neurotic.  I get particularly antsy around November when the wintertime comes and this does not go away for some time.  15-year-old Michael once had a crazy idea of an enchainment in the White Mountains, Hermann Buhl style.  Of course, the idea had long remained dormant due to, you know, getting friends, but inactivity gives me dangerous thinking time.  This fall, as I worked on my friends' houses, and finally on a carpentry project in New Jersey, I began to get antsy.  Worse still, I ran a lot.  I ran so much I started to enjoy it, and I started to think about something that would play to my strengths.  I am not my friend Bayard, who can laugh his way up M10, nor am I my friend Tristan, who can win 100k races at the drop of a hat, and I am not my friend Elliot, for whom suffering is a way of life.  But...I can move pretty quickly, and I can climb moderate terrain quickly, right?

Running Water in King's.  Good for Hydration.

The facility on the Delaware Water Gap we were rebuilding ironically had a copy of Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage.  There was Hermann Buhl's stupid grin on the back cover.  That rat bastard.  He stirred up long-dormant fantasies.
I drove back to New Hampshire.  On Friday night I stayed in Berlin at my friend Seth's house.  I packed tools, crampons, a puffy jacket, a jetboil stove, an iPod full of Spanish Gangsta Rap, (Hermann Buhl had an iPod nano on his Nanga Parbat solo).   The plan was to climb three ravines in the Presidentials, in a marathon day: King's, Huntington's, and Tuckerman's, passing Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay, and Washington in the meantime.  It would involve thousands of feet of climbing, and a lot, I repeat, a lot, of hiking.  I was greatly inspired by the efforts of Doug Millen and Alan Cattabriga, who dearly love early season ice.  I've never met Alan, but Doug always gushes about his fall exploits.  It's clear to me these two treat the Whites for what they are: a mountain range.  With so much terrain a two-minute hike to the car, it's easy for me to forget this fact.
King's was snowy.  I took my time, taking great care to eat a GU every half hour and drink a lot of water.  I started up PF Flyer, a climb I had never done, at a moderate pace, climbing it in an hour.  Near the top, I wallowed through snowy Krummholz (Again, because of the of this stubborn bastard plant's Teutonic namesake, I blame Hermann Buhl.)  This greatly slowed my efforts and it took me a long time to crawl to a trail on top of King's Ravine.  I had a moment of lingering hesitation beneath Mount Adams.  I was soaked to the bone from wet ice and snow, and it was cold still.  I put in Akwid, the Spanish gangsta rap.  I had no idea what these guys were saying.  They sounded angry.  They sounded like they wanted me to keep going.
I needed some type of reward for each ravine I ascended, so I did what any 27 year-old-male who didn't play sports would do: in my mind, for each climb, Princess Leia would take off part of her outfit.  I smiled to myself, stuck in the barrens of the Northern Presidentials.  She had already given me a wry smile as she unfurled one of her Cinnamon Bun hairpieces on the top of PF flyer.  Oh, how we'd traipse across the galaxy together when I finished my massive enchainment!

Edmund's Col, where my father swears he heard a ghost.

I stopped to melt water on Edmund's col and felt a lot better.  There was a ton of snow over the middle Presidentials and I lost even more time wading and sometimes crawling to keep myself from sinking up to my waist.  This was tiring, and I tried to keep on my schedule of eating and drinking every half hour.

A lady who needs no introduction.

I made it Washington and cut across to the auto road.  I blitzed across the Alpine Garden, a renewed energy in my step.  It was one.  Princess Leia began to slip off her big white dress and space boots.

Looking back.

I was so excited about this that I ran past the descent into Huntington's and did not realize my blunder until I was ten minutes from the Lion's Head trail.  She gave me a curt look and pulled her dress back over her head.

Brew stop two!

"Forgive me Princess!"  I screamed.  Though now, there were plenty of people.  I reminded myself I had to pretend to be regular around people.  This wasn't the Northern Presis.  I had to pull myself together.  I stopped to brew water again.  Some ice climbers must have looked at me quite strangely.  I descended into Tuckerman's, disappointed to have done something so stupid, but it was late anyways.  As I climbed up the headwall, I felt tired.  The terrain felt like WI5, not WI2.

Tucks' ice.

Full moon over Wildcat.

At the tuck's cabin, 11 hours after starting, my friend Bethann made me soup and tea.  It was the first real food I had all day, and with heavy boots I slid down to Pinkham.  My ride had abandoned me though, and I wandered in to the AMC Construction Crew's shop where I sometimes work.  I built a nest of painters' dropcloths, curled up in my down jacket, and slept, hoping the night watchman wouldn't wake me up.  In the morning, I hitchhiked back to the Appalacia parking lot.  2 out of 3 ain't bad, I guess.

About to bivy in a bunch of dropcloths.  Yummy.


  1. Nice trip report. That must have been you I heard in the back of the cabin at hermit lake. Saturday was a perfect (albeit warm) day in the presidentials and the moon was unreal that night. I headed up the boott spur link at 5am the next morning and caught an awesome sunrise. The alpenglow on tucks was unreal. Maybe I'll see you up there some time.

  2. Nice buddy, glad to hear you are getting after it...-Jforrester