It's often said that the things you really learn from (especially in climbing) are mistakes...in other words, a trip where you fuck up will give you much more experience than one which goes well. It's a sort of paradox, really...on one hand you strive not to repeat the same mistakes you made last time, on the other the fewer mistakes you make the less you learn...
ANYWAY...just a few general thoughts. Now, to the point.
So, I decided to try the Dike. That is, my partner convinced me. I should say that I only started leading ice this year and I'm in no way ready to lead the whole Dike; but he assured me that he has done it before, had no problem, etc. He also said I was definitely able to lead the first pitch. Well...what the hell, why not? And so it was decided.
The Dike is one of those routes where you have to wait until the party in front of you finishes the whole route. If you don't, you will face an incessant bombardment from above from which there's really no way to hide. This means that if there are more than 2 parties ahead of you you can forget it. Because of this, the standard procedure for the Dike is to try to beat the crowd by getting on the route as early as possible.
J. and I decided to cheat. Why not, we reasoned, instead of trying to beat everyone, simply let them all go and then jump on it, having the rest of the day to us? Not a bad plan and besides, it allowed us to get some sleep...
A quick 2 and a half hour drive from Boston got us to Franconia Notch a little after in the morning. 10:30 we begin the hour long approach; hence at 11:30 we are at the base of the route. Alas, the plan has backfired (what a surprise...). A party is on the Dike, about halfway up. Another is on Fanfnir, the sister route. Oh well. We sit down, put on crampons, get the rack ready and so on...
After around an hour and a half they're finally done and we begin. The first pitch is my lead. It looks easy enough; I decide to "go light" and take only 6 screws with me. I shouldn't need more than that! (of course I forget the fact that since the pitch is 250 feet long, that means the average distance between the screws would have to be around 40 feet...) I set out, fire in a screw. The ice is still a little brittle from the brutally cold weather that has gripped the Northeast for much of this winter, but not too bad. A rather long snow shelf, then more ice. It's a ways from the last screw and it gets steep from here. I have a good stance, why not use it? I put in another. Getting steeper. What did they say this was, grade 2? Doesn't look like it...I make a few more moves, find a small stemming stance and stop. I'm winded and pumped. I've been feeling strange all day now that I think about it...got all out of breath on the approach. What is it? Maybe i'm dehydrated? Maybe the effects of partying Friday night (today is sunday) haven't worn off? Whatever it is I don't like it. I am not myself. It looks like the crux move after this. I put in another screw here, get my act together and pull the crux. It's not too bad; I'm able to hook most of it. I mantle onto a small ledge, rest for a minute. I look around. The next section looks rather thin; I put in another screw here and continue. I notice the ice getting thinner and thinner...then,
"hey Alex!!! You're off route!!!!!"
Great. He had told me about this before I started. Go RIGHT after the crux; i have gone straight up. Dumbass. Well, what else was there to do? I began to downclimb. Oddly, it wasn't that bad - considering how much I hate downclimbing rock, on ice it was much easier.
So, I'm back at the little ledge. Then I look at my rack and realize I have only 2 screws left. "HEY J! HOW MUCH MORE DO I HAVE LEFT?"
"YOU'RE JUST ABOUT HALFWAY THERE!"
hmm...well, that's reassuring. A hundred thirty more feet to go and...two screws? I didn't like the idea. I decided to build an anchor right here and let him finish the pitch...
Some time later we were both standing at the first belay - a small rock anchor on a narrow ledge at the base of a huge wall. I look down. Holy shit! And haven't even really begun the route yet! This thing is pretty serious! I look at the next pitch - sheet of totally vertical ice, with extremely sharp jutting rocks right under it and am damn happy I'm not leading this. J is ready. He steps left over the rocks and is out on the ice. He puts in a screw, and starts. He looks nervous. His placements take 4, sometimes 5 swings. I watch as I belay and know exactly what state he's in right now. After what seems like forever he finally pulls the bulge and exits onto easier terrain. I'm very relieved - from the look of it that anchor we were attached to didn't exactly look "bombproof"...at least, I don' t know how it would react to a full force leader fall. Even if it held those rocks underneath just didn't look very inviting.
Eventually he finished the pitch, and I got ready to do it. How wonderful it is to be on toprope! I didn't find it all that hard. The whole thing was now pockmarked to such an extent that I barely had to swing at all. It was very enjoyable climbing and I made it rather quickly to the next anchor.
At this point, however, we noticed that it was getting dark. I figured there was maybe another 45 mintues left of daylight. It was his last trip in the Northeast (he was moving to California in a week) and wanted to make the most of it. The last pitch was only supposed to be grade 3 type climbing. He figured he could run up it pretty quickly, and hiking down in the dark with headlamps would be all right. A bit reluctantly I agreed - it was his lead after all, and after fucking things up so much with my miscalculation of the first pitch I didn't see it fit to argue.
It started off fine, except that it got dark faster than I thought, at which point he immediately got off route. He did manage to get his headlamp on, and eventually found it, or at least found something. Since it was now totally dark I had no idea what was happening but it was taking a damn long time. When it was finally my turn to go i decided not to waste time digging through the pack for my headlamp (i could see enough not to chop the rope, which is really al l that matters) and instead got ready to start ASAP. Climbing in the dark wasn't all that bad and i could see most of what I needed. Nonetheless, I was suprised to find that the finish to this route was not at all grade three, but more like 5. It was unbelievably hard...harder than anything else on the route. I had no idea how he had managed to pull this off on lead...it was truly an impressive feat.
When I reached the belay, panting like a mad dog, he immediately said that he couldn't find the descent and that we would rap down. Whatever...as long as we don't rap past the anchor and off the end of the rope! Since he had rappelled it before, he went first. The rappels went smoothly and miraculously, the double 60m ropes were just enough to touch down on the last pitch. No doubt this was because of rope stretch and also because the rappel line is always a little shorter than the climbing route, since it's always straight. We finished, coiled the ropes and prepared to head down to the car.
Oh yea, I forgot to mention that it had been snowing the whole day. Not very hard but steadily, and by now there was enough fresh snow on the ground that all traces of the approach trail were buried under the snow. The descent therefore took significantly longer than the climb up. We did somehow manage to finally end up on the trail, near its bottom.
When we got to the car at Boise Rock it was 9:30 PM. It was by far the most ridiculous return time I remember. It's kind of dissappointing. On the one hand, nothing that had happened really fit into the category of an "epic", although Jesse's last lead was certainly something to remember...grade 5 ice in full darkness! What was remarkable was the number of stupid decisions made that day...starting from the very first (waiting for everyone to finish...) to the last - deciding to continue when it was clearly getting dark. Of course the most "destructive" mistake was mine - by making the first pitch into 2 separate ones, i probably killed the time it was neccesary to finish in daylight. J. did not seem to be at all dissappointed - I guess this was sort of what he was looking for. I don't know. I felt stupid.
Whatever you make of these trips, you have to know WHAT you did that was stupid and try not to make the same mistakes again. In climbing we can't afford not to do this, simply because we can't afford to keep making these mistakes. There's only so many one can get away with - one of those times it just won't slide. Hopefully, we learn before this happens.