A couple hours had passed since we left the parking lot; the horizon began to glow with the darkest hues of purple imaginable. Staring off into the darkness I swear I could see our thin little atmosphere smolder from the heat of the rising sun. The black sky above began to lighten and in the distance purple began to blend with deep shades of red. We kept moving, hoping to catch the first rays of sun as we climbed the final stretch of “Diagonal Gully.”
The mountain was calm, only the lightest of winds carried small flurries of snow that sparkled throughout. Daybreak was upon us, and as the sun began to illuminate the Ravine I felt my smile grow just as bright. It’s hard to believe that this place exists on the east coast. As headlamps gave way to sunglasses we headed back down to the base of the gully and began to traverse the top of the fan toward our second objective of the day.
Standing below the largest hunk of rock around, we slammed a few calories and racked up for a bit of a mixed climbing. I launched up the first pitch scraping the tips of my skis on the edge of the rock to my right as I searched for good gear and snow free holds to stand on. Slinging trees and clipping old pins I made my way up the first pitch of “Pinnacle Buttress”, a classic summer alpine climb, turned up a notch by climbing with skis on our backs. Standing at the belay I watched as the following parties of skiers and climbers made their first appearance at the base of the fan.
A near cloudless sky gave way to sunny belays, positive moods, and warm fingers. Pitch after pitch we enjoyed the balmy temps, but could have gone without the delaminated veneers of ice and snow. The alpine rock of New Hampshire has only a few forms – thin seams, unprotectable slab, splitter cracks, and choss. We were not the first to climb these rock routes in the winter – decades of scored rock surround prominent edges - the alpine climbers equivalent of chalked holds. After a while I found myself standing on a ledge mid-pitch with one tool hammered into a thin seam by my chest looking below at an old piton well beneath my feet. It’s funny how a five foot section of unprotected low angle rock gives you pause when the only thing holding you to the mountain are a few millimeters of steel. In rock shoes it would just be forgettable filler climbing, but when you add the thought of falling with sharp spikes on each appendage it takes a little more mental power. A few delicate maneuvers and pucker moves later we began the final romp to the garden.