3:11…I rolled out of bed. My alarm was going to go off anyway in about a half an hour, so I didn’t think it made sense to try and fall back asleep. After making some coffee and gathering my gear, I headed outside when I heard Art’s truck pull into my driveway.
Last year the day after Thanksgiving, I was rock climbing. Christmas day, in fact, my wife and I climbed at the 5.8 crag in fall conditions. Today, we were headed to Cannon for the classic ice climb the Black Dike.
We were the first in the parking lot. Excited, we packed up and headed down the trail. Our headlamps shining the way, I noticed that Art’s headlamp was brighter than mine. He told me that he had changed the batteries the night before. Hmmm…when was the last time I changed the batteries in mine? Two minutes later, I realized that I should have done the same when my headlamp went out. Luckily, Art had a spare in the truck. We dropped our packs, picked up the spare light, and headed out again.
Over the years, I have hiked up the talus field, wondering which of the many paths to choose. This morning, however, I had the luxury of simply following Art’s footprints. Periodically, I would instinctively reach my hand out for a rock only to see Art’s mitt print, which felt reassuring. I couldn’t see the cliff initially, for the darkness and clouds shrouded its face. I wondered what John Bouchard was thinking when he first ascended the route, ropeless. For some, The Black Dike serves as a test piece; for others, it serves as a classic climb that people do every year. For me, I was planning to follow it for the first time. Over the years, I had seen it while I was rock climbing at Cannon, and it looked loose – blocks teetering on another – nothing in that area looked secure. My friend RJ once told me that winter at Cannon was safer because all the blocks were frozen together. I reminded myself of this theory as we neared the cliff.
By the time I had arrived at the base, Art had already stomped out an area, put on his harness, and was sorting through some gear. I tried to move quickly but deliberately. Looking up the route, I saw the line, but I had no idea of the conditions. I saw snow and some ice and hoped that we would make it to the top. I put Art on belay, and before I knew it, he was off. Moving smoothly through the lower section, he placed a piece and traversed out to the right. Before I knew it, he had set an anchor and put me on belay.
By the time I reached the anchor, I had knocked off some of the rust. The picks went in ok, but the feet needed some work. After clipping in, I looked up and tried to figure out exactly where the line went. When Art took off for the next pitch, the leader of the party below us started his way up. Art brushed snow off several places. Then brushed some more. Then some more. I looked down at my snow covered pack that was hanging from the anchor and smiled. I cleared some of the snow from my pack and myself. Luckily, I was nice and cozy wearing the hoods of the Mammut Ultimate Hoody and the Broad Peak Jacket. The former I would wear during the climb, the latter I used to stay warm at the belay.
Mammut Ultimate Hoody
Mammut Broad Peak Jacket
Art placed a nut, moved left, provided some beta for me, and worked his way up to a corner. The leader below me anchored to my right, and before I knew it, I was on belay. As I climbed to the stopper, I tried to remember what Art had said. I had a vague recollection, but I felt out of balance as I adjusted and readjusted my feet. I brushed some more snow from the rock ledges and found the flat surfaces of the rock. The party below me gave words of encouragement, reminding me of how supporting the climbing community can be most of the time. I took my time and moved past the awkward section and into a snowy corner. I turned around to see a perspective of Cannon I had never seen before. Snow covered the usually teetering blocks and talus below. The scene looked serene, a word I never thought I would use to describe this cliff. The light mist hung in the air, and I knew not to linger too long, for the weather could change quicker than you might think.
The nook for the next belay provided some shelter, and we stopped to refuel and hydrate for the final section. Art moved through the final pitch stopping periodically to place a screw or a piece of pro. He warned me of the sections that were steeper than they looked (I thought they looked pretty steep from where I was anyway).
When he pulled the rope tight, I took down the anchor and began to climb. Despite some awkward sections, I found movement quite enjoyable. I could hear Alex’s voice remind me to use “small, ticky tack feet” as I worked my way up the steep sections, which required precise feet and encouraged purposeful and deliberate movement. For the thin sections, I remembered Tim’s advice and tapped one of the picks with the other tool and delicately moved my way up.
Near the top, I even used an armbar to wedge my way up an off-width section. I hooked deep into a crack and felt a decent sized rock shift and begin to pull out. “Of course,” I thought, “what would a trip to Cannon be without at least one loose rock?” By the time I had reached the top, I felt elated about finishing the climb and slightly disappointed that the climbing was over.
We ate some more food, coiled the ropes, packed our gear, and headed down the trail. We reached the truck and headed home. Later that night, I reflected upon the day. Many friends had spoken about the climb for years, and some even suggested we climb it, but the timing never seemed to work out. While I had tried not to build up the climb for fear of being disappointed, I had wondered for years what it would be like to climb it. I am pleased to say that it lived up to the hype.
To start the ice season climbing the Black Dike in November is encouraging. I am excited for the coming months and the adventures that lay ahead.
Get out there and take advantage of the season. I hope to see you out there!