Climbers Meet the Fuck Man

by Jim Lawyer

Is there any ice in the northeast? I can definitely say "sort of". There definitely isn't any ice in New York, and probably not in Vermont either. But in the higher elevations of New Hampshire there are definitely a few smears.

Will Mayo (a.k.a. "'Bones") and I decided to sniff out some ice in Franconia Notch, namely, the Black Dike. Bones assured me that there would be ice, and that he's climbed the route every year in November, so I thought it was worth the risk (i.e., the 5+ hours of solo driving). Plus, there's continued pressure from Ade, who, at last count, has chalked up 4 ice climbing days so far this season. No, I'm not competitive.

We slept at the pullout near the trailhead where the approach to Cannon Cliff begins. We wanted to start climbing at daybreak to avoid the crowds and when the temperature is lowest to ensure the ice was as safe as possible. Bones assured me that sunrise was 5:00 AM, so we set the alarm for 3:30 and, in typical fashion, woke at 3:00 AM. Since we were already dressed (yeah, that's right, we were so keen that we dressed the night before), we were able to get an early start and arrived at the base of the route at 4:30 AM, just 1/2 hour before "sunrise". It was pitch black.

To get a jump start on the other anticipated parties lined up at the base, the night before we uncoiled the double ropes into a pack, an old trick that allows us to pass anyone messing about the base of a route. Good thing too, as this allowed us to start climbing almost patch darkness without another climber in sight. Since the route was nearly devoid of ice, Bones took the lead. I sat shivering in the silent darkness with occasional spindrift washing over my face keeping me awake.

Since there was no snow cone at the base of the route, the first pitch was longer than usual, maybe 230 feet. After running out a rope length, Bones was still short of the belay, with only a single piece of gear about 50 feet up; when the rope was taught, I started dry tooling up behind him. The climbing wasn't all that hard, and there was a little ice spit here and there on the top surfaces of the rocks.

I reached the belay without mishap and, since I was totally freaked, gave Bones the next lead, the crux. It starts with a rock traverse directly above the belay and into the main gulley. Normally, this belay is in the firing line from bombardments sent from above, but since there was only verglass, I didn't have much to worry about.

Bones made short work of it, reaching the belay without placing any ice gear -- just a few TCUs and a couple of pins. The climbing here was actually easy...much easier than when the route is fat with ice. The gulley is narrow, so there was good stemming and dry tool placements. In the back of the gulley, there was even enough ice to get a few good sticks.

The last pitch is usually a walk in the park -- lots of ice filled corners, probably NEI4. In the pre-dawn light, this pitch looked absolutely unprotectable, so I cashed in my chits and handed the sharp end over to my secret weapon -- Bones. He started off just as the sun came up -- about 6:30 AM. It was also at this time that a second party showed up.

A voice from below yelled up,

"What'd you guys do, sleep in the fuckin' parking lot".

"Yeah", I replied.

"Good for you!"

I couldn't tell whether that was a pat-your-back "good for you" or a we're-pissed-because-we-we're-scooped "good for you".

We topped out sometime before 9:00 AM and rapped off some cord frozen into the turf back to the top of the second pitch. As I approached the belay, this older dude said,

"You boyz fuckin' rappin' the route? This belay is mother fuckin' dangerous...three fuckin pins hammered into some shattered mother fuckin' useless rock. And those slings are drier than a fuckin' popcorn fart. You fuckers are nuts."

"That's what we hand in mind, yes", I said, a bit unimpressed with the greeting. I clipped to the "useless" belay anyway as he proceeded to tie into his axes.

We introduced ourselves. He's a local hard man, and certainly chatty. "I fucking saw some headlamps up here and thought 'there's some crazy mother fuckers up there on the Dike'."

"We wanted to get an early start" I replied.

"You sure as fuck did. Your ascent is one of the first this year. Some other fuckers were up here in October and fuckin' backed off."

We got to talking and he told me about a new guidebook he was writing. "There's some 200 fuckin' routes up here, and there's fuck-all written about them. Just over there, see that fuckin' rope?"

I looked over to see a rope hanging down some particularly hard looking piece of rock.

"That's a fuckin 5.13. Some local kid's puttin' it in. He asked if he could rap bolt it and I said that the local ethic was fuckin' ground up. So he's got the rope there to work the moves."

I found this particularly interesting, "If he's already worked the moves, then why bother putting the bolts in on lead. Isn't the ground-up ethic supposed to preserve the adventure of not knowing what's above? If he's got the whole route wired, then why not rap bolt it? In fact, while he's at it, you could ask him to swing over this way and put a bolt in to back up this belay."

"Fuckin' eh, you got a point there. This belay could use a fuckin' bolt. See that hole?" He pointed to a hole in the rock perfectly positioned above the belay. "That's a fuckin' bolt hole chopped by Bouchard. Somebody's gonna fuckin' die rapping this route. That why, in my new guide, I tell people not to fuckin' rap this route."

"Yeah, whatever."

By this time, Bones had pulled the ropes, I had tied through the "death belay" station, and our new friend had clipped safely into his axes. We tossed the ropes and I rapped off, wishing him and his partner a good climb.

We hiked down along the base of the cliff to check out the other ice smears. Unlike the Black Dike, which is safely hidden from the sun all year, the rest of Cannon faces south east, so it gets blasted by the sun, making most ice routes unsafe except in cold, wet, and overcast conditions.

As we were driving away, I looked back up at the Dike and saw none other than the Fuck Man rapping the Black Dike. I don't think he died.