The Black Dike

by Ade Miller

The wall of snow started piling up around my waste. I looked at Jim pressing himself in towards the rock wall for shelter as the snow continued to pile up around my chest and shoulders, slowly forcing me off balance. The snow slide stopped just before I toppled, leaving a foot high break off line ten feet high up the gully on the far side. I quickly re-excavated my stance - we should either do the route or get out fast...

We has driven up to New Hampshire the night before and slept in the back of Jim's truck somewhere South of Cannon. During the night the weather had turned and laid down several inches of fresh powered on the car. After breakfast at a local diner it was still snowing hard but we headed up to check out the Black Dyke, one of New England's classic lines, first climbed solo by John Bouchard in '73. The term "full conditions" seemed applicable as we headed up across the snow covered talus to the base of the route. The wind was blowing spindrift everywhere, clouds of it were running down the Dyke and Fafnir, the route to the right. We headed up onto the snow ramp below the route.

After the snow slide we really had to go up or down fast. The route topped out in trees and the descent presented little avalanche danger so we opted to continue. Jim lead off the first pitch wading up the remaining snow to the start of the route proper. I belayed as my stance slowly filled in with more sliding snow, covering the ropes and my pack. The base of the steep ice offered no protection from the spindrift so Jim continued up the route, climbing a mixed line up a rocky ramp. I quickly seconded the pitch totally absorbed in the climbing, dry tooling mixed with patches of ice and neve.

The crux of the Dyke is supposed to be the rock traverse, a short leftward set of ledges directly above the belay. I got a fixed pin in the right hand end of the traverse and started moving leftwards and up. A mixture of handholds and awkward sideways hooks allowed me to move across the . At least the landing is soft I thought, looking down at Jim's face a few feet below me. He looked extra nervous as one of my monos skated off an edge. A few moves later I got a good tool placement in ice and transferred my weight off the ledges and onto the neve above.

The remainder of the pitch consisted of an iced chimney ending in a vertical section just before the belay. Occasional clouds of spindrift poured down the chimney as I moved higher getting good rock gear and short screw placements. The belay consisted of three equalized fixed pitons so Jim could follow quickly. The higher on the route we got the less spindrift there was although it was still snowing but not quite as hard.

Jim led the final pitch, a steep icy chimney line with excellent hooking and torqueing potential with reasonable rock gear. He was shouting at me, raving about the final moves to the tree line as I watched the weather move in and out, periodically hiding the road. By the time we finished the route the snow had lessened a bit. We hiked down the trail to the truck making it back just as it got really dark.