Bayard Russell tranisitions onto ice on his Painted Wall Icicle (M9 NEI 5+, 2 pitches, 150′), White Mountains, New Hampshire. The icicle on Pitch 2, long eyed but not climbed until January 5, fell to the ground two days after the first ascent. [Photo] Peter Doucette / mountainsenseguides.com
Three winters after his first attempts, Bayard Russell has made the first ascent of Painted Wall Icicle (M9 NEI 5+, 2 pitches, 150′) in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And just in time. The route climbs an overhanging pitch of rock then transitions onto an unsupported ice pillar. The 60-foot ice column collapsed two days after Russell’s first ascent.
Though not New England’s hardest mixed line, the new route had been attempted by some of the area’s best, much of its renown due to its conspicuous location. The route takes an obvious line on a notable formation; it lies 200 yards right of Way in the Wilderness (NEI 5), one of New England’s prime ice climbs. It’s also visible from the Kancamagus Highway, a scenic road frequented by climbers that winds through the range. From the road, Russell said, “the route looks like an improbable column, dangling into space over what is clearly an overhanging, and apparently, a blank, granite wall.”
About ten years ago, Dave Moore and Jay Sterner were first to attempt the line’s lower section. They hand-bolted the first half of what is now Pitch 1 as an A2 summer route, with the intention of reaching the icicle in winter, and called it Borrowed Time. Around January 2007, Russell drill-bolted an additional 40 feet above on lead, but neither he nor friends Peter Doucette, Doug Madara and Kevin Mahoney could link the mixed sequence: “very thin, technical and tenuous” down low, Russell said, and “long and powerful, but positive” up high. And so, they never tried the fragile and difficult ice on Pitch 2.
Russell solved the M9 section last year with Josh Hurst, but two different successful attempts on Pitch 1 turned into retreat on Pitch 2 when they realized the ice pillar was too unstable to climb. This year the ice came in thick. On his first day off, January 5, Russell–along with Doucette, Madara and Mahoney–returned to the climb, fired the mixed section and found the ice above “featured and the column, that just below dropped away into space, was bonded and solid,” Russell wrote on his blog. The other three climbers followed.
By the next day, the pillar had fractured near the top. Hurst, hoping to make the second ascent on January 7, was safe at a bolt on Pitch 1 when he “watched it just slip away, and crash to the ground.”
Russell and Hurst also established what they believe to be another new line on January 9-10. Strippers (M8 NEI 4+) climbs 40′ right of Cocaine on Frankenstein Cliff in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. “Burly,” Russell called it. “New England style trad mixed climbing on top. Classy new school mixed climbing down low. Fat ice in the middle. Bolted from the ground up.”
Josh Hurst works through the opening mixed roof of Strippers (M8 NEI 4+), another new climb on Frankenstein Cliff in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. [Photo] Bayard Russell