Friday, February 22, 2013 On February 8th, six Discover Outdoors guides and one friend went into the depths of the White Mountains during Blizzard Nemo. This is their collaborative story.
Two weekends ago
Sarah Knapp: Two weekends ago, I hopped into a GM Tahoe parked on the corner of Grand and Lafayette. It was 3:00 p.m. on a Thursday. Seven hours, five gas stations, and two genres of music later, we arrive in North Conway, New Hampshire.
Brent Campbell: All of New England braced for the crippling onslaught of Winter Storm Nemo, and the governor of Massachusetts declared a state of emergency, banning road travel after 4:00 p.m., Friday, February 8. Over two days, blizzard conditions would lead to dangerous driving conditions, whiteouts, and five-foot snowdrifts. The number of power outages to come was anybody's guess, but if you guessed in the ballpark of 645,000 thoughout the northeast, the tub of jelly beans is yours. To those who heeded the warnings, huddling around the hearth with a hot toddie and a lover may have been the ideal way to weather the storm, but our crew loaded winter gear, packs, harnesses, mountaineering boots and axes into borrowed SUVs and headed north.
Five months earlier
Brent Campbell: Five months earlier we had arranged for a three-day Mount Rainier prep course with Synnott Mountain Guides of Jackson, New Hampshire. Two local instructors would lead us through rope team travel, ice climbing techniques, and gear maintenance as bitter winter wind funneled deep piles of snow around us.
Jaclyn Palau: Blizzard Nemo was more than what we had expected, the fluffiest snow I have ever experienced on the east coast. We trudged single-file past Frankenstein cliffs on the North Conway Scenic Railway train tracks. We continued on and threw on our harnesses and crampons as flurries tickled our faces. Once up to a gully we practiced glacier crossings. Going down nearly vertically on crampons was a challenge. The guides set up a circuit for us to practice pied marche, pied plat, pied troisieme and frontpointing.
2013 is the year
Steve Badowski: 2013 is the year I take my love for the outdoors to the next level. I've done plenty of hikes ranging from warm to excruciatingly hot, but nothing beyond a mild winter's trek in the woods. So why not begin the year with a three-day mountaineering course in the White Mountains in February AND during a blizzard?
Sarah Knapp: The next thing I know it's morning, I'm rushing to fill my thermos with coffee, and sharp things calledÒcrampons" are locked onto the bottom of my boots. I'm at the bottom of a sheet of ice, and on video (as I later learned) I am awkwardly practicing walking up the ice. The snow is falling in heaps from the sky and I'm really, really cold.
Steve Badowski: Winter mountaineering is hiking on steroids - knots, screws, ropes, axes, crampons, bombproof boots, many layers of insulation, and a bunch of technical know-how all necessary to get you from point A to B.
Marc Leone: I'm sure that lusting for the higher peaks is inevitable once you've conquered Rainier, but at that point you have the basic skills down and you've crossed over to a new class of adventure. This course was my first step up towards that level. The rope work was my favorite part of the course, but being outside all day during a blizzard was obviously awesome too. The fact that we were outside in the thick of it while most people were nice and cozy indoors waiting it out contributed to an overall sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Steve Badowski: Synnott Mountain Guides and the Discover Outdoors crew showed me that the outdoors can truly be enjoyed 365 days a year, no matter how harsh the conditions or terrain might be (with proper gear, training, and friends, of course). Also, I now judge my friends based on whether or not they can rescue me from a crevasse.
The days that followed
Jaclyn Palau: The days that followed were a mix of what we learned the first day and additional safety and belaying techniques. We learned and practice different belaying techniques (body belay, terrain belay, combo of both and seated belay). We focused on crevasse rescue and self-arrest. Splitting up into teams we were able to really learn pulley systems and versatile knots and hitches, like the Munter, Prussik, and clove.
Brent Campbell: Rope team travel is all about communication and trust. Being the biggest guy on the team, it's important for me to know that everybody I'm tied to can haul my ass out of a crevasse if necessary. Having those details ironed out before setting foot on the mountain is critical. Now we can focus on the fun stuff.
Jaclyn Palau: Once we felt steady walking in crampons, we were nice and warm and ready for ice climbing with one axe. I think this was a huge highlight for me. We worked as a team and were able to mitigate risk in sketchy terrain.
Brent Campbell: We're all progressing, pushing each other and ourselves. Alpinism has been a goal of mine for years, and doing this training was what I needed to get the ball rolling. So much goes into it - scheduling the trip, researching a route, building a team.
Back in New York City
Sarah Knapp: Back in New York City the cars are honking and I've somehow learned to save a friend from a crevasse, stab an axe in the ground to stop myself from sliding to death, and of course, walk up a sheet of ice.
Jaclyn Palau: The ride back was long in mileage but since we had so much to talk about, it seemed a short ride from the Whites. All in all I learned that if I'm determined and surround myself by great mentors I can become a great alpinist. What they don't teach you is how do you leave your 9-5 and make your dreams come true.
Marc Leone: I feel like climbing a high peak is the top of the ladder when it comes to living an outdoor lifestyle. When you have the knowledge and skills to get to the top of a mountain like Rainier, and you do it with a team of friends that you've been training with, then you've made it.