The Last Gentleman
After an "easy" day at Franconia Notch doing Dracula and Bob's Delight we
drove up to Lake Willoughby for the main event. If the Black Dyke has a scary
reputation then the routes at Willoughby haven't heard about it. We arrived at
the lake just before dark to see one bad ass cliff above the lake. A huge
expanse of ice 350' high stretching right along the cliff. Jim was on a mission
- The Last Gentleman. At NEI 5 this seemed a bit stiff for me but then the Black
Dyke hadn't felt that hard... so what the hell. What's the worst that could
happen? Oh yeah, I remember, best not think about that.
We were staying in a cabin with Will, who arrived shortly after us, and Joe -
Will's climbing partner, who was driving up the following morning. At 7am we met
up with Joe at the trailhead. He and Will had their eye on Bullwinkle a route
just to the right of The Last Gentleman. We hiked up through the trees to the
bottom of the main amphitheatre.
The first pitch of the Gentleman rarely forms so most parties climb some of
The Promenade and then execute a rock traverse to get to the Gentleman. We
soloed up the iced slabs at the bottom of the Promenade, successfully blunting
our tools in the process - nice. The first pitch turned out to be pretty
straightforward climbing although the position freaked me out a bit and I laced
it with screws. Lucky for me as the ice thinned out making to top moves onto the
rock a more than just entertaining few moments. I whined and muttered as I high
stepped onto the top of the final bulge. The rock traverse had no soft landing,
hitting Jim from 80' up just didn't seem fair. I shuffled across ledges covered
in crappy neve looking for pin placements. All Jim could see from below was my
heels sticking out into space. Good piton placements failed to materialize,
maybe I just didn't look hard enough, a shallow lost arrow placement would just
have to do. I continued to a good stubby screw placement and a icy ramp to
better ice below the second pitch.
Shouts of "She no go!" from Joe and Will as they traversed below us announced
that Bullwinkle wasn't in, the crux being baked ice. They headed off to try
something further along the crag. The Gentleman as pretty much the same aspect
as Bullwinkle. It crossed my mind that it too might be baked out higher up. The
belay was an awkward hanging stance that I just couldn't get right. I shuffled
and shifted as Jim followed the first pitch. He didn't make it look to easy,
which is always nice. It was only this year that I managed to climb rock hard
enough that he would bother to put rock shoes on to follow them.
The crux pitch traversed further before heading up some steep corners. The
ice turned out to be baked to a crisp. Jim led out fifty feet on cruddy ice with
marginal screw protection, cleaning off large chunks of ice as he went. I tried
to stay warm and handle the ice ropes while wishing the belay was a bit more
A massive torso sized chunk of ice ripped off above Jim's head and crashed
into the valley below. "That big chunk of ice just ripped one of my 'poons off",
Jim's shout from above didn't improve my contemplation of the belay. I think we
were probably equally scared as Jim hung off his tools and tried to reattach his
crampon. I had visions of him peeling off and stripping most of the pitch. He
managed to reattach his crampon and started up again. The ice at least seemed to
get better from that point on.
"I'm safe", Jim shouted from a small ledge below the top of the steep ice.
"He's lost it", I thought, and who could blame him. The pitch was far from done
and I was screwed if I was gonna finish it. "What do you mean, you're not done
yet!", I replied. He continued to a much better belay on slightly easier ground
Not fancying leading the final pitch of 4/5 baked ice I gave Jim the next
lead - yeah, so I'm a wuss but at least I'm a wuss with no broken bones. I paid
big time for it though. At the belay I was cold but my feet started to warm up.
As they thawed I started to feel sick and dizzy. Jim could hear me whining and
wanted to know if he should tie off. Having your belayer pass out isn't usually
a good thing. I just stood their muttering and told him to get on with it, the
sooner we were off the better. The final pitch turned out to be easier than it
looked and I finally warmed up, aided by a lot of chocolate, and finished the
pitch without resting on gear or the rope. Must stay warmer next time.
We ended up taking the long way down which again put us at the truck after
dark. This was starting to get habit forming.
More pictures of "The Lake" can be found on
Jim Lawyer's web site.