Joe and Einstein

The Adirondacks in New York have some of the best winter climbing anywhere in the World. The long cold winters combined with periodic warm fronts produce spectacular ice formations. Chapel Pond Lake, just outside of Keene freezes solid.

On the far side of the lake, cliffs rise several hundred feet into the trees. In winter the drainage lines on the rock freeze up and ice covers the whole cliff. In 1969 Yvon Chouinard, introduced modern ice tools to the US, and made the first ascent of the most prominent line on the Cliff “Chouinard’s Gully”. Since then climbers have established numerous climbs above Chapel Pond.

A few winters back in late November my friend Joe was trying to get that year’s first ascent of Power Play. The route follows a series of iced rock corners and steps before finishing up a vertical curtain of ice. Early in the year the ice is thinner and more fragile making early accents that much more demanding. The lower parts of the route involve scratching up vertical rock using crampons and ice tools in tiny edges.

Joe was half way up the first pitch struggling with a small roof about eighty feet above the ground. His climbing partner, Laurie, was holding the other end of Joe’s rope. Joe struggled with the roof trying to arrange adequate gear to protect himself in the event of a fall. He thrashed around trying to get a better stance, periodically cursing. Laurie was patiently holding the rope and stamping her feet trying to stay warm. Finally, she shouts up, “Do you think you can do it?”

“If I knew I could do it… then I wouldn’t be here would I” was Joe’s reply.

Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I guess Joe say that doing something when you’re already sure of the outcome is the definition of banality.