Trip ReportOgres in the Notch - Ragnarock, Smuggler's Notch, VT
Ogres In the Notch - Ragnarock, Smuggler’s Notch, VT 3-2-13
with Nick Goldsmith – by Isa Oehry
Just a couple of weeks ago, while climbing Blind Fate, we did it again. We would look across the notch to the other side in awe and then take a picture of it – Ragnarock! Ragnarock looked long, hard, and suspiciously rocky at the bottom with bulging ice curtains looming at the top. It was one of those climbs reserved for the lucky few who danced up rock or ice, summer or winter with mysterious ease. Wisely, we did not consider ourselves part of that tribe. However, one of these days or maybe years, when we would finally be blessed with a sudden, unexplainable gift of climbing talent, we would tackle it.
We had heard rumors that Ragnarock had come in early this winter. Totally ignoring the past tense of this statement, we set out to have at least a look at our object of desire. It was March 2nd. The wind was howling in the notch, a blinding fog moving in and out, and snowflakes were flying sideways. Smuggler’s Notch near Stowe, VT, is well known for its interesting ice climbs. It’s also a place surrounded with tales of robbery and other wrong doings as its name suggests. Even though I consider myself a person of reasonable sound mind, I have come to know that ogres live there waiting to play their mischievous games with climbers. I have come across them every single time I ventured into the notch. They show up in various different forms, hiding behind cracks and boulders. They snicker when sending avalanches down ice climbs; they steal and eat your gear, or throw ice daggers at you. Once I thought I had them beat. Then they showed up in the form of an ignorant solo climber who jumped on my climb sending huge junks of ice flying my way and consequently had me frozen in place for the next two hours. Their favorite game is the weather of course. Today temperatures were supposed to be somewhere in the pleasant 30’s according to the weather man, but with the ogres in full swing, the wind was roaring and the temperatures lingered only in the teens.
After the long hike into the Notch, we reached the approach gully, which was covered with a couple of feet of fresh snow indicating another 45 minutes of strenuous and steep post holing to the base of the climbs. Three strong Frenchmen appeared out of nowhere. They were heading for Elephant Head’s Gully and on the way up apologized for not post holing faster since they had had too much wine the night before. Life was looking up – no ogres in sight here. On the way we marveled at a climb called ‘Origin of intelligence in children’. It looked interesting and perfectly well formed. Also, outwardly we might have you think we were mature adults, in truth there is plenty of children’s intelligence in Nick and I. We thought this climb might make a good alternative to our adventure if things looked dreary over at Ragnarock. We parted ways with the Frenchmen at the bottom of the Gully and headed around the corner.
I got there first, took one look at Ragnarock, turned around and headed back into the shelter of the trees for some sudden urge that had overcome me at the sight of it. When you are a girl and you climb, theoretically you have only one chance at this business and that ‘s at the bottom of the climb. Once in the harness, loaded up with gear and out on a cliff, you might as well forget it. So howling wind and flying snow, down came all the layers… Meanwhile Nick had arrived and stepped out of the trees to inspect the focus of our long lasting admiration. The following dialogue took place:
Nick: it does not look in.
Isa: no it doesn’t
Nick: mmmhhhh…. should we be realistic and climb something else?
Isa: yes, that would be smart
Nick: ok then, let’s just try the first pitch
Isa: good idea!
Nick weaved his way up the first somewhat mixed pitch. At times I could see him, other times he was completely covered in spindrift.
Nick on first pitch of Ragnarock
Sometimes there is a direct start to this climb, meaning that ice forms all the way to the bottom and one can climb a straight line up to the curtains of the third pitch. Mostly though, the first pitch is a thin, mixed pitch leading to a mixed second pitch from which one can finally reach the large, breath-taking curtains of the third pitch. I followed quickly. The second pitch was not ‘in’ to our understanding of mixed climbing, which means that there was no ice to stick a pick into. However we studied it and I saw a way to climb it.
Nick: your turn
Isa: no way – I don’t know how to climb mixed ice
Nick: there is no ice – you are the better rock climber
Isa: I have funny things on my feet… – and besides you have done it before
Nick: only once and you followed, remember?
Isa : following does not count
Nick: ok I’ll go
I turned into the most skilled coach you could ever imagine. From my belay, I spied tiny cracks for the monopoints, placements for the ice picks and rock gear, which I communicated to Nick in my sweetest, most seductive voice. It worked. Nick masterfully weaved his way up the challenging pitch even skipping a scraggly bush, which I would have grabbed with my teeth and strangled with slings had I been in the lead. It would have held a mouse’s fart…
Nick on the mixed part of pitch two - void of ice..
From the second belay, the ice curtains looked incredibly tall, steep, and menacing. We chose a line that would lead us about 40 feet out into space before turning straight up the curtain.
Nick: ok – you’ll just go out there to the right and then turn straight up
Isa: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha………………….. (hilarious laughter - not kidding)
After fifteen years of climbing together, Nick knew when to argue and when to let it go. He went. I could see the excitement in his smile.
Out in space.. the beginning of pitch 3
As I watched the steady and rhythmic flow of the outgoing ropes, it occurred to me that he would probably be out of earshot by now. I looked down the steep and rocky two pitches below me. There were no anchors out there, no shelves to rest. Should I, for some unforeseen reason, fall out of my tools on the traverse, I could dangle below the ice in the vicinity of some glazed over rock face out in space. I had never fallen out of my tools before but I also did not have them tethered to my harness. I usually carry an ascender for such situations hoping that I would never have to use it. But the ogres had not been sleeping and I had dropped it at the beginning of pitch two to their utter amusement and wind howling laughter. Now I felt thoroughly naked despite the many layers of clothing I was wearing.
When it was my turn to follow, I tiptoed and danced my way to the directional. There I took the sling and weaved it one handed through the handle of my tool which I clipped to my body. Now I could only loose one pick. I knew that with at least one tool I could maneuver my way up almost anything in case of a fall. Now my mind was at ease with nothing else to focus on but great and steep ice ahead.
I reached Nick just before dark at the top. A big congratulatory hug was followed by three rappels by headlamp and finally, after we had our gear all packed up and the ropes coiled, a fun slide down the approach gully.
The hike back to the car in the dark was now at least three times longer than on the way in – another mischievous trick by the ogres. Once we arrived at the car and sorted out the gear, we noticed an ice screw missing - a treasure to a poor climber. Your guess is right – they got us again - one of their favorite morsels!
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