Trip Report
Ogres in the Notch - Ragnarock, Smuggler's Notch, VT
Monday March 4, 2013 5:52pm
Ogres In the Notch - Ragnarock, Smuggler’s Notch, VT 3-2-13
Credit: MtnMoma

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.

Ragnarock, Smuggler's Notch, VT
Ragnarock, Smuggler's Notch, VT
Credit: MtnMoma


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
Nick on first pitch of Ragnarock
Credit: MtnMoma

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 leading the second pitch void of ice
Nick leading the second pitch void of ice
Credit: MtnMoma

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.

Excitement in Nick's face..
Excitement in Nick's face..
Credit: MtnMoma
Finally he had something real to sink his picks into. He traversed out, pleasing me with a long directional sling about half way, headed straight up the enormous curtain and then disappeared. He climbed strong albeit blinded by frosted glasses. Nick has poor eyesight and depends on his glasses, which are usually either fogged up or iced over. Once he even took them off while climbing an extremely difficult pitch I had little chance of leading myself. I knew he was just about blind without them. Watching him, I was torn between feelings of amazement and horror. But today, iced over and fogged up, he looked strong.

Nick out in space at the beginning of the 3rd pitch
Nick out in space at the beginning of the 3rd pitch
Credit: MtnMoma

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.

Credit: MtnMoma
Credit: MtnMoma
Rappelling back down the last pitch and weaving my way back into belay

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!

  Trip Report Views: 1,315
About the Author
MtnMoma is a trad, rock and ice climber from Liechtenstein now Vermont.

Did you like this Trip Report? Got something to say? Don't hold back...
Comment on this Trip Report

Big Wall climber
So Cal
  Mar 4, 2013 - 06:02pm PT
Well done lads!

Looks like a nice line. Way to get 'er done! That photo of the 3rd pitch, "in space", is great! It looks kind of serious.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
  Mar 4, 2013 - 06:30pm PT
A shot of Ragnarock WI4+/5 M? from the Blind Fate on the other side of the notch.
Ragnarock WI4+M?
Ragnarock WI4+M?
Credit: tradmanclimbs

FWIW I did not say it looks out. I said It looks pretty serious;)

It was pretty serious.........

  Mar 4, 2013 - 06:35pm PT
Err, Isa's a chick.
And a hot one at that.

Berg heil, indeed, Nick and Isa. Worth the price of a screw and Tibloc (and I'm pretty sure you know to rig a prussic, Isa).

(And thank god you wrote this and not Nick. I love that goofy Green Mtn hermit but we all know spelling's not his forte.)


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Mar 4, 2013 - 06:36pm PT
Great! Nicely written the pics too. Looks righteous!

The Granite State.
  Mar 4, 2013 - 06:43pm PT
Cool! I've only bouldered in the notch, which is fun too.

Although, I was visiting my folks a few years ago, and we decided to head to Smuggs so my old man could boulder with me. I thought it would be fun to scramble one of the gullies with them. We third classed up to some tat around krummholtz, and were forced to descend. Watching your parents learn to surf scree is nerve wracking, and humorous, all at the same time.

Nice TR, thanks!

  Mar 4, 2013 - 07:22pm PT
"it wouldn't have held a mouse's fart."

I like that. I like that a lot! Thanks for the well written TR. Really fun.

Bob j.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Maestro, Ecosystem Ministry, Fatcrackistan
  Mar 4, 2013 - 07:38pm PT
You are some sick, sick people.



Social climber
Joshua Tree
  Mar 4, 2013 - 07:47pm PT
Well done, and nice report. Not much ice here in the southland.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
  Mar 5, 2013 - 06:32am PT
Steep scary climbing right off the belay on P2 with questionable gear....
Steep scary climbing right off the belay on P2 with questionable gear. big insecure runouts higher up and then annother steep crux to the belay.
Credit: tradmanclimbs
This is annother cool shot from P2
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Mar 6, 2013 - 06:11pm PT
Absolutely STELLAR,
World Class prose, Thanks!

Trad climber
  Mar 6, 2013 - 07:48pm PT

Trad climber
Liechtenstein now Vermont
Author's Reply  Mar 6, 2013 - 09:33pm PT
Though I'd clarify some of the vocabulary for our non-climber friends:

post holing: wishing you were powder skiing
mixed pitch: a lie, no ice
spindrift: ogre's powdered sugar for their morning coffee
curtain: you had one too many drinks the night before - it looks good!
funny things on feet: foot fangs
mouse's fart: an elaborate protection rating
iced glasses: blind climber - very exciting
out of earshot: cannot hear partner's swearing
Ragnarock: a rock climb in disguise
ogres: man eating monsters who have softened (just like the rest of us)over the centuries to now only eat gear and seldom a climber...

Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Mar 7, 2013 - 09:41pm PT
Schweet TR!

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Mar 7, 2013 - 11:21pm PT
Some Random Guy

  Mar 8, 2013 - 04:51pm PT
cool. nice write-up.

my buddy is at at smugg's right now climbing. he sent me these pics...

photo not found
Missing photo ID#293250
photo not found
Missing photo ID#293252
photo not found
Missing photo ID#293254

might go out there next winter to check it out. stowe mountain lodge looks like a pretty sweet place to stay. luxury hot tube every night :)
Did you like this Trip Report? Got something to say? Don't hold back...
Comment on this Trip Report