Maineline, finally

Monday, February 28, 2011

In the Spring of 2001 I moved from the mid-Atlantic to New Hampshire. At the time I'd been rock climbing for seven or eight years and ice climbing for about five. The mid-Atlantic, however, is not known for its stellar ice climbing. Sure there are some plums to be picked, but for "real" ice climbing I would venture north each winter to the Adirondacks of New York with my twin brother Keith. We had so many great times road-tripping north -- Roaring Brook Falls in about nine pitches, simul-soloing the cliffs of Pitchoff, freezing nights shivering while camped on Chapel Pond. But I hadn't yet swung an axe in New England proper. So, before I even moved to NH, one of the first things I did was pick up a copy of Rick Wilcox's Ice Climber's Guide to Northern New England. Before the the first frost of 2001, I had already dog-eared my copy, marking all of the classic lines that I had to do.

For my first outing in December I climbed the Black Dike on Cannon Mountain, one of the most classic. Over the next ten years I've ticked most of the climbs that so inspired me when I moved here... Repentance and Remission, Omega, Bragg-Pheasant, just to name few... as well as put up a few first ascents of my own. But one line, up in the back of beyond Maine, remained noticeably undone. Described in the guidebook as "surely one of New England's most spectacular ice climbs" and "more at home in the Canadian Rockies," Maineline is one of the most impressive pieces of steep ice around. But it's up there; way up there. Each year I would get psyched to go, and each year the four+ hour drive kept me closer to home where I could get more climbing done in my ever dwindling number of days out.

In a bit of a spur-of-the-moment decision, my good friends Jim, Josh and I made plans to go do Maineline. Sure it would be a long day, but it had to be done. The dog ear on that page of the book had to be unfolded. So, when I awoke yesterday at 4:30am I was dismayed to see lots of snow. This five hour drive just got a lot longer. But, plans were set, and as Jim always says, "you don't bail on your climbing partners." So, I put the car in drive and white-knuckled it to Falmouth, ME to pick up Jim. Then on to Newport to pick up Josh. Then to the back of beyond up past Greenville on Moosehead Lake and finally to Mt. Kineo. Six and a half hours later I parked. The sun was out, the sky blue and the route looked amazing from across the lake. Best of all, I was enjoying the day with my buddies. Jim makes me laugh too... Way up here you do feel like you've taken the plunge...


I had no frame of reference for this climb beyond the guidebook, but Josh and Jim, who have each done the climb several times, were amped about the current conditions. It sure looked good to me! This is pitch 2, at least when done in 3-4 pitches...


When we arrived a party from Orono was just starting up the climb. I was bummed. All this way and we were scooped. Instead, we started up a nearby feature to check out some future possibilities and perform some shenanigans. Half way up the pillar, our neighbor on Maineline took a bit of a, well, monster whipper. I'm talking 50+ feet. I've never seen someone fall so far. Scary does not describe it. He was shaken, experiencing some wrist pain, but otherwise unharmed (i.e. unbelievably F%$#ing lucky!). Their misfortune was our gain, and we rapped down to the start of Maineline. We offered to retrieve their high gear, and with that, I was off...


I led the first two pitches as one, finishing in an ice cave on the left-hand side. The left image above was taken by Jim when I was halfway up the column. Both Josh (shown above right) and Jim followed much faster than I led and joined me in the cave. Jim then led from the cave to the trees, finishing the route in two long pitches as the sun quickly faded. We rapped down, finishing in the dark, which was followed by a freezing walk back across the wind blown lake to the car at 6:30pm. Then it was a five hour drive home (more snow).

I'm super psyched to have finally climbed this amazing line and to be able to check off this long-standing, must-do New England ice climb. I can't say when exactly I will make the trek back to Kineo, but I now know first hand the jewel that resides way up in the back of beyond. Until then...

1  comments:

-e! said...

I'm satisfied that I was able to leave such an impression on you...

I have not climbed since, my wrist was/is sprained pretty badly, nothing broken thankfully.

Apparently Maineline wanted you on it, not me. Glad you had a safe and good time. Thanks again for grabbing our screws.