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Here to Stay—Northeast Regional Coordinator Sarah Garlick

Posted on: April 10th, 2012 by Abbey Smith

Photo Jim Surette

First, let me set the record straight: I’m not really a New Englander. I’m actually a Southern girl, born in Virginia and raised in North Carolina. I still say “Appalachian” as it’s meant to be said—with soft “a”s, no “lay”—and I still prefer grits to home fries. But over the past decade or so that I’ve been climbing in New England, the North has become my home. And as much as I’ve whined about the never-ending winters and the late, muddy springs, I’ve finally learned a couple things that make both seasons worth sticking around for.

First: alpine gullies. When I started climbing in the winter, I did what most folks do: I followed around my more-experienced friends. This led to several seasons of being coaxed up steep ice routes on TR, spending most of my days either anticipating or enduring the screaming barfies. It wasn’t until I gained enough confidence to take over the sharp end that I discovered the joys of climbing long, classic gulley routes. What a revelation! Most of the gullies in New Hampshire have fairly moderate water-ice so you can move fast, cover a lot of beautiful terrain in a short amount of time, and you stay warm.

The other discovery that’s kept me from a southern migration: the month of April. I spent so many New England springs comparing them to springtime in the South (think of a slow, cool-burning ember vs. a brilliant, fiery explosion) I forgot to take notice of the season’s unique gifts. One of which, as my friend Mad Dog likes to say, is the chance to achieve the Holy Trinity of Footwear—ski boots, rock shoes, and flip flops—all in one day. Humidity is low, the bugs haven’t yet hatched, and the rock is warm in the sun. April, it turns out, is a little slice of autumn that shows up before summer.

Photo Jim Shimberg

This year, the winter didn’t bite as cold as it has in the past and April seemed to arrive in March. But despite the paltry snowfall and the disconcertingly early spring, we still had a pretty good ice season, with locals and visitors lapping the classics and adding soon-to-be classic first ascents. This was my first winter season serving as the American Alpine Club’s Regional Coordinator for the Northeast. It was a whirlwind of ice festivals, climbing competitions, slide shows, and yes, even climbing.

Here are a few highlights:

•  AAC Member Emilie Drinkwater’s introduction during her Mountainfest slide show in the Adirondacks: “Here is a list of all the things I’m afraid of in the mountains.” [She shows a slide with bullet points reading: avalanches, rock fall, etc.] “But of all these, I’m MORE afraid of public speaking.” At which point the crowd erupts into applause, the ice is broken, and she proceeds to captivate the audience with her dry humor and exciting tales of a Himalayan expedition.

Photo Jim Surette

• At the New York Section Outing in the Adirondacks, hearing Kaji Sherpa’s story about smuggling the late Alex Lowe into Tibet from Nepal after his passport had been stolen. [Facebook Photo Album]

• Gang-climbing a fun, easy gulley in Smuggler’s Notch after the morning gear demo during the Smuggs Ice Bash. We were a party of nine friends: climbers I’ve known for more than a decade and some I’d just met that weekend. We laughed our way to the top and all the way back to the bar. [Facebook Photo Album]

• Establishing and raising over $2,000 for the Northeast Live Your Dream Grant—enough to double the pot for 2012—at the Mt. Washington Valley Ice Festival [Facebook Photo Album].

• Listening to the cheers and applause as every single participant of the Paradox Sports Adaptive Ice Climbing Weekend made it to the top of an ice climb, many of them missing limbs and recovering from traumatic brain injuries.

• Delighting in a photo many of us had never seen before at a community slide show by Ed Webster: a shot of Jan Conn leading up a hard new route on Cannon Cliff back in 1945.

These days, the ice and snow have all but disappeared. It’s time to put away the ice tools and skis and break out the mud boots and rock shoes. To my fellow New England climbers—the natives and those adopted like me—let’s cheers to dry rock and sunshine, and here’s hoping the black flies hatch late and leave early!

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