For 40 years, the mystique of New Hampshire’s classic Black Dike has endured. Yvon Chouinard called it a “black, filthy, horrendous icicle,” and New Englanders were shocked when John Bouchard soloed the first ascent in 1971.
Originally graded WI5-, the three-pitch route’s difficulties have eased somewhat thanks to fatter ice conditions in recent years and modern equipment. But the reputation and attraction of this classic Eastern line are so powerful that it sees eager aspirants heading up while orange leaves still color the trees and warm rock beckons in the sun nearby. These winter-crazed individuals fiercely hope the frozen glaze holding the loose rock in place will be sufficient for an ascent.
Make no mistake: many an epic has ensued on the Dike. Franconia Notch unleashes fierce winter conditions, and when the ice is thin, the line becomes a serious proposition of brittle ice and sketchy gear, testing the mettle of many—but always offering a proud achievement.
From the parking lot, the Black Dike is easily seen on the south end of Cannon Cliff. Sign in at a climber’s box and walk south along a bridle/bike path. After about a quarter-mile of easy hiking, below the Whitney-Gilman Ridge—the prominent arête just left of the Dike—a small cairn marks the path up through the trees to the talus field. Once in the open, cairns atop the large blocks lead the way, trending somewhat left to the base of the cliff.
The rope-stretching first pitch (WI2) starts on lower-angle ice and climbs up to the right side of the flow to an anchor consisting of a collection of knifeblades. (Back it up if possible.) Start pitch two by stepping out left to the main flow in the corner, if it’s thick enough (WI4+), or by climbing up and traversing tentatively left on rock (M3) to reach the flow. Use small wires and TCUs to protect the rock traverse. A variation called Hassig’s Direct leads above the belay into a more diffi cult right-facing corner (WI5). After reaching the main left-hand flow, climb beside the massive overhanging wall on WI3 terrain to gain a fixed anchor on the left. The final pitch heads up low-angle ice to a short vertical section, which is the upper crux (WI4+). Above that is a popular mixed finish that leads up and somewhat right with good rock gear and fun dry tooling (M3). Alternately, climb WI3 ice, trending back leftward. Both choices end in the trees.
Season: Late October to mid-April, with December through February offering the best conditions.
Getting There: Follow I-93 north from Lincoln, New Hampshire, passing Cannon Cliff on the left. The parking must be accessed from the southbound lane, so get off at exit 34B, drive under the highway, and head back south on I-93 to the parking lot for Profile Lake on the right.
Guidebook: An Ice Climber’s Guide to New England, Third Edition, by S. Peter Lewis and Rick Wilcox, 2002.
Guide Services: Mooney Mountain Guides, (603) 744-5853; Intl. Mountain Climbing School, (603) 356-7064
Equipment Shops: I.M.E. (International Mountain Equipment), (603) 356-7013; Eastern Mtn. Sports, (603) 356-7064; both in North Conway, about one hour east.
Rack: Ice screws and a small selection of cams and nuts, with a couple of knifeblade pitons. Add a stubby ice screw or two for thinner conditions. In the leanest conditions, bring cams up to 3.5 inches. A face mask and goggles will be welcome in cold, nasty weather.
Descent: Three double-rope rappels from fi xed anchors will get you down the route. If conditions are poor or another party is ascending, hike off south via a climber’s trail that brings you back to the bridle path.
Lodging: Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery, 135 Main St., North Woodstock, (603) 745-3951.