Why November Sucks!

Nearing the summit of Little Haystack

Nearing the summit of Little Haystack

Remaining optimistic about November is difficult. It would seem that, more than any other month, November epitomizes the shoulder season. For skiers, November represents the promise that ski season is close, while for climbers in this part of the country, November means the closing out of rock season and the transition into ice. The problem is that, in most cases, it might not be until December that we finally see consistent snow and ice conditions, leaving us in outdoor purgatory until then. At least as winter turns to spring we can take solace in longer days and warmer weather, and as much as it kills me to put my skis away, I am always excited to climb some rocks and dig my forgotten bicycle out from behind a pile of skis. The end of fall leaves me annoyed, as I wait for winter to arrive and realize that it is just too uncomfortable to pursue fair weather activities.

Bracing against the cold on Franconia Ridge

Bracing against the cold on Franconia Ridge

At the risk of sounding like a baby, a good chunk of November is too cold to climb. Of course the purists, the dedicated, and the hard climbers will preach to you about the reduced crowds and amazing friction you get in late fall. I would counter with the fact that hand warmers in my chalk bag, frozen fingers, icy feet, and burying myself in a belay coat in between climbs all take a bit of the fun out of it, and I would happily suffer some reduced friction for increased warmth. If you get a perfect day or can find a nice sunny cliff you are fine…but get there before the sun has gotten on the rock, or stay once the sun begins to set, and prepare to freeze. There is a reason climbers have coined catchy phrases like Send-tember and Rock-tober, but there is nothing for November (I am thinking NO-vember).

Moving along Franconia Ridge

Moving along Franconia Ridge

While the rock climbing sucks in November, ironically the ice climbing is also a huge disappointment. November gets just cold enough to make rock climbing totally unappealing, while it rarely gets cold enough—or sustains cold enough temperatures—to form any reliable ice. Sure, if you are a hardman you have gone out and scratched up a classic or two by the end of November, but realistically you dry tooled more than ice climbed, and mere mortals like myself need to wait for more consistent conditions. The moral of this story is that if you like climbing, you better hope your gym membership is in good standing when November rolls around.

Finding some weather near Lafayette's summit

Finding some weather near Lafayette’s summit

As a skier, November is an anxious month, and a month spent religiously watching the weather and surfing through resort web cams. I become an arm-chair meteorologist, tracking potential storms from my computer and looking for windows in which the resorts can make snow. While a few resorts battle to be the first mountain open in their respective states and regions, most resorts target opening day for Thanksgiving break, making reliable skiing a reality toward the end of every November. The closer we edge toward Thanksgiving, the closer I resemble a kid on Christmas Eve. To make matters worse, it is difficult to burn off all this energy with the bike put away for the season, and November’s insistence on fucking up climbing.

Crossing the ridge

Crossing the ridge

This November, I found myself doing a fair amount of hiking. I like hiking enough but, given the choice, I would rather be climbing or skiing. With that being said, it has been nice to get out and do some of my favorite hikes over the last few weeks, and the colder weather has chased away some of the crowds. In typical November fashion, it has managed to snow enough to complicate hiking, that is it has snowed enough that slow things down as the trail conditions I have encountered border on needing/not needing some type of traction assistance, though of course it hasn’t snowed enough to offer reliable skiing. Oh well…at least it’s almost December.

Trying to stay warm above treeline

Trying to stay warm above treeline

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