The family of ice climber Alden Pellett doesn’t like to hear his Mindbender story … and who could blame them?
Pellett, a producer with Vermont’s WCAX news channel, was ice climbing above Vermont’s Lake Willoughby – a glacially carved lake featuring steep mountains on either side. Climbing in this remote part of the Northeast is world-renowned: The pitches are steep, precipitation is plentiful, the crowds are small, and the views are stunning. But climbing here is not for the inexperienced.
The 50-year-old from Hinesburg, Vermont, has plenty of practice under his climbing harness (he is the first person to ascend several Northeast routes, some of which have never been repeated by another team of climbers). So climbing near Willoughby wasn’t out of his league. He went by himself to climb and, once there, met two Canadians who were assessing the ice.
After introductions, the climbers looked up at the towering face of Mount Pisgah, and they discussed climbing the Mindbender route, a vertical wall of ice about 200 feet tall, often offering up overhanging, hollow, and brittle ice. According to Pellett, “It’s a climb that often leaves the average ice climber with a ball of fear in their gut.”
He had climbed this route many times before, but something about the way it looked that day just didn’t seem right. The sun was coming out and warming things fast. Dark rock behind any climb can absorb the heat, loosening the bond of ice to rock. So Pellett and his fellow climbers decided against taking on Mindbender. Instead, they opted for the next route over, Renormalization, an easier climbing grade and a safer route that stays in the shade.
It turned out to be a lifesaving choice.
“We got about two-thirds of the way up,” Pellett recalled. “I was hanging out in a belay on an ice screw when Mindbender collapsed. It shook everything … like a small building collapsing as if a demolition crew had just set off the charges. We were all looking at each other with wide eyes, like, ‘That was a really good decision!’”