Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Ok, so I know the last post was all.. words and stuff. So this one is (almost) all... pictures and stuff. Enjoy:

This is probably the best sports action video I've ever seen. Four words: Backflip off a tree.

Some great pics from the most recent Creek trip:

Me dialing in the onsight on "The Judge" (5.12-). Photo by some really nice guys on the next route over.

Clayton sussing it out above some mighty small gear, also on "The Judge".

The crew out for a rest day ramble in the Needles district of Canyonlands NP. Highly recommended.

Just to break up the Indian Creek shots, here's one from two winters ago at the Sheepshead, Coshise Stronghold, Southern Arizona. Photo by Zack Durbin.

Dustin placing gear on "Six Star Crack" (5.13-), yours truely at the hanging belay. This is one of the purest splitters I've ever seen. Photo: Brad Gobright.

Me styling the send of Six Star... haha. No really, this route shut me down brutally. Redemption next spring? I need to get fit! Photo, again by Brad Gobright.

Anyone who doesn't appreciate this photo has never crack climbed. Yet again, pic by Brad.

OK, so you have to click on the link for this one, but it's worth it.
This is why they tell you not to throw water on a grease fire!
Video by Brad Gobright

Monday, November 30, 2009


Some people like to spend their Thanksgiving holidays sitting in their warm houses, watching football, and eating turkey with their families.

Some people like to spend their Thanksgiving holidays sitting in the red dirt, watching the campfire, and eating turkey with their climbing friends.

Here are some images that anyone that has had the priviledge of belonging to the latter group might appreciate:

The crisp night air is brilliant with stars and moonlight, and the plentiful beer and boxed wine makes it seem positively warm out. The solidly frozen water bottles beg to differ.

The life-giving sun greets the flawless blue sky every morning, and in no time it's warm enough to worm out of the sleeping bag and get the blood flowing. As everyone stumbles out of their respective tents, plans are made, first for breakfast (sausage or bacon? pancakes or potatoes? all of the above?), then for climbing.

Shoulder the big pack, begin the trudge up to the wall. Let's find a good warm-up... nah, screw it, let's get on that! Last night's cold all but forgotten, layers come off, and it's time for climbing!

The day winds down, many good routes were attempted, much radness accomplished. "We'll definitely need to come back to this crag!" Thoughts shift to dinner, every throws out ideas and volunteers ingrediants. Shoulder those packs again, stumble back to the cars. Don't forget to close the gate behind you.

Arriving back at camp, the sun has gone behind the cliffs, and the chill quickly permeates. Grab a few extra layers, get that fire going, and let's start dinner! Everyone pitches in, even though chopping leads to frozen hands; deliciousness is ready in no time.

You should know that, when sitting around a campfire, it is absolutely futile to try and get up to avoid the woodsmoke. Once it is blowing in your direction, it will follow you no matter where you move. Seems that everyone else is sitting still, totally unmolested, while your eyes sting and lungs burn. Might as well sit still; if you ignore it, it'll get bored and leave you alone.

The fire winds down, folks stop throwing more wood on, an unspoken consensus is reached. One by one, friends drift back to their tents, and soon you'll be zippering up that puffy cocoon of down and passing out for the night. It's gonna be a busy day tomorrow...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Training, Doing, and Dreaming

[I actually wrote this post the week before Thanksgiving, but failed to post it. Better late than never...]

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are"- Theodore Roosevelt

Part of action is dreaming, part is preparing, and part is doing.

The weather has been beautiful and crisp hereabouts, and it's prime time for getting out and experiencing the radness. Highlights from this week: Eldo Tuesday, Roof Routes, got to meet Roger Briggs (Old-School Eldo badass!), and talk about his famous testpiece: Scary Canary (5.12 R). Joe and I were climbing the first pitch, and he had some great recollections from his first ascent way back in 1980. Dude is still cranking, of course, and styled a few heady 5.11 pitches in the on the always tricky Roof wall. Anyways, Joe and I will be back soon to try out the 2nd (crux) pitch. Roger advised bringing a hammer, just in case the crux fixed knifeblade (yes, the piton he placed almost 30 years ago) needs to be tapped back in.

Wednesday saw the season's first trip down to the South Platte, and fantastic and sprawling region in the Rocky Mountain foothills south and west of Denver. The crag of the day was Sunshine wall, part of the Cathedral Spires group. An early, frosty start in Boulder had Tim and I wondering how conditions would be at the wall, over two thousand feet higher in elevation! Though it was still cold at the parking lot, next to the semi forzen Platte river and surrounded by deep snow, we quickly shed layers as we hiked up out of the valley towards the spires. Sunshine Wall fulfilled its promise on that bluebird day, and climbing temps were utterly perfect (bordering on too hot!?!).
After enjoying the classic "Standard Route" (11a, 4 pitches), I focused on the proj de jour: Far Reaches (12c). This splitter seam is thin, thin, thin, and just under vertical. After some recon on top rope, I went for the lead. With the very thin and specific rack preselected on my harness (#4 RP, draw for fixed pin, #5 stopper, #2 camalot(yes!), #3 RP, 000 C3...), I was optimistic, but I botched the crux sequence, ended up losing my feet while my left hand was still in a fingerlock, and then peeling off anyways. I finished the lead, nursing a tweaked and bloody left ring finger. The bad finger, combined with the fading light, conspired to call it a day, and we headed home. Far Reaches: I'll be back for you!

Far Reaches

Today (Thursday) I was back at the office (Eldo). Climbing with Lisa, a strong and bold Front Range newcomer, I was psyched to show her some classic routes. Our route, recommended by Eldo veteran Bob as "the Astroman of Eldo", is a linkup of Super-Arete (11a, 1 pitch), the Doub-Griffith (11c, 2 pitches), and Mellow Yellow (11d, 3 pitches). After barely missing the onsights on both Super-Arete and pitch one of Doub-Griffith, Lisa got it right on the crux second pitch of D-G and scored a sweet onsight. I led the crux first pitch of Mellow Yellow, and for the third time got shut down by the burly roof (hardest 11d in the canyon?).


Aside from regular trips to the local crags, I have plans for this winter season. Preparing for next spring (more on this below) both physically and financially. Financially being able to support another rad round of climbing bumming, and physically to be able to crush it while I'm out there!
[Photos to come of training on the basement woody]

Dreaming: Yosemite, Spring 2010, See y'all there!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

After the Gold Rush

This is a new era for my Blog, as I am no longer Road Bound, and have found semi-permanent housing.

Now that I'm somewhat settled, let me fill you in on what's been going on:

Super-sweet housing situation! Rejoining society after a big roadtrip can be tough, and since I was looking for cheap housing in Boulder (oxymoron), I figured I'd end up in some rat hole apartment. Not the case! For cheaper that any crappy place in Boulder, I moved into a room in an amazing house in Superior, CO. Boulder is just 15-20 minutes away, and Eldo, my home away from home, is just 10 minutes from my doorstep. Brendon, who owns the house, is a rad dude and also a climber, and Sam and Andrew, my other two roommates, are adventurous and agreeable dudes.

Getting back into the flow of things here in Colorado can be harder than crawling out of this hole on Red Dihedral (10, CA Sierras) Photo: Christopher Maher.

Fall Indian Creek trip! I can't get enough of the dirtbag lifestyle, so I made my fall pilgramage to the "Center of the Universe": da Creek! Many fine folks, old friends and new, were in attendance, and with fine weather much radness was accomplished.

Enjoying the sweet, sweet Wingate sandstone on Family Home Night (12)

No hands! on Big Baby (11+)

Clayton, Josie, and Fred wrapping things up after a great day at Broken Tooth wall.

Ongoing action at the local crags! With Eldo back as my homebase, and tons of motivated locals to get out with, this winter should be a fine one on the Front Range. Notable Eldo action so far: The Wisdom (12a), Hands in the Clouds (12a), Onsight of "Brand New Cadillac (11R), Mellow Fellow (11c), Scary Canary (Just P1 so far, 11d R), and a sub 2 hour roundtrip on The Naked Edge (with Rob K, who has been the partner for much of this season's sending). Hopes are high for some harder projects, possibly Huck Off (12b), Practice Climb 101 (12c), Superfly (12d R), 2nd Pitch of Scary Canary (12 R), the Evictor (12d), and probably others.

Pulling into the business on "Jolt Cola" (12a, Boulder Canyon) en route to a flash. Photo: Clayton Laramie.

Karate kick! Photo: Clayton Laramie.

I can climb this with my eyes closed... Photo: Joe Crotty

Bearing down for a redpoint of "Hands in the Clouds" (12a, Eldo). Photo: Joe Crotty

Friday, September 11, 2009

Back in Boulder!

Hey y'all, I'm back in Boulder! First, a quick update on the happenings since my last post:

I finally started using a rope in the Tetons, and found some great partners, including Aaron, a local and guidebook author who took me out to climb "Sunshine Daydream", a beautiful 4 pitch 5.11 in Death Canyon.

After quitting Jackson, I rolled south to Green River, where I met up with a college friend, also named Aaron. We had a great weekend getting rowdy in rural Wyoming (redundant?) with his roommates Zack and Brian. All of Saturday was spent at a sports bar soaking in COLLEGE FOOTBALL. My Spartans proved victorious, as did Aaron's Wolverines, and a good time was had by all. The following day we punished ourselves with a 30+ (?) mile day-hike in the Wind River Mountains, which was masochistically fun. The full Wyoming experience was rounded out with a trip to the Flaming Gorge and some rad cliff diving with some drunk locals.

Finally, I've migrated back to my adopted home of Colorado, and am currently in the process of re-entering mainstream life (job, apartment, library card, etc...). A big thanks to my friend Zack, and his super-nice girlfriend Anna, for putting me up for the last few days. You guys rock!

The Boulder Skyline. They're numbered right to left, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.

As part of my reintroduction to Front Range life, I've kept a strict schedule of evening Flatiron hikes/climbs. Yesterday's Third Flatiron jaunt was bizarrely fun: after reading about some local speed records, I pushed myself on the approach, speed hiking (not running, that's just uncivilized) up the rocky trail in 19minutes. The climb, a 7-8 pitch 5.4, took 9 minutes. So far, so good. Somehow, though, the downclimb took 19 minutes, and the hike down 23?! That's right, going down was slower than going up.
Hypothesis one: gravity inversion. Possible. Hypothesis two: I got lost repeatedly in the dark. Probable.

Sidenote: Apparently working batteries are an essential part of the whole "headlamp producing light" process.

The actual speed record, car-to-car, is 33 minutes. That leaves some room for improvement off my 1:10 time, but maybe next time I'll try it with some light.

Anyways, I'll try to keep updating as I settle, and hopefully soon I'll have some rad pictures of Eldo cranking action!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Grand Traverse, ... almost

"Why I love Rock Climbing"

Saturday morning, 4am, my cell phone alarm goes off, and I don't know why. For about 5 seconds. Then I remember, today is the big day: the Grand Traverse.

The Traverse. Parts where the red line disappears you traverse on the far side of the ridge. Photo credit: John Ross.

This is a goal I've been planning for all summer, in fact, maybe since I started climbing. Ever since coming here with my Dad and the Boy Scouts when I was 15, I've known that I would climb these mountains. To be here with the ability and confidence to try it is a great feeling.

So, the idea is that, instead of climbing a single peak, one follows a ridgeline of consecutive peaks, summiting each one, and navigating the steep terrain in between. The central part of the Teton range lends itself well to this goal. From the summit of Mt. Teewinot (12, 325'), the ridgeline makes its way past Mt Owen, The Grand Teton, Middle Teton, South Teton, and then down a ridge of many smaller towers before ending at Nez Perce. The ridge stays above 11,000' the entire way, and on the Grand tops out at 13,770'.

Anyways, after a quick breakfast burrito, I arrive at the trailhead. Departing at 5am, it's still pitch dark, but luckily I'm on a clear trail. My shivers in the chill morning air quickly give way to sweat, and soon my shirt is drenched and my forehead dripping as a make the grueling ascent. From the parking lot, you gain over 5,500' before summiting Teewinot. I make this in 2 hours, enjoying the sunrise as I do, and from the summit the entire valley is lit up before me.

Summit of peak #1, Teewinot. The North Ridge of the Grand follows the right side of the face in the background.

From here, the real fun begins. Teewinot is just a steep 4th class scramble, but from here I'll be on the ridgline, and it's technical and steep most of the way. Many minor steps and drops must be negotiated, each requiring real climbing. A bigger challenge, though, than the actual climbing, is the route-finding. It might seem that following such a steep and exposed crest would be straightforward, but not so. A multitude of obstacles are confronted, mostly small towers and cliffs, and at each one you must decide which way to go. Every step, every hold, every movement represents a descision, and it's this problem solving challenge that I love most about Rock Climbing. Not only is it an intense physical effort, but your mind must be in a constant state of analysis and reaction to your surroundings. Many, many mistakes will be made throughout the course of a big day like the Grand Traverse, but the secret to success is recognizing and correcting them, not letting small mistakes demoralize you, and not letting them compound into major ones.

These pictures are for my Mom. I hope you don't get too stressed out reading this.

One highlight of my day came early on, on the ridge between Teewinot and Owen. As I'm downclimbing a rather steep section, I look over and see a party of two rappelling. Once I reach them, I recognize them: George Lowe and Jack Tackle, two old-school legends of American mountaineering (I might not have actually recognized them had the climbing ranger the day before not told me that they'd be up here, but I definitely know who they were). George, with his full head of white hair, is one of the Deans of hard climbing in the Tetons, but he's never successfully done the whole Traverse. He and Jack have started early, and they're making good time. It's amazing to see these guys move with such confidence, a legacy of a lifetime spent in the mountains.

George Lowe (below) and Jack Tackle negotiating some snow between Teewinot and Owen.

Anyways, after exchanging quick greetings, they give me some tips on the sections ahead, and then I'm off towards Owen. There are two ways to summit Owen from here. The most obvious, since I'm approaching from the east, is the East Ridge. The easiest, though, is to traverse low on the south side of the mountain to the west side and ascend the easy Koven Chimney. I choose the East Ridge, thinking it will be more direct. And it probably would have been, had there not been a steep snowfield guarding the approach. At the base of it, the snowfield didn't look too bad, and my brand new ice ax gave me the confidence to start up it. As I neared the top, though, it became steeper, and sloped off to the north, straight down to a huge cliff. A mistake here could start me sliding irreversibly towards the bottom of Cascade Canyon, thousands of feet below. I slowed down, spent more time kicking each step, and eventually made it to the security of the rock. From here, the 5.6 rock route to the summit was a breeze. As I started to descend the Koven chimney on the west side of the peak, George and Jack were starting up it, which conveniently showed me which way to go.

#2, Mt. Owen

Another cruxy section of the traverse lay ahead, and I had to stay alert. Here, one has to switch side of the ridge, which has become extremely steep and knife-edged. Finding the correct spot to climb over is difficult, and I spend much time scouting out different options. After some scary and exposed climbing on loose rock, I find a passage over the ridge. Again, it's not clear where to go, but I see some ledges down a few hundred feet, and they appear to offer passage around the steepest sections. After some wandering downclimbing, I gain the ledge system, which thankfully takes me directly into "The Gunsight", a very prominent notch in the ridge. Viewing it from below, it had seemed like this would be a very difficult section, and I was happy to have found the way into it.

Getting out of the deep notch also proved a challenge, with tricky 5.7 climbing, but luckily the rock here was of good quality and the holds plentiful. From there, a long but easy section of scrambling and hiking brought me to the Grandstand, a huge ledge just below the North ridge of the Grand Teton. The North Ridge would be the biggest section of near vertical climbing for the day, and also some of the toughest. After some easy 5.6, the first real challenge was a snow-filled gully/chimney system. I had to get up it to access the next ledge, and so out came the ice ax. A short, but gripping session of kicking steps led me to the next ledge, and again reminded me how much I love the security of good rock! From here, the main North Ridge route looked icier still, so I chose to climb a variation called the Italian cracks. This went well, with steep, but secure 5.7 climbing, and soon I was at another huge ledge. From here, instead of continuing up the icy North Ridge, I traverse around to the right onto the West face, hoping to join up with the easy Owen-Spalding route. This hope was denied by a huge ice-filled chimney, so I climbed straight up the West Face, finding a wandering, but moderate passage to the summit.

#3, The Grand. The Detroit Tigers are #1 in their division, up 4 games with only 32 to go. Go Tigers!

On the summit, it's a party! Having been alone in my head for most of the day, it's a sudden shift to be sharing the top with 20+ people. Everyone else has come up either the Owen-Spalding or the Exum, and they're enjoying one of the last good weekends of weather this season. As I downclimb the O-S, I pass many more people, some of them grumpy from having waited hours for the traffic jams to clear. Maybe some of them should have climbed the North Ridge, I didn't see anyone else there. Arriving down at the lower saddle, between the Grand and Middle Tetons, I fill up water and look at the sky. It has been sort of hazy and cloudy all day, not the typical alpine bluebird day, and now I start to see some even darker clouds forming in the west. I know that these high summits and ridgelines are the last places I want to be if it storms, but I'm comfortable with the fact that I can move quickly and escape back to the valley if need be.

Looking west to Iceberg Lake and upper Cascade Canyon

Starting up Middle Teton, my legs are definitely feeling the burn, but my spirits are high. The North Ridge of Middle (5.6) is last big technical section, and summiting feels great. I run down the Southwest Couloir, with fantastic views of Iceberg lake and of the Teton Crest trail, and swing across the saddle. Up the ridge to South Teton, my legs are even more sore, and the sky is getting darker by the minute. Upon reaching the summit, it's decision time: continue or retreat? From here I can see the end, only a few towers and peaks down the ridge to Nez Perce. The problem, though, is that retreat from any further point along the ridge is unknown, whereas I can easily retrace my steps back to the South-Middle Teton saddle and pick up the trail into Garnet Canyon. Lightning flashes, thunder crashes, and my decision is made: retreat!

Peak #4, Middle Teton. Note the building clouds, which would distract me from taking summit pic #5, South Teton, as I ran for cover.

Oh well, it's still been a great day, with 5 major summits, tons of great steep rock climbing, and something like 11,000' of vertical gain. Not a bad outing. The trail back down Garnet Canyon is long and grueling on my sore knees, but eventually I make it down, reaching the car around 7pm. Along the way, I pass and talk to many folks who've had great days in the mountains, and I'm glad that they're all down safely before the storm. In the parking lot, I score a PBR from some nice folks who climbed the Exum ridge (on the Grand), and though it's warm, it tastes great (thanks!).

Friday, August 28, 2009

A big day in the Mountains

The Teton range begs to be climbed. From my camp, the mountains appear to rise up and form a vertical wall just a few miles across the plains. The massive jagged peaks are at once forbidding, yet accessible.

Wednesday dawned clear and chilly, perfect for my first day in the Tetons. I had a small pack of water, food, and a jacket; it would be a solo mission. Destination: the biggest, Grand-est peak around. Leaving the trailhead just after sun's rise, I was psyched to be bathed in its first warming rays. The easy trail quickly gained elevation, and in no time I had covered the first four miles and entered the beautiful Garnet Canyon, where wildflowers and waterfalls abound. After a long summer of climbing in Yosemite and the Sierra, I was grateful to have been living at such high altitudes, and both my lungs and legs felt great.

The view from the Saddle looking West. Dad- (and other Teton Crest Trail veterans), can you spot Hurricane Pass and Schoolroom Glacier?

Soon, the trail wound up to a high saddle, perched between Middle Teton and the Grand. Here the NPS and various guide services maintain tents and huts, but the area seemed abandoned; everyone was already up on the mountain. After a short rest to refill my water bottle at the convenient spring, I began to pick my way up the steep rocky gully that leads to the Grand. I had neglected to bring any maps or topos for the area, thinking that there would be more than enough people up here, I could just follow the crowds. I guess they had all camped here, though, and started early, for they were all much higher on the mountain. I had to find my way through the tricky terrain, but it ended up being lucky. I had meant to climb the Owen-Spalding route, which is the easiest route on the peak at 5.4. Upon getting lost-ish in the steep gully system, though, I came around a corner and spotted the Exum Ridge route. The Exum is the next easiest route at 5.5, and it follows a much more striking feature: the south arete of the peak. Moreover, I was now at the base of it, and it was in the sun! I looked over at the shady, cold looking West face where the O-S goes, and quickly made the desicion to change routes and climb the Exum. Best of all, I could see multiple parties on the lower pitches, so I knew I would be able to find my way.

Dutch Oven cooking in camp. The Exum ridge is the left-side skyline of the the Grand, the highest peak visible.

The Exum Ridge is not only a fantastic route, but the history of its first ascent is one of the more inspiring stories in Teton climbing lore. In 1931, young Glenn Exum, only 18, went up the Grand one day with no rope and a borrowed pair of too-big cleated leather football shoes. Instead of following the established route up the West face, he traverse out a prominent ledge called Wall Street. Near the end of the ledge, a gap confronted him, which he passed with a flying leap. Once on the other side, the ridge unfolded above him and he made the first ascent of the route that now bears his name. Later on the same day, Paul Petzoldt, who had just finished guideing two clients up the Owen-Spalding route, made the second ascent of the ridge. These guys were pretty comfortable in the mountains.

So, back to the present, I was following in Glenn Exum's cleated footprints by onsight soloing the Exum ridge. The only differences, of course, were that I knew there was an easy route here, I had sticky rubber shoes, and the route had been climbed and cleaned by thousand of people in the last 78 years. I did re-create Exum's famous leap, though, to the entertainment of the other climbers all waiting to get started. I guess most people use some holds and climb across the gap.

Anyways, the route was amazing, with gorgeous golden rock studded with plentiful holds. The position commands the entire range, with views to both sides: Idaho to the left, Wyoming to the right. In no time I was at the summit, which thankfully had only two other people on it (the mountain was crowded, I would guess there were 30+ folks on it throughout the day). After a while spent chatting and soaking in the view, I started to head down. Here came the more uncertain part of the day. One of the other reasons I had so readily switched plans from the Owen-Spalding route to the Exum was that I'd heard the O-S had a considerable amount of ice on it. It doesn't get much sun, and at 13,770' it stays cold all summer. Now I was faced with downclimbing it, though. The O-S is the standard descent route, but every other party up there had a rope and would rappel past the steeper sections. The unknown is always nerve-wracking, but it never ends up being as bad as you think, so I quickly started down. True enough, it was all pretty casual, and I was soon past the difficulties and back on walking terrain.

A Grand summit photo.

Heading back down Garnet canyon, it was only early afternoon, and another climb had gained my interest. Dissapointment Peak is not much to look at, especially since it's usually overshadowed by the larger peaks all around it, but it does offer some stellar climbing, the best of which might be "Irene's Arete". It was harder than Exum, with difficulties up to 5.9, but the route-finding was straightforward. Again, the exposure and the views were stellar, with tons of air on all sides. The climbing is near vertical for the most part, but ample holds and great cracks make it feel quite secure. Near the top, I passed a roped party and sat to chat for a while. Out soloing all day, I was always eager for conversation with someone other than myself.

Irene's take the central prow for six quality pitches of 5.7-5.9

After an easy descent, I was back at the base of the route, and I was getting hungry. The gentle trail made for a fast hike back to the trailhead, and I was back at camp making burritos by 6pm. All in all, it had been an unforgettable day in the mountains, and I knew my knees would be feeling the 8000 feet of vertical gain (and another 8000' of descent) and 12+ miles of hiking. I love the Tetons!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


According to a historical plaque on I-80 in Central Nevada, the Donner Party, an expedition of settlers and pioneers travelling the California trail, stopped at a spot not far from a current highway reststop. Here, at a spot called Gravelly Ford (a crossing of the Humboldt River) some sort of altercation broke out between James Reed and John Snyder. Snyder apparently tried to whip Reed, but missed and lashed Reed's wife instead. In retaliation, Reed killed Snyder. Reed was banished from the crew, but his daughter kept him alive by smuggling him food during the nights. Later, when the fated party was trapped in the snows of the Sierra, Reed would take part in their rescue.

The history of overland travel in the American West is filled with such stories, and surely there are many more that went unrecorded. The experience of crossing the continent, facing hostile terrain, hostile natives, and potentially hostile members of one's own party, is nearly too much for us to comprehend. What sort of combination of bravery, desperation, self-reliance, manifest destiny, and faith would it have taken to motivate a person to set out into the unknown wilds of the West for a multi-month journey into a vague promised land?

I don't know. I live in the 21st century, and I can cross the entire continent in a matter of days (or hours) in the safety and comfort, with the confidence of cookie-cutter rest stops, gas stations, and fast food at set intervals. To find adventure now, one has to go looking.

The mess wagon of the new pioneer
I thought this cloud looked like a deer or a dog, jumping from left to right

Morning in the Tetons, I have arrived!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Learning to Count

So this is a bit old, but a few weeks back Graham and I decided to give ourselves a workout and did the Cathedral traverse in Toulumne. This entails climbing many different peaks, all requiring some sort of scrambling or climbing to summit (up to 5.8), and requires TONS of movement. The summits, in the order we did them: Tenaya Peak, Mt. Tressiter, Columbia Finger, Matthes Crest, Echo Peaks 1-8, Echo Ridge, the Cockscomb, Unicorn Peak, and Cathedral Peak. Including all the Echo summits, we touched 16 different peaks during the day, and we had the idea to document each with a photo. We have all 16 of them, but I'll just throw a few of them here:

Peak #1, Tenaya
Peak #7, one of the Echo Peaks

Peak #14, the Cockscomb

You have to move fast to finish the Cathedral Traverse; or have the power of flight.

The spectacular ridge of Matthes Crest

A panorama taken from summit #16, Cathedral Peak. We went from right to left across most of the peaks visible.

sidenote: No, I'm not an Oakland A's fan, I just found the hat and liked the colors. Go Tigers!

In slightly more recent news: Emily (of the Toulumne SAR team) and I had an interesting "Successful Failure" High Sierra mission. The plan was to depart Toulumne on Thursday afternoon and roll down to Mt. Whitney, spend the night there and climb Whitney and Russell on Friday. That part of the plan was dissolved when, through patchy cell reception, we were able to ascertain that there were no permits available to camp at Whitney. Bummer.

OK, no problem, we'll just flip through the Sierra guidebook and pick a new destination: the Ruby Wall, just south of Mammoth. We'd never heard of anyone we know climbing there, but the approach was short (2.5 miles) , the cliff tall (1000'+) and the climbing supposedly good. Our guidebook quotes Galen Rowell, an old-school California badass climber, as saying that the South Arete route was "Eight of the nost enjoyable pitches of Sierra climbing" he had yet done. Cool.

So, after a quick stop for permits and a short hike in, we find the beautiful wall overlooking even more beautiful Ruby Lake. The camping was really spectacular, but as we found out the next morning when we hiked up to the wall, the rock was not.

After guessing where the start of the route might be (the guidebook had left plenty of adventure in it, as any good guidebook should), I started to lead the first pitch, billed as 5.9. It ends up being very convoluted and sketchy, with bad, grainy rock and flared cracks. I couldn't figure out which way to go, and none of the options seemed safe or worthwhile. OK, we'll head down and pick a different spot to start. We move a few hundred yards to the right to another promising looking crack system, and Emily leads up. Here we found about 60' of good climbing, but up higher we were again we're stymied by bad rock and unprotectable hard climbing. Oh well...

New plan: we had gotten some beta from the Mammoth climbing shop on a new, shorter route on a nearby cliff, supposedly with better rock. We find this climb easily, and start up. Unfortunately, "better rock" is a relative term, and this route is still very crumbly and grainy. Maybe it's just because it hasn't seen many climbers, but everytime I brush agaist the rock, a shower of little flakes and crystals break off. To its credit, the line of the climb is great, with soaring corners and great hand cracks, but the deteriorating rock is too much. We top out the three pitch line and gladly rappel.

So we had a "Successful Failure" of a trip: no permits for Whitney, stymied on Ruby Wall, crap rock on the consolation climb, but we had a fun adventure, we were able to keep motivated after being bouted repeatedly, got to see a gorgeous High Sierra lake and mountain cirque, and didn't get hurt. It all works out in the end.

In most recent news, I have finally left California! Indeed, the state that has held me captive since May 19th has released me from its pleasant grip, and I'm currently in the Washoe Country Public Library in Reno, Nevada. The current destination: Jackson, Wyoming, and the Grand Tetons, and the Grand Traverse!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Here are some pics from a while back, my first Hulk trip way back in July. These are from John, a fellow road-tripper, who's now in Squamish, that graciously shuttled email after email of pics over.

Me on Sunspot Dihedral


Graham, also Sunspot Dihedral

John, in full native regalia, topping out on the Incredible Hulk

Anyways, of course there are plenty more photos, but alas I don't have my camera with me (duh...). Look forward to some pics from the Cathedral Traverse, an amazing 16 summit outing Graham and I enjoyed a week or so back, and some pics of Brad's near onsight of Half Dome.

The autumn moon lights my way

OK, so its not really Fall yet "(and it's a new moon), but I've been wanted to use some Led Zepplin lyrics for a while. It is getting to be time for me to Ramble On from Yosemite, though.

I can't really say it enough how fantastic the summer here has been. This week was typical: it started with a chilled-out weekend of hanging around Toulumne, bouldering, swimming, soloing Lembert dome every evening to watch the sunset.

Come Monday, I'm spurred into action. Many on the SAR crew have been interesting in a semi-remote mountain in the Cathedral Range here in the park. It is visible from several other popular mountain climbs in the area, and features a striking steep West face with several large rock towers. We get some beta from Jesse and Eric, two of the climbing rangers here, and apparently they have put one route up here (the mountain is called "Peak 11,357'"). So, late Sunday night, around some beers at the campfire, Ben (on of the SAR crew) and I decide that it's time to check this peak out.

The next morning, once the sun gets high enough to warm our camp (we're not that hardcore), we start to rally and pack some gear up. After various errand to procure wilderness permits, etc, we finally roll out of camp around 11. Ben's friend Tom, who is visiting Yosemite, decide to hike out with us and camp for the night. The hike goes well, and Ben knows pretty well which passes to cross and which ridges to walk. Theres no trail back to this peak, but we eventually find our way and sight the peak around 2pm. After some heady gully descents and meadow bushwacking, we arrive at the base.

We have a topo map of the route, drawn by the climbing rangers, but it still takes some intuition to figure out where on this 1/4 mile wide wall the route might go. We just try to imagine which line we would take for a first ascent, and it turns out to lead us to the right place.
Finally, around 4pm, we're on rope and leading; I'm in my element. The first pitch throws all sorts of wierdness at me, and it's fairly hard (5.11), so by the time I get to the first belay I'm hesitantly looking at the lower and lower angle of the sun behind us, and beginning to think about bailing.

Fortunately, Ben would have none of this, and when he arrives at the belay, simply asks for the gear and quickly leads out. The first pitch turns out to have been the crux, and the next five pitches go relatively smoothly. The evening sun is gorgeous on the west facing wall, if I relax enough to enjoy it. The route (the Rangers named it "Boss Man", 5.11) turns out to be stellar, and I onsight it for its second ascent. The highlight of the day comes as we're descending, and the sun properly goes down. In the darkened valley below, we spot the lake where we're supposed to meet Tom, and we can just make out a roaring campfire along the shore! Rallying to the fire, Ben and I find his camp and set about gorging on a dinner of freshly caught trout!

Anyways, I said this week was typical, and that was adventure enough for about 2 days. The next day, Tuesday, I hike back out to Toulumne, hitchhike down to the Valley, meet up with my friend Brad for dinner at the pizza deck, and then we hike up (again in that nerve-wrackingly beautiful late-evening light) to the base of Half Dome. Yes, I can't seem to get enough of that route, the Reg NW Face, and Brad is stoked on it. Brad, who's never done a bigwall, is going to try to onsight the route free, a rare accomplishment, and one of which I think he is capable. I volunteer, in exchange for some pizza and beer, to belay him and let him lead every pitch.

The hike up the "Death slabs" seems unusually brutal, probably because of my extending hikes the previous few days, and the fact that we do most of it by headlamp. We do make it up, though, and get a good night's rest. The position of the bivy spot, tucked right up against the base of the steep 2000' wall, is outrageous. Brad compares the wall, in the daylight, to a wave about to crest on top of us, and at night, to a giant black hole consuming half of the sky.

Bright and early the next morning (Wednesday, yesterday) we rope up. The first crux of the route comes early, and with it, Brad's onsight bid disappears. He unfortunately takes an unexpected fall on the "Higbee-Hedral", a short "boulder problem" section requiring extreme levitation properties. Oh well, he quickly hops back down to the belay ledge, and then fires through the tricky section, looking very smooth second try. The next 12 pitches go quickly, with nothing harder than 5.10, and tons easier. We simul-climb big chunks of it, and we make it up to Big Sandy ledge (pitch 17) by 1pm. Here the climbing gets hard again, and the wall steepens in it's last few hundred feet. The next 3 pitches are called the "Zig Zags", and they're all hard (12a, 11, 12a). Brad gives a valiant go on the first Zig Zag before falling at the crux. After lowering to a ledge, he fires back up it, discovering the intricate sequence and declaring that the moves are "easy". Linking through the 2nd pitch brings us to the base of the third Zag. The climbing here is straightforward, but very strenuous, and Brad onsights this pitch in great style. The final hard pitch is an 11d slab, which I found to be very tricky last time I tried it (with Graham back in July). Brad again puts on a good show, and onsights this pitch. We top out around 5pm, just as the last few tourists are taking their pictures, and begin the grueling descent. Many hours later, the Pizza deck delivers its delicious promise, and we are satisfied.

So today is Thursday, as soon as I publich this post, I'll head back up to Toulumne, meet up with some of the SAR crew, and hopefully roll south to Mt. Whitney for some great climbing tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Magnetic Yosemite

So, when I began this roadtrip back in May, I had intentions of it being a grand tour of some of the West's coolest climbing areas, hence my ambitious title "Big Wide West". As you might have noticed, though, it hasn't been so much a "roadtrip" as it has a Yosemite trip.

It's true, I have spent almost the whole summer here in the magnetic park, stuck here of my own accord. The reasons: its beauty, fantastic climbing, mostly great weather, and most of all the incredible community. The people that I've met and climbed with, most of whom work for the park, have been so great and I've made a few friends that I'm sure will last for years.

The North Face of the Rostrum, 5.11c, or 12b with Alien Finish (just left of the red line through the final roof)

For the past 2 evenings, one of those friends, Brad, and I have climbed the Rostrum, here in the Valley. He gets out of work around 5pm, so both nights we rallyed, got ready, and hit the cliff by 6pm. It's a big climb, but a very accessible one, with one of Yosemite's easiest approaches. Due to the late hour, we opted to skip the first two pitches, skirting in on a narrow ledge. This makes the route doable with our limited daylight, but also gives you the crux 11c finger crack right off the bat. I lead this, and link it into the next one. The first time on the route, we choose a variation from the main route called "The Uprising", an 11b overhanging fist crack. This is torture for my already scarred hands, but the climbing is gorgeous. The main goal, for Brad anyways, is to get to the "Alien Roof" varitation: a crazy 5.12 body-length roof, split by a single crack. On the first go, we belay on a tiny perch just below the roof, and the evening light is fading on the many monoliths up the Valley. Brad gives it all he had, providing me a spectacular show of footloose aerobatics, but in the end falls. By the time I get to follow, its fully dark and the headlamp is brought out.

Brad working on the Alien finish in an earlier photo. None of our pics from the route turned out due to low light.

The next night, we head back to the Rostrum; Brad is really psyched on trying to send the roof. Again we link pitches up to the base of the roof, giving him the last few minutes of daylight to give 'er hell. Again he spans the 6' long roof, managing to hold the strenuous position with his body entirely horizontal. The trouble is that, once his hands are past the roof, the wall is still overhanging, and no good holds are apparent. Again, he falls, even more frustrated this time. Alas, its getting dark, so he pulls back up, finishes the section with the help of some cams, and we again top out in the dark. Oh well, at least we make it back to the Pizza Deck before closing and enjoy some pizza and beers with friends. Did I mention I love Yosemite?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Hulk!

Ok, so some quick catching up: Two weeks ago, just after my wonderful stay in San Fran with Eric and Sarah, I returned to Yosemite, this time to Toulumne Meadows. This higher altitude section of the park offers cooler temps, beautiful sculpted domes and peaks, and free camping! (not really, but I'm staying with some friends)

Toulumne Meadows

It's really awesome hanging out here, and there's plenty of motivated folks to climb with, including my friend Graham. Some highlights of climbing in Toulumne: The Scorpion (11b) and the Wailing Wall (11d) on Medlicott Dome, The OZ and Gram Traverse on Drug Dome (10d), and the Hobbit Book (I forget where it is..., but it's 5.7)

Me leading the Gram Traverse on Drug Dome. The pitch goes horizontally for 150' under a giant roof.

Even cooler, though, than Toulumne, is the climbing in the High Sierra mountains, specifically on a mountain called "The Incredible Hulk". The Hulk is a perfect white chunk of granite, about 1500' high, located way back in a canyon at around 11,000' elevation. It's a tough hike in, so we decided to spend and few days camping at the base and try as many routes on it as we could. The crew was mostly from the Toulumne SAR (search and rescue) team: Graham, Ben, John, Lorna, and Kevin.

Our first view of the Hulk, about 4 miles into the approach

The camping is spectacular, with pure alpine streams, hidden lakes, huge cliffs, and no other people. The only bother was the mosquitos, but we seemed to get used to them and by the 2nd day we were indifferent (or totally saturated with DEET).

The climbing is more spectacular! The rock on the Hulk is some of the best in California, which would place it high in the running for best world-wide. Clean white vertical granite with loads of perfect cracks, this stuff is the medium for amazing climbing. John and I started out with the most classic line on the face: Positive Vibrations (11a). John led the first four pitches cleanly, which set me up for the even steeper and more exposed four pitches above. Positive is mega-classic, and we were stoked for the team onsight! (climber slang: Onsight= to lead a climb first try, without insider info on how it goes, and without any falls or hanging on the rope)

The Hulk at sunset

The next day: Sunspot Dihedral (11b). John was a bit tired, and the route sounded pretty hard, so we figured I should lead all the pitched. This is a rare treat, and I heartily enjoyed it! Sunspot was every bit as good as Positive Vibes, and even harder and much more sustained. It had powerful roof climbing, delicate thin cracks, gorgeous soaring corners, and a cryptic crux. I led every pitch clean for the onsight!

Our last day John decided to hike out (he's headed to Squamish, maybe we'll see him later in the summer), so I hooked up with Justin, a strongman from Montana. We picked AstroHulk (11c, do you notice a pattern?) for the day, and by this point the rock was seeming pretty familiar, so we got a comfortably late start. Just had already done Astrohulk, so we decided to throw in a harder variation on some of the lower pitches, doing pitches 3-5 of "Venturi Effect". This proved to be the highlight of the day!

Justin led the first 11+ variation pitch onsight, and that set us up at the base of a striking corner. Obvious from the ground, this corner is maybe the most clean feature on a mountain full of clean features! Justin had to get his head psyched up this pitch, and he styled the insecure 12a liebacking despite the huge fall potential. I was definitely nervoud for him, watching from the belay. Higher in the corner, the protection got better, but the climbing got harder, and Justin ended up taking a nice clean whipper. He manned up and finished the lead, and I felt really good on the follow, only falling twice.

Once past the variation pitches, we had an odd encounter: We look up to see Graham and Ben, who had been climbing Positive Vibes, rappelling down to us. Once they arrive, they explain that a slower party in front of them was holding them up, and they decided to bail. Fortunately, Justin decided that he would also like to bail (since he'd already climbed the rest of the route), and Graham was keen to continue climbing. So, about 500' off the deck, we traded partners. Justin and Ben rappelled to the ground and spent the rest of the day swimming and relaxing, while Graham and I continued up AstroHulk. And we tore it up! We both felt super confident onsighting the remaining 4 pitches, and we topped out on the ridge with plenty of daylight to spare. A quick rappel brought us back to the ground, and then a quick "ski" descent of the snowfield brought us back to camp.

The Crew getting going in the morning

Sorry to keep throwing more names at you, but that day Ben's friends Marcus and Rocky, from West Virginia, show up at camp. They roll up in good West Virginia style: with a fishing pole, a full size axe, some beer, and a gun. Party tonight! While we were climbing they had caught some delicious trout, and we all feasted. This was the last night in the Sierras for us, and in the morning we gathered our stuff and hiked out. What an awesome three days: great friends, great food, and three killer onsights!

Anyways, I'm now staked out back in Toulumne, probably for the next week or two. Here's some pictures of a fun party we threw last night when Graham's friends Sarah and Laura were visiting:

Sam playing the "Crate Game" The goal is to stack as many crates as you can, while standing on them. Note the harness and ropes, we like to keep things safe.

Ben pretending he's a bear