Readers of this blog will surely be familiar with the "Send-wich". Pack as much meat, cheese, mayo, mustard, onion, etc between two bread-ish platforms as possible. Sometimes the delicious filling bursts the bread-y bounds and you just carry it around in a feed-bag. Either way, it's a powerful way to fuel any sort of adventure.
This post is not, though, about the Sendwich. Though it is certainly about SENDING!
In my continuing series of muddled and useless fast-and-light climbing advice posts, this post will discuss the ideal food strategies for long alpine climbs (2+ days). While a monstrous sammich is more than sufficient for one-day clambering trips, when you're gonna be out for a while, eating a sufficient and varied diet while climbing is essential to success. And, as with everything else I talk about, it needs to be as light as possible for this weak climber to have any chance of getting up anything!
Last February, my friend Blake and I were at Piedras Negras base camp, just north of the Fitzroy Massif. We had just returned from a 24hr push, establishing a new route on the West face of Aguja Guillamet. We'd consumed most of our food supplies, and had planned on returning to town, about 20 miles distant.
So imagine our excitement, and subsequent frustration, when a few of our friends showed up at camp with reports of more good weather! Weather windows are rare and highly prized in Patagonia, and here we were caught flat-footed in the middle of an enormous, wall-to-wall picture window, without sufficient food to pull off another climb without returning first to town.
Our friend Hayden, always the optimist, counseled us to "go for it!" and push the North Pillar of Fitz "Slovenian style" with our three bars and single tea bag for nourishment.
This advice we ignored, and opted instead on a lightning run/hitch-hike back to town to re-supply. We returned the next day, and still managed another solid day of climbing, making the FFA of a route on the west face of Aguja Mermoz.
I know that, whatever might work for Slovenes or Poles or Honeybadgers or other manifest badasses, I need sufficient food to have success on a climb. For long periods of sustained activity, like say, thru-hiking the PCT, a young man of 150-180lbs might need upwards of 4000cal/day in order to maintain his weight. In this post, I'm focusing on alpine climbs from 2-7 days, so it might not be necessary to replace all of the calories you're burning, since you can roll back into town/basecamp a few pounds lighter. But if you're consistently and severely shorting yourself everyday, you will not be able to function at peak performance. So, I'll assume that I need to average 3000-4000 calories/day. What is the best, and lightest-weight, way to achieve this goal?
Pay attention to the energy (caloric) density of the foods you take into the mountains. It should be easy to achieve a balanced and nutritious diet while maintaining an average ratio of at least
100 calories per ounce.
We get calories from Fats, Carbohydrates, and Protein. Of these, Fats are the most energy dense. Oils have the best ration of any food I know of, with Olive Oil providing 250cal/oz. Carbs, whether from sugars or starches, often provide 100cal/oz. Proteins are less calorie dense, with Beef jerky providing 70cal/oz.
For a balanced diet, we need all types of energy, but obviously we're going to focus on fats.
BREAKFAST: a hot breakfast is a welcome luxury after a cold bivy, and helps to get the day started right. I like instant oatmeal, since it's fast and easy. But don't just buy the packets and call it good; load it up!
Fully Loaded Oatmeal:
protein powder (vanilla)
sugar, cinnamon, etc
Pack it all up in one big ziplock bag, and ration it out every morning for a powerful kickstart to the day.
LUNCH/SNACKS: Rarely on a big climb do we have the time to stop and lay down a picnic lunch. So here, aim for convenient foods that are easy and tasty to chow:
Bars are certainly easy to eat, and are often very dense with energy. Larabars are mostly made of dates, nuts, and creative flavorings. Formed into delicious little rectangles, these bars don't melt or freeze easily, so pack a ton! Up to 135 cal/oz.
A clutch of Larabars at a bivy site
Gels, like Clifbar's Clif Shot, offer a different mix of calories, focusing more on ready-to-use sugars. They often include heaps of caffeine too, so use these when you need a quick power boost. Because they don't include many fats, they're a bit less dense, often just below 100cal/oz, but they're still essential to avoid the bonk.
Chocolate, need I say more?
Energy Cookies: if you're into baking, make yourself some super-powered cookies, using your favorite recipe. Make sure to load it up with nuts, chocolate, butter, dried fruit, and maybe some quinoa. Making them fairly dense and more brownie-shaped will help them not to crumble.
Blake prepares some power-packed energy cookies in Chalten, Argentina
DINNER: The biggest meal of the day, this is where you'll need to refuel to prepare for the next day. Protein will help with recovery, so it's worth including despite is relative energy paucity. Freeze dried meals are my staple for dinner, since they're easy to make and delicious. Backpackers Pantry makes some tasty dinners, but make sure to pay attention to the actual energy content. Many supposed "two-man" dinners contain only 400 cal TOTAL! Since we're aiming for 1000+ calories (per person) for dinner, you'll need to supplement a hearty freeze dried dinner with other foods.
Santa Fe Chicken 7.5oz, 800cal
Pad Thai 8oz, 920cal
Add other instant foods, like soup mix, sausage, olive oil, couscous, potato flakes, milk powder parmesan cheese, in order to round out a good meal.
I like to carry a small plastic bottle of olive oil and add it to just about all meals. At 250cal/oz, it will enhance the power and flavor of everything it touches!
Hot beverages are always in style, so brew some up whenever you have the stove out. I like the Via instant coffee packets, hot cocoa (add to the coffee!), or tea bags. Also, Emergen-C, that vitamin packed fizzy drink mix, it excellent as a hot drink.
Add milk powder and sugar to tea, etc for extra energy.
While they may not add a ton of calories, there are many light-weight ways to add flavor to otherwise bland meals:
Bring a few cloves of fresh garlic, plus a jalapeno or other peppers to chop into a meal.
Many instant meals are already well-salted, but you will crave a lot of salt if you're sweating all day. Grab some little salt and pepper packets from a gas station or fast-food joint to add.
This post is something new for this page, but far from original in the world of climber internet spray- logs. This is an advice post. In the next few posts, I'm going to share some lessons and tricks that I've learned in the pursuit of fast and light rock climbing.
Before getting into it, I'd like to briefly mention that this advice is for experienced climbers looking for new ways to go light. This is not intended for folks just getting into the sport, and many of the techniques inevitably will reduce your margins of safety, and therefore require good "mountain sense".
But now, the first lesson: Since climbing is a team sport, let your partner do the work. It is often easy to coordinate with your partner to eliminate redundancy, while still bringing exactly what the team will need to send:
One GriGri, one Reverso
I can't think of a multipitch rock excursion on which I would not prefer this system. Belay the leader with the Grigri, bring up the second with the reverso in autoblock.
To rappel, either simul-rap (only on bomber, easy raps), or fix the rope for the first person (with the gri).
There are a ton of advantages to this system. The belay is always auto-locking, which adds safety and allows the belayer to take care of the rope, snap photos, eat and drink etc. Change-overs are cake.
When rapping on unknown terrain, having the leader rap on the grigri allows him to swing around, look for the next potential anchor, unsnag the rope, etc without worrying about holding onto the atc. And it's certainly much faster and easier than using a prussik autoblock backup.
With the new mini grigri, I of course like this system even more. Lighter (duh!) and it works with skinnier cords.
If you're worried about being out after dark, take one good headlamp (probably one with 3 AAA batteries and a good spotlight mode), and one smaller torch (probably one that runs on watch batteries, I like the petzl e-lite). You're partner can route-find with the powerful beam, and you can follow with the surprisingly bright little lamp. It's important to have fresh batteries, and it's always good to have spares if you're gonna be out for a few days. Lithium batteries are pricier, but lighter and stronger.
Sometimes you can even use your ipod speaker as a headlamp! (not actually recommended)
For most summer alpine rock climbs, you won't need a warm layer as the leader, since climbing will keep you warm. So bring one small puffy jacket for the team, have the second wear it at the belays, and bring a windbreaker for the leader. (It helps to climb with someone roughly the same size as yourself.) I put a lot of thought into clothing systems, so look for a future post with more details.
Kinda random, but sometimes you can coordinate footwear to save weight. Bring just one pair of running shoes, and have one team member run back to the base of the route to retrieve both climbers stuff. Or if the approach involves mellow snow and easy walking, bring one pair of runners and one pair of flip flops. The "leader" can kick good steps for the flopper.
One quick climbs up El Cap, I've brought one pair of approach shoes for the second/jugger, and one pair of flops for the other climber to amble down the East Ledges.
On single day pushes in the mountains, you are often required to "carry over" on a route, meaning you can't leave your pack at the base and retrieve it later. So, as always, weight takes center stage. Coordinate with you partner to see who has the lightest pack, maybe 30-40L for a day trip. Take that, and have the second person backpack-coil the rope(s) and wear their harness. For extra comfort, when approaching in a harness, don't wear the leg loops, but rather cinch up the waist and let the leg-loops hang off to the side.
On a two-day mission, you'll probably need two packs, but why take two big packs? Again, take one 30-40L main pack, and have the second carry a ultra-light 20l pack, one that stuffs down into nothing when not loaded, plus the ropes (backpack-coiled). When climbing, the second carries the big pack, and the leader has the option of leading with the small pack or stuffing it into the big pack.
BIVY GEAR, etc.
If your gonna be out for a few days, you can find a myriad of corner-cutting, weight saving tricks. For eating, bring just (you guessed it) ONE setup, and share. One small bowl/mug and spork are sufficient for eating re-hydrated meals, or you can even skip the bowl and eat out of the packet. Once done with the meal, cut the bottom of the meal pouch off and save it for use as a bowl or cup in the next meal.
For a sleeping kit, of course it all depends on expected conditions. Often when attempting a rock climbing objective, we rally during expected mild weather windows, so it is possible to go light. Just one night out? Consider sharing one sleeping bag, and just using it as a blanket for both climbers. Try and find a waterproof bivy sack with a full zip, so that you can unzip it to use flat as a ground cloth, or tarp if there's precip.
For longer journeys, I usually think that the benefit of warmer, more restful sleep justify the weight of two sleeping bags, but of course still look to use a light bag in conjunction with the other gear your carrying. If you're gonna bring a puffy belay jacket, look for a specialized bag with distributed insulation, warmer from the waist down, lighter from the waist up (where you'll be wearing the jacket anyways. If you're not gonna share a sleeping bag, look for one with a half-zip, or no zip.
Don't get locked in to what you MUST have on your harness. I've seen so many climbers obsessed with ALWAYS carrying cordalette, extra lockers, bulk webbing, knife, nut tool, whistle, etc etc etc. Of course sometimes as the second you might need slings in a self rescue scenario, but know how to rig everything with the slings and whatnot that you carry anyways. If the route is clean and well traveled, the leader doesn't need a nuttool, and you NEVER need rap rings unless you're trying to establish a popular rappel route.
More unsolicited advice to come, along with more pictures!
The "Thin Red Line" is the proudest, most direct line up the East Face of Liberty Bell, one of the proudest and most imposing faces of white granite outside of California. First done as a cutting edge grade VI aid climb in 1967, it was recently freed by Washington hardman Mikey Schaefer. It has actually attracted a decent number of free repeats in the past few years. So far the reviews have been STELLAR, and now I can add my (mostly worthless) voice to that consensus:
The Thin Red Line is the 3rd best long granite climb in the low-to-mid 5.12 range that I've ever been on!!
It's so good, I figured I would write out some beta for all y'all granite-loving hard-people out there. So, the spraydown:
Blake stemming it out on P3. P3 continues underclinging left under the white overhang, and then P4 continues left out the adjacent, darker-colored roof.
Approach: Park on Highway 20 at a pullout (east side of the road) below the East Face of Liberty Bell. This pullout is ~1/2 wast from the visitor center/picnic area. A climber's trail ascends the hill to the base of the face, find it by located a small pond on the west side of the road. The trail starts on the left (south) side of this pond. Follow the climber's trail, generally staying to the right (north) if you lose the trail. There will almost certainly be a snowfield at the base; it faces east, and thus gets morning sun and should be easily navigable in running shoes (Blake did it in flip flops). Car to base of climb: ~45 minutes.
TRL generally ascends the left side of the main face. To find the route, look for a ~60m long, left-facing corner and roof system starting about 55m off the ground. This is the route. There is a tatty old fixed line on the face, TRL is to the left of this.
P1:5.10-, 35m We climbed the first pitch of "Freedom or Death", and recommend it! It starts at a ledgy section of rock, maybe 10m to the right of a short RF corner. The first pitch has four bolts and ends at a set of chains. There is also a bolted lone that starts in the same spot and goes to the right, this probably takes you to the same spot, but I don't know anything about it.
Supplement the 4 bolts with some gear as you face climb on good little edges and flakes. This is a good warmup for the style of the route. Clip the first set of chains, and then move down and right 4m to another 2 bolt station and belay there.
P2: 5.11, 20m Move right off the anchor to a small RF corner through a low roof. Climb past a few pins, and then continue up the splitter into the large LF corner (mentioned above). Build a gear belay here.
P3: 5.11, 25m Ascend the obvious corner. Ignore the two-bolt station and line of bolts on the face to the left. The corner becomes a white, left-angling roof, and leads to a three-bolt belay stance.
P4: 5.10+, 20m Continue up the corner above, and then traverse left under the big roof. At the lip, step left out from the corner onto the face, and make some moves left past a pin, then up (you can clip a bolt here from "Freedom or Death"), and then quickly back right into the original corner system. Upon reentering the corner, move right again across a juggy flake to a 2-bolt belay ledge.
P3 and P4 can link, use runners well
Blake following the crux pitch.
P5: 5.12, 35m The original route went straight up the crack above the belay, and then eventually penji-ed rightwards. The free variation face climbs rightwards immediately past three bolts to a prominent LF corner system. Gain the corner and climb it, eventually passing 4 bolts (crux). The hard climbing is sustained and involved, and can be solved with good technique and creativity. This pitch ends at a 2-bolt belay stance. You can continue up another ~6m to a better stance and build a gear belay if you'd prefer.
Blake making the final reach on the crux pitch. This move is very span-dependent.
P6: 5.12-, 22m Up the corner, past 2 fixed heads and a small tree, to a double roof system. Do not undercling out left, but rather pull up and over the first roof. Clip a slew of fixed hardware (some good, some mank), and then commit to the burly second roof. Solid gear is available just above the lip, and is strenuous to place before pulling the crux. Continue up the crack to a small tree and many pins to belay.
P7: 5.9, 40m Up the corner, then step right when the crack steepens and banks left (fixed gear here). Follow this new crack system easily up and right to a large ledge, and then belay at 2 bolts on the right side of the ledge.
P8: 5.11+, 20m Ascend the less-than-vertical twin crack system off the ledge, passing some heads and a pin. The gear here is better than it appears from below. Once the climbing eases, you can move left onto an easy ramp system to avoid grass. The ramp rejoins the main crack shortly, and you can build a gear belay in the crack at a small stance just above.
P9: 5.10, 35m Up the corner. At the top, move right below a roof (past a small tree), and then up short RF corner to a large ledge (M&M Ledge). Build a belay here.
It's certainly possible to link 9&10, again use long runners. A 70m rope might be helpful so that you have extra rope on M&M ledge to position the belay.
P10: 5.7, 60m Move right on M&M to find a left-leaning, right-facing corner ramp system. Climb this, eventually gaining a blocky left-facing corner system (it's possible to face climb to the left of the blocky corner). Chimney past a protruding block to gain a comfy ledge.
P11 and on: 5.6, ~150m Follow the blocky (but surprisingly solid) crack corner system above, moving right to a 2-bolt station, and then across a slab up and right to more cracks that gain the North crest of the mountain. The climbing gets progressively easier at this point, so stop and unrope wherever you'd like. A bit more 3rd classing brings you to THE SUMMIT!
Chilling on the summit after our SEND!
And finally, here it is, the long awaited, much speculated over, highly regarded:
TOP TEN LONG GRANITE CLIMBS (from low-to-mid 5.12)
10. Hearts and Arrows, the Diamond on Long's Peak, Colorado
9. Let it Burn, Colchuck Balanced Rock, Washington
8. No Te Olvidaremos, Torre Principal, Frey, Argentina
7. The Rostrum (with Alien Finish), Yosemite Valley, California
6. University Wall, the Chief, Squamish
5. RNWF of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, California
4. Tague Yer Time, Black Canyon, Colorado
3. Thin Red Line, Liberty Bell, Washington
2. Romantic Warrior, the Needles, California
1. The Venturi Effect, Incredible Hulk, California
Top Photo: Garrett Grove cranking the excellent corner pitch of "The West Face of Colchuck Balanced Rock" (5.11-).
This Photo: Colchuck Lake, from the route.
Blake and Garrett approaching above Colchuck Lake.
I've climbed with many Washingtonians in the past few years, and would all probably tell me that I was spoiled on my first rock climb here in the Apple State. We climbed the above pictured West Face of CBR, and the rock was amazing!
The West Face is the original route on the face, and now goes free at 5.11, but there are scads of other good lines, many of which have been FAed in the past few years. And maybe some still juss a-wayten thar...
Near the summit of CBR, both Garrett and Blake ply their respective trades: Garrett shooting, Blake doing his patented rope-flip-coil-pose.
Speaking of good rock, if you are in the area, be sure to check out the new #9 route on my personal list of"TOP TEN LONG GRANITE ROUTES (from low-mid 5.12)": LET IT BURN
Me leading on the new #9. Garrett Grove Photo.
It's also on Colchuck Balanced Rock, just left of the West Face route. It was put up last year (!) by the local rock crushing crew, and it provides many hundreds of feet of granite bliss and full-face grins.
Here's a link to Blake post about this climb with topo and description.
Hanging on a ledge on North Early Winter Spire, Washington Pass. Garrett Grove Photo.
After more climbing and cragging in the Leavenworth area, and much good eating and drinking (peach whiskey, hard apple cider, heaps of flavorful local microbrews), Blake and I needed to "harden the F up".
So, we hiked 20 miles back into the Pasayten Wilderness in north-central Washington and spent a week exploring and putting up a new route on each of the three major faces in the area. Above is Amphitheater peak.
Huge thanks to the Mazamas Club of Portland, Oregon for some generous support that helped us to make this trip happen!
We still managed to eat well.
The 300m South face of Cathedral Peak. We climbed a new route on the right side of the main face, which we called "Last Rights" (the mountain has a Catholic naming theme, and we kept traversing right to avoid seamed out cracks). Again, check out Blake's blog for more photos and info from the new routes.
Blake pulling into a perfect splitter during our onsight FA of "Finger of Fatwa" (5.11, 175m) on Amphitheater Peak. (That peak had a Islamic naming theme, and the specific buttress is called the Middle Finger.)
Much to our surprise, we met a few other climbers up there. Not so surprising, Blake knew them. So I got to make new friends and share some whiskey, and we did a bit of cragging at the base of Amphitheater. "Finger of Fatwa" is the left leaning, left facing corner and roof system near the left edge of the cliff.
Blake checking out the Deacon from our bivy.
Blake about to hit a perfect hand crack on the 400m Northeast face of the Deacon.
The Deacon definitely provided my favorite of the route of the trip; we climbed the obvious "line of strength" up the middle of the face. Even still, the mountain threw us a few curveballs and there were some exciting leads to connect incipient or flared crack systems.
We ended up aiding one pitch, which appeared to be a totally closed seam from below. In reality, though, there were small RP placements and occasional fingerlocks under a layer of dirt and moss, and once we cleaned it out we rapped back down to redpoint the pitch at 5.11.
We called this route "The Heretic" (5.11, 400m).
This monstrosity is the giant, steep, and massively chossy East face of Tower Mountain. Located just north of the popular cragging at Washington Pass, this huge face had drawn the curiosity of Blake and fellow Washingtonian Sol Wertkin for quite a while, we the three of us kitted up to make an attempt.
After hiking in and bivying, we got to the face, realized it was riddled with orange streaks of kitty-litter/oatmeal decomposing grano-diorite. Still, we picked out the path that included the most good dark-colored rock and gave it an effort. My lead lasted maybe one hour, gained about 40', and actually included chunks of solid rock. But unfortunately the solid rock did not coincide with continuous cracks, and the bleak prospects above combined to cause us to BAIL!
So, if you have lots of time on your hands, don't mind a little grainy-ness here and there (and everywhere), maybe load up your compressor and hike out to Tower Mountain. It could be the Cerro Torre of the North!
No, there ain't nothing better than the summer in the Northwest. The weather has been immaculate, the food, beer, rock and friends have been plentiful, and the swimming holes can't be beat. If you don't mind long approaches and maybe a mosquito or two, pencil in some plans for next summer!
Coming up next, a description of the new #3 on my personal list of:
TOP TEN LONG GRANITE ROUTES (from low-mid 5.12)
My late summer roadtrip has officially commenced, I'm in Squamish, and everything is going swimmingly. The mellow feel of this self-proclaimed "Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada" is just the sort of atmosphere into which I can immerse myself, ignoring all outside happenings.
Good friends, new and old, are in residence in this centre of granite action, and much climbing, beer drinking, scrabble, shooting-of-the-shit, and all-around chilling has been enjoyed by all.
In Canada, by law, all signs must be printed in both English and French.
The view from our camp "down by the river". Kevin gives Bronson the layout of the Chief.
Cody, who I met back in Boulder in the Spring, is joining all the cool kids in Canada at the moment. Here, Cody, Loki, and Kathleen enjoy a post-cragging snack.
This and the rest of the photos are from yesterday, when Cody and I climbed until out eyes bugged out. Here, I'm following the first pitch of the famous University Wall. Cody put in an inspiring effort leading this wet, overhanging OW slot. Good on ya, buddy!
A bug-eyed view of town, from the Chief.
The Chief, from town. Both the U-wall and the Grand Wall climb up the first two thirds of the right side (and then traverse off a ledge).
Cody leading a stemming pitch high on U-wall. Lots of stemming on that route.
Finishing U-wall. We attempted a harder "variation" (actually the original aid line), the Shadows pitch (12d). Like a bi-polar supermodel, it drew me in with it's aesthetic perfection, and then denied me with it's fickle, ungrasp-able nature. Or something like that.
I fell many times on the ridiculous stemming pitch, and ended up pulling on gear. Other than that, I didn't fall all day (the rest of the route is 5.12a).
After ambling down the descent trail (which is awesome: wooden stairs and trail-marking reflectors, Thanks Canada!), we ate lunch in the parking lot and re-stoked. Here we are on the Grand Wall, with Cody leading the Split Pillar.
Cody starting up "Perry's Lieback" on the Grand Wall, as the evening light gets good. We ended up finishing the route in daylight and not even breaking out headlamps on the descent. We sent Apron Strings to the Grand (10 pitches, 5.11a A0) in a total of 2 hrs and 40 min, with no simuling. ----------------------------
Hopefully there'll be much more Canadian sending to come. Earlier in the trip, my friend Brad and I climbed "Alaska Highway", and I can't wait to get back there to finish the "Northern Lights" linkup of AK Highway to the Calling. Gotta keep the onsight rolling!
But first, I'm headed briefly back to the States to once again join Blake, Garrett et al in some North Cascades adventure. More to come!
It's a free music streaming site. It's super easy, the kind of thing seems to fulfill the best promises of the internet. If you haven't yet heard it, I recommend My Morning Jacket's excellent new album, "Circuital".
In Colorado in the summertime, the name of the game is elevation. Semper excelsius. In order to escape the constant heat of the plains, anyone with a day off and a working car will escape to the higher mountains and enter a idyllic world of clean air and cool temps. Starting early season at Independence Pass and Rock of Ages (see two posts below, the Wasp), I got my granite fix on solid single pitch rock. This season was one of the snowiest in recent years, as it was all across the Mountain West, so post-holing through waist deep snow, and trying to avoid waterfalls of run-off were necessary activities.
Rob Kepley on "Problem Child" (5.12b) at Independence Pass
Come the solstice, the ever-intense Colorado sunshine starts to do it's work and the snowpack shrinks visibly every day. Soon Mt. Evans is in, a road-served mini-alpine cragging area at 12-13k. I spent a crystal day cruising on the Black Wall with my good friend Zack Durbin.
The Local Fauna
Zack and I at a belay on "Good Evans" (5.10+)
A few days later, with local super-crusher Joe Mills, I rapped into the radical "P Wall". We ambled up "Rocky Mountain High" (3 pitches, 5.12), an enticing line featuring a steep and leaning dihedral, just the kind of climbing I can sink my teeth into. Check out Rob Pizem's site, or send me a message for more info on the P Wall. Joe found a project he could sink his iron-strong fingers into: a gorgeous, and severely overhanging, splitter finger crack. Though he just TRed on it, he though a mid 5.14 grade might be accurate. Good luck on that one, Joe!
Finally, as June gave way to July, all Front Range rock climbers started getting antsy and checking the weather forecast twice a day. The best climbing in the state was finally getting dry and warm, it was time to head to Rocky Mountain National Park!
Of course, Rock of Ages is in RMNP, and I'd been there a few times in May. But the real treasures of the park are at slightly higher elevations: the alpine big walls. Perfect granite abounds in the high valleys of "the Park", enticing otherwise-lazy climbers to set alarms for 2am, pre-load the coffee makers, and try and beat the monsoonal thunderstorms.
Storm clouds swirl over the Spearhead
At least that had been my tactic last year: making one-day, 20+ hour single day trips. This year, though, we got smart and just hiked in a massive load of food and gear to stay for a week. With 10 other like-minded granite connoisseurs, I hiked into RMNP's Glacier Gorge and spent 5 perfect days eating well, listening to music, playing "Alpine Scrabble", bouldering, and otherwise crushing the game of life. Of course, we climbed as well, both on Spearhead and Arrowhead.
Our 2-bdrm deeelux bivy cave, with a pretty bitchin backyard crag
Morning sun on the Spearhead
Zack and Keri approach up the snowfield
Graham and Lauryn on "The Barb" (5.10).
Graham gets aggro as the Alpine Scrabble game intensifies. If you own a scrabble set, you can make an Alpine scrabble set with all the normal letter pieces, plus a piece of blue foam for the board. Doubles as sleeping/sitting mat (but not during play).
Graham, Blake and I climbing as a team of three on "Airhead" (5.11+).
The week in Glacier Gorge was about as close to my vision of rock climber heaven as is possible on this earth. The weather provided a constant source of entertainment, making violent swings from morning sun, to midday hailstorms, to golden late afternoon bliss, to evening calm. A small herd of elk cows and their calves meandered about the "krummholtz" (German for "crooked wood", the mini versions of normal trees that grow just along the tree-line), and Ptarmigans (Alpine Chickens) dodged in and out of the rocks, tempting us with their slow reflexes.
The Glacier Gorge elk herd explore our camp
From a training perspective, the week up at 11k was just what my lungs needed. Everything was now in place to tackle the biggest and coolest objective in the Park: THE BIG D!
In the past few years I've climbed nearly all the "trade routes" on the Diamond, which are established free climbs from 5.10a to 5.12a, all located on the left, friendly, side of the massive cliff. The left side is graced by a multitude of splitter crack systems, immaculate golden granite, and plenty of holds. Routes like the Casual, Yellow Wall, D7, and Pervertical Sanctuary see over 90% of the climbing traffic on the Diamond for this reason.
Last season I attempted a route on the right side, the newly freed "Full House", with my friend Joel. Though we were excited about the possibility of adventure, we were disappointing to find less than stellar rock quality, and ended up bailing from about half-height. While on the route, though, we saw another party that had rapped in to a route in the center of the wall. We later found out they were Chris Weidner and Bruce Miller, and they were working on a new free route, Hearts and Arrows, which they later freed.
Still anxious to explore some less traveled terrain on the big D, I enlisted my friend Rob Kepley to go give it a shot. Leaving heinously early (2:30am!) from Boulder, we make the dark and winding drive quickly and were soon hiking rapidly uphill through the cool and crisp high country air. Reaching the base shortly after sunrise, we used Chris and Bruce's excellent topo to locate the line. After some wandering and wet early pitches, we reached the incredible crux crack system. Nearly bisecting the Diamond, the crux consists of twin parallel splitters, both providing hand and finger jams. A relentless 180' lead scaled the vertical wall, with not another soul in sight. Does climbing get any better!?!
Rob following the long crux lead on "Hearts and Arrows" (5.12b). Rob graciously let me lead every pitch, and I onsighted the route for it's second free ascent.
Impatient for more thin-air cranking, I eagerly agreed to join Joe Mills for another Diamond session two days later. We were psyched on "Eroica", but ended up bailing for less committing climbing on the left side when the line looked wet and the clouds threatened. We had a blast cruising around on the classics "Yellow Wall" (5.11a R) and "Ariana" (5.12a). We had been talking all day of trying a triple diamond day, and were half inclined to huck a lap on the Casual route after Ariana. We opted not to, though, mostly because we were making the rappels with two 70m ropes, which is a royal pain in the ass. And because I had a different sort of "triple" plans two days later.
I finished out "Diamond Week" with my mainstay partner in all thing pointless and adventurous: Blake Herrington. Intrigued by a linkup done by local badasses Kelly Cordes and Jonny Copp (RIP), we couldn't stop saying the words "Triple Lindy". Cordes and Copp devised a linkup of the three biggest rock faces in RMNP: the East face of Long's Peak, the Northeast Face of Cheifshead, and the East face of Mt. Alice. They christened it "The Triple Lindy", in honor of Rodney Dangerfeild and his futuristic, surely-impossible diving feat in the movie "Back to School".
They pulled off the Triple in just under 24 hours back in 2003, and it has remained one of the biggest climbing days ever accomplished in RMNP. Blake and I couldn't stop thinking, dreaming, and planning.
3am- We depart Blake's car in the Long's Peak trailhead. The near perfect weather forecast has drawn the hiking masses to the park on this Friday morning, and the lot is almost full! We are rolling out light, with just one 7om rope and a tiny backpack stuffed with snacks and jackets. My rack is still stashed up at the Diamond from the previous climb, so were able to take the ~5 mile trail at a blazing pace.
Blake approaching the Diamond
Reaching the cliff before dawn, we used rocks to chops steps up the icy snowfield to the base of "The Crack of Delight" (5.7, 3 pitches), a slightly more involved alternative to the normal fourth class "North Chimney" approach. We simuled the easy, wide, and wet crack and were soon soaking in the orange morning light on Broadway.
Our path up the Diamond would be "Pervertical Sanctuary", a classic 5.10+ up the left side. We simuled out a 100m pitch, and then I linked both 5.10 pitches into a mega 70m lead. We then traversed to the "Forrest Finish", a rarely-done wet and mungy crack system that's only appeal is ease of passage to the top of the wall.
We were startled by the massive and motley assortment of hikers on Long's broad summit, but we raced through the crowd and ran down the descent trail. We had planned to boot-ski down the Trough, a long couloir on the west face, but the sun had not yet softened it's icy surface, so skiing would surely turn into death sliding. So we walked down the talus, bummer.
The West face of Long's on the left, with the Trough visible (the big snowy coulior). The Spearhead is the pyramidal peak in the center right foreground, and the Cheifshead is out of the frame to the right.
Next up, we planned to make a minor detour from the original Cordes-Copp linkup. The Spearhead was sitting in front of us just begging to be climbed, so we obliged by rambling up "The Barb" (5.10). Though it ends well before the summit proper, we convinced ourselves to maintain "real mountain" standards and make the summit slog.
A creative traversing decent brought us to Cheifshead. Just last summer, Blake and his friends Graham and Joe put up a new route on the left side of the face, "Flight of the Kiwi" (5.10+). Since Blake knew it well, he tied in for the lead and cranked out the high-quality and sometimes runout pitches. Content with low-pressure following, I stayed in my approach shoes and enjoyed some of the most relaxing and fun climbing of the day.
Blake heading down off the Cheifshead summit with the big East face of Mt. Alice visible on the left.
Pretty flowers on Mt. Alice.
From the Cheifshead summit, we tried to memorize the terrain ahead: a beautiful grassy ridge wound to the south and connected with Mt. Alice. We romped along the ridge, glad to find flowing water and colorful wildflowers. After some fun snow sliding and not-so-fun snow traversing, we embarked up a long fourth class ramp to the base of the standard East Face route (5.8). I led a long simul pitch, and then tacked on two more pitches to top out the face, just as the sun set. For the fourth time that day, we slogged to a talus-pile summit, witnessing the final orange glow in the west. To the east, the lights of the Front Range cities glowed orange as well, and were punctuated by brilliant blasts of lightning, far enough away to be entertaining.
Summit #4, Mt. Alice
Here my memory gets hazy, as we hiked FOR EVER to get out of that valley. I think it was 8 miles back to the car, which we reached at 2:45 am, for a 23:45 roundtrip time. YEEEHAWW for the Three-and-a-half Lindy!
So where to now? CANADA! Yes, I'm leaving this week for the Great White North with all sorts of cool folks to climb with and big mountains to send. Check back soon!