Monday, July 25, 2011

Training, Dreaming, Doing

This is an attempt to make up for my recent dearth of content with an extended mega post. So before you go any further, open this website in another window:

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!