Thursday, December 16, 2010

What the Heck is a Grepon?

We had made plans to climb the Petit Grepon with a friend, Summer and her friend Julie. Summer joined us for our climb of Castleton Tower and was now back for more fun with the Smileys. Camping in Estes Park is a total nightmare, so the night after our Hallett Peak climb we went into stealth mode in a hotel parking lot.

Climbing Hallett was hardly what the doctor ordered to get rid of Janelle’s head cold. She was still congested the next morning, but hey, the sun was rising in a clear sky, and we had plans to keep. The Safeway donuts were still warm as we returned up the road to the same parking lot as the day before.

The hike in passed quickly, as we had friends to talk to. Its funny how you run out of things to talk about after five months in a van with the same person every waking hour, so the fresh topics were warmly welcomed.

The sky was blue as we approached the base of the climb and tried to figure out where the “real” start was. Often, simply finding the route is one of the hardest parts of these climbs. At the top of pitch one we felt the first raindrops, so we huddled into a small alcove, dawned the rain jackets, and proceeded to have a great time. Fifteen minutes later we were back at it, making our way up this amazing pinnacle. I led Julie and Janelle led Summer. Most of the pitches are pretty interesting, the climbing is varied, and the rock is not too loose. We dubbed Summer “camera girl” for the climb, and that was a real treat. That honkin’ camera takes great photos and video, but man, its heavy.

With a little route finding and a lot of laughs we were at the base of the final pitch, which is also the crux. At 5.7 it’s a pretty stiff 5.7 if you ask me. Maybe I didn’t see or use all the good holds, but it made me work. The 4 pitons you clip through the crux make it feel like you are sport-climbing. Sport-climbing on old pitons that is.

The summit is only about 20 x 10 feet wide. Summer threw a fit as I unroped to stand on the very top. I got a few quick photos and then tied back in to prepare for the descent. Dark clouds were moving over the mountains on the horizon, and we knew they could be carrying a fair share of lighting. Picking up the pace we began our descent.

The topo says, “Look for the hard to find rap anchors.” Well, turns out they were really really hard to find, cause we didn’t. I searched high and low on several ledges with no luck. That’s about the time it started raining.

On a sunny day we might have looked a little longer, but this was a cold rain, and we still had to get four people down at least three more rappels. So tied a cordellete around a small tree, Janelle backed it up I started descending another 200 feet. At the end of the rope I was looking at a fairly sheer wall with only a little alcove to get in. The rain was coming down now and the ropes were wet. The last thing I wanted to do was rap off the ends of my ropes, so with 10 feet of tails left, I pulled them up and tied the ends together. That gave me the confidence to lower further down and get into the alcove. With the winds and rain there was no way to communicate, so I just fed out as much slack as possible so the next person could rappel.

I began constructing another anchor while the girls rappelled. A few rocks came shooting down, but thankfully the wall was overhanging enough that I wouldn’t get hit. I was able to make the next anchor with two nuts side by side, clipped a non-locking biner through both wires and taped the gate shut (this is the poor mans locking carabiner).

Pulling the ropes is always a tense moment. If, when you pull the rope through the anchor that is now 200 feet above you, they get snagged on rocks or trees above it can be a real drag. We were all soaked to the bone at this point, as well as the rock, so climbing back up to retrieve a snagged rope would be grim.

We pulled the ropes, giving a huge rodeo whip right as they began to fall, and lucky the came all the way down to us. Now there was one more 200-foot rappel to get to the gulley below, I sent the girls down first. By the time it was mine turn, I had been standing on this tiny ledge for about an hour. Everything slows way down when you are cold and wet. I reached my shivering right hand back to my hip and unclipped my belay device, pulled up slack in the drenched ropes, and clipped in. One more double check and I started down.

The ropes were so wet at this point that as they ran through my belay device, it rung out the water from the ropes, completely soaking my crotch. That sucked. Nothing you could do about it. No matter how I squirmed in my harness the water just kept flowing, soaking the only dry part of my clothes. After pulling the ropes (with only a small snag), I waddled over to where the girls were trying to get out of the rain. Their efforts were unsuccessful.

The hike out warmed us up, and by the time we got back to the car we were laughing again. A dash of grandpa’s cough medicine and we were warm on the inside too.

Driving out of the Park our conversation was chalk-full of what we were going to eat, war stories of the day, and laughter. That is, until we saw flashing lights coming up fast on us. Busted. Apparently, Summer had not been playing within her lines, and the cop (surprising nice) wanted to make sure we weren’t some dirty hippie hawked up on booze and happy smoke. He thought we were high cause of all the laughing we were doing, but we assured him that we are about as square as they come, and he sent us on our way with a couple recommendations for dinner.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Adventure Climbing

We had been climbing for five months straight. After reading countless route descriptions and trip reports for all these climbs we were kinda over it. People spraying about how scary the crux was, or how run-out the 5.7 section is, or the most popular one; how the guidebook was so wrong that the author must be an idiot or something!

On routes that intimidate me I do my homework by making laminated printouts of the description, taking more gear then they call for, and making sure it’s all ready to go the night before the climb. After climbing in Alaska and Canada, Hallett Peak is not intimidating. I don’t write this out of arrogance, but rather to justify our procrastination. The morning of the climb, while driving to Rocky Mountain NP from a friend's house in Ft Collins, I surfed through and on my Smartphone, hastily looking for last minute route info. That is, until the nauseous feeling took over from looking at that stupid little screen while on a curvy road.

Arriving at the trailhead parking lot we went to work. After doing this numerous times we had the dance down pat. Janelle preps food in the front of the van while I prep gear in the back. Then I take the mostly full packs to Janelle who then tops them off with the food and water. We button up the van, and are off.

I figured we would just take a standard adventure climbing** rack:
-BD cams

-#00-#3, double of #.4-#3

-light set of nuts (approx. 8)

-6 quickdraws

-7 runners w/ a biner each

-3 lockers each

-ATC guide each

-one double length sling each

-one shared “cordellete”

-rescue gear (one prussik, one tibloc, small knife, bail biner)

-shoes, harness, helmet, chalk-bag

-5 pound SLR camera, extra card, charged battery

-Sterling 9.2 rope

-3 liters of water total

**adventure climbing: not knowing what you are getting yourself into due to poor preparation and planning.
Hoping that you will have the minerals to pull it off.

We chatted with the rangers, glanced at the map at the trailhead (rounding out our route planning), and headed up the trail towards Bear Lake. The miles passed quickly with light packs and a relatively flat trail. Getting up to the base of the route, it was evident where the rock fall happened a few years ago. It wiped out the bottom two pitches of the climb, which severely downgrades the route's appeal. We roped up to the right (uphill) of the rock fall area. Looking up, there wasn’t a clear line or any visible initiators of previous climbers, at least not visible from the ground. To make matters worse, the clouds to the west were getting darker. Do we stay or do we go? “We have come this far, why not just finish it.” was my thought. Janelle was hesitant, but put me on belay anyway.

I tied in and “adventure climbed” (see above) up the first pitch. One hundred feet off the ground we felt the first drops of rain. Janelle wasn’t into it. Not wanting to be on an unestablished route (in the rain, on the cold shady side of a rock face) she suggested we come back another day. I yelled down, "maybe it'll just blow over." I hate bailing. I hate it more than being wet and cold. But reluctantly, grumpily, I made a quick anchor and rappelled to the ground.

Current Situational Equation: Janelle hates to epic + Mark hates bailing = Mark turns into a spoiled 2nd grader and puts on his grumpy pants and makes Janelle feel like a failure. I really wanted to get the route done that day. “Summit or plummet baby!”

Bailing turned out to be a good call because only an hour after we bailed the thunderstorm unleashed a cold blowing rain. It would have really sucked to be on the face at that time.

My brother was getting married in Indiana and our flight left Denver the next day, so this climb would have to wait. "But what if even more of the route crumbles while we are gone?", I half-jokingly kidded Janelle. The wedding was a great rest from the mountains. Hanging out with friends and family and answering the much-asked question, “Why do you climb mountains anyway?” and “Your videos scare me, you be careful up there!”

One week later, with my brother on his honeymoon and a lot of concerned relatives telling me that we are in their prayers (for which we are thankful), we flew back to Colorado.

Things were going better during round two. We picked up where we left off. After traversing quite a bit to get back on the original route, it was smooth sailing from there. Aside from the fact that Janelle had picked up a yuk-bug in the Hoosier land making her nose a non-stop leaky faucet, and taking her normally superhuman strength down to a mere mortal level. So I was the “rope-gun” for the route (I led every pitch), which was fine as I truly enjoy guiding people up climbs.

Reaching the top of the route allowed us to get the full view of the pervasive forest fire smoke we had been smelling, and even tasting, since returning to Colorado. It was eerie knowing that through all the smoke people were loosing everything they own to the wild fires. “70 homes burnt!” the headlines read. Although I was thrilled to have another route under our belt, it was sobering to think about the people that had lost all their material possessions. It made me think about just how insignificant climbing really is….

…but it is still so freakin’ fun, I can’t wait to get my hands on rock again!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Adventure Triathlon: Canoe, Climb, Canoe

Mount Moran is one of the most prominent mountains in the Teton Range. It is a mammoth of a mountain, approachable only by hours of unpleasant bushwhacking. That is, unless, you have access to a canoe. Thanks to our friends at the local mountain guide service, we were making good time in their canoe.

This is our second time across Leigh Lake. The first time we ventured to the base of this route, dark clouds forced us to reluctantly turn around. It was the right decision, for a wall of water drenched us minutes before we reached the shore where our car was parked.

Now, a year later, we find ourselves paddling across this beautiful lake, this time with the hope of standing on the summit. Our permit was for campsite #14 on the West side of the lake. Upon arriving, we set up our tent, started a fire, had some dinner. When I went to put our food in the bear box I discovered someone’s food and clothes in the box! It made me feel a little like Goldilocks. Not wanting to explain ourselves to the unseen “three bears”, we packed everything into the canoe including an erected tent to port to the correct site. Turns out there are two sites, 14a and 14b. Comfortably in our proper site we went sleep early.

The hour approach to the base of the Direct South Buttress passed quickly the next morning. Beginning near a waterfall, we filled our bottles and were off.

Mark took the first pitch and I followed with our huge 5 pound SLR camera. It was an awkward off-width crack. The camera multiplied the weight and bulkiness of the backpack. I had to struggle my way up it. I was so mad at the camera for causing me to struggle up a seemingly easy pitch. “Informing” Mark of my distress did not go well. It turned into a heated discussion to the point were I just sat down, not wanting to continue. I was not interested in climbing with this partner anymore. This is where a climbing partner/spouse does not seem like the best idea. We sat for a while, questioning if we should continue on or not. We decided the mountain was just too exciting to let a little marital conflict slow us down. Hugs all around and we were on to the next pitch.

The route wanders up and left, then right, then up to a scary old bolt anchor at a hanging belay. Next was the much talked about “double-pendulum pitch”, which required that we swing from these 50 year old bolts making the anchor! It was my turn to lead, so I got to see if the bolts would hold. Making it through the pendulum, I reached a corner system of rock. The only weakness in the rock angles out and up around a overhang. This pitch goes at 5.12 or A1. By pulling on insecure pitons and a stopper one-fourth of the way in the rock I was able to slowly make upward progress. A fall would smash me into the left side of rock corner.

My senses were heightened; this was a no fall zone. One move up, one move back down, one move up, one move back down. Ok, time to commit. One move, two moves, three moves, sketchy pro, keep going, sketchy pro, another move, solid pro, YES! I’m safe. With hundreds of feet of air below me the exposure was incredible, and I had just passed through a personal climbing barrier. It was an incredible moment! Mark followed behind in style and we topped out on a ledge not knowing how much more mountain was in front of us. The steep south buttress had come to an end. To the best of our knowledge it was 4th and 5th class climbing to the summit.

At this point the, “choose your own adventure” climbing begins. We followed the amazing ridgeline up and around rock towers exposed gaps, and steep steps. After the ridgeline disappeared we scrambled up a gully to a high point were we hoped to get a better view of what was to come, just to find more and more mountain. The song lyrics running through my mind where, the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see, the other side of the mountain was all he could see, each time we crested a ridge line, only to discover more mountain. Darkness was closing in and we had to get to the top in the light so we could find the start of the descent. The last 2500 vertical feet of terrain allowed us to climb mostly un-roped, allowing us to move faster. Just before the top a steep wall confronted us that we didn’t feel safe climbing un-roped. Mark led what seemed to be an easy wall only to find it was very challenging. Got to love adventure climbing. The summit was finally in sight. As the sun was dropping below the horizon we scrambled up to the top with a feeling of pure joy.

The descent was also more involved than we anticipated. The evening closed on us with the light of a full moon. It was a beautiful night but the descent was unending. There were a few rappels, 200 feet of additional climbing up, and numerous cliff bands to avoid. Leigh Lake was like a distant mirage; we never seemed to be able to reach it. Finally, after hours we found ourselves on its shore. The only problem now was our canoe was on the shore about a mile away.

We had two choices. One, another hour of bushwhacking, or two, pull a Jack Sparrow and commandeer the canoe right in front of us that belonged to another climber. It was 1:30am, the water was still, moonlight illuminated the whole valley, let’s go for a boat ride. We “borrowed” the canoe, crossed the lake, tethered our canoe to the commandeered one, crossed back across the lake and returned the lender boat, trying to put everything back just they way we found it. We paddled back across the lake to our camp. 19 hours after we began, the climb was complete. Tasty bites combined with instant potatoes satisfied our bellies as we drifted off to sleep.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Grand Boob

In the Lakota language "Teton" means "breast". So from now on you will have to cock your head to the side, raise an eyebrow, and grimace like a 7th grader when someone asks you, "Have you seen the grand tetons yet?"

The Grand is the only mountain on the fifty classic climbs list that is graced with three "classic" routes up its flanks. There is no doubt this area is rich with history and this mountain is the crowning gem in the string of peaks that make up this amazing range. Some may think it is deserving of three classic routes, maybe even more. I am not one of those people.

We have yet to climb the North Ridge (which I hear is great), but after climbing the Direct Exum Ridge and the North Face I have to say that the North Face needs to be "Plutoed", aka demoted, from Steck & Roper's list.

It should be an automatic disqualification of classic status when one is required to climb up a 60 foot chimney where every inch is plastered with bat and bird crap! Thats right, its called the "guano chimney". Thankfully it was fairly dry when we were there, keeping the smell and slime factor relatively low.

The start of the route requires you to be in the blast zone. Rocks wiz down around you from over a thousand feet above. Helmet or not, if one of those catch you, it would be a closed-casket funeral for sure. There is also a slab pitch up higher. You clip the rope to a 40 year old angled piton, then climb diagonal and up for 40 feet across a slime covered slab that is wet from the perpetually melting snow patch above. So if you do slip near the top you are going for a tumbling, cheese-grating 80 footer.

Aside from that its a great route. Seriously though, climbing the North Face of the Grand is a great adventure. Similar, Im sure, to running an ultra marathon. No body likes actually running 100 miles in one day, but its cool to say you did it afterwards. The North Face is the same thing, only nobody really cares. Cause if the person you are bragging to has done the route they say, "why did you do that? didn't you read the route description?" If they have not done the route then they have no idea what your talking about and therefore no "cool points" are awarded.

The Direct Exum on the other hand is the North Face's polar opposite, both in aspect and quality. It is amazing from bottom to top. Great adventure climbing due to the many cracks you have to choose from, all leading eventually to the top. Its so cool. A must do. My recommendation is to avoid the Lower Saddle camping location and opt for the Petzoldt Caves. It does add an hour or two to your summit day, but then you dont have to carry your heavy backpack as far, and it is a lot less windy, complete with a natural spring 30 yards from the caves. Of course you do have to be okay with mice and chipmunks as roommates, but they are friendly, and don't snore.

The final tip for those of you that have your sights on the Grand is talk to the Exum guides for current conditions, beta, etc. Without exception these guys, and girls, are really nice, helpful, and very accomplished climbers.

We left after a 10 days in the area due to quickly deteriorating forecast. We will have to come back for the North Ridge, which Im excited about. Hopefully link it up with the Grand Traverse (climbing all the peaks in the range in one looong push). Before leaving we also climbed the Direct South Buttress of Mt Moran, which is next.....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Winds, Wyoming

As Lulu barreled down the 30 miles of wash-boarded dirt roads that access the trailhead to the south end of the Wind River Range Janelle and I took bets on how many cars would be in the parking lot. I put my money on 8 cars, Janelle went with a whopping 32. Our jaws went slack when we got our first view of the lot, over 100 vehicles packed like dust-covered sardines in this remote location in central Wyoming. Going with Price Is Right rules Janelle won. I tried to make the case that we both lost with weak mumblings about being too far off to really count.

My first thought was, “wow, this place must be really beautiful to attract so many.” That was followed shortly by, “oh crap, these climbs are going to be as crowded as Yosemite!” Janelle’s brother, Jeremy, was joining us for the weekend, and a party of three on rock routes added to the complexity of the adventure, especially if there were several others parties on route.

The 9+ mile hike into the Cirque of the Towers, up over Jackass Pass, is enough to make anyone’s brow glisten with a hint sweat. That didn’t bother us, we were pumped, the day was beautiful, the trail relatively flat, and we realize that the busy parking lot was the main jumping off point for many different outdoor enthusiasts, not just climbers. Rolling into our chosen campsite around 3:00PM we had a spectacular view of both classic climbs, the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head and the Northeast Face of Pingora.

As a climber, I cannot just look at rock of that high quality and not want to climb it…right now! So I wiped that drip of sweat off my brow and we rallied to climb Wolfs Head with the daylight we had left.

Our hearts started pumping as fast as they were climbing up and over Jackass Pass, only now it was from excitement as we approached the climb. We left the rope on the backpack and scrambled up the first several pitches. Some of the pitches made the hair on the back of my everything stand up. Watch the video for more on that. I was glad it wasn’t windy as we balanced on the foot wide plank of solid granite, with over 1000 foot sheer walls on either side. I felt like a little cat climbing along God’s rock fence, thousands of feet above the deep green alpine lakes.

Upon gaining the high ridge we had to negotiate a series of rock towers that were the final obstacle before the summit. There is not a great description of the climb in the guidebook, so we had to pick and choose which way around each tower we should go, north side or south side. On the first tower I chose the south side. I climbed along this ever-narrowing rock ledge. In the course of 15 feet this ledge shrunk from three feet wide to a mere six inches! At this point the ledge dropped off and created a gap about four feet wide. On the other side of the gap the route continued. How in the world was I going to get across this? After scratching my head for a while I got Janelle in a place that she could safely belay, wrapped all ten toes around the very edge of the rock, and let my body fall forward. After want seemed like an eternity my out stretched arms landed on the other wall. As looked down the gap, and realized that I was a Jackie-Chan-like-human-bridge over a thousand-foot drop. That is some exposure! I quickly found the right cam and hurriedly stuffed it in the closest crack, clipped in the rope, and hauled my carcass across the gap.

The rest of the climb had several other positions that made one think, “wow, that’s airy”. I loved it. It was far and away the best 5.6 route I’ve ever done. But don’t be fooled, this is old school 5.6. I have done 5.8’s that were easier…consider yourself warned.

The next day was beautiful as well so we shook out the lactic acid on the 30-minute approach to Pingora. This tower has a striking appearance. It is a perfect tower. As for what the tower is guarding, I have no idea.

Honestly, the climb itself is just another rock climb. It is cool, but after the exposure and awesomeness of Wolf’s Head, it was pretty hoe-hum. I don’t say this to insult Pingora, rather to further comment on just how cool Wolfs Head is. It’s a climb that should be on everyone’s list…even if you aren’t a climber. You should pick up the sport just so you can climb this mountain. Sure there are crowds of people on it, the mosquitoes could carry you away, and the hike in is forever, but man, want a cool experience that I want to relive at the drop of a hat.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Devils Tower & Hells Angels

One word: Sturgis. To anyone who has ever sat on a motorcycle that word brings to mind images of the biggest biker rally in the world. For the last 40 years, during the first two weeks of August, about 500,000 bike enthusiasts from all around the world turn this sleepy little town in NW South Dakota into a sea of black leather, tattoos, and every bike ever made, with the strongest presences being Harley-Davidson…of course.

As a climber I had never heard of this event, and was therefore oblivious to the rally’s schedule. Wednesday, Aug 11, was the day to ride to Devils Tower for a little sight seeing fun. August 11th was also the day the Smileys arrived on scene, being out-numbered by the bikers 50 to 1.

Approaching the Ranger Station to check it prior to climbing the Durrance route we walked slowly, taking it all in. A friendly guy, sporting a 12 inch fu manchu, filled us in on what was going on. Seeing our ropes he asked us,

Biker: “You gonna climb it?”

Smileys: “Yes”

Biker: “wooow, how long does it take?”

Smileys: “about half a day.”

Biker: “How do you get the rope up there?”

Smiley: “well, first………then……and that’s how you do it.”

Biker: “wow, man, that’s crazy, I don’t get why you would want to do that, but good luck man.”

This became the standard protocol series of questions during our two days at Devils Tower. We got asked them so much that we started being sarcastic, which went something like this when they saw us carrying our ropes:

Biker: “You gonna climb it?”

Smiley: “No man, I just carry this around to look cool…..Is it working?” As we continued walking with a stupid little grin on our face.

The Durrance Route is, in my opinion, the easiest route of the fifty. It took us a mere three hours round trip, and was a great break to the loose rock and chilly weather in the Canadian Rockies. There were two other parties on the route when we rolled up to the base at 11:30AM. The Rangers told us that the first group started at 6AM that morning, and in 6.5 hours had made it up only two pitches, and they were working on the third pitch! The other party was on pitch two and had been at it for 4 hours. We decided to give them a little more time and just watched from the hikers trail that loops around the tower.

We watched climbers, talked to the bikers, answered the same questions, and soaked up the sunrays as the air temp rose to 95 degrees. An hour later we made the short walk up to the base of the route and roped up. The rock was almost too hot to touch, and had we not just spent a month freezing our butts off in Canada we might have just retired to the shady East side of the tower, but to us the warm rays were welcome with a smile.

Linking up the first two pitches with a little simal-climbing brought us to the second belay anchors. At that belay we caught up to the lower party of two who had decided to bail due to their lack of water. They were new to the multi-pitch world, which prevented them from going higher/faster, but they were stoked regardless. It was refreshing to see someone so jazzed just because they out there climbing. To them, it didn’t matter that they didn’t touch the top. With a sincere and excited tone they wished us well as they began their descent.

Their energy was refreshing. Made me feel like this old crusty jaded climber, worried only about “how fast I could get the route done, and nobody better get in my way and slow me down.”

With this paradigm shift I climbed up the next pitch and encountered the next party, who had been on the route for about 8 hours. It was two teenage boys and their 66 year old dad. I constructed an anchor 10 feet higher than the bolted anchor and as I brought Janelle up I started chatting them up. Being low on energy and even lower on water it took a little time for them to start talking. It was their first multi-pitch route for the boys, and dad hadn’t climbed in years. I gave them all my water, encouraged them with a few helpful time-saving tips, and we kept moving.

We touched the top, and were back down an hour later. That evening, as we chatted with a couple other climbers in the near-by campground, the rumble of motorcycle engines died away, the silence was broken by distant calls to one another from the party of three still on the route. Come to find out the next day, they experienced the Durrance Route for 18.5 hours before making it down! It reminded me of when I was their age, learning how to climb, going big, getting “benighted” (when night falls while still on the route), having an epic, then going back to high school on Monday and telling everyone how sweet it was with the biggest smile on my face.

If those guys ever read this post, I really hope they are still stoked to get back out on the rock, try even bigger objectives, and not let a little severe dehydration get in their way of pursuing their passions.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

South Howser Tower

Out of the many climbing areas in Canada, I was most looking forward to climbing in the Bugaboos. Even if you don’t know anything about the area, the name alone makes you curious to know what its like. Many of my friends had visited, coming back with great stories of short approach alpine climbing on rock comparable to the granite in Squamish and the “good stuff” in the Tetons.

As we drove Lulu down the 26-mile wash-boarded dirt road, which takes you to the trailhead, my excitement level grew. Rounding a corner, at mile 25, the trees parted just enough to get our first look at the range. The granite towers were like hung fangs that shot out of the broken glacier, trying their hardest to bite high into the sky. The sun was casting its evening rays of orange and purple onto the surrounding clouds, it was amazing.

Upon reaching the parking lot your attention is grabbed immediately by the site of chicken wire fences around every automobile. The tops of these make-shift fences are held against the cars with three foot tall wooden posts and the bottom is kept against the ground with a softball sized rock every foot. All 35 of the vehicles in the lot were equipped with this accessory, and it looks truly bizarre. A psychology student could write their thesis on what goes through peoples’ minds when they see this scene. Even if you have no clue what purpose chicken wire serves, there is probably a 99% chance that you too will dig through the big bin of bundled wire, provided by the Provincial Park Service free of charge, and take the hour needed make your vehicle look like everyone else’s. I don’t know if the term used would be “group think” or “the power of suggestion”, regardless, everyone follows suit and fortifies their vehicle to mimic the rest.

The reason for the chicken wire fences is that back in the day, probably 20-30 years ago, hungry porcupines would crawl into the car engines and chew the hoses. I can just picture the look on his face when that first unlucky victim got back to their rig after a wonderful time of climbing to find fluids soaking the dirt under his engine and a fat porcupine running off into the brush sporting a radiator fluid stained beard. It was probably on the 26-mile walk back to civilization that those guys thought of the chicken wire solution. Since then, no one dares to be the one to “test” whether or not the porcupines have lost their taste for anti-freeze and rubber hoses.

With Lulu fortified, we hiked into the Applebee campground. This place is amazing. It did cost us $80 to stay for four nights but that includes pit toilets, running water, food boxes (to keep the chipmunks out), the nicest camp manager who provides the printed weather forecast every evening. That forecast called for clear blue skies the following day so we geared up for the larger of the two Classics we were there to climb, the Beckey-Chouinard Route on the South Howser Tower. We heard that three other parties had their sites on that route as well. Eight people on a 16-pitch climb can be a recipe for disaster, but we were willing to take that risk cause it could be weeks before we got a similar forecast. Janelle and I decided to do the start the climb from the campground, which would add a good 2-3 hours to the day. Our aversion to heavy backpacks made that decision easy. The other six people decided to make their summit day a little shorter by approaching the climb and bivying at the base of the route. The alarm went off at 2:00AM, and after hitting snooze twice we started moving.

The hike across the glacier went smoothly. Our time working on Mt Rainier has giving us a comfort for glacier travel, so we decided to do the entire thing in our tennis shoes, un-roped so we could move faster. Two and a half hours later we were at the base of the technical climbing. Two minutes after that the next party showed up, and ten minutes after that all eight of us were gearing up for this route. I took the lead and raced up the first pitch. We were moving as fast as possible, but next party caught up to us as Janelle led pitch two. No climber ever wants to get stuffed by another party, myself included, but these other guys were not only super friendly but were also really strong climbers. At the third belay ledge I offered them the option to pass us, but they declined. The six of us were moving pretty well, and the only bottleneck came at the two 5.10 crux pitches, which was expected. The last party, #7 & 8, slowly fell behind as the six of us progressed. The climbing itself was amazing. Every pitch called on a different style of climbing from ones climbing skills toolbox. From finger cracks, to off-width, chimneys to laybacks, stemming and face climbing, this route has got it all. On top of that every pitch is long and sustained from 5.7 to 5.10. You can’t ask for much more than that. To top it off the forecast was accurate, and we were making new friends as we ascended this amazing tower.

Traditionally, we save our sandwiches for the top, and have therefore been coined, “summit sandwiches”. These sandwiches are always the most desirable food in our packs. Like the carrot hanging in front of the mules nose, these sandwiches would motivate us to get to the top. After about 10 hours of climbing, our energy stores were depleted, so we broke tradition and ate them a pitch or two below the top. With boosted energy we finished that last bit of climbing and started down. The two parties below us quickly caught up as we searched for the second rappel station. Knowing that these guys where kind enough to let us stay in front the entire day, and the fact that it would take a while to get three separate parties down the eight rappels, we offered to join forces. They agreed, and we formed a chain ropes down the wall. Everyone doing their part to make it go as quickly as possible. We called it the Becky-Chouniard Rappel Highway. A couple hours later the six of us were back on the glacier, grinning from ear to ear. We had done it!

The next day we slept in. When I finally got up around 10:00AM, I walked over to the tent belonging to the last party on the route, guys #7 & 8, to see if they had made it back. You see, there have been several times early in my climbing career that I have been “benighted” (when you are still on a route, and the sun sets, and you had not planned on spending the night on the route), and I wondered if that happened to them. These guys were younger climbers and were relatively inexperienced to the majority of old crusty climbers that visit the Buggaboos. As I approached the tent I listened for any movement. Not hearing anything I unzipped the rain fly and looked in. They weren’t there. “Oh no” I thought as the image went through my head of those two guys hanging in their harnesses half way up the vertical wall, shivering to stay warm.

Dark clouds began to build that afternoon, and by 3:00 they unleashed. It rained for a solid hour, with periods of hail, and frequent claps of thunder. As Janelle and I sat in our warm dry tent, my thoughts were on those guys, and it made me grimace. Being out that long, you are definitely out of food, probably water too, and you are just over it. After the storm passed I started asking around if anyone had seen the guys yet. No one had. Naturally, everyone’s mind turned to their personal best “epic” story from their days in the mountains. “One time I had to go 24 hours with no water” and “My first time in Alaska I didn’t screw my water bottle shut all the way and it soaked my sleeping bag and parka at 17,000 feet”. Everyone had at least one story to share. It passed the time well.

Finally, at 8:30PM, 50 hours after they started the adventure, the two young climbers walked slowly into camp. Cheers came from everyone as they made their entrance, and before they could drop their backpacks we flooded them with questions. I will not recount their tale of torture, but I will mention a few of the phrases they used: “Rope snagged”, “just moved slower than we thought we would”, “Split the last pack of Gu for breakfast 12 hours ago”, “Four inches of hail”, “Slept in our harnesses on pitch 13”. We were all glad they made it back in one piece.

It rained for the next three days and so we left the Buggaboos without completing the NE Ridge on Bugaboo Spire. That means we will have to return next year, which is fine with me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What's That Buzzing Sound?

It is 6:30pm, we are hiding just below the summit ridge of Mt Temple. The charged atmosphere is causing my hair to stand up even thought it is damped from the unrelenting hail. Our ice axes, crampons, and all other metal objects, including my sterling silver earrings, are buzzing. The thunder started just as we overcame the crumbling black towers. The black towers were the final rock section before reaching the glacier. The rock below the towers was relatively solid but not the towers. The rock on these towers could be compared to fist-sized chunks of granola held together with saw dust, it just kept crumbing off under our hands and feet. We had to belay one another from protected stances, because as the leader climbed these chunks of rock would shower down the steep slopes.

The forecast was not ideal, but after days of looking at the forecast of rain to find each day bringing sunshine, we decided to gamble and attempt the 11,624 foot peak. It rained most of the evening and the morning was full of mist and fog. Most of the day we were climbing in a cloud, it was nice, it kept us cool. It would lift now and then to let us view the splendor of the valleys and lakes below and then quickly swallow us again. The first 2000 feet was easy forth-class scrambling. Then the wall steepened for 600 feet of the “big step” which lead into the chimney with two large chockstones, the highlight of the climbing. A few drops of rain dampened our clothes as we headed across the snow moat to the black towers. One point higher up on the ridge of the towers I glanced back down behind me and it was as if the ridge was cutting the sky one side was clear with view to the lake below and the other side was filled with a cloud.

After nearly 5000 feet of climbing, we topped out onto the final double-corniced ridge above the hanging glacier. This is when we first heard the thunder, but there was no retreating now as the decent route was up and over the top of the mountain. To return the way we came was not an option. We knew we were close to the summit but we could not see it. With a pressing sense of urgency we navigated the crevasses and ridge cornices. We strapped our crampons onto our approach shoes (light weight tennis/with rock shoe rubber) we choose these opposed to boots to save on weight. Coating them with a waterproofing product helped keep our feet dry until we were sinking up to our knees in hail/gropple/snow. Our feet were soon soaking wet. Under the gropple was a hard layer of ice, we were very happy to have brought crampons. Thunder again, “Move faster!” Going from one side of the cornices to the other depending on which was overhung. The clouds would go from white-out to slightly less white out to allow us to navigate. A summit flag…… and this brings us up and over to our hiding place. We set all metals objects away from us and decided to wait 10 minutes or so. We were just 40 feet below the summit still exposed and on a cliff. We need to get down lower. We decided to make the move; it had been a few minutes since the last clamp of thunder. We repacked our bags in lighting speed, and holding our ice axes by the rubber handles, instead of strapping them to our packs as lightning rods, we ran down the hikes trail at full speed. We must of dropped 2000 ft is less than 20 minuets. We were out of the cloud, what a relief!

Friday, August 13, 2010

How Light is Too Light

The lactic acid was flowing relentlessly in our legs after climbing Slesse as we made our way to the latest and greatest ski resort in BC, Revelstoke. This place is great! We concluded that we could move there if we ever have to flee the country for whatever reason.

Mt Sir Donald is located just up the road from here on Rogers Pass, the legendary backcountry ski destination. The terrain here is amazing, but we were here to climb, not ski. As we prepared for the climb in the parking lot we asked the question we seem to pose often, "how much crap do we need to carry for this climb?" Since we have been going non-stop since Rainier our time for doing research on each climb has severely dwindled. Do we need a 60 meter rope, or non at all? Is there a glacier to cross? Will it be steep? How long will it take? How much food? Is there water on route? Rappel the line or down climb? The answers to these question will dictate if our packs weigh 40lbs or 15lbs. The vote was unanimous, 15 lbs.

With a 30 meter rope, a double length sling and locking carabiner (lame substitute for a harness & belay device), and no rock protection we set out from the parking lot. Two climbers we pass on their way down told us, "oh yeah, you need a 60 meter rope and a set of cams and stoppers at least, and most people start at 4AM and it takes all day" (it was about 11:30AM then). Second guessing our choices had now begun. Approaching the base of the ridge was quite intimidating. This peak was like the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak, only 5 times longer, and 10-20 degrees steeper.

We decided to go unroped until we didnt feel comfortable. After 3 hours of climbing/scrambling we were at the top, with dark clouds over us and light gropple coming down. The gropple continued until there was a nice slick covering of ice on all the rocks we were down-climbing. The talking stopped as we fully directed our thoughts to each move. Thankfully the precipitation stopped and the sun came back out. The rest of the descent went off without a hitch and we were back to Lulu 10 hours after we began this adventure. The 15 pound packs were the perfect fit for that particular day.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Heading to "that big country above the US"

Eleven of the fifty classic climbs are in Canada. This year we are ambitiously gunning to climb seven on the list. The first being, Slesse Mountain via its NE Buttress. This buttress sweeps unbroken from its summit at 8,002 feet, dramatically to the Pocket Glacier 2,000 feet below.

This mountain is amazing! Our first view of the mountain made me think, "holy crap, we are going to go up all that! That's steep!" The trail gained elevation quickly and we were soon in snow at about 4,500'.

Crossing the Pocket Glacier was our first hurdle. In the past it has killed several climbers when huge chunks of ice broke loose and slid down the ball bearing gravel that covers the solid granite rock it sits on. We weaved our way quickly across its snow slopes to where the rock shoots steeply out of ice, the start of the NE Ridge. At the edge of the glacier there is a rock bench that you have walk across to access the ridge. Due to the snowy conditions the entrance to the bench was completely blocked. This forced us to rope up and climb wet sandy steep rock. The bigger problem was that there were two ice blocks the size of train cars, sitting on the bench directly above us, just waiting for gravity to overcome their melting bases, fall, and crush anything in its path.

I call this "high octane climbing". Thoughts raced through my head while I pulled the moves under those death blocks on sandy, wet, sloping rock: move fast, pray, feet hold on that dime sized edge, move faster, come on Mark, get up there faster. I got up past the blocks, built a quick anchor and belayed Janelle above the danger....ahhhh, relief. Now onto the fun part.

The rock on the ridge itself is great, we scrambled through several hundred feet of easy terrain, then roped up again for the harder parts. We decided to take the 5.10 variation, which was awesome climbing. Very intimidating to look up at that terrain, knowing you had to climb while wearing a big backpack. The small holds revealed themselves at just the right time and we were able to pull through it with no falls.

The large bivy ledge was covered almost completely with snow. We found a small dry patch of relatively flat rock and got out the sleeping bag (only save weight). The sunset was beautiful, what a great day.

The following morning we slept in til 8:00 when nature's call turned into natures scream. There were still about 5 pitches of climbing to get to the knife edge summit ridge. At the summit register, we were the first people to sign in since Sept '09. I guess most people wait for the Pocket Glacier to slide?

The descent was no fun at all. We dropped from the 8000' to 971' in less than 4 hours. On the horrifically steep trail we dropped 550' every ten minutes! Our knees were sore by the end of that adventure. So the next day we stopped at one of the many "you pick" fields in the area and filled our bellies with 10lbs of blueberries!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jungle Shwacking on Mt Shuksan

The climbers of the Pacific NW are a hearty bunch. Huge vertical relief, dense underbrush, long approaches and crappy weather are the ingredients that toughen their skin to the Dirty Harry level.

While doing our homework prior to attempting the Price Glacier route on Mt Shuksan we read, "follow the trail that parallels the Price Creek leading to Price Lake." In Colorado, when the guide books use the word trail, that naturally implies a 4 foot wide space, clear of all vegetation, well signed at any conceivable intersection where one might be required to make a route finding decision. If there is ever a section of trail that the rise-over-run ratio is out of code with OSHA standards, college "interns" are quickly recruited to make rock steps that bring it back into compliance.

Not the case in the North Cascades. The "trail" we used to get to Price Lake was nothing more than an occasional piece of neon ribbon tied to various tree branches. Making matters even more fun was the fact that we thought it would be cool to take our skis. This made us about two feet taller and three feet wider. Allowing us to move through the nasty thick underbrush like a dog trying to navigate through a canine obstacle course they show on ESPN2 , only its a wearing one of those dont-chew-your-new-stitches radar cones. It was three hours of awfulness. I wouldnt wish that on anyone.

First views of the route will make your stomach drop. The Price Glacier sits half way up the mountain, with cliffs above and below it. Thankfully, all mountains look steeper when viewing them from below. After our wonderful bivy on the glacier, we headed up the legendary Price. That part of the outing was really fun. It took three hours to get across and up to the Col. The especially wet Spring this year filled in the crevasses really nicely so we only encountered a handful of dicy crossings.

Scrambling up the loose rock summit ridge was pretty spicy, the way down was worse. We opted to leave the rope on the snow because we are just that cool. Coolness doesnt help the rock stay in place though. We pulled through regardless and topped out in a cloud.

Now it was time to ski! Our jungle shwacking sorrows were far from our minds as we began to make turns down the West side of the mountain. At about 6000 feet we came to the ridge where you are suppose to drop down to the South side of the mountain. Two climbers that had just come up the White Salmon Glacier very exuberantly told us that we would have no problem going the way they came up and then traverse across on "perfect snow benches that drop you right into the White Salmon Ski Resort". I should have known better, especially after redefining what "trail" means. The "perfect snow benches" turned out to be a horrific series of cliffs and valleys with death-fall potential. It added a good number of hours to the day.

We arrived back to the road and thumbed our way back to Lulu, where she released her bounty of beverages, chips and salsa...our cares were no more. That night as I noticed my skin felt just a little tougher than before our little Shuksan adventure.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Liberty Bell on Independence Day

We thought it would be a great idea to climb Liberty Bell on Independence Day. July 4th dawned a cloudy day, but we went for the crack regardless, hoping it would clear. We climbed the first pitch and the clouds rose up from below us and the temperatures dropped. It was not the best day for a 1200 foot tower. So we rappelled down and went to Winthrop to catch the fireworks and thaw our frozen toes.

July 5th: Sunshine! Let’s try again. Three pitches up the sun disappeared, temps dropped, and I wished I had down booties. We fixed two 60 meter ropes to the wall so we could ascend them quickly the following day.

July 6th: The weather guys are calling for higher temps and sunny. We’re ready to get this climb done! Early morning we again hiked up the now familiar trail to the base of the climb, we jugged up the fixed ropes and starting rock climbing. It was warm, we were happy climbers. The white granite felt amazing as we ascended the eight beautiful pitches. After nine hours of climbing we were sitting on the summit in our tee-shirts admiring the beauty of the North Cascades. We rapped down the route we climbed. The top few pitches were a little unnerving to rappel off, for they were high angle traversing pitches that could very likely snag our ropes. Thankfully, ropes came down cleanly and we landed back on the ground just 12 hours later. We walked back down to the car with the satisfaction of the completed climb.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Climbing Big Snowy

It had been three years since guiding on Mt Rainier. This was plenty of time to forget how stinkin' huge it is. Janelle and I have a combined total of nearly 100 trips up this mountain during our tenure working for RMI. Two other climbers with plenty of Rainier experience as well were joining us for the climb, Justin and Matt. They had climbed the mountain three other times and were eager to try a harder route.

During the approach our packs felt lighter, largely due to the perfect weather we were being blessed with, and the perfect forecast for the next two days. Unlike many other trips to the top of Rainier, crappy weather would not be an issue.

We took four days of food and fuel with us. We were hoping to do it in three, which turned out to be the case, and it looked something like this:
June 25: Checked in at the Ranger station around noon to get permits and ask for beta about the current route conditions. From there we started the 4.5 mile hike to the Winthrop glacier (7,500') from the White River Campground (4,400 feet).
June 26: Woke up at 2:00AM to maximize the time that the snow would be hard/frozen prior to the sun making it mushy and difficult to hike on. Took about seven hours to cross the Winthrop and Carbon Glaciers and ascend the 45 degree slope to Thumb Rock (10,450 feet). We quickly set up the tent and fell asleep to the sound of rock fall ripping down the Willis Wall.
June 27: Woke up at midnight, and started up the meat of the climb. We had a lot of steep ground to cover in that day. The only down side to the perfect warm days is that the snow did not freeze during the night which forced us to do a lot of wallowing through breakable crust snow....which is horribly slow and has a knack for zapping ones energy. Do to all the snow we only had one ice section, which we pitched out, the rest of the time we simal-climbed. This was a great time saver. We topped out around 9:50AM, after eight long hours of climbing. The wind was hallowing on top so after a few quick summit shots we began the 10,000 foot descent back to the parking lot. Lulu was a sight for sore eyes, and feet. The chips and salsa were quickly broken into and finished off with style.

Technical Equipment Used:
-one Sterling 7.7mm 70m Ice Thong rope
-one Black Diamond 16cm ice screw
-pair of Petzl Quark ice tools
-pair of Petzl Dartwin crampons
-several Sterling single length slings
(no pickets were used, but we had two just in case)

Check out more info and the video:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Castleton Tower

Lulu’s odometer read 20,320 miles, the exact same elevation as Denali, as we rolled out of Ouray in route to Moab, UT (ok, so it was really about 50 miles off that). The day before the climb we met our friend from Crested Butte, Summer Ruckman, at the Potash Road campground. After eating dinner in town, we drove out to the camping area at the Castleton Tower Trailhead. The parking lot was very full, so the first thought was, “nooo, this route is going to be so crowded.” As we hiked to the base of the tower following morning our fears were put to rest. The other campers in the parking lot had either left, were climbing other routes or had gotten up hours before us and were already high on the route.

While roping up we got to enjoy moans of pain and agony as a guy on pitch 3 struggled through the crux of the route, a 15 inch crack that you must either squeeze up or brave a difficult lay-back on the outside of the crack. It was a good five minutes of cheap entertainment. Since I had already climbed the route I asked Janelle if she would like to lead the crux. She was all about it, so she took pitch one and three and I had two and four. The climb went very smoothly. No falls, great weather, and everyone above us moved quickly so we didn’t have to wait. Summer did great as well, and was able to get some awesome footage of the experience. We hung out on top of the pillar for about an hour until the dark clouds coming from the South started growing. Two, 190 foot rappels got us back to the ground, and hour after that we were enjoying cold drinks in the park lot. Enjoy the video of the experience. Click Here to see the video.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Big Move

Our last week in Crested Butte was a whirl-wind of packing craziness. We were moving from our small rental house into our Dodge Sprinter camper van, named Lulu. As we packed I had to keep reminding myself to not take for granted the fact that few women would ever “live in a van down by the river” and Janelle was actually excited about it.

The piles of stuff grew as we prepped for the big move. They were labeled; Alaska, Peru, van supplies, storage, sell, give away, burn. I must admit, looking across the sea of ice tools, backpacks, ropes, clothes, electronics, and rock gear made it difficult to conceptualize how we were going to get all that crap into a van. We loaded it all in a borrowed F-150 and headed to Ouray to wake up Lulu from her winter hibernation, and to put the finishing touches to make her our home for the next seven months. With my father-in-laws help we were able to get the van ready the following week. We are going to submit a video of Lulu to MTV Cribs.