Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Spaceshot 5.7 C2 - Zion National Park

I headed to Zion National Park with Tom Kavanaugh for the Thanksgiving weekend to climb Spaceshot. My first big wall lead. A big wall is any wall that is over 1000 feet high, requires aid technique, is vertical or overhanging and requires overnight bivy(s).

Climbed the first two pitches of Organasm 5.8 C2 on Friday to warm up, and just to see if I still remembered how to aid climb. That second pitch is sick, an overhanging crack overhang to a giant 20 foot roof.

When we were on Organism we heard a very sharp loud crack/bang -- which we thought was rockfall. But actually a woman had fallen from the Angels Landing hiker trail right down the line of Prodigal Son and just around the corner out of site from us. That's the second fall from that trail since August.

We got on Spaceshot 5.7 C2, Saturday morning at dawn with no traffic and supplied for two bivys if needed. Free climbed and hauled to the ledge at the top of pitch 3 by 11:30. We hauled about 25 feet up pitch 1 and left the bag on the right side of the tower. From there it was an easy 50m haul straight up to the top of pitch 2. On pitch 3 we climbed the flared chimney straight up rather than going out right. Hauled straight up the wall just to the right of the climbing.

We ate lunch and started up the bolt ladder on pitch 4. I had to do a hook move once and get in my 5th step once to reach the bolts. The C2 section above the bolt ladder was C2 trial by fire. I did a move on a tiny HB. (I was up to my 4th step on almost every piece I placed on the entire route.) Above that I did a move on a fixed DMM yellow offset, and was in the third step when it popped sending me for about a 30 foot upside down backward whipper. Didn't hurt much and I was not really freaked out. I just got back on it. A little higher I came to a section with only flaring pockets and a minute seam. I worked for 20 minutes from my 4th step to find a solution; nuts, cams, etc. Then I got out my nut tool and started cleaning sand out of the seam and it caught on a lip, so I jammed it in there like a bird beak and did a move on it, and it felt bomber. Then I was in my third step on the nut tool and I had placed a nut above that. As I transferred my weight the piece popped and I took a 10 foot fall onto my daisy onto the nut tool. It frickin' held, although it moved a few centimeters. So I got back on it quick because I needed to get through this section. The next placement held and I pulled through. So I got to the anchor at 4:30, 3 hours on the pitch. We were a little behind schedule as we had intended to fix to the top of pitch 5 that day.

Tom jummared and cleaned and we decided to continue to the intermediate belay on pitch 5. The climbing is C1 below and C2 above that anchor. Tom put me on belay and I took off. About half way to the intermediate belay I fired up my head lamp and continued in the dark with no problems. We fixed the lines and arrived back at the pitch 3 ledge about 7:30pm feeling pretty good about our progress. We ate and basked in the glory of those giant walls in the near full moonlight.

On Sunday we got up at dawn, got it together and started jummaring about 8am. I jummared to the top of pitch 4 and did the haul. Then Tom joined me there. I jummared to the half way point of pitch 5 and went on lead. The first moves were tensioning right to a bolt, and then up to a drilled piton, then up into the C2 section.

I placed some good nuts and a bomber #2 cam in a pocket, which is good because the next piece popped on me twice. You know "crack" and the floor drops out. First I placed an HB in above the yellow cam, tested it and climbed to the fourth step in my aider. It broke the rock as I was placing the next piece and "surprise". Next I put a yellow DMM offset in the same spot and this seemed bomber too. As I got up into the fourth step it started to move so I said to Tom "I think I'm about to take another ride", and sure enough, surprise. These were just clean falls maybe twenty feet with rope stretch onto the yellow cam. Then I placed a HB turned sideways in the same spot and passed that crux. I took another fall higher up on the pitch when a black DMM offset popped on me. Those aluminum DMM offsets just don't grip very well in the sandstone. 5 falls in all on the route. I think these are good for me to teach me that the rope will catch me, but they still rattle you a bit and make you suspicious of everything.

I finished the pitch 5, and did the haul as Tom jummared and cleaned. It was now about 11:30am. It took me about 3 hours on C2 on the route including the haul, and about 2 hours on C1. I am somewhat novice at the advanced placements and a bit out of shape and hung on my daisies more than ideal. I pulled in my adjustable daisies every time to get up to the fourth step, so I had to stop and extend them each time too. I was on two Misty Mountain ladders and I wonder if Black Diamond aiders would be faster because they don't constrict the steps above when you stand in them. I think with some practice and some gear adjustments I can double my speed, which I think will bring me into more of an El Cap ability range.

The next 2 pitches to Earth Orbit Ledge were uneventful C1 with bomber placements. Pitch 6 took more .75 Camalots than anything else and pitch 7 took many yellows. I arrived at the ledge about 4pm. I did the haul from cam placements in a crack all the way on climbers left on the ledge. Right about that time, our friends Matt Pickren and his buddies from Durango showed up just off of Issac, Tricks of the Tramp 5.10+ C2, to see how we were doing. I yelled down that we were a "a ok" but would bivy up top tonight. They pulled out chairs and watched the haul.

We spent the night on Earth Orbit Ledge. Even though the ledge is slopping and uncomfortable I decided it was best to stay here rather than push to the top as it was getting dark.

The descent in the dark was out of the question although after doing it I don't think it would be hard in the dark assuming your ropes don't get stuck or something retarded like that. I was tired and mentally ready to call it a day.

We watched the sun set from our amazing perch. We ate well and drank well. We entertained ourselves by putting mouse bait next to the edge and trying to sweep the mice over. Couldn't kill a single one.

The next day we did the big air bolt ladder on pitch 8. I placed an HB to reach the second bolt. We topped out by 10am and were back on the ground in 5 raps by 12:30pm. I took a shower in the spring at the base of the rappels and that felt good.

I feel good about my preparation for the climb. I chose the climb because it had that upper ledge for a second bivy. And we were prepared for that. We made no major mistakes, and generally speaking worked together in a smart and efficient manner, although I was pretty slow on lead.

We underestimated the amount of water we needed only taking a gallon each. There was a 3/4 of a gallon at the top of pitch 3 and several quarts at the top, so we were ok in that regard too.

I'm not sure that I like aid climbing in the desert. I think I will do it again, but Zion has a sort of dark and spooky aura. And when you are on Sandstone there is always an underlying fear about your safety which I didn't feel on El Cap. I definitely look forward to more aid climbing on granite. Thanks for reading. Vids here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

El Cap Zodiac Wall

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I was offered a chance to climb El Cap with Ben from Oregon, a pretty good offer considering all the preparations were made and all the gear was already at the base. Zodiac is on the far right side of El Cap, a shorter route at 16 pitches but very vertical and technical at C3+ A2. I bivyed in Ben's campsite at the Pines and we left the next morning to get on the wall. Ben had the first pitch fixed so all I had to do was jummar up and I was hanging on El Cap. We made slow but steady progress up the Zodiac over the next 6 days moving at the rate of 2 to 3 pitches a day.

Above The Mark of Zorro - Photo: Tom Evans - ElCapReport.com
On a typical day we would awake about 6 and spend about two hours preparing to climb. This included storing the portaledge, eating breakfast (sweet rolls, nuts and dried fruit), taking a crap and getting the gear reracked.

Black Tower Pitch - Photo: Tom Evans - ElCapReport.com

Ben Leading the Nipple Pitch - Photo: Tom Evans - ElCapReport.com
Most days Ben would take the lead and I would spend two or three hours in a belay seat belaying and organizing ropes and gear, and just enjoying the magnificent surroundings, the wall in front of me, the Cathedral Rocks opposite and the busy valley.

Stuart at the Belay - Photo: Tom Evans - ElCapReport.com
Once at the anchors Bern would haul the bags and I would jummar up the ropes removing the gear and pitons. Usually around dusk we would finish up, deploy the portaledge, have our dinner (cashews, fish and dinner rolls and snickers for desert) and go to sleep about 10.
I lead the 4 C1 pitches on the route so I did all the leading and hauling as we moved through pitches 4-6 on Day 2. The leads included several bolt ladders, hooking through a traverse and an interesting inverted cam hook move. On day 6 I got to lead pitch 14 above Peanut Ledge which is an 80' 4.5" vertical crack followed by airy moves out over a roof to the belay. I walked three cams as I aided over a 50' section of the crack.

Stuart Leading the Pitch Above Peanut Ledge - Photo: Tom Evans - ElCapReport.com
On Day 3 as Ben was leading up an overhanging pitch in the gray circle a massive thunderstorm rolled through the valley. Sheets of rain and hail closed in from the direction of Half Dome. Amazing in this overhanging section we were completely protected by the wall and unaffected as climbers on the Nose dived for cover. Horsetail falls 100 yards to my right turned into a flash flood pouring off the top of El Cap. Pretty exciting. That night at dusk a massive rock came off the top of the Nose and plunged loudly through the air to shatter 3000 feet below.
On Day 6 we topped out in the afternoon, organized the gear, hung the portaledge from a tree and bivyed before the heinous descent to come the next day. Getting off El Cap is the worst part of climbing it. You have to scramble down steep class 3 and 4 terrain, bushwack and rappel all with huge. top heavy haul bags on your bag. The descent took us 5 hours and was the hardest day of the climb. When we reached the bottom Ben's mom was there waiting for us with pizza, beer and water. Thanks Becky!
Thanks Ben for taking me with you on this awesome journey. Thanks for your guidance, friendship and patience. This was an amazing opportunity for me to put it all together. And now I am ready to go again. Perhaps in the fall with Rudy McIntire.
Our climb was captured and documented by Tom Evans on the El Cap Report so if you want to see that just go to ElCapReport.com and check out the posts from May 16 to 21. Thanks Tom for letting me use your pics on my site.

Friday, May 15, 2009

NE Buttress of Higher Cathedral

A week ago Friday I climbed the NE Buttress on Higher Cathedral with Robert from Poland. We ascended the 11 pitch 5.9 route in 8 hours thanks to Robert's brilliant leads on sustained 5.9 cracks and chimneys.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009


The next day I climbed Kor-Beck 5.9, 6 pitches on Middle Cathedral with Brian from Hawaii. Only three stars and a bit manky but a Yosemite classic regardless.
On my way back to Camp 4 I saw some people setting up a slack line so I decided to go check them out and see if I could make some friends. Well it turned out to be the same group that had set up the slackline at the top of Yosemite Falls the other day but this time the slackline was only 15' off the ground but 800' long. The dude was going for the world record. I jumped right in helping to tension the line which involves using a pully system and 6 guys to tighten it to about 3000 pounds.

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Unfortunately the dude wasn't able to walk the line very far because the wind made the center wag up and down about 10', but I made some nice connections with the guys and girl there including reconnecting with Phin whom I had met last winter in Ouray.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lost Arrow Spire

Next on our agenda - The Lost Arrow Spire, a 300 foot spire that sits at the top of the wall just below Yosemite Point and to the right of Yosemite Falls, 2500 feet above the valley floor. To climb the spire you hike up the tourist trail to the top of Yosemite Falls, rappel into the notch between the spire and the rim on two ropes fixed on the rim. Then you climb two pitches to the spire tip trailing the fixed ropes. To get back to the rim you have to fix the trailing ropes to the spire tip and do a Tyrolian traverse back to the rim.
Our plan was to do the 2800' hike/climb Friday evening, bivy at the top, and climb Sunday. We packed our gear and headed up the trail an hour before dusk.
The Spire is directly above Rudy's head in this pic.

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As we climbed past the upper falls the sun went down and a full moon rose over the southern horizon. There was enough light from the moon to climb without a headlamp. We met some guys who had been walking a slack line that day across the top of the falls. At the top we dropped our packs and detoured to the upper falls overlook to look straight down on the falls. The wind was howling at about 40mph, just a taste of what we might be in for the next day. We made camp a few hundred yards back from the rim and Rudy and Scott went to bed. I walked over to the rim in the moonlight to get a look at the spire. From Yosemite Point I caught a glimpse of the spire below. It was terrifying to look at, lower and further away from the rim than I had expected, glowing in the moonlight in the howling wind.
The next morning we fixed our rope and rapped into the notch. After stepping out left onto the exposed face Rudy performed a bold and powerful free lead on the first pitch up to the Salathe ledge which included a 10a fist jam into a 9 off width. I tried to free the pitch but grabbed for my aiders almost immediately. I took the clean aid lead on the second pitch stepping off the ledge left I traversed left on some tricky placements and then straight up on bolts 120' to the spire tip. What a rush. I got to sit alone on the tip for thirty minutes while the other guys jugged. I was thew first on tyrolian and to scoot off the spire tip onto a rope took everything I had - but once in md-air it felt just fine. Amazing climb.
Scott on Tyrolian in this pic.

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Rudy told me he wants to learn to aid climb after doing the spire and we have said we will train this summer and return in the fall to climb El Cap.
Scott left Sunday morning and Rudy and I went cragging at the base of El Cap. The highlight of the day was Sacherer Cracker, a five star 10.a crack.
Sunday night Rudy left so I set out to make new friends. One thin g that's great about the Yosemite climbing community is a real friendliness and many opportunities to meet new partners.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Central Pillar of Frenzy

Friday morning I headed out with Rudy to climb the Central Pillar of Frenzy 5.9 on Middle Cathedral Rock - an imposing crack climb directly up the NE face.

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I wasn't sure how I would do on the 5.9 finger crack on pitch 2 but I found that I can climb those better than the wider fist jams up higher. We completed the climb before noon and headed back to camp.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Climb ON

Yesterday we climbed Nutcracker which was my first ever Yosemite climb last year. It was really cool to lead with ease the 5.8 pitches that I struggled with as a second last year.

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Then we took a ride up to Glacier Point which is an overlook a few thousand feet above the valley floor -- stunning views of Half Dome and all the high peaks in the distance.
Today we got up early to climb Braille Book on the Higher Cathedral Rock -- 6 pitches of very vertical sustained 5.8 stemming in a book and climbing on jugs.
Tonight Rudy McIntire joined us in the Valley and we will climb even harder now.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Alcove Swing

Yesterday was a rest day because of the rain during the night and because Scott wanted to hike to Nevada Falls - we went our separate ways in the morning.
I stopped by the mountaineering store and found out that the HB Offsets are supposed to arrive any day now - I left my number.
I headed back to Camp 4 to put on some shorts and witnessed an eviction ala Pinkie the Ranger. I trolled the boulder fields and met some cool Germans from the Munich area and a group of guys from Portland.

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I went over to El Cap to retrieve my sunglasses that I had left at the base of Pacific Ocean Wall and ran into three guys swinging in the Alcove. One of the dudes loaned me his harness and I took a ride. I did a bout ten swings and i was super fun. Videos of the swing here.
I returned to Camp 4 and met the two new guys in our Campsite -- Andrew and Ben from Tasmania. Super friendly - hope I get to climb with them.
Slept well last night.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Day One

I am sitting in the cafeteria at Yosemite lodge Larry and Harry from Long Beach, Phillip from Heidleberg and Scott.
I am enjoying my second breakfast of V8 and Red Bull -- one can of each. I had green tea and frosted mini wheats in Camp 4 as it awoke this morning.
For dinner last night Scott ate canned baked beans with potted meat and mashed potatoes -- what is potted meat? -- he said that the potted meat sort of dissolved into the beans. I ate Velveta shells and cheese with canned tuna and canned peas -- yummy! For lunch I ate one peanut butter sandwich and one sandwich made with Pecorino Romano and Yard of Beef -- Yard of Beef is a giant summer sausage that I got at Sam's Club for five bucks -- I expect it to last the entire month.
Sunday and Monday nights we slept at Camp 4 in our Coleman tent mansion -- its 9 ft x 14 ft with plenty of room for guests. I am on a queen size Coleman inflatable bed with I blew up myself -- took about thirty minutes but I saved twenty bucks.
Monday we climbed M Bishops Terrace 5.8 200ft - awesome 5 star crack climb. We continued up a short pitch to the actual Bishop's Terrace, a giant sloping ledge, and lolled in the sunshine.

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Next we climbed Church Bowl Layback 5.8. Scott led with good style, but took a twenty foot whipper doing a finger layback on wet rock -- he fell on my yellow c3. He thanked me for saving his life -- I told him no problem. As Scott set the anchor a bear ran by and scared a group of school kids -- running and screaming.
In the afternoon we decided to practice some aid climbing. So I packed up a haul bag, drank some green tea, put on some house music and we drove to El Cap. We hiked in past the Nose and up the the south-east face to the start of the Pacific Ocean Wall.

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We saw a bear in woods so we detoured around. I geared up while Scott went on a booty hunt. I led the first pitch of Pacific Ocean Wall, C1 or 5.11c, a vertical crack, in a hour and a half -- not bad. Scott dozed in the camp chair he carried in -- me on a Cinch. So I have led my first pitch of aid on El Cap. Yeah!!

Land of Giants

Last night we bivyed at a KOA plopped in an industrial park at the edge of Fresno -- an acquired taste. We stopped at Walmart in Fresno to buy white t-shirts and return broken sunglasses. Scott bought me a pair of children's pink arm swimming floatys -- I thought it was a nice gesture but I'm not sure what he is implying by the pink color. Thanks Scott.
We arrived at Yosemite about noon time, with Pete Seeger on the radio, along with low clouds and some rain.

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We hiked a 2 mile loop through the Maripose Sequoia Grove and saw a 3000 year old tree called Grizzly and the then made for the valley. Entering the Valley is a spiritual experience -- as before I was overwhelmed with beauty and joy to be back -- the great stone giants shrouded and glistening welcomed me home.

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It rained here all last week and with the snow melt the Merced River is running high and the waterfalls are super fat. The valley is lush and green and wet, and Camp 4 is drenched. But the rain is ending and we expect the month of May to be nothing but sun and blue skies.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Red Rocks

We are driving in the Mohave desert of California on our way to Yosemite Valley.
Slept under the stars last night at Red Rocks, Nevada -- after a long day of driving and little sleep the night before. Rose at dawn to go climb and made our approach to Oak Creek Canyon, Solar Slab area.

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We arrived to the climb just behind another party -- city boys -- clearly a slow party. I said a few words to Scott about how his slowness this morning had cost us the route and then we had a good fight which brought us right back into balance and mutual respect.
Climbed Johnny Vegas 5.7, a five star classic (see twitter updates for comments from the climb and pics) -- I personally don't find anything rated 5.6 to be "classic" -- too easy. We don't recommend the climb Parchment to the left -- there is a hornet's nest in the crack at the base and they stung me twice. All good, but I broke another pair of Walmart sunglasses. Fashion tip: Go to Walmart and buy the big "ladies" sunglasses -- they are huge and 100%uv for ten bucks.
We rolled out of Vegas about 4pm headed for Cali -- ate a pint of Ben and Jerrys' "Everything but the", 1200 calories and 80 grams of fat and got a stomach ache -- the air conditioning in the car seems to be working fine now after some hic-cups earlier. Wolfed In and Out burgers at Bastow, CA which always makes Scott happy -- and made my stomach feel better.
We are in good spirits, getting fat and are wishing all our friends to sleep as well as we will tonight under the big skies of California, roadside, amongst the happy cows.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Leading 5.9

I just spent two days climbing at Eldo with Patrik Larsson. Patrik has been my number 1 climbing partner for 3 years now -- a very precise Swedish dude who knows Eldo, knows climbing and knows my ability better than I do.

Pony Express First Pitch 5.9, Eldo, is the crack on the left
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I led 6 pitches of 5.9 (my edge) with an excellent head and questionable style. I got 4 of the pitches clean. Two were one move wonders, but I was proud that I got the first pitch of Pony Express clean because it is quite sustained. The first pitch (to the eye bolt) of Green Spur beat me up a bit with it's off width down low (I took a fall), and finger crack layback up high. I had to aid through the upper section, but that was good practice to pull out those tricks in a pinch. The only thing that got broke were my big Walmart sunglasses.

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I will climb more 5.9 on Wednesday and Thursday of this week at Eldo. I feel confident heading to Yosemite with some 5.9 under my belt and hope to return a solid 5.9 leader.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yosemite Dreams

Less than two weeks until my month in Yosemite Valley. As I lay my head to the pillow at night a drama; visions of granite, adventure and heroics play in my brain. I can feel the great rock on my fingers and in my body as I teeter and dance above the valley floor. I cringe with delight at off-width chasms, dark chimneys and great roofs as I focus to move another step closer. Images of the legends, those crazed in siege, those valley christians, play rich history and help me to understand my purpose in their footsteps.

Why do I choose cold rock over warm hearts? What is the nature of my fearful craving? What is this reward, this sense of strength, of triumph, of peace, of growth?

Perhaps we will find out more together over these next months. The greatest adventure of my life is beginning now.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Heaps Canyon

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hanging in Ouray

Stuart Paul on lead on Pic o' the Vic WI4 -- Ouray Ice Park
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I spent 21 days this winter hanging from icicles in Ouray, Colorado. Ouray is, one of my favorite places in Colorado, an amazing little town, population about 800, that sits in a box canyon at the northern gateway to the San Juan mountains. At the edge of town is the Umcompagre Gorge and the Ouray Ice Park, a mile of farmed ice with about 160 routes, some up to 130 feet deep. I had decided to apply myself and focus on ice climbing this winter and there is no better place to just do laps and build your skill level than this world class ice park.
My first stay in Ouray was 11 days beginning on New Years eve. I completed almost 50 climbs -- as many as in the entire season last year. I spent the first half of the trip repeating climbs I had done last year and the second half venturing into new territory. I climbed most everything between the schoolroom and the five fingers. Spent several days climbing mixed routes up to M7.

Dizzy with a Vision M7 -- Ouray Ice Park
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Charged up every WI5 I could find. Did leads at WI4. Spent one day climbing at Skylight area with Tom Maceyka. Was awesome to hang and climb with CMC, Phoenix Multisport, buds from Boulder, Steamboat, Golden and Denver and various travelers. Got invited to the family night potluck on Wednesday and got to meet many local persons and climbers.
My second trip was 10 days beginning February 6th. I had a little shopping meltdown in the days before the trip. I bought the Petzl Nomic Ice Tools for 30% off at Bent Gate in Golden. These are probably the best all around tool for ice and mixed climbing. I also picked up a set of the Edelweiss Oxygen 8.2mm half ropes. You can always get a good deal on Edelweiss ropes at Bent Gate because they sell a lot of them. All my ropes are Edelweiss at this point. I decided that this trip would be all about lead climbing and that my goal would be to do as many leads as I could. I led everything in the schoolroom and all the long routes above the upper bridge. I climbed in a snowstorm one day with Mark Allen and we took turns doing some big leads around the upper bridge including Abridgement and Pic of the Vic. I got on the mixed routes in the Scottish Gullies including Super Dave and Dizzy with a Vision (attempt). Later in the week I led the Skylight via an inside ice chimney with wanderers Cory and Ella in tow.

Stuart Paul looking down the ice chimney -- Skylight WI5, Camp Bird Road
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Rudy on the first rappel -- Bridalveil Falls WI5+, Telluride, CO
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I climbed the left side of Bridalveil Falls with Rudy McIntire (seperate post to come), and the next day, 5 pitches of Stairway to Heaven with Rudy, Kevin and Danielle in two side by side rope teams. We started at 11am and were rapping in the dark. On the way out the Brokering family at the Eureka Lodge below the climb invited us in to warm up and fed us dinner and wine. Cool place!!
My time in Ouray and the San Juans yeided over 100 pitches, half on lead, many long WI4 leads and some shorter 5s, mixed to M7, experience and self-sufficiency in the alpine. And I went leashless with the Nomics -- never going back.
Thanks to all my partners and local Ouray friends, especially Mark, Cory, Ella, Rudy and Kevin. You dooods are the best!!
Props to Mark at Riverside Cabins -- the cheapest coziest place to stay with your dog for no extra charge.
Complete list of climbs on Mountain Project.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Surfing the Elks

A week ago Sunday, Rocco and I went to the Mace Hut in Castle Creek in the Elk Range near Aspen. Amos Mace was our gracious host and he and Donnie from Glenwood met us at Ashcroft and pulled me into the hut on my split snowboard behind a snowmobile. Rocco had to run up the hill along with Amos' white husky dog.
The hut, 4 miles up at 10,800 ft is made of stone and was built by a team of Swiss builders in 1969. At the hut were three surfer dooods from Maui, James and Mike, raised in the Carbondale area, and Lydel a native of Hawaii. These guys did not ride skis.
After weeks of warm weather the temperature dropped that afternoon and it began to snow. I looked at the guys and said with a twisted grin, "its back". For two days the snow fell, about a foot, and settled nicely on the wet warm stuff below creating a solid and safe snowpack. We did three tours each day riding the wave of the fresh white stuff on the backyard slope on Greg Mace Peak. It felt great to be in the backcountry again surrounded by snow covered trees and high peaks, that deafening silence.

Rocco and I during our solo ride out from the hut late Tuesday.

Thanks for a great time boys. See you soon.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

March Blizzard

Last Thursday was sicknasty at Beaver Creek. There was over 30 inches of fresh powder and 11 inches from overnight. We rode the trees off of Rose Bowl and cut fresh tracks, knee deep, all day. In the afternoon it snowed so hard that you could barely see the chair in front of you.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rocco Climbs Class 3

Titcomb Basin from Mt Fremont, Wind River Range, Wyoming

A few years ago in July Rocco and I went backpacking in the Wind River Range with an awesome group from the Chaos Outdoor Club in Boulder. We hiked 11 miles into Island Lake, just below Titcomb Basin at the foot of Mt. Fremont (13,730'), the second highest peak in the Winds after Gannett. The Winds are a rugged vertical range of bomber granite, and are loaded with technical routes that are high on my list for this summer.
We camped at Island Lake for four nights and spent our days hiking, and climbing up to class 3, around camp. The weather was mild and sunny with isolated thunderstorms rolling through each afternoon to cast an ominous black across the sharp spires, loud bangs echoing from the rock.
We climbed Mt. Fremont one day, ascending about 2700 feet from camp, the top 1000 feet to the summit solid class 3, but easy for dogs. Over the top to the west was a giant glacier that filled a massive cirque of vertical peaks. Looking straight down over the back were huge bergschrunds where the snow met the rock. I felt like I could be anywhere in the world in awe of the power and beauty of this place.
This summer I hope to return to the Winds to Cirque of the Towers to climb some technical routes. Please check back to see if I make it there this year.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Partners in AWD

When I moved to Colorado six years ago I was living alone, in poverty, in Fort Collins with no wheels. My system was in shock after leaving my previous big city life in Chicago. I went through every day with the mountains watching me and calling from the west as I worked to establish myself in Colorado and to build my web design business. I longed for the day when I would have the freedom to go to the mountains and as time passed a vision of that became clear in my minds eye. I am driving a Subaru AWD wagon with a Weimaraner in the passenger seat. The Subaru and the Weimaraner would be the vehicle and the companion for any adventure -- the possibilities would be endless and no one could stop us.
One year later, Rocco, at 8 weeks of age, became my accomplice and we soon moved to Denver to begin a new chapter together. His steady enthusiasm for our friendship is intoxicating and he has been the great joy of this adventure.
The Subaru came one year after that -- a red '95 Legacy Wagon, all wheel drive -- a dream machine to take us over rock and snow to the voice calling from every mountain valley and summit. C'mon boy, lets go!!
We have covered many miles, climbed many peaks, in the remote mystery and power, so much beauty, solitude and majesty. Today we are living the dream.

I invite you to please leave your comments regarding these entries.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Walking Over Mountain Ranges

SKY Chutes from Copper Mountain Super Bee lift

A few weeks ago I hooked up with riding buds Jeremiah and Doug for a ski mountaineering day in Summit County. The plan was to ride the K chute, one of the SKY chutes on the west side of the 10 Mile Range opposite Copper Mountain. If you are driving down from Vail Pass on east-bound I-70 you can see the SKY chutes clearly -- they are three avalanche chutes that look like the letters S,K and Y. These chutes can be very dangerous for avalanche so they are only good to ride if the snow pack above them is minimal and after some good warm weather to consolidate any layers. Definitely be properly equiped and trained and check the CAIC website for current avalanche conditions before any backcountry trip.
The plan was to start in Breck and climb over the top of the 10 mile range in order to access the K chute. We started at Jeremiah's house in Frisco, took the bus to Breckenridge at 9600', rode the gondola and chair lift to the top of Peak 7 and then rode far skiers left to the backcountry gate at 10,600'. From there we climbed about 1800 feet to point 12,438 between Peaks 6 and 7, with our snowboards on our backs. It was a bluebird day in the 20s, but with wind gusts to about 50 mph above treeline. We reached the summit over steep and rocky terrain after about two hours climbing. Next, we hiked along the top of the 10 mile range -- its like walking on the top of the world, snowy peaks 360 dgrees -- for about a mile to the top of the K chute, then dropped about 2000 feet, on snowboard, through beautiful gladed terrain on perfect powder snow. I love to wipe out in powder -- it just makes you laugh.

I always carry a mountaineering ice ax above tree line as a basic piece of safety equipment (see pic -- that's Doug with my ax). It was one of the first pieces of gear that I bought when I moved to Colorado and it always comes in handy for climbing or crossing snow fields, for glissade descents or if I were to fall and need to self arrest. I also like to use it like a cane when traveling over rough or unstable terrain on talus or scree.
I have not been in the backcountry to ride my board much this winter because I have been so focused on ice climbing -- but I plan to get in some rad snowboard mountaineering in April and June. Stay tuned here for those adventures.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shelf Road

Rocco and I headed down to Shelf Road outside Canon City, Colorado, a few weeks ago, for a two day sport climbing, grunt fest on those vertical limestone cliffs, with rope gun Boulder Rudy. Jonesin' for caffeine we stopped into the Coyote Coffee Company, on Hwy 115, where I ate the best chunk of homemade apple pie ever, with my bare hands dirt-bag style. Rudy got none and I had to apologize.
That is no way to treat a valued high-level partner like Rudy McIntire, whom I admire for his bold endeavors and feats of athleticism on ice and rock. You need to feed them well so they can gun up those climbs all day long -- because shelf road is a little above my ability. I think Rudy brought a couple of almonds, a few flakes of green tea and some scraps of cous-cous to eat, so I fed him peanut butter, meat sandwiches and oatmeal (see pic), so he could keep leading those heinous 5.10s and 5.11s.
You also need to let your valued high-level partners do all the leading. Why bore them and risk losing them by making them follow your 5.9 routes, when you can bloody yourself on 5.11 and keep them around to gun you up some more wicked climbs in the future. Thanks Rudy!!
Remember kiddies don't be leading, be feeding.

Monday, March 16, 2009


With all the warm weather I thought I was done with ice climbing for the season, and was happy to quit while I was ahead, having made it unscathed, just with swollen knuckles, through a season with over 120 pitches, many difficult leads and some awesome alpine adventures. If you are interested there is a complete list of my climbs here. But, all it took was a phone call from Tom Kavanaugh and a check of the weather report and I was off to face the Rigid Designator for a second time this season.
The Rigid Designator Amphitheater (RDA) is just west of the I-70 East Vail exit up in the cliff band on the south side. The amphitheater walls are 120 feet high and it is an absolutely spectacular place, summer and winter, to be experienced by climbers and the vertically challenged alike. And, the parking lot at the nordic center has a heated bathroom (read: luxury bivy) for the dirt bag ice climber looking to beat the crowd. The RDA has long and difficult mixed routes to ice curtains floating in space and several imposing columns of ice that make your teeth chatter. You can learn more about the climbs in this area here.

Me on lead -- Rigid Designator WI4, Vail CO

I met Eric Malmgren from Copper Mountain who put up Red Bull with Vodka last year. Its, two pitches, M8+, immediately behind the Fang and to the left of Amphibian. Eric took a ride to the top of the Fang on our top rope, set a fixed line and did about half a dozen laps rope solo. I let Eric try out my Ushba, a Russian made device that we both agree is probably superior to anything else on the market, for rope solo on a fixed line, because it doesn't have any teeth to chew up the rope sheath. Eric said that the local doods climb at the RDA year around and in the summer with rock shoes and either with of without picks. He also said that the waterfalls have the greatest flow around the end of May. Climb on Eric, see you soon.

EPILOGUE -- On March 21st Chris Boratenski fell 70 feet while on TR on the RD. I believe he ran his top rope through the existing webbing anchor. PLEASE do not use existing anchors, for TR or belaying a second, that are buried beneath the snow making it impossible to inspect them thoroughly. Use your own double redundant cordelette with your rope through two locking biners for the anchor. If you are rapping from an existing anchor you must back it up with your own gear for the first (heaviest) guy. The RD and the Fang both have large trees 20 feet back from the lip to anchor.