Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hanging in Ouray

Stuart Paul on lead on Pic o' the Vic WI4 -- Ouray Ice Park
(click image to enlarge)

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
(click image to enlarge)

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
(click image to enlarge)

Rudy on the first rappel -- Bridalveil Falls WI5+, Telluride, CO
(click image to enlarge)

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.