As a break from the new van build we decided to take the July 4th holiday and make it into a 4 day weekend. Since I’m taking a bit of a rest from climbing because of some elbow tendinitis, we decided we could do some backpacking in the Winds as an alternative to climbing. The Wind Rivers have been gorgeous in previous visits to Cirque of the Towers (1, 2) and Deep Lake, but that is but one area in a beautiful range.
This was a big snow year in much of the west and the Wind Rivers were no exception. Given this we knew that there would be snow on the ground since the trailhead starts at 9500′. Luckily we didn’t have much snow to negotiate until a mile or two before our campsite. However this is already after 10 miles of hiking. Oh, that is the other thing to note about the Winds, everything is really far from the car. Which is good, but it means that you have to walk. Luckily going to Titcomb Basin only requires about 2000′ of gain overall and that is really cumulative not individual rise. Our campsite was at 10500′.
With the snow melting there were plenty of stream crossings, lakes and ponds over the trail, and muddy trail. Fortunately we had opted for our summer mountaineering boots rather than approach shoes for the hike. I’ve gotten many miles of walking in my summer mountaineering boots and I have to say I’ve gotten very used to them for this purpose and they actually soften the load on the feet because of the rigid sole. They are still work, but there is a benefit for the weight and the stiffness. They are waterproof too.
Our objective was fairly vague since the area was new to us and the conditions were unknown before getting there. Even day of, Friday, we ended up changing our objective a couple times. We opted hiking/scrambling for Elephant Head. We’d hoped to do Mt Ellingwood also known as Harrower Peak, but it turned out the snow conditions were too variable to make good time on the distance required. The snow conditions as we got higher were quite annoying. For a while you might be sinking in a little bit, the next step would be falling in up to your waist. Very frustrating, exhausting, and time consuming. Because of this we settled on the closer and smaller Elephant Head, which even still we weren’t able to get to the top before turning around.
Saturday we hiked out and back to the car 12 miles away and to the swarms of mosquitoes. Luckily at our campsite there were only one or two because of the snow. Back at the van though there were plenty and we had to apply bug repellent liberally.
A fun trip, even though no climbing, in an amazingly scenic area. It was a pleasure to have an early season view of the place with so much snow and so few people around. Perhaps another time we can go back to do some real climbing.
Carly and I took off Friday morning for a long weekend to explore a new area for us, the West Desert of Utah. The area is huge and doesn’t have many people in it. The area is part of the Basin and Range topology that spans both sides of the border with Nevada. This area is characterized by mountain ranges, usually north-south running, and flat desert areas in between. The topography is such that their are rarely any outlets to the rivers and stream drainages. The water that falls in the mountains as rain or snow will only travel to the basins only to dry up. This is easy to understand when you see the landscape adjacent to the Ibex climbing area. It is a large dry lake bed that does at times hold a water, but most of the time is a hard smooth and flat surface.
The climbing was quite good, though a little run out in places, even on bolted routes. Bringing some gear for bolted routes wasn’t a bad thing unless you could see it was well bolted. While there were few climbers there were a number of people partying and camping on the hardpan, the term for the lake bed. The area is quite nice and I expect we’ll return to try out some more climbing at Ibex and at some of the other areas not far away.
Saturday evening we headed west to Great Basin National Park with the intent to do some hiking on Wheeler Peak. There was some rain in the forecast but unfortunately it started raining Saturday evening not long after we started our campfire and continued until morning. In the morning we decided to pack up before breakfast because of the rain and head back to SLC.
On the way we tried to do another hike near Mt. Nebo. We didn’t get much done as it started to lightning and thunder not long after we left the car. We did at least get to check out some massive avalanche debris and damage from a slide that must have happened at least a few weeks ago. Note that Carly is in one of them for scale.
Another fine weekend in St. George with friends. For not rock climbing outside since Thanksgiving (with the same crew coincidentally) I actually felt pretty good. Unfortunately Sunday we didn’t get too much climbing in due to an obligation back in SLC.
For quite a few of the years I’ve been in Utah I’ve traveled to Ouray for President’s Day. The holiday is one I never got off prior to moving to Utah, but is considerably better as a winter holiday than Easter, given it is earlier and subject to much less variability in when it falls. This year Carly and I rented a hotel room right in downtown Ouray with its own hot springs. This was quite a good idea and I would like to try to come back to this place again as the accommodations were pleasant, price reasonable, OK continental breakfast, and two on premises hot springs, one being adults only and open 24 hours.
This winter has been spectacular in Utah, currently sitting at around 144% of median. Colorado is also doing quite well. This made for some great conditions in Ouray. Plenty of snow around to make it look like winter and small amounts of precip while we were there so it wasn’t too difficult to get around. The drive down did have a bit of a long stretch with snow, which was less than ideal and added at least an hour to the drive.
Climbing was good overall. I was able to get back on and complete a climb that I’d backed off of in 2017. Unfortunately the last pitch had a large crack at mid height which I down climbed off of.
Carly was able to lead some pitches as well. A snow slog on Camp Bird Rd as well as P2 and P3 of Horsetail Falls. With the weather and how good the ice near Ouray was, we never got over to Silverton/Eureka. Perhaps another time.
Once again we traveled to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving with friends and climbing. With the long drive, made longer by the traffic, I had time to think about the number of Thanksgivings I’ve spent in Red Rocks since moving to Utah–of the seven holidays I think all but two have been in Red Rocks.
This time we upped the comfort factor and stayed in a hotel with some friends. While the location was close to the strip which made for a longer commute into the climbing areas, it did come with the convenience of being in the city versus our usual primitive camping area.
We had good weather and climbed a bit of cragging Thursday, alpine days Friday and Saturday, then a bouldering day in St. George on the way home to Salt Lake. Good times and great friends.
Once again Carly and I traveled to Chamonix, France in September. This time we hoped for better weather than our last trip. We learned last year that the middle of September is the beginning of the end of much of the tourism and climbing–at least the easy stuff. We moved to the first week of September this time to keep in the prime season. We nailed it on the weather, with only one afternoon of rain. However many of the routes in the high mountains were out of condition due to the very hot summer and increased rockfall with the lack of snow on many approaches, routes, and descents.
We arrived in Chamonix on a slightly cloudy day with not much of the high mountains in view, but the weather improved in the afternoon and we had some decent views. With the weather forecast looking pretty good for Sunday we scrambled to repack our gear from our airline luggage.
Heading up the L’Index side, the mid-elevation mountains on the north side of the valley, we went for one of the classic ridgeline traverses, the South-Southeast Arete of the Chappell de la Gliere. There were periodic sunny spells, but much of the time we were in the clouds. This made for some interesting approaching and descending. Route finding was fairly easy at the start since there was a train of people in front of us.
I lead the first two pitches to a comfortable ridgeline ledge where we waited for quite a while due to a party of 5 that would periodically climb as 2 and 3 people. The P3-4 were a bit more difficult and they had some trouble as they were in mountain boots. Matt was able to scoot around the side and link two pitches together. Since we were much faster in rock shoes there wasn’t much of an issue with them. After that we had smooth sailing other than being in a time crunch to get back to the lift before it closed at 4:30.
Matt linked another couple pitches and got us to the base of the Razor pitch. This one is pretty photogenic for the followers. It is a tilted slab with no major apparent holds on it. Once establishing yourself on it though, it is rather easy and protects sufficiently. The leader also gets the camera duty for the followers with the backdrop of Mont Blanc.
Because of the slow party we were a bit unsure if we should bail or finish the route. Ultimately we decided it would be quicker to finish because the descent would be more obvious that way. We opted for that and motored through the remaining pitches, except for the last two. This is unfortunate as these two sound pretty exciting and exposed and a bit harder than much of the rest of the route. I guess we’ll save for another day since we had a lift to catch. We got pretty badly off route on the descent due to the clouds and ended up losing some time. We luckily made the last lift down though.
With the weather still looking good for Sunday through Tuesday Carly and I headed through the Mont Blanc tunnel to the Italian side so we could take a lift up into the mountains. We needed to go to the Italian side because the upper section of the Aiguille du Midi lift was close because of maintenance problems.
Taking the lift up we go great views through the clouds of the mountains. After getting to the top of the Skyway to get to the Torino hut you take an elevator and then walk through a long tunnel. Opening the doors for the tunnel you see the gruelling 20 meter approach to the doors of the hut. All at 11,000′.
As we had plenty of time from our approach to the hut we opted for a quick walk around and a short little climb. There is a protrusion of rocks, called the Petit Flambeau not far from the hut which we did. It was quite easy, but a little icy to get onto the rocks. We had nice views in and out of clouds of the range.
At the hut we met some rather nice Englishmen who we sat with and had dinner. Dinner was quite good and plenty of it. The wine, unfortunately, was not and may have contributed to a less than restful night’s sleep. The Englishmen, however, were jolly and had lots of stories of climbing in both Chamonix and in their home turf which were entertaining. After some conditions reports they had seen we decided to opt away from our main objective the Dent du Geant and go for the more modest Marbrees Traverse.
The next morning we got up and had the “late” breakfast at 6am. They have 2am and 4am as the other breakfast alternatives. Our objective was pretty close to the hut and since it wasn’t very long we didn’t need to start very early. Our wake up time was well timed for the sunrise and we had a great view of Mont Blanc as the sun just started to hit it. Our day dawned beautifly clear as we approached the back side of the Marbrees Ridge from the hut. Along the way we were roped up to avoid falling in a crevasse, but the likelihood of this was small since there wasn’t much snow on the glacier.
The climb is basically a ridge climb. At the recommendation of one of our English friends we decided to do it backwards from the description in our guidebook. This would avoid a difficult and rockfall prone section on the typical direction. Later in the week when we talked to Max, he said that he prefers it in the direction we did it so perhaps we got the most of it. The climb wanders up the ridgeline around, over, and through some mildly loose boulders and rocks, but nothing terrible. To gain the summit there is a short section of 5.7+ climbing which we protected. I think we were the first on the summit for the day. The weather was clear and warm and no other parties were near so we stayed for nearly an hour on the summit enjoying the views. Continuing on I think we did OK in route finding, though we did find the less used anchors for rappelling back to the glacier. All told we were back on the patio of the hut around 11am sipping cappuccino and eating almond tort.
With the approach to the Dent du Geant in less than ideal conditions we decided that we might wait for another time to do that classic climb. Since much of the other routes in the area had similar issues we thought we’d cut our hut time down by a day an leave early. I’m a little disappointed we didn’t go for more climbing, but between the approach and the crowds focused just on the Italian side, we didn’t think we’d have a great experience on the Dent.
Matt had a free day from his work at the Blue Ice office on Thursday. Unfortunately there was weather predicted around noon that day as well. We decided that if we get to the Brevent lift when they open, we can probably get down to the start of the Frison-Roche (6a), which is a 6 pitch classic route. The approach is quick, perhaps 15 minutes, and it is all bolted. We figured we wouldn’t be the only ones with the “get there early before the rain” plan and we weren’t. Luckily the parties in front and the one or two behind weren’t moving too slowly. We got in line and got friendly with our English speaking friends in front of us. This was a great route for Matt, Carly and I since it had pitches within all of our leading abilities. We each lead two pitches. Aside from the second pitch I lead, which was merely a ledge traverse, all the climb was quite good. We mostly beat the rain. Matt topped out just as it started to mist heavily. Carly and I were able to finish before it was too wet. The nice thing about the route is that you finish nearly at the platform for the lift so the return is only a minute or two.
The remainder of the week we had some friends, Eric and Penny, come stay with us from Zurich. They are in Zurich for Penny’s post-grad work. We did a bit of hiking, Chamonix to Les Houches, and some cragging. Carly and I did try to get a big last day on Sunday in, but the route we chose was suspect and didn’t have hangers on all the bolts and nonsense like that. We ended up not even getting to the top of the first pitch before going down. It was a bit of a downer for the last day of climbing before leaving, but with the weather being nice we couldn’t complain that much. We had much better weather than 2017 and got more pitches in so it was a win anyway. I’m looking forward to the next trip over there, regardless of season.
As we have done in the past, Carly and I put various climbing destinations in the calendar through the summer to help motivate us to go to different locations. While we haven’t been 100% successful in going to all the places we entered, we’ve gotten some good trips this summer so far. One of the bigger ones was another trip back to the Winds and the Cirque of the Towers.
Two years ago we went to the Winds, but to a new area. That trip turned out good, but weather kept us from climbing too much. This year we planned for August, typically a little more stable weather month.
For this trip we decided to go to the center of it all in the Winds climbing, the Cirque of the Towers. I’d been here before a number of years ago. Similar to that trip the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head (5.6) was on the ticklist. In addition was Pingora.
Not unlike the last two times I’d been to Big Sandy Trailhead, I was amazed at the number of cars. There were again perhaps 200 cars at the trailhead and unfortunately the parking is probably designed for only 1/2 of that at best. We squeezed in and did our final packing. This really included just going through our packs and leaving out anything we thought we didn’t really need. Still our packs were 36 and 42 lbs for Carly and I.
The hike in is about 8 miles and ~2000′ of elevation change. We decided to get a little more sleep and leave Thursday morning drive to Big Sandy Trailhead. This unfortunately necessitated much of the hike being during the peak heat of the day. Luckily the hike is scenic and the first 5 miles are relatively easy.
Cresting Jackass Pass and getting the full view into the cirque is a great reward for all the dusty miles traveled. The temperature cooled and the gargoyle like spires of granite tower overhead. After finding a campsite, not a trivial task, we made some food and enjoyed the view.
Early Friday we set off towards the spine of granite that we’d seen illuminated brightly against a shadowy backdrop of north facing walls. The East Ridge of Wolf’s Head (5.6) was our objective. I did this route last time in the Cirque, but it is classic enough to warrant a second, third or even more visit. This time I had a slightly better idea of what the climb entailed and therefore better gear. Proper climbing shoes and larger gear to protect the many wide hand traverses.
Starting off we ran into a party of 4 gents who included Peter Metcalf. His group, and the group of two strong girls who caught up to us, were all a pleasure to share the route with.
Carly opted for me to lead the “sidewalk pitch.” A 18″ wide, 30 deg tilted plank of granite that kicks off the climbing. I recall this pitch being gripping last time. A little warmer temps, real climbing shoes, and not on-sighting all made it a bit easier this time.
Carly took over the next block of leads and we simul-climbed for the next few pitches. After that we caught up to the other parties at the first chimney tunnel. Metcalf was leading and got a little off route trying to find the piton pitch. The trouble is the pitch is an improbable traverse with little protection save for 3 pitons nearly a dozen feet apart. After that pitch we all spaced out again and we were able to climb at our own paces. We ended up being bringing up the rear.
The route was much more casual the second time around. Better gear, shoes, and technique on the shorter sections all helped in that.
We had expected to meet up with our friends Mark and Jess. There definitely is no cell reception in the Cirque of the Towers, so it makes syncing up with people more challenging. We’d expected to see Mark and Jess the same day we hiked in, but did not. At the end of the second day we’d still hadn’t seen them either. We’d figured that something came up and they stayed in Wild Iris. Not about to let that slow us down we decided to do the South Buttress of Pingora for our second route on Saturday.
The South Buttress of Pingora isn’t the most iconic on the peak, but it is perhaps one of the least committing, which is what drew us to it. There’s really only 2-3 pitches of technical climbing and mostly easy scrambling otherwise.
Starting at a leisurely 9am we hiked to the base and scrambled up the shoulder to begin the technical climbing. I’d hoped to simul or do a long pitch to get to the base of the proper climbing, but the ledgy nature of the beginning of the route made me think otherwise of doing this.
Once into the proper climbing it was quite good. Just enough protection to keep it safe enough and just enough insecurity to keep you alert. At the base of the “K-cracks” we again ran into Metcalf and his pals. They were a great bunch and got a few pictures of me and I of them.
The right K-crack is a bit tricky and keeps your attention, particularly through the crux. After that pitch it is an easy couple hundred feet to the summit. We met a few Irish pensioners at the top enjoying the “wilderness” that the American West offers compared to much of Europe.
On returning back to camp after Pingora we finally met up with Mark and Jess. They’d had some confusion to our actual objective and so had been looking for us the last couple days. We caught up and made some food while the sun shown. We agreed to take Pancho, their dog, the next morning to allow them to get a climb in.
Packing up camp on the morning of our hike out we were afforded another great sunrise. In fact the weather the entire weekend was fabulously clear, not a hint of rain. The wildfires made it a little smokey, but not bad.
We collected Pancho and headed out. He was a little confused at first why these other random people were taking him away from his owners, but after a mile or so we got into the groove and we made reasonable time. Again we ran into Metcalf and crew on the hike. Everyone was impressed the Pancho carried his own pack. Little did they know it contained not only his shit in a bag, but ours as well.
A few tenths of a mile from Big Sandy is a lodge which offer cabins, pack animal outfitting and burgers & beers. After making it back to the van and a copious soak in the river and our own beers we headed to the lodge for our first fresh meal in a few days. The burgers weren’t the best I’ve had, but they were certainly tasty and hit the spot, along with the cold brews.
Yet another successful trip to the Winds.
Andreas and I went out for a weekend ride a couple weeks back. This was actually the first time I’ve gone overnight with the motorcycle so it was nice. We took a pretty circuitous route around the eastern side of the state. The variation in Utah’s scenery was the highlight. Barren deserts, mining canyons, high alpine plateaus, mountain roads and farmland were all on tour. It was good time.
Memorial Day weekend Matt, Giovanni, Carly, and I went out to the Sierra in California for some climbing. While we were hoping to have better weather and get in a little climbing at altitude we did not. It was a good time, though a long drive. Even though the drive is long, it is kind of a trip since you go across some of the most desolate areas of the US while in Nevada. There’s one stretch that is 160 miles between gas stations. I’m looking forward to getting to the High Sierra at some point.
With the demise of my spring alpine climbing objective, Carly introduced the idea of skiing Mount Shasta. It is a relatively moderate climb and ski, but entails about 7300′ of ascent. This was a good swap since the total time involved is minimal. It is an 11 hour drive away and the route is doable in a day. This compares well to an Alaska trip which would take about a week or more. We kept training through April and kept an eye on the weather for conditions.
Unfortunately our first potential weekend opportunity had poor weather. Especially unfortunate because the conditions the preceding week were amazing. Between the NWS weather forecast and the mountain webcam, we had pretty good information on the conditions so there was no need to start driving unless the conditions were good. With my approaching work trip, we decided on a late week day. The weather looked good and we both could spare the 2 days out of the office.
The trailhead was pretty nice in that we didn’t have to worry about sleeping in the van. At some areas like the Tetons this is not completely allowed and the change was nice. We started at about 5:15am under clear skies. “Good” conditions for spring skiing are clear days and nights. The clear days melt the snow a little and help it consolidate. The clear nights allow the snow to refreeze and be supportable. We got the clear night, but as the morning went on and we climbed up Avalanche Gulch, there were some high clouds that kept the snow from starting to soften and allow quicker travel.
Working through the lower gully we got clear of the trees and saw the route. The route is straightforward in that it just follows a drainage to a ridge then cuts left and to the summit. We skinned to Helen Lake, a bit less than halfway. From there we decided to boot with the skis on our backs. This proved to be about the same speed but a little less work.
The terrain is pretty moderate, but the section from Helen Lake to Thumb Rock is the steepest, though still pretty easy walking. Carly was much faster than me on the way up. I think I had not hydrated the previous day and as a result my legs were a constant battle to stave off cramps. Once we reached Thumb Rock it was pretty clear we were well behind our expected schedule. Later in the year when thunderstorms would be a concern this would have been an issue. After eating lunch and resting up we made for Misery Hill, named since it is slog which isn’t actually the summit, which is out of view still. The snow conditions here were very firm and didn’t seem like there was a hope of softening at all. Once at the top of the hill it is 1/10th of a mile or so along a moderately flat ridge to the summit block. The summit itself is about 100 vertical feet up from a nice broad flat spot which is good for resting.
The summit is relatively small and we enjoyed the views with just a bit of wind. The view from the summit shows just how prominent that Shasta really is. There are a couple sub-peaks and another reasonably tall volcano to the south, but everything else is just a tiny hill in comparison.
After summiting the fun began! Well, not quite yet. The ski from the summit to Thumb Rock was not very good and a bit dangerous in spots. Because of the altitude, wind, and temps the snow up here wouldn’t soften. This resulted in an icy careful descent to Thumb Rock. This was not one of Carly’s favorite moments, nor me. From Thumb Rock we booted down a little way until the snow got better and swapped back into skis. For the next 4000′ it was the best corn skiing I’ve done. The terrain is moderate and enormous so you can ski as fast as you want, anywhere you want. This was the highlight for sure. Doubly the highlight as the weekend streams of climbers and skiers were slogging uphill in the corn as we were carving smooth turns.
The last 1000′ or so feet of skiing when to slop, again this is expected. While not hard it wasn’t as fun as the previous section so it just meant keeping some speed on the flats. Luckily the snow extends to all but the last 100 or so feet to the trailhead so we were able to ski all the way. For being our first volcano it was quite an experience, not one I would repeat without the amazing corn skiing in the middle. The sentiment is shared by Carly.