2018-08-09 thru 12 Cirque of the Towers

Sunrising on the Cirque. Pingora in the sun, Wolf's Head in the shade behind it.
Sunrising on the Cirque. Pingora in the sun, Wolf’s Head in the shade behind it.

August 9-12, 2018

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.

Almost there. Topping out Jackass Pass with Pingora and Wolf's Head in the late day sun.
Almost there. Topping out Jackass Pass with Pingora and Wolf’s Head in the late day sun.

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.   2018-08-10_36254

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.

Panoramic from the summit of Wolf's Head.
Panoramic from the summit of Wolf’s Head.

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. Carly working through some flary finger jams.

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.

2018-06-24 thru 25 Moto w-Andreas

Braaaahp!

June 24-25, 2018

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.

2018-05-26 thru 28 Pine Creek Canyon

Lookin towards the High Sierra at sunset.

May 26-28, 2018

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.

2018-05-04 Mount Shasta

View of the mountain the day before we did it. The route we took goes up the drainage below the pointy rock left of center.
View of the mountain the day before we did it. The route we took goes up the drainage below the pointy rock left of center.

May 4, 2018

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.

I didn't take a panoramic from the top, but the general scale of the other "mountains" around is pretty well shown here. Shasta is considerably higher than anything even close to it.

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.

2018-01-27 thru 02-03 Snowfall Lodge Ski Trip

 

A view looking from the top of the First Moraine. This is approximately the view from the lodge except this one is 1000' higher.
A view looking from the top of the First Moraine. This is approximately the view from the lodge except this one is 1000′ higher.

January 27 thru February 3, 2018

Carly and I took a ski trip to British Columbia at the end of January.  This trip was organized by one of Carly’s MBA friends.  Dave usually plans a big trip up to BC every year and this year we were able to join in.  We drove up to Nakusp, BC over two days from SLC.  We opted to sleep in the van which turned out to be great for this type of trip.  The 8 hours of driving per day went by reasonably well.  We did have a little bit of a scare at the end of the first day when the van was making a funny noise.  I suspected a wheel bearing and we opted to try and get it fixed ASAP the morning of the second day before getting into the middle of nowhere BC.  Luckily a Chevy dealer in Missoula, our chosen rest stop for the first day, had the parts and was able to push us through in just a few hours.  We made it to Nakusp in good time and weren’t even the last ones to arrive at the meeting spot.

The lodge is in the backcountry and accessible only via helicopter in the winter.  I’ve only flown on a helicopter one other time so I was looking forward to the ride in.  Despite it snowing pretty hard we had no trouble getting into the lodge.  The visibility was pretty low for the ride in and the pilot stayed a 100-200′ off the trees for visual reference.  

The accommodations at Snowfall were great.  Despite being in the first year of operation it was quite plush.  Full kitchen, in-door pee toilet, comfortably heated, electricity, drying room, the works.  Backpacking will be rough change of pace in the future.

Skiing was amazing.  The snow in BC falls at a warmer temperature than here in the Wasatch and it forms these pillows on terrain features.  These features would be something to avoid at home because you probably would hit whatever was under the snow.  In BC these pillows were usually many feet thick and soft.  It snowed on average 6″ per day for the trip.  This was good and bad.  It created some poor visibility and unstable snow.  This kept any of the 16 of us from getting on any big lines.  It did however refill the few areas were were able to access.  

We got a few hours of clear weather about mid-week.  This afforded some amazing views of the terrain around us.  It reminded me of my previous trip to BC with Christina and Drew.  The experience was quite good and I’m hoping I can make this an annual occurrence.

 

 

2017-12-26 thru 30 Cody

Exciting!

December 26-30, 2017

I closed out the year with some climbing in Cody, WY.  I had the week between Christmas and New Year’s and was able to join my friend Doug and new friend Chris for some stellar climbing in Cody.  While the town’s temperatures were frigid most days, the climbing areas had a bit better temperatures.  Though most of the days it was either very windy or snowing.  Luckily the temps were mild enough to make things comfortable, enough for ice climbing anyway.  We were able to get some good routes done on some fresh ice.  I’ve forgotten how difficult non-picked out ice can be.  While the drive is quite long from Salt Lake City, I was able to redeem some air miles and fly up.  Which was great on the way in, on the way out I wasn’t sure if I’d get out of town.  There are only 3 flights that land in Cody this time of year.  The mid-day one that I was on Saturday was delayed because of wicked snow conditions.  Luckily the plane eventually made it in and we were able to make it back to SLC.

I gotta get back soon while the ice is so good and tick off more of the classics!

2017 Bozeman Icefest

2017-12-09_34098

December 5-10, 2017

After a skipped year in 2016 I was back this year to the Bozeman Icefest.  This time around I had a couple crusher colleagues from France in town to show us out to climb.  In addition we had the whole Blue Ice North America crew junking it up.  Luckily there wasn’t in much in the way of official company duty so climbing and drinking in spades were had.  I’m glad to have swung the tools since I’m not sure when there might be ice around Salt Lake to get into.

2017-11-23–24 Thanksgiving_w-Aude

2017-11-23_33880

November 23-24, 2017

This year’s Thanksgiving avoided the crowds in Red Rocks and in Indian Creek and saw us in St. George, UT doing some limestone bolt clipping.  Weather was gorgeous and in the mid-70’s in the sun and perfect comfortable temps in the shade, which is where we climbed.  We avoided the crowds, had some turkey, pumpkin pie, and showed a French colleague what Thanksgiving is like in the US.