January 10, 2013
Had to go into work pretty early this morning. They’re really working me like a dog. :-)
January 5, 2013
Saturday I headed out with Kevin from work to do a little ice climbing. Since my recon mission to Provo Canyon on Dec. 31 proved there was plenty of ice there to climb we headed there. While Stairway to Heaven wasn’t on our list there are plenty of other climbs that are less committing and not quite as difficult.
Unlike my first trip here we drove by the first pull out where the parking for Stairway to Heaven and Bridal Veil Falls is. We continued down the road a bit and scope some of the other very nice routes available. Provo Canyon is pretty awesome, the climbs come almost right up off the road. Well not really but they are very visible from the road and plenty of people stop along the highway and spectate the climbers up on the cliffs. The rock is amazing as well, particularly for Stairway to Heaven. Tiers of fiercely overhanging rock have drips of ice. The route, when completely in, can be around 1,000 ft of climbing.
Kevin and I looked at Miller’s Thriller and The Fang as our two likely routes. The hike up was a little more tricky that expected as there’s not a well-defined trail and it is bushwhacking in many places. We ended up following some moose tracks nearly to the base of the route.
The first pitch of Miller’s as good and long. The grade only about WI3. I got the first lead. From here we moved the belay to the base of the second pitch. This one, shorter but more difficult, went to Kevin. The ice-covered the back of the gully wall. A bunch of cauliflower ice near the bottom lead Kevin to head up from the right side of the flow and traverse left at about 3/4 height to help with placing protection. Here we bootied a screw someone had bailed off of.
Rapping down we still had energy and time so we moved over to The Fang, which is a more serious climb, perhaps WI4-5. I led the first pitch again. This one was much more difficult than the previous pitch I’d led. This was a solid WI4 pitch which I was got through with out too much difficulty. It was a little strenuous to place screws but not terrible, though I think I’d like to lead a bunch more of this difficulty before upping the ante.
After Kevin joined me at the belay we checked out the second and third pitches. The second was just a snow hike with some bulges through in for good measure. The money pitch is a pillar formed by a waterfall. The pillar usually forms as a tube of ice with water running through it. Right now the very top was enclosed but quickly opened up and had water spraying out. As we watch from P1 belay another party was climbing it from one of the caves formed by the overhanging rock. Even from where we were standing we could hear how hollow it sounded. Not an inspiring sound to say the least.
Kevin ran out the rope on P2 and brought me up to a good ledge to view the pillar. At this time the other party was just rapping off. The pitch was too rich for Kevin or I so we opted to bail with the other party. The pitch looks pretty sweet but it isn’t quite in the condition that I’d like to climb it in though.
Not wanting to miss a chance to do some more climbing in the White Mountains while I’m home for Christmas, I headed up to Pinkham Notch early the day after Christmas. I’d packed a light climbing rack, both rock and ice, one of my twin rope set up, the necessary clothing, food, and booze for a two night stay at the Harvard Cabin.
As I left the parking lot I noticed three climbers headed up the Tucks trail. I caught up to them and asked if they were interested in a fourth person for their team, luckily they were. So I walked up with Ty, CH, and Collee. I hope I’m spelling their names correctly. Ty and Collee were visiting for the holidays from Bozeman where they were in school. We chit-chatted up the trail and once we reached the fork for the Huntington Ravine trail I told them I’d continue on ahead and get to the cabin to drop so stuff off. We didn’t have an early start so I figured this would be a little more time efficient.
I think the small amount of running I’ve been doing and living at 4500 ft has helped me out aerobically. I felt really strong heading up the trail and was able to make it to the Cabin in one hour flat. The conditions on the trail helped too, they were just enough snow to walk comfortably but not so much that it was postholing.
Pulling around the bend and seeing the avy board I was surprised to see that the rangers had moved to the five scale rating system, the first day of the year. It was only at Moderate so I wasn’t too concerned though. I’ve been up Pinnacle and in the Ravine in general and many have been on Moderate days. Smart route finding and not leaving yourself exposed to being swept off your feet is the name of the game.
Harvard Cabin’s weathered but still proud red sign was a nice sight, as well as the evergreen boughs decorating the front. Rich, the caretaker, is pretty good about keeping a festive spirit for Christmas. No one was there when I arrived so I dumped my overnight stuff and quickly repacked my bag for the climb and headed out the door.
The four of us made the trip up to the base of the ravine in decent time. It was Ty and Collee’s first time in the Ravine. CH had been up Pinnacle before, but it was many years ago. As we hiked up the fan we could see a party on Pinnacle Buttress (5.7) which is usually more of a summer route, but is done occasionally in the winter. It turned out that Rick was in that party.
We suited up near the base of the route and I found out that we only had a single rope and one half of a twin setup. I probably should have asked if I needed to bring my rope but I figured they had the other half of it. Ty headed up on the single and I waited, intending to lead on just the one half of the twin. Technically you shouldn’t do this, but two factors were in our favor. First is that the rope is physically able to hold a fall by itself, since it is a half/double rope. The other is that I was confident on the route and did not think falling was remotely likely.
Ty got up a good ways and I headed up slightly to the left of his line. Time was not abundant so I figured having both leaders climbing was wise. We were unsure if we’d top out and go down the Alpine Garden or just rappel the route. Either way, being quick was helpful.
Collee and CH, even though they were using antiquated tools were able to get through the first pitch crux. They were pretty fast actually. Ty and I shared the same anchor and once we were all at the belay he kept going up the neve for the second pitch. In the past there has been a fixed anchor at the end of P1 and at P2 from what I recall, thus allowing the option of rappelling the route. However this day Ty ran out the whole rope and there wasn’t anything we could find fixed. Ultimately we set an anchor and brought the second up to the end of P2.
At this point we were getting towards 3 pm. Ty scouted above a little to see if there was a fixed anchor we could use but we cam up dry. Ultimately we decided rapping would be the best thing and we fixed a nut and a sling for an anchor and rapped off that. Another rap from P1 and we were back to the fan. The full moon was rising and it illuminated the ravine perfectly and headlamps were really necessary until we hit the trees. It was a good climb on a perfect day.
Once back at the cabin I settled in a re-met a couple guys that were at the cabin at the same time last year. Reese and his Dad, Dick are training for Denali this summer. They’ve been training pretty hard and have the skills and should do fine as long as the weather cooperates. Rich was also at the cabin and I caught up with him as well.
The next day was a big storm, so I didn’t expect to get into the Ravine at all because of avy danger. Reese and his dad were going to get an early start, leaving just after the weather was radioed in, and try to summit Washington. This seemed like a fun plan so I tagged along. When we woke up the next morning the snow was already piling up and it took us an hour to reach treeline. Reese and I continued on but Dick decided to head back since he tweaked his knee a bit.
I was really hoping we could make it to the summit. The weather report had called out 80 mph winds and blowing snow. Pretty full on conditions as you’re going to get. It would be a nice extra accomplishment for this vacation back to New England. Unfortunately because of the direction of the wind and the amount of snow falling we encountered some significant drifts below Lions Head. Reese, who’d been breaking trail all morning waded through trying to find solid footing. We swapped positions and I broke trail the rest of the way to Lions Head. The wind was getting pretty fierce at this point, perhaps 50-60 mph with higher gusts which knocked me off my balance. We made it up onto the rocks and thought we’d get out of the wind, regroup and decide what to do. Once we did reach the rocks we didn’t really get any respite from the wind so we just started heading down. It had taken us an hour to get from treeline to Lions Head because of the drifting.
Back at the cabin we all tried to warm up and dry off. We all counted the hours down to when we could crank up the stove. The bad thing about heading back to the cabin early in the day is sitting around without heat. Its better than outside for sure but still chilly.
As per usual the cabin was filled with stories of where everyone’s climbed, what they want to climb, food, and alcohol. I made some new friends Sonja, Peter, and Marty. Rich and Marcia stayed in town into the evening enjoying the fresh powder at Wildcat. By the time Marcia and her sister showed up Marty, who’d lugged up 10 liters of alcohol, and I had had a few drinks. Rich was still a ways down the trail so we went on a welcome mission with a bottle of Jager and a sandwich. Less than 10 minutes down the trail we met Rich and all had a nice shot under the lightly falling snow. The drinks didn’t stop flowing once back at the cabin either.
This morning, Friday, I got up and since the avy danger was still unpredictable decided I’d head down in time to see my sister off for San Diego. Packing up I gave everyone a warm goodbye and set off down the trail. Harvard Cabin is one of my favorite places, even when there isn’t much climbing going on it still is lots of fun. Being up in the mountains in a log cabin, wood stove firing, some scotch in hand, snow falling outside, and climbing stories being shared. Does it get better than that?
Sunday I was able to get out with Boris for some climbing. The original plan was to head to the Black Dike on Cannon Mtn, but since Boris hasn’t gotten any pitches of ice in under his belt we decided perhaps doing something on Mt. Washington would be better. That was until the Observatory predicted low single digit temps and 85-105 mph winds for the summit. We decided that those conditions also weren’t favorable for a first trip out for Boris–I had already gotten four days of climbing in Bozeman–so we settled on going back to the original plan on Cannon.
Our start from D’Acres in Dorchester was a little later than we’d expected, leaving there at 9:30am. The drive to Cannon isn’t far, a little less than an hour. As we suited up the view from the parking lot on the Black Dike was good–much better than last time I was here. Some wispy clouds billowed over the summit but for the most part the skies were clear and the temps in the low 20’s. While our plan was to climb the Dike the breakdown of the pitches was undetermined.
The approach up was less than stellar. The rain from two days prior had frozen in many places and was covered with an inch of light snow, making for slippery conditions even in the woods. Once getting out of the woods we slipped and slid our way up the boulder field below the massive face of Cannon Mtn’s east side. The snow was not sufficient to cover the holes in the boulders nor was it enough to freeze them in place. Every step was a cautious balancing act in mountaineering boots and dorm fridge sized boulders shifted and slid as we walked across them. During the approach we could see two teams on the Dike, one just getting to the end of the first pitch and another part just in front of them.
Boris claimed the first pitch since it would be his warm up to ice for the season. The long first pitch is a bunch of steps and isn’t harder than WI3, but still had a few interesting bulges to surmount before getting to the ice screw belay “ledge”. As we put on our harnesses another party, Adam and Caroline, came up and we chatted for a bit. They are guides and split their time between Chamonix, Salt Lake, and New Hampshire. Their plan was to follow another party up Fafnir (WI5+) to the right of the Black Dike.
Boris headed up the first pitch and for not swinging the tools at all this season looked pretty good and didn’t have much trouble. I headed up after the belay was on. The stained yellow ice looked a bit like frozen iced tea. The rain a couple of days before and the moderate temperatures made for some good sticky ice for the most part, though a few chunks came sailing down from some of the other parties above. After reaching the belay it was decision time.
Normally the etiquette of climbing is that you “swing” leads. This means swapping which climber heads up the next pitch. There’s a few reasons for this but biggest are to keep rope management easier and to give both climbers the chance to have the excitement of leading. However, Boris is a stronger climber than I am and the Black Dike has been called by the father of modern ice climbing, Yvon Chouinard, a “black, filthy, horrendous icicle.” Even he didn’t get the first ascent. It was time for me to lead and decide if I was up to leading the crux pitch. And did I mention that I hadn’t lead any ice in Bozeman?
On the second pitch the ice begins to thin out and there is a traverse left across rock to gain a long ice runnel on the left side of the cleft. The rock section on this day only happened to be about eight feet wide, just a few moves. Looking at it for a while I decided the feet were good and there was some pro because of a rappel anchor. The anchor would be at my feet for the traverse but it still was there–not that falling with sharp things at my hands and feet is what I wanted to do though.
I decided to go all in and do it. Heading up I placed a 19cm screw in the last place I could before heading into the traverse. Getting to the rappel anchors it was obvious that the other parties we’d seen ahead of us hadn’t gone this way. The dusting of snow overnight was still settled on the footholds I was looking to use. The other parties had used a higher traverse, which had more rock, less positive feet but an easier transition into the ice.
Inspecting and clipping into the rappel anchors I stepped up to the ledges. The feet were good enough to place a whole crampon on, but the placements for the tools was poor. Everything was slopey or not quite positive enough for my tastes. No cracks to slot tools into either. After a couple of minutes of cleaning off the snow I was able to find a reasonably good right placement on which I could shift my feet. This got my left tool within striking distance of the steep runnel. Delicately looking for just the right spot for my tool I was able to stick it in some solid tea colored ice. With a solid left placement I looked for another right placement so that I could stick my left crampon into the ice. Eventually I found something that worked well enough and got my left side established into the ice. Inching over I was able to swing the right tool in and headed up a few feet to a good rest. Unfortunately the ice wasn’t really all that deep and so I kept moving up for my first piece of pro after the traverse. I can’t remember if I placed a 13cm screw or if I placed the brown tricam next, but either way it was a relief to have some good protection after the dicey traverse.
Moving farther up the runnel it was all similar climbing to what I’d done in Bozeman a few weeks prior. Narrow spaces with plenty of opportunities to stem, chimney, and counterbalance off of rock or ice on either side. Placing a couple more screws and clipping some buried pink tricams I wondered where the anchors were. The climbing was fun but I was very glad to pull up the last bulge and see the fixed gear on the left side of the runnel.
Boris made a little quicker work of the pitch than I did, understandably. While I was at the belay I was able to get a good view of the two parties next to us on Fafnir. They’d gotten to the third pitch and run out of ice. Adam and Caroline decided to head a bit left and had about 50 feet of dry tooling to content with. Adam made a bunch of rock moves in gloves and from a precarious looking stance pounded in a piton. I’ve not driven in any iron before but the progressively higher pitched ring of a good piton going in is a reassuring sound–even when I’m just watching. The other party, Majka Burhardt and Peter Doucette, went farther right and had a similar adventure, though there was a bit more ice for them.
We looked at the time, 2:45pm. Our late start and the difficulty of the route had caught up with us. Sunset at 4:15pm was coming and though the third pitch looked inviting we decided to rappel so we could hike out in daylight. This turned out to be a good decision since there were many slips on the way through the boulder field and even in the woods below them. Once at the car we celebrated with a shot of 12 y.o. Scotch. Boris’ first ice of the season went well and my successful lead of the crux pitch of perhaps the most notable ice climb in the Northeast also went off without a hitch.
It’s warmer at 26,000 ft in Pakistan.
-Kyle Dempster commenting on the weather at the parking lot in Hyalite Sunday afternoon.
The first week of December I had the great fortune to get a paid trip up to Bozeman, MT and the ice climbing festival in Hyalite Canyon. Never having been to Bozeman and their famous ice fest I was pretty pumped.
Leaving from work on Wednesday me and Joel headed to the airport, leaving our desks at 3pm for our 5pm, flight. Have I mentioned how awesome it is to live in a city with an international airport that you can get to in less than half an hour? We boarded and in a little less than 90 minutes we were wheels down in Bozeman.
The weather as of late in Salt Lake was fairly warm and dry, not unusual I guess, though I’m not sure. As we (KP, Bill, and Joel) walked past rows and rows of Suburbans I didn’t really feel like we were in a place that had ice. Temps were in the mid-40’s and the damp pavement meant it had rained recently. The drive into town, not in a Suburban but a Toyota Highlander, reinforced much of the illusion that this Ice Fest would be a bust, no snow and warm temps.
Joel and I settled into the house that some of the other folks from work rented and prepped our bags for an easy day of climbing. We’d be going into Hyalite and checking at two of the popular areas, Genesis I and II to see if the organizers needed any help.
Bozeman is a fairly small town of less than 40,000 people. Though it has a small population the town is vibrant and the Montana State University campus continually pumps energy into everyone, keeping the town fresh. In the morning we picked up KP and headed through town to the Hyalite. While the town is in a flat area, there are mountains surrounding it, namely Bridger Bowl Ski area and the mountains south and east of town which hide Hyalite.
In recent years the road into Hyalite is plowed on occasion to keep it passable by regular vehicles. It was not always this way. Climbers previously had to use snowmobiles or hike/ski about 13 miles to get to the best climbs. Naturally this is a big commitment and an even bigger day so Hyalite was primarily an early season venue, closing once the snows closed the road. Not so any longer. While the plow doesn’t come everyday or even just because it is snowing, it does plow sufficiently for passenger cars with decent tires to get in and play in the canyon. The plowing is thanks to the efforts and funds of many of the ice climbers who live in town, not the least of which Joe Josephson
Driving up the canyon we saw a little bit of snow as we wound our way higher. The look of the place is very Rockies in that there are lots of conifers and the peaks have few if any trees. Definitely a different look than the mountains in Salt Lake. Winter made its presence known a little more with the few inches of snow on the ground. Getting to the parking lot, Joel, KP, and I suited up for the 10-15 minute walk up to Genesis I (G1). Here we found a bunch of people all trying to figure out how to do this dumb sport called ice climbing. Wild noodle wristed swings with ice tools, puffy jackets, and tentative kicks in crampons–all the signs new climbers. Things were getting along pretty well so Joel lead us on to G2. Joel is a former Bozeman local and helped start the ice fest back in the day. KP and I having never been to the area were just following his lead.
G2 was similarly stocked full of clinic attendees and guides. There was a little less room here and looked like we wouldn’t be able to get on the ice much. Itching to swing the tools we moved on to a smaller climb another 10 minutes down the trail called Hangover (WI3). Here we came across one or two people already at the base with two more hiking up, though not from the trail we’d used. Since the other party had gotten there before us, we waited our turn and chatted with them. Pretty quickly we made friends and found out Peter, Sarah, and Liz were from Salt Lake City and Christian, who led the pitch to set a top rope, was from Connecticut. Talk about strange coincidences! It also turned out we were all “working”. Christian is a customer service rep for Lowa boots, Peter from Liberty Mountain (outdoor retailer), Liz from Patagonia, and Sarah assisting Peter her cousin.
Liz hadn’t done much, or really any I think, ice climbing in the past so she was naturally asking for tips and such. At some point the topic of screaming barfies came up. Sarah who had climbed just before her had gotten a mild case of them and confusing Liz. For the uninitiated screaming barfies are what can happen to your hands after a pitch of ice climbing, particularly to beginners. I’m not a physician but roughly here’s what happens. First you climb a pitch, or perhaps not even a whole pitch of ice. You’re scared, you don’t trust your feet, you grip your tools to death, you never shake out, your hands are constantly above your head. Blood has a tough time pumping through your hands and fingers because of the kung fu grip and since it is cold (this is ICE climbing right?) your hands get cold. I’m not talking about making snowballs with bare hands cold. I’m talking about wooden and numb and have a hard time articulating your fingers. Perhaps it is akin to frostbite, but not quite I think. Sounds terrible right? Well that isn’t the bad part of the barfies, the best (worst) has yet to come.
Once you return to the ground or you get to the belay where your partner is, you finally can lower your arms below your head and loosen your grip on the tools. This allows blood to rush back down your arms and into your fingers, warming them up. Great right? Nope. For some reason the flood of warm blood back into your capillaries causes your hands to go on pins and needles. You might even feel the cold blood pumping back up your arm towards your core. The pins and needles soon are muted by blinding pain in your hands. The rush of blood has awoken thousands of nerve endings and they are all trying to reboot and send info back to your brain. It is not uncommon for some people to vomit during this process, hence the name, screaming barfies. As the blood does it’s job and the nerves sort things out, the flood of blood warms your hands so intensely that it feels like they are in a hot tub. The contrast in feeling to the previous phase is remarkable. From the lowest lows to the highest highs. If all this doesn’t make sense Liz’s expression in the photo below should explain it. The whole process takes about 10 minutes.
The barfies can be prevented by careful warmth management and it isn’t hard to recognize their onset once you’ve gotten them. We all did a few more laps on the climb which wasn’t very memorable, but fun since it was the first ice of the season. We even got to climb to some tunes after Liz pulled out a fanny pack sound system. We all headed back to the cars and parted ways for dinner and refreshments.
Thursday I linked up with KP and Joel once again, but also with Bill and his friend Doug Chabot, another Bozeman local. Doug is an accomplished alpinist with many trips to Pakistan, an avalanche forecaster, and along with his wife runs an organization for educating women and girls in Pakistan. Check out the site at Iqrafund.org. The five of us headed to Champagne Sherbert (WI4). The route started up a slabby rock and small runnel of ice, this lead to a sustained 20-25 feet of near vertical ice. A rest leads into another section of vertical and then another rest. from here there is a 5-6 foot pillar to top out to the belay. The climb is no more that 10 feet wide at any point. So what do you do with five people and two ropes? Well have one leader and four seconds of course! This was accomplished by having two second tie into cow tails in the rope near the ends, leaving enough room for the other two guys to tie into the ends of the ropes. This is not what you’d find in any book or on the AMGA guide exam at all. But it worked and provided no one falls ans sends a crampon into the top of the bottom guy’s helmet then it is about the quickest way you can get 5 people to the top of a climb. And indeed we did get to the top in probably about the same time as a team of three.
We repeated this performance on the climb adjacent to Sherbert called Champagne Slot (WI3+). A slot isn’t exactly where you want to go with this sort of arrangement since the bottom guy gets ice rained down on him, but hey, it works.
Since Thursday night it had been snowing, there was a bit of a break during the first half of Friday but it picked up again in the afternoon and evening. Friday had 3-4 more inches of snow than the previous day making things much more picturesque. Winter was here for sure.
After Champagne Slot we headed back into town to catch a slideshow with Michael Kennedy and his son Hayden. Michael is an accomplished alpinist with many big routes under his belt. In addition to being a badass climber, he also was the editor of Climbing Magazine for about 25 years. He is now the editor of Alpinist Magazine which is an amazing publication. His son Hayden, 21, has recently become thrust into the main stage of climbing for his and Jason Kruk’s controversial stripping of the bolts on Cerre Torre’s Compressor route in Patagonia. I won’t go into the fine details, but here’s the reader’s digest version of what you should read here.
First off to get yourself in the correct frame of mind, google Cerre Torre and look at the pictures. It is probably the most beautiful and inspiring mountain in the world. An Italian climber claimed he was the first to reach Cerre Torre‘s summit in 1959 and in the process his partner was swept to his death by an avalanche during the descent. The climbing community doubted his achievement and determined to prove his alpine chops and disprove the naysayers, in 1970 he returned to the mountain. This time he brought some mechanical help to bring him to the top, a gas powered compressor used to drill hundreds of bolts into the upper headwall of the route. Once reaching the huge rime ice “mushrooms” he turned around and proclaimed they were not part of the mountain and therefore weren’t necessary to climb to have reached the summit. The “accomplishment” was controversial at the time as it goes against almost everything that alpinism stands for. Nevertheless the bolts remained until January of 2012.
In January (summer in the southern hemisphere) Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk went up the route and were able to do without the bolts by varying their line. On the way down they did something a bit brash perhaps, but given they are in their early 20’s these things happen. On their way they decided to remove the bolts to return the mountain to a more natural form, something that should have happened a long time ago. Despite the original controversy the bolts caused when they were placed in 1970, there was similar uproar at their removal. Check out Hayden’s and Jason’s post on the Alpinist linked above for more info.
Michael and Hayden put on a touching slideshow covering some of their summits and reasons why they climb. Michael made a touching presentation on the balance of his climbing, career, and his family. Since I was with the “in” crowd I was able to share dinner and a few drinks with Michael and a couple other alpine badasses during the weekend.
From Friday evening on into Saturday it was snowing. During the drive up the canyon in the morning there was probably 6 new inches or so on the road. Four of us headed up to Dribbles (WI4). For the whole hike up it snowed and there was about 12 inches of fresh stuff on the ground. Once we got to the climb it was apparent that the weather wouldn’t be letting up. The extra elevation and lack of trees exposed us to some gusty winds and plenty of spindrift. It was full on in Hyalite. Climbing went from being fun and social the previous two days to being a different kind of fun, more of a challenging fun. It was great. After topping out and rappelling we ran into a few groups on their way up, which was surprising, since at the pace they had they’d be topping out the three pitch route in the dark. Hopefully they rapped off the first pitch.
Sunday cleared out the snow, which didn’t stop at all on Saturday, and brought a clear and cold day. It was just Bill and I. For this trip KP decided to stick to drinking girlie drinks and bum around town. We headed to Cleopatra’s Needle (WI5). After sweating through my Nano Puff on the hike in trying to keep up with Bill I quickly got a chill, even in my big puffy. Though cold the position for Cleo’s is spectacular, even though it went into the shade just as we arrived.
Bill delicately kicked up the standing pillar at the base of the route. Luckily previous climbers had hooked it out a bit making it easier to climb. This was good since kicking it it sounded like a hollow core door. Working higher there was a 40 ft section of vertical ice with again some good hooks. While I belayed I couldn’t get a really good look at the route or how to climb it since there was a lot of brittle ice because of the cold. Bill did his best to keep it from raining down but there’s only so much one can do. I was safely tucked into an alcove so I was fine, but I had to kind of onsight the route as a second which is a bit odd. The first pitch isn’t really the “business” P2 is for that. The belay for P2 was equally picturesque but colder as the wind started to pick up at this point. It was a constant battle to stay somewhat warm while Bill headed up P2 which had a good 60 ft section of vertical ice with few rests. Understandably he took his time to make the careful moves and I was stuck catching spray from the drips that fed the formation. The best place to belay was under a bunch of hanging daggers. Standing under them really creeped me out but it was the best place to stand.
Once I was on belay I got my hands back as best I could to fight off the barfies and went into it. I didn’t have too much trouble with the pitch. Not to say that it was easy, but I didn’t think it was terrible. Wouldn’t have wanted to lead it for sure though. The vertical section ended with a slight rest and then went into a few moves on rock on the right and thin ice stemming on the left. I ended up popping off at one point where I thought I had a stance and was trying to warm my hands. I wouldn’t even call it at fall though. Getting to the top was no discussion necessary to get down and back to the car and get warm. Cleo’s is an amazing climb, probably the best pitches of ice I’ve done so far. Loving the Cobra’s and the Stinger crampons! Made the job much easier and pleasurable!
The four days of ice climbing was just awesome. The past two trips, less than seven days apart are why I wanted to move west–standing on top of a desert tower in the sun at 60 degrees on Saturday, then one week later standing in full on conditions, spindrift coming down on top of me at the Dribbles in Montana, stunning.
On top of the spectacular climbing I’m really lucky to have met a bunch of alpine greats, past and current. It is really exciting to have met some of the people I’ve read about in magazines and seen in alpine journals. The reason I’ve been able to meet these people is because of work and I’m looking forward to participating in their future trips; even if it is just by having a hand in some of their equipment.
I had the great fortune to get a call from Paul Brenner–West Virginian, goat herder, chicken raiser, and climbing hardman–to say that he and Lauren would be travelling to the Southwest rather than Mexico for their annual month-long break from farming. One of their first stops on their trip would be Indian Creek, a short 4ish hour drive from Salt Lake City. Even though the Black Diamond Christmas party at a swanky mansion type place was going on that Friday, Nov. 30th, I decided to skip it and visit with some good friends down in the desert who I hadn’t seen in over a year.
Late Friday I headed out, perhaps around 5:30pm; a little later than I’d hoped but a few things needed to be tidied up at work. On the way out of Salt Lake/Provo area on the Wasatch Front I ran into some traffic. The highways out here are pretty wide, 4-5 lanes in places so it was always moving to some degree. Once passed Provo I was able to open it up. Unlike the Northeast which has lots of people and stuff everywhere, there’s a whole lot of nothing in Utah. This allows for regular state routes to have 65 mph to 80 mph speed limits. This of course means that I’m travelling at 5-10 mph over those. Given that it was night and quite dark I never really opened it up though. Approaching the Creek I had to slow a bit since there are open ranges and a possibility of cows in the road exists.
Pulling off the main road in the Creek, Rt. 211, I headed down the dirt road for Bridger Jack Campground. The campground is little more than an official place to park a car and sleep. There are no amenities, no trash, no structures, no fees, just nothing. Well there are some bitchin’ views of the Bridger Jacks, a tower-esque formation of sandstone. It also has a moderately difficult road to travel to get there. After my Red Rocks incident a few weeks prior, I was hesitant to drive down the road, especially at night. But I figured that I was able to get the WRX through a lot on that trip and this road would be easier from beta I got from Kevin at work. The road did prove to be tricky in some spots but no major hills so a little momentum was all that was necessary to clean the difficult sections. Paul and Lauren were already in the tent, it was about 10 pm when I arrived but they came out and we caught up a bit on things before retiring to our tents.
In the morning we had some breakfast and headed off to the North Sixshooter Tower which is a bit of a haul from Bridger Jack CG. There is also a fairly lengthy dirt road which luckily with their Pathfinder didn’t prove to be very difficult. The side of the tower we decided to approach on isn’t used very often as a result we didn’t find a good trail from where we parked the car to where the tower is. One good thing about the desert is that you can see for miles so we could see where to go, but the down side to the desert is the fragile environment and just ‘shwacking across isn’t the most environmental thing to do. We stuck to sand and rock as much as we could, avoiding the delicate cyanobacteria fungus.
After some scrambling and two talus fields, there the tower is on a plateau and the car was at the bottom of it, we finally reached the base of the tower. The view even from the base was pretty amazing. I’ve commented before but I’ll do it again, the scenes of the west are striking, more so than most on the East Coast. I think the only thing that might compare is a brilliant autumn day with all the foliage bursting.
If the view was this good at the base it’ll be even better at the top, eh? Lauren decided on a rest day and left the climbing to Paul and I. We chose Lightning Bolt Cracks (5.11) a classic line up the Eastern-ish side of the tower. The first pitch starts as a finger sized crack but quickly widens to a little big near the top of the 100 ft pitch. Paul lead this one as I’m still not in shape to lead that difficulty, especially at the Creek. The pitch had some good moves and a tricky finish around a bulge.
The second pitch was still tricky and had a traverse which was nice. The difficult portion of the second pitch was a chimney section which I found very awkward and difficult. This type of climbing continues to be my worst.
P2 ends at a great belay. The ledge isn’t large, it is a little awkward for even two people but it has amazing position. I was about 150+ft off the deck, and many hundreds off the desert floor. The ledge is just a little triangle of jutting out into nothing, superb. Paul continued up the third pitch as I wasn’t feeling the lead, even on the lower rating of this section. This turned out to be a good idea. From the belay there is a bombay chimney (flaring downwards so it is wider on the bottom than the top) which then pulls up a small roof. That part went down with out much trouble. The next portion of rock from there is very slippery and sandy as the quality of the rock degrades up this high. Following that is a squeeze chimney that I found very difficult. It was just a little too small for my long arms to really push myself up. Very little protection as well. Thanks Paul! From the summit we were awarded some amazing views of the valley.
After another shorter climb that I lead, truly onsight since it wasn’t on Mountain Project, we headed back to camp. I’ve been fed many times by Paul and Lauren or her parents so it was time for me to give back. I brought some curry paste, veggies, and rice. Unfortunately I forgot to bring the coconut milk so it wasn’t quite the full gourmet I was hoping for. Nonetheless it tasted great and hit the spot.
Sunday we brought both cars to the road since I’d be leaving in the afternoon. For more of a cragging day where Paul could really try something hard we went to Scarface Wall. This crag is great as it has a short approach and a bunch of climbs. Typical to the Creek there isn’t anything less than a 5.10 or so but that’s fine. I figured that I was getting used to the length and difficulty of Creek cracks so I decided I’d lead the warmup. The climb I chose was the route farthest to the left on the wall, an unnamed 5.10. I loaded up what I thought would be a sufficient number of cams and moved up. Off the ground the crack was #.75-1 camalot sized. This isn’t my strongpoint so I quickly moved through it to get to the #2 size. From here I started to get a bit tired because there weren’t any stances. I kept moving and realized that I’d run out of the #2 and #3’s I had and the crack only kept getting wider to wide #3 size. So I started bumping pieces and leapfrogging them. This completely wiped me out so I had to end up hanging on the rope. I wouldn’t call it a fall on gear just yet since I was only about a 1 ft above the last piece. This cycle of bump and hang repeated until I was after the changing corner on the pitch, which was quite wide, wide fist for me. Clipping the chains I was glad it was over–and it was only 60ft. I have a long way to go before I’m leading much here.
Lauren went up next and had a difficult time since her small hands quickly turned to fists then wide fists, then a bit off-width. I felt better when I saw her hand a couple times :-). Paul then launched into it and predictably had no trouble, though he did complain that fists were not his thing.
Next up was Scarface (5.11). This picturesque line has the Bridger Jacks and the Sixshooter towers behind it. The position is great and the climb is as well. The route starts as #.75-1, perhaps a little smaller even. From here the crack goes into dead vertical #2’s, which are normally a great size for me. However endurance and technique are the name of the game in the Creek. After about 50ft of #2’s (hands) I got tired. Seeing the only stance on the route about 10 ft above–a block with a good foot hold–I kept going and suppressed the pain in my feet and cramps in my hands. Finally I got there and was able to shake out and recover a bit. From here there is still another 50ft or so, luckily it gets a little easier as there are stemming options on the right wall. It is one amazing route, classic for sure. I’m looking forward to leading it clean at some point.
To finish up my day I followed, Not That Funny (5.12) which Paul put up. FINALLY I got to see Paul fail at something. No big whippers unfortunately but still it was nice to see him get stumped by a route. The route had tight hands to a roof, around the roof the corner changed to a right facing one. Pulling around this roof and bulge was the crux for sure. Very difficult feet because of the roof and the hands suck because the crack is #.75 sized. Once around the roof I was able to blast through the next 15-20 feet by laying it back and forgetting about messing with the straight in crack technique. I think this is definitely the beta for that section too. Paul wasn’t quite able to get it clean on top rope, but close.
We all hiked out at this point, perhaps around 3 pm. Not a ton of pitches, but they were tough and I was worked for sure. I was great seeing some good friends from the East and climbing in a beautiful area. Paul and Lauren’s next few weeks sounded pretty awesome with Red Rocks, Zion, and J-Tree, all on the list. Hope they have fun!
Since I just moved to Utah and I don’t have many vacation days at work, I didn’t go back to New England for Thanksgiving, a first for me. Instead I spent the long weekend in Red Rocks Canyon just outside Las Vegas. Climbing there in the past has been fun and it was no different this time.
I traveled down with Jon from work and met some of his friends there. The first day we went to the Black Corridor. At first I was not crazy about the idea since there are many fun long routes to do here. But it was good to get reacquainted with the rock as my last trip was in 2011. It was nice getting on some routes that I did on my first trip to Red Rocks a few years ago, and it was good to get on things I wouldn’t have even dared even just last year.
Dinner for Thanksgiving was rotisserie chicken wrapped in bacon cooked over the fire on tin foil, mashed potatoes, green beans?, sweet potato and maple syrup, stuffing and pie. Not a bad meal considering the limited cooking appliances available.
Friday Jon and I did Jubilant Song (5.8), eight pitches. The climb is on Windy Peak at the very south end of Red Rocks. The drive was a little longer and hairier than I expected. We took my WRX from Salt Lake. While the WRX isn’t super low it isn’t very high, especially with my aftermarket exhaust on there. We made it in ok but hoped that the other road would be quicker and easier for the return trip.
After topping out after 8 fun pitches in the sun we headed back to the car. A party next to us mentioned that the direct road wasn’t too bad except for one spot but they got through with a camper van without all-wheel drive. We figured we could as well. As the sun set we headed out on this road and it was indeed better. Until we got to a rocky, bumpy, steep hill. The section of road wound right and at the bottom of the wash sharply left. On the up hill, it was bumpy but not quite as rocky. But it was sandy and cut back right quickly. The only possible way for me to make it up this was gunning it from the downhill side of the hill. This required careful selection of the line to take around the biggest bumps and rocks. On the first attempt I veered slightly too far left and lost traction and came to a stop with one wheel totally off the ground. The WRX was not meant to do this. Low speed torque is not how my car is geared.
With Jon spotting I backed carefully down to the downhill side of the section again. We knocked down some of the bumps and filled in a few holes with some rocks as best we could. The sun had set, it was getting dark quickly, and there was only the camper van guy who possibly could save us if we couldn’t get up this time; going back the way we came also was out of the question as it was too rocky for an uphill shot. And I was running out of gas.
Gunning it, spraying sand and gravel all over, I bounced up the hill. Quite a bit more violently than I would have liked. At every moment I expected to hear the loud bang of a rock against my exhaust or worse, my oil pan. While I haven’t been under the car yet I don’t think I nailed anything too badly. We just made it up the section. Immediately after the camper van bounced its way up too. He had decided to take the same route out and I’m glad since if we hadn’t gotten up he would’ve been our only hope of getting out.
We filled up at the nearest gas station and then the next big event of the weekend happened, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I lost my wallet.
The next day I couldn’t seem to locate my wallet but I wasn’t too concerned since there was a bunch of stuff in the car. On this day 5 of us headed into Black Velvet Canyon to climb Prince of Darkness (5.10c) and Dream of Wild Turkey (5.10a). Jon and I would do Turkey and the others Darkness. The section of rock these routes are on is impressive. It is nearly unbroken with ledges or corners for 800 feet or so.
We queued up in line behind a pair of girls from Colorado on Dream of Wild Turkey. They moved slowly and we found out that it was because the second had only been climbing a couple of months. The transitions were very slow. We wanted to pass them at P3 but they didn’t stop for us. I spent two hours at P3, which luckily was a nice ledge. During this extended stay when the second was finally moving we had something quite unexpected happen. She was up about mid way through the 180 ft pitch when she kept saying she was sorry and that she was embarrassed. Bare assed is more fitting. She said she had to go to the bathroom and to take. Jon and I were so shocked and thought she was kidding. Looking up we saw her squatting while being held on the rope and pulling out a plastic bag. Was this for real? Pissing in a plastic bag while mid route? No it wasn’t, she was shitting.
After that we gave them their distance, but still had to wait for them. Despite starting at a little after 9am we only got to the top of P6 before we decided to bail. By that time it was 2:30-3pm and the sun set at 4:30pm. While on the way down we were again slowed by this pair of girls. They had rapped around the same time we started and were able to make it to the rap below us. I was in no mood to wait again so I proposed that the four of us combine ropes and set two raps up at a time. I went down with our ropes and started to set the next rap. While this may not have been the most efficient overall, I was at least able to get to the ground first. Eventually everything worked out and we hiked out before the girls and left them making their way out in the growing darkness in the shady canyon.
Sunday we were all pretty wiped and since we had a 6+ hour drive back to SLC, we went to Cannibal Crag to do a little sport climbing in the sun. It was fun and did a few steep routes. The drive back was a little more cramped as we had picked up two more people for the ride back. We were just able to squeeze into the WRX. Traffic wasn’t too bad, but it is aggravating when you are going 65 mph in an 80 mph zone.
A good trip and a nice Thanksgiving. The wallet hasn’t turned up even after checking the car and unpacking. Losing a wallet is a major pain, something I haven’t had to deal with before. All the credit cards need to be cancelled not to mention I need to remember what’s in it. Do you know every thing that’s in your wallet? Hopefully I’ll get my Utah license on Thursday. Until then I’m a scofflaw.
View from the Optimator Wall
Last weekend I had the good fortune to take a little climbing trip to the crack capital of the world, Indian Creek. The Creek is characterized by laser cut cracks in red sandstone. The routes start here around 5.10 and there isn’t much opportunity for face climbing. The long (+100 ft) pitches often require five, six, seven, or more of the same cam. This is a place to go with lots of people and pool racks together.
I’m pretty tired of writing stuff coming off of my Yosemite article so there won’t be a big post this time. Check out the pictures.