Ruth Gorge, Alaska 2013

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View down glacier to Mt. Wake and the toe of Mt. Bradley in the foreground.

April 27 through May 12, 2013

Alaska, the Last Frontier, so the license plate says.  It must be true then, right?

Since getting into mountaineering a few years ago I’ve wanted to travel to some of the bigger destinations of the world.  These include but are not limited to Alaska, Canadian Rockies, Alps, and Patagonia.  Bigger embodies a number of concepts:  beauty, commitment, money, time, challenge, skill, reward, and fear.  I found all these things on my trip to the Ruth Gorge.

The Ruth Gorge is perhaps one of the easiest alpine playgrounds to get to in North America.  Fly to Anchorage, drive 2.5 hours to Talkeetna, and fly 45 minutes to the Ruth Glacier.  You can do it in 24 hours from nearly anywhere in the lower 48, with proper planning and weather of course.  The Ruth Gorge and the glacier of the same name that sits in it are a wonder of geology.  The altitude of the glacier is not significant, only 4,650 ft at our base camp, not much different from my house in Salt Lake.  What is significant is the scale of the place.  The glacier is one mile across, 3,800′ deep, and moving at over 3 feet per day.  The peaks that line the north-south trending gorge rise 5,000 feet from the nearly flat glacier.  Stealing an analogy from a friend at work, this is not unlike stacking El Capitan and Half Dome on top of each other.  The glacier feeds from the slopes of Denali (20,320′), the tallest point in North America.  More interesting facts and history are found in the American Alpine Club Journal.

I learned that a co-worker, Matt, would be heading to the Ruth back in January or early February.  I’d been interested in getting into a bigger trip for a while and I thought that it would be Rainier this year but the Ruth sounded equally interesting.  Matt had visited in 2012 with a friend from back East.  I asked if they minded me joining their expedition.  They were happy to have me along.

Contents

  1. Pre-Glacier
  2. Ruth Glacier Proper
  3. Root Canal Glacier
  4. Post-Glacier
  5. Calendar
  6. Photos and Videos

Pre-Glacier

I’ll skip the details of planning and training.  Matt and I ran, skied, climbed, etc to help prepare.  Planning we gChatted with Jesse back on the East Coast, reviewed American Alpine Journal articles, MountainProject, and the Alaska guidebook.  I forced them to use an elaborate spreadsheet for packing lists.  All fun stuff.

Despite my detailed spreadsheet in Google with multiple fields, categories, responsible persons, weights, and others, we had baggage issues.  Jesse doesn’t have access to the quantity of gear that Matt and I do.  This skewed the baggage responsibilities to Salt Lake and not equally between SLC and Albany.  Despite our best efforts we needed to use five checked bags for Matt and I, one ski bag, and four duffles.  In the past I have been under the wing of a UTC upgrade with Delta so that I got my first bag free, not to mention often getting bumped to first class.  I had booked my ticket when I was still active in the Silver status.  Unfortunately my upgraded status expired before the trip and Delta whacked us with $25 for the first, $35 for the second, and a whopping $125 for the third bag.  Matt obviously had the charges for his two bags as well.  What a downer, should have tried shipping more stuff.  On top of this of the 5 bags were all 48-49 lbs-due in part to my snazzy spreadsheet we could “virtually” pack and see what things weighed within a pound or two before stepping on the scale.

Flying into and out of Anchorage is actually quite nice from Salt Lake City.  We had a direct flight and the plan was largely empty allowing us to stretch out a bit and try to get some sleep.  The flight left around 10 pm so we were able to get a full work day in.  Take THAT NYC airports!  No need to leave 3+ hours before a flight and wonder if you’ll make it in time.  Ten minutes from my house to an international airport, and I don’t even live at the end runway close.

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While Matt is a narcoleptic bastard and got a good 4+ hours of sleep on the plane I wasn’t able to get any real sleep, despite a couple of beers and a melatonin.  I’m keeping my streak alive of never being asleep on a plane for more than 20 minutes.

The first crux of the trip now presented itself.  Did all of our bags make it?  As you can imagine not getting a bag would be a huge problem.  While REI would certainly have anything we needed should a bag become lost, it wasn’t really something we really wanted to do.  Shuffling down to the baggage claim area–which was dead as the few passengers who were on our plane must have gone through to Asia–we waited to see our gigantic duffles.  As they emerged from the conveyor belt we breathed a sigh of relief.

Stepping outside to wait for Jesse to pick us up I lost a half a breath.  It was cold!  Leaving Salt Lake we had enjoyed some spring temps and it was in the mid-60’s to 70’s.  In the dead of night in Anchorage it probably was in the teens.  Good thing I had a warm standing around jacket courtesy of work.

Jesse collected us and squeezed the gear into the Volvo wagon we was driving.  Very fortunately we had a place to stay in Anchorage this night.  Jesse has some friends who live there and have plenty of space in their beautiful house.  In the morning I got to meet Martha, Terry, and Skip their dog and thank them for their generosity.

Our ride to Talkeetna wasn’t until 1pm which gave us plenty of time to get out and do some shopping.  The Ruth Gorge is a place where you fly in with all the supplies you’ll need for the time you’re there.  There is nothing but snow, ice, and rock out there.  No toilets, campgrounds, structures, nothing.  Thankfully you don’t really need to kart all your supplies around.  Generally people lug their stuff a short way from the plane and set up base camp.  Our shopping list included food for 12+ days and liquor of course.  Our food list was pretty good, not just ramen noodles.  We were planning to eat well.  For liquor we had a bottle of 12 year Glenlivet and bottle of Knob Creek bourbon.

Going to the Ruth is not a cheap endeavor   While it isn’t hugely expensive, it isn’t cheap.  As such we tried to go a little cheaper for our ride to Talkeetna, which lead us to Go Purple shuttle. At 1pm our driver and her purple decrepit Chevy Astro van showed up.  It was clear that we would be taxing the gross weight of the vehicle and it wasn’t entirely because of our 500+ lbs of gear plus us.  Once underway our driver played tour guide and made sure to point out every little detail of menial interest.  Not just while in Anchorage–though, to be sure we drove by the only reindeer living in Anchorage city limits–the entire 115 mile drive was pointing out that there was a Subway in this town or that, or that if you look across the lake you can see Sarah Palin’s pink house.  Despite this the drive was fine, no wildlife though.  There is plenty to see outside the windows, and from what we saw it was very much winter still here.

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Sorting and reorganizing gear at Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT).

Arriving in Talkeetna we checked in with Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT).  As proudly displayed at TAT you can either “fly an hour or walk a week.”  The only powered transport to the glacier is by plane.  TAT, and it’s owner, Paul Roderick, have been flying into the Alaska Range for many, many years.  While they obviously fly climbers in they also do flightseeing tours as well for the more sane tourists.  As I would see, they have an enviable job.

After reorganizing, re-weighing, and tagging gear we headed to the TAT bunkhouse which is lodging provided with your ticket to the glacier.  We relaxed for a couple of minutes then set out into downtown Talkeetna, all 900 people of it.  The only paved roads are the spur road back to the state highway and Main St.  The town itself was still in the grips of late winter.  Plenty of snow on the ground and it was still cold.  As a result there weren’t any tourists, only climbers and locals in town.

There are few things to do in Talkeetna, especially with cold weather like it was: 1) Eat, 2) Sleep, 3) Drink, 4) Wait.  Matt and I thought #1 and #3 sounded pretty good.  Jesse on the other hand was fighting a bigger time difference and headed back to the bunkhouse for some sleep.  Matt and I headed to the Fairview Inn and Bar, a Talkeetna landmark and institution for the last 90 years.  Still being pretty early the locals sitting around the bar all turned to see who was entering when we opened the door.  No doubt when you live in a town as small as Talkeetna you’ll probably know everyone.

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While in Talkeetna we hit a local landmark, the Fairview Bar. We showed up early enough that there were some locals.

In the bar already was Pete Tapley, a BD athlete, who I’d met in Bozeman at the icefest.  Actually we had bumped into him at TAT while checking in and he’d mentioned about being at the Fairview.  We chatted for a while and found out that he’d just finished a new line on the east face of Moose’s Tooth called NWS (V WI6 M5, 1400m).  For the non-climbers reading that, I’ll summarize that WI6 is hard ice climbing.  I’ve only done one pitch of WI6 and it was on a top rope and I was gripped.  It generally means overhanging or oddly shaped ice.  He’d been out on the Buckskin Glacier below the east face of Moose’s Tooth for a few weeks.  The weather was seriously cold while he was there, -30F.  Not much to do when it’s that cold except–huh, well the same things I mentioned earlier :-).  I’m beginning to see a trend in Alaska recreation when the weather isn’t ideal.

We chatted a bit more and as the night went on, though night is difficult to tell since it was still daylight out at 11pm.  The bar continued to fill.  At some point a cover band got up on the small stage and started playing.  They were really good, playing some bluesy and rock stuff.  Some number of beers later (not really sure how many) we stumbled back to the bunkhouse to sleep.  Between the full strength brews, strange daylight hours, and a jam-packed bar in the boonies with a respectable ratio of girls to guys, my first taste of Talkeetna was pretty sweet.

Ruth Glacier Proper

The next morning we awoke and headed to another Talkeetna landmark, the Roadhouse for some great breakfast.  I had some sourdough pancakes with birch syrup made just a few miles down the road.  The sourdough didn’t shine through, but that might have been a result of the raspberries in it.  The birch syrup on the other hand was obvious and delicious.  At TAT we bummed around until Paul gave us the green light to fly.  The weather looked good for at least 3-4 days so we thought we’d get the two classic routes in the Root Canal out of the way.  Paul warned that there was wind and we might not be able to land up there and might have to drop us off in the lower gorge.

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Loading your own bags on the plane is kind of nice. No worries about it getting lost.

Small aircraft flight is pretty awesome, there’s not security, no checking of IDs, no worries of losing baggage since we loaded it ourselves, and there’s no locked door to the pilot.  In fact since this was my first time to the Gorge I got the right seat up front.  We’d be flying in a DeHavilland Turbine Otter which in TAT’s configuration seats 9-10 people including the pilot.  These aircraft were designed for backcountry use on lakes and snow so they have lots of power and high lift.  This was blatantly obvious as we traveled perhaps 200 yards down the runway before we were in the air.  To be honest it could have been 100 yards, it was amazing how quickly we were aloft.

The flight in slowly transitioned from snowy forests with winding glacially fed rivers, still iced over for the most part, into the foothills of the Alaska Range.  These mountains had some pristine skiing terrain.  You could go steep or mild depending on what you like.  Paul mentioned that he brings his family out in the plane to ski the front range for the day.  The river of water turned into a river of ice and the Ruth Glacier started carving its way through the mountains.

Immediately after getting into the air in Talkeetna we could see Denali.  The huge mountain has no rivals anywhere near it.  The entire Alaska Range seems to flow down from its summit.  It is not surprising that the native people call it “The High One”.  Today it was shrouded, to some degree, in clouds as it usually is.

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Alaska is certainly one of the most beautiful places I’ve been.

As we neared the climbing portion of the Gorge sharp granite peaks jutted through, too steep to hold snow like the front range peaks.  Seeing this terrain was awesome, in the true sense of the word.  As we approached the Root Canal the plane started to bump and jostle around.  Another minute or so and Paul pulled the plug and said it would be too windy today and we’d have to go to the lower Gorge.  Circling around the runway, which is no more than a trampled out patch of snow on the glacier, we could see some other tents.  As we approached for the landing it was amazing to stare up at the summit of Mt. Dickey (9,545′) while still being over a thousand feet off the glacier.  Wire thin lines of ice and snow dropped from the summit and were obvious hard climbing routes, certainly too hard for our party.

The landing was less noteworthy than you might think.  The plane’s wide skis and relatively hard snow made for a less harsh landing than I’ve had on some regular flights.  We all jumped out and immediately just gawked upwards.  Regardless of the number of times you visit this terrain I think the reaction would be the same.  We quickly began dumping our 525 lbs of stuff onto the snow and ferrying it over about 100 yards from the runway.  During this process Paul took off.  After all the planning and training we were really here.  More or less on our own, on a glacier.  Setting about we began to build camp, which primarily consists of using an avalanche probe to see if there are any crevasses under our camp spot.  There weren’t and the snow was over 265cm (8.6 feet) deep.  Once we were sure the camp was safe we started cutting blocks of snow to create walls to block the wind.  Unfortunately we made the camp a little small and had to squeeze our two tents in a bit.

Given the day was so nice and we were itching to climb, we headed towards the Japanese Couloir on Mt. Barrill (7,650′).  This is an easy snow climb that we only roped up for a couple of spots.  The rest of it is just steep hiking.  The great thing about the sun setting at 10:30pm is that it is really hard to get caught in the dark while climbing up here.  Our 5 hour 15 minute romp up the JC was a good way to break ourselves in.  We got back to camp around sunset and made up some dinner before bed.

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The terrain of the Japanese Couloir is pretty mild so we didn’t rope up. I used my piolet for the whole thing.

Thus far we’d arrived in Anchorage early Saturday April 27, grocery shopped, gone to Talkeetna.  Sunday flown into the glacier, made camp, climbed Japanese Couloir.  Two busy days.  Our next day, Monday we decided see some of the Gorge.  We headed over to 747 Pass between Mts Dickey and Bradley (9,100′).  These two are giants.  Wispy clouds clung to the rock and provided some sense of scale, though not much.  From camp we started heading towards the pass.  With the glacier being so flat and featureless there are no reference points to estimate how big or far away anything is.  A ski of what I thought 10 minutes would bring us between Dickey and Bradley. Thirty minutes later we just started to breach the gap between the two.  A snow cone below a route called Snow Patrol (AI5+) I estimated from camp to be 100 feet tall.  In reality it was probably closer to 400 feet as we got closer.

Skiing up the pass we headed cautiously over to the route put up by a couple Norwegians a few years ago.  High up on the cliffs there were hanging glaciers with the most amazing colored ice just balanced there.  These seracs demand a wide birth since if they fall they will wipe out everything below them.  As we neared the base of the route it was clear there had been some serac fall as the debris littered the snow.  We could see the first few pitches of the climb but the upper sections were obscured in the growing clouds.  We turned around and skied a couple of miles across the main glacier to mark a way through the crevasses for our attempt on a first ascent line.  This didn’t prove too difficult at this time of year because there is still lots of snow on top of the ice and the crevasses are hidden for the most part.

The next day we work up early to make an attempt on this new line.  Unfortunately the weather wasn’t ideal so the idea was scrapped.  The weather did clear a few hours later and it probably would have been a good day to climb.  In the evening and overnight we got some snow, which kept us from climbing the next day.  We did head towards a short ice line at the top of 747 Pass.  Despite the snow over night the weather was great during the day, but the route had a large cornice hanging over it that we didn’t like the looks of so we just went back to camp.

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The impressive Mt. Bradley (9100′). The sense of scale in the Ruth is difficult to grab. The featureless glacier provides no reference points. Here the base is probably at least two miles from where we’re standing. The height of the peak is similar to Half Dome AND El Cap on top of each other.

The weather had been quite varied over the couple of days since we arrived, typical of the Ruth though.  During the day the temperatures could be into the 40’s if the sun was out, well over that in the tents.  The snow makes it feel much warmer when the sun is reflecting off of it and coming down from above.  Overnight though it gets cold without the sun.  Low’s were probably around zero.

On the way down from 747 Pass I decided to unrope and ski down.  Matt and Jesse aren’t skiers and they didn’t want to take a chance of falling on the walk down.  I on the other hand was interested in getting down  quickly and having some fun.  The sun had warmed the snow to a nice consistency and was only a few inches deep before hitting a supportable but corn type crust.  Even with mountaineering boots I was able to carve some turns in the wide open glacier.  Lot’s of fun.

Thursday we figured that the snow had settled enough and were eager to get more climbing in.  Leaving camp at 5 am we started heading to our objective  Our wands from a couple of days earlier got us quickly to the base and we started hiking up the large couloir between Peak 7400 and London Bridge.  Heading over to the line Matt lead up the final steep snow and over the bergschrund to the base of the rock.

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At the top of the first long pitch of our potential new route. The pitch had a little bit of rock and a lot of crappy snow and ice up to AI3+/4-.

The line looked better from what they remembered and had more ice than last year.  Matt headed up a bit.  Much of the first pitch crux was about 20-30 feet up.  The light snow covered many features and made it hard to find protection and good sticks for the ice tools.  After a little while he decided to give me the rope.  Starting up I got sucked into a little corner because of the better ice, but got stopped because of a rocky section with no protection. I down climbed and went across some eggshell rotten ice and thin mixed moves.  It reminded me a little of the Black Dike, the moves were easier but less protected.

These moves gave me access to some easier ice and I continued up.  Placing a screw here and there as well as a piton or two.  I’ve never climbed a new route before, rock or ice, and it is an interesting experience.  The mental game that plays out when looking for protection is one of the draws of climbing.  That same game goes up a level when you are looking for protection or the correct line when you have no idea if there is anything since no one’s climbed it before.  As a result this pitch of perhaps AI3+ took a while, perhaps an hour.  I kept asking how much rope I had because I didn’t want them simul climbing with me leading on this terrain.  Luckily a protuberance of rock poked through the ice and after cleaning it off I found two good piton placements and a cam.  Jesse and Matt made quick work following the pitch.

We headed up for another pitch and gained access to a snowfield.  From there we probably only had some steep snow and ridge climbing to make the summit.  Not to say that it was close, there was still a lot of climbing left, but the clouds had been building and we hadn’t been climbing quickly so we rappelled down.  This line will remain uncompleted for another season, at least by us.  Hopefully we can go back in a year or two and finish it up, assuming it isn’t done by another party.

The next day and a half were do-nothing days since it snowed 16-18″, but much of it was very light stuff and blown away on Friday evening/Saturday morning.  With only perhaps five more days on the glacier we decided to get a flight up to the Root Canal Glacier.  From our camp looking northeast Moose’s Tooth (10,335′), the biggest peak in the Gorge, was showing us it’s plumb line called Ham & Eggs (AI4).  The approach from the lower gorge to the Root Canal can be a heinous slog and has some crevasse hazard.  The recommendation by KP was to bump up there with TAT and it would be a much more pleasant experience.  We’d rented a radio from TAT for just this purpose and once we heard them flying around we got them up on the radio and had them pick us up.  I can definitely say the less than 5 minute flight was worth it.

Root Canal Glacier

For a lay of the land, the Root Canal is a glacier that spills down into the Ruth Glacier.  It starts on a cirque created by Moose’s Tooth and then splits around a peak of rock called the Incisor (7,500′).  These splits then join the Ruth but not after falling 3,000 feet in numerous crevasses.

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Up glacier to Mt. Barrill in the center.

I’m not sure when flights to the Root Canal started but it isn’t exactly a gimme approach.  If you are a little queezy flying then this would not be the flight for you.  The approach threads between two rock walls and you actually land uphill on the glacier.  The space below Moose’s Tooth is not very large and as a result is a little trickier to get into.

Again we set up camp but this time we had huge walls looming just over our shoulder a few hundred yards away, and out of the cirque we had a jaw dropping view of Denali, clear of any clouds.  There are really on two routes in the Canal, Ham & Eggs (AI4) and Shaken Not Stirred (AI5).  I’m putting AI rather than WI, because alpine ice is a very different animal than water ice.

There were 4 other parties joining us in the Root Canal and this situation forces a cordial interaction between climbers.  Due to the length, difficulty, and hazards of the routes, it is important to know when people are headed out to climb.  Two parties could easily slow each other down if they are too close or even too far apart because of the falling ice.  A number of the parties came to talk to us and we worked out that we’d rest a day and then climb H&E, along with Vince Anderson and two clients.  This worked out pretty well.  Since the approach is only 10 minutes we waited for them to leave the ground at the first pitch before leaving camp.  Climbers are generally friendly people anyway and we got to know Brendan and John from Australia, as well as Dave and Aaron from Salt Lake.

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Basecamp in the Root Canal. Hard to find a bad view here.

Ham & Eggs was definitely one of my favorite climbs.  I started off leading the first 2 pitches.  In the second pitch was a steep 10 ft section of overhanging hard snow/ice.  While this didn’t make for good protection, it was very secure climbing, especially with the stemming moves that were available.  From here we had the first of many long snow pitches that Jesse led.  This brought us to the base of the proper crux of the route at P7.  We headed left for the ice crux rather than the rock to the right.  Again there was more overhanging snow/ice but only for about 10 feet, though the overall vertical section was longer than the one on the P2.  Luckily though the protection was better.  I felt pretty good on this pitch, perhaps not the hardest ice I’ve climbed but one of the harder leads.

I led one more pitch up some AI3+ ice to a belay where Matt took over.  He continued up at a good pace for 3 pitches during which time the weather turned from thin clouds with the sun trying to shine through, to a little wind and snow filling the air.  At Matt’s last pitch we had to wait for Vince’s party to rap passed us.  The couloir isn’t very wide so we need to let them pass before continuing.  During which time Matt cooled down a little too much.  His next lead, though no harder than any of the previous two, took quite a bit longer.  His mental game had been thrown off and he got cold because of it.  After getting to the anchor and bringing us up I took the rack to finish the last three pitches of snow.  I went up the next pitch placing as little protection as I could just to keep Matt and Jesse’s wait time down.  It was too late however and the topic of bailing came up.  I did one more pitch again with limited pro since it was just snow and we were in sight of the top of the route.  With two pitches left we headed down.  The many rappels went pretty quickly as two of us simul-rapped all but the first one, with backups of course.  Tent to tent we were 13 hours, with only 3 hours of rappelling.  In camp we made up some of my dehydrated chili and gulped down a shot or two of scotch.  Have I mentioned how good single malt is on a glacier?  We’d made a good attempt at a classic line and got through all the hard climbing.  I’ll have to come back and finish the route then go on to the summit.

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Matt heading up his first lead pitch of the day. To this point I had done the hard parts and Jesse the easier ones. The next few pitches were in between.

Another rest day and we lounged around soaking in the view of Denali, only about 10 miles away.  During this time we made our plan for Shaken Not Stirred.  This route, by grade would be the hardest ice I have led.  As I mentioned, alpine ice and water ice are two different things. Not so much in difficulty of climbing, but in quality of ice.  In the alpine the ice tends to be older, less sticky, not as thick, more brittle, a whole host of things which make things more committing, but more rewarding too.  Our plan for Shaken was a few more screws than we had on H&E and a few less cams.  The next day, Wednesday we started for Shaken.

The approach isn’t very long, perhaps 20 minutes.  The route is laid out similar to H&E where a few lower pitches of some difficulty lead to many pitches of snow, and then again into harder pitches in the top third.  The weather was cold and made the snow pretty good for cramponing and for good sticks.  In more typical conditions the start can be a bunch of rock moves.  In our conditions it was mostly harder snow and I didn’t have to do much for rock moves.  Continuing up in the second or third pitch was another steep overhanging section of snow/ice, which I didn’t really think much of until we rappelled back down it.  It was perhaps 20 feet high and had a V thread and a #1 cam protecting it.  Perhaps the quality of the protection made me forget the difficulty when I first did it.  This pitch is where the first of many smaller things started to add up to our eventual bailing.

I dropped two screws.  I’m not quite sure how it happened but as I reached for my #1 cam I knocked two screws off, leaving six.  This wasn’t an issue on the many pitches of snow after the lower crux but it did become a problem in the Narrows.

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Shaken Not Stirred (AI5) has about 500′ of climbing called the Narrows. There is no question as to why.

As we were about half way up the snow pitches we saw the obvious section of the route called the Narrows.  The book describes it as only two shoulder widths at points and stretching for 500 feet.  We could clearly see this thin cleft and thought we’d be upon it after another pitch on the snow.  Again the Ruth Gorge played scale and size tricks on us and it wasn’t for three more 200′ pitches of snow that we finally got to the Narrows.

What started off as 3 feet of ice in front of me and 5 feet of space for my shoulders quickly trickled down into 8 inches of ice of an undetermined thickness and having to turn my shoulders sideways in order to swing.  It is an amazing feature in the rock that so deep and tight a cleft can form and not have any cracks or opportunities for rock pro.  The blank walls extended well behind me and offered no assistance.  The crux of this pitch came near the end of it.  Again an overhanging section arched over my head.  Getting to this point my confidence had been broken down a bit because of having two less screws.  Normally this wouldn’t be a huge problem but the length of these pitches is almost always a full 60m rope.  Note for next time, bring 70m ropes.  I had to conserve screws along the pitch which made me climb more slowly and cautiously.  I made a V thread at one point to keep from using a screw.  It was next to another thread but that one looked terrible.  As I got into the crux the width made things incredibly difficult.  The previous overhanging stuff I’d done was wide and allowed for stemming.  Here stemming was impossible on the smooth granite and the ice wasn’t extremely confidence inspiring.  Adding to this was the sun angling into the cleft.  This warmed up what little snow there was and made it softer.  The placements pulling over the lip of the overhang were tenuous and my feet were not in a good position making the situation perhaps the scariest I’ve had while climbing.

Bringing up Matt and Jesse I gave Matt the lead.  I was kind of shot mentally and needed some time to rest.  I was definitely getting out of my comfort zone.  Matt headed up the next 350 ft of ice, which was as narrow, or perhaps narrower but luckily never overhanging.  The vertical sections were still difficult and Matt did a great job leading them.  Though he missed a belay it took us to the base of the crux pitch, P12 by the book.  At this point Matt’s missing the belay therefore extra long pitch with less than idea gear and anchoring off of a somewhat questionable V thread, had rattled him as well.  Once all at the anchor we regrouped.

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Crux of Shaken Not Stirred (AI5) in fat conditions. We decided to bail at this point. Reasons for which were many.

The crux widens to a more managable width similar to the Ham & Eggs.  The chockstone that frequently requires a mixed move or two with thin ice was overflowing with thick ice.  It was similar to the other cruxes we’d come across, perhaps 20-25 feet of steep ice that was capped by a slight overhang then onto snow.  It was my call whether we’d continue or not.  While Matt had led a great pitch earlier he wasn’t going to lead it and neither was Jesse.

We were so close and though I wasn’t feeling 100% mentally back, I thought I could give it a go.  After all we were only two pitches from the top and this was the last hard section.  Above this was only snow and I’d felt pretty good on the previous sections like this.  I headed up a little way.  Knocking the balled up snow on my crampons I angled to the right when I saw a crack that could take a #.75.  The #.75 and #.3 had been indispensable pieces and this was going to be another bomber placement.  Moving gear around I found that I didn’t have it on my harness.    Had I’d dropped this too?  No, I’d left some gear at the belay accidentally and I’d have to go back to get it.  This was the straw on the camel’s back.  Losing screws, getting to my mental limit, sun softening snow, not having all the gear, all added up into pulling the plug.  We started rapping down.

I’m really disappointed we didn’t get to finish this route.  It is a classic climb and not an easy one at that.  On Ham & Eggs we’d gotten through all the difficulties the only thing that kept us from getting to the top was weather, so I know that I could do that one again.  This bail on the other hand was not driven by outside circumstances as much.  It was to a degree, but primarily it was my mental game that stopped us from continuing.  I still think it was the right decision, a disappointing one though.

Post-Glacier

Back in camp we had our last glacial dinner.  The next morning, weather permitting, we’d be flying out and back into town.  We were certainly ready for it.  I don’t think we could have done much more climbing.  Despite only getting to finish the Japanese Couloir, we’d had incredible luck with this trip.  It is possible that we could have come out and never even gotten out of Talkeetna because of weather.  Even if we got to the glacier the conditions could have been bad and we never would have stepped foot onto anything.  That’d be an expensive camping trip for sure.  But we didn’t have bad luck and I’m happy with the amount of climbing that we got in.

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Flights into and out of the Root Canal is not for the faint of heart.

A couple hours after our scheduled pickup Tyler, another pilot for TAT, buzzed through the Root Canal, practically touching the wheels on the granite walls as he made his inspection of the runway.  After landing we loaded up and headed down to the lower gorge, there were two other parties that needed to be picked up as well.  The takeoff from the Root Canal is super cool.  Since you land uphill it makes sense that taking off the plane is headed downhill.  This is a little strange since runways are usually flat.  Tyler joked that the flight down to the lower gorge would be quick and we probably didn’t even need the engine on, once we were in the air.  We all wanted to get back into town and take a shower and drink beer so this idea didn’t go anywhere.

We took off and Tyler kept the engines running,  The takeoff is perhaps the coolest part of the trip for me.  Even being in the back it was still great.  Jesse was able to capture it on his GoPro.  We picked up everyone and headed back into town.

A shower, even in the natty TAT bunkhouse was spectacular.  Shitting in a toilet with out having to sit on a tiny bucket and into a plastic bag was spectacular.  Pizza and beers at Mountain High Pizza Pie, you guessed it, spectacular.  Our schedule for the 20 or so hours in Talkeetna was eat, and once finished, decide when and where our next feeding out take place.  We spaced that out with a little walking around, organizing gear, and shipping stuff back to SLC via USPS flat rate to avoid our baggage issue.  In the almost two weeks we’d been gone the weather had turned in Talkeetna.  They finally started getting Spring.  Walking around with just a light jacket in the sun was great.  We returned to Anchorage and had another day of resting and catching up on emails.  Martha and Terry hosted a little dinner for us.  It was a great dinner.  Thanks again for hosting us!

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Morning sun lights the highest point in North America.

This was an amazing trip, certainly the biggest and most involved I’ve done to date.  I was able to test myself, make good decisions, and push my limits.  Seeing these mountains up close, being reliant on myself and my teammates are what makes climbing in these locations worth it.  It isn’t all to just get scared, you can do that at home on a sketchy 1 pitch route.  The involvement and beauty of this type of climbing is the allure.  I doubt that next year I will make it back, I think Liberty Ridge on Rainier is my objective for 2014.

Calendar

Sun
Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
4/26

Flight to Anchorage

4/27

Land in ANC 1:30am, grocery shopping, drive to Talkeetna, food and beers in town.

4/28

Fly to the Ruth, set camp, climbed Japanese Couloir 

4/29

Scouted a route in 747 Pass and near Peak 7400

4/30

In camp because of weather, built kitchen area

5/1

Waiting for snow to settle, attempt on an ice line near 747 Pass cancelled because of cornice danger

5/2

First ascent line attempt on Peak 7400, bailed after 2 pitches due to weather

5/3

Snow

5/4

Struck camp and got picked up for flight to Root Canal Glacier

5/5

Some snow, another rest day

5/6

Ham & Eggs (AI4), bailed two pitches from col

5/7

Rest day

5/8

Shaken Not Stirred (AI5), bailed two pitches from top

5/9

Flight back to Talkeetna

5/10

Shower!  Pizza!  Beer!

More food and beer!

5/11

Back to Anchorage and flight out

5/12

Arrive in SLC 8am

Unpack & sleep!

My Photos

 

Matt and Jesse’s Photos

 

Videos

 

Santaquin Outing with Bill and Matt

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Bill taking the tough line through Candlestick (WI6-).

February 24, 2013

Made an outing down to Santaquin today.  Good weather and fresh snow made for a scenic day.  It was a little chilly but not too bad.  We didn’t get to finish the two steep lines we had set our eyes on but we still had an exciting day.  Candlestick (WI6-) was good.  Bill decided on doing a steeper line than normal and it was an overhanging pumpfest, good stuff.

President’s Day in Ouray, CO

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Sizing up Horsetail Falls (WI4).

 

February 16-18, 2013

So busy right now.  Climbing, working, doing both at the same time, friends from the East Coast coming in a few days, etc.  I unfortunately don’t have time energy to fully post about my awesome trip to Ouray, CO over President’s Day.  Here’s a quick summary instead.

Took a trip to Ouray, CO over President’s Day weekend, which is a long weekend for me at work.  Eric, Matt, and I went.  Ouray is an amazing mountain town.  It is a tiny little hamlet tucked into mountains well over 10,000 feet high.  Snow and great weather made for some amazing views.  We did some climbing just outside of town the first day which wasn’t too hard but a great position.  Later in the day we had some fun on a dry-tooling route.  Eric took a nice little ride from the chains.  But he made up for it later by leading a really fun pitch of wet WI4.

 

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Matt headed up the third pitch.

Sunday we traveled down to Silverton and Eureka to climb Stairway to Heaven (WI4).  Unfortunately our beta on the approach was a little off and we slogged through deep snow and decided to settle on Highway 66 (WI4).  The valley was isolated, the sky was clear, and it was a great day to be in the mountains.  Only burr in the shoe was another party that decided to do the same climb despite seeing us on it first.  Long story but not worth getting into.

 

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A look at the the mecca of North American ice climbing.

Sunday was a fun half day of top roping in the Ouray Ice Park.  For the uninitiated there is a gorge essentially in town.  Years ago people punctured the water line pipe above the gorge to farm ice in the gorge.  Eventually the town realized they could capitalize on this and turn their town into a world-class ice climbing destination.  Now the farming is sanctioned by the town and it brings in a tremendous amount of money for the town.

Great weekend with perfect weather and awesome climbing.

Ouray Climbing

 

Eureka

 

Ouray Ice Park

Photo Published in Climbing Magazine

February 9, 2013

I got one of my photos published in Climbing Magazine!  It is a little bittersweet since it is uncredited and unfortunately came in a little darker on the page than I would have liked.  Still pretty sweet to see one of my photos in a national magazine though.  Hopefully there will be more to come :)

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First photo published in Climbing Magazine.  (left page)

Ironically the photo I get published is from a route in Utah and the route on the facing page is from my home state of New Hampshire.  I’ve been on Thin Air several times but I’ve never even taken out my camera on it.  Oh well.  Perhaps I can represent some Northeast climbing in the future.

Here’s the version of the published photo I put up on this site.  It is in black and white since I thought it was a little better that way, but the color is still pretty nice.

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Stark landscape of the Indian Creek area. South Sixshooter Tower in the foreground.

 

First Time to Maple Canyon

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Matt Oakley staring up at the impressive route called The Dagger (WI5 A1).

February 2, 2013

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to head down to Maple Canyon here in Utah.  Maple is about 2 hours south of Salt Lake City and is a popular sport climbing destination during the spring through fall.  In the winter snow melt forms steep single pitch routes in the narrow canyons.  Maple is quite and interesting place, it doesn’t have the soaring vistas of Provo, but the landscape is quite interesting.  The canyon is a conglomerate which has large cobbles cemented together with mud.  While this might not sound like good climbing it is quite solid, especially in winter.  The canyon is very narrow as well, less than 50 yards in most places.

Being both Matt and I’s first time to Maple we solicited some advice from a couple of other BD folks who were gearing up in the parking lot.  George and Andreas pointed us over to the Box Canyon a little walk down the road.  The Box is very small, in some spots only a couple of yards across and walls up to perhaps 150ft tall.  Walking down the canyon we saw lots of interesting lines, most of which were too steep and/or thin for my tastes.

We found a good wide flow which didn’t look too bad, called Cobble Crusher (WI4).  We racked up and I got the first lead.  The first third of the route was relatively moderate, WI3 or so.  Getting higher the route narrowed and steepened.  Luckily there was good rests and places for pro.  Unfortunately I brought mostly stubbies up with me for some reason which aren’t super confidence inspiring.  As I got to the top I hooked the last bit of ice I could see from my steep vantage point.  The hook was good so I yarded up and could see that I was at the top.  Unfortunately I could also see as I peered over the hook, that there wasn’t much ice above the bulge.  There also wasn’t any ice between my hook placement and the rock.  Yikes!  Looking down around the lip the stream feeding for the route had caused the ice not to form against the rock.  It also formed as tube down about 20 or more feet.

The move to make it onto the rock was a little precarious.  I mantled on the ice lip and matched hand and crampon, quite an uncommon ice move, exciting too.  Scratching through the thin snow at the top I stepped over to the rock and clipped the chains.  Not exactly the warm up I was hoping for but certainly exciting.

The rest of the climbs that day weren’t quite as exciting but all were good.  We hit another lower angle climb in the Box and then headed to the road for two more routes that could be belayed from the car.  Heading up canyon we took a trip down a left fork of the canyon and saw a beautiful line of a hanging dagger, perhaps WI6 or so.  It was far from touching so half the route would be mixed if it went at all.  We decided to move onto a little easier route called Bowling Ball Head (WI4-).  We climbed here until it started to get dark and headed out.  Seven pitches for the day in total.

Maple is a pretty awesome place both in landscape and in the climbing.  I am looking forward to my next trip.

Ice and Mixed Climbing in Provo

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Nothing but focus for this pro.

January 20, 2013

Over the weekend I was able to get out twice for some climbing.  First was on Saturday over at the Great White Icicle (WI3) with KP.  It was a nice climb, we were lucky in that there was only a party TRing the first pitch and another party well up the route so we had the first pitch to ourselves.  I’ll call it the first pitch but it is probably 300 ft long, only half of which is on low angle ice, the rest is snow.  From the big ledge we roped up and went up the second and third pitches in one long haul.  I didn’t time it but it was one of the quicker ascents for me.  I won’t be breaking any records by any means but it’ll be interesting to see how long it normally takes to do this over climbed gem within minutes of Salt Lake.

Sunday was the bigger day.  I had the opportunity to climb with a bunch of new folks from work or at least related to work.  Two were from Europe, Saskia and Thomas, and the others, Jonathan aka JT, and Doug are SLC folks.  Along with JT or perhaps the other way around was Brittany, badass pro climber girl.

The infamous valley inversion is in full effect here in the Wasatch.  This interesting phenomenon occurs when there is a high pressure parked in the area.  For reasons I have yet to look up fully, cold temps settle into the valley bottom, hence the name and nothing unusual there, but the lack of moving air traps all kinds of smog and pollution all along the Wasatch Front.  Thus a icky nasty layer chokes the valley while the mountains are clear and warm.  It is shocking how thick it is, it is not uncommon to only barely be able to make out the mountains from my house.  Normally they are bigger than life looming at the edge of town.  Here’s an interesting site that has more info on the subject as well as some pictures.  Going to Provo Canyon we were able to escape the smog for most of the day, though it did creep up as the day went on.

 

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Crampon fitting by the best in the business.

 

The objective for the day was low commitment and fun.  Saskia had never climbed ice and Thomas had taken a long break from climbing ice.  Doug teamed up with Thomas to set up a great long pitch of WI4 next to Bridal Veil Falls.  KP and I helped Saskia up a steep, hooked out, and short pitch of WI4 on White Nightmare.  Joining us there were JT and Brittany.

Top ropes were swapped and everyone got some good pitches in.  JT and Brittany were motivated and so JT geared up for a mixed route that leads into the first pitch of White Nightmare.  I got into position near the belay on the route so I could get some shots of him leading the route.  A few of them came out pretty good I think.  Brittany then did the route after pulling the rope.

I haven’t done much mixed climbing myself and it was great to watch some good climbers working their way up the rock twisting and torquing the tools into little cracks and slots.  With the rope up for a TR again I gave it a go and amazed myself sending it on the first go.  Top rope of course, but still pretty cool.

 

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Tag team on mixed routes, Doug on right and Jonathan on left.

 

Moving around the corner to a fully dry-tooling route I got to see some impressive moves on a route JT was doing, including a decent little whipper.  The route next to it wasn’t quite as hard, only M7.  I got on this one, again TR, and was able to get up but not without a couple hangs.  It is amazing how pumped you can get when every hold is a jug.  The overhanging rock and the lack of really positive feet contribute quite a bit.  I loved the dry-tooling though.  It is really interesting the angles, camming, torquing, and slotting that can be done with an ice tool.  While my leashless climbing on ice has translated to only a few hand matches, dry-tooling is made for leashless tools and switching hands is necessary to get to the next hold.  Holds become the tiniest ledges and slots that could never be big enough for fingers.  Very neat experience, and one I’m sure I’ll be doing again soon.

Favorite Photos of 2012

Pre-dawn glow lights the slopes of Mt. Madison.

In what will likely be an annual feature here (here’s 2011), I’ve gone through all approximately 5000 photos from 2012 and picked out 10, well 11, that I liked the most.  These aren’t necessarily the best photos, but the ones that I liked the best.  They all have some kind of special memory associated with them.

 

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Early last year I added a new camera to my photography toolbox. While I was never disappointed with my 50D, it is big, bulky, and heavy for longer climbs or ones with long approaches. On top of that it was a little difficult to pull out while climbing and get a quick shot. So I picked up a lightly used Canon G12. The first trip I took it on was up to the White Mountains with Chris. We did almost all the gullies in Huntington Ravine that weekend. When topping out of one of the gullies I snapped this shot of him. Originally I did it because he had some blood on his face from a piece of ice. However for some reason I though to put it into black and white and I think the end result is much better than the color. This shot gives a good representation of what climbing in the winter is like.

 

 

Pre-dawn glow lights the slopes of Mt. Madison.
In July I headed to the White Mountains for some photography and some hiking. Since I was by myself I had all the time in the world to do whatever photo stuff I wanted. So I woke up around 3am and hiked above treeline on Mt. Madison to catch the sun rising there weren’t many clouds but the sunrise was beautiful nonetheless. This shot is a five exposure HDR. 

 

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While I’ve been climbing rock for a while now, and ice for a few seasons as well, I really haven’t been into the alpine terrain much. Or in truth at all until August. Mt. Washington is about as close as I’ve gotten. It can certainly be full-on there, but I was looking forward to doing something a bit bigger. Something with altitude. In August I took a trip to the Tetons with Chris and we climbed the Grand Teton via the Direct Exum Ridge. It was a spectacular climb and we had no major issues other than being in poor shape. While I’d like to think it was just living at sea level that was the problem we could have prepared more. However the weather was spectacular and we were able to make a very late summit of 4:15 pm. Being in that alpine terrain is amazingly special. 

 

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For our climb up the Grand we stayed at the Moraine camping area which is the second to last place to camp before attacking the technical section of the Grand. From here we woke up early and started to the base of the climb in the dark. Once up the first pitch we got a great view of the Middle Teton as the sun was just hitting it. The smoke in the air from numerous wildfires from Idaho made for a softer and warmer light than normal which really made this shot nice. 

 

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In a year of many great trips my one to Yosemite was one of the best. I don’t need to go into how it is a climbing mecca, so let me just say that being in the Valley is a special feeling. The rock possibilities are everywhere. Looking out across a green carpet of huge trees to see granite spires and walls looming above is one of the things that brings a smile to any climber’s heart. 

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On the last climbing day in Yosemite I wanted to do something bigger. Thus far I’d tackled 4-5 pitch climbs at most and Yosemite is known for its grade IV’s which take a full day to complete for most parties. Therefore I went up and did the Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral. The climb has amazing position as this photo shows. It has a commanding position looking up the valley. This belay thankfully had a nice, though narrow belay ledge. Getting some air to my toes felt awesome.
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While the nine pitches of the Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral (5.9) are a grueling vertical slog through wide cracks and squeeze chimneys, the reward at the top is worth it. The peak of Higher Cathedral is directly opposite El Capitan and because of our slow progress we topped out at sunset. With the El Cap meadow spanning the gap between us we marveled in the enormity of rock that makes up El Cap.

 

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Indian Creek is the center of the crack climbing universe. It is not hard to understand the definition of “splitter” when one sees a perfectly vertical, parallel, 120 ft long crack in featureless sandstone. I traveled there in October with friends from work and got served a helping of humility. I thought I was really becoming a 5.10 trad climber, but routes at the Creek are so sustained and unrelenting. There’s still work to be done for me. This shot was taken at the end of our climbing day before we headed back to SLC. Over our shoulder was a gorgeous sunset and on this side was a spectacular moonrise over the sandstone cliffs. 
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Desert towers are amazing places. Indian Creek has two such towers. While they don’t rival those in Castleton Valley nearby they are still great excursions. Here Paul and I topped out on North Six Shooter Tower after three pitches of exciting climbing. From the summit we had a great view of the wonderful desert landscape that is Indian Creek. Perhaps it is my familiarity with the Northeast’s scenery, but is there anything there that can compete with this kind of view? 
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Another image from Indian Creek. This route called Scarface (5.11) is an oft photographed route for obvious reasons. While I can’t say that I put any new creativity into shooting this route, it is still a stunning shot. The other reason I really like this photo is the opportunity to climb with Paul and Lauren. It was great to see them again. 
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Start and finish with a portrait. This is certainly a less than typical one, more of an ‘action’ portrait. At the beginning of December I attended the Bozeman Ice Festival. On the first day we climbed with some non-BD folks. Liz is a Patagonia rep and had never ice climbed. She had heard of the ‘barfies’ but had no idea what they were. After finishing her first pitch of ice she figured out what they are for herself. If you’ve never had them this shot pretty well epitomizes them. Her facial expression and hand position say it all.  And trust me there’s no acting or dramatizing here. 

Favorite Photos of 2012 Gallery

Bozeman Ice Festival 2012

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One of the best signs to see if you like ice climbing.
One of the best signs to see if you like ice climbing.

December 5-10, 2012

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.

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One of the many clinic attendees.

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.

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Not 5 minutes before Liz climbed her first pitch of ice did she ask what the ‘barfies’ were. No explanation needed now.

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.

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Champagne Slot (WI4) was a narrow ribbon of ice at this point. Above this it was a narrow rock slot with lots of stemming on the rock.

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.

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Bill working up the second steep section of the first pitch.

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.

Climbing

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2012-10-27 thru 28 Indian Creek

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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.

Landscape

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