Once again we traveled to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving with friends and climbing. With the long drive, made longer by the traffic, I had time to think about the number of Thanksgivings I’ve spent in Red Rocks since moving to Utah–of the seven holidays I think all but two have been in Red Rocks.
This time we upped the comfort factor and stayed in a hotel with some friends. While the location was close to the strip which made for a longer commute into the climbing areas, it did come with the convenience of being in the city versus our usual primitive camping area.
We had good weather and climbed a bit of cragging Thursday, alpine days Friday and Saturday, then a bouldering day in St. George on the way home to Salt Lake. Good times and great friends.
Once again Carly and I traveled to Chamonix, France in September. This time we hoped for better weather than our last trip. We learned last year that the middle of September is the beginning of the end of much of the tourism and climbing–at least the easy stuff. We moved to the first week of September this time to keep in the prime season. We nailed it on the weather, with only one afternoon of rain. However many of the routes in the high mountains were out of condition due to the very hot summer and increased rockfall with the lack of snow on many approaches, routes, and descents.
We arrived in Chamonix on a slightly cloudy day with not much of the high mountains in view, but the weather improved in the afternoon and we had some decent views. With the weather forecast looking pretty good for Sunday we scrambled to repack our gear from our airline luggage.
Heading up the L’Index side, the mid-elevation mountains on the north side of the valley, we went for one of the classic ridgeline traverses, the South-Southeast Arete of the Chappell de la Gliere. There were periodic sunny spells, but much of the time we were in the clouds. This made for some interesting approaching and descending. Route finding was fairly easy at the start since there was a train of people in front of us.
I lead the first two pitches to a comfortable ridgeline ledge where we waited for quite a while due to a party of 5 that would periodically climb as 2 and 3 people. The P3-4 were a bit more difficult and they had some trouble as they were in mountain boots. Matt was able to scoot around the side and link two pitches together. Since we were much faster in rock shoes there wasn’t much of an issue with them. After that we had smooth sailing other than being in a time crunch to get back to the lift before it closed at 4:30.
Matt linked another couple pitches and got us to the base of the Razor pitch. This one is pretty photogenic for the followers. It is a tilted slab with no major apparent holds on it. Once establishing yourself on it though, it is rather easy and protects sufficiently. The leader also gets the camera duty for the followers with the backdrop of Mont Blanc.
Because of the slow party we were a bit unsure if we should bail or finish the route. Ultimately we decided it would be quicker to finish because the descent would be more obvious that way. We opted for that and motored through the remaining pitches, except for the last two. This is unfortunate as these two sound pretty exciting and exposed and a bit harder than much of the rest of the route. I guess we’ll save for another day since we had a lift to catch. We got pretty badly off route on the descent due to the clouds and ended up losing some time. We luckily made the last lift down though.
With the weather still looking good for Sunday through Tuesday Carly and I headed through the Mont Blanc tunnel to the Italian side so we could take a lift up into the mountains. We needed to go to the Italian side because the upper section of the Aiguille du Midi lift was close because of maintenance problems.
Taking the lift up we go great views through the clouds of the mountains. After getting to the top of the Skyway to get to the Torino hut you take an elevator and then walk through a long tunnel. Opening the doors for the tunnel you see the gruelling 20 meter approach to the doors of the hut. All at 11,000′.
As we had plenty of time from our approach to the hut we opted for a quick walk around and a short little climb. There is a protrusion of rocks, called the Petit Flambeau not far from the hut which we did. It was quite easy, but a little icy to get onto the rocks. We had nice views in and out of clouds of the range.
At the hut we met some rather nice Englishmen who we sat with and had dinner. Dinner was quite good and plenty of it. The wine, unfortunately, was not and may have contributed to a less than restful night’s sleep. The Englishmen, however, were jolly and had lots of stories of climbing in both Chamonix and in their home turf which were entertaining. After some conditions reports they had seen we decided to opt away from our main objective the Dent du Geant and go for the more modest Marbrees Traverse.
The next morning we got up and had the “late” breakfast at 6am. They have 2am and 4am as the other breakfast alternatives. Our objective was pretty close to the hut and since it wasn’t very long we didn’t need to start very early. Our wake up time was well timed for the sunrise and we had a great view of Mont Blanc as the sun just started to hit it. Our day dawned beautifly clear as we approached the back side of the Marbrees Ridge from the hut. Along the way we were roped up to avoid falling in a crevasse, but the likelihood of this was small since there wasn’t much snow on the glacier.
The climb is basically a ridge climb. At the recommendation of one of our English friends we decided to do it backwards from the description in our guidebook. This would avoid a difficult and rockfall prone section on the typical direction. Later in the week when we talked to Max, he said that he prefers it in the direction we did it so perhaps we got the most of it. The climb wanders up the ridgeline around, over, and through some mildly loose boulders and rocks, but nothing terrible. To gain the summit there is a short section of 5.7+ climbing which we protected. I think we were the first on the summit for the day. The weather was clear and warm and no other parties were near so we stayed for nearly an hour on the summit enjoying the views. Continuing on I think we did OK in route finding, though we did find the less used anchors for rappelling back to the glacier. All told we were back on the patio of the hut around 11am sipping cappuccino and eating almond tort.
With the approach to the Dent du Geant in less than ideal conditions we decided that we might wait for another time to do that classic climb. Since much of the other routes in the area had similar issues we thought we’d cut our hut time down by a day an leave early. I’m a little disappointed we didn’t go for more climbing, but between the approach and the crowds focused just on the Italian side, we didn’t think we’d have a great experience on the Dent.
Matt had a free day from his work at the Blue Ice office on Thursday. Unfortunately there was weather predicted around noon that day as well. We decided that if we get to the Brevent lift when they open, we can probably get down to the start of the Frison-Roche (6a), which is a 6 pitch classic route. The approach is quick, perhaps 15 minutes, and it is all bolted. We figured we wouldn’t be the only ones with the “get there early before the rain” plan and we weren’t. Luckily the parties in front and the one or two behind weren’t moving too slowly. We got in line and got friendly with our English speaking friends in front of us. This was a great route for Matt, Carly and I since it had pitches within all of our leading abilities. We each lead two pitches. Aside from the second pitch I lead, which was merely a ledge traverse, all the climb was quite good. We mostly beat the rain. Matt topped out just as it started to mist heavily. Carly and I were able to finish before it was too wet. The nice thing about the route is that you finish nearly at the platform for the lift so the return is only a minute or two.
The remainder of the week we had some friends, Eric and Penny, come stay with us from Zurich. They are in Zurich for Penny’s post-grad work. We did a bit of hiking, Chamonix to Les Houches, and some cragging. Carly and I did try to get a big last day on Sunday in, but the route we chose was suspect and didn’t have hangers on all the bolts and nonsense like that. We ended up not even getting to the top of the first pitch before going down. It was a bit of a downer for the last day of climbing before leaving, but with the weather being nice we couldn’t complain that much. We had much better weather than 2017 and got more pitches in so it was a win anyway. I’m looking forward to the next trip over there, regardless of season.
As we have done in the past, Carly and I put various climbing destinations in the calendar through the summer to help motivate us to go to different locations. While we haven’t been 100% successful in going to all the places we entered, we’ve gotten some good trips this summer so far. One of the bigger ones was another trip back to the Winds and the Cirque of the Towers.
Two years ago we went to the Winds, but to a new area. That trip turned out good, but weather kept us from climbing too much. This year we planned for August, typically a little more stable weather month.
For this trip we decided to go to the center of it all in the Winds climbing, the Cirque of the Towers. I’d been here before a number of years ago. Similar to that trip the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head (5.6) was on the ticklist. In addition was Pingora.
Not unlike the last two times I’d been to Big Sandy Trailhead, I was amazed at the number of cars. There were again perhaps 200 cars at the trailhead and unfortunately the parking is probably designed for only 1/2 of that at best. We squeezed in and did our final packing. This really included just going through our packs and leaving out anything we thought we didn’t really need. Still our packs were 36 and 42 lbs for Carly and I.
The hike in is about 8 miles and ~2000′ of elevation change. We decided to get a little more sleep and leave Thursday morning drive to Big Sandy Trailhead. This unfortunately necessitated much of the hike being during the peak heat of the day. Luckily the hike is scenic and the first 5 miles are relatively easy.
Cresting Jackass Pass and getting the full view into the cirque is a great reward for all the dusty miles traveled. The temperature cooled and the gargoyle like spires of granite tower overhead. After finding a campsite, not a trivial task, we made some food and enjoyed the view.
Early Friday we set off towards the spine of granite that we’d seen illuminated brightly against a shadowy backdrop of north facing walls. The East Ridge of Wolf’s Head (5.6) was our objective. I did this route last time in the Cirque, but it is classic enough to warrant a second, third or even more visit. This time I had a slightly better idea of what the climb entailed and therefore better gear. Proper climbing shoes and larger gear to protect the many wide hand traverses.
Starting off we ran into a party of 4 gents who included Peter Metcalf. His group, and the group of two strong girls who caught up to us, were all a pleasure to share the route with.
Carly opted for me to lead the “sidewalk pitch.” A 18″ wide, 30 deg tilted plank of granite that kicks off the climbing. I recall this pitch being gripping last time. A little warmer temps, real climbing shoes, and not on-sighting all made it a bit easier this time.
Carly took over the next block of leads and we simul-climbed for the next few pitches. After that we caught up to the other parties at the first chimney tunnel. Metcalf was leading and got a little off route trying to find the piton pitch. The trouble is the pitch is an improbable traverse with little protection save for 3 pitons nearly a dozen feet apart. After that pitch we all spaced out again and we were able to climb at our own paces. We ended up being bringing up the rear.
The route was much more casual the second time around. Better gear, shoes, and technique on the shorter sections all helped in that.
We had expected to meet up with our friends Mark and Jess. There definitely is no cell reception in the Cirque of the Towers, so it makes syncing up with people more challenging. We’d expected to see Mark and Jess the same day we hiked in, but did not. At the end of the second day we’d still hadn’t seen them either. We’d figured that something came up and they stayed in Wild Iris. Not about to let that slow us down we decided to do the South Buttress of Pingora for our second route on Saturday.
The South Buttress of Pingora isn’t the most iconic on the peak, but it is perhaps one of the least committing, which is what drew us to it. There’s really only 2-3 pitches of technical climbing and mostly easy scrambling otherwise.
Starting at a leisurely 9am we hiked to the base and scrambled up the shoulder to begin the technical climbing. I’d hoped to simul or do a long pitch to get to the base of the proper climbing, but the ledgy nature of the beginning of the route made me think otherwise of doing this.
Once into the proper climbing it was quite good. Just enough protection to keep it safe enough and just enough insecurity to keep you alert. At the base of the “K-cracks” we again ran into Metcalf and his pals. They were a great bunch and got a few pictures of me and I of them.
The right K-crack is a bit tricky and keeps your attention, particularly through the crux. After that pitch it is an easy couple hundred feet to the summit. We met a few Irish pensioners at the top enjoying the “wilderness” that the American West offers compared to much of Europe.
On returning back to camp after Pingora we finally met up with Mark and Jess. They’d had some confusion to our actual objective and so had been looking for us the last couple days. We caught up and made some food while the sun shown. We agreed to take Pancho, their dog, the next morning to allow them to get a climb in.
Packing up camp on the morning of our hike out we were afforded another great sunrise. In fact the weather the entire weekend was fabulously clear, not a hint of rain. The wildfires made it a little smokey, but not bad.
We collected Pancho and headed out. He was a little confused at first why these other random people were taking him away from his owners, but after a mile or so we got into the groove and we made reasonable time. Again we ran into Metcalf and crew on the hike. Everyone was impressed the Pancho carried his own pack. Little did they know it contained not only his shit in a bag, but ours as well.
A few tenths of a mile from Big Sandy is a lodge which offer cabins, pack animal outfitting and burgers & beers. After making it back to the van and a copious soak in the river and our own beers we headed to the lodge for our first fresh meal in a few days. The burgers weren’t the best I’ve had, but they were certainly tasty and hit the spot, along with the cold brews.
About a month ago Matt found a relatively undeveloped area in the Swell. While the zone is within view of another popular area the wall only has a handful of routes established. We took a weekend to go set up a route. It should have been more than one route, but we had some caulking gun issues which reduced our efficiency and required a trip to Castledale. The route Matt put up probably goes at 5.11- with a tough section mid-way up route to gain a ledge rest. Mostly fingers to tips with a little more thrown in for good measure.
Fun times in the Creek. Carly, Matt, Patrick and I caravaned to the desert the day before Thanksgiving planning to spend 5 days there. We got a sweet campsite and then went out climbing for the day at a wall called High Horse. We ended up not climbing too much that day except for Patrick who had an epic battle with a 120′ overhanging #4 sized crack. While the MountainProject and the plaque at the base called it 5.10+, there’s no way it was 5.10+ with the size it was. Patrick ended up finishing it with a few hangs and I was able to get some cool photos of him on the route.
Our campsite got filled with friends of friends of friends and we probably had close to 25 people. We avoided the crowd and headed to Broken Tooth Wall on T-day with good friends Micah, Hillary, Ixta, and our gang. I didn’t climb anything all that hard except a long varying hand crack called Gold Crown which was a blast.
Of course we did the whole Thanksgiving dinner. Carly and I cooked a turkey ahead of time as well as a pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. Matt and Patrick brought some other sides and we had a great meal sparing none of the traditional T-Day foods.
Friday I wanted to get a little bit of aerobic in and take a rest day from climbing so Carly and I walked up Donnelly Canyon for a way. We explored some of the small off shoot drainages and tried to make our way up to the rim. We got stopped a couple hundred vertical feet from the rim by a layer of rock that made a bit of a steeper cliff band than we wanted to negotiate in approach shoes and no rope. The weather through the day got cooler and finally the clouds fully covered the sky. As Carly and I made our way back to the car the wind picked up and some flakes flew through the air. About 20 minutes later it began snowing. Our friends made it back to the car and we all headed to camp. The snow was accumulating and after some thought Matt, Carly and I headed back to SLC to go skiing rather than deal with more less than favorable weather in the desert in the coming days.
Over Halloween Carly and I took a long weekend and went to Indian Creek. This was our first time in about a year so we were both pretty rusty. Not that I’m ever up to par for the Creek. Nonetheless I had an OK weekend. Leading wasn’t particularly eventful, but I did get on everything from tips cracks and a #5-#6 off-width. It was great fun and even a week out I’m still nursing my gobies from the OW.
Just after I got back from Anaheim, and I mean 12 hours later I was at the airport again, I headed out to New England with Carly to visit friends, family and attend a wedding of a longtime friend. It was a great trip. Our climbing plans at the Gunks were almost washed out due to a hurricane, but luckily it stayed out to sea and didn’t rain at all during our climbing time. I love New England for sure. Lots of great friends and awesome climbing. I’m looking forward to going back soon.
Over the weekend I did another trip up to the Tetons. For this second in a month trip up I went with Matt and Patrick. We’d all been thinking of day tripping the Grand for a while. Patrick hadn’t summited at all and Matt hadn’t been up in a while. I’d already done the Grand by part of the same route earlier in August, but I was keen to see how I could hold up against them during car to car attempt.
Leaving work a little early we sped up to Jackson so we could hit the grocery store and stock up on snacks, post-climb beers, and a few other necessities. After taking probably a little more time than we should have we settled in to Lupine Meadows Trailhead around 10:30 pm for a short bivy. We woke around 3 am and were on the trail in less than an hour. It did take a bit of time to pack up the truck and such which accounted for a little more time.
Once on the trail the game began. Matt and Patrick would slowly pull away, especially on the steeper sections. I’d catch up went they stopped and we’d all fuel and change layers. It was surprisingly warm for as early as it was. Our trip through the forest and on the switchbacks was largely uneventful aside from a large buck sighting from about 35 feet away.
As we got to the Meadows the sun started warming up the high peaks. While sunset is a wonderful event, I would say that I enjoy sunrises more. There’s an anticipation of the day to come that joins a sunrise. Sunrise is a deep breath and sunset is a sighing exhale.
All in all we made reasonably good time to the Lower Saddle, passing a few parties along the way. Finding base of the route wasn’t too bad as we’d timed things such that there was plenty of light to see. I’ve done the Full Exum twice but not just the Upper. The approach is pretty straightforward. Wall Street is the early highlight of the route. A broad sloping ramp that looks very steep from afar is actually easier than some of the approach until the last ten feet. In that last few feet the ramp pinches off to just 6-8 inches wide. Either an upper way via a foot traverse, which I did, can be taken or going lower and having some sloping hands with some reasonable feet. Matt and Patrick went this way.
Once on the route proper we started simul climbing with Patrick at the lead. He lead the length of the route in about 6 pitches, stopping only when gear ran out or when the ledges were too big to pass up.
Weather was quite a bit different than when Carly and I were up at the beginning of August. At that time we got baked under the high altitude sun, calm winds, and warm temperatures. This time I wore a puffy for about half of it. The wind whipped, snow fell (a little), and the sun was obscured. We saw precip off in the distance for much of the climb but there was never a major danger than any of us saw so we continued on. We summited around 11:20 am.
On the way down we heard some major rockfall from over by the Middle Teton. About 45 minutes later we heard a chopper and saw the yellow NPS rescue helicopter. It headed up the South Fork to the opposite side of the Middle Teton. While the rockfall wasn’t a contributor, there was a climber that slipped and fell on a moderate route on the opposite side of the mountain. He was rescued by the rangers and short-hauled out to Lupine Meadows before going to the hospital. Not sure of the extent of the injuries but it would seem he is largely OK.
Once hitting the Meadows Patrick cranked up the pace. We were in striking distance of a sub-12 hour attempt so he didn’t want to miss the opportunity. As such he started jogging down the trail. Matt and Patrick are far better trail runners than I so I’m sure I slowed them down a bit, particularly once we got to the non-rocky portion of the trail. Nevertheless we were a team so I pushed on and was sort of able to keep pace (though they were going slower for me than they probably would have). Only in the last half mile or so did they drop me and make a break for the finish line. After nearly 12 hours on the move I was pretty tired and my legs just couldn’t keep up so I had to walk a few hundred yards in the final leg. Luckily I was able to finish strong and run into the finish line. 11:57:35.
Not much to write about but Matt and I met Rox and Marmar up in the City for some slightly hot but still fun weekend of climbing. We chased shade somewhat unsuccessfully at times, sent at times, backed off at times, and had some good times.
I’d been going on and on about how beautiful the Tetons were to Carly for a while and that we should go up there and climb. Earlier this year I finally said we should just put it on the calendar and do it. Luckily weather cooperated and we went up over the weekend and were able to summit.
Unlike my last trip up the Grand my commentary will be much shorter. Carly and I headed up Thursday night after work and bivied in the car at Lupine Meadows since the camping areas were full and it was 11pm when we finally arrived. After a restless night we quickly headed to the Ranger Station so we could secure a backcountry camping permit for Garnet Canyon at the Moraine. This is the same camping area as Chris and I used and is a pretty good spot to stage an attempt on the Grand. It doesn’t quite get you as far up as the Saddle but the conditions are a bit better and it doesn’t require lugging a heavy pack quite as far.
Luckily we got a permit, but not until Saturday night which meant we bummed around Friday sorting gear and generally hanging out before our hike in. The plan was to hike in Saturday, climb the Grand Sunday, and hike out Monday.
Our hike in was pretty good. Our packs were heavy but not nearly as heavy as some of our fellow climbers. I was able to get by with 35 liter and a couple things strapped to the outside. Carly used a 70 liter that was largely empty. We were able to split weight OK, but not perfectly.
Climb day we awoke at 3:30am under a brightly lit full moon. Aside from packing my pack I was able to the great majority of the approach without a headlamp due to the moon. We left camp at about 4:00 and got to the Lower Saddle about 45 minutes later. An hour later we arrived at the base of the Lower Exum.
During the approach we saw two headlamps in front of us but they were well off the approach trail and we eventually met up with them. Sam and Seth (SLC and Kentucky) didn’t have good beta for the approach and therefore fell in behind me since I’d already done the route once before. Since I got them to the base of the route they didn’t have any qualms having Carly and I head up first.
Unlike the last time I was able to stay more or less on route at the third pitch, which last time we did incorrectly. The third pitch is still a bit tricky with some chimney and squeezing but not too bad. Were climbing effectively and weren’t in danger of being passed by Seth and Sam, nor the team behind them. Carly loved the Black Face pitch as did I (I did the 5.7 rather than the 5.9 like last time). Once on the Upper Exum we did have to wait a bit at the Golden Staircase since there isn’t much room to pass there. However after that we moved pretty well and were able to simul-climb and pass a number of parties along the way to the summit. We reached the summit at around 2 pm.
The descent was uneventful as we followed an Exum guide, Garrick, down. Our dehydrated chili that I’d made for the trip tasted awesome when we finally got back to the tent around 6pm.
Monday we headed out and enjoyed beers and salsa in the parking lot while enjoying the view of Teewinot. Carly’s Grand weekend couldn’t have gone more smoothly or with better weather. It was kind of on the hot side actually and we wished we hadn’t brought some of the warmer layers, but that’s just how things go in the alpine. We’re looking forward to the next time and the next route.