Chasing the Great White Dragon.

This semester has been notable for many reasons, most good. One thing that I have struggled with is a lack of outdoor recreating. The climbing season was a hard one. Overuse injury and start of classes made scheduling trips difficult. I had almost resigned myself to a semester without much in the way of personal trips, when winter struck.

Thursday: A usual day. Woke up went to class. Contemplated a paper due the next day; while intending to hand it in the day after making use of one of the free “bank days” we are given. Taught a climbing class and rushed over to a climbing club pot-luck. The usual people were all huddled around various climbing books and ogling over the photos. As I was preparing to leave and get started on said paper, a friend, Nathan, mentioned in passing the possibility of 20 inches of snowfall in the Cascades Friday night. I certainly didn’t think anything would be able to come of it, too much homework, yet the seed had been planted.

After many strenuous hours of paper writing. I woke on Friday and needed to ski, no matter what. I spent the morning looking for partners. I found them in Nathan and my constant always-down-for-an-adventure friend Jack. We would head to Stevens Pass (a “local” ski area 4 hours away) early in the morning and be back sometime after dinner, or at least that was the plan as we loaded into the car at 6 a.m. on Saturday.

The plan was going accordingly till we checked the weather report. Not only did they get 20 inches they decided to have opening day two weeks early! With this in mind our excitement levels began to boil. By the time The easternmost slopes of the Cascades were in view we were whooping at every snow covered tree. Then we started to climb into the Cascades and shouts of excitement turned to momentary stunned silences turned to yelling at the top of our lungs and banging our fists on whatever was around. Snow covered everything!

Then plans changed. As if the question was thought of simultaneously by all of us, we decided to spend the night in Seattle (much closer to Stevens) and drive back to Stevens in the morning for another half-day before heading back to Walla Walla. That was quickly agreed upon. Then another idea was birthed. Why stay in Seattle when we can stay in Bellingham, home of Mt. Baker and the deepest snow in the U.S. and drive back Monday morning. Once it was said a quick silence as we all double checked that we had nothing too pressing. Then the excitement boiled over and we had to roll down the windows.

We arrived at Stevens Pass 2 hours before the lifts were scheduled to open. So we got our gear on and started hiking. The first run of the season was glorious. Low-angle endless Pacific Powder. In some places the snow was so deep and heavy that even when pointed directly down the fall line, you could still come to a stop. The lifts opened and after a brief moment of utter chaos we were on the chair. After a half dozen runs we decided we wanted to hike again to get higher for a longer run and more untouched snow. So we did. Jack and Nathan leading the way, I boot-packed and post-holed behind them. In retrospect teleskis would have been a wise decision for this weekend. When finally we got as far up as we were able to reasonably go, visibility was non so we strapped on our planks and went for a ride through endless snow, with uncountable face shots, and mile high rooster tails. Great way to end day one of skiing.

We piled back into the car tired and ecstatic. We headed for Bellingham where we spent the night with one of Nathan’s friends at Western Washington University. We woke way too early for the time we went to bed, but a cup of coffee and a plate of eggs soon fixed that. I got to sleep in the car as we drove to the wonderland of Mt. Baker.

Baker is huge! We didn’t ski at the actual resort area of Baker, but parked our car in the upper lodge parkinglot and skiied the side country there is no doubt that the expanse is unparalled. Though visibilty was low due to the snowstorm that kept filling in our tracks there could be no doubt about how huge the place was. When we first pulled in we asked some locals where they recommended we should go. They might as well of just waved their arms in 360 degrees… There is skiing everywhere.

When we finally decided where we would go it turned out that is where half of the local ski population decided to go as well. Who knew the back country could be so crowded. But it was nice for the walking as at least we weren’t the only ones to break trail. We skinned for about three hours as we tried to decide where we wanted to ski and were thoroughly enjoying the experience. We eventually decided the best line we saw was behind us. So after some laughs of frustration we turned around and walked back to the big open bowl of Artist’s Point. I was scouting a line to skiiers left, when Oliver (a friend/Whitman alum we met up with in Bellingham) said he thought it might slide. We talked it over, and watched as another party approached the line cautiously from the other side of the bowl. Sure enough just as the first person got close a fracture line appeared. Nothing slid and she decided to ski anyway (a decision we felt was not wise) but that was the first of several small near accidents that we encountered.

After skiing about 1000 ft. We took off our skis, they put on their skins I put on my snowshoes and we walked back up to the top. We did this about four times. The last time was, unanimously, the best run of the day. Instead of hiking to the top of the same bowl as we had with the previous runs we decided to try to take a walk to see if we could find a run that would take us closer to the car. We followed a boot pack that took us on a windy tour through the snow covered conifer forest on the side of Baker and spit us out in a beautiful bowl 800 vertical ft from our car. Untouched snow and a consistent angle took us to a little cat track that had been skiied so much that day it was practically groomed. We followed that out and walked to our car. What a day. After a round of hugs, high fives, and exclamations of awe and excitement we unanimously agreed that we had definitely gotten after “it” and “won the weekend”.

(A not so quick disclaimer. Nathan, Jack, Oliver and I were constantly accessing potential avalanche concerns throughout the weekend. All of us have at least basic avy training and Oliver and Nathan have a tremendous amount of backcountry skiing experience, making them invaluable in any conversation about safety. We spent time researching the safest slopes and made sure that we stuck to them. We generally avoided anything that seemed particularly steep after watching that fracture and avoided all gullys and drainages. While there are certainly risks to skiing in the backcountry they can be mitigated with a concentrated effort among a team to watch out for one another’s safety. We did this very well and I would like to assuage any fears that my family, reading this, may be feeling.)

A month of updates.

There is no way to do justice to all that has happened in the past month. I left you all with the promise of a second alpine adventure. I had planned on it being lengthy but so much time has elapsed and there is so much more to fill in that I will just say that it was a full blown epic. Caught in a thunderstorm on an exposed ridge we had to create our own descent route. Leaving behind a large amount of gear and having many stories worth of adventure. We finally got back to the car around 3 a.m having learned more than we asked for. I think that as far as learning experiences go, epics have a lot to teach.

We spent a few days recuperating in Jackson, before heading off to the City of Rocks. That is a beautiful place. Every climb that we did there left us smiling. We spent two days running laps on moderate climbs before deciding to venture onto harder terrain. I made the mistake of hopping on a hard climb without warming up and immediately had to step off due to a sharp pain that coursed through my shoulder. I needed a rest week. After giving Matt, a couple of belays we decided to take the rest of the day and the next day easy. We drove around, got pizza, and decided we needed some intentional downtime and Matt needed to move in. So we headed back to Walla Walla.

After some days of downtime we headed to Trout Creek. Where I realized yet again how spectacular that area is. Everything was excellent the climbing the environment. A truly wonderful area… and we had it all to ourselves. And again we returned to Walla Walla.

After some days of apathy Chris and Jack both arrived. By then, Matt had decided he needed a break from climbing and the weather in the Bugaboos looked incompatible with climbing. So we decided to to do the last leg of my road trip in reverse. We headed back to the City of Rocks (CIRO). My shoulder felt great and we spent three awesome days getting on some very difficult climbs, that were on my ticklist from before. These included the overhanging jam crack Interceptor, and the delicate technical face climbs on building block rock. The City of Rocks leg culminated with us scrambling to the base of interceptor and staring up at the 20 ft perfect hand-sized crack in all its intimidating power. Bouldering up the short offwidth to get to the roof was fun, but I’ve never understood the meaning of improbable until I was contorting myself to maneuver into the crack. Once I had my hands comfortably locked in and began climbing my feet cut leaving me hanging on two jams. Sticking that and getting my feet back in the crack was one of the coolest feelings I’ve ever had. After that it was a very sustained and pumpy 20ft to the chains.

After CIRO we headed to Tetons. This time we did it right. Taking advice from Hock, we got up at five and started the four mile approach to the climb Open Book. Our cinnamon bun breakfast proved to be just enough, and we made it to the climb in decent time, but not without some seriously cool stuff. On the approach we were headed off by a black bear who was making a meal of the massive quantities of huckleberries. While he/she was ambling up the hill we were making massive switchbacks timing them just right that the bear would cross the switchback just as we were. It made for three or four bear sightings. Pretty incredible. The climb was spectacular one of my favorites. Each pitch would be a classic in its own right. Varied and sustained the climbing and the companionship made for an incredible climb that only got better as we topped out to see that we would be navigating around a pristine alpine lake on our descent trail. After a bath we finished up our hike and got back to the car just in time to make mac’n’cheese while the sunset glowed red from behind the Tetons. It was and epic day, but this time the best kind.

We woke up excited about a rest day, so we after some complicated logistics discussions Jack went off with two friends to climb in the Cirque of the Towers, and Chris and I went to Lander to go have some pocket pulling fun. From pictures and words it sounds like Jack had a great time. Chris and I did too. We woke up early and got started and finished just before dark. One of the great things about the limestone in the Lander region is how short most routes are. Few exceed 60 ft. Chris and I managed to do eleven routes in a day, which beats both of our previous records by… a lot. We also got on some of the hardest rated climbs we had ever done. I think the highlight from this part of the trip was just the sheer number of climbs we did and realizing what style of climbing I really need to improve on.

Then (hang with me I’m almost done) we headed back to Walla Walla just in time for Scamble leader training. We met up with our fellow climbing leaders, Tia, Kemper and Wes and all headed down to the sport climbing paradise of Smith Rock. We met up with our “trainer”/guide Max and proceeded to have three incredible days hanging out and occasionally getting gnarly on the many tuff test pieces.

Today is the 20th I’ve returned to Walla Walla… again. Tomorrow our scramblers come. We’ve gone grocery shopping, pulled climbing and camping gear. All we need are our freshman and we’re good to go down to Smith… Again.

As this round of adventures starts to slow, I’m excited for school, and even more excited for the next adventure no matter how big or small. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Two Trips to the Alpine pt.1

I’m struggling to begin writing this post, not for lack of material. A lot has happened in a short period of time.  Last week, we bought food, got gear, figured out the routes we wanted to climb, packed our bags, stopped at the burger grill one last time and went into the alpine (a day later than planned). Our hike in was uneventful, but extremely draining. A 10 mile hike with over 70 pound packs. We went to bed early hoping to get an early start. We woke up two hours after our alarm and decided we would take our time getting to the route. We were at the base of the route, The North East Face Route on Pingora, by 9. I tied in, got to the top of the first pitch and belayed Matt. Around 3 p.m. we were 800+ feet off the deck.

I would like to take the time now to talk about two of the non-physical aspects in climbing, partnership and the mental aspect.

Every climber will tell you, to climb with anybody you need to trust them. A good climbing partnership is like a well oiled machine. It moves smoothly and efficiently, it fills in the gaps, and if one half isn’t working the machine can’t work.

Every climber will also tell you climbing is all mental. Some days you wake up and you’re just not feeling it. That can be stressful when compounded with the internal dialogue that already overtakes you when climbing. 800 feet up a granite wall is an exposed and vulnerable position. If you are not 100% committed the second you leave the ground it will not be possible to reach the top. And if you wake up feeling off, then the mental fortitude needed to ignore your inner demons becomes that much more strenuous to achieve.

So when Matt turned to me and said he was not feeling it, I didn’t argue. After some water and muscle sandwich bars, it was decided we would bail. We began the long rappels to the base, and eventually made it down and back to camp. The next morning Matt was still not feeling it and believed that the distractions offered in the front country could be helpful. So we packed up and hiked out to reassess our options. While I was sad to be leaving the Winds it gave me a lot reflect on. I had forgotten how much I love spending extended periods of time in the alpine and am very excited to return. Though sad, not all was for not, as leaving enabled us one last stop at the Gannet Grill and a long talk with a Continental Divide Through-hiker named Speedbump. We woke the next morning feeling refreshed, went bouldering in Sinks Canyon, and drove to Jackson.

Glossary of Terms

Language is a difficult thing to communicate with. Sadly it is all we’ve got. The form of communication that climbers use is particularly riddled with phrases and terms that are exclusive to the climbing community. With this in mind I am publishing a post dedicated to the jargon of the vertical life.

A: Alpine- Where the real stuff goes down. Think big walls, big weather, big beauty, lakes, flowers and clear air.

Alpine Start- Waking up early, to get to the alpine and maximize daylight. Climbing is hard, it’s a hell of a lot harder when you have to do it in the dark.

B: Bail- Getting off a climb, due to previously unforeseen or unmanageable circumstances. (eg. weather)

Belay- A method of managing a rope connected to the climber to ensure their safety.

Belayer- The person actually doing the management.

Belay device- The piece of equipment that is used to belay. (eg. Gri-gri or an Air Traffic Controller (ATC))

Beta: The information, the best sequence to do a climb/single move, the best camping spot. Anything you want to know and are looking for is the beta.

Bivy: Spending a night (often unplanned for) somewhere other than your tent/place of preferred slumber.

Bolt: Literally a bolt with an attached hanger drilled into the rock. This serves as a piece of protection, should the lead climber fall, the bolt will catch them.

Bouldering: Often referred to as pebble wrestling, it is the act of climbing boulders. It is too small to require the use of ropes.

C: Crag- The cliff. Often only single pitches. An easy place for a day outing.

Crash Pad- A big foam mattress placed on the ground when bouldering to protect any falls.

Crack Climbing- Using a crack to make upward momentum.

F: Face climbing- A type of climbing that uses edges, knobs, dimples and friction as holds. This is often done when Sport climbing, and is the opposite of crack/trad climbing.

G: Gear- Cams, nuts, hexes. Stuff you put in the crack to protect yourself.

J: Jamming- The act of putting various body parts from hands-head-feet in a crack and trying to get them stuck so as to enable upward motion.

L: Lead climbing- When a climber trails a rope they are attached to and connects it via a carabiner to protection on the wall. This can be as either Sport Climbing or Trad Climbing.

M: Multi-Pitch- A climb consisting of several pitches. This can range from 2- over 20.

P: Pitch- The distance between two belay spots.

Protection- Either bolts or traditional gear, that protects the lead climber from hitting the ground if they fall.

R: Rack- The trad gear.

Rating- The arbitrary assessment of climb based on difficulty. At the moment in roped climbing it goes from 5.0-5.15c (at 5.10 it is broken down further into a,b,c and d) and in Bouldering it goes from v0-v16.

S: Sport Climbing. Clipping into bolts for protection. This is often done when Face Climbing.

T: Trad Climbing- The act of placing trad gear into a crack for protection.

I hope this helps to clarify some terms. For a more complete list see wikipedia.

An update on the adventure will come after we make dinner. Here’s a cliffhanger though, we left the Wind Rivers early and are now in Jackson. Find out why soon.

Post 2: Lander Wyoming

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_0452 DSC_0363 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHoly Cow is there a lot to update. About a week and a half has passed and so have five climbing destinations, countless burritos, immeasurable highway miles, frustration with guidebooks and roadmaps, sore fingers, open wounds and of course laughs and all around good times.
I suppose last we were in Louisville, headed towards Missouri. Well Missouri was great, we were taken out to sushi by Chris’s parents, spent two nights in a bed. An hour playing video games and a whole day bouldering on the wonderfully textured sandstone of Horseshoe canyon in Arkansas. By the end of the day we were totally worked with a tally of climbs ranging from easy v1-(a-supposed-but-very-soft)v6. (For those still learning the lingo, the v-scale designates bouldering ratings to give an idea of difficulty the scale goes all the way up to v-16 so in the scheme of things v6 is pretty moderate. After Arkansas bouldering and a soft bed, we were excited to be back on the road gunning it for none other than… Rock City, Kansas.
Hold your disbelief, right in the middle of America’s flattest, fattest, corniest and dullest state sit about fifty deer-turd shaped boulders, with some pretty good climbing. So after about four hours there we headed to our home away from home, Wal-Mart in Salina, Kansas. As it turns out, other than offering every modern convenience that materialism can desire Wal-Mart also offers great free camping. Fortunately we were only there one night and soon we were off to Wyoming. To go to the rock paradise of Vedauwoo.
Vedauwoo, is the promised land for a style of climbing known as off-width. A style known for pain, grimacing, bruises, blood, torn clothing, and lots of grunting. For reasons unknown I have always been attracted to this style of climbing, or so I thought. So was initially very excited when we pulled into the parking lot. We immediately headed to the crags, and first climb found a forgotten camalot, which I immediately added to my rack. Sweet snag and awesome start. Then we headed to the next climb. This one an off-width. It was my turn to lead the pitch so I started up. About fifteen minutes later I stood on top feeling like I was gonna puke, and watching with fascination as my skinned knees trickled a little blood. I belayed Matt up and we both agreed, climbing off-width is fun in the way being in a cage match with Mike Tyson and an angry grizzly bear is fun. But we had several days in Vedawoo so we decided to give another one a go the next day. I think the best way to sum this one up is by simply saying that when down safe and sound we went back to the car, got out the crash pad, put away the rack, napped and decided to go bouldering for the next few days. While very fun, the rock at Vedawoo is extremely sharp and after a day of bouldering our fingers felt as though we’d put them through a pencil sharpener. It was time for somewhere new.
So without further delay we headed to Ten Sleep Canyon. A town of 300 sure knows how to through a great 4th of July bash. With a hilarious mix of Cowboys and Climbers, Tensleep closed off its streets to host a dance party in which everyone from 80-8 and urban plastic-pulling climbers to good-ol’-boy cowboys got down to Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson covers. The next day we were up early and headed to the limestone sport climbing. It was INCREDIBLE! Completely vertical, really delicate, thoughtful climbing on beautiful stone. I climbed harder than I had ever even previously attempted and did it very successfully. It was great, and we thoroughly tired ourselves out to head to our next destination, Devil’s Tower.
We had been told to arrive to Devil’s Tower fresh and relaxed, advice we decided to ignore and arrived tired, sore, and with much less skin than we started with. We got to Devil’s Tower around 2 started a route called Durrance at 4, and soon decided to bail. Weather was approaching and the climb was not as good as the 50 classics of North American Mountaineering would have you believe. We made some friends on route shared their camping beta and slept like rocks through the torrential storm. In the morning we were up to have another go. Going on almost 2 weeks of climbing every day our bodies were SORE. But we decided to hop on a routed that would have been a challenge even fresh. Well, challenge it was. Carol’s Crack one of the most aesthetic lines on one of the most aesthetic climbing areas in the world was really difficult. And though we got to te top of the hard pitch, the next two pitches proved to be more dangerous with loose rock and difficult protection. So though it meant no summit, we decided to bail. In the words of anonymous, “live to fight another day”.
We went to bed that night slightly cranky at how tired we were, but excited for the promised rest day. We woke up got in the car, headed to hot springs, called our families, and drove to Lander, Wyoming. Where I’m now sitting in a coffee shop preparing to head into the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range. Perhaps the most beautiful mountain range on earth. I’m completely stoked, we’ve got some incredible routes lined up. Including a traverse of the entire Cirque. Eleven Peaks, 19 Miles, and more vertical climbing than I can count on all my fingers and toes. Well so long for now. Updates to come once we’re out of the alpine.

Update and Hello from Louisville, KY

Well the title says most of it. We’re in Louisville, KY. Making a pitstop at a friends on our way to Springfield, MO and more climbing this morning.

Yesterday we spent the morning in the beautiful and huge Red River Gorge. We got to the gear shop around 9 a.m. bought the guidebooks and set out for what we believed would be a quick trip to the Indian Creek Crag. Oh how wrong we were. After two hours of confused backwoods driving, we finally found the “trail”head at noon. The hike up was heinous but the crack was splitter! However the adventure was not over. Watch the video to learn more.  DSC_0246 Seneca!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Red River Gorge

The day before we were in the New River Gorge of West Virginia. Maybe one of the most rad cragging areas. The approaches are short and the trails well maintained. The rock is awesomely textured and really fun to climb. We went  to climb splitter sandstone cracks, but it rained all both days. So we went to climb on the super steep roofs, where it was dry. So for two days of climbing we made it to the top of two climbs… not quite quantity but quality.

The opening of our adventure, we found ourselves in the breathtaking Seneca Rocks. One of Noah’s favorite climbing destinations thus far and definitely the coolest climbing (says Noah) on the East. It’s all multi-pitch trad, the rock takes a little getting used to. The friction, especially in the summer, is pretty poor, but the cracks are beautiful and all totally vertical. However we got into a bit of an adventure on the descent as well. The guidebook is really bad, and we had trouble finding the rappel stations. Only to find them and get a rope stuck. All in all a very rad day.

Well that’s all for today we gotta get back on the road. From Louisville (pronounced luhavul) to Springfied is 9 hours.