Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

Category: Climbing (page 2 of 2)

2009 Ice

Well, the Utah ice climbing season is unfortunately over. It was a very short season, and also my first “full” one anywhere. My first climb was January 4 in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and the last was a sketchfest last Sunday in North Creek Canyon. That’s about seven weeks worth of climbing, with an off week in there due to a January thaw. So really, six weeks worth of solid ice. Not much time for a weekend warrior like myself.

Oh well, I got after it pretty well during this time period:

  • January 4: climbed the Great White Icicle, a classic WI3 halfway up Little Cottonwood Canyon, with Curt, who led the whole thing. A nice, easy introduction to the season. I would end up repeating the climb twice more by the end of the month.
  • January 9: Drove down to Ouray, CO to attend the Ouray Ice Festival. I had a blast last year and, having company this time, it promised to be even better. Curt and I did a handful of routes Saturday, watched Josh Wharton kill it at the comp, then headed to one of the hot springs. Later we checked out the annual Ouray FD dinner, got some schwag, downed a few beers, saw Max Turgeon’s slideshow, then headed to the after-party. At one point Curt turned around to hand me a beer right when some dude was walking by, spilling it a little bit. We turned to look who it was:
    “Dude — Conrad Anker spilled my beer!”
    It was pretty funny. No hard feelings, Conrad, haha.
    The rest of the party and weekend was a blast. The next day, Josh taught my clinic, giving me some much-needed advice on my horrific ice technique. Amazing how far a little technique goes towards increasing your endurance…
  • January 17: Headed down to Santaquin Canyon, just South of Provo, to check out the ice. Feeling confident from Ouray, I led the last pitch of Squash Head, my first lead ever! It wasn’t too scary, so Glenn and I did another route on the other side of the canyon.
  • February 13: Drove up to Cody, WY for the Cody Ice Festival. The first day was pretty uneventful climbing-wise, but we checked out the Silent Auction/dinner/slideshow that evening, which was pretty fun. Dawn Glanc put on a pretty good show (and a ton of pull-ups!) and we retired early after a few beers. The next day we rose early to take a stab at High on Boulder, arguably the most classic climb in the area, and right at our level difficulty-wise. Curt took the first lead on the WI3 bulge, and I volunteered to lead the crux pitch, a WI4(+?) near-vertical 100ft curtain. Having never led anything harder than a WI3 before, this was probably a poor choice. But I felt confident, racked some screws, and got after it.
    Right around the 4th screw it steepened from 80° to vertical, and I started to get pretty pumped making a diagonal traverse to what seemed like easier ice. Putting the 5th screw in was a challenge for my jello-arms, but it was bomber and went in with a struggle. I yelled “take!”, hung on the screw (another first), and rested for a while, 2/3rds of the way up the curtain. Soon afterwards I started up again, and, having lost my nerve, ended up putting in a belay by that 5th screw so Curtis could lead to the top. He TRed/led the pitch in one continuous motion — I was impressed. It was a good learning experience on the best ice I’ve ever climbed, hands down.
  • February 22: Curt and I drove 1.5 hours south of SLC to North Creek Canyon, where we had heard of a fantastic, multi-pitch WI4. Unfortunately, the weather was warm and the ice was sketchy so we made the choice to bail after the first two pitches. It looks like a stellar route though, so I’ll surely be back next season…

Not a bad amount of climbing for a short period of time: I had been hoping to get ten days in, but only got seven. The weather has been horrifically warm all over the west (67° today!?) so I don’t think Ouray’s ice park will even survive much longer. I’m afraid my favorite sport is on the front line of the impending climate war…

Vertical Smiles on Lone Peak

When I first moved out here last year the Wasatch Mountains were my church spires — I would drive by and admire them longingly without really exploring their sanctuaries. Hiking in their vicinity would only fuel an urge for more tactile encounters — the huge rock walls looming in so many crannies and canyons.

One such rock wall stands out; the North Star in a sea of celestial stone. A lighthouse, visible from anywhere in the Wasatch Valley, separating the harem of the North from the sheep to the South — always there keeping watch. It’s called the Lone Peak Cirque, and it holds the single greatest bounty of rock in hundreds of miles of mountains in either direction.

“Did you hear something?” The glow from an oblate moon illuminates Tom’s head crooked to the side.
“Relax, dude, it’s nothing. You’re hearing things.” We continue on the steep trail. Within twenty minutes the crackles of campfires eases our collective unease. Ten minutes later our own blaze adds to the soothing familiarity of the wilderness campground — we are at 8000 feet and a mere three miles from civilization, yet we might as well be in the Yukon. Lulled conversation yields to sleep.

By seven AM we’re psyched again — it’s only a few miles to the Cirque, the weather is beautiful, and we’ve got a full day of stellar climbing ahead. Two thousand vertical feet with 55-pound packs later the psychness wanes. We hike around a ridge and the first two-hundred foot (completely undeveloped) wall of perfect granite emerges. It’s gonna be a great weekend.

“Climb on!” Tom makes the first of many foot jams in a crack and leads into the unknown. We are on the Lowe Route (5.8), the most classic 5.8 in the Wasatch put up by the inimitable George and Jeff Lowe. Tom glides up the perfect hand crack, jamming in cams and feet and hands for 100 feet to a two-piton anchor. It’s on.

The Cirque at Dusk
The Lone Peak Cirque near dusk

The third pitch is phenomenal, a surprisingly well-protected 120′ of face climbing by a finger crack. We top out to a sprawling view of the Provo Valley, flanked by Box Elder Peak and the gigantic Mt. Timpanogos. After a Clif Bar we scramble down, make a couple rappels and hike back to camp.

The main impetus for making the grueling hike up to the cirque was to climb one of the three classic routes on the Summit Wall. It doesn’t get any better than five pitches of perfect rock leading to a 11,000+ foot summit topout, at least in Utah. By 10 am we were at the base of the wall, ready to climb to the summit.

It’s all Vertical Smiles for us as Tom heads off to lead the fourth pitch.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” Tom shouts from a stance at a bolt. We’re six hundred feet above the cirque and quite confused. Maybe it’s the altitude.
“Yeah, just go straight up to the right of that block”
“All I see is roofs!”
“Yeah buddy!” For once I’m happy to be belaying.

The Cirque at Dusk
Tom leading the fourth pitch of Vertical Smile (5.10a II) — the green trapezoid in the incut photo is our position

After a quick hang on a #2 Camalot Tom makes short work of the six-foot horizontal roof. It looms closer and closer as I follow on top-rope. Seven hundred feet off the deck I throw in a hand jam above my head and pull with all my might. What a rad pitch.

We don’t top out right on the summit, but a ten-minute scramble puts us right there on the North Star herself. We bask in the panorama, snap a few shots and head back to Earth.

Climbing is dangerous. Well, climbing trees anyway.

Funny how my last post focused on mountaineering in the cold and snow. Well, since my ascent of the Pfeifferhorn a few weeks ago I haven’t really been doing much mountaineering, mostly due to a (stupid) accident a couple weekends ago.

I’ve told this story dozens of times, and I don’t really want to tell it again, so I’ll give you all the short version: I was playing pong in the backyard with some friends when I saw a soccer ball above the garage of the apartment complex next door. There’s a small tree next to a fence that goes up and branches over the garage, making the roof pretty accessible. Well, I like to climb stuff (if you haven’t noticed), so I thought, sweet, an excuse to climb that tree (I had climbed the other tree in the backyard earlier in the day). So I retrieve the ball easily and am descending when the branch I am holding on to breaks at about five feet off the ground. I kind of jump backwards to stay on my feet and feel a sharp pain in my leg, then look down to see my thigh making a distinct imprint in the fence. I didn’t even think I had really hurt myself (that part of the fence was plastic and relatively soft) until I looked closer and saw my jeans in shreds. Weird, I thought, how’d that happen? Everyone was looking at me saying “you all right dude?” and I curtly responded “yeah it’s all good” while limping over to the house. Then I lifted a flap of denim from my tattered jeans and noticed a solid square inch of flesh missing from my thigh. Muscle and fat were clearly visible and a slow stream of blood was trickling out of the wound. Holy *@#%$#% ^%$#! (use your imagination) I exclaimed while my roommate gazed at it with incredulity.

I briefly considered going to the ER, but after recalling my last $800 visit there I decided to just bandage it up and go to a clinic on monday. I’ve been cleaning it, disinfecting it, and redressing it every morning since. I even took antibiotics for a couple of weeks after my first clinic visit. After two weeks it’s still pretty exposed but healing nicely.

The first week after that sucked. Bigtime. I couldn’t run, and chose not to climb for fear of exacerbating it. Only this past week did I start to climb again and I’ve gotten back into it with a vengeance, going out four times in the past six days. I’m starting to feel strong again; not quite back to where I was in February, but definitely getting there. My collarbone is a non-factor at this point (Ten weeks for a full recovery! Hell yeah).

I was down in St. George this weekend to cheer on a friend in his first triathlon. It was pretty fun overall; I really love Southern Utah, especially this time of year. It’s like Mars with some vegetation. The highlight for me was climbing at a nearby crag on some sweetly featured sandstone, a first for me. I felt strong and it was awesome.

This week will hopefully be more of the same. I still don’t feel like I can start running again but I’ll definitely be pushing myself on some stone. Sweet!

Comps, comps, and more comps!

I get the feeling more and more that Salt Lake City is the center of climbing for the entire country. This is so awesome. The other day I was chatting with a buddy at Momentum right before getting on some routes and noticed someone familiar out of the corner of my eye. Is that?! No, it can’t be. Wait, yeah, that’s Dave Graham! For those of you unfamiliar with the climbing world, Dave is one of the most famous American climbers in the world, with ticks of both 5.15a and V15. In short, he’s mutantly strong, inarguably one of the best climbers in the world. The best part: he’s as skinny as I am. Gives me hope!

Yesterday I went back down to the gym to do a bit of bouldering before checking out the Comp that was going to go down at 5. It was pretty cool, especially cuz all these world-class climbers were messing around in my home gym! Chris Sharma, Graham, and Joe Kinder all made appearances with Sharma coming out on top with a dramatic finish. He doesn’t even compete that much anymore but seems to like Salt Lake quite a bit, with a previous win at the bouldering competition in August. I wish I had taken some pictures but I forgot the camera for my battery. Err, that sounds kinda creepy but you know what I mean.

So the comp was cool, not as cool as the Ouray Ice Fest but still pretty rad. You can’t really compare the locales, Ouray is stunningly beautiful while Momentum is, well, a gym. It’s a pretty good looking (and hugely comprehensive) gym, but, well, y’know.

If nothing else it got me even more psyched to keep cranking away at the gym to get stronger and stronger. I’ve been working out on my roommate’s hangboard we installed in the stairwell and have already noticed a benefit from it. Can’t wait to get back on the rock this spring!

edit: Today this feeling was reaffirmed when I ran into a group of about six pros climbing at Momentum, including Graham and Alex Puccio…

2008 Ouray Ice Festival

Tons of ice climbing. World-class competition. All-you-can-drink craft beer. Cheap gear. Sound good? Then you should’ve been at the ice festival this past weekend in Ouray, CO. Ouray (rhymes with hooray!) is a fantastic little mountain town in the heart of the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado. Its annual festival features the premiere ice and mixed climbing competition on this side of the Atlantic. That means the best climbers in the world congregate there, some taking part in the comp and the others teaching clinics and giving slide shows.

The Competition

I rolled into town after a 4am departure from Salt Lake, plenty in time to catch the main competition. At around 10:00 I took the shuttle a half mile or so up to the Ice Park. The comp was in full swing by the time I arrived. Some highlights:

  • Will Mayo cruising up the mixed part only to drop an ice tool at the beginning of the suspended log section. He made some gnarly moves with one tool, though, somehow managing to make it to the bottom of the plywood board (a 42° incline mind you) before falling.
  • Jeff Mercier coming out of nowhere to set the bar for the rest of the comp, methodically making his way up the route before sending the final dyno to top out. Awesome stuff.
  • Ines Papert blazing the route only to get stuck on the last move of the board. She’s pretty short and made a couple of static attempts at the top, but fell soon afterwards. She won the women’s competition nonetheless.
  • Evgeny “Jack” Kryvosheytsev (that’s a mouthful) also crusing the route but popping a tool unexpectedly on the third to last hold on the route. He was a favorite to win and ended up taking second instead.

Hot Springs

Ouray has dozens of natural hot springs in town, all of them of course have been scarfed up by various hotels. After six hours of hanging out in the cold I decided to

Who needs two tools?

wander around and see if any of them would let me hang out for awhile. After a bit of inquiring I found the Wiesbaden Hotel (as if it wasn’t similar enough to Austria) and promptly paid 15 bucks to soak for a bit. Holy crap was it awesome! The receptionist recommended the vapor cave so I went downstairs and opened a huge, heavy wooden door to reveal a steamy, slimy, slightly stinky room. Wtf is this? I thought before hearing some voices from beyond, deeper into the weirdest dungeon ever. Beyond another wooden door was the real deal, a 105° natural sauna with a small wading pool filled with blazingly hot spring water.

Now I have been to several hot springs both here out West and in Europe, and this took the case. I am a naturalist and the whole layout was perfect: a cave bore out of bedrock with only a few unassuming planks of wood around the outside to sit or lie on. I wish I would have taken a picture, it was so sweet.

So I hung out down there for twenty minutes or so, sweating and chatting it up with a climber couple from Denver about the comp and whatnot. Then I migrated outside to yet another natural hot spring, a swimming pool filled with the same refreshing water! It was here that I really soaked all the gloriousness in, chatting with a bunch of people from BC, Colorado and even a (preliminary) competitor from the comp.

An Orgy of Beer and Lasagna

Next up was something I had been looking forward to for awhile: An Ouray volunteer fire department benefit dinner consisting of Lasagna and all-you-can-drink beer! They even had New Belgium reps go around and fill up your cup as you waited in line for food!! Only $15 and you got all this, plus the added benefit of a room full of funny, friendly, genuinely awesome people. They are really what make the event, I had never before experienced such an awesome community.

Will Gadd, the First Class Badass

Any ice climber knows about Will Gadd, one of the preeminent luminaries in the sport and frequent dominator of the Ouray Ice competition. After the lasagna dinner he put on a slideshow chronicling his climbing life including numerous significant alpine, ice and mixed routes all over the world. He’s also apparently a prolific paraglider and had some amazing footage of gliding all over the Rockies, from Boulder to Banff. Oh and the slideshow was all-you-can-drink New Belgium beer also. The know their clientele.

I hadn’t gotten a hotel in time and didn’t feel like shelling out 90 bucks for one, so I passed out in the car for the night. Colorado mountain towns aren’t so toasty in mid-January; however I had planned for it with my dual-sleeping bag system, in which I was nice and toasty.

Sunday Clinics

Another big reason I came down to the festival was for the clinics. Climbing ice is substantially more dangerous than rock, and unlike most things I feel like I need some instruction before going at it full-on. And not only are the clinics in a great locale, but they’re all taught by the premiere, sponsored climbing badasses of the day. Sunday morning was my easy/intermediate ice clinic taught by Kelly Cordes, another ice and rock strongman sponsored by several companies. His ascent of the Great Trango Tower with Josh Wharton is one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever read.

The clinic went well, I’ve gotten so much stronger since the last time I went ice climbing it was almost comical. I still need to work on my footwork but I’m feeling better and better on ice. In the afternoon I took an avalanche clinic put on my one of the guides for San Juan Mountain Guides. I already knew about half the material but the other half has definitely beneficial. Avalanches really creep me out and I do enough backcountry skiing and climbing that I need to learn as much as I can to be safe from the biggest objective hazard in the mountains. Already this winter I have learned quite a bit; I find it fascinating and am already an almost religious follower of the postings by the Utah Avalanche Center.

So if it’s not already obvious, Ouray was a hell of a time and I will definitely be back next year, hopefully with people that don’t back out the day before the trip (no names there)! For now I’m pretty psyched to get back on the ice!

The Weather out West

I haven’t even come close to understanding the weather out here. It was crazy hot all summer (upper 90s every day) and I was blasting the a/c all the time. Then, all of a sudden, it’s snowing in the mountains and freezing in the house. There wasn’t really a transition at all. Is there a spring and fall out here, or have we been reduced to two seasons?

Just this past weekend I went for a hike, and had to turn back because I ran into five inches of snow! It’s September, man, wtf?! Well, yeah, it was at 11,000 feet, but still! I guess the hiking season in the higher peaks consists of July and August.

I’ve gotten lazy the past couple of weeks and have started driving to work more and more. All summer I biked to work 70% of the time, but since it’s gotten colder I’ve stopped. Maybe I can get in the habit of riding Trax this winter. An extra half-hour of time dedicated to reading daily would be pretty sweet…

In other news, I’ve been climbing 3-4 times a week in the gym and at various crags in the Wasatch. I’m trying to beef up my endurance so I can stay on harder routes for longer. I am a member of Momentum so I have been lead climbing and bouldering quite a bit: I still need to rest once on the long overhanging 5.10 routes, but look forward to sending them with ease (and more!) by the spring.

I’ve picked up a new set of skis (fat twin-tips for the park and powder from a local company) and bindings, and am looking at an Alpine Touring setup next. Hopefully I can afford to pick everything up by the beginning of the backcountry ski season in early November…

Ice Climbing

Ice climbing to me was always one of those sports that seemed out of reach.  I’m not sure if it was the stigma, the price of equipment, or the simple idea of climbing up a sheer wall of ice up to thousands of feet tall.  Either way, experiencing it pretty much shattered any preconceptions I had previously had.

When registering for courses for the Spring I realized I needed another ‘activity’ in order to graduate.  I was pleasantly surprised that Ice Climbing was being offered, and was the first to sign up.  After a brief meeting in the Red Barn (our on-campus climbing gym) we met on friday afternoon to head to the Adirondaks.  Only four souls were brave enough to embark on this journey, which was very nice.  Along with our instructor and a TA (my age), there were six of us total.

I was pretty psyched the whole way up, about five hours from Rochester.  We stayed at a ski shop in their bunks downstairs and got up early on Saturday for a day’s climbing.  Our first wall was down into a canyon from the outlet of Chapel Pond.  Anybody familiar with my pics from hiking Giant will remember seeing this pond, very visible for most of the hike.

We briefly reviewed tying knots and belaying basics, and George (the TA) scrambled up around the wall to set up the top rope.  We waited (im)patiently for them to come back so we could start.100_1050_1
I was naturally the first to volunteer to go, and started making my way up the choppy middle section of the wall on the right.  I progressed pretty well about 2/3 of the way up (guess I’m a natural) before my hands started getting really sore from gripping the ice axe so hard.  Then I decided to go up the right side of the uppermost central rock face, and ended up falling after an axe placement slipped.  After a 50 foot fall or so I brushed myself off and went back at it.  Good ol’ combat roll at the bottom saved me from injury.

Haha, ok so of course when you fall the rope simply tightens and your belayer (the person controlling the rope at the bottom, see my pics) catches you.  Falling was still unacceptable to me and I went about 9-10 times before doing it again (incidentally on my last climb of the weekend).  The next few climbs I made it to the top, taking just about every route I could.

The beauty of ice climbing is that you’re not restricted to finding holds in the wall like in rock climbing.  You just pound your ice axes into the ice for handholds and kick your crampons (spikes sticking off your boots, they’re pretty badass) into the ice for footholds.  This allows you to take just about any route to the top.  Usually I just want to get to my destination when i’m in the woods (in the case the top of the wall) so I usually just head straight up.  Either way, it’s extremely taxing on your upper body, especially your hands and arms.  Come to think of it, it’d be a really fun yet effective method of working out.  Sweet.

I had taken an outdoor rock climbing class a couple summers ago, long before this blog detailed my life’s story, and was quite unimpressed with my classmates.  It was a similar trip, we went to Rattlesnake point to the west of Niagara Falls in Canada to do some climbing.  They seemed mostly uninterested in climbing and I ended up doing by far the most.  This time was different, though.  There were only four of us and it was clear that we all enjoyed the outdoors and a challenge, not to mention handling standing around for hours at a time in sub-freezing temperatures.  We all gave it a shot time and time again, which was admirable, especially at a nerd-filled school of engineers and techies like RIT.

The next day we spent climbing on Pitchoff Rock.  Anybody who has driven into Keene from Lake Placid will have probably noticed this wall, it’s on the left side opposite of Cascade Lake.  According 100_1092_1
to Tony it’s one of, if not the most climbed wall in the Northeast.  This is because of it’s accessibility and approachable dimensions.  The ice here was even more beautiful than on saturday, esepcially because the sun was shining.  However, the sun has a very dramatic and fast effect on ice, and after about a half-hour it was dripping pretty badly.  The column especially was dripping pretty badly, and we joked (well half-joked) about kicking it right over when climbing.  A column is simply a free-standing pillar of ice formed from a giant icicle, like at left.  Here it was difficult to maintain your lateral balance on since it was so thin, and I ended up flailing my axe a few times to keep my balance.  Overall it was pretty easy though.  After a few climbs the ice started getting really soft and difficult to manage, and eventually I started pulling my axe right through the ice.  This led to my second and last fall of the weekend, and I decided to call it a day due to fatigue and some serious soreness. 

Afterwards we headed to the Noonmark diner for lunch and pie and then headed home to the sounds of NPR.

I’ve decided that ice climbing isn’t something I’m going to jump right into yet, as it’s still not as much fun as simply climbing mountains and is incredibly inexpensive.  Rope, boots, carabiners, ice screws, ice axes, crampons, and belay devices will make you self-sufficient, to the cost of $1000+.  However, I figure that once I start climbing peaks tall enough to be glaciated I’ll need this stuff anyway.  All in due time.

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