Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

Month: January 2008

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!

Holy Snowness!

Well, it’s been about five weeks since it started dumping snow in the mountains here in Utah. Alta got 12′ in December (that’s one tick mark) and January has started off with a bang with a massive storm that pounded the Sierras and Lake Tahoe area. Alta got 38″ from Friday til the skies cleared Monday morning. Pretty killer stuff.

So far I’ve had three awesome powder days, with this past Sunday being the best. The day I flew back to NY would’ve been even better I think, if it hadn’t been for a little debacle getting up the canyon. I tried driving up with my 2-wheel drive Acura (w/ snow tires), got pulled over and promptly sent back down the canyon. I didn’t get my first run in til 11am, and only got three in total (all wicked powder runs though) before I had to jet back to Salt Lake to catch a taxi to the airport.

But let’s talk about Sunday. The weather was unstable to say the least, and learning from that past experience I elected to take the bus up. Unfortunately I didn’t get to the park ‘n ride until 8:45 and it took two hours to get up the canyon due to a massive traffic jam (and cops checking cars for 4×4/chains undoubtedly) so my first run again wasn’t til 11. However, this time it didn’t matter because it snowed another 8″ while I was there, from 11 to 4. Almost every run was in knee deep powder and I found numerous stashes of untracked deep stuff each time. Some steep untracked tree runs had me grinning and whooping the whole way down. I wasn’t in the condition to huck cliffs due to a minor knee injury on Thursday but made the most of it anyhow. It was epic; the best ski day of my life thus far.

Best part is, it’s only gonna get better — hell, it’s only January! And I hear there’s another storm rolling in tomorrow night…

New Year

Well, the holidays are about over. I’m enjoying my day off much like I enjoyed much of last week: being lazy around the house. Sunday night (the 30th) I returned from NY so it’s back to real life.

New Year’s this year was a bit different. I had originally planned to stick around NY, but then I realized that New Year’s kinda sucks and I didn’t want to take time off just to be able to celebrate it at home. However, almost none of my friends here were back from their holidays so it was looking to be a pretty lame evening. Me being me, I thought, well hell I’ll just go climb a mountain to ring in the New Year. So I did.

At around 8:30 I took off for Mill Creek Canyon to hike Grandeur Peak. Since I still hadn’t purchased a pair of snowshoes I had a couple options: bareboot it with the hopes of an existing tracked out trail or ski it with my touring setup. I was a little sketched out with the snow conditions and it being night at all, so I opted for the former. To be honest, I wasn’t very optimistic about summiting, but a half hour into the hike it was looking pretty good.

Right past the trailhead I got a call from a friend inviting me out to a party for the night. I thought about it briefly and decided to go for the summit solo rather than spend the evening at some random party somewhere. Call me weird but I had my mind set on standing atop a 8300′ peak 4000 feet above my city to ring in 2008.

I was all smiles for the first mile. A perfect snowshoe track made barebooting a breeze, and the trail’s grade only forced me to kick a handful of steps in the snow. Conditions were perfect; there was no wind, it wasn’t too cold, and the sky was a pristine black dotted with stars in all directions. I made good time up to a ridge at about 7500′ and had my first glimpse of the Salt Lake Valley. Since it was only 11pm I figured I had underestimated myself again.
Salt Lake

That is, until I continued on from there. The snowshoe track petered out and I was forced to follow a mountain goat track in my mountaineering boots. A quarter mile later I was panting through hip-deep snow along a mildly corniced ridgeline. The summit loomed a few hundred feet ahead so I plodded on, the hiking trail barely visible amidst the contours of the snow. By 11:30 I had reached the ‘summit,’ just to remember that it was just an intermediary peak and I still had another quarter mile and 600′ to climb. I made a quick decision to continue on, but after trudging through waist-deep snow for about 100 yards I reneged. I would just have to make it back to the ridgeline by midnight.

A little bummed, I plunge-stepped through the snow back to the snowshoe track and made it minutes before midnight. Soon afterwards I heard little ‘pops’ from the valley and saw tiny dots of light, the fireworks being shot off from downtown. Happy New Year Salt Lake!

I motored back down to the trailhead in an hour and kept thinking of all those alpinists over the years, spending nights out halfway up remote, committing mountains in Alaska, Greenland, Pakistan, everywhere. The main difference: Partners. A little companionship and traded encouragement goes a long way towards maintaining a positive mental state and pushing the other to top performance. However, a quality solo adventure can be sublime.

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