Thursday, December 30, 2010

Storm Skiing

Well, the snow gun was turned on for us. A cold air mass has settled its way down to us wringing out every last drop of moisture in the atmosphere. 40cm + has fallen, and with snow densities so low that feathers seem heavy, the constant trickle of snow from the sky has kept pace with the slow settlement rates.

Personally, these cold storm days are my favorite. Endless face shots, so cold you stay dry, and bottomless powder. What could be better? Here is a quick video to get you psyched, because we sure are! Remember when the snow hits my helmet cam, that the cam is 6 ft off the ground...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Finally, an UPDATE!

Well, climbing caught up with me and free time didn't, but let's just say the fall trip went really well for me. The hit-list including sending such classic trad lines like The Alien Roof on the Rostrum and a free attempt on Half Dome in Yosemite (12b) and the spectacular overhanging off fingers to roof of Desert Gold in Red Rocks (13a), and some sport lines up to 13a. There was also the IFMGA mountain guide meetings in Boulder, as well as a climbing trip to Moab before hand, where me and my old college best friend (also a mountain guide) Adam George got to school some europeans on Indian Creek splitters and climb scary desert towers hung over. A productive season for sure, but maybe my last in the desert SW for a few years, there is just soooo much else to climb in the world!

But now I have fully transitioned to winter and am writing this from my winter home at Valhalla Mountain Touring. Yesterday Jasmin and I battled our way 16km up the road on the snowmobiles, with the powder over the head on the sleds. Somehow the old little 340cc machine with huge new powder skis got me to the lodge and we made a shuttle trip up to bring in some basic supplies. A bit of digging and turning on the water (well almost!) was the goal of the day. The beauty of having a micro hydro electric system is that the power and heat has been on all fall so we got up the hill to some warm lodges heated with zero carbon footprint!

Now back to the water system. Every year it seems there is some little hiccup at startup that keeps me from sleeping at night. This is either my 6th or 7th winter up here, and I have almost learned about every little system up here from snowcat mechanics to micro hydro systems to septic tanks; I always joke that my job description for running this place would be a page long! This year's minor hiccup was the water. Jasmin went under the sauna building to turn the water on for that building and went under it with out a head lamp. When she got down there she just turned the only switch should could feel. We went into the lodge and tried to turn on the water with no luck at all. No water. Oh no. No flush toilets, no shower, no running water? All the little perks that make our lodge one of the comfiest around? I went through the whole system to try and figure out what was going on. The water all comes from Ruby Creek where we have a tiny dam that feeds water into a water box and to the hydro electric system. I skied up to check it out. All full. Now I had no idea except either a pipe burst or was clogged, either one was NOT going to be fixed this winter! After two stressful hours I went back under the sauna just to see the valves, and realized (with a head lamp) that there was two switches there; one for the sauna building and one for the main water line to all the buildings. Jas had turned all the water off! With a quick flip of the switch all the stress was washed away and life was good again.

Today the snowcat started right up and I even had time to bust out a quick 2,500' of the first turns of the season at VMT. And it is oh so good right now! 125cms at the lodge, with 15cm over night at -7c. That spells cold COLD FLUFFY smoke. WOW. So good to be back at it, even if it means I am working 15 hour days right now for start is oh so worth it for being able to ski 6 days a week from now until the end of April.

Enjoy this quick vid from todays 'lunch break' tour!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Half Dome: Heavier, slower and almost free

If this doesn't sum up why I climb, I don't know what does! 5.9 jugs on pitch 17 of Half Dome at Sunset

I love climbing. I really do, and maybe that is why it frustrates me so (so so so) much sometimes. There is always another route, harder and longer, waiting to be done as soon as you clip the anchors on the last route you are still finishing. It is constantly motivating and driving me; and often times frustrating me. But in the end it is always inspiring and brings me to the most amazing places along side the most amazing people.

So this October has found me in Yosemite with my wife trying to pursue my life long climbing ambition of free climbing big walls. I have done almost all of the major formations in Yosemite, in a day, going as fast and furious as we could, pulling on gear and stepping on bolts with the summit being the main objective. But as I have matured with my climbing, and taken it to standards that I have never thought possible (I one day dreamed of sending 5.11a trad and have since done 5.13a trad) one form of climbing has always stood out as the highest form of climbing, in my mind. Big Wall Free Climbing. Maybe it was the Huber brothers doing multiple free routes on El Cap, or Lynn Hill freeing the nose in a day, or my late, great friend an climbing partner Micah Dash free climbing the Freerider, but I was inspired, and have gradually tried to build up to free climbing the big walls with in my reach.

Having done a few small alpine walls, 10 pitch lines in Squamish, and small walls in Zion free, it was time to try something bigger, and that was Half Dome. My wife and I had tried to do Freerider on El Cap a few years ago, but sickness and snowfall stopped us half way up. We figured this time around we would try something a little more bite sized, only 23 pitches instead of 35, and 5.12a instead of 5.12d++. We also figured we would do it over two days, and haul a small pack and sleep on the small but comfy Big Sandy Ledge.

Right off the bat are about 4 easier pitches, and then you get to the first free variation around a bolt ladder. A quick 5.11a traverse left to a heinous and awkward 5.11 dihedral brings you to a good ledge. Jasmin was leading this pitch and did a great job fighting through the Yosemite weirdness. The next pitch, dubbed the 'Higbee Hedral' after the pioneer of this free variation Art Higbee, goes at about 5.12a. It has a short, but fierce stemming crux off the belay to a ledge and then 20 m of funky and hard 5.11c crack above. It took me a few tries to stick the crux moves, but I managed to send the pitch, which puts you at the top of pitch 5. Now we had 12 more pitches of 5.10- and under to get to our bivy ledge. Tons of stellar pitches and easy climbing got us to Big Sandy at sunset, but the crux was by far trying to haul our 'light' pack behind us. We brought way too much extra food and water, and trying to hand haul that gear behind us was wearing us down - hopefully not too much.

Jas and I settled in to a romantic shiver bivy on our ropes and my Mutant pack with a delectable meal of tasty bites, cashews and chocolate bars. All the while the crux pitches of the route are right over your head, taunting you all night while you try to sleep on a crooked and sloping bivy ledge.

12 hours of 'rest' later we gave it our best. The first pitch off the ledge in the Zig Zags, is about 5.12a, and it was the warm up pitch. I was sending the whole route to this point, but Jas had hung once lower down, so I asked her to lead this pitch so I could try and warm up on it. She tried hard, and came close, but couldn't send it, and try as I may, I could not send the pitch. 5 times I lowered down to a no hands stance, and tried again, but fatigue from the day before, cold temps, and no warm up added up to not being able to pull off the tips climbing crux. Which is unfortunate, because I managed to scrap my way up the next two pitches with (5.11 and 11+) and then only hung once on the final crux 5.11d slab pitch, which would have been easy to try again.

But on this day, the mental fortitude was not with me. Without a doubt, this is the hardest discipline of rock climbing. Trying to climb your hardest pitch after pitch after pitch, either all day or day after day is so mentally and physically taxing. At the same time however, it is the most motivating thing in the world. Now I want to train harder next year, and try harder the next time around. Go back to Half Dome, and try it in a day with out hauling a big pack behind me. Think about my weaknesses and try harder then ever to overcome them so I can reach my goals. Sometimes failing just makes you want to throw in the towel and pick up something else entirely, but I guess that is the difference with climbing, most of the time failing makes me want to come back and try harder!

Here are some photos and a cool time laps video of sunset over Yosemite from half way up Half Dome...

Looking up at the 23 pitches of the NW Face of Half Dome

The 5.11a traverse pitch 4 into the Higbee Hedral

At the belay of pitch 15

The first 5.12a pitch of the Zig Zags, pitch 18

Spectacular pitch in a spectacular place: the 5.11d slab pitch 22.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quick update from Road trip land...

Well, we made it to Yosemite, finally.

First hit was the Slocan Valley for a week of maintenance before the snows at VMT (video to follow) and some family time. Then we hit Smith for a day, or 3 pitches, as we drove south to Lake Tahoe. But that is where we detoured to skip out on the big fall storm that closed all of the High Sierra road passes. Well, it was easy to decide on a few days of hot springs and sport climbing in the Owens River Gorge as we waited for the weather to clear up. A few pitches a day between rain storms, and before we knew it the weather had cleared and it was time to take the hound to the kennel and settle in to Yosemite.

Sad times as we dropped off Benny for two weeks, but so it goes in Yosemite. Since we got here we have tackled 'The Crucifix' IV 5.12- on our first day - amazing - then the Rostrum via what I call the excellent alien adventure...the first half of the excellent adventure, make a belay and then the Alien Roof variation. That adds two SOLID pitches of 5.12 trad to ye ol Rostrum, good times! I managed to not send the Alien that day, but we came back the next morning so I could send, nice to have some success on such a classic line I have looked at for years and never thought I could do...a wild and inspiring pitch for sure.

Now we are racking up for bigger lines, but lets see how the bodies and minds hold up.

Enjoy a few photos.

Family hike near June Lake while we wait for the weather to clear

I have driven by Mono Lake for years, but never stopped before...this is what I have been missing!

True Love in the Camper with an 80lbs lap dog.

Blinding light in the East Side hot springs...oh wait that is just my white thighs

Storms and light on the East Side

Oh ya, we have been climbing too...the 50m '5.10c' big hands pitch on the Crucifix. The regular NEB route is behind us.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Quick trip to Chile

Although the weather is getting quite winter like here in the NW, I fooled my body completely last week with a last minute, short trip down to Valle Nevado in Chile. It happened like this:

The phone rings while I am sitting on my couch resting after throwing myself at more climbs over my head. Its Mike Hattrup from K2, skiing legend, childhood idol, and my contact at K2 skis.
'What are you doing in September?' Me: 'Climbing, why?' Mike: 'Want to go skiing in Chile for a week? We'll foot the bill."

Ummmmmmmmmm, YA!!!!! Who wouldn't? So there it goes, we all rallied and spent 5 days ski touring in the Andes, in the Valle Nevado ski area slack country.

I will spare you with blabber, and make this more of a photo post. Basics were this: lowest snow in 15 years, hit a rock on every run, blown away by the mountains there, no jet lag, lots of sucking wind at altitude, winter camping with a stove with no lighter, lots of Chilean Red wines, friendly people.

Here are the photos.

Aconcogua from the plane at sunrise

View of the Andes halfway thru the 65 switchbacks up to the ski hills

Valle Nevado backcountry skiing

Searching for the wind filled lines

Looking for the deep snow with El Plomo (5400m) in the background

Graham gets some September recycled powder

Sunshine ski touring

The Incas summited these glaciated peaks over 500 years ago, with their 8 year old children and then left them on the summit as sacrifices. Puts 'mountaineering' in perspective. This is a replica of the 'mummy' of that 8 year old boy that was found 40 years ago on the summit.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

If at first you don't succeed

Ironman and the Turret loom behind camp

You know the rest of the saying. Sometimes it hurts to say it, but you can say it with me right now. “Try, try (try, try) AGAIN!” This is kind of a basic tenet of alpine climbing, or maybe all climbing really; actually, life itself. So what am I trying to get at here?

If you followed my last post, it was a video from the a trip I took to the Adamant Mountains in 2008, a recap of some attempts, successes and failures from a great 10 days in the mountains. A lead in to climbing there again this season. And we did climb there again this year…

July 13th we (Craig and Jeremy) decided to drive to the Golden, BC to pack and prep to fly into our glacier camp at the base of some amazing summits. Camp would be a 10 minute walk from 2 unfree-climbed 600m alpine big walls. Drool.

But for the few days leading up to our departure, way too much time was spent looking at the weather models, trying to figure out if we had any chance of some long awaited BC summer high pressure. For details I can’t really get in to (let’s just say extenuating personal circumstances of a team member) we decided to give it a try anyway, and by the morning of the 14th we were waiting to fly in from a random logging road, and watching the black clouds prevent our passage.

Back to Golden where we spent the next 4 days hanging out, watching the weather and waiting to fly in to the mountains. Before we know it life got complicated, the weather sucked, and we were hauling ass back to Squamish to at least go rock climbing at home, and salvage a bit of work while we could.

Sorting and packing for 9 days on the glacier

Flash forward now to August 5th, and it’s time to try and fly in again. This time, it’s not just us, but a total of 11 people, aka ‘Alpine Man Camp 2010′. It is a huge crew of our friends, so we are pretty psyched about hanging out in some amazing mountains with all of them. Once again the forecast looks iffy for a few days after we get in, but we are optimistic about some good weather for the later half of the trip; we have 9 days, so hopefully half of them might be good.

Andrew shows off his secrets for waiting out storms in the tent

We know that at the very least, the day we fly in will give us perfect weather, and by 10am we are racked up at the base of the north face of the Blackfriar for Craig and my 4th attempt at free climbing this 600m wall. Everything is going well for us, except the time. We get so high up on the face, into new territory for us, but it’s 9pm and starting to get dark. The 4 more pitches of unknown and dirty terrain are going to take us at least 5 hours to climb and descend. Our packs are just a bit too light and fast – no bivy gear, extra food or water, and besides, we still have 8 more days on the trip. So we decide to wrap, and figure we can start climbing at 5am on the next attempt instead of 10am. Seems logical, right?

Pitch 1 of the north face of the Blackfriar

Well, the next 5 days prove us wrong. Welcome to the hours of time blending together; I still can’t discern what we did on what days during that period of time. Fog, rain, and snow all collaborated to keeping us in the sleeping or cooking tents non-stop. The saving grace was hanging tough with some really good friends, so jokes, stories, and philosophizing were the themes of the times. “Fester fiesta 2010.” We would fire up the satellite phone to get weather forecasts, only to go further into depression. It just wasn’t going to happen on this go-around, and by day 5 we realized that when the weather got good, we needed to jump on that opportunity to actually get out of the mountains and not be stuck there running out of food.

Jeremy losing it in the tent after at least 100 hours of non-stop tent time

Finally the weather broke enough for us to escape, and we fled the glacier as fast as we could, so we could regain our sanity outside of the confines of our tents. Oh well, at least I know what I might be trying to do again next year!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Adamants again!

Ok, I have been a slacker, but here is a video from my trip to the adamants in 2008.

We are flying in the morning for another crack at some of these walls...stay tuned for an update when I return!

Monday, June 28, 2010

French Files, Part 3, Verdon continued

Okay, I have been slow to blog, because now I am back home in Squamish, and have been loving climbing here, mountain biking with the hound, and catching up with good friends...but here goes with some more French climbing.

So the next route on tap for us was Pichenbule, a 10 pitch classic in the main part of the gorge. We rapped in under cloudy skies, but thought nothing of it. After battling with another round of bad French guide book beta, we finally found the start. A few pitches of 5.10-5.11- climbing took us back to a big ledge system where we had rapped down to for La Demande. However this time when we got there the rain was starting to fall. Not wanting to rap down to the gorge bottom in the rain and walk out and hitch hike back 15km to the top of the gorge, we tried to claw our way to the top via a very well bolted 6 pitch 5.6.

Halfway up, it stopped raining, so we decided to rap BACK down to the ledge and continue the route. Well, we got 1 pitch back up on Pichenbule, and then the dark clouds of doom started rolling in. Oops. We abandoned our way onto another route that was a 5.9 or so. Luckily for us it was a bolted hand crack, and as the skies opened up to rain and hail, I clawed us out for 3 pitches of sopping wet limestone. Lightening was cracking all over as well, keeping nerves on edge. We dragged ourselves over the rim safe and sound, albeit wet, but we didn't have to walk and hitch hike home!

The next day dawned clear and we rapped down to the halfway ledge to try and finish the route. We did 6 pitches of brilliant, hard as nails 11+ face climbing, but were starting to feel tired after 20 pitches over the last 2 days. We fired the rest of the route and retreated to the gite for a well deserved rest day and some quality french wine!

Here are some shots...I will do one more post about the rest of our Verdon time!

You think those clouds mean it will rain? The base of Pichenbule

Pitch 2 Pichenbule

Pitch 3 before the rain

Luckily for us the cracks are bolted and you can climb them in the rain

The weather the next day...lots of folks out enjoying the sun!

Friday, May 28, 2010

The French Files, Part 2...the Verdon!

We left the Gorges du Tarn and headed straight for the multi-pitch adventures of the Verdon Gorge. Single pitch sport cragging is great, but the memories really are made on the all day 10 pitch routes for me. Hanging on the walls, vultures circling below, azure blue river pounding away in the gorge 1,000 feet below you - this is what climbing is all about for me! Oh yeah, and did I mention it is a paradise in the south of France? Can you say amazing wine for 4€, great local produce and anamazing gite we were staying in that was only 23€ a night, totally solar powered and beautiful? Life is getting better every day.

I will break down the Verdon trip into a couple of posts, each focusing on the big routes we did. After countless hours of internet research, it seemed as thought there were 3 pretty classic long routes to tackle, at a good spread of grades as well.

Our first day we decided to try our hand at La Demande, 6a+, 400m. This was the original route that climbed the tallest section of cliff at the Verdon Gorge, as was kind of like first ascent of El Cap for the French in 1968. Being the major weakness of the biggest cliff, the climbing felt right at home being from North America and having done my time on the trad classics: chimney's and cracks, BUT with tons of bolts! I love France!

So in classic Verdon style, we drove up to the top of the cliff, walked 2 minutes to the rap station, and abseiled down 400m to the gorge bottom. We then walked 15 minutes to the base of our route and Voila, we were climbing. Being the first long route of the year for us, Jas and I were psyched to start off mellow for us for a route graded 5.10. Pitches went well, the climbing was fun and it was not nearly as polished as I feared it might be.

Good times for us, and we felt warmed up to tackle the next big route in the gorge: Pichenibule...but that is for next week!

For now here are some photos...and if you want any info on the Verdon, check out this GREAT article from UK Climbing:

Jas starts the 'approach'

The first few pitches of leaning cracks.

Jas follows the crux pitch (5 I think?)

Jas in the exit chimneys. 5.8 chimneys forever with bolts!

Back at home in our lovely Gite!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The French Files, Part 1

Winter finally came to end for me kicking and screaming…it held on for dear life as long as I could let it (or as long as my cool work opportunities could let it!). The season came to a close with helping to administer the AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guides Exam. We ran this program in a new venue: Hatcher Pass and Girdwood Alaska. I would show you all the cool places we went, and fun videos of the candidates working hard and skiing really cool things, but 10 days of long hours and hard work led me to be the biggest bumbly ever on the plane flight home. I didn’t realize my pack was open under my seat on my first flight back from AK, but my camera, ipod and altimeter watch all fell out. Ouch, that is a huge loss, can you say take a match to $1000 dollars? Well, you can’t dwell on that stuff to long, its only money and material goods. Lucky for me, I have great jobs and am not in dire straights financially while I live my dreams. Really, LUCKY ME!

So I got ‘home’ to Squamish for about a day, and then had to go to some meetings for the Backcountry Lodge owners of British Columbia in Penticton, so I got to actually rock climb for a day in Skaha! So psyched to be on the rock again, even got to almost onsight an 11d on the first day, except the baby butt smooth and WET rock at the chains sent me for my first big whipper of the season! Good times.

We returned home to Squamish and basically packed for the next adventure. 5 weeks in France! Clipping bolts, drinking red wine, eating soft cheeses. Holiday!

We started our journey in the Gorges Du Tarn, an area in the Midi-Pyrennes in southern France. It seems that the Tarn is not quite on the radar for global/European tourists, but very much so for the French. No one really spoke a lick of English around there, and Jasmin was forced to open up the corners of her mind of grade school French, and did pretty well. We found a ‘gite’ or room for rent adjacent to someone’s house – very common here, and very practical. We had a small two story place, with a kitchenette, couch, bedroom, washroom, walking distance to everything in the small town of La Malene, all for 32€/night! We stayed in the gorges for 10 days getting hopelessly pumped as we opened up our climbing season.

The gorge is filled with small, old style towns, including monestaries and castles up to 1500 years old. Quite scenic with all the old places and architecture and very green. Trails everywhere for walking, and over 2000 climbing routes in the 3 small river valley’s of the region. What more could a climber want? It was also quite wet; we had rain every single day, but luck for us the rock dries fast and most cliffs are steep enough that they stay dry in all but the heaviest downpours. That is what else a climber could want!

The limestone of the gorges is all a bit overhanging and extremely pocketed. It tends to be sharp, so our skin, baby soft from ski gloves, took a beating. But the 25-30m overhanging routes whipped us into shape pretty quick, and by the end of our stay I had already sent a slew of 5.12s, so the head was back in it. Good thing, because the next leg of our journey has taken us to the classic Verdon Gorge, for some committing 1000’ foot long multi pitch old school style routes…but more about that next time. Enjoy some photos from the first part of our trip.

The town of La Malene

Jasmin climbs 'C-100 Francs'

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Guide's Course Video Wrap-up

Okay, all I have time for is to post the link for this video I just made of the AMGA course I taught last week. Enjoy!

Now I gotta get set for a few more days of ski touring in the Chugach, based out of Valdez.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Final Stretch

The 10 day ski mountaineering guide course actually culminates with a 3 day mini-exam, so that candidates are then tested and certified to an assistant guide level. Over these 3 days, we take a close look at how they perform in 9 different areas:
  1. Risk Management
  2. Client care
  3. Technical Systems
  4. Application
  5. Terrain Assessment
  6. Movement Skills
  7. Mountain Sense
  8. Professionalism
  9. Instructional Technique
As examiners, we give the candidates an objective, and then they make the appropriate plans to try and accomplish that objective. For these 3 days we based ourselves out of Keith's Hut in the Cerise Creek drainage off of the Duffy Lake Highway. If you haven't been to the Duffy, you are missing out. Basically, it is like the Rogers Pass of the Coast Range. Road side access to 5,000 vertical feet of relief, with chutes, glaciers, summits and pillow lines every where you look. Typically, it has a deep coastal snowpack as well. We never got any of our 3m + probes to hit the ground once at and above treeline. I was speculating that up high on the glaciers, the snowpack was at least 4 meters deep.

The first day's objective was to tour in to Keith's Hut, get settled and then take us on a quick powder skiing tour near the hut.

Day two was to try and summit Mt Matier and ski the Anniversary Glacier and some other smaller summits in the area.

Day three was to ski the Twin One glacier and ski out from the Hut.

Here are a few photos of the days to give you an idea of what we were up to. Right now I am trying to edit a video that will showcase what the candidates do during these exams.

Touring for Powder below Joffree Peak

Can you find the skiers? White out turns on the Anniversary Glacier

Danny shows us his Alpine Guide rope coiling prowess

White out peak scrambling. Rime doesn't ski so well, let's leave the skis behind for the summit of Hartzell.

Touring below the west buttress of Mt. Matier

Matt thinks another day might be appropriate for the NW face of Matier.

The first group makes its way to the Anniversary Glacier

Danny trying not to lose it with another night of tour plans.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Burning the Candle from Both Ends

Sometimes that is what the guide certification process is about. The alarm goes off at 5:45 am, coffee maker is turned on, weather is checked, bag is packed, lunch made, thermos filled. Skins? Check. Ski boots? Check. Gloves, hat, goggles, sunglasses, warm hat, gore-tex....check check check. And then the candidates show up at my house at 6:55am for the morning guide's meeting and briefing. We discuss the overnight changes in the weather and snowpack, the anticipated hazards associated with our day, and then review our plans. We pile out of the house and head up to the hills for more ski touring fun.

That is how every day has started for me lately, and they haven't been finishing until around 7pm at night, when the tours are done, the candidates debriefed, weather and snowpack discussed and plans finalized for tomorrow. Then its dry out my gear, unpack, eat dinner and go to sleep. Repeat the whole process the next day.

But we have fun out there everyday, because after all it is ski touring/mountaineering, and we are climbing peaks and skiing mostly powder. This week has been a blitzkreig of spring storms, that are seeming more like December than April. Low freezing levels on the coast of BC, has resulted in over 120cms of cold smoke at Whistler this week. It just doesn't stop...which isn't necessarily that great if you want to do some ski mountaineering! The last few days have been spent going over short roping and glacier travel, and attempted ski of Cayoosh on the Duffey Lake Road, tree skiing on Chief Pascale on the Duffy, and some more touring in the Blackcomb Backcountry.

Here are some shots to give you some visuals of what we have been doing this week.

Snowpack evaluation on Chief Pascale

Short Roping up Disease Ridge at Blackcomb

Disease Ridge

More Disease Ridge

Coming around to Blackcomb Peak