Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nada Chance

Looks good, but behind the thin curtain the water rages

A few minutes after I read the words, Nada Lake Falls is in (thanks Craig for hiking up there!), shavings of metal fell from the picks of my axes. When they seemed sharp enough, I worked on dull crampons, then stepped out into the crisp evening air. A cold, star studded sky stole my imagination and that night I dreamed of good picks and the rhythm of ice climbing.

The next afternoon, Cole Allen and I pushed through fresh, knee deep snow to a bivi at Nada Lake, only 40 minutes from the base of the falls. We sipped on whiskey and cocoa and enjoyed the alpine bliss. But soon, I felt the dread of warm air pushing up valley. A pesky pineapple express had come to ruin our fun. Hopefully it would stay cold enough. When I woke up at mid night to hard rain and a soaked tent, I knew our chances of success were dwindling. Still, we made our way to the falls the next morning, establishing a tricky path through giant boulders only lightly covered with a wet, gloppy snow. The formation was there, but so was the rushing water. When I swung my axe into the ice, it easily punched through into the raging torrent behind. Getting creative, I started to work out a mixed start a bit to the right of the main falls, hoping to climb consistently crappy, but lower angle ice up high. After establishing a belay on top of pitch one, the sun kissed ice daggers above my head, melting them further and causing them to crash down around me. Clearly, this was not the place to be in the rising temps, now in the lower forties. So down we went. Back at camp, a large ice fall boomed across the valley. It seems we had made the right choice just in time.

Part of climbing in the alpine is making smart choices even when all you want to do is go up. That day at Nada Falls, Cole and I followed our intuition well, had fun, and came home safe. This is just the start of a season we are dedicating to major winter projects in the Cascades and the lesson learned in retreat was a great reminder that winter climbing is fickle. You gotta want it, but you gotta be level headed. Success can be rare on these short, dark days, but when it all lines up, there is nothing like a winter summit in the Cascades.


Sol hiking Pile Driver (5.11b) mid link

You gotta make training enjoyable. The more fun it is, the more you will do it. And remember, it doesn't have to be fun to be fun.

My good friend Sol Wertkin is perhaps my most motivated training partner. In a previous blog post titled The Games Climbers Play (May 2009), I rehashed another training "game" that we used this past spring where we tried to link Leavenworth's 15 most classic 5.11 pitches. Looking back, that little "game" provided a solid base of fitness and flow that flowered into a successful summer of goals reached and dreams established.

Last week Sol and I tried our hand at another self-imposed challenge, a link up of all the pitches on the Powerhouse Wall, a chunky, overhanging chosspile in the desert of Central Washington. Although the quality of climbing is nothing to write home about, it will get you pumped, a nice challenge for us low-angle traditional climbers (I rarely sport climb, although I should more for sure!). Anyone climbing these fairly short routes would find themselves pumped and confused. The blocky nature of the rock makes on sighting or flashing very difficult. A good hold always lurks close by, but will you find it? The extra time searching for the hidden jug makes for even better training.

The title of this piece speaks to the gusty wind that swept the desert basin that day. We started to make the connection between Patagonia's weather and our game at the Powerhouse Wall. I think it is really great that as climbers, we can be inspired and have fun on the world's most iconic walls and peaks (like in Patagonia) and then capture those same feelings on the state's scrappiest wall of choss. Bottom line, climbing is fun no matter where you are as long as you have the right attitude and good friends to share the joy with. So get out there, train hard, and have fun!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Get Some

Drew on Yellow Fever
A ray of sunshine casts itself over my wood, slatted floor. I sit up in my creaky bed, realizing the snow must have stopped. Outside my front door a silent world stands frozen in winter. But the storm of yesterday has lost its gusto, only whispy clouds over the desert east to remind the land how it was smothered in icy white crystals. The mountains stand out sharp against deep blue skies, north faces webbed with runnels and dark, black stone. I fire up the espresso maker and dial up my friend Drew. "Hey man, it's too nice. I can't go to work today." His voice is sleepy, but he too wants to climb through this wonderland of seasons. Soon, we slip around icy roads, craning our necks to catch a glimpse of high south facing slopes. In the canyon depths the dark cold of winter builds, but higher in the sun, the rocks stand their ground. We see a route shining in warmth above the iron gray Wenatchee River. Not even a water streak on it's steep flanks. We scamper over verglass covered granite eggs, kick dirt up a sandy gully, and then finally traverse into the sun and over to an exposed belay perch under our chosen route. "It's called Yellow Fever," I say. "It looks bouldery," says Drew. I shove off the belay, clipping bolts and stabbing at crimps. The 5.12 moves don't lend well to easing in to the day, so I ease off the rock, falling through steep air. We each warm ourselves with sequencing before redpointing the route. Already, the sun dips behind Icicle Ridge and our day is done. Short, but sweet, I'm thankful for any dry move this time of year. We coil the rope and stuff our packs with harnesses and draws. A tough cold slowly reels the hillside in. We slide down the stiff gravely slope, laughing at our fortune. The final hurrah of the rock season perhaps? I look higher on the hill where the sun still shines. I don't think so.
A clash of seasons: November in L-town

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Eternal Dreams

Ganesh, Annapurna, Ama Dablam. In the bright darkness of the infinite world that follows, you see the mountains of your life. You summit each one again, alone, like usual, except now it is so easy, so warm, so perfect. On Nanga Parabat you asked, "How long do I have left – the eternal question? How long can I keep this up? How long?" Forever, forever. Bobaye, Nuptse, Dhaulagiri. The depths of hell in heaven itself. The highest, the hardest, your calling, your journey. And now, that path turns a different curve, angles of another universe. Through this new terrain you move as you always did, confident and courageous. Always upwards, solo through eternal dreams.

Rest in peace Tomaz...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Challenge of the Stuart Range

Coming home from the desert this week has been quite a treat. A nice high pressure system has made for great climbing. From the boulders of the river valleys to the winding couliors of the alpine realm, options for ascension this week were quintessential Leavenworth; pretty much endless. The only option you won't find in this varied mountain environment is sport climbing. Oh well, no skin off my back (I really do enjoy clipping bolts sometimes). I spent one day rope soloing at Careno Crag, one day chasing power on the boulders, and one, huge day in the Stuart Range.

The North Ridges of Sherpa Peak and Stuart, both wonderful climbs

Oh man, why do I do this to myself....

On Tuesday evening, my buddy Max drove me out to the Mountaineers Creek parking lot. Or he tried to. They had closed the dirt road to the trailhead extra early so I started with an unexpected extra four miles. No matter...good training for winter climbing, when the road is always closed, adding snowy miles to any adventure. Even though I was not planning on climbing (I took crampons and trekking poles, but no axe), I was challenged with early season terrain. Verglas covered rock, dustings of snow over icy blue glaciers, patches of slide alder football fields long, it seemed that even the easiest sections were difficult. Many times, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I bivied tuesday night under the NW flanks of Colchuck Peak. At first light I climbed up to the ridge between Colchuck and Argonaut Peaks. This ass-blasting slog through thick brush almost had me in tears at a point or two, but I pushed on. Gaining the ridge, I pushed through a few feet of snow, around Colchuck Peak, over ragontail and out the Snow Creek trail, where I arrived at 5:30 to find my friends celebrating my safe return. We swallowed a couple of beers and then went out for Mexican food, a perfect end to honestly, quite a hellish day. In 24 hrs (I slept for eight of those) I covered at least 30 miles, gaining and losing a total of 20,000 feet. The conditions were barely passible for me at points, but creative thinking always won the day. Even though this seems it would be an easy "hike", this was one of my toughest outings in the mountains. Perfect training for the suffering of the coming winter. Psyched.
Fun terrain, high on the traverse

Monday, November 2, 2009

Creek Life

The crispness of Autumn morning erased inch by red inch.
The rolling heat of new sun pushing down walls, through cottenwoods and sage.
Touching frosty tents, raising battered warriors.
Lick the grit off my teeth, savor the simple taste of earth.
Shoulder a pack and laugh with friends.
Find flow in in easy movement.
Seek limits in unforgiving fissures.
Do or fly.
Infinite walls march into hues of setting sun.
A steep descent to sandy dinner, fire light on smiling faces.

Hot and sandy: John enjoys creek life
Watch out for The Judge (5.12a)

*On my trip to the Southwest, I enjoyed four, fun filled days at the creek with friends. What a special place!

Tower Tales: Chasing Heroes in the Castle Valley

Tower power: Castleton, the Rectory, and the Fishers themselves
The mighty mountains and great walls of the world's largest ranges have and always will provide adventures of the highest intensity. But the overwhelming experiance of being plastered to swaths of ice and rock can be felt elswhere, namely in the uniquely distilled form of "tower climbing".

John praising the Most High on Jah Man (5.11-)
Across the American Southwest, muddy sandstone formations of the trippiest sort twist and convulse from dusty red earth. While only a few hundred feet in heighth, their sheer angles, dark wide cracks, and sandy, insecure stone simulate adventure twice as high, as cold, as forboding. Like kings, they command wide open spaces from thrones of talus, their form against a grainy desert sky unmistakable from miles away.

Inside and on top: Honeymoon Chimneys (5.11)

Into the sunset: Kor-Ingalls, Castleton Tower (5.9)

John saying his prayers on Holier Than Thou: The Nuns (5.11+)
Only days ago I left the comfort of my home peaks, granite cliffs, and pine studded hillsides for immersion in a foriegn landscape of crumbling rock, lonely space, and startiling simplicity. For me, adventure is what I seek in climbing. Grade chasing, redpoints, and onsights provide ways to measure myself as an athlete, but they do not define my life as a monkey. John Schmid, a desert conessuir and long time friend, picked me up in Grand Junction, Colorado and the next morning we raced through the sage towards Castle Valley, a land of towers tamed by popularity and accessability. That said, my longing for excitement was satisfied with each route we climbed. Spending a day and a half in the Valley our ascents included, Jah Man on the Sister Superior (5.10), the Corkscrew Route on Acient Art (5.10+), Honeymoon Chimneys on the Priest (5.11), Holier Than Thou on the Nuns (5.11+), Fine Jade on the Rectory (5.11-), and the Kor-Ingalls on Castleton (5.9). Although none of the ground we covered was too difficult, the giddiness of fear was present on each climb. Humility struck deep as I imagined the desert masters of old executing flannel arm bars, blue jean knee scums, and big boot foot switches all far above less than adequate protection. The self-reliance and creativity of the early explorers echoes in the bottomless chimneys and lonely summits of all desert towers, even the tame ones John and I were on. It was a wonderful reminder that climbing is not about sticky rubber, cams, and big sends, but rather strength of heart, belief in oneself, and a willingness to follow the rock where it takes you.