Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dragons of Eden IV+ 5.12a R

In 1989, Wayne Wallace and Bob McGowan spent two days working their way up a set of cracks on Dragontail Peak that were more reminiscent of the soaring splitters in Yosemite and Squamish. Although they were not able to make a completely free ascent, their effort was solid, each climbing into the hard 11 range as they surfed steep seas of lichen.

Twenty-five years later Sol Werkin and I were at the base of DOE, totally oblivious to the hole of obsession we were about to throw ourselves into. That effort produced the first alpine style ascent of DOE. Although there was a ton of lichen on route, we knew that out of all the lines we had been playing on the last few years, this was the one. The splitters, the position, the seriousness, the 2000 foot ridge to a real summit...this was the big daddy.

Since that day, both Sol and I have been mentally concious of this line as one of our driving inspirations and goals. No matter where I was over the last year or what climbs I was on, my mind inevitibly drifted towards DOE at some point each day. For me, climbing is a form of self expression and DOE represents every reason why I climb. I couldn't wait to finish the piece.

In life and in climbing I have always felt it is not what you do, but how you do it that matters. It's all about style. In an era rife with bolting debates, bolts next to cracks, and an unsetteling modernizing of our sport, DOE sticks out like a sore thumb. There are no bolts and no fixed gear besides one pin placed by Wayne and Bob long ago. The climbing is steep, sustained, and while never too difficult technically, requires a cool head and total control of the grade.

Sol and I spent July 20 and 21 climbing and cleaning the core of DOE. We spent the night of the 21st at Colchuck Lake with our amazing friends Ginnie (Sol's wife), Keri, Max, and Ryan. The ladies had prepared a feast of indian food and encouragement for us...they knew how bad we wanted this one.

A liesurley morning on the 22nd had us climbing by about 11am. We fired the first 5.10 pitch and then enjoyed the steep mid 5.11 fingers and thin hands of pitch two. This placed us at the crux, a thin bouldery face to a steep, leaning tight fingers corner. I felt strong on the pitch, but almost fell when a tiny foot chip I was standing on broke, leaving me to do a one arm on a fingerlock. Back in the crack I punched upwards, really going for it, gear not a concern. Soon I was at the belay.

Sol followed and we scrambled over some easy ground to the headwall. I pitch of 5.9, 5.11a, and 5.11c/d awaited. Normally, these grades are fairly casual for me, but I couldn't help but wonder what the climbing would be like. I had actually never tried the moves on the last pitch, opting to only scrub the previous days (my body can only handle so much!). We moved efficiently through the first few pitches and before long I was feeling my way up the absurdley steep last headwall pitch. The pitch was awesome and went very well. I had to dig deep at a few points and made tough moves quite far out from my gear. The intensity of this pitch will be tamed by repeat needs to be cleaned more.

Pulling onto the ledge that marks the junction with the NE buttress I let out a loud monkey call...the climb of my life was in the bag. The moderate 2000 foot finish seemed to take as long as it usually does (longest route on the 'tail!) and was very enjoyable as always.

DOE is not one of the hardest climbs I've ever done, but it is the most special. It is a climb made to be, shaped by a knowing hand. The fact that it is in a beautiful mountain environment and a true alpine route combine to produce a certain hybrid. Here, Yosemite and the Cascades meet for the first time and I have a feeling they will become old freinds in the next few years as more lines like DOE pop up.

So there you have it. DOE is there, awaiting suitors. As I write this two freinds are jamming those cracks, giving the route the traffic it deserves and needs. A few years from now this line will be as smooth as the West Face of CBR or Der Sportsman if people continue to climb on it. At that point, it will no doubt be one of the most special climbs of the grade in the states. Go get some!!

Pitch line up:

Pitch 1: 5.10a/b: nice hands and liebacking, along with a bit of funk.

Pitch 2: 5.11b: Siick!! Butterballs to Gripper...fingers and thin hands, so beautiful.

Pitch 3: Short, 5.7 to the base of the crux

Pitch 4: 5.12a R: Climb up the left side of a small pillar, before placing tiny gear and launching into an amazing boulder problem. Don't fall here or you might get to know the pillar a little more than you might like. After the boulder problem punch it up a very steep, thin corner, using body scumming and stemming to avoid the pump and gobies that trying to straight in this section will produce. Gear is good, but hard to place...keep the pillar in mind.

Pitch 5: Scrambly to the base of the headwall

Pitch 6: 5.9: Once very dirty, this pitch is now very fun. Cracks, body slots...where am I, the Valley??

Pitch 7: 5.11a: Hands out a roof in a spectacular postion.

Pitch 8: 5.11c/d: Climb the flat, steep wall. Flairing jams, a midway boulder problem and a dramatic roof near the end. Fall off this one and it's all air baby...

After pitch 8 set off on the last section that will most definetely make you wonder "will it ever end???"...I sure hope not.

Note: This ascent was shot by Max Hasson. The pictures are amazing and represent a feeling to lost in climbing these days, the intensity of the real moment, not the posed down day after photos...the point is, they are going to be ready to be viewed in the next few days, but for now, words are all I have. It's something to look foward to. Cheers!

Friday, July 24, 2009

DOE...Is Free

More to come on this one, but Sol Werkin and I made the ffa of the most inspiring line I have ever been involved with. The climbing clocked in at solid 5.12a. The climbing is natural, boltless, spicy, and steep. Stay tuned for a more detailed report!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Monkey Madness on the West Face of CBR

The West Face of CBR one of my favorite climbs around. Quality, quality climbing all the way through...the best part of this recent ascent was that I was climbing with three of my greatest monkey bros. Besides myself, no one had done the route before, which was great, as I got to witness awesome onsights by Max and Cole. Nice work homies! Here is a little video about our day. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

New Route on Mt. Stuart!

Hey guys. Just got off an exciting climb nearer to home. Check out our trip report on for pics and a trip report. Also took a lap up the North Ridge of Stuart a few days earlier...I love that mountain!

Mt. Burkett: The National Public Arete

After our ascent of Mt. Suzanne we indulged in two solid rest days, sitting hunched under a rock overhang as rain fell and fell, turned to snow, and kept falling. But only a few days later, on June 19th, the morning exit from the tent revealed the unexpected clearing that excites the perched alpinist. We scrambled to put together gear for an objective we had seen from our last summit and over our few rest days, decided was our next project. The line was obvious, staring only a half mile from our base camp. We both had known it was there most our trip, but it was also obviously quite huge and very intimidating. After unexpected early success in free climbing the Burkett Needle, we had sought out more managable objectives, but now we were ready to push our limits again. Sitting here after our successful ascent of the NPR, I can assure you we were challenged like never before.

The National Public Ridge is enormous. An initial 2000 feet of climbing to 5.10 R leads to a snow and talus arete that turns into a 5.9 X knife edge ridge. After that one must ascend a glacier to a long coulior. Once atop the coulior, a steep 55 degree glacier gaurds the summit. The circirtous natrure of the last bit and it's continual steepness required quite a bit of tenacity. By our calculations the route is a little over 7000 feet.

Our first attempt saw us about 2000 feet up the initial buttress (crux climbing) when the weather began to get iffy. We set up the First Light and enjoyed a fun evening, before waking to crap weather. Down we went, climbing down about 1000 feet before linking horn and nut rappel stations via double rope rappels. We had not even got to the halfway point of the route, but we were intrigued.

The weather continued to be poor for the next two days, but day three since our retreat dawned warm, breezy, and clear. It was a no brainer. We packed our bags again, this time adding a bit more weight with more fuel and one additional dinner of ramen. Although the weather was great, we didn't expect it to last. We did get to climb the initial 2000 feet again before the weather turned, but the rest of that first tough day was cold, snowy, and intense. After the initial rock pitches, we followed a cutty heather ramp before gaining a nice snow field that covered the ridge for a few hundred yards before being stopped by a steep talus cone. After cresting the cone the next section of the route came into view. Right away, I knew this next section would be challenging for us. A 600 foot horizontal, gendarmed 5.9 X knife edge led to the upper buttress. After five hours of carefully climbing that engaging stretch, we fought to set up the First Light in snow and wind on the coolest tent platform I have ever been on. The bivy was flat (with a bit of work) and dropped away on both sides. It was an awe inspiring position, looking back through the tempest at what we had climbed that day, and ahead at the upper mountain, lost in clouds and snow.

That first day of climbing stands out as one of Max and my best days in the hills. Years of climbing together allowed us to forge ahead even in the intense conditons. We had worked really hard and now had our tent 2500 feet from the summit. We slept well through the cold, bad weather that night and spent the whole next day sitting in the tent listning to NPR on our radio for hours on end. Although we had brought a bit more food, it wasn't enough. We ate little that day, trying to stretch what we did have. All in all, we spent about 30 hours in the tent. As I closed my eyes that night I laughed at the probablity of this storm clearing. I was sure the stormy bailing would commence in the morning.

I rubbed my eyes as I looked out fo our tent. It was about 3:00 AM and it was cold and clear out. I couldn't believe it. All the peaks were cloaked in rime and ice. The beauty and cold stole my breath. Before I woke Max to tell him the suprising news, I had a hint of doubt. Could I climb the rest of this peak with my one bar and a few goos? It was freezing too. How would my hands and feet fare? But these thoughts slipped away as I began to feel a certain peace about our day ahead. Everything was alinging right and if we stuck with this for one more hard day we would get the summit and be back at basecamp to boot. Up we went.

I led across the rest of our knife edge ridge before tackling a fun mixed pitch. This placed us on the mountains upper south face glacier, which we negotiated with the normal wandering trickery. After that we climbed a great rimed coulior that held nice, 60 degree ice and neve. The sticks were good nd the postion was everything you could ever want. High on an alpine face, swinging tools, pushing through, and then cresting the ridge that brought beautiful and warm sunshine. We took a breather before starting on our summit push. Steep seracs forced us to traverse the back of the peak before kicking steps endlessly up a 60 degree slope. At this point the lack of calories were catching up with me. I was worked and by the time we had summited I barely had the will to make the final 10 foot climb to the top (sketchy snow arete). After I did touch the cold, small, windy summit, we immediatly began rapping via bollards. Although the weather did not turn, the mist that usually holds Burkett's summit regions returned, making for another stressful, low visibility descent. Climbing over and rapping through ice cliffs brought us back to the top of the coulior we had used to access the top of the mountain. It had been 6 tough hours fighting our way up and down that final slope, but as we descended we felt more confident in our ability to pull this off. Hungry and dehydrated, we finally came back to our First Light where we lounged in the sun and hydrated. Once we were ready we put our boots back on and finished the descent, which challenged us all the way. I was near 11 Pm when we arrived back at base camp, making for an almost 20 hour last day.

Although our Alaska goal had been a free ascent of the Burkett Needle, I feel this is surely the experiance that will define this trip. We pushed ourselves to stay sane and psyched. We never gave up and therefore recieved on of the most intense, beautiful experiances of my life.

Summary: First ascent of the National Public Ridge on Mt. Burkett
5.10 R, AI3, 7000 feet.
First ascent by Max Hasson and Jens Holsten

The West Ridge of Mt. Suzanne

A few rest days back at camp was all it took for a new vision to conjure itself before our eyes. Directly across from our base camp was a symmetrical, pyramidal peak. It had an obvious, outstanding ridge climb. Over our few rest days it's gendarmes, knife edge sections, and snow patches formed a line that we decided to try, despite unsettled weather and only three days after our ascent of The Thriller Arete.

At around noon we began the snowshoe to the base where we planned to set up the First Light and melt some snow for hydration. As we sat in the First Light brewing up, a soft rain pattered against the walls. Visibility was low and a light rain/snow fell, but we still pounded our hot drinks and got out there. An initial 50 degree snow slope with a tricky bergshrund crossing placed us under about 300 feet of mixed snow and rock which we covered quickly, but carefully. Halfway into this section with Max stemming above me, a large television size block bounced violently down the snow slope we had just ascended. Dual snow slides began to fall around us, scouring the face clean. Although it sounds dangerous, we were in the best position one could be in and thus avoided anything catostrophic.

It didn't take long for Max to finish his pitch and for me to stretch the rope out over a snow patch and on to the safer ridge section of the climb. Even though a col sleet rained down and unseen avalanches thundered down misty walls, we know we were ok on the ridge. Still, the wet climbing and the eerie scene kept us on the tip of our crampons. Destpite the harsh conditions, the great features of the ridge lured us ever upwards, although at some point, we both cared little for another hand traverse, hoping for the summit instead. And what a summit it was! As I began to belay Max up to the pointy perch, the clouds parted dramatically, rays of sun casting light beams on the floor of the Witche's Cauldren, 6,000 feet below my boots. We were blown away to say the least.

The climb (like most things in Alaska) had been larger than expected and we both knew we had a lot of effort to give still before we were in the First Light, especially since we were determined to go down a safer way that we had ascended. The openening in the clouds gave us a glimpse of our best option. The backside of the peak was comprised of a long glacier. Easy travel, despite of the huge crevasses to work through. Only a few sections required down climbing on front points. We nailed the descent, but it was taxing. I led the the way down, my tired eyes playing tricks on me. Everything blended into the mist. I felt as though I might walk off an ice cliff without seeing it, but the reality was our senses were hightened and we did fine through the intimidating maze. Once on the valley floor it was a two hour hike around the massif to the tent. We lost ourselves in the Alaskan night, our steps heavy with wet snow and weariness.

Ramen had never tasted so good. I could barely see Max through the steam from our wet layers and overheating bodies. Rain still fell on the First Light, but the Ramen was doing the trick. Our psyche was high enough to exit our shelter and finish the hike back to basecamp. A parting in the clouds and the pink of a rising Alaskan sun accompanied us the rest of the way home. At basecamp, we sat making hot drinks, enjoying the beauty of the Baird glacier. I felt good inside. Although the technical difficulties were never to high, we had fought hard for 20 hours in poor weather, making the summit and descending an unkown side of the mountain. It felt nice to relax and sit. After an hour or so we both crashed, but before I hopped in the tent, I looked around in awe and wondered, "what next?".

Summary: First Ascent of the West Ridge of Mt. Suzanne: 5.8, m4, 3000'
Jens Holsten and Max Hasson, June 16, 2009
Note: Getting to name this peak was very special for me. It is named after the founder of my passion, my mother, who passed from cancer. Her passion for life and people has formed my character. I am forever grateful....

The Thriller Arete of Silly Wizard Peak

"We have got to cook dinner on the other side of the bivy boulder," I gasped. Exposed at base camp to an oppressive heat, our only hope was to seek shelter behind the one large boulder on the glacier. We did so, and after a few hours felt better and more rejuvenated. We were nearing the end of our first full rest day after the needle and though we certainly could have used more rest, we knew we would be moving in the morning. When blessed with good weather I always feel thankful, but also obligated (in a good way!) to make maximum use of the gift. There was a line, a long ridge rising from a jumbled icefall that lookeed fun and most importantly, safe.

The next morning after a liesurely start we were climbing towards the base of the ridge. To avoid sloughing, hot, 50 degree snow slopes I lead a direct start onto the ridge. I moved carefully through 5.7X terrain, over polished blocks peppered with gravel and loose stone. Max lead one more rope stretcher of low 5th turning to 4th and we were out of the dangerous stuff and on to a broad alpine ridge with water running down slabs, refreshing the purple and yellow flowers that clung to moss hummocks hanging from the stone. The next thousand feet or so appeared to be quite moderate, fourth class and 45 degree snow slopes at most. We ditched our gear, tied jackets around our waists and started climbing. The terrain was easy, but very classy in a mountaineering sense. The ridge required scrambling, but never of a difficulty where one had to take their eyes from the magnificant scene that surrouned.

We climbed continuously, seperated by a few hundred feet, each basking in the beauty of our position. Finally, a cone of talus unlike any I had ever seen rose in front of me. "The summit!", I think to myself. I climbed up the suprisingly steep talus and then found myself suspended on a tight rope ridge of talus with drop offs on both sides. My brain wondered at how the puzzle of rock had locked itself into an airy ridge. "Is it solid?", I thought. I stepped out tenitivly and found that it did feel solid, so I kept moving. "No way!", I yelled to Max. He didn't hear me, ascending in his own world. No matter, he would see soon enough. Another corner turned had given me a view of the remainder of the route. The West Ridge of Forbidden popped into my mind, as did the West Ridge of Prusik, and so many like natured climbs.
This was our own ridge of such sorts, with thousands of feet of exposure below our feet.
Only one red light flashed in my brain. We were soloing and had no rope. When Max arrived I could see in his eyes similar thoughts. The ridge looked to be very easy, around 5.6 or 5.7 in difficulty, but absurdly exposed. We had no rock shoes or chalk, just our boots. Although not an art we practice on a regular basis these days, Max and I both have an extensive background in solo climbing. We both agree this is one of the most key tools in our skill set.

I decided to test the waters, knowing full well I would most likely immerse myself in the rambling hand traverse in the sky. We moved together, seperated by 100 feet or so. We passed over the summit and continued on the ridge, aiming for a col that allowed access to the glacier descent. Few words were spoken. Although the climbing was easy, the exposure had us locked in intense concentration. Once at the col we relaxed, flipped on our radio, snagged a weather report, and then sat back and enjoyed NPR's world music spotlight. The featured artist? Scotlands, Silly Wizard. It was decided. The name of the peak would be Silly Wizard Peak. Later, when our helicopter pilot picked us up, he let us know of Michael Jackson's passing, hence the name of our route: The Thriller Arete.

Our descent went smoothly. Simple snow plodding had us back at our gear in about an hour. The views of Devil's Thumb were amazing, so we spent the next few hours there before enjoying a calm, mezmorizing walk home in the fading light of another Alaskan day.

Summary: The first ascent of Silly Wizard Peak via the Thriller Arete: 5.7, 50 degree snow, 3000 feet.
Max Hasson and Jens Holsten, June 13, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

FFA of Burkett Needle

Chapter I: How Bad Do You Want It?

On June 9th, our first day ever in Alaska, Max Hasson and I were treated to an incredible helicopter ride through the peaks of the Stikine Ice Fields. Our excitement rose as we passed the dramatic, scary north face of the Devil's Thumb, then peaked as the Burkett Needle appeared before us. Its steep, symetrical ridges culminated in a final tower of gleaming golden granite. Unbelievabley, it stood clear against a deep blue sky. Soon we were alone on the glacier with one of the most beautiful objectives I had ever seen before us. With splitter weather in place, we soon began the long task of establishing camp and packing fo an attempt on the needle. We would start as soon as possible.

All evening we scoped the route and studied carefully and seriously the glacier leading to its base. A quite broken glacier undulated towards the needle. Large crevasses were evidant, but so were the paths that avoided their depths. That all looked good, but it was the active icefall that gaurded the more gentle slopes of the glacier that caused the most concern. Out final decision was to take a line that was direct and safer than the others. It looked to be about AI3 and about 200 feet. Our plan was to simul quickly through this terrain and then regroup on the glacier.

Four hours later we are up, going through the motions of caffinating, hydrating, and eating. We each carry a pack. Our gear inluded a bit of food, clothing, a stove, fuel, a Black Diamond First Light, a skinny tag line, shoulder lengths and a small rack. The scale of Alaska immediatly struck me as we approached the ice fall. What looked so close was far, what looked small was big. We scrambled over loose rock running with water, kicked steps up a snowfield and then pulled out our tools and began climbing the ice cliff. The sticks were good, the movement of climbing exhilirating. I placed one of our two titanium ice screws and continued higher, through an ice tube and to the base of a 15 foot vertical step.

I placed our remaining screw, dispatched the last few moves and prepared to step onto the glacier. But then, to my utter disbelief, I wasn't on the glacier, but rather falling backwards, taking with me a blade of neve. I screamed like I have only once before, the other time also a long fall on snow and ice. With my gear 15 feet below boots and the slack rope between Max and I, the fall ended up to be about 5o feet. I slammed into ice blocks, bouncing, falling. I yelled "No, No, No!!!" until I came to a stop a few feet below and 30 feet to the left of a bewildered Max. In our many serious climbs together we had never had someone fall while simul climbing. I gathered my senses and came to three conclusions: I hit my head really hard, I bruised my left side pretty nice, and that despite of these things I could continue.

Now, before I worry (I'm sure I already do) any of you, I will say this: climbing is dangerous. I always do my best to eliminate or minimize risk. In my many years of climbing my accidents have been few and never have I taken such a fall in the mountains. Perhaps this knowledge is what had me back on lead withing five minutes. My heard hurt, but as I climbed higher I felt better, and soon was belaying Max off my tools. Hot as hell, I took my helmet off to remove a beanie and discovered my helmut was broken. Thanks God. Thanks Petzl.

We spent the next few hours cramponing through a maze of house eating crevasses.

Finally we arrived at the col at the start of the South Buttress. At this point we were both worked. Just hours before we had been in Peshastin! Since we left, it had been non-stop, with so much to do and little time for sleep. We needed to rest badly. Max set up the First Light while I started making water. It was about 11 AM and morning sun rays started washing away the pain and fear of the fall. I relaxed, enjoyed my spectacular position and let the melodies coming from our small radio restore my balance. After nearly three hours of hydrating, eating, and resting we pulled onto the stone.

"Unbelievable!", I yelled after sinking a nice jam on the first 5.9 pitch. I was more than impressed with the rock and the climbing. The glacier seemed like another day, a nightmare behind me. I was feeling good and it seemed Max was too. We climbed efficiently and made good time to the days first question mark.

On paper, the South Buttress of Burkett Needle has a handful of 5.10 pitches, many 5.8-5.9 pitches and one A3+ pitch. Although route descriptions we had read before the trip spoke of techno aid gadgets, Max and I racked up below the aid pitch with a selection of cams and nuts. We have never been limited by this simple rack, but in that moment I wondered if it would get us through. Our plan was to climb to the base of the steep section and try to traverse right on a beautiful stretch of face climbing. After establishing a belay we would pull the steep setion on its smaller right end. That was the thought at least.

Max led straight up from the belay and made technical 5.10+ moves above a funny blue alien. After this he cut right, surfing an awesome serious of features to a stance overhanging the Needle's gigantic SE face. I followed, impressed by Max's good effort on the pitch. It felt like 5.11 with the pack on, though Max and I later came to the conclusion that 10+ was a more appropriate grade.

I took us through 100 feet of golden, juggy granite and established a belay within 200 feet of the original route.

We climbed one amazing left-arching rope stretcher and found ourselves back on the original route. We had erased the question mark, establishing a three pitch variation to avoid the A3+. The rock had been generous again, rewarding our creative thought of traversing with just enough features to eek through. That it was so technically easy was a suprise, but a welcome one. Why tarnish a moderate route with one hard pitch anyway. This had to be one of the best 5.10+ climbs in the world I thought to myself.

The energy of freeing the aid section put us in a machine like trance of movement. We led each pitch quickly, placing little gear and swinging through belays without too many seconds lost. We shared few words, but rather lost ourselves in the great climbing. Finally, we arrived at the summit, a lonely platform thousands of feet in the sky. It was a great feeling to accomplish a goal that had been concieved of so long ago.

A night of rappelling placed us back at our tent. We brewed up, rested a few hours, and then treaded our way tenuousley down the glacier, finally reaching the valley floor after two rappels over the ice cliff. Back at camp we lounged, ate, and reflected on our experiance. In my mind I am struck by taking a bad fall and putting it behind me to finish the climb. Any other day I would have gone home after such an accident, but I wanted this one badly. Our tenacity paid off and I feel honored to have helped establish on the of most classy 5.10+ climbs in the world.

Stay tuned for Chapter II: A first ascent of a mountain we dubbed Silly Wizard Peak, climbed via the Thriller Arete