Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trout Creek...Is Rad!!

Preparing for any big trip is tiring and all consuming. The months before my trip to Patagonia (I'm in Chalten now!) were filled with work, training, eating, and sleeping. I hadn't been able to spend time with friends and hadn't had many opportunities to sooth my soul on the rock. Truthfully, I was worn out, lonely, and obsessed. Sound healthy? You're right, it wasn't. 

Knowing I needed to remedy the situation before I caught my flight south, Jessica Campbell, River Campbell (big Akida buddy!), and I drove towards central Oregon in a driving rain, not concerned with whether we climbed or not. I needed to forget about work and Patagonia. I needed to sit on the tailgate of Jessica's truck, laugh, tell stories, and enjoy good friendship. I wanted to walk River and sleep under the branches of gnarly Juniper trees. If luck sided with us, we hoped to climb at a crag new to all of us, Trout Creek.

Day one was a complete shutdown. Water fell from the sky without end, but we chose to scope the crag anyway, slipping and laughing our way up the steep trail. We laughed until our guts hurt. The muddy trail was so slippery, we could barely move upwards. It was comical. It was healing.

 Trying my best on day one to ascend a 10 degree slope without falling on my face!

Day two dawned clear, but cold. We waited for temps to rise before making our way back up to the cliff.

 Waiting for temps to rise and the mist to clear...beautiful!

Even though our session was short, I was stunned by how awesome the climbing at Trout Creek was. So inspiring! I ended the day on a unique route that jammed a splitter and then face climbed up the rim rock to the top of the cliff. The most memorable moment was sinking a purple TCU into a small fissure,  climbing until my feel were above it, and then dynoing to the jug of all jugs without hesitation. I cranked few moves to the anchor. Lowering into the sunset, I felt rejuvenated. I was ready to go to Patagonia.
 Trout rad!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's All Training

As another fall morphs into winter, I find myself dreaming, working, and training for another season of exciting adventures in Argentine Patagonia. On November 28th I'll walk out my front door in Peshastin, Washington, putz down a small country road to the train station, follow the railway over the Cascade crest, and then connect to a long flight out of Sea Tac. The stoke, like usual, is sky high.

Preparing for a trip like this is absolutely non stop. 50 hour work weeks sandwich a few moments of climbing. Luckily, during the harvest, my job provides awesome alpine training. If you can clean the press in driving sleet, long after the sun has dropped behind the Stuart Range, 13 hours into your 20th consecutive day of work, then you can climb a big route in a wild place. Bottom line.
Drew and I on the job

I'm fortunate to have a great friend and employee, Drew Shick, who will take care of the wines while I am gone in South America. Even better, he is an inspiring climber who helps motivate me for cragging sessions after work. This past fall we snuck out a time or two a week to a magnificant cliff of granite called the Miller High Life Crag. Tucked into the Sky Valley of Central Washington, the Miller High Life zone is quickly becoming a fabled land of overhanging knobs and steep crack systems. The Disorient Express (5.12c/d) and Welcome to Washington (5.13a) stuck out as two of the best routes I've ever done, one a steep roof flake and the other a sustained boulder problem capped by endless 5.12 techiness. It felt good to get into rock shape again after a discouraging year of injury which began with the development of dupuytren's contracture in my right hand.

Slapping through the crux on Welcome To Washington (5.13a)
Max Hasson Photo

When an abnormally wet fall soaked our local rocks and shut down the Sky Valley season, we expolored The Sanctuary, an obscure cave of steep choss located in the deserts of eastern Washington. While most of the state toiled away in slimy climbing gyms, Drew and I cranked down as beautiful sunsets washed over wide open spaces.

Drew cranks on one of Washington's best desert sport routes, The Jugulator (5.12d)

My rock season wasn't defined by steep sport routes though. Jessica Campbell and I made a valient effort on Tooth and Claw (III 5.12), one of the state's best slab testpieces. When Jessica slipped off the second 5.11 pitch, shooting dissapointment flooded her psyche. I encouraged her to not worry and hold her head high. Putting the pieces together on routes like this is difficult. One slip can ruin an otherwise perfect day, but pushing yourself to these levels is what it's all about. I showed her that heart breaking dissapointment is part of the game when a foothold broke under me as I was sending the last crux pitch, darkness falling over the Cascades. What could I do? I had climbed very well all day, but even now, I recognize I did not send the route and it will not be "ticked" in my climbing journal. I'll be back to correct that little mistake, that is for sure.
Jessica on the pitch 4 of T & C (5.11b/c)

Most recently, on my first day off work in a month, Blake Herrington, Vern Nelson, and myself romped up the NE Coulior on Argonaut Peak. We found challenging conditions that provided some real climbing moves over mixed steps of perfect granite. I relished being in the mountains with friends, fresh snow, and my ice tools. Best of all I was treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I've witnessed in my 7 years of climbing in the Stuart Range.
Having fun on Argonaut
Photo by Blake Herrington
Myself staring in awe at the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart. This moment was one of my most cherished in 7 years of climbing in the Stuart Range. The North Ridge is the obvious buttress falling from Stuart's summit. What a line! I've climbed it many times, including making its second winter ascent in 2008 with Cole Allen.

Now, after all this training, I'm packing my bags to head south. Psyche is high, motivation is erupting, and the time to send is nearly upon us. Get some!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Vanishing Point: Reflections on an Onsight Effort

The mighty north face of Mt. Baring, home of Vanishing Point (VI 5.12b)

I still remember reading the Hot Flash. It was a small blurb in the lower left hand corner of the magazine. Bryan Burdo had completed his mega project on Mt. Baring. Vanishing Point (VI 5.12b) was a jutting prow loaded with 18 sustained pitches of wild face climbing. That same summer I had been putting all of my 16 year old energy into another of his routes, a one pitch line called Rainy Day Woman at Little Si, a steep crag an hour east of Seattle. I could barely comprehend Bryan's accomplishment as I screamed my way to the anchors of Rainy Day with my dad nervously belaying. It was my first 5.12 and another phase in the journey that eventually led to my own effort on Vanishing Point only days ago.

Last week Ben Gilkison and Blake Herrington climbed Vanishing Point in great style, lifting a curious veil of obscurity that has clouded the route for many years. Everyone I know in the Washington climbing community has talked about Vanishing Point, but so few have been on the face or even seen it. Hell, when I stepped out of the car at the Barcley Lake trailhead a few days ago, I had never laid eyes on the wall!

Not only had Ben and Blake inspired me to check out Vanishing Point, they had given me a road map of beta through photos and advice. I hoped their chalk would still dot the wall, increasing my chances at a flash of this challenging route. I was fortunate to have a great friend, Shaun Johnson, who was willing to let me lead every pitch and jumar/follow with the pack. All week I looked foward to giving my best effort on such a magnificant wall.

Our ascent began in the first light of a hazy morning. We cruised the complex approach using good beta and Shaun's knowledge from a scoping mission the previous day. Scampering up gullies, yarding up fixed lines through 70 degree timber slopes, and smearing up 5.8 slabs brought us to the "true" base of Vanishing Point. We snacked for fifteen minutes and then I began climbing.

I knew the day was going to be hard for me. The past few years have seen me focusing on alpine climbing and it has been quite some time since I have tried a long, difficult (for me!)  free route, on sight, and leading every pitch. I tried to make my grip light and to swallow my initimidation as I linked the first two 5.10 pitches. Truth be told, I found the nature of the rock and wall to be pretty scary! Shaun may not have been able to tell, but I was nervous all day. Thankfully, I live for facing my fears and overcoming their limiting grip!

After a few more pitches I arrived at the base of an arete that had been the crux for Ben and Blake. I groped my way up 25 feet of odd angled holds before entering the difficult crux. I stood there for what seemed like forever trying to figure out what was going on. Finally, I started moving my aching feet, highstepping a ripple while pulling on a two finger crimp. I eeked towards the jug I saw completed the sequence. I felt my shoe rolling on the foothold. My core sagged. I fell onto the rope.

"Damn it!". Dissapointment flooded in, but only for a second. This was hard and I was trying my best! What more could I do? I climbed through the sequence to the anchor and brought Shaun up. I thought about trying again, but kept leading ahead. Many difficult pitches remained and I realized my new goal was to suss the climb so I could soon return to try again. Pulling the rope might work in July, but I had to get us off this monstrosity before the short, September day ended.

The rest of the route was so, so, so very exposed and suprisingly difficult. I pulled over the top of Dolomite Tower as the sun sunk low in the west. I relflected on the day. Despite not freeing the route I felt good about my effort, but also recognized my mistakes. I hadn't eaten enough, hadn't changed into my tight shoes (out of laziness) when I should have, and hadn't been able to relax my mind enough to avoid overgripping on nearly every pitch.

A few days later I find myself yearing to return and if the fall weather cooperates it might be possible. Most importantly, I aspire to be the be able to walk up to walls of this magnitude and on sight free climb the most awesome features. I'm a long way off that level, but am inspired to work hard and grow as a climber so that I can have that freedom.

A big thanks goes out to Bryan Burdo, an early hero of mine, and Blake and Ben. You guys lit the fire!

I highly recommend Vanishing Point. I believe it to be one of the top free climbs in the state. Get some!!

Make sure to check out Blake and Ben's reports!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Summer Becomes Fall: Transformation on the West Face Wall of Mt. Stuart

 Approaching Mt. Stuart's incredible West Face Wall
Photo by Sol Wertkin
Last week Sol Wertkin, Blake Herrington, and I had planned on attacking a project on Mt. Stuart's West Face Wall. Even with our storied history on this wave of stone, the ultimate line, glimpsed from previous missions, awaited our eager hands and fingers. Even though I had just been there a week before, I was excited to go back as the WFW is one of my favorite features in the Stuart Range.
Unfortunetaly, the weather for that day was predicted to be, well, total shit. Blake bowed out and I was on the verge. I was busy with work and almost pulled the plug. Then I talked with Sol. He was stoked to spend his 34th birthday experiancing whatever nature might throw our way. Repsyched by Sol's pure desire to get high, I too, felt excitement growing in my gut. Mountains are awesome. Mountains in storm are even more so!
We hopped in the car as rain danced on the streets of Leavenworth and headed for the trailhead. In short, we had a wild day just topping out the wall's easiest line in very Patagonian weather with windgusts to 50 mph and swirling snow. Although we didn't snag the proj, we did enjoy the mountains on their terms, fighting with all our might just to slither out of the wall's powerful grip.
Check out the full story and some really nice pictures of our day on Sol's blog:
Fighting the rime on the last pitch
Photo by Sol Wertkin

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Week On The Big Guy: Three Amazing Routes On Mt. Stuart

Hanging out under Mt. Stuart's incredible north side

Last week, Shaun Johnson and I had plans for an alpine extravaganza on Mt. Shuksan. Our plan was to race around the mountain and complete several classic routes over the course of two days. Packing my kit for the mission, I checked the weather for the Stuart Range on my I-phone. I wanted to make sure I wasn't about to leave the area if the right weather arrived to make a solo attempt on Mt. Stuart's Girth Pillar. This was a goal I had been thinking about for months. I needed to prioritze it. Sure enough, cold night time temps throughout the week had me cancelling plans to leave Leavenworth. I asked Shaun if he would like to take a run up Stuart's Upper North Ridge to check conditions on the Ice Cliff Glacier, the tongue of broken snow and ice that leads to the rock portion of TGP.
Scoping the upper Ice Cliff in preparation for a solo attempt on Mt. Stuart's Girth Pillar

Two weeks ago I made a solo ascent of Dragons of Eden on Dragontail Peak, a more difficult and sustained line than the Girth Pillar, but also devoid of the glacier travel and the objective hazards that make the Girth a much more ballsy outing. As Shaun and I cruised the North Ridge I took photos of the glacier and the ice cliff that gaurds it. I could see that the route went, but not as easily or safely as it would have a month or two earlier. I was sure I could race up the ice cliff, but would be doing so on rotten, boulder studded ice. Having climbed the ice cliff more than once over the years, I knew it could be in much better condition. When I set out on a hard solo, I want everything to be perfect and in line. Conditions, weather, psyche, and fitness need to work harmoniously to produce a satisfying and safe experiance. I felt everything was in place besides the conditions. If I had not been in the Alaska Range or working so much early in the summer I would have tried it then, when the ice cliff was an easy romp up a low angled groove. Now, in late August, it seemed my best chance at a safe solo would be to access the climb via the rock pitches of the lower North Ridge. This start is much more difficult, especially to solo. Many people think the ice cliff approach makes the route harder. Not the case. When in condition I would be able to solo the ice cliff and make it to the base of the pillar in 45 minutes. It would take me several hours to get myself to the same spot via the lower North Ridge.

Shaun and I topped out the North Ridge and descended the Sherpa Glacier Coulior. I went home to Leavenworth and meditated on what I should do. After careful consideration, I pulled the plug on this year's attempt. I want to solo the route via the ice cliff and I want it to be as safe as possible. I decided I would wait to tackle this goal until next year in the early season.

Feeling a bit bad about jerking Shaun around and not engaging our awesome objectives on Shuksan, I figured we should go back and get some serious adventure out of Mt. Stuart. I had a bit of gear below the mountain for my solo that I needed to retrieve anyway.

Only days after our Upper North Ridge climb, we were back under the The Big Guy (Stuart!!). Over the next two days we went on to climb the Girth Pillar via the lower North Ridge, descend the Sherpa Glacier Coulior, make the first one day ascent of Gorrilas in the Mist to the summit, and descend the entire West Ridge. It was quite a tour for Shaun who prior to our week's adventures had not even been to Stuart's north side. Nice work Shaun!!

Even though I had to let the solo mission go, I had an awesome time on a great mountain with an amped partner. Shaun reminds me of myself in that he wants to be in the mountains constantly. It just feels so wonderful up high!

Shaun posted a great trip report here:

Back at camp after climbing The Girth Pillar...psyched and ready for more!!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Summer Update

Being a dedicated climber isn't always easy. This past year has been one of my most challenging to date. Unfortunetely, this is not because of the gnarly, vision-quest routes I have been sending. Circumstance and work have kept me off the climbs that I had dreamed of completing this summer.

I came back from the Alaska Range, driven to find what I missed on Denali; a deep, mindblowing adventure. Sure, testing out the high altitude game was fascinating and I really enjoyed the powerful beauty of that high summit, but a nagging dissapointment lingered on the flight home. I immediatly began making plans for the longest and hardest objectives I could find in the Cascades. When I'm not pushing my limits, a void settles in. I become restless. I become obsessive.

Now, a few months later, that fleeting mega-climb still hasn't occurred. I think I'm getting the picture. Sometimes you have to let things go. My desire is intense, so I often force objectives. This summer has taught me to balance my drive with patient waiting for the correct variables. On a hard route everything has to come together perfectly. Also, it's important to remember that one reason for not reaching my goals is that they are extremeley difficult and dependent upon conditions. Even if I do not succeed on any of those missions this summer, I can still rest assured that I shot for the stars.
Jess about to hike some wet and wide 5.10

Although my big objectives have not materielized yet, I have been getting out into the Cascades fairly often. I took a trip up the NE buttress of Johannesburg and climbed the Entiat Ice Fall on Mt. Maude. Besides that, my climbs have been local affairs.
Jess on Acid Baby's second crux pitch

One of my most memorable trips of the season, was a lap up Acid Baby with Jessica Campbell. I've been climbing with Jess for a long time and am totally blown away by her bad-assness. She ropegunned me up AB, handling wet, wide 5.10 with ease. She led her pitches with as much, or more effeciency than most people I get to climb with. It was impressive. Whether it's a double digit boulder problem, 5.12 at the crag, or physical, wet crack climbing in the moutains, Jess moves with a steady confidence.
The weather moved in as Jess traveresed the final knife edge ridge...beautiful!

Our day on Acid Baby was full of wild weather. The clouds and chilly air added to the alpine ambiance and were more welcome than the usual heat of Stuart Range summers.

Psyched on the summit of Acid Baby!

The next adventure took Dave, Ryan, and I up Crystal Lake Tower via an obscure 2,000 foot ridge. This feature is best approached from Ingalls Creek and is invisible from nearly every vantage point. This is a hidden gem that more folks should climb, especially after they've ticked the Full North Ridge Stuart and the Backbone on Dragontail. The climbing was awesome, with great views of the Nightmare Needles and the deserts beyond.
Ryan mid-route on the Crystal Lake Tower
Myself leading on CLT

Finally, I made the first solo ascent of Dragons of Eden on Dragontail Peak. I completed the climb in preperation for a one of my "big" goals of the summer, so it was really just an opportunity to hone in some systems. It was a hard day, made a bit rougher by a stomach ailment I am blaming on a local mexican resteraunt. It wasn't the nausea that provided the greatest challenge though. Carrying all of your gear to the base, climbing each roped pitch twice, making sure to not trundle loose blocks on yourself while climbing/rapping/jugging, and free soloing over mid-fith terrain with a heavy load for 1500 feet added significant spice. I was excited to climb such cool route alone, and I hope I can take what I learned to another ambitious project. I'm not gonna force it, but I might get something done this summer after all!!
Summit shot after soloing Dragons of Eden

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mt. Maude's Entiat Icefall

A week ago, Vern Nelson, Matt Shweiker, and I had a causual, but stunning morning on Mt. Maude's Entiat Icefall. This was my second climb of Maude, my first being an ascent of the North Face several years ago. Matt took some great shots that day. Enjoy!

 Camp above Ice Lakes
We started our day by wrapping around the peak and dropping onto it's north side
 The light was amazing
 Vern on the icefall
 Vern and I scrambling through ice chunks
Vern and I on the ridge after the glacier

Dig For It

On May 29th, 2012 Dan Hilden and I stuffed duffel bags of gear and food into a red twin otter and buckled up for the wild flight that is the approach to the Alaska Range (for most people). Our first intent was to climb Denali via the West Buttress for acclimitization purposes, but also to begin the learning process of the intricicies of high altitude climbing. Before this trip, Dan had pegged 15,000 feet in Peru and I had only attained a measly 13,000 in the Sierras. We had no clue what to expect, but hoped we would have the time to attempt the Cassin Ridge after we followed the standard path to the top.

We spent the best weather of our trip hauling loads up to Denali's 14,000 foot basecamp. As we were doing so, two teams were climbing the Cassin. Everything seemed to be falling into place and psyche was high.
Pulling sleds full of gear and food is hard! But beautiful...

A day after arriving at basecamp I cramponed up to 15,500 feet, reveling in the chaotic scene of icefalls, endless white, and the sound of my own steady breathing. The following day, Dan and I peddeled up the West Ridge to 16, 700 feet. The next mission took us to 17,000 feet, where we sat for only minutes in cold, chapping wind. Some days later we used a few good hours of weather to climb a 2,000 foot ice face above basecamp. We topped out on a ridge at 16,000 feet in extremely windy and snowy weather. Fortunetely, we only had to find the fixed lines that were half a mile down the ridge to gain salvation from the storm. Still, those moments showed me how serious it can get when the weather hits the fan.
Basecamp at 14K

And then it really started snowing. A lot. More than I have ever seen, but then again, I haven't really seen much. We dug and dug, unleashing our tent from the suffocating snow that would smother it again only minutes after its liberation. Conditions morphed from squeaky cramponing on firm snow, to thigh deep slogging through oceans of unstable powder. Four people died in an avalanche on a well traveled slope. More were injured in similar accidents, and one skiier was swept away in the Messner Coulior as we watched him make turns down the steep chute. He lived, but shouldn't have and it took a day to get the image of him being overtaken by snow out of my head.

Dan passing a storm day perfecting the alpine pancake

The days passed and our window of time became shorter and shorter. Conditions had not improved and no one was climbing up the mountain by any route other than the trenched out West Buttress. All of the sudden we realized we might not even make the top on this trip. That was a disconcerting thought, but seemed a clear reality, especially after our first summit attempt ended high on the mountain in weather too cold for my toes and Dan's face. Even the summits of our dreams aren't worth losing toes and fingers.

Finally, with only days left before flying out of the range, we left the 14,000 foot camp in warm (hot!) sunshine, hoping beyond hope that we would stand on top. We passed our high point and slogged on to higher elevations. Once above 19,000 feet, the slog intensified. Obviously, the climbing was not technical in nature, but my mind still had to be strong so that I could keep putting one foot in front of the other. We didn't rush, instead relying on a constant, steady pace. Finally, we could go no further and I found myself taking in one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. Lifetimes of mountains studded the landscape, with twisting rivers and the deep green of forest beyond. Clouds floated below us and I had a real sense of being high in the sky. Our descent went smoothly and soon we were back at camp having made the summit in 11.5 hours round trip from 14K.

Descending on summit day
About to descend the fixed lines on summit day

With only a couple of days left before flying out, and conditions that we didn't feel were safe for big, commiting routes, our trip was done. The Cassin would have to wait.

Although I was dissapointed to spend so much time just trying to hike to the top, I learned so much about climbing at altitude. Of course, thin air makes everything harder and more dangerous, but it also brings an intense focus and immersion in the moment. The sense of accomplishment is stronger and the beautiful details of a climb stand out even more. Dan and I were excited to see that our bodies and minds did well up high. We hope to take what we have learned back to Denali, but also beyond, to the other high mountains of the world.

Below are a few more shots. All photos in this post were taken by Dan Hilden.


Dan on an awesome ice pitch during an acclimitization mission
 Another day digging the tent out...
Just below the summit 

 Waiting to fly out

 Denali!! See ya next season...

Monday, July 9, 2012

J-Berg and The Valkyrie

After a discouraging, yet inspiring and educational trip to the Alaska Range (more on this in a few days!), I am back in the Pacific Northwest. Most of my time has been taken up by "real world" activities (making wine!), but I have snuck out on a couple of alpine missions. One was not like the other, yet both delivered good days out.
The NE Buttress of J-berg = Classic

First up was The Valkyrie, a new 6 pitch 5.10 established less than two weeks ago by Blake Herrington, Scott Bennet, and Graham Zimmerman. Cole Allen and I squeezed the second ascent in before work one day, finding wet, but classy crack climbing. The route is sustained and splitter with diorite knobs connecting solid crack systems. As I jammed and smeared up the route I marveled at how climbable the rock of the Stuart Range is. There are very few venues in the Northwest where one can climb classic, technically demanding rock routes ground up without any cleaning. The Stuart Range is special and deserves the attention it has been recieving as of late (The Valkyrie already has four ascents and Dragons of Eden was repeated last week too!!).

A week later I teamed up with Shaun Johnson to make a one day ascent of the NE Buttress of Johannesburg, a huge line exemplifying what I like to call "the dark side" of Cascade climbing. And I love "the dark side"! Maybe even more than clean, pretty rock in the Stuart Range...
How are we gonna start this monster?

Although Shaun is new to the alpine, he has enough excitment, passion, and talent for big routes. I wouldn't have asked him to come if I didn't think he was up for it, but I knew the ascent would blow his mind (and mine!).

This way!

Getting on the buttress is the only place we used our rope and was perhaps the spiciest part of the day. We began up one weakness, but bailed without hesitation when ice and rock fall started threatning our position. After a few tense moments we found a better alternative. Soon we had put the cord away and were scrambling through vertical brush, a key element of "the dark side".  

The highlight of the route: knife edge snow climbing way off the deck!

The brush didn't last forever and the rest of our climb was on steep snow fingers, slippery heather, and suprisingly solid, lichen peppered rock.

The valley is far, far below
Lot's of steep snow!

It was really fun to show Shaun the rugged, raw beauty of the Cascade Range. The summit views were breathtaking and we enjoyed the highpoint for a half an hour before beginning our descent to the car. Loose scrambling down the east ridge gained a col and then easy snow fields. We contoured around several peaks before wrapping back around the north side and following a well worn trail to our car.

Climbing in Washington is so varied and enjoying the different styles keeps me inspired. What will the next week hold??

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Good and Varied

This past week, Blake Herrington and I enjoyed a well rounded day of scrambling in our home range. Our original goal was to capture the many moods of the Stuart Range by swinging tools up the Triple Couliors on Dragontail, jamming Der Sportsman's (Prusik Peak) flawless cracks, and squeezing our bodies up Hyperspace on the Snow Creek Wall. Tragically, Blake popped a tendon on pitch one of Der, deflating our ability to execute the original plan. Injuries are tough to handle, but Blake chose positivity over frustration, and we went on to gain Prusik's summit via the West Ridge, and later enjoyed the view of Leavenworth from the top of SCW after zooming up Outer Space. The photos below are all Blake's and give a good feel for a beautiful day in the hills! For a full report check out: