Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mount Rainier - Fuhrer Finger - 05.28-29.09

~9000' Elevation Gain
11 Miles RT
2 Days

Josh had been planning a climb of Rainier for the week after Memorial Day because he had taken the time off. He asked me if I still didn't have a job if I would come along. Well the time had come, and I still did not have a job. So we were going to do it. At the final planning meeting it appeared the two Matts would not be able to make it and that just Josh, Zach and myself would be climbing on a Thursday/Friday. This made for easier rope management, but a bummer that the Matts could not join us. (It also meant we wouldn't have two Woofers with us.)

So the night before the climb, Steve called and asked if we were bringing floatation. I told him we weren't, but sent an email to Josh and Zach to bring snowshoes in case we wanted them. The freeze levels were supposed to be around 12000' for Thursday/Friday and this did not mean solid good crampon snow.

At the Paradise parking lot we opted to leave the snowshoes in the car. I'm still not sure this was a bad idea, but more on that later. We signed in at the ranger station and started hiking up to Glacier Vista to drop down onto the Nisqually Glacier. The snow was soft and deep, but we stayed in previous steps to manage the conditions. Once roped up and on the Nisqually, we headed for the early season "direct" route that the Mt. Rainier Climbing Blog said was still in. This involved a suspect snow bridge over a house swallowing crevasse. There were plenty of tracks across the bridge, but it appeared disconnected on both edges of the crevasse. This combined with the fact that the far east and west ends of the bridge had already collapsed into the crevasse caused us to belay across the bridge in the hot sun where the bridge appeared most narrow and well connected. After this minor setback we continued on our way to camp on the east edge of the Wilson Glacier around 9200'.

As the day got later, and we were no longer on well trampled paths, the snow got deeper. We started up the slopes to our camp and probably took an hour to move 200-300 vertical feet to the area where we decided to make camp. We were at 8900' but couldn't take any more wallowing in deep snow. There were numerous bivy sites on the ridge, but none really appeared to accept the tent we had. After walking the ridge and inspecting sites, we decided to use a reasonably flat area near a snow pile to make a flat platform with snow over the jagged loose rock. We then set about melting snow, eating and getting ready for the summit push. We finally laid down around 8pm and set our alarms for 11:30pm, with the hope that the snow would be more solid. Things were looking good for a refreeze, as the sun was not fully set, and the temp had dropped from 57°F to 42°F from when we got to camp to when we went to bed.

We had two alarm failures but Zach's alarm worked and we ended up waking around midnight. It was 32°F in the tent, and we readied ourselves for the climb. We were under way just before 1am and started our traverse to the finger. The snow was variable. Sections were bulletproof, while others were punching in mid-calf. In the darkness of night under headlamp, we did not traverse far enough and climbed some snow slopes west of the finger before topping out to a steep drop above the Nisqually Glacier. At some point above 9000' we were greeted by a cascade fox. It startled me and both Zach and Josh thought there was rockfall or some other hazard. The fox investigated us at a distance of about 15' and then went on its way. Perhaps to tell us that we were off route. By this time, the sun already was shining some modest light on the mountain and we were able to find our way into the correct couloir and head up.

Things got easier once we did not have to navigate by head lamp. Above the Fuhrer Finger, we mostly followed ski tracks out onto the upper Nisqually Glacier. This is not exactly the correct route, but staying on the west edge of the Glacier did not have as much appeal. We probably added 1/4 to 1/2 mile onto our trip heading out to the Nisqually, but it was enjoyable and fairly decent climbing. We were all feeling the effects of four hours of sleep, and altitude and our progress was slowing. (Perhaps too, the negative mental effects of having to down climb 400'+ vertical earlier when off route.) Progress was slow and steady up the Nisqually and we took short breaks hourly to rest. In the late morning, the crater rim came in sight. The last 300' seemed to take forever, and we finally made the crater rim where the wind was blowing. (Isn't it always?) I wanted to drop into the crater to get out of the wind. We dropped into the crater where I told Josh and Zach to proceed to the summit while I took the time to "blue bag."

During this time, the winds picked up. By the time Josh and Zach were off the summit and I was heading to them at the rim, we were in near white out conditions. My thoughts went to spending a night in a steam cave. Well, at least we were heading down. Foolishly we did not place wands on the way up as the forecast was good, and it was very clear on the way up. I led our rope down attempting to follow footsteps and ski tracks as best I could. I also tried to look for landmarks and crevasses we had encountered on the way up at various elevations. Occasionally, the clouds would break and I could see we were on generally the right track. Around 12500' we got under the clouds and were back in blue skies again with our uphill track obvious in the snow. We would later learn from observers at Paradise that a lenticular had formed over the summit for a few hours.

Once lower on the mountain the snow got continually softer. We had originally chosen to descend the Fuhrer Finger route as the ranger at Paradise told us descending the Kautz would involve some steep snow/ice down climbing or a few rappels. Fortunately, the snow was soft enough for good plunge stepping down the couloir. After the hourglass and near the bottom, the snow became deep mash potatoes which we struggled to descend in. (The top half of the Fuhrer Finger took less than a half hour to descend. I'm pretty sure it took another hour and a quarter for the bottom half to camp.) The snow got worse to travel in and we slowly wallowed back to camp setting off numerous small wet slides on our way there.

Once at camp, we contemplated staying until the snow hardened up because we were all exhausted from our thigh deep traverse back from the finger. We lounged around and melted some snow for water. We finally made a decision to "go for it" and started packing up to leave camp.

We left camp around 6pm and started down. The first section of snow from camp Josh and Zach glissaded while I plunge stepped down. We then roped up and headed down the Wilson Glacier. We decided to take a more west trajectory down as we did not want to deal with the scary huge crevasse we belayed over to get out. So we followed a path down that led us to a nice snow ramp at the west edge of the lower Nisqually Glacier. In no time, we were stomping in other's tracks across the lower Nisqually with the 400' climb back up to Glacier Vista looming before us. The snow on the lower mountain was not as bad as near our camp and we made good time. We were back at Paradise a little less than three hours after we left camp, but it was around 9pm. We hit the rest room, and then signed out at the climbing station before drinking some victory home brew compliments of Josh and then driving out.

Overall a great experience. Other than a couple of backcountry skiers from NY that shared our camping area, we did not see anyone on our summit day on the upper mountain. We had the summit to ourselves as well as the route. Snow conditions were not ideal for this climb, but were satisfactory enough to be successful. I will forever contemplate the snowshoe decision, but I personally always feel like the extra weight on the feet is not worth the reduced aggravation of post-holing. I'm not sure which wastes more energy though. It is always surprising to me how much altitude effects me. I did have a headache, and some weird stomach feelings. But having had those stomach feelings persist much through the following day, leads me to believe that both symptoms were more related to dehydration than altitude.

Also, I did not feel this route was technically more difficult than the Disappointment Cleaver route. Route finding is more difficult, and I guess the steeper snow in the couloir is more challenging, but not significantly so. (I'd rather go up the steep snow than walk on the decaying cleaver any day.) I can also see why people ski it. I could see myself skiing the couloir, but the upper mountain has too many large holes that I am not sure I want to try and avoid.) One aspect that is definitely more difficult is that summit day involves more elevation when climbing The Fuhrer Finger. Having high camp at a lowly 8900' did not allow for much acclimatization, and made a for a 5500' summit day. I'm really glad to have climbed this route, as it gave me a new appreciation for Mount Rainier. Next time, I'll do some altitude training shortly before, so I am not as greatly affected.

My pics are here.
Josh's pics here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Four Days in Squamish 05.20-24.09

This long weekend was to be Julie's last climbing weekend with me until some possible return trips in June. Four days in Squamish to send her off on her bike trip proper. Julie had already rode to Vancouver, and I was to pick her up Thursday morning and we would head to Squamish and leave some time on Sunday.

Day 1:
I picked Julie up in Vancouver around 9am and we headed to Squamish. The goal was to climb Diedre (5.8), a four star route that sees lots of traffic. Hitting it on Thursday would hopefully mean less traffic. Once arriving in Squamish, due to the highway construction, we had some difficulty finding the Apron parking lot. Once there we adopted the Squamish climbing style. (Harness/gear up at car. Bring only what you will be climbing with. Leave nothing at the base.) This is partially due to the fact you do not return to the base of the climbs, but also because Squamish is known for having high theft rates. Which means you may lose whatever you left at the base of a climb. We had minor difficulty finding the trail. It is obvious, and leaves the parking lot uphill right at the outhouse. After a short trail hike, there is some 3rd class rock and tree scrambling to make it to the base. There was already one rope from a party of four on the route. Their second rope allowed us to start the route before them, and their first rope allowed us to start the second pitch before them. They were a nice group from Switzerland. Although their leader has been living in a log cabin in the Yukon for the last 15 years. I led the first pitch which had about 30' of slab before any protection (slinging a tree.) Then it followed grooves and seems over the rock. Some of which was seriously glacier polished and slick as glass. Other areas seemed to have slippery quartz in them as well, but the overall adhesiveness of the rock was great. Julie got to lead the second pitch which was a traverse with no protection. I arrived at her location, and it was time to tackle the dihedral that gives the route its name.

I got the lead and proceeded to make my way up. The pitch felt easier than 5.8, but did not offer the best opportunities for placing gear because the lack of really good rests and the difficult gear placement at times. The crux of the pitch is probably about a third of the way up where you must negotiate a small step in the slab. The rest of the pitch was pretty straightforward lie back technique. Once I belayed Julie to the top of the pitch, she offered the next pitch for me to lead. She said she could feel her legs had not fully recovered from the bike ride to Vancouver and would feel better if I led the pitch. I wasn't mentally prepared to, but I stepped up to the challenge. I was a little sketched with the opening moves because my shoes had gotten dirty/wet at the belay stance, and this set a tone of not fully trusting my feet for the pitch. This second pitch of the dihedral felt harder, but may not have been. I placed lots of gear, and finally made it to the next bolted belay. (All belays on Diedre are bolted.)

After I brought Julie up, she geared up for the last of the dihedral pitches. After some slabby moves to get back into it, she was on her way and soon bringing me up. This pitch had easier climbing and the angle reduced a bit. It did seem significantly more difficult to place gear on though. I led out on the last lower angle pitch which had very little for protection. This combined with the fact that there was wetness and conifer needles on it gave me little assurance. Once at the final moves (the crux of the climb) there was a piton to clip. I clipped it and gingerly tried to step on clean dry rock until I was stemming over a wet seep. I placed a cam and hesitated about the next moves. I told Julie to watch me as the moves were sketchy. Fortunately, I made a few moves and was able to grab the tree that you need to pull you into the trees and onto Broadway Ledge. I brought Julie up and we celebrated. We then led south to find the walk off. After taking a look at the slab walk off, we opted to go straight for the forest. There were a few bits of 3rd class down climbing to reach the woods, but not too bad. Then it is a trail to boulders near the highway.

Day 2:
We had the lofty goal of attempting to climb to the summit of the Chief using the Banana Peel, Boomstick Crack, Ultimate Everything link up.

We didn't leave the campground as early as we would have liked to due to some confusion on our parts. We walked from the campground to the base of Banana Peel, which is the same start as Deidre. There were already parties on Diedre, and we were the first to head toward Banana Peel. Julie led the same unprotected start to the tree and then belayed me across the long crack traverse to the base of Banana Peel. Our 60m rope didn't quite reach and I had to give Julie a short belay another 30' or so the the start. I then led the next short pitch which is a stem off of a tree to gain the slab, and then about 20' of unprotected 5.4 slab to a tree belay. I brought Julie up to this point and another party was catching us. I told her we should let them go by. When their first climber reached our belay we let him know that we would let them pass as them appeared to be moving faster. After chatting with him a bit we realized that it was Miles and Liz Smart. They proceeded to move on up and out of our sight in a few pitches.

Julie got to lead the next crux pitch which was like three cruxes in one. First there is some run out slab to a bolt at the initial bulge crux on the slab. After passing that, you make another cruxy move from the slab to a steeper flake. After topping the flake, there are some cruxy moves to gain a small crystal ledge that you traverse to the belay. I'm not sure which Julie found hardest (as she was leading) but I definitely felt the moves onto the traverse were the hardest for me. After that pitch, I had a short non memorable pitch to a gear belay. Then Julie led out on a wandering, lightly protected pitch up the slab. This ended at a tree belay and I got to lead the next pitch on an interesting water drainage feature on the slab. It ended a short ways up a flake. Julie led out the final pitch on the flake to lower angle slabs and then Broadway Ledge. We ate lunch and started to grasp the next leg which was Boomstick Crack.

Boomstick Crack is actually a thin, sharp, long, horizontal flake that starts getting more vertical about 30' into the climb. Most of the early gear is suspect as it may knock the flake off, or blow out the rock. And because your feet are only about 6-8' off Broadway, you will hit the ground even if the pro does hold. I got the first lead on this which was some interesting moves to gain the top of the flake. Once there I set about trying to place gear in the flake near my feet. (Even due to the ground fall potential, I still placed gear.) After two pieces at my feet, I was able to get a nut on an old 1/4" stud for protection. After a few more pieces near my feet, the flake angled up and I gained cracks on the face where I finally got in protection that would hold a fall and keep me off the ground. By this time, I was into a hand crack with little gear left to fit it. So I ran it out to a tree belay and brought Julie up. Julie continued on the second pitch into the trees.

We made a decision at that time that it was not feasible for us to continue on The Ultimate Everything. It was ten more pitches, and most of them were at 5.9. So we decided to rappel back to Broadway, and walk off.

After the walk off, we decide to drive over to the Smoke Bluffs crags and do some routes over there. After Julie led Burgers and Fries (a 5.7 crack), we top-roped Peaches and Cream (5.10a/b.) Then we found the Clean Starts cracks at the far end of the Neat and Clean wall. We top-roped a few cracks over there and then headed back to camp.

Day 3:
We set our sights on Calculus Crack (5.8). We figured it being Saturday that it would see less traffic than the routes we did earlier in the week. We were wrong. The first two pitches of the route are shared with numerous other routes on the north end of the Apron. The one guidebook describes these pitches as "vertical jungle." With the amazing growth rates in the area, and the typical Squamish "tree ladders" through steep forest, we did not know what to expect. We arrived at the base behind a party of three that was gearing up. They offered to let us pass, but we figured we did not want anyone behind us, so we gave them the route first. Shortly, our decision didn't matter as a party of two women showed up behind us.

We waited a while before one of the slow followers fell and struggled with the opening moves. Then I was hot on her trail following through the initial crack and then through the trees. The first pitch then goes up another short crack and more pulling on tree roots to gain the next belay. I brought Julie up and we did a short scramble through the woods to the start of the second pitch. Both of the earlier party's followers struggled with the crux (5.8) of this section which was moving leftward from a fist crack to some steeper thin finger cracks past a bulge. Once they were through, Julie led out and stopped. Her head wasn't in this lead, and she backed off and asked me if I would lead it. I wasn't enthusiastic about it, but I'd give it a go. I got up to the difficult part and realized how hard it was to place gear from a slightly awkward stance. I down climbed to the base and racked my green and yellow aliens for quick insertion. I then climbed back to the crux area and was able to place the yellow alien. I then made a move or two up, where I had an nice ledge hold for my hands. The crack above peters out and there are not very good holds as it is shallow. I placed another cam higher, eliminating any hope I had of using the higher crack for my hands. I then noticed an escape to a crack farther left. So with a long stretch left, I was able to gain easier ground and head up through the forest again. I brought Julie up to a belay at a tree, just shy of the bolted belay for the next pitch.

Julie led out on the next pitch which was a dirty twin crack system. One side was off width, while the other provided nice dirt steps and small trees to sling. She then had to wait for the earlier team to leave the belay ledge before proceeding. She didn't have enough big gear left for her to set up a proper anchor to bring me up, so we waited. During this time, the two women caught us as well as another party of a man and a woman. After a long wait the two women opted to climb St. Vitus, while the man and woman were joined by another rope of their friends. I finally left the belay and arrived at Julie's gear belay at the base of a steepish finger crack. (4th pitch.)

I took the lead and placed lots of gear in the initial section. The face was a bit slippery for feet, and being a finger crack, the crack too small for my feet. After about 20' or so, the angle eases and I continued up to where the two followers of the previous rope were just leaving the belay. This pitch felt like the hardest pitch I led all weekend. The initial section was sustained climbing which took precise foot placements on my part. The jams in the crack were great. And the crack took gear really well. From this pitch alone, I feel that Calculus Crack should be given another star.

After bringing Julie up she continued in the crack through another steep section before the angle really eased and she was able to belay me up. Turns out she stopped a bit short of a bolted belay, so I quickly made my way over there and she led off on the final pitch wandering around the slabs to the trees. We ate lunch, and proceeded to determine which way we would descend. There are supposed to be four single rope rappels into the South Gully from the top, but we found no suitable anchor, nor rap slings to mark where that would take place, so we opted to scramble up an off width (gully in the books) to gain Broadway Ledge and traverse off the Apron like we had the two previous days.

After returning to the car, we went over to the Upper Malamute crag and top-roped some difficult 5.9 routes on the Stooges Slab. After that, it was time for dinner and camp.

Day 4:
Neither of us were up to multi pitch climbing at this point and we found that Murrin Park would be a good destination for us with easily accessible top-roping and routes in ranges we wanted to climb. However, when we got there, there was a $3 charge for parking that could only be paid with coins. I had no Canadian currency on me, and Julie did not have enough Loonies. So we went back to Smoke Bluffs again. We made it there and then wandered around trying to find the Fatty Bolger slabs. Once there, I led "David's" which was a scary two bolt 5.6. Julie got up to lead on it and decided to lower after the first bolt. I then led the next climb Stepladder and we set up a top rope. Julie top-roped that climb and then we top-roped the other two routes there. (Moominland & Hamish's) We left that slab just as another larger party from Seattle showed up. We hiked around trying to find something to climb and eventually climbed Christa' Revenge (5.7) an interesting crack system on the Fern Gully wall. I led it and belayed Julie up from the top. After the walk off, it was time to head to Vancouver to drop Julie off and have dinner before driving back to Seattle.

This was by far my favorite and most productive cragging trip ever. Julie and I climbed about 35 pitches in four days. Many of which were quality routes. It was a great introduction to Squamish, and I already cannot wait to go back! I really feel like I am climbing well, and that made the trip even more enjoyable. I am slightly bummed we could not find some harder single pitch routes to climb, but being we were usually tired (mentally and physically) by the time we hit the single pitch routes, that is probably for the better. On another note, it was great spending a block of time with my good friend Julie before her bike trip is in full swing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Tooth SW Face - 05.17.09

2600' Elevation Gain
4 miles RT
Left Car: 7:45am
Summit: approx 4pm
Return to car: 10:30pm
15 hour car to car

It was time for me to revisit the Southwest Face of the Tooth. Last year Julie and I had a great time with great weather on this climb. I had fond memories of it and decided I would share them with some friends (and a stranger.)

So I finally saw a coyote in Washington. Not in the desert where I expected. Not even in the wilderness. When we picked up Steve at the Eastgate P&R, there was a coyote pouncing around the tall grass on the north side of the lot.

We arrived a touch later than expected at the Alpental lot and geared up deciding to bring snowshoes, but leave the crampons in the car. The snow was already soft as there was no refreeze during the night. We started hiking up the trail behind a Washington Alpine Club party of about nine. Bare boots seemed to work well as there were nine people ahead of us stomping in tracks. When the trail started to head for the gully near Source Lake, we donned snowshoes for the softer less consolidated snow. Shortly after the gully got steep we went back to bare boots as the WAC was making some nice steps up the gully. We passed the WAC group in the basin as they geared up and we made our way to the base of the climb after stashing snowshoes and trekking poles at the notch.

We got the to base of the climb in a little over two hours, and noticed that about half the first pitch was still under snow. I proceeded to find a spot where the moat could be filled in and we could access the rock for the first pitch. After some snow engineering and gearing up, we were finally starting the route around 10:45am. Lori led off in boots on some spicy wet moves to gain the flaring off width. After some slow progress and minimal gear options she gained the ridge a bit. Then back across the top of the off width to easier ground and the tree at the top of the first pitch. I followed up, and Matt led behind wearing rock shoes.

I led out on the second pitch with minimal gear options and got to the point I believe we belayed from the previous year. (Having looked at last years photos, I attempted to belay from a much higher point this year.) I searched for a while for adequate anchors before building an anchor with blue and green aliens, and a slung horn. I brought Lori up and we discussed the next pitch.

Lori headed up the money pitch which starts on some slabby moves and gains a wide dirty crack before transitioning right into more blocky terrain. Now with rock shoes on, Lori sailed up the pitch. Steve and Matt had wisely set up a belay below me and Matt proceed to lead the pitch above me. He was well past me by the time I got my rock shoes on and headed up. I got to the next belay and had some water and a snack before reracking the gear, and heading out.

Once I turned the corner, there were people everywhere, as well as ropes. I climbed through/past a WAC group anchor, and then went to the final wall. I put a piece in and attempted to head out on the catwalk. There was no gear above my last piece and the rope drag was horrible. After a bit of attempting to make the moves go, I down climbed to the ledge and set up a belay to bring Lori up. By the time she arrived, the WAC were pulling their ropes, and we would have the summit to ourselves. She led off on the ramp variation as she did not like the description (not good pro) of the catwalk that I had given her. She reached the summit with some hooting and hollering, and then brought me up. As it was late, I left the gear in for Steve to clip to save us time.

We spent a brief amount of time on the summit, and prepared our raps. While I know many people do double rope raps off the South Face, I usually prefer single rope raps. However, the last rap station is somewhat dubious, and it also is a little higher than 30m from Pineapple Pass. So after two single rope raps we decide to do a double to the pass. This reminded me why I favor single rope raps. The ropes were blown in the wind and got tangled. Being the first to rap down, I had to stop at least three times to clean and rethrow the ropes. It seemed like an eternity. Once back at the pass, I waited for Lori, and we went to retrieve Steve's and my packs from the base of the climb.

After some time, we were joined by Steve. Shortly afterward, Matt yells that he is having trouble pulling the ropes. I put my harness back on and ran up the snow to help him. We pulled at the ropes, and it almost felt like there were knots on both sides of the anchor. I told him it looked like the ropes were twisted and perhaps we should set about getting that in order. Once untwisted the rope pull acted the same way. At this time Steve came up to help and mentioned that the knot may be catching on the lip. With a strong flick of the rope, it cleared the lip and we were pulling the rope. After that, it was time to hike out.

The snow out was super soft. Ken had told me waist deep mashed potatoes, and he was correct. Once out of the steeper sections near the notch, we donned snowshoes and proceeded to the gully. With headlamps on, and back in boots, we plunged or glissaded down the gully where we put the snowshoes on again and hiked out.

Overall a nice fun trip. Although it was long, it was not an epic, and other than pulling the ropes, we did not experience any issues. I think when the weather is nice and we are exploring the route, time just got away from us. Sure there were time wasters. It took a fair amount of time to make a safe starting belay at the base. Lori took a while on the first pitch. I took a while finding a suitable anchor on the second and even the fourth. But there was no negative impact other than we all missed dinner. It was really great on the hike out to see the stars start coming out and it was my first time up in the Source Lake Basin at night. It was also my first night hiking in a while, and I do miss it.

I will say too, that I remembered enjoying this climb more last year. This year, I felt like the route had worse rock, and less pro. Not sure if that is a symptom of this being my first alpine rock climb of the year, or how my memory softened the edges. I do remember thinking when I first climbed it why it wasn't done more often. I now have a better understanding of why it is not done too often, but I think it is still worthy of doing.

My pics are here.
Lori's pics are here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Two days in Vantage - 05.13-14.09

Ian and I had planned to go to Squamish for a bunch of days. However, the forecast was not favorable for any of the "local" climbing areas. By Monday, Ian wasn't feeling well, and we decided to make it a two day trip to the Frenchman's Coulee area. Since I don't seem to enjoy climbing there, this didn't make me feel great about the trip before going, but I kept my hopes up that we'd have a good time.

When we arrived, the skies were gray, with a light wind. We headed to Sunshine Wall so I could help Ian finish his project of climbing all the sport climbs at Sunshine (and the Feathers.) Once there, I believe we "warmed up" on Throbbing Gristle(5.9). Ian led it and I followed. It was technically easy for a 5.9, but strenuous. I fell and hung at one point. I cleaned the anchor, and we moved on to the next objective: Air Guitar.

Right around the corner is Air Guitar(5.10a), a route with a little history. (Goran Kropp died from a fall on Air Guitar.) Ian sort of psyched himself out of doing this one in the past due to that reason. He climbed it, and sewed up the middle section a bit before he ended up leap frogging protection near the top, then running it out when out of gear. You should include two #3s and two #4s in a rack for this climb. (One guide book even says a #5 if you have it, but I think two #4s will do.) I had Ian leave the gear in for my climb. I cruised the lower 2/3s of the climb then the crack got to off hands for me. I didn't have a good jam to move up on, and took a fall trying to go for a higher hold. After a few attempts, Ian gave me the advice to go deep into the crack for a jam. It worked. I basically wound up jamming my forearm, and it gave me enough purchase to make the next hold. That got me up to a big ledge, where what I would call the final crux moves waited. Above the ledge the crack was wider and was either fists or off-width depending on your body size. I couldn't manage to get decent fist jams, and ended up arm barring the last section with a few falls to reach the chains. Since we had the top rope set up, Ian climbed it again, and then I gave it another lap where I struggled more on the lower 2/3s and had an easier time with the off hands section.

Ian on Air Guitar

At this point the wind was picking up, and it was trying to rain on us. Ian and I huddled down for a bit hoping it would pass and then decided to head back to the car area and possibly climb at The Feathers. We took a long scenic way back admiring the flowers on top of the mesa while hiking.

Desert Flowers

Before we got back to the car, we decided to climb at Zig Zag wall. Neither of us had before, and it was about time. So we headed over to Unfinished Business (5.8) as our first route over there. Ian then told me it was my turn to lead, so I led up the route. He wanted to see me climb at my limit, which that route technically wasn't, but was challenging for having smaller holds after we had been doing laps on Air Guitar. I on-sighted the route, and then Ian pink pointed it. He commented about the strenuousness with the small holds and congratulated me on a nice lead. We spoke with a few women about looking at their newer guidebook, then decided on a .10b route nearby. (I think it may have been called Group Therapy?) Ian led it nicely, then I thrashed up it to the chains. (Actually I wasn't that thrashy, just in one section.) We called it a day and ate dinner and hung out in the car before camping. (It had started to rain around 6pm, but we decided to stick it out to see what the next day would bring.)

We woke up at 6:15am and Ian promptly went back to sleep. I took a walk down to the Columbia on the road and just enjoyed the smell of the sage, and the desert morning. When I arrived back at the campsite, Ian was topping out from a free solo of Where the Sidewalk Ends (5.1). We got in the car to get him his morning coffee.

When we got back we headed to The Feathers in an effort to complete his project there. He wanted to start with a warm up on The Uprising (5.8), probably the nicest route at The Feathers. However, he wanted me to lead it. I was intimidated by the first bolt being 15' off the ground and backed off one move from it. Ian led it, and then I pink pointed it afterward. I told him that it was a little too stout of a lead for me to warm up on.

We headed through the notch and geared up for I'd Rather be Skiing at 49° North (5.10b). Ian stated to me that this was still not finished by him due to a somewhat scary clipping issue at the 4th and 5th bolts. (There is a potential for falling on a ledge if falling at that point.) It turns out that is the crux of the climb where it is slightly overhanging and has some awkward foot placements. Ian led it in fine fashion, and I cruised to the crux, and then thrashed a bit trying to overcome it. It mellowed out above that point and I cleaned the anchors.

The next target was Hardening of the Arteries (5.10c). This was another route with a high first bolt which has caused Ian trouble. Although after climbing it, I'd say the crux was between the 2nd and 3rd bolt for sure. Ian led the route with no issues, and I climbed it well to the crux where I got pretty pumped trying to pull through the steep moves before it mellows out again near the top. We left the rope up and allowed a Canadian guy named Peter to top rope the route. Then Ian climbed it again to clean the anchors.

Peter at the Crux on Hardening of the Arteries

The wind picked up again, and we sat in the car for a bit eating lunch and hoping it would subside. Ian had only one route left to complete his task, but neither of us was feeling great about going out and tackling it. So we hiked over to it, and looked at it and proceeded to pack the car and leave for Seattle.

Overall, a great trip. I feel I need to step up the next time I climb with Ian. I usually feel content following harder stuff, but want to start leading some harder stuff too. Perhaps next time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Leavenworth - 05.09-10.09

With a avalanche report that read like this:
We are urging potential backcountry travelers to avoid
traveling in or near avalanche terrain until the recent snow
has either slide or settled and stabilized over the coming
days. [NWAC]
Julie and I were not going to be going anywhere where snow was present. Which was a shame as it was her last weekend in Washington before leaving on her trip. So we scratched our plans for something big and snowy and resigned ourselves to heading to Leavenworth to do some rock climbing. Ken and Sammy had canceled their plans for North Twin Sister due to the same avalanche forecast, and we would be meeting them in Leavenworth Saturday morning.

We arrived in Leavenworth with no sign of Ken and Sammy. We started up Icicle Road to see if we could find them at eight mile campground. We found them walking the road just in front of Icicle Buttress and said we'd meet them in town to discuss plans for the day at Starbucks. In the Starbucks we decided to hike up to Givler's as Ken and Sammy had never done it. Julie and I had done it back in March, and we decided we would just lead the opposite pitches we led then. So after a brief stint in Starbucks we headed up the Icicle to climb Givler's Crack.

The hike up is a little longer than most approaches in the Icicle which keeps traffic down to Givler's given it is a four star route that mortals can climb. We had some difficulties in staying on route, but eventually wound up at the base where another party was on the first pitch. We sorted ourselves and gear and started off after the second of the previous party reached the top of the first pitch. Julie led the first pitch, and hung out at the bowl after the crux opening moves. Once the previous party started leaving the belay at the top of the first pitch, she headed off to finish the pitch. I quickly followed. Ken was about half way up the first pitch when I started off on the second. Now having climbed Givler's Crack three times, I can say that the second pitch is one of my favorite leads. I can also say that I enjoyed it much more on lead than following. It is super enjoyable, and long. I arrived at the top and started to bring Julie up. The wind at the top was pretty brisk and we huddled behind the anchor boulder to stay out of the wind.

After a short time Ken was in sight, and he finished the pitch with a tired smile on his face. He clipped into my anchor and brought Sammy up. Sammy was successful at removing the fixed nut at the bottom of the second pitch and came into site with a big smile on his face. I think they were both happy they didn't just go climb R&D. Once we were all on top, we basked a bit and then headed back to our packs at the base. We collected our gear and hiked a bit down before finding a suitable ledge to eat lunch.

After the hike down, we considered another multi pitch climb. We looked at R&D, with crowds on it and some clouds blowing in and decided if it started to rain, we didn't want to be on R&D. We chose to head to Barney's Rubble area which was by the roadside and had some climbs we could do.

Sammy wished to lead a 5.7 that he had led a few years earlier. Julie and I headed to a 5.6 crack to climb. I started up the 5.6 while Sammy climbed the 5.7. The opening moves of the 5.6 were weird as it had to be accessed through a cave like feature and then step up into the crack. After placing three pieces, I was having difficulty gaining the crack and finally asked Julie to lower me off. [I later realized that when she led the route that there were plenty of options for feet on the face. I was trying to put my foot in the crack which was painful and awkward. Sometimes I just have difficulty reading a route.] Sammy was undeterred, and was still making his way up the 5.7 as Julie took the lead on the 5.6. After getting about halfway up the route, Julie slipped and took her first lead fall on gear. It was a minor incident as she mostly ran down the wall backward about five feet or so. She bumped her knee, and had a small rope burn on her wrist. She got right back on and finished the route. I eventually followed (as Ken followed the 5.7) and we topped out. I found the rock on the route to be very greasy feeling and I am not surprised by Julie slipping on it. We later talked to Ian and he used the same adjective to describe the rock and stated that it was because it sees so many ascents being so close to the road.

After topping out, we headed into town to see if we could find Ian and his team who had climbed Yellowjacket Tower that day. We chatted at dinner, and then went our separate ways.

The next day our goal was Condorphamine Addiction(5.10b). It is loosely described as a seven pitch bolted alpine route. Ian had told me that it was within my reach technically. And if we couldn't do the .10b moves it was easy to aid past them. The hike in was long and steep (for cragging.) The trail was loose and sandy as well. We had a minor difficulty finding the correct trail when entering the woods. The book is fairly accurate with the turn left after the first boulder on the map description. Then it was fairly easy to stay on the path up to Condor Buttress.

Once at the buttress, it was easy to identify the start of the climb. Julie and I were apathetic about who climbed which pitch and she finally decided to lead the first (5.7) pitch. After a short distance, she was at the belay and brought me up. The first pitch was nothing remarkable, and a good warm up for the rest of the climb. I took the lead on the second pitch (5.9) which starts with a fun traverse, and then goes up around a corner on steepening terrain to the belay. I think there was 12 bolts on the pitch as I was nearly out of gear at the next belay station. I brought Julie up and she started off on the next (5.4) pitch. After nearly a full rope length, she brought me up. I commented that the latter part of the pitch seemed a bit thin for 5.4. We briefly studied the topo for the route and I was off on the next pitch.

Our fourth pitch started out with easy fun climbing with some horizontal crack features on the slab. It then got to a point where it was steep and there was a difficult move. I commented down that I thought Julie combined the 5.4 and 5.8 pitches and that this was the first .10b move. She didn't believe me as it looked easier from her stance. Not knowing for sure if it was .10b, and feeling like I would kick myself if it 5.8 and I aided the move, I set about trying to figure out how to gain a dish above a bulge with no discernible hand holds. (There were some very tiny edges etc. and an arete to my right that I could use.) After a few attempts at upward progress, I informed Julie I was grabbing the draw and heading up. While it made the move easier, it did not make it more secure, and after gaining the dish, I held on to the draw for a bit until I was able to grab a small hold above me. At that point I moved slightly right and clipped the next bolt. The next moves went left around/through a roof where the difficulties lessened to the next belay. The moves left from the clip felt more like 5.8 or 5.9 from the previous .10b moves. I quickly moved through them and was at the next belay.

I brought Julie up to the crux where she agreed with me that it was a .10b and she proceed to follow my lead by yarding on the draw to complete the move. When she arrived at the belay, we consulted the topo again and agreed that she must have joined the 5.4 and 5.8 pitches and that was indeed the first of the .10b pitches. She then led off on the next .10b pitch.

On the next pitch there was a point from the belay that did not look difficult, but Julie was hesitant below it. She said the moves were thin and committing. I asked her if she thought it was the crux of the pitch. She said she wasn't sure. After some pause, she successfully completed the moves and put me on belay. I arrived at the same spot and saw what she meant. While this portion wasn't as steep as the crux in the previous pitch, it had some thin feet and not a whole lot for hands. I gingerly transferred my weight up to my right foot, and made moves to quickly get through the crux. The difficulty eased after a few moves and I continued to the top of the pitch. When I arrived, we both agreed that the moves felt more like .10a moves than .10b.

Since I had most of the gear, I told Julie I wasn't stopping to transfer gear or the backpack, and I would continue on the final 5.4 pitch to the top. I arrived at the top chains in no time, and brought Julie up. We remained anchored in, and ate our lunches. We wanted to get started on our rappels as we could see another party coming up the route.

We made seven raps down bypassing a party of four on two ropes on the way down. The rappels were easy, and being only single rope, we had no issues with throwing or retrieving the ropes.

The whole climb and rap took about 4.5 hours and Julie and I decided we would check out Bathtub Dome to see if there were options we'd want to climb there.

With some navigational difficulties and some steep sandy trail, we finally arrived at Middle Tier of Bathtub Dome where we were looking to climb a 5.7 crack called New Fixtures. (A two star route.) After looking at it and remembering that Smoot has it rated R in his guidebook I talked to Julie about it. The first 15' or so is climbing between a detached pillar and flake, so I would say there are not safe gear placements during that segment. We then opted to climb Chumstick 2-Step which is a bolted 5.9 to the left of New Fixtures. As we started gearing up, the wind picked up tremendously and started blowing clouds over our heads. we went from shorts and t-shirts to pants and jackets. Then we decided we did not wish to get rained on and packed up and hiked out. Arriving back at the car around 3:30pm we decided to just head back to Seattle.

Overall, the climbing on Condorphamine Addiction was fun. I think my favorite pitch was the 5.9 pitch. The 5.10b moves are easily aided if need be, and I would like to go back and give another shot at freeing the first .10b moves. We witnessed the leader from one of the other parties climb it, and he made it look effortless stemming his hands out to both sides. It probably still wouldn't be easy, but I'd be happy if I could free it. It would also give me a chance to come back up to Bathtub Dome to climb Chumstick 2-Step which looked enjoyable. The hike in and out of the area was tedious, but worth it considering how enjoyable the climb was. I did not find this climb to be as classic as Lost Charms or Dreamer, but was definitely something I would go back to do again. It can also be done with combining pitches, but I think the way we did it was fairly enjoyable. The topo is fairly accurate, and should be easy to follow. You may be able to save time rapping with two 60m ropes, but since it is setup to be rapped with a single 50m rope, I like not bringing the second rope, and not having to deal with the mess that is associated with double rope rappels.

My pics are here.
Julie's pics are here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Leavenworth - 05.04.09

Steve emailed my on Sunday to let me know he was going to be out of work on Monday and to see if I wanted to do something outdoors. We both felt let down by the Sunday forecast which predicted rain almost everywhere, but things looked bright and sunny on the Leavenworth web cam. We talked Sunday night and decided that with a similar forecast (20% chance of rain) that we would head to Leavenworth to climb some rock. This would keep us from being miserable in wind and weather up high.

On the way out to Leavenworth Monday morning, Steve said he was interested in doing the link up of Heart of Gold (5.10-) and Prime Rib (5.10b) that would give us a nice seven pitch outing. I was game. I hadn't been to Duty Dome before and knew that Heart of Gold was a somewhat popular route that is probably lightly crowded on weekends.

We hiked up to the base and geared up. Heart of Gold has bolts, but will take gear in a few spots, so we had a full trad rack on us. The start was a little interesting, and the first bolt is somewhat awkwardly placed from where we started. Since the third pitch was supposed to be the crux, I let Steve have the first pitch lead. Steve led off, and was soon around the corner out of sight. About 50m of rope later, he was at the top of the pitch. I followed up and met him there.

We had a discussion on where the route was supposed to go, and then I led off on the second pitch. Steve seemed to think the route went climber's left to a slab, while I was pretty sure it went right. I proceeded rightward for a bit over a few steps where I could see the bolts for the next anchor. There was no obvious way there, but there were plenty of flakes and features I could use for protection on the way there. So I started up a bit. The rock was loose and fragile, and that is when I noticed a line of bolts to my left. So I downclimbed to the top of the first step, and proceeded to hit the slab with a line of bolts. This was far easier climbing than the first pitch. (Felt like 5.5) I arrived at a nice new anchor for the belay. Later we would determine that I should have traversed far right after the second step (A small tree/shrub is there) and then headed straight up to the anchor. This did not look like an appealing option to me at the time because it looked like 20'+ of traversing without protection.

Our off route adventure did not greatly impact our position, as Steve just had to traverse about 15' right of the belay to rejoin the route at the start of the third pitch. He then continued on for the rest of the pitch until it was time for me to follow. The third pitch was clearly the hardest. (Well, we don't know what the on route 2nd pitch was.) There was an awkward, but not difficult move above the belay, then some really thin slab moves for a few bolts, before the difficulty eased a bit. I met Steve at the belay, and led off on the 4th pitch. Truthfully, if one starts the third pitch at the correct belay, you could probably incorporate the 4th pitch into it, as it is merely 40' of 3rd class slab. There is a belay anchor at the top, and after that, you are in the 3rd class gully.

After topping out, we weighed our options. Weather was moving in. (It was no longer sunny, and the wind picked up.) We figured we could continue on Prime Rib, or go close to the road to climb some single pitch climbs. I told Steve, we might as well go for it while we were up there. So we proceeded to the base of Prime Rib.

The first pitch starts with some steep tricky crack moves (5.7/5.8) to gain the slab. Once on the slab, there are ample bolts, and nothing trickier than what we had seen on Heart of Gold. The belay comes up quickly and I followed Steve up. To expedite things (and because I do not lead 5.10b) Steve was leading all the pitches on Prime Rib. He led off on the second pitch which starts with some lie back moves to reach the base of the next slab. The second slab was most likely where the .10b rating comes in. Steve gained it on the far right but then had seriously difficult moves to head left toward the bolts. He hung at the second bolt, before working his was flawlessly through the rest of the pitch. When he was about 10' from the anchors, I alerted him that I could see raindrops. He asked what I wanted to do, and I said "Let's go for it."

I climbed up through the lie back, and started to get on the base of the slab when the rain started in earnest. It was not likely I was going to complete .10b friction slab moves on wet rock, and we opted for Steve to lower me to the base of the climb. Then he would rappel and clean the gear.

Once at the base, we made a sketchy walk off down the wet gully and got back on the trail to retrieve our packs at the base of Heart of Gold. Then it was back to the car and Seattle bound.

While at the Duty Dome area we saw some new climbs being put up. Also, the pitch I led is newer and not in the current guide books. There was a lot of interesting climbing to explore there. I am hoping to go back. Steve and I also discussed the second pitch of Prime Rib which we both believe that you should gain the slab on the left, and not on the right. The left seemed to have more difficult feet, but had the edge of the arete for hands at least. It was nice to be out, even if we got rained on during our sixth pitch.

My photos are here.
(With some of Steve's pics.)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Mt. St. Helens ski - 05.01.09

Solo. (OK, so there were also about 2 dozen others on the mountain as well but they weren't in my party.)

5500' elevation gain
12 miles RT
Left car: 8:15 am
Summit: 1 pm
Left summit: 1:45 pm
Back at car: 3:15 pm
7 hours car to car

So the weather was supposed to be fantastic on Friday. Dan had off from work and wanted to do something. I seemed to convince him that Mt. St. Helens was in the cards. However, he took ill mid-week and was going to be incapable of attempting the climb with me.

I decided that with the good weather forecast, and the popularity of skiing Mt. St. Helens, that I was going to go solo. There would be plenty of people about if there was some sort of trouble/accident. After all, it is probably a more mellow tour than skiing up to Camp Muir. (Although the Muir Snowfield sees more visitors.)

I couldn't bring myself to wake up before 4am, so I set the alarm for exactly four. I was out of the house and leaving Seattle around 4:30am. I arrived at climber's registration around 7:30am. I picked up my permit and signed in the climber's log and headed up to the Marble Mountain Sno Park. I parked in the non-trailer area, but I think this time of year it is acceptable to park closer to the trail head (as many others did) without a trailer. This would save you 1/4 mile walk on pavement to the trail head.

I geared up and was off on the trails around 8:15 am under an overcast sky. There is a fairly long (feeling) level trail ski before breaking out of the forest and getting a glimpse of the route. Fortunately, the trail has multiple maps and blue signs noting the direction of the climbing route in the woods. Out of the woods, there was some pink surveyor's tape and some wooden posts to mark the route. I presume this is more for the summer routes to preserve vegetation rather than marking the route in snow.

I broke out of the trees in about an hour where I was experiencing some hot spots from my boots. By the time I addressed them, it was too late. I already had a blister on each heel. I changed over to thicker dry socks, and put a bandage and tape over the blisters.* This worked to prevent them from getting worse, but pretty much canceled my plans to ski Silver Star on Saturday. Well, at least they were not going to prevent me from reaching the summit. At this time, I put a soft shell jacket on over my short sleeve shirt, as the wind was brisk without tree cover.

Once fully out of the trees, you could see virtually the whole route to the top. I could see other parties ahead of me, and mostly just followed the skin track that was present. I often broke out of it, because too many people chewed it up bare-booting in the skin track. The snow was icy and firm, and I kept telling myself that the cloud cover would burn off and the sun would start to shine through. It was quite cold with the constant winds, and strong gusts.

At 11 am I took shelter behind a large rock to have a lunch. (Payday bar.) I took this time to also put on a hard shell jacket as the wind was cutting right through my soft shell. I was getting a bit cold and also opted to put on a heaver (Windstopper) glove to keep warm. About the time I started moving again, the sun started winning the battle and things got a little brighter. The snow was softening up a bit, and this would mean I wouldn't have to ski 5000'+ of ice on the way down. However, the higher I climbed, the stronger the winds got. It was physically and mentally taxing. There were points where the wind almost knocked me over. At times when the wind would temporarily abate, I would almost fall over into the wind having leaned that way to prevent me from falling. Looking south, I could see lenticular clouds over Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson.

A few hundred feet from the top, I stopped to pee. (There are no large wind breaks of any sort on the upper mountain.) The wind just blew my pee into mist around my knee level. I think it may have landed in the Pacific Ocean. At that time, a couple waited for me to continue. (They were counting on me breaking trail I guess.) However, the wind got even more ridiculous shortly afterward, and I thought that might mean I was going to turn back. The couple continued on the old skin track, but I attempted to skin up straight on the leeward side of a small (3-4') feature to mitigate the wind somewhat. It worked, because when the small feature was gone, I felt the full force of the wind. At this point, the summit was close, and I followed behind the couple to reach it.

Due to the large cornices, we could not get near the lip to look into the crater. (Big bummer.) I exchanged cameras with the couple and we took pictures of each other. I decided to go further east along the crater rim to see if there was an opportunity to view in the crater. There was not. I then stayed about 50' lower than the summit to transition into downhill skiing. This proved difficult. I had to clip my poles to my pack so they would not blow away, then remove my skins without losing them. I also put on my down jacket at this time, and decided to leave it on for the decent.

After my transition, I followed the track of the couple down for a bit. (It would prove later that they and I descended too far west from the standard, but it was easy to pick up the other route. Not to mention, that traveling further west was more protected from the wind, which was coming from the east.) I skied about 500' vertical feet before stopping. I looked at my watch and it was only 3 minutes since I left the summit. Wow I thought, if this continues, I'll be back at the car in no time.

Unfortunately, I crashed when attempting to ski faster shortly afterward. The crash caused me to ski more cautious afterward. That and as one would expect from a backcountry ski decent of more than 4000', the snow conditions varied throughout the descent. I felt the top was the best conditions, and they were probably pretty good after I crashed, but I was a little more hesitant and couldn't enjoy the snow as much. Lower down, the snow was heavier and more wet. I let a few 4" deep wet slides go when I cut a few steeper slopes as well. Finally, I arrived back at the woods, where I had to double pole to keep moving and was feeling like I was getting lost as it seemed to take forever to get back to the parking lot.

So, I accomplished one of my goals for this year. (Ski Mt. St. Helens.) I got my third summit of the year as well. Being that it was May 1st, it also marks my 7th consecutive month of skiing. However, perhaps because I hyped it too much for myself, the whole event was somewhat anticlimactic. Perhaps it was the wind? Perhaps because I didn't have a partner to share it with? One thing I do know is that not getting to see inside the crater was a major let down for me, but that shouldn't have ruined the whole trip. Well, the trip wasn't ruined, I had a great time on a great mountain. The event just feels a bit empty to me. I'm happy I did it, and would do it again as well.

As for the skiing, it was pretty fun up top, and not unfun near the bottom. (I was happier to be in the slower slushier snow after my crash.) The route seems blue the whole way, although there were definitely some black diamond options if you wanted them. (I did see a guy jump off a cornice down low, but I think that may be a double black diamond move.) There really weren't any objective hazards (cliffs, crevasses) either. I did learn that I need to get more backcountry skiing in, to better ski the snow I encountered. The snow pack wasn't quite a Spring snow pack, but it will be there with a few more days like we just had. And the beauty of skiing is, I was back to the car in 1.5 hours from the summit, even with my cautious slow skiing style. That's why it is great to ski mountains like this.

My pics are here.

*This is the third time I've gotten blisters from my ski boots. The other two times were on the Muir Snowfield, and near Paradise. I have had no issues on any other trip. (Well, maybe the Ski Patrol Race, but that was 23 miles of skiing, and I taped up for it.) I was trying to think of a common factor between the three incidents of blisters. I know it wasn't the socks. (Different socks all three times.) Terrain? Hard to say. A common link I have found with the three was no "leash." The first time, I was with Sammy, and he let me go at my own crazy speed up the snowfield. The second time, I was separated from Dan and hustling to get back to Paradise. The third time was on St. Helens where I was alone and speeding up the trails in the woods. I am beginning to think the blisters are a result of my longer striding when not having someone else with me to regulate my speed. I'll try to test my hypothesis further.