December 2, 2014

Rocktober 2014

For most guides in the lower 48 summer is the busy season and I am no exception. Ever since I started guiding I made it a point to take some time off in the fall. Some years it's just a couple of weeks, but more often it's over a month. Sometimes it begins with The Yosemite Facelift, a fun volunteer event put on by the Yosemite Climbing Association. This year though, I went straight to Red Rocks. It was pretty hot, but we got some fun climbing done in the shade.

On my first day we linked up two somewhat obscure routes: Magic Triangle and Crabby Appleton. Except for the scrambling from the top of Magic Triangle to the Crabby Appleton gully we were in the shade all day. Both routes are worthy for folks looking for something off the beaten path.

Aaron and Geoff staying (just barely) in the shade on Magic Triangle.

Geoff hand-over-handing down a weird old fixed line in the Crabby Appleton gully.
The Black Velvet Wall in the eponymous canyon is one of my favorite spots to climb in Red Rock and it's also not very sunny. Aaron, Braden, and I climbed two very different but very classic routes. Both Prince Of Darkness and Rock Warrior are mid-5.10 and feature hundreds of feet of fun edging. However, Rock Warrior has fewer bolts on the whole route than Prince Of Darkness sports on a typical pitch. As a result Rock Warrior is a lot less traveled and requires solid trad skills - the ability to find and place good gear and then climb above it. Both routes are great, one is all about the movement, and the other is a mental journey. 

A sea of edges on the Black Velvet Wall. Aaron puts the rope up while Braden belays suspiciously.
As fun as Red Rocks was, Jess and I had to leave. We had a wedding to attend in Moab. The ceremony was beautiful and the reception was a fun chance to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. The next morning we drove to Montrose, CO to meet up with our friends Vic and Heather.

We stopped in Zion on the way to Moab for a day of cragging.
We saw these two get married just north of Moab.

In the morning-after-wedding-reception haze I drove over my climbing pack. Fortunately my helmet was the only damaged item. I think I might have to retire it.
Vic is a climbing ranger in The Black Canyon Of The Gunnison. For years he's been telling me to come visit and I've been putting it off. I was wrong. The Black is a fantastic place to climb. Looking over the rim reveals thousands of feet of vertical stone in a tight canyon. The rock itself is fantastic to climb on, with good friction, cracks, and featured faces. Even if you're not going to climb there, if you're in the area it's well worth a look.
Vic at a belay on Journey Home, with the Gunnison River churning a thousand feet below.
We climbed a few classics and were welcomed at the North Rim ranger station's end-of-season party. The current guidebook to The Black Canyon is over a decade old. Vic has been plugging away at a new guidebook and the end is in sight. When this thing is published it's going to have great essays, route history, and little works of art masquerading as hand-drawn topos.

Cliffs of Insanity on the far left, Bridger Jacks at the center in the distance, and the Six Shooters on the right.
After saying goodbye for now to Heather and Vic we turned the truck toward Indian Creek, the typical center of gravity for my Rocktober travels. As usual there were sunburns, campfires, gobies, new friends and, oh yeah, lots of amazing splitter crack climbing.

Jess following a fun stembox on one of The Bridger Jacks.
Rocktober is by nature a temporary state and now I'm back home. I went ice climbing yesterday and today it's snowing. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area says they've had 6 inches already at the Main Lodge and chain restrictions are in effect on 395. Winter is here and I am stoked!

November 24, 2014

Mountain Craft - Video

Arc'teryx just released a great little video about mountain guiding. Visually it's just as nice as any well made climbing video, but what makes it a bit unusual is the narration. There's a bit of behind-the-scenes type talk about decision making and risk.

October 22, 2014

Taping For Crack Climbing

I'm smack in the middle of my yearly October rock climbing vacation (or Roctober, best spoken like an enthusiastic classic rock DJ). I've been climbing and catching up with friends old and new at some great locations, including Red Rocks, Zion, Indian Creek, and The Black Canyon.

I'm also learning a lot. As usual I'll spend the most time in Indian Creek this Roctober; I'm writing this from Moab's excellent public library. Indian Creek always teaches me a lot about crack climbing and trying hard. Another thing I'm learning on this visit is how to tape my hands.

Taping wasn't really something I saw climbers doing a lot when I was learning to climb in New Hampshire. Over the years I tried making tape gloves a few times, but they always took a long time to make, never lasted more than a pitch or two, and usually made the climbing harder. Climbing on the sometimes sharp rock of Joshua Tree taught me that "milking" the jams always led to bleeding and that it was best to put the hands or fingers (or more) in the crack and accept the jam for what it was. I still rarely use tape. After a few weeks in the Creek I usually have my share of gobies, but they've never been a huge problem.

I recognize that I am in the minority here. For most climbers, crack movement does not come naturally, and taped hands are a very effective "training wheel" when learning different sizes. I've come to see that as a guide it benefits me and my clients if I know a great taping method. I did some research before Roctober began and was looking for a method that didn't take a lot of time or tape, was easy to remember, and didn't change the size of my hand too much. This last one was a problem I've always had with the reusable tape glove.

The best method and tutorial I've found was by crack master (or mistress?) Steph Davis. She writes about  it on her blog, and is in a great instructional video. She advocates for 1.5" wide tape, but I've had good success with 1". As with learning anything new, practice is important, and the best place to practice might not be at the crag right when it's your turn to climb. She's also spot on with her recommendation of the Mueller Europtape. It can be found at climbing shops here in Moab and also at Eastside Sports in Bishop. If your local shop doesn't carry it, they should.

August 20, 2014

Peak 12,563

We've had an interesting summer of weather in the Sierra. Long periods with thunderstorms both in the forecast and in reality, coupled with smoky air from wildfires in the western part of the range has made prolonged trips in the mountains less than desirable. 

Classic thunderhead approaching Cecile Lake.
A little bit of luck and itinerary adjustment has allowed me to still help climbers accomplish their goals on guided trips. Glen and I climbed the Southeast Face of Clyde Minaret and The Palisade Traverse during periods of unsettled weather. However, I've put off some of my big personal objectives in the mountains in favor of shorter trips. A half day's scramble up Cloudripper and some cragging have been excellent consolation prizes. Early in August I had a free day with a 30% chance of thunderstorms, but still wanted to get into the mountains. So it seemed like a good time to tick some shorter alpine climbs.

Getting ready to leave the North Palisade bivy on a clear but windy and cold morning.
Peak 12,563 and it's Northeast Ridge (5.6) came to my attention in a Mountain Project thread from several years ago about less traveled, easier Sierra alpine rock climbs. Some of the routes sounded cool, so I added them to the never-shrinking to do list for this range. Last September Jess and I got out and climbed The Diamond on Two Eagle Peak (12,966), a route from that Mountain Project thread. The route had all the hallmarks of any off-the-beaten path alpine climb: a little loose rock rock, some lichen, and some interesting route-finding. It was a really fun day of climbing, with nobody else in sight and great views of the Palisades.

A little research in RJ Secor's Peaks, Passes, and Trails told me that Peak 12,563 is sometimes called "Bear Claw Spire", that it had a spectacular summit block, and that the route was first climbed by Galen Rowell. These facts on top of the fun we had on Two Eagle were enough to pique my interest.

I got a far from alpine start at 9am from the Pine Creek trailhead. Hiking up that trail is usually a hot dusty affair, and this time was no different. By the time I got to Upper Pine Lake the altitude and building clouds made the temperatures much more pleasant for hiking. From Honeymoon Lake to Golden Lake was fairly easy cross-country travel and soon I was getting a good look at the ridge. I have few photos from the day as the forecast and building clouds had me feeling some time pressure.

The bottom of the ridge features some fairly steep cliffs. These looked a little harder than 5.6 and certainly harder than I wanted to climb solo and in approach shoes, so I started left of the toe of the ridge at an area with several inviting cracks. Fun 5th class climbing up to about 5.6 led to the ridge top after a while. From here I crossed over to the right side and followed some 3/4th class ledge systems to get back on the ridge top. Staying generally on top of the ridge with the occasional 5th class section led up to the summit block. This was spectacular, as promised, and required a few 5.6 or so moves on very high quality granite.

The summit featured great views back into Pine Creek Canyon and down to the Owens Valley, south toward Four Gables, and a front row seat on Feather, Royce, an Merriam Peaks. Walking off down the west side of the peak was pretty casual. Though the rock had some of the potato-chip flakiness of rarely traveled alpine granite, the underlying rock quality was really good. If you're comfortable at the grade and have some alpine rock experience, this route could be a great adventure.

If you go the summit register could use a new container, notebook, and pencil.

July 24, 2014

Belay Specs Review

This is a piece of gear that's been seen at the crag more and more over the last few years. At first I scoffed at their goofy appearance, but when I got a chance to use them in Indian Creek last fall I was convinced. They're still goofy, but they make me a better belayer. 

For me the benefit of belay glasses is twofold. First, they drastically reduce neck strain. They make long belays pretty casual. If you or your partner has a project at the local crag, these make the belaying way more bearable. My neck still gets a little sore from time to time because my head is in the same position for much of a pitch and my neck gets tired from holding still, but this is fairly minor. This reduction in neck strain probably has all kinds of benefits for neck and shoulder mobility and longevity. Second, you spend most of the pitch looking at your climber. This leads to less short roping when they're going for a clip, and better coaching. You also get a better sense of what the route is like for your own burn.

There are a few models out there, but they all seem fairly similar and work on the same principle. Prisms in the glasses "bend" the light and let you easily see what's above you. I own "Belay Specs" and have been using them since late January. They've probably seen about 30 days of action thus far, predominantly sport climbing at The Owens River Gorge, also at Pine Creek, Clark Canyon, and The Dike Wall. Most of the time at the crag when I'm not using them one of my partners is borrowing them. At first everyone just wants to try them out, but they're soon convinced.

Belay Specs come in an orange plastic case. The color of the case makes it easy to find in my pack. There's a cord attached to the ends of the frame arms so you can wear them around your neck like a librarian. The frames are a springy steel that doesn't look particularly durable. Then again, I try to be careful about not scratching the prisms, so the glasses are always on my face, around my neck on their cord, or in the case. So, the durability of the frames is probably not a big issue. A cloth for keeping the prisms clean comes in the case.

Belay Specs work nicely with all the sunglasses I've tried. This is an important feature.
I've also tried the "Belaggles" but they were a little too tight for my head. Their case is a little more low profile, and looks like the case for a nice pair of sunglasses. The Belaggles frame is plastic and appears more robust than the Belay Specs frame, but I'm not convinced that frame durability is that important.

July 15, 2014

Confidence Gap with Sheldon Kerr

Verticulture, the Outdoor Research blog, published a really cool article/interview with friend and badass mountain guide Sheldon Kerr. Sheldon talks about the disparity women feel between competence and confidence in their skill levels, specifically in outdoor sports. She discusses five tactics to boost confidence in the mountains, and probably most any other place. Oh yeah, these tricks will work for guys too.

July 8, 2014

Indefinitely Wild

Recently I was interviewed about being a guide and the guiding life. I was asked some good questions and the whole thing is accompanied by fantastic photos. Read it here.

July 3, 2014

The 4x4 or The Big Four In Four Days

I am tired. I don't know if I've ever been tired like this before. I've been sleepier, I once fell asleep while belaying on El Cap. I've been more physically tired, I remember hiking out to the car over Lamarck Col and barely being able to put one foot in front of the other. This seems different. There are little muscles in my legs and feet that I didn't know existed before. Most telling, even more than being stoked about what Aaron and I did, I'm just glad we're done.

The "Big Four" are four classic rock climbs in The High Sierra. I first saw the grouping and Big Four name in Peter Croft's 2002 classic guidebook "The Good, The Great, And The Awesome". Every other mention of The Big Four I can find references Croft, so the concept might be his (though it turns out there are a lot of other "big fours" out there). And what a concept! Four long 5.10's on beautiful peaks spread along the length of the range. All were first climbed by Sierra heavy hitters. The first ascenionist list includes names like Warren Harding, Doug Robinson, Don Jensen, and Dale Bard. The routes are The Harding Route on Keeler Needle, Dark Star on Temple Crag, The Southwest Face (Harding Route) on Mount Conness, and The Red Dihedral on The Incredible Hulk.

May 6, 2014

On Partnership

When I started climbing I was so desperate to get out there that I would rope up with anyone who had a pulse and claimed they could belay. I picked up partners in campgrounds, parking lots, even on the internet. Once I picked up a partner at the Lover's Leap campground. While we were sorting gear at the base of the route this guy, who I had met about 30 minutes before, said, "Well, I guess we should have that conversation".

"What conversation?" I replied.

"About anchors..."

"Oh, you mean that anchors are good and we should build them?"

April 26, 2014

Dr. J's Dodgy Elbows

Rock climbing season is upon us in most of the US. For many climbers that means it's time to aggravate old injuries. Everyone says that elbows are the most common body part to suffer from a climbing overuse injury and that certainly seems to be the case in the Eastern Sierra right now. I must know at least four climbers who are currently complaining about their elbows, some of tendonitis, some of tendonosis.

A great resource for climbers who are suffering from or looking to prevent these types of injuries is this article from the website of Dr. Julian Saunders, an Osteopath and former sponsored climber. He explains what tendonosis and tendonitis are, what causes them, and what to do about it. As a bonus, his writing is also kinda funny.

April 4, 2014

Repairing Holes in Packs and Pants

I can rarely escape a season of ice climbing without some damage to my climbing pants. Crampons are not kind to soft shell gear (or hard shell gear for that matter). Jackets and backpacks receive similar rough treatment from rough alpine granite in the summer.

Some duct tape fixes the damage on the spot, but usually doesn't last and often leaves behind some adhesive. Tenacious Tape will last quite a bit longer (including multiple trips through the laundry) but isn't particularly abrasion or cut resistant. 

The best long-term fix I've discovered is Seam Grip. It comes in a 1oz. tube and can be found at any halfway decent gear shop.

March 10, 2014

Whorl Mountain

Luke and McKenzie practice roped skiing for future bigger endeavors while Aaron breaks trail in the distance. Horse Creek Peak looks great in the background.

I sent a bunch of local friends the following Facebook message last Monday:

Hey Gang, Aaron and I are climbing Whorl Mountain or Excelsior Mountain on Wednesday. We're not sure which one yet. There will surely be skiing, scrambling, hiking, postholing, stupidity and awesome shit. Everyone's invited, and tell anybody we forgot. Let us know in the next 20 hours if you're interested.

Aaron and I were going for a full (but not enormous) day in the mountains that might involve standing on top of a mountain and thought it might be fun if some friends joined us. Honestly, I wasn't expecting many replies. I knew some of those folks already had to work, neither Whorl or Excelsior are very well known peaks, and it was fairly last minute. So I was pleasantly surprised when Luke and McKenzie let me know they were in. They were planning to use it as an opportunity to test gear and practice techniques for future trips.

We left Mammoth in the dark and started skinning just a few minutes from the car, an unusual thing in this warm dry winter. As we got higher in the Horse Creek drainage we saw more and more great looking terrain for winter adventures, particularly on Twin Peaks and Horse Creek Peak. Topping out on Horse Creek Pass revealed some neat views down into Tuolumne Meadows. 

From the Pass we glided down to and along a prominent bench to access the southeast face of the peak. Here we left our skis and transitioned to scrambling. Aaron carried his ski gear up, intending to ski a line off the south ridge of the peak. After a fun mix of 3rd to 5th class scrambling and steep snow we hit the ridge. There were excellent views to be found here, including up the remaining few hundred feet of vertical. It looked technical, and exposed, and partially snow covered. As it wasn't getting any earlier, we decided to cut our losses there and descend.

Luke and McKenzie on the way up.
 We downclimbed and moved over to the line Aaron wanted to ski. After he descended out of sight, the rest of us sat down for some great glissading. We regrouped at our skis. Aaron talked me into skiing down to Spiller Creek and then skinning back to the pass. As McKenzie and Luke were traveling on light skis with climbing boots, they opted to reverse our route to the pass. The 2200 vertical feet down to the creek was on warm, sloppy snow but made for fun skiing nonetheless. 

Descending Whorl Peak. Photo by Aaron Richards.

We regrouped again at the pass and began our descent in earnest. Right away it became obvious to me that skiing down anything steeper than 18 degrees in mountaineering boots and lightweight skis is not fun. While Aaron and I enjoyed the skiing at first, Luke and McKenzie worked hard for every foot of elevation lost. Below 9000 feet the snow was downright sloppy and everybody put their heads down. The last 700 feet down to the truck had done some melting during the day and featured slushy snow, hidden rocks, and bushes to trip us up. Few words were exchanged.

What were we doing out there? We skied over 10 miles, and climbed nothing. The skiing, while occasionally good, was generally mediocre and sometimes challenging. It wasn't a successful day by strict climbing and/or skiing standards. But we saw some cool terrain that was new to all of us, had great weather, and got a bunch of exercise (or training). It was really all that I promised in the invitation.

Aaron (the speck in the center) shredding on the way back to the car. This was probably the best skiing of the day.

March 1, 2014

Charlie Porter

Charlie Porter was one of my climbing heroes. He was a very well rounded climber - he climbed rock, ice, alpine, big walls, everything - and climbed in an impeccable style. On the first ascent of New Dawn (a big wall route on El Capitan) he dropped one of his haulbags which contained most of his food, his sleeping bag, and other supplies. He was only a few hundred feet up and could have easily retreated but pushed on for nine days to the top. And oh yeah, he was climbing it solo.

He also did not do a lot of talking about what he climbed or self-promotion. Charlie Porter never had a blog. He made the first solo ascent of Denali's Cassin Ridge in 1976 in a time that would make present-day climbers proud. Only a few sentences were ever published about the climb at the time.

Charlie Porter died of heart failure about a week ago. A great article on and interview from the early 90's, including more information about both of those now legendary stories, can be found by clicking here.

February 6, 2014

Off The Beaten Path in The Owens River Gorge

It's no secret that we're having a dry winter here in the Sierra. California's drought was even a headline on the BBC's website last week. For those whose first love is skiing and snowboarding this has been disappointing. That disappointment can be heard at house parties, pot lucks, restaurants, and bar stools all over town. For everyone else, it's been a great season for sport climbing in the Owens River Gorge.

Recently my friend Maarten and I made plans to head down to the Gorge for the day. We chose to head down to the Sub Gorge - a rarely visited area that looked good in the guidebook. Usually, dragging partners to obscure crags leaves them (and me) questioning if we'll ever climb together again. This day was different.

After few warm ups we headed down to the Silent Pillar Wall. The trails aren't very well established so this involved wading in the river itself at a few points. It was only knee deep at the deepest and a pleasant temperature, a nice change from the generally loose dusty approaches to other crags in the Gorge. The routes at the Silent Pillar were great. They had high quality rock and fun moves. There was almost no chalk on the holds, so we had to actually figure out our own beta instead of follow the chalk highway. And there was no waiting for the multi-starred routes.

Visiting a scenic, quiet area with beautiful climbing and a great partner is a pretty good silver lining in a dry winter. Though I would hesitate to use the word "adventure" to describe a day of sport climbing, it was definitely a fun variation on the usual day in the Gorge.

January 25, 2014

Climbing Up Waterfalls

While meeting a few climbers at the beginning of a trip recently I was told, "We were just reading about you." I was surprised until shown the article (below) when I remembered Lyra interviewing me last winter.

From the winter edition of Welcome To The Eastern Sierra.

January 9, 2014

June Lake Ice

The Roadside Ice in June Lake is in great shape right now. It's also even more roadside than usual. The June Lake Loop road is open, so a climber can park about 10 seconds from the base of the ice. I was there the other day and my partner didn't even bring a pack. We geared up at the truck and away we went. A 60m rope works for some of the anchors but a 70m is necessary if you want the most options.

Boy Scout Falls on January 3.