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.