Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wonderful Friends and Wonderful Weekends

Weather throughout the Inland West, especially in Central Oregon, has been very cold lately. There were probably close to two weeks in town where it never got above freezing and lows were below zero for several nights. This excited me because accessible ice climbing is rare here. However, the down side is that our pipes froze. Eleven days later I am sitting in a hotel, paid for by my landlord, because we still don't have running water. Bummer!

Well, I decided I'd moved to Bend to enjoy life and I wasn't going to let a little inconvenience stop me. So that first weekend Chris and I headed out to Paulina Falls for some water ice top roping. I've climbed lots of snow, neve and rime ice, but very little true water ice so this was a good session. We each did nine laps on various parts of the right flow... and we found a frozen kokanee (not the beer). It was a damn good time and we definitely got our money's worth.

Pictures by Chris Sepic:
Myself on the L side of R falls.

Kokanee!?!? Found frozen solid in the snow... WTF?

Me eating the fishy... I was hungry because it's hard to cook without running water.

The next weekend we were still without water and were supposed to have up to six of my old teammates crashing on our floor for Club Cross Country National Championships. Luckily, by the time everyone arrived my landlord had booked us two adjoining hotel rooms with a kitchen!!! (We only asked for one but I'll take that!) We had an awesome time and it was good to see so many friends in town. Club Nats is quite the race as it attracts professional running clubs and amateur clubs alike. The Open Men's 10km had 410 finishers which is huge for this type of race. It was really fun to watch, a great spectator course. I got to cheer on my friends and former Olympians alike. The course was also hilly and windy with some slick and rough footing... so much fun! I was kicking myself a little for not being in better running shape and competing, but you have to pick your battles and I'm not regretting those weekends at Trout Creek.

On the course I took some video...

Women's Open (4.5 min):
 Men's Open (9 min):

Now all my running friends have left :(
... let's hope our pipes unfreeze soon so we can at least move back home!

One running friend did not come for Club Nats because he is off gnar-bossing trail races. It's okay though because hopefully I will see him for some gnar shredding this winter... Ryan Ghelfi is now officially on the new Nike Trail Running team! And you can check out his great blog's most recent post, an annual recap, here.

In the meantime I'm going to catch up on sleep and try figure out this whole living situation thing... hopefully I'll live in a house that meets legal rental standards soon! Then I can crush it knowing I have a hot shower to come home to. That would be nice.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Eleven O'Clock Couloir

The three ingredients of hubris are turkey, stuffing and gravy... at least that's what I found out this Thanksgiving. I know most people want to sit around and do nothing after the gluttonous feast, and I did too. However, the next day I looked out the window at clear, blue bird skies and decided that obviously the forecast, calling for cloud cover with a chance of rain at high elevations, was dead wrong. And obviously now was a good time to haul a big pack of camping and climbing gear into the Three Sisters Wilderness and try to climb the mountain that has shut me down three out of three times in the last two winters. Well, at least I know I can still learn something.

I roped my friend Chris into coming, and I'm sure he was wondering what he'd got himself into as we skied/snow shoe'd out there in warm weather with clouds moving in. I had come to the conclusion, after three failed attempts, that to give yourself the best chance of doing anything on BT you needed to camp out the night before so that you can maximize the early morning temps in the south facing cirque. We reached a suitable camp site, just south of the cirque at around 7,300', an hour after sunset.

South Sister emerges from cloud above Green Lakes in the predawn. Taken from the top of the Eleven O'Clock couloir on Broken Top.

We crawled inside our tent and ate Thanksgiving leftovers (what else?)! I then realized that A: I had forgotten an extra pair of socks (not good when snow camping), and B: I had forgotten the cook pot and we could not use the stove and fuel that we had packed to melt more water (whoops). Well it's the first winter outing of the season for me so I guess a couple kinks are to be expected, and it gave me the chance to problem solve. For instance, I found that putting gloves over your toes keeps them very warm, especially when they are relatively new and well insulated. I also found out that if you pack snow into your partially filled dromedary bag, and cuddle it like a teddy bear, your body heat will do a great job of creating water. Although you have to snuggle up to a big, red, squishy ice bag, which is way worse than an already warm squishy bag. But I digress.

We awoke on and off through the night to various "piter-pater" sounds on our rain fly. It appeared that the precipitation varied between rain, sleet, and ice crystals. We awoke for the final time at 4am and ate a quick snack while pulling on our shell pants and boots, and went outside to a blessedly clear sky filled with stars. The temperature was warm and we made quick work of crossing the (now practically non-existent) Crook Glacier. During our approach the previous day we had seen slide debris in the High Noon gully, but could see that the Eleven O'Clock couloir was fully snow covered, so we made that our primary goal. We ditched the skis and snow shoes beneath a rock wall and broke out the climbing gear. We had hauled quite a bit of pro, not knowing what the conditions would be. "Oregon High" lists the route as 500ft of 50 degree snow with the chance for near vertical snow in the last 10ft as you approach the cornice. The more recent "Best Climbs Cascade Volcanoes" lists the less helpful and more ambiguous rating of grade II, class 4-5, AI2. In the end, 500ft of 50 degree snow was dead on. It got slightly steeper and less consolidated up top but the low snow pack at this point in the season meant no cornice.

The Eleven O'Clock couloir after we climbed it. I took this shot from a rock buttress near the entry to the High Noon gully.

Once out of the couloir, we started traversing toward the Northwest ridge which provides easy access to the summit. The terrain was a weird mix of exposed volcanic scree-mud and deep drifts of sugar snow. This was only Chris' second time climbing in winter mountains (he soloed Hood via the Old Chute the week prior), and he looked uncomfortable on this terrain. I stopped on a snow fin before what looked like a waist-deep wallow fest and waited for him to catch up. After discussing our options we traversed back to the couloir and down climbed. We never used the rope or any of the pro.

Chris traverses back to the top of the Eleven O'Clock couli with Peak 9094 in the background.

Chris prepares to descend the Eleven O'Clock couloir.

Chris downclimbing the upper section of the Eleven O'Clock couloir.

Chris downclimbing near the bottom of the Eleven O'Clock couli.

We scouted several potential routes on the way out but nothing looks to be in good condition yet. High Noon has lots of exposed rock up top, Nine O'Clock is thin snow, and harder potential lines are still iceless. The skiing was equally horid, no thanks to the wet precip. The snow was mostly 2-3" of hard crust on top of airy sugar. Down lower it was wet and soggy.

Peak 9094 on the western crater rim. Taken from the Elven O'Clock couloir. The obvious left trending snow ramp has had loose dry snow on it both times I have investigated. It is NNE facing and could be a good moderate ice line or a gnarly ski line depending on conditions.

Looking down on the Crook Glacier from the ridge climber's left of the Eleven O'Clock couloir.

Looking up the High Noon gully. In ideal conditions this route is supposed to climb the rock walls above on 60 degree snow and ice. Obviously we need a lot more snow.

We returned to the car by noon and I derived some satisfaction from passing spandex clad cross country skiers with my full pack and a rando setup. I was curious why my feet hurt so much on this trip and found out I had gotten blisters for the first time in almost four years; big matching bubbles on the inside of my heels. I guess a second set of socks might have helped. Although we didn't summit I was happy to have topped out the crater rim for the first time and gotten a closer look at other possible routes. Every time I go out there I learn something and one of these days (gosh darn it!) I will send a route that does justice to those steep craggy walls of rock and ice.

Looking back up into the Crook Cirque from our camp. The Eleven O'Clock couloir is just visible below and to the left of the cloud bank obscuring the main summit.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Trout - take 2

After finally going to Trout Creek for the first time I was hooked. It wasn't hard to talk Chris into going again the next weekend so off we went. This second trip was substantially different from the first. The weather was better: no wind and no rain. The crag was way more crowded; instead of two other people there were at least 20. We also tried much harder routes which made it less productive but more mind opening and body wrecking. Of course, overnight trips to Trout are fast establishing a tradition of deluxe meals and we stepped it up in this department too. Although breakfast especially may have been a little overboard.

People say Trout Creek is gear intensive... I guess that depends on your definition.

Climbing Summary for Saturday: Since the right side of the main wall was somewhat crowded we headed left to unexplored (for us) cliff line. After a 5.9+ warmup Chris led U4 (5.11-) for his first onsight and redpoint of the grade at Trout. I followed and almost got the "TRedpoint" but botched a jam near the top. I then led Wonder Twins to get my first onsight/redpoint of a 5.10 at Trout. Chris followed that and then decided to try California Weakender (5.11-). After spending a while trying to figure out the first moves in the fading light we packed up and hiked back to camp.

U4 (5.11-) stems and laybacks the very wide double crack in the middle of the picture

Dinner: We devoured salmon creme sauce over pasta and then bummed a hand-warming fire off a friendly and interesting couple from Montana who we had climbed next to during the day.

Breakfast: We woke up in better time this weekend and fried a bunch of bacon from our friendly local butcher (Primal Cuts). We made the good or bad decision (depending on your perspective) of not pouring out any of the inch deep liquid fat in the fry pan before throwing in a whole onion, bell pepper, many mushrooms, six eggs, a bunch of garlic and half a pound of cheese. This bacon grease infused scramble that could barely achieve a non-liquid state was then loaded on top of sliced baguettes from our favorite bakery (Baked). We each had a full baguette to ourselves and could not finish, but instead wrapped the remaining sandos in foil and left them on the dash for the satiation of post crushing munchies.

Bacon grease scramble!

Chris chows down on the first half of his breakfast sando with adequate lap protection.

Climbing Sunday: We warmed up on Plumbline (5.9) and Chris then returned to Weakender and was able to pull the thin bouldery moves off the starting pillar but was too pumped/puzzled by the complicated jam/laybacking and hung a few times before the top. I TRed and hung much also. Enthusiastic dirtbags down the cliff had just put up a 5.12- onsight  (Medicine Man) and we switched TRs with them. Neither Chris nor I could pass the first 10 feet of the layback/stem/tips-jamming tenuous-ness that was the bouldery start. Chris also felt his shoulder pop on Medicine Man from all the strenuous laybacking and called it a day. I bummed a TR on Fingerlings (5.11-) and got completely worked. By the top my fingers hurt so badly from sharp finger-lock jams that I couldn't do them anymore and was using tenuous thin hands instead of the perfect fingers. I was then talked into trying another 12- (Out of the Question) on top rope. After trying the first crux section multiple times and realizing I was way too tired I  moved over to the Question Air Box (5.10+) and climbed that past the 12- crux before swinging back over to finish the route. Completely destroyed, we hiked back to the car where we ate delicious congealed bacon fat and drove home.

Mt. Jefferson and the Deschutes River at sunset from up by the crag.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Trout Creek... take 1

I went to Trout Creek for the first time this past weekend. I had been meaning to go for a while but I would either be distracted by the closer climbs at Smith Rock or I would heed the call of the mountains. Although, to be honest, I was also a little intimidated. I had heard rumors of stout grades and pumpy splitters. I have always struggled on the basalt columns of Smith's Lower Gorge and I imagined Trout to be similar but harder. My preconceptions were, of course, blown out of the water. The columns are huge, the stone gritty, and the climbing has a physical nature totally different from anything I've climbed at Smith.

The crag on the hill from the campsite by the Deschutes.
Chris and I drove out there Saturday morning. We planned to camp Saturday night and climb Sunday too. Chris had been out to Trout a few times but is by no means a veteran. We combined our racks and borrowed a friends too. Climbers at Trout are supposedly pretty friendly about sharing gear, but with the forecast calling for a chance of rain we weren't sure who else would show. As it turned out we got to the base of the Main Wall around noon and were the only ones there.

Purdy view and blue skies... although it was windy.

After scoping around a bit and consulting the guide book in the "community bucket" I racked up to try lead Gold Rush (5.10-). This is a splitter hand crack, named for all of the yellow #2 Camalots it takes. I figured I should be able to get up this clean at least, but less than halfway up I was hanging on gear. I did all the moves fine but found it too pumpy and hung a couple times before the chains. I was somewhat concerned about the rest of the weekend since Gold Rush is one of the easiest climbs on the Main Wall.

Cracks! Goldrush is dead center with the dark pod at the bottom.
Next I belayed Chris on Landing a Monster (5.10). This is a variation to Monster (5.12-) which climbs a double crack next to it before traversing into the upper part of Monster above the crux. He sent that clean and I then top roped it with more hanging on the rope. Still hopeful, I decided to try lead JR Token (5.10). I actually got up the first two thirds (more splitter hands) before getting totally destroyed on the thin hands crux. After a couple whippers I sewed it up and pulled to the anchors. Next Chris got on Suzuki (5.10+) a double crack stem box. He struggled to get up it, using mostly the right crack. I then tried it on top rope and still hung but made it to the top using the double cracks well. For the first time I felt like I had climbed well.

Looking down the Main Wall... JR Token starts from the higher mini pillar on the right.
We got back to the car after dark and made noodles topped with chilli and cheese. We downed a couple IPAs and, after staring at the stars for a while, went to bed. We slept long, got up late, and made our second awesome meal of trip: breakfast burritos. Caitlin is not a big fan of breakfast the meal, eggs, breakfast burritos, raw onions, and all things spicy, but she wasn't there. We cooked what should have fed 10 people... a bag of cubed potatoes, a pile of delicious sausage links from the Primal Cuts butcher in Bend, six eggs, tons of garlic, a whole onion, the rest of the cheese from the night before, some spinach, wrapped it all in giant tortillas from the Mexican bakery and topped it with Habanero hot sauce. Each of us ate two huge burritos and then we made two more to save for later. We sat around for an hour, utilized the out-house gloriously, and hiked up to the wall. It was after noon.

Looking down the Main Wall on day 2.
I started off the day by racking up to lead U3 (5.9+). Another double crack that delivers a big right calf pump. I worked my way up it, found some rests, and finally got a clean send. Chris then tried Suzuki again. He used the double cracks a bit better and was able to get that clean as well. I TRed it clean afterwards, we were stoked. There was another double crack/chimney left of Suzuki and it looked easy to me. Convinced it couldn't be harder than U3, I jumped on it. I thought it was awkward but was certain it was no harder than 5.9. Later we found out it was rated a 5.10- but whatever it's rated I was starting to realize that I was much stronger on double cracks and stemming problems than on straight-in splitters. Either way my confidence was boosted and after Chris sent Mr. Squiggles ( a wiggly 5.10 splitter) I top roped that clean too.

Route finding between route climbing... navigating the boulder maze.

Sunset as we pack up.
We were out of time and day light, but we were both convinced that our "Send Burritos" had helped us have a great second day. We drove home and stopped at the new Base Camp Pizza in Terrebonne. It was pretty good, although I think we would have raved about anything edible at that point.

I shaved the back of my hands pre-trip so I could remove tape gloves easily but the gobis still hurt... drinking numbs the pain.
Overall: Besides a quick bit of rain Saturday, the weather was really perfect, cold but ideal for climbing. We saw two other climbers Saturday and no one on Sunday. It was amazing having such an awesome crag to ourselves and we joked about the poor people lining up at Indian Creek in Utah.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Acker Rock Linkup

My friend Josh called me in early September with the idea of doing a big linkup on Acker Rock. Acker is an andesite crag in the southern Oregon Cascades, and the two longest routes on it are the Peregrine Traverse (10 pitch 5.7) and Where Eagles Dare (8 pitch 5.9). Josh had done the Peregrine before but not Eagles and he wanted to go back and link both routes in a day. His psych was infectious and I agreed to go but unfortunately the super rainy weather kept us from making it out there until October.

Upper pitches of the Peregrine Traverse follow the sky line. Taken from a semi-hanging belay on Where Eagles Dare.

Where Eagles Dare follows a mostly direct line up the shaded face to the pinnacle at the top. Taken from a notch on the Peregrine Traverse.
We finally drove to Acker on a Friday night and camped just below the locked gate... government shutdowns... I'll try not to get political here. After waking up in good time Josh led us to the climbers trail and we followed the trail through downed trees to the Sun Bowl at the start of the Peregrine. We had both worried about cold weather and wet rock but the good forecast came through and we both regretted wearing long pants and not having more water.

Fog in the South Umpqua River Valley from the top of pitch 1 on the Peregrine. My shadow is on the rock face in the lower right.
After soloing the first "pitch" (easy 4th), Josh linked the next two pitches. As I followed I realized just how great of an idea this trip was: easy slab climbing on solid rock with big exposure, beautiful views, jugs and pockets everywhere, plus it's well bolted where it needs to be. If you like moderate adventurous climbing this route is tons of fun. I led the next pitch, a short but fun slab dihedral, and the crux. A run out traverse pitch on easy terrain brought us to a notch. One more up pitch would have brought us to the ridge crest but I was lured off route by some rusty anchors and ended in some dirty choss. Josh brought us back to the crest and then we cruised (a little simuling) on easy terrain to the "summit." From here an easy down climb takes you to a dirt ledge down in the forest; you wouldn't want to fall off the ledge but there are bolts at the ledge so you can clip in. The final pitch is a dirty chimney (the only place where we placed gear as it's not bolted). This takes you to a summit which appears to be higher than the last peak but doesn't have the summit register. From here an awkward rap takes you to a ledge with a big tree and a trail takes you to the fire lookout and the trail down. It took us around two and a half hours, and while most of the climbing is easy and on solid rock, the exposure is substantial and really makes the climb.

Josh leading pitches 2 and 3 on the Peregrine.

Josh at the anchors of the notch traverse pitch on the Peregrine (pitch 5). Rope is visible hanging across the notch.

Josh following easy terrain to the "summit" of the Peregrine Traverse.
We ate some food and drank some water in the shade near the lookout, then stashed some gear in my pack and walked over to the rap anchors for Where Eagles Dare. Eagles starts at the bottom of the Southwest face in a hanging grassy bowl. The best way to get to it is to rappel the face down an adjacent line following a water channel (you don't rap the actual route as it ends on a separate spire). Due to the recent heavy rains this was really dirty, although thankfully dry. Dirt and moss chunks peppered us from above and soiled our rope. Six rappels later, as we descended the final dirty slabs, we were wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.

Josh on the last rappel into Eagles. This was one of two free-hanging rappels. Eagles climbs the face further to the left.
We found the bolts on the first pitch of Eagles and were bummed to see that instead of ascending clean slab further left we would start on more dirty and chossy rock. Josh declared that we would just have to "turn our frowns upside down." We got to it and he linked the first two pitches to an anchor near some small trees. I took over the lead and we started to find out why this route gets rave reviews. I climbed a highly featured arete on solid rock with big exposure. The moves were balancey and technical, solid 5.9 climbing that justified the first two pitches. Josh then lead a short traverse and I started up vertical face holds to a small dihedral with some awkward moves. The previous pitches had all been on the short side but this pitch (maybe we both missed the anchors?) went for at least 150 feet and was sustained 5.9 broken only by some lower angle choss. We only had 12 draws so after using them all and having skipped a bolt, with at least one more bulge to pull, I had Josh lower me. I back cleaned three draws and finished the pitch with one draw to spare (having skipped two bolts and using the biners from one draw on the anchor). Josh then lead an awesome pitch of endless pocket jugs and I followed it with a final airy pitch to the summit pinnacle. I sat on the knife-edge point horsey style and and then belayed Josh up from a little ledge on the back side of the pinnacle.

Josh leading near the top of pitch 2 on Eagles (just below the two bushes). The line essentially goes straight up the face with the exception of one short traverse.

Josh finishing up the airy arete on pitch 3, one of the best pitches of the route.

Josh climbs out of the first crux section on the uber long pitch 5.

Our shadows from the summit of Eagles before rapping down into this notch and climbing out the other side.
A short rap to the notch behind the summit and an easy but somewhat sketchy traverse (unprotected low 5th) brought us to our stuff. We thankfully chugged water and changed out of our climbing shoes. I then discovered that a rodent had chewed through the rip-stop on my pack and devoured a good portion of my peanut butter and honey sandwiches! That bastard! Disgruntled with the snaffle-hound attack but still stoked and happy with our climbing, we headed down the trail to the car. While Eagles had some dirty and chossy rock, it was mostly solid, was very well bolted, and has fun climbing in an amazing position. We also suspect that there was more dirt on the rap line and the lower route from the recent rain storms. From starting rappels to topping out took us just over four hours.

Looking back at the summit of Eagles.

Snaffle-hound attack left a big (3 inch!) hole in my pack...

...and they ate my sandwich!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dirtbag Car Mod

Last January I went up to Mt. Hood for some mixed and ice climbing on Illumination Rock. I drove up the night before with the hopes of getting some shut-eye. As I lay awake in the back of my '98 Isuzu Trooper, with my feet crammed up behind the seats in one corner and my neck twisted to fit in the other, I had an epiphany. In this moment of clarity I realized that I could put a piece of ply-wood on the folded down seats at one end and prop it up with some 2x4 at the other, thus allowing me to lie down flat and maybe even get some sleep.

It's strange how these thoughts fade in the morning when you're having a good time in warm, sunny weather. It took me another nine months to finally build a sleeping platform in the back of my car, and I have no idea why because it was really easy and quick. I've even had the wood and screws for over a month, bought it a garage sale for five bucks. Finally I texted my buddy Joe to see if I could borrow a couple tools. He was working on a firewood rack and invited me over to get our Tim Allen on. Two hours later I drove home with a nice sleeping platform and feeling like I was actually a handy person.

Now I'm stoked for winter climbing on Mt. Hood and elsewhere this winter! I can go out every weekend and know that I will sleep comfortably... did I say every weekend? Oh, no no no! Honey, I meant that I would take you car camping at warm desert hot springs every weekend. Of course I wouldn't ditch you ALL the time to go ice climbing. Just sometimes... regularly... fairly often... I love you! I said, I love you! Ow! OW! Stop hitting me! Why are you throwing my stuff out the door? Be careful with my ice tools!

Looks like I'll be taking a road trip soon... anyone want to partner up? Just kidding... kind of.

Welcome to my pad...

Step right on in and make yourself at home...

Warm and cozy... well it will be.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Prouty Glacier Pack Retrieval

My friend Kolby (trail name Condor) is heavily involved in the Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiking community and regularly lets thru hikers stay at his house in Bend. At 11:20 on Monday morning I got the following text from him: "A thru hiker staying with us attempted to go down the north side of South Sister yesterday w/o any climbing gear. He found himself in a position where, if he lost his grip, he would fall. He saved himself by removing his backpack, which fell down the mountain. He was able to get off the mountain safely but lost all his gear and hitched back to bend with only what he was wearing (which didn't include a shirt). I'm asking if anyone has an ice ax he can borrow today to go look for his backpack on the northeastern side of South Sister."

After grumbling about bad decision making and foolish kids getting in dangerous situations (that's not me at all!), Caitlin told me that I should go get some good karma. So I told Kolby I would accompany his friend to look for the lost pack and an hour or so later Kolby introduced me to Fire Hazard (the trail name of our unlucky thru hiker).

It turns out Fire Hazard had been trying to climb all three Sisters south to north. He had seen the moderate looking north ridge of South Sister on his topo map and attempted to descend it toward Middle Sister. He got off route in steep terrain and dropped his pack thinking it would land on a ledge 20 feet down and he could retrieve it. Instead the pack bounced down over a 1,000 vertical feet of choss cliffs towards the Prouty Glacier and he was unable to see where it had come to rest. After trying unsuccessfully to down climb further he climbed back over South Sister, hiked out in the dark and got a ride with other late hikers back to Bend. If I'm being honest I have to admit that I could see myself getting in a similar situation.

The Prouty Glacier, South Sister's NE Face, and the approximate pack trajectory in red.
Back to Monday afternoon: Hazard and I drove up to the Green Lakes Trailhead, arriving around 2pm. Knowing that daylight was limited (sunset around 8pm and Prouty Glacier being a full 8 miles from the car, some of that off trail) we set a good pace, covering the first 4 miles to Green Lakes in an hour. Two hours from the car we had left the trail and were cutting across old glacial moraines and decomposing volcanic ridges towards Carver Lake. Looking up at the big north face of South Sister and the fairly crevassed Prouty Glacier, we were both convinced that the pack was never to be seen again. Still, we continued through the difficult terrain, determined to at least get a closer look.

A close up from the relevant USGS topo with our approximate off-trail travel in orange and the pack's trajectory in red.
We traversed around the west side of Carver Lake on the big old terminal moraine that holds it in. From there we were able to move up onto the scree piles on the glacier. After a certain point I got on the ice and cruised on up. Fire Hazard, lacking gear and glacier travel experience stayed on the scree. I figured I would turn around at 6pm, which should allow me to reach the top of the glacier beneath the cliffs to see if the pack was there, though at this point I was 99% certain that I wouldn't find more than a shred of material. However, as I approached the bottom of the cliffs I saw a blue and yellow object sitting among the rock fall. I hurried over and found a completely intact pack, minus a couple broken buckles. Even the aluminum tent poles strapped to the outside were unbroken. I threw the pack on my back and hurried away from the cliff (it had been depositing rock fall regularly while I climbed the glacier).

Sunset on the terminal moraine at Carver Lake with Broken Top in the background.

Fire Hazard is stoked to get his pack back... and in one piece! He dropped it from just left of the highest pinnacle visible on the ridge and it landed at the top of the glacier directly underneath.
After getting the pack to Fire Hazard we started hiking back to the trail. Fire Hazard struggled on the glacial/volcanic scree with the minimal running shoes he uses for trail hiking and we reached the trail in darkness. But after we got back on easy trail we picked up the pace until we were running by the light of our headlamps. Fire Hazard may not have made the best decision on South Sister but he was a blast to hike with and can sure fly on the trail. We arrived back at the car around 10pm and by 10:30 we were ordering beers and burgers at McMenamins late night happy hour in Bend. Cheers to new friends and impromptu adventure... not to mention good karma and my next life as a member of the bovine family! Moooooo!

Clouds flow through the pass between South and Middle Sister as the sun drops. Time to get outta here.

Giant frogs on the trail as we jog out... seriously, they were bigger than my fist!
P.S. For those who are interested, Fire Hazard's pack was made by Haglofs, a Swedish company, and was mostly constructed from "ripstop" nylon. We later discovered that the plastic food bags inside had been completely shredded by the fall despite the pack material being completely intact and just a little dirty. It was like someone removed the plastic bags, let their pet tiger maul said bags, and then put the bags back in the pack.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Mt. Stuart's Complete North Ridge

On Sunday Aug. 25th I met Travis in Cle Elum. Our goal was to climb Mount Stuart via the Complete North Ridge, also called the Direct North Ridge, or Lower and Upper North Ridge w/ Great Gendarme (V 5.9). For me this climb was a culmination of sorts. For the past year I have been trying routes in varying weather conditions and becoming more comfortable climbing in these less-than-ideal situations. I have also been wishing (perhaps naively) for experiences where things don't all go according to plan. Most importantly, this was going to be the longest and most technically challenging climb I had yet attempted.

Stuart's North Ridge, the black rock rock buttress, from Colchuck Peak during my first trip to the Stuart Range in March.

Looking across the Stuart Glacier to the bottom of the North Ridge with Colchuck Peak in the background.

We hiked in from the south via Ingalls Lake and over Goat Pass. It was cloudy and sprinkled rain on and off. After dropping down onto the north side of Stuart we crossed snow fields and rubble beneath the Stuart Glacier to arrive at the base of the North Ridge. We slept on a nice bivy platform and awoke at 6am to clear blue skies, filled two 4L Droms with melt water and started toward the technical climbing. My Drom, poorly secured, fell out of my pack and burst. This left us with only four liters of water for the entire climb and set us up nicely to have an "experience."

Cloudy skies looking west from Goat Pass on the approach.

The Stuart Glacier and North Ridge with the moon above it in clear morning light. Time to climb!

Maybe it was the clouds that suddenly rolled in with a vengeance. Maybe it was the rumble of collapsing seracs on the Ice Cliff Glacier. Maybe it was the loss of drinking water. Maybe it was that the first few pitches felt hard and scary with packs on. Maybe it was my awareness of how long and potentially committing this route was. Maybe I was scared that I would screw up. Maybe it was all of those things, but I was nervous most of the way up the lower ridge. It didn't help that I didn't know why. I couldn't pinpoint any particular reason for me to be nervous, I just was. All these different possibilities kept running through my head, all distractions. Finally it happened, as it always does on long routes, though it took a while on this one. I looked down at the rubble and glacier beneath me and couldn't tell how far up I was. There was no difference between this belay and the last one. My mind could not comprehend my location on something this big so the only thing it could do was focus on the rock in front of me. A couple pitches later the angle kicked back and we started simul-climbing. I was focused, strangely comfortable while being decisively uncomfortable. Nothing mattered except what I was doing right then, not whether we summited or even lived or died, because I had no way of knowing what was in the future. I only knew what was right in front of me and so that was what I dealt with. Clarity, focus, presence of mind, "living in the moment" if you will. This is when the act of climbing becomes justifiable in and of itself, and is not merely a means to an end.

The Ice Cliff Glacier from the base of the North Ridge. The rumble of ice fall filled our ears every 10-20 minutes.
Looking down the lower North Ridge it's hard to tell how far up we are.

The clouds thickened, the visibility dropped, the day moved on. We climbed, swapped leads, climbed more. It spit rain, the rock slickened, we climbed anyway, the rain stopped. I don't really remember many specifics, everything blends together. After 12 hours of climbing I started leading up the Great Gendarme, the crux of the upper ridge. We needed to get through this and fast. Light was fading and we needed to find a ledge to sleep on. Our intention had been to summit and be descending by this point. Obviously that wasn't going to happen. I plugged a #3 cam and hauled myself onto the belay ledge halfway up the Gendarme. You can link both 5.9 pitches but pitch two is an off-width and I would need that #3 to protect myself effectively. I belayed Travis up and started toward the off-width. "I see snow flakes," said Travis. I didn't care, I just wanted to be done. I yarded on the #4, then again on the #3. I need water, I need food, I need to lie down. Then I'm out of the off-width only to be confronted with various cracks, slabs and blocks with no idea which way to go. After down-climbing a couple times I find a ledge and belay Travis up with terrible rope drag. Travis leads off behind the Gendarme hoping to find a decent ledge to sleep on. Luckily he does and belays me to a small sandy bivy supported by loose rocks. We sleep in our harnesses, clipped to the mountain. My head and shoulders are hunched up on the rock behind me, my feet dangle off the edge. We toss and turn, half-sleeping the night away, and I contemplate every possible meaning of the phrase "be careful what you wish for."

Travis is up there somewhere leading more wand'ry bullshat.
The weather tries to decide what it is doing as rain and sun float across the ridges to the west.

In the morning we can see sun patches through the clouds but they quickly disappear and we are left in the mist. We can barely make out the rock 40 feet away. After a couple false starts I am leading toward the final headwall, a short 5.8 crack. I am still in my approach shoes to keep my feet warm. I get tunnel vision and end up in the wrong dihedral. The rock steepens and this is not the low 5th class that it's supposed to be, but I just want to be done, so instead of down climbing I push on. Bringing my knee up quickly for a foot jam I bash it into the rock. The dehydration and lack of sleep amplify the pain and I feel like I'm about to pass out or puke. I look down at my last piece 20 feet below me but instead of being scared I get angry at myself for not thinking straight. I force myself to pay attention, throw in two cams and build an anchor. I belay Travis up to my hanging stance and he takes over the lead, traversing to a very easy chimney just to my left that I hadn't seen. We drink the rest of our water and then he leads us through the 5.8 headwall. Back on easy terrain we simul to the summit and take a few quick photos before starting the descent.

Vague hints of sun are briefly visible 2,000 ft below us from our bivy ledge. My feet are in the bag at right.
Travis' feet on our bivy ledge and the mist filled void beneath.

Travis enjoys some food beneath the summit.
Me, finally standing on the summit of Mount Stuart.

Finding the descent route in the clouds proved difficult but we eventually got on the east ridge and found great cairns following easy sandy ledges towards the Cascadian Couloir. The cairns went up into a notch above the ledges and we were unsure whether this was correct, but after following the sandy ledges to a dead-end we returned to the notch which deposited us in the top of the Cascadian. It seems that many climbers have lots of bad things to say about the Cascadian as a descent route. I am not sure if this is because they have limited experience on scree and talus, or if they ended up in the wrong couloir, or if I am just getting too used to the awful Oregon Cascades. But Travis and I both felt that this was quite an easy descent. A short section of following cairns through loose talus leads to a well defined trail through the scree. Frankly, the whole thing is better than the trail up South Sister, and everyone and their grandmother hikes that trail.

Looking back at the south face of Stuart from Ingalls Creek. The summit is still socked in.
Once down in the Ingalls Creek valley we drank extensively from streams and bushwhacked our way over to Long's Pass. This delightful 1,500 ft uphill really gave my legs a nice break from going downhill before the final switchbacks down to the car. We met Caitlin in Cle Elum five hours after we said we would. Luckily she was hanging out in the library working and hadn't called search and rescue yet. For dinner we ate massive quantities of Mexican food, then I took off for Leavenworth and points north with the intention of climbing more. Two days of car camping helped me to recover and think about Stuart, but unfortunately the weather did not improve and I headed back to Bend.

Things I should have considered before Mt. Stuart:
1. This climb is listed as being roughly 28 pitches long, since it is an old school mountaineering route most of these pitches are closer to 50m than 30m, making it more like 40 crag pitches or 4,000 ft of climbing.
2. Mountain Project lists this climb as 5.9+. I usually poo-poo things like this on MP, thinking that people want to talk up their climbs. However, given the people involved in the FA of the upper and lower NR, and the era in which they were climbed, you have to expect this "classic" 5.9 alpine rock route in the Cascades to be fairly stout. It sure felt that way.
3. I made a loaf of peanut butter and honey sandwiches to eat on this climb. These are difficult to eat without water and make you thirsty afterwards which sucks when there is no water on route and you have to carry it all (and your Drom breaks, halving your water supply). Also, food variety is nice.