Friday, May 24, 2013

How to make 5.1 "fun," an attempt on Mt. Washington

Edward and I set out to climb the North Ridge on Mt. Washington Wednesday. The weather was supposed to be awful and it was. We went anyway because, in our own twisted minds, "we had nothing better to do." I was going to write an essay about it entitled "how to make 5.1 climbing fun" since I saw somewhere that that was the rating. The thesis was that if you pick a chossy, exposed route, and try to climb it in a white-out with 50mph winds, it would be more "fun." Unfortunately that white-out led to us ascending the wrong ridge and then being faced with a steep ice traverse in the 50mph winds. We hadn't really planned on climbing ice and only had one axe each, not to mention we couldn't really see anything. Thus we retreated and my thesis went untested.

As we descended our tracks had already filled in with snow and soon we were simply following a vague compass bearing. An hour and a half later we were in tangles of fir saplings and realized we must have crossed the PCT without realizing it. We started bushwhacking north and a couple hours later we entered an old burn. Soon after we stumbled upon the PCT. We thought we were really close to the car at this point but apparently we had been moving very slowly. The trail wound on forever and we started to suspect that we were caught in a time-space vortex: THE MOUNT WASHINGTON TRIANGLE (cue Twilight Zone theme music). Would we ever reach the end of the trail? I sure as heck didn't remember half of the trees we passed, but then again every tree looked exactly the same. We eventually hit the car and made jokes about projecting 5.1. We've almost got the beta down, now the only question is whether or not we wait for another blizzard.

This doesn't look bad at all. We are still on the PCT right?

Coming up the West Ridge which we still think is the North Ridge. My mountain sense is tingling!

The weather is getting more and more "funner" by the minute.

Brew stop. Stomp those feet.

It's a mountain mother clucker! Do you see it?!

Retreat! Reatreat! Oh that's what it looked like? I couldn't tell through my iced up goggles.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Shasta Revisited: Casaval Ridge w/ Avy Gulch ski descent

After a six day backcountry ski trip and a day of rock climbing I was... how do you say? Bushed? Wei, I sink so! But you know, like, when in Rome and all that good shit. So since I had to drive right by Mt. Shasta with all my ski gear and because I could... really just because I could, I mean there was absolutely no enjoyment in it at this point, just pure ego. But regardless of why, all that matters now is that I did, and it was actually mildly enjoyable. I even had fun for a few minutes. And all it really takes is a few minutes plus your ego reveling in your ability to crush and "ta-da!" All I remember now is how awesome it was. "Yeah, I am awesome. So cool. Everyone probably wants to be me. Rock and Ice or Powder Magazine should do a feature on me because I'm so great..." I'm off in dream land while my body slowly processes mitochondrial waste products from its thorough thrashing and tries to figure out how to rebuild all that atrophied muscle. Anyway, Rock and Ice isn't going to interview me because it actually wasn't very cool and I'm really pretty pathetic so I'm going to write it up myself... you know, keep stroking that ego!

Mount Shasta from Mount Shasta. Casaval Ridge descends towards the viewer.

So I arrived at the Bunny Flat Trailhead the day before, just after soloing Cosmic Wall and having grabbed some food in Mt. Shasta (the town). I didn't have much water because I only had two liter bottles. They were less than a liter each actually. I planned to melt some snow at the trailhead but naively underestimated the traffic this place gets, even in winter. I set up my tent on the asphault next to the car and started digging in the snow bank for clean snow. I got down to some good looking stuff and fired up the stove. After an hour of work melting about 3 liters of water I was at a loss. Everything tasted nasty, like ski wax, road salt and squirrel pee. I threw the water out and was trying to figure out what to do when a car pulls up. No one gets out. It just sits there facing the mountain which is alight with alpenglow from the already-set sun. Then this weird new-age trance music starts to play. This seems somewhat normal. Mt. Shasta (the town) is full of mystical crystal shops and new-age meditation centers. Some people believe the mountain is one of the seven shakras which is... well I'm not really sure. Anyway, I'm trying to decide whether to melt more snow or drive all the way down to town to buy more water. The last light fades on the mountain, I really need to get to bed if I'm going to do this. The new-age car pulls out and turns around. I raise my hand half-heartedly to get their attention. The car stops and the window rolls down, an older couple occupies the front seats.

"You guys don't happen to have any water do you? I'm almost out and the snow has this awful chemical taste."

"Sure we do!" says the guy. While he rummages in the trunk the lady asks me what I'm doing. "Climbing the Mountain? Wow!" Then the man hands me a full 1.5L bottle and refuses anything in exchange. If he was looking for good karma he can have all he wants. Sending good vibes your way man! You are awesome!

Approaching Casaval Ridge that morning.

On the lower section of the Casaval.

I slept like a baby and left the car at 6:30am. Skinned over to Casaval Ridge and started the actual climbing. At first I was a little disappointed. The ridge is a line of decaying rock towers (typical of the Cascade volcanoes) and there is no way to climb them so I was just traversing the snow field next to them. Then things started to get steeper, more exposed. Every time I thought it was going to cliff out there was a notch letting you traverse to the other side of the ridge. Two short sections of 50ish degree snow even made it feel like climbing. Where the terrain section ended (~12,500ft?) I started to bonk. I would take two steps and feel completely exhausted. I forced myself to find a manageable pace and keep moving, but it didn't last for long. The last eight days were finally catching up to me. I bonked numerous times before the bottom of Misery Hill. When I got there the hill was completely exposed scree. Realizing that I would not be able to ski from the summit, I ditched my skis there.

Heading up...

Looking down...

I got to the summit at 1pm and thought I would be the only one there that day, but I turned around to see two telemarkers from Bozeman coming up from the Hotlum-Wintun. We chatted briefly and I snapped some pictures before cruising back down to my skis. I had planned to ski the West Face but it looked so bare I just headed straight down Avalanche Gulch. The ski run was less than exceptional, thick mashed potatoes. I arrived at the car just before 3pm. By 3:30 I was in Mt. Shasta getting a snack for the drive home.

The uber-deluxe Shasta summit registry.

Summit shot, courtesy of the Bozeman boys.

Time to ski!

Casaval Ridge on the left and Avy Gulch straight ahead, from the car.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Castle Crags - Cosmic Wall

Castle Crags is a little known wilderness area with granite rock climbing right off off I-5 in Northern California. Its pretty hard to find beta on the climbing there, but there are some bolts and rap anchors on the more popular routes. It's a 2.7 mile hike with 2,200ft of elevation gain to reach the end of the trail at the base of Castle Dome. The rest of the rock spires and domes lie west, further along the ridge. Bushwhacking through manzanita is necessary to reach most of the climbs. There is a lot of potential but most of the walls are pretty far back and would require an overnight stay to properly explore. It's also hard to find water and shade which doesn't help.
Castle Dome with Shasta behind it.
I had visited the Crags as a kid and heard about some of the good climbing latterly so I stopped on my way back from the Trinity Alps. The main route I had recommended to me was Cosmic Wall (5.6, 800ft), which ascends the east face of Mt. Hubris (aka The Ogre). It would have been nice to explore more but I was pretty tired from 6 days of backcountry skiing and wanted to try Shasta the next day so I limited myself to this climb and a scramble up Castle Dome.
Shasta and a view of the crags from Mt. Hubris.

Castle Dome from the summit of Mt. Hubris

Both routes were pretty easy, honestly the bushwhacking to Mt. Hubris was the hardest part. I was able to skip the crux on Cosmic because it is a traverse over to a belay ledge. Since I was soloing I could just go straight up. Protection looked potentially finicky but I didn't really consider it much. The holds were large jugs and sculpted granite fins and there were a ton of them. It was nice to climb on such solid rock as supposed to Smith Tuff. On the last pitch I did the arete variation which offers some nice exposure to the summit. Two raps brought me to a snow lump melting in the shade of the north col. From here some easy scrambling down the manzanita got me back to Castle Dome. After tagging the top of CD I headed back to the car and drove to Mt. Shasta.
On the summit of the Ogre.
Mt. Hubris aka the Ogre. Cosmic Wall starts at the bottom left and traverses up and right to the summit.

Mt. Hubris on the left, and the rest of the Crags from Castle Dome.

Some of the Crags west of Hubris... lots of stuff to climb.

Self-photo on top of Castle Dome, Shasta in the background.