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.