Friday, December 28, 2007

the patagonia trip: Purgatory

I have boarded the train to Philly to find myself in the “quiet car” towards the rear of the train. I didn’t even know there was a quiet car in the afternoon.

There is an African American man in the seat ahead of me, chatting in subdued tones. I wouldn’t have noticed him or that I am in the “quiet car” were it not for the display coming from the guy across the isle to our right. 

With curly grey hair, wire rimmed glasses and a grey goatee the pudgy caucasian is glaring across the isle at the man in front while vehemently thumbing his newspaper. “Shhh!” he bursts with his finger to pursed lips, failing to attract the attention of the man ahead, from whom I’m beginning to smell alcohol.

He continues to glare and thumb his newspaper. Finally it is too much. He reaches across the isle and taps the man in conversion. “Shhh!” he says, again with the finger and pursed lips, “this is the quiet car, which means there is no talking!”

After a beat the fellow in front of me leans over, pokes his critic in the arm, who is still focused intently on him and says in forced politeness, “just because this is the quiet car doesn’t mean you can’t talk.”

“You’re supposed to be quiet, they announced it!”

Both are reasonable stances, I had to think. What’s right? Is something juicy about to happen? What is really bothering this uptight dude and what craziness is being uttered by the man ahead?

As if to respond to the unfolding drama, the conductor’s voice came across the intercom. “…the dining car is open and serving drinks and snack. And the last car is the quiet car, where a library-like atmosphere should be observed. That means no cell phones, music or loud talking.”

Well there we have it. I wouldn’t think his talking is loud.

Just then, the conductor walks up, takes my ticket and punches it with the smoothness of a well-practiced motion. He moves ahead and punches the ticket of the man ahead. “This is the quiet car. If you want to talk you’ll have to move to the main cabin.”

That’s that. End of drama. At least I got to distract myself from this purgatory I have been feeling lately. Over the past few months I have engrossed myself in the imaginary world of my two month expedition and endless possibilities. Warm granite towers beckoned me and prospects of stormy bivouacs heightened the anticipated thrill. Now that film is growing faint and I wait in silence for the lights to come on and the reality to begin.

HA! My buddy Jeb just called and the pudgy goatee guy Shhh’ed me! Freakin’ quiet police.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

DC Alpine Assault

To continue our training for Patagonia and fuel our alpine urge, Dave and I met after work last night to do a quick night ascent of Old Rag's Oh My God Diheral (5.10c). The grade was at our limit, but we'd climbed it before and thought it safe enough to try at night.

We pushed through rush hour on 66 and got to the base of the North Ridge Trail at 830pm. The sun had set hours ago.

We blasted the 4 miles of switchbacks and spooky scrambling to the summit of Old Rag carrying small packs, harnesses, a rope and 5 cams.  Mist curled through the beams of our headlamps and heightened the atmosphere.

We bushwhacked down the flank and arrived at the base of the climb just after 10pm.

I led it, then Dave.

We rappelled, reversed the bushwhack and ran down the mountain. All we could see was what the bouncing circle of our headlamps showed, which gave us the strange feeling of being in a first person shooter game.  Who knew what bad guys lurked in the darkness?  Hopefully just deer.

We reached the car around 12:30am, then home just after 2am to get a few hours of sleep before work in the morning.
Climbing Oh My God Dihedral by daylight on the 4th of July '07.  I hadn't tried anything harder than 5.9 at this time and thought this attempt would be a hangdog affair.  Instead, I got the onsight.  I will always remember this as one of my proudest sends.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Wallface: P-Town Approach

Our goal was to climb "hang ten (5.10)", a free variation of an aid route called Gourmet, at Wallface, in the Dacks.  We knew it'd be cold, but it'd be good preparation for our coming trip to Patagonia.

The Mellor "guidebible" acknowledges that the first few pitches are somewhat unknown, so we proceeded to find our own route to the prominent "Gourmet" dihedral.

It took us the whole first day, after completing the 5 mile approach, to do those first few pitches.

Dave started us out with a short pitch around a bulge in his mountaineering boots. I followed, wearing the entirely overkill 70L Naos pack (to see how climbing in it didn't feel good), which put us under a blank, overhanging bulge.

Following a crumbly horizontal crack, I led left under the bulge, looking for a weakness. 100' feet later, with killer rope drag and sketchy microcams for pro, I found a hanging belay below a promising crack, which broke through the bulge.

Dave took the thin crack to a short head wall below a ledge, pulling committing ~5.9 moves on PG13 gear with a shit-eating grin on his face the whole time.

It appeared that it was a simple low angle, scrambly pitch that separated us from the massive ledge at the base of the "hang ten" dihedral. I set off, executing a hard boulder move to link blocky sections, then continued on a mossy, wet and dirty, low angle section on wishful pro. A brief slip on wet moss, twenty feet up from a muddy cam, had my heart leap from my chest. Slinging a demoralized clump of brush, I got my heart under control and finished the pitch.

By the time Dave joined me on the ledge, it was dark. Bundled up in our belay jackets, we fixed our two ropes and rapped by headlamp.

Pasta, sausage and a bit of whiskey warmed us up back at the cave, and we got a good night sleep, with only a couple interruptions from the mice sharing our camp.

The morning sun warmed us, as well as the clifftop ice, which would periodically break off, whiz through the air like incoming artillery and explode off rocks around us as we jugged our fixed lines.

I picked up where we left off and headed up the impressive, overhanging dihedral that is the "hang ten" pitch. Dirty hand jams and crumbly face holds for feet got me up the first half, and also through my larger cams. Thinking I would need them for the rest of the way, I built an anchor and back-cleaned.

It turns out that "hang ten" follows a thin seam out to left, from my mid-way anchor, which would have used smaller gear that I had plenty of... (Apparently the last moves of this exit have you hanging by all ten fingers, with no feet...hence, "hang ten.")

Anyhow, at the time, I wasn't sure that the left exit was the way to go. Having retrieved my #2 and #3s and my #4, I went to work on the dirty, licheny, offwidthy, jammy continuation of the crack I had been following thus far. I thrutched up into the crux of the off-route off-width to find myself hanging on a solid, but nauseatingly stressful arm jam. Plugging a tenuous #4, I had myself a little rest on the rope, then finished the last few moves.

I was glad to be at the top, but felt unsatisfied by my inefficiency and hang on the pitch.

Dave came up, then led through a short low angle section with one very hard boulder move to gain a ledge. I followed, employing a stout bush to pull through the crux.

Route finding uncertainty necessitated a short rap and traverse to the beginning the final dihedral/face.

Dave started up just as it was getting dark. The moves were thin and it was eating up gear, with no good prospects for a belay stance.

Finally, route uncertainty, complete darkness and freezing temperatures compelled us to bail.

We rapped through the night and returned to our cave around 1030pm.

A closer look at the guide book revealed that the first ascent party for "hang ten" tried to free that last section, but were turned back by rain (explaining the fixed hex we found).

The next morning we lazed around in our sleeping bags as it snowed for a few hours. Then packed up and hiked out in glorious sunlight.

All in all we thought the trip was quite a success. We climbed at our limits on poor gear with difficult route finding, in freezing temps and in the dark. We can't wait to return.

-Dave and I corresponded with the authors of the new Dacks guide and our first four pitches are now in the new guide book as "P-Town Approach 5.10b PG-13 350'." Much thanks to Jim Lawyer and Jeremy Haas for the opportunity to contribute. We're ecstatic to have our first first ascent.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

how we operate

Big thanks to Risa for this video and for being there to foster my climbing ground zero.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Finding my trad legs

Gunks, 2007. I was thrust into the lead position for the whole weekend, a first for me, and learned a thing or two about 5.6 stress on High E and Moonlight. Thanks to Trevor for the production and a very memorable trip!

Monday, June 18, 2007

The GF "Test"

The following is a trip report I posted on long ago. So much has changed. For one, the GF and I will be married this coming Saturday 5/28/2011.

First off, I regret the superficial implication that this was a "test." It was meant to be cheeky. That being said, isn't pretty much everything in dating a test? :)

Second, to fill in a little background: she had been toproping once and to a rock gym a couple times, spread over the past year, so there was a very base level of familiarity.


With a long drive from Philly to the Gunks, I had hoped to get an early start. 600am was the plan. We left at 630.

"30 mins late," my mind nagged, "time...effeciency is essencential!" This was the part of my brain that wants to go alpine--the part that wants every minutia of a trip to make an elegant contribution the whole. "This is a different kind of trip," I resolved, "I HAVE to go with the flow."

A quick stop to pay homage at Rock and Snow, then the Bistro Mountain Store and we were parked and headed up the Stairmaster.

My intent was to climb Betty (5.3) as the highlight of our day, following a TR tutorial on P1 of Finger Locks (5.5). Of course, the guide wall was thronged. I consulted the guide book and spotted Easy V (5.3) over by Arrow.

We took our time getting the gear ready and went over the concepts.

Teachers make bad students.

By invoking this generalization I don't mean to say my that gf, a teacher of inner-city kids with behavioral problems, didn't listen to me. It was just hard to tell.

I climbed the first pitch, which was long and slightly slabby, with soloing in mind, set up a TR achor and rapped down, leaving the gear for her to clean.

She climbed it without pause, leaving a tricky cam for me to clean.

Seeing that she was completely unphased upon returning her to terra firma, I went over the plan for completing the second pitch. She would belay me to the top of P1, this time on TR, I'd bring her up, then we'd have to traverse the GT ledge about 40', then complete the last short section, which contained the crux.

After bringing her up to the GT ledge I asked her how she felt about walking unroped across the ledge to the beginning of the next pitch. The ledge is a good ten feet wide and is perfectly flat. Nonetheless, I still get a little freaked walking it, naked of the systems of protection I'm used to having in exposed placed. She shrugged, "yeah, that's fine," and untied her knot.

Following me across the ledge, coming out of the corner of the first pitch, we attained full-view of the landscape. Gorgeous.

"Woah, I didn't realize how high we are," she said. I smiled internally. "We're not really going up there?" she asked, pointing at a V-notch in a typical Gunks roof, which comprises the crux of the route.

"You're going to rock it," I told her, trying her off to a large tree. She put me on belay and I set off.

"Okay, but don't fall."

I climbed the pitch, taking note of the key moves I used, in case I'd need to offer beta. I put her on belay and she proceeded up.

I heard my name drift in the breeze as she approached the crux. "You got it hon!" I offerred.

I saw her head appear through the notch. "I don't like you right now," she said, showing her uncertainty of the situation.

"I know you can do this."

"I know I can do it too, but I don't want to," she stated.

"Had I pushed too far?" I wondered for a split second, as she pulled through the crux with hardly an issue.

I brought her up and we relaxed, both of us happy.

To this point I hadn't made up my mind whether it would be best to walk-off or I should lower her, or just teach her to rappel. Everything having gone so smoothly and having noted a nest of webbing on a tree set back from the ledge about chest-height--an ideal placement--I decided to go with the rappel.

I showed her the setup and showed her how she could weight test everything while still being attached to the anchor.

I then rapped down to be in place to give her a fire-man's belay. On the way down I noted a short free hanging section that made me wonder how she would handle it.

She set herself up and slowly proceeded down. Coming to the free hanging section, "what do I do now?!"

"Continue on babe."

And she did.

We traversed to some chains near the top of the first pitch and repeated the process.

"That was way better than the first one," she commented, having enjoyed that she could keep her feet on the wall.

To cap off the day we headed back over to the guide wall to find Finger Locks open for business. I quickly racked up, climbed and setup a TR.

My gf enjoyed watching a husband and wife couple climbing a thin slabby section to our left. "She was so happy to have made it through the hard part...and they had a little celebration on top," she told me once I got down.

Then she started up the slabby hand to finger crack that is Finger Locks or Cedar Box (5.5)

I've seen the crux, a short vertical section with a thank-god tree on top, shut several of my newbie friends down. But not my gf. She pulled right through it, comitting to the moves right off the bat.

"That was a fun one! Not scary at all," she said.

I climbed it once more to clean our anchor. At the tope I met the couple who had been on the route to our left. I mentioned how I was bringing my gf out for the first time.

"Well, did you see that thread on" the gentleman asked me.

"Yup, that was me," I chuckled.

We chatted about some of your replies, the Shockley's incident, in particular, which I hadn't yet read.

The couple let me rap down on their rope, ending an excellent day at the Gunks.

I just got a text from my gf that she's been bragging to her friends at work about our Sunday, and has been receiving some props! She also said that the "craving is set."

In retrospect, I may have pushed her a little hard. Her work makes her exceptionally good at handling stressful situations without showing signs. Not seeing signs of stress, I kept on pushing.

On the other hand, she owned it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Wallface: An epic delivered

Both of us needing an adventure, a buddy and I made an attempt on the Diagonal (III 5.8...7 pitches) on Wallface in the Adirondacks this past weekend. The plan was this: 

Dave and I would drive the nine hours from DC to the trailhead Friday night and bivy by the car. The next morning we'd hike the 5 mile approach, setup camp, start the route, and fix the first two pitches on rappel. Sun morning we'd jumar the lines, finish the route, then hike and drive back. 

We drove up Friday night (stopping by a bar in New Paltz where the guys from Rock and Snow left us a guide book and topo), hiked in Sat morning, setup camp in a sweet little cave and set out through the talus slope. We heard that there was better climbing further to the left of the standard route, which you could link up (somewhere), so we spotted a nice line off to the left and started climbing. 

There was some good and dirty 5.7ish climbing in a corner for a full rope length, which got my hands good and cut up. Water ran down the rock in some areas, and every once in a while the wind would carry the spray from water falling overhead. The second pitch, from a hanging belay, moved out into some face climbing for around half a rope length onto the top of a small triangular ledge. 

We couldn't see how the line would link up with our intended route, but there looked like there was some good climbing and we were optimistic. At this point it was getting cold and the light was starting to go...we needed to get down. Should we fix the lines and continue from there the next day? Or should we rap and start from the standard route? Dave said he was interested in trying to continue our line and I was excited by the prospect of our own link-up. We fixed our ropes, tied end to end, and rapped on the single strand. 

The next morning I jugged the line, which was...interesting--a new technique that probably shouldn't have been tried for the first time in the Adirondack backcountry--but I was getting the hang of it and starting to have some fun, despite the ice particles that would periodically rain down on me. 

About halfway up (~150' up), just after a free hanging section of the ascent, I decided to tie the line below me off to a cam, just in case the anchor blew above me, or the rope cut or something (psychological pro)... As I continued up and as I unweighted more and more of the rope, the rope-stretch relaxed and the line pulled tight on the cam, so I was ascending a tight line. I was disconcerted, but it didn't shut me down. 

Once I got to the top, the falling ice was no longer in particle form. Larger, walnut sized chunks cut through the air near me. I looked up. Where water was falling about 300' above me the day prior, there was now a ledge of ice and a row of icicles. I watched a shoe-box sized chunk break off, fall and explode into safer sized chunks after bouncing off a rock about a 200' above. Each chunk that hit my head made me glad for my helmet, yet, overall, I was recoiling at the idea that the next wave could take me out. 

I thought about bailing, but I couldn't rappel because the section of rope above the cam was tight. I could have used the ascenders to reverse ascend, but that was complicated and I didn't want to leave my cams and the rope in the anchor up there. 

I radioed to Dave to free the rope from the cam so I could setup a rappel. He was already on his way up, but the rope below him got snagged, so he had to rap down, free the rope, then continue ascending. I just had to wait it out. 

I curled up on my little diving board, 300' up, trying to become the smallest target possible. I heard the ice breaking off above me, but I didn't want to look up for fear of a piece catching me in the face. 

All of a sudden the entire valley filled with a thunderous sound. A couple hundred feet over a boulder the size of a desk tumbled down the cliff, exploded off another rock and slowed to a stop. 

Disaster scenarios overwhelmed my thoughts. 

Finally Dave got to the cam. "Dude, the rope is worn thru to the core." " it's trashed?" "Yeah." We knew that rope damage was a concern when jugging a dynamic line, so we had been really careful not to let the line run over any sharp edges, however, when the line relaxed tight on the cam, the knot was forced against the rock. When Dave jugged after me it sawed right through the sheath. 

Dave then rapped down to a tree and anchored in. I broke down the cam anchor I was on and replaced it with a single nut, backed up by a sling threaded around where two boulders touched, hooked up the single line and rapped--passed the knot where the damage was and continued to the tree. We cut off the remaining 30' of the damaged rope and rapped down our good one. We hiked back to our camp and enjoyed a quiet lunch--our minds having plenty to process--hiked and drove back. Quite an adventure. I can't wait to go back. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Next steps in CO

In anticipation of snow to come and being quite exhausted from our night travels, we took Thursday pretty easy.  The snow at Vail was a bit cruddy in the southern exposures but we were able to find some powder caches deep in the woods.  Beers and burgers were had and, in the evening, we went out to a backcountry store to buy gear, i.e. avalanche transceivers, probe and shovel for Rees and a jetboil.

At this point I started to lose optimism for the storm that was to roll in.  No one seemed to think it was going to fruit.
Friday was much more intense.  We joined up with Rees's cousin's friends at Beaver Creek, quickly ditching those who couldn't hang.  The one left who could hang was a local and a skier.  I wondered, "was I about to get shown up?"  We started off on some double black diamond tree runs, finding some excellent powder, then went through the backcountry gates to some steep and tight chutes, picking our way through boulders, cliffs and trees.  Our new friend exclaimed that this was the most intense ski day he'd had all year.  Ha!  This was standard stuff for Rees and I.
Early afternoon we headed back to our car to get the rest of our gear.  We had the tent, our sleeping bags, extra clothing, avi gear, water, beer, chef boyardi ravioli for dinner, oatmeal for breakfast, gummy bears, fig newtons and M&Ms for munchies--and it was getting late!  We must have caught THE last chair from the base, which got us half-way up the mountain.  At the top, with little more than the vague plan that we'd hike to a peak, we threw our skis and board on our backs and started up the mountain. 
Immediately a ski patroller came over to question us.  We told him that we knew what we were doing and that we were going into the backcountry.  He was a little dubious, but he eventually left us alone.  We started hiking again.  Then the patroller came back with a few more questions, wondering how we planned to get out of the valley off the back side of the mountain with only alpine gear.  We explained that we were really just planning on coming back to the front side in the morning.  We resumed our hike.  Then a different patroller rolled up on a snow mobile, having been briefed by the other.  "And what about the timing!" he exclaimed of the falling darkness, thinking we intended to ski the chutes off the backside of the mountain.  He warned us of loaded slopes on the verge of avalanche and chutes dead-ending in undroppable cliffs.  We repeated our intention to spend the night on the peak and come back on the front side in the morning (our plan now more concrete).  Eventually, after taking our names in case we had to call for rescue, he dug what we were doing and sent us on our way.
Darkness was coming quickly and the snow was starting to fall.  We reached the top of the resort, breathless and excited.  Where was that boot pack the patroller mentioned that leads to the peak?  We saw footprints leading into the woods above the lift.  They seemed to go in the right direction according to our contour map, so we followed.  The snow got deeper and deeper the further we got from the resort boundary, and soon the path disappeared in wind-drift.  We pushed on, breaking path through waist deep powder, and finally arrived at a peak. 
Was this THE peak?  Or was it merely a highpoint on the ridge we were following?  Exploring through increasingly thick snowfall and the dim wedge of our headlamps, we determined that it was indeed the peak and that it was also the best place for camp.
How do you pitch a tent on 5 feet of fluff?  Good question.  We began by digging and trampling an area about 6' X 12' and 2' deep.  We pitched the tent using my ski poles to anchor the vestibule, and some branches buried in the snow to anchor the three other sides of the fly.  Good enough.  Hungry and cold, we crawled into the tent.
Do not jostle the Jetboil!  It doesn't really like the cold and if you piss it off flames will erupt and almost burn a hole in your tent.  Otherwise, Chef Boyardi never tasted so good.
"Jeez, it is snowing hard." "Yeah man!"  "Dude, we're getting pounded."  "I know!  This is sick!"  Such was our conversation for the next hour as around 8" fell.  Slapping the walls of the tent wasn't working to clear the snow anymore and we needed to dig ourselves out.
Fifteen minutes worth of digging got us back to our original platform, but we knew fifteen minutes worth of the snow coming down would probably bury us again.  We kept on digging.  It was fun!  At this point we were kids playing in a sandbox, carefully preparing our fort for siege.  In the end we had a 3' wide, 4-5' deep moat surrounding the windward side of the tent with a well-formed shelf directly in front of the vestibule.  We were bombproof.
Just as we finished the snow stopped for a second and the sky opened up to show intensely bright stars.  We gawked in the still air, accepting the moment as nature's approval of our activities.  Minutes later the snow resumed and we crawled, once more, into the coziness of our tent.
We woke to light snow calmly falling in dull erie blue light.  16" had fallen on what was already waste deep snow.  We fired up the Jetboil and melted snow to make our oatmeal and broke camp at the same time.  No time for coffee this morning.  We needed to be quick to get first tracks!

Hiking back was painstaking.  "This is why we need touring gear!"  The thought of dropping the money for the right gear was making more sense with every step.  Eventually, breathless, we arrived at the resort boundary.  The first couple people we coming off of the first lift.  Woops and shouts for joy punctuated the dull glowing fog.  It was a powder day in it's full glory.
We dropped down a line into an open glade, letting loose a few of our own woops on the first couple turns--the first of many first tracks we laid that day.  A long runout at the bottom of the incline necessitated more trudging, but finally we arrive at the bottom.  We ditched our packs in basket storage and hit the lifts to fully engage the mountain. 
Bowing to our ransacked bodies, we adopted a slightly more relaxed style than usual that day, but we skied till close.
Our car was literally buried in snow when we got back to the free lot--and it's a good thing too.  "It was hillarious when they were trying to tow your car this morning," the guys parked next to us told us.  "They were like, should we tow it?  We could put cars there and there....ahhhhh FUCK those guys!"
Since Rees's phone had become drenched in snow and I didn't have their phone numbers, we couldn't contact our friends until late in the evening when it dried.  Apparently they were on the verge of calling mountain rescue for us!
An excellent trip.  The progression is going nicely.  Next time we'll have to step it up just a little bit more.