Tuesday, August 6, 2013

An Alpine Adventure

 A little work related blog post for ya! Last week I had the privilege of guiding an amazing overnight trip up to the Unlikely Valley.  This valley is across the bay from my summer hometown of Seward, AK and is an alpine playground.  The one downside is that you do need to hop on a helicopter to get there!  While guiding up there, we had perfect weather, got to see a bear within five minutes of landing the helicopter and climbed a previously unclimbed sub-peak at the top of the valley.  Quite a successful overnight trip in my opinion. My two clients, an adventurous father and son duo from Florida, even liked my cooking!  What more can a guide want?

The Unlikely Valley
 However, while up the in Unlikely Valley, I couldn't help but think of all the opportunities to explore the almost endless number of glaciers and unclimbed peaks.  So Jane and I headed up for two nights to explore the area and scout out opportunities for future trips. Both of us will be missing the end of the year guide trip so the owners were gracious enough to pay for our heli flight to get up to the valley.  Though we'll both miss hanging out with everyone on the guide trip, it was great to still be able to get out and explore.

Our mountain taxi

 We camped out at the toe of 'Saddle' glacier.  This yet unnamed glacier is where our guided overnight trips gain their first experience traveling across the blue expanse of an alpine glacier.  Jane and I were lucky to find a deep blue and only slightly wet moulin (deep hole in the ice formed by a meltwater waterfall) to ice climb in. 

Moulin climbin'

 Being only minutes from our campsite, this climb was a perfect warmup for the day ahead.  After tiring out our arms on the hard blue ice, we started up the glacier to give our legs a workout too.  Our goal was to reach the very top of this glacier, which ended in a cirque of unclimbed peaks offering unobstructed views of the Gulf of Alaska.  

Looking south, the Gulf of AK covered in a marine fog layer

  Soon we reached the firn line (where the glacier ice becomes buried by the last winter's snows) and had to rope up.  Several hours later, and past some of the deepest, widest, and most forbidding crevasses I've ever seen, we reached the top of the glacial cirque.  The cirque is surrounded by small rock peaks jutting out of the snow and into the sky.  Looking up at the various peaks, it was almost impossible to decipher which was the highest.  After choosing one and climbing it, we realized we had picked the second highest!  The actual summit (maybe 15 feet higher) was more challenging, with exposed fifth class terrain, but was well worth the extra work. 

View from the summit

Jane scrambling along the summit ridge

 From the summit, Jane and I were able to look over the Resurrection Bay, Day Harbor, and both the Harding and Sargent Icefields.  Lots of photo taking ensued and then it was the long walk back through the crevasses to camp.  

Headed home

  After climbing and descending almost 3,000 feet of glaciated terrain plus ice climbing in a moulin, Jane and I were quite tired.  A delicious dinner of cous-cous and veggies combined with a dessert of s'mores replenished some of the spent calories.  A beautiful sunset in the alpine and then it was off to bed.  We flew back home the next morning, but I was already looking forward to returning to the Unlikely Valley again, regardless if it is personally or with clients!

Alpenglow on Unlikely Peak

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Professional development and a road trip? Yes please!

In my quest to become a real adult I have realized that the nomadic lifestyle can only last so long.  This spring I decided to work on continuing my professional development and get in a nomadic roadtrip at the same time.  In the future I am hoping to get a more full-time position as an outdoor educator and having an AMGA certification would certainly help out.  So off to J-Tree I went to take my Single Pitch Instructor course.  

J-Tree evening climbing

One of my main climbing buddies, Keith met me down there and took the course with me.  I've been climbing for over seven years now and this was my first actual professional development course.  I started climbing with Colgate University's outdoor education program, so learning within an institutional setting definitely taught me good some practices, but it has been a while since I was a staff member there!  The course was a incredibly beneficial and requires one to learn a lot of new techniques in just three days.  Luckily I was knowledgeable on the basics, and most of the skills were just putting a bunch of various tricks together to accomplish rescues or build various anchors.  This made the course run pretty smoothly for both Keith and I.  That's a good thing too, because though the AMGA recommends six months between the course and the assessment I was doing them only a week apart.  

Keith stoked on Ball Bearings, The Real Hidden Valley

After the course in J-Tree, Keith and I drove all over the west climbing (actually really just practicing for the assessment!), visiting friends, and getting denied from Vegas clubs.  We climbed a half day the Monday after our weekend SPI course and then headed to Vegas for the NCAA championship game.  Living in small towns all winter, Vegas was a huge change.  Keith and I got all dressed up and were ready to hit the town, we even had on fancy button down shirts!  My team won the game and off to the clubs we went.  Apparently dirtbags aren't allowed in Vegas clubs though… at least not while wearing approach shoes. Who knew that there was a dress code for clubs?  Not Keith and I! 

SPI practice in Red Rocks

With our Vegas experience not being what we expected, we climbed another short day at Red Rocks then got back behind the wheel and headed to Mammoth Lakes, CA to meet up with a friend from Alaska.  We were amazed by the beauty of the Sierras and definitely glad to be back in the wilderness instead of the big city.  We found a sweet little crag with a killer view of the Sierras and got in some more SPI assessment practice.  Then back to the road and a tour of the west with a long drive from California to Denver. 

Sierras from the Brenton Crags
Must return for the alpine rock!

One last practice day in Boulder Canyon and it was assessment time!  I took my SPI assessment with the Colorado Mountain School and spend the weekend showing my competence in the material I had just learned the weekend before.  My assessment leaders were surprised I had just taken my course and I could tell they were apprehensive about it, but the weekend went well.  In two weeks I flew out to J-Tree, took my course, drove 2500 miles through the west, completed the assessment and am now a certified AMGA Single Pitch Instructor!  Next step in the Rock Instructor… once I have the $2000+ it requires...  Keith and I finished up the roadtrip with a snowy drive back north to Montana.  Two busy days there we spent packing gear, mounting skis, seeing friends and then it was time to get back on the road.

Not psyched on fresh snow for the 10 hour drive

Keith was staying in Montana, so the next road trip would be a solo effort.  A long one too, as I was driving up to Alaska for the Mount Huntington trip and work for the summer.  The truck was packed with Christian's gear, basically everything I own and even some of the girlfriend's stuff, and then I was headed North to the Future.  Four days on the road through the snowy Canadian Rockies, past the massive ice flows of the Icefields Parkway melting in the sun, dodging moose and jack-knifed semis alike and I was back home in Seward.  A great way to finish up my winter season.  And now its all about gear and food preparation for the Mount Huntington expedition! 

Curtain Call still standing

The Shooting Gallery. Site of my coldest ice day ever.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Canadian Rockies, Round 2

Another long delayed blog post here for you guys.  Back in February Christian and I made a trip up to the Canadian Rockies.  We had done this same trip last year and it was some of the best ice climbing either of us had ever done.  So of course we had to return this year!  We both switched around some scheduling at work and were about to have almost a week of time off together.  We packed the truck and pointed it North.  
The first destination was the Ghost River Valley.  This was our first climbing spot last year as well, and we had a great time climbing long moderates and building bonfires.  This year we stepped it up a bit, both in the climbing and the bonfires.  If anyone has been into the Ghost, you know the road can be quite the adventure in itself.  Lucky for us there was not too much snow this year making the drifts easily passable, but there was one section of semi-frozen river that almost ate the truck.  We survived though and the come-along went unused.  I'm not sure it could have worked to the truck out anyway! At the end of the North Ghost road we found our campsite from last year and took advantage of the prime location again.  Our first day there we didn't arrive till after noon and were so beat from the 12 hour drive from Montana that we pitched the tent and immediately took naps.  Without enough time to climb we devoted our efforts into making a massive fire ring and collecting wood.   Over the next few days we reaped the benefits of our hard work and enjoyed not freezing our butts off while cooking dinner and eating.  

Basecamp in the North Ghost

The first day of climbing brought us to the classic moderate, This House of Sky.  It was also a Saturday… we reached the trailhead and there where already 4 trucks there so we took out time gearing up and then completed the very mild 10 minute approach.  We ended up climbing along side two guys from Colorado and together the four of us soloed up the lower WI3 pitches (lots and lots of them!) to the last pitch.  As the only WI4 pitch, it would be the day's crux.  Being that we soloed everything else, we decided to keep the streak alive.  Christian went first and had the good fortune of breaking a pick halfway up the pillar…  He was less than excited but managed to complete the pitch no problem.  One of the guys from Colorado was telling me how he had never broken a pitch before when this all was going down.  Apparently he jinxed himself because he then broke a pick leading the same pitch!  What luck.  After seemingly endless rappelling, we made it back down and home to our site for a bonfire and food.

Top pitches of Chilkoot Passage

Day two brought us to a new area of the Ghost, the Claw Creek Drainage.  Unfortunately our main objective, Fang and Fist, was already taken.  It was a Sunday so we shouldn't have been surprised.  Instead we got to go exploring.  It had been a long time since I had last ventured off just looking for something to climb.  That day we had no other choice.  Luckily there was plenty of ice to be found.  Just 15 minutes up stream from Fang and Fist we encountered a beautiful WI4 climb (Chilkoot Passage) that rambled up a drainage and ended with a beautiful pillar and plastic flow just below the ridge top.  A warm rest and snack in the sun and we were headed back home.  

Fang and Fist - beautiful but taken

The next day we were able to get on Fang and Fist.  This climb was a beautiful WI5 with three tiers of pillars.  The conditions were perfect for us… just the right temperature, good protection, sunshine at the top.  Definitely one of my favorite ice climbs all-time.  Probably one of the steepest and most technical as well.  The best part?  We had stashed our gear at the base after climbing Chilkoot Passage so had super light packs on the approach.  Sliding/skating down the frozen Claw Creek was a pretty awesome way to finish the day as well!

Our chance to get on Fang and Fist 

With the only two more climbing days we headed out of the Ghost River Valley and over to the Icefields Parkway area.  Since we had been in the woods for several days we had no idea what the weather forecast would hold for us.  Slipstream, a 900m WI4+ was on our wishlist, but we knew that perfect snow conditions were required.  The climb is threatened by both hanging seraces and a potentially more dangerous cornice.  Unfortunately a 60+ mph wind (according to the forecast, not our first hand experience!) was blowing up high and in the perfectly wrong direction.  With a massive cornice forming above the route, Slipstream would have to wait another year.

Looking down on the Icefields Parkway

  Instead we enjoyed the drive from Canmore up to the Icefields Center Visitor Center, where we found blowing snow and rather unpleasant weather.   We made camp and prepared for the next day's new objective, The Shooting Gallery.  This route is usually completed as a spring/fall alpine line, but we decided to see what we could find… We began with a nice alpine start followed by me getting us lost and then a long walk up to the glacier.  

The morning light on the glacier and the lower section of The Shooting Gallery

 We timed it perfectly though as it was just getting light out when we needed to be able to see our route through the crevasses.  The first section of the climb was pleasant snow climbing with surprisingly good snow conditions.  Once we began encountering rock we learned why everyone calls the Canadian Rockies a chosspile… just at the snow steepened and gained some questionable stability so disappeared any good pro placements.  We were treated to a fine pitch of ice and then turned a corner to find the crux WI4 pitch not really there.  It was Christian's lead and he decided why not try it anyway?  Two hours and several psychological pro pieces later he was at the top.  I'd call it WI4, M4 R.  It was the first real type 2 fun I had experienced the whole winter and I was belaying!  I rather imagine how Christian felt.  He did a great job though of fighting the conditions (and frozen shut eyes), lack of protection, and supremely chossy rock to make it up safely.  At that point it was time to head home.  Lots of rappels, some stuck ropes, anchor building/repairing, copious amounts of shivering and we were back to the glacier.  Then a several mile walk out in the dark and we were back to the truck.  At over 16 hours it was my longest day out ice climbing yet!  To finish up the trip we drove 12 hours straight back to Montana so Christian could go to work and I could make it home for Valentine's Day.  Can't wait to go back next February! 
Stoked to be heading down and out of the elements!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Trying something new in Hyalite

Hyalite is our local ice climbing destination and we make sure to get out there on a regular basis.  While it does have one of the highest concentrations of ice routes anywhere, exploring new areas is essential.  Not to be disrespectful of the climbing in Hyalite, but lately the stoke factor isn't what it used to be.  My buddy Keith was feeling the same way and for good reason...  I think seventeen of his nineteen days this year have been in up in Hyalite.  So time to change it up some. Yesterday Keith and I headed up to Twin Falls with the goal of skiing the trees above the climb.  I've climbed Twin a few times before but always early season when it is the only ice formed in the whole canyon.  It seems like that's the norm, as the broken trail ended at Cleo's.  To be honest the last little bit of the approach was probably the crux of the day.  Waist deep snow with ice gear plus a full backcountry set-up meant some hard work was required to reach the base of the ice.  The climb itself went well, though WI3 is more challenging with an extra set of boots and a board on your back!
Afternoon sun over Hyalite

The avalanche forecast wasn't the most confidence inspiring but we figured staying on more mellow slopes would be okay.  It has actually been quite a while since I last dug a pit so doing just that and analyzing the layers was really enjoyable for me. The two feet of snow we received last week was sitting on top of some poorly bonded sugar snow. Not ideal and because of that we stayed down in the trees. While the skiing wasn't incredible we knew it was going to be more of a scouting mission than a full on powderfest.  I'd stay the day was a success though as we were able to explore a new area, refresh our snow science skills, and get in some fun tree skiing.  Next time we'll plan for a whole day and make sure we've got a more stable snowpack!
Can you find the weak layer?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Time to get after it!

      A year ago when this whole idea of an AK climbing trip came into being, Trevor and I were on the same page about it—completely stoked, ready, and willing to share the workload to make Huntington a success. So far, he has done everything right. He has been getting out to climb, working out, getting in shape, and most notably getting a shit-ton of support for us to do this! Sponsorships and grant money were never part of the original plan, but low and behold they’ve been coming out of the woodwork. The American Alpine Club, Black Diamond, Katabatic Gear, Timber Trails, Northern Lights Trading Co, and Kates Real Food are all putting faith in our ability to reach the summit. This level of support is surreal and all of it has been Trevor’s doing.

The West Face of Mt. Huntington, photo cred: cascadeclimbers.com
The extent of my training: trying on
new gear over my clothes ...indoors.
Photo cred: Jane Mulcahy
      My performance, on the other hand, has been abysmal! I’ve been spending the past few months trying to devote my time to graduate school applications and all of the associated rigmarole. As I type, in fact, I am procrastinating the very last application, which is currently hiding in another window on my laptop. I have been biding my time in my apartment, at work, or local coffee shops as I watch my friends get after it with 30+ days of climbing and skiing already under their belts this season. Finally, almost everything is over with—applications, funding, research topics, advisor correspondences, campus visits, etc. The balancing act required to focus on non-climbing life while trying to train at the same time is a problem every climber is familiar with and a topic worthy of many blog posts unto itself. For now I will say that my ability to focus on multiple goals at the same time is apparently non-existent being that I’ve done almost nothing to contribute to the preparation of our trip. Some of my pathetic stats for this winter, pitches climbed: 10 (including indoors!), miles ran: 30 (maybe), days in the gym: 5 (and not for vey long), money raised: $0. If I don’t change my habits drastically and very soon, I am going to die on Huntington this spring (literally).

      So, I bought a membership to our local gym. I’ve started doing my research online (the Gym Jones and Mountain Athlete websites are great resources!). I’ve bought books on training and diet. I am patiently awaiting Steve House’s new book on training for alpine climbing, which is slated to go to press sometime this spring. I am also lucky to have the support of close friends in this endeavor. It's great to have my roommate, Adam, who is also in training for the upcoming rock season and a summer of guiding, that is of course if he stops supplying our snack cupboard with Oreos and freezer with Ben and Jerry’s! Also, my brother, an accomplished climber and newly converted disciple of Crossfit, is giving me a bunch of training advice. The plan is to outline every detail of the next three and a half months to optimize my time and get in the best shape of my life. Will it happen? Can it happen? I don’t know, but I’m damn sure going to try! I owe Trevor 200% effort from here on out.

Excellent training material - Extreme Alipinism by Mark Twight, and CLIMBING: Training for Peak Performance by Clyde Soles. Courtesy of www.mountaineersbooks.org

      This weekend, while Trevor, Adam, and another of our climbing partners, Keith get out for an epic weekend of climbing in the Beartooths, I will stay home, finish my last application, and put together my training schedule. My baseline will be established next week when Trevor and I embark on our first real training trip—5 days of pushing our limits in the Canadian Rockies. We have a lot of ambitious goals. It will be interesting to see what we can accomplish.

Mixed Master, Canadian Rockies, photo cred: cascadeclimbers.com
      With that, so it begins (for me, anyway). My stoke has been building to an all-time high… it is officially time to get after it!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Christmas and Cody

So it has been a while since the last post.  But there is a good excuse I swear!  Since the last post I have been working.  Yes, making money at a place of employment.  As it turns out being unemployed for two and a half months is amazing for climbing but less than ideal for the bank account.  After working for the past month or so I now only owe Jane $225!  And come payday Thursday at 11:59pm I will no longer be indebted to my girlfriend.  That makes both of us happy.  

After working for three weeks I was starting to become quite restless.  Multiple months of no responsibilities will do that to you I guess.  Lucky for me we had ten days off for Christmas and New Years.  With everyone heading back East to visit family but me I decided it was the perfect opportunity to visit Cody, WY.  I'm sure that my mother would have preferred to see me for the holidays, in fact she told me so, but ice climbing it was.  

The holidays started out with a very rushed stopover in Jackson, WY on the way to Denver.  It would have be longer but in typical fashion I took forever to pack.  Someday I will be efficient!  I'll blame the snowy road this time though.  After dropping off Jane at the Denver airport my cousin, Aaron and I headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Soon I discovered my current level of fitness wasn't top-notch.  We climbed Alexander's Chimney on Long's Peak... topping out at almost 13,000.  What an amazing climb, but the almost five mile approach and post-holing completely exhausted us.  Fourteen hours of sleep later and a 2:00pm started resulted in a beautiful snowy day chatting with lost tourists and casual soloing in the Loch Vale area.  Then it turned out to be a Christmas fulled with family after all!  Fondo dinner and Christmas mass with my cousins, their partners, and my aunt.  More traditional than any other Christmas I've ever had.  And I came to CO to climb!

After a relaxing Christmas spent with the family it was off to the airport again.  This time I was picking someone up instead of completing a drop off.  Peter, a good friend of mine from college had flown out to join Aaron and I for the climbing up in Cody.  A eight hour snowy drive placed us in the South Fork of the Shoshone and surrounded by a myriad of appealing climbs.  I had made a trip down to Cody last winter and it would be an understatement to say I was stoked to be back.  We started off the trip with a drippy WI3, Stringer.  Being back in the South Fork was such a welcome change from the local climbing here in Livingston, MT.  While Hyalite is world-class and Pine Creek is also contains a few classics, they just don't have the multi-pitch climbs Cody does.  It seems like every climb in Cody, no matter the length or difficulty, involves never-ending flows of ice.  That eagerness to see what's around the bend, what's hidden just out of sight, that is what makes climbing in Cody such a wonderful adventure.  Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked here... back to Stringer.  The climb only had one main pitch, but then just kept on going and going up through multiple WI2-3 steps.  That is what Cody is all about, seemingly limitless ice that is just right for soloing.  For me anyway... it was Peter's (who now lives in Nashville!) first day of ice for the season.  He survived though and soon we retired to the campfire and our zero degree bags for the night.  
Pitch 1 Stringer

Day two brought us to Smooth Emerald Milkshake, a long tiered WI4 a few miles up Deer Creek.  Christian and I had climbed it last year and I knew it was a must-do climb for Peter's first time to Cody.  Lucky for us the snow was post-hole free this year and we made quick work of the approach.  The ice was a little bit thinner than last year, but I got to lead the crux pitch!  Last year it wasn't my block and I remember wishing it was.
Smooth Emerald Milkshake

  The view from the top was just as amazing as last year, if not even better.  This December Bitches Brew, a classic WI5+, was fully formed across the valley.  Next year...
Bitches Brew

One of the other routes I had in mind for this trip was Broken Hearts.  We had heard the first four pitches were in fat, but the one that mattered was the fifth.  Only one way to find out!  Thinking back on all my climbs I cannot remember a single lead that was as slushy and baked as some of those lower pitches.  They all climbed great, but our early start and the single digit nights did nothing to prevent the ice from becoming mush.  Being a classic of the South Fork, there were tons of hooks and having slushy screws wasn't as scary as you would expect.  After the fourth pitch we continued up through many WI2-3 steps, working our way up towards the My Only Valentine fifth Pitch.  I was so stoked and eager I was literally running up the iced over creek bed.  And then there she was... a 30 foot cone... a 35 foot hanger... and 6-8 feet of air in between.  Might just have to return in February!
Pitches 5  Broken Hearts

The last two days of our trip were warm and sunny.  We took advantage of it and climbed on the south-facing side of the valley.  Some highlights of the rest of the trip were sketchy pro, busted ice dams and big old camp fires.  The sketchy pro is because I don't have a spectre.  A tool pounded into a crack in the Cody choss is bomber if you put a screamer on it right?  Maybe I'll bring my largest pecker next time.  And I'm talking my big wall pitons here! The busted ice dam is the largest I've ever encountered in over five years since I first started leading ice.  Lucky for me it was our last day and it didn't matter too much that I had wet feet for a few hours.  Lastly, we had cut all this wood... So of course we had to burn it all on the last night.  It was just a warm-up to what we have planned for bonfires during our trip up to the Canadian Rockies next month though.  Stay tuned for that.  
Pitch 1, Oh Be Joyful

Friday, November 23, 2012

And so it begins...

Ice season is upon us in Montana!  Well a little while ago it was anyway.  Right now its raining outside and temperatures have barely dropped below freezing in Hyalite for the past several days.  Snow is forecasted tonight and let's keep our fingers crossed that it stays cold enough to preserve the thin ice there is up in Hyalite.  So here's a recap of my early season ice hunting.  

First Sam Hennessey and I drove down to the Beartooth Mountains to climb Funeral for a Friend.  This route usually is one of the first to come in, being at 10,000 feet definitely has something to do what that!  The approach was pretty painless due to lack of substantial snow accumulation.  The climb itself was fat compared to what Sam and I were expecting.  While the climb wasn't overly challenging, spindrift and hard to protect ice shells often reminded us it was full on winter up high.  Regardless, the climbing and setting was incredibly aesthetic and my favorite start to an ice season yet.

Sam approaching Funeral for a Friend
On the approach, the climb is hidden around the left of the face
After our Funeral for a Friend adventure up into the Alpine, we decided to pick shorter approach for the next climb.  Colder temperatures had our hopes up for climbable ice in Hyalite so we ventured to the Unnamed Wall.  Nothing happening.  So off we went on one of the longer approaches in the Canyon and up to Twin Falls.  The single digit temps were even nice enough to treat me with the season's first dose of the barfies.

The ice just wasn't forming in Hyalite, so back to the Beartooths we went.  This time Sam and I picked Ice Dragons.  This climb sits high above East Rosebud Lake at just about 10,000 feet. And what an approach it had.  Seemingly endless boulderfields and about 2 feet of snow aren't the best combination. After many many times falling through the cracks and into the creek we reached the cirque containing our sought after climb.  Though the line was very appealing, large sluffs occasionally poured down the face.  Sam and I had a quick chat about things and since the route seemed surprisingly sheltered, we headed up.  The climb was pretty much opposite of our last Beartooth route, with thin brittle ice rather than the dripping and fat (for early season) ice found on Funeral.  Furthermore Ice Dragons is the most prominent ice feature in the whole cirque, much unlike the hidden gem of Funeral for a Friend.  Regardless, the climb was spectacular in both its setting and how it climbed.  We stopped at the end of the ice. My legs were still tired from the approach and slightly fearing the boulderfield descent, so no easy mixed finish for us.  A few v-threads, some better route finding through the boulders and we made it back to the car in less than half the time for approaching.  Car to car in 13.5 hours.  Unfortunately California Ice was in the dark on both side of our day climbing.  Next time!
Ice Dragons

Looking back down towards East Rosebud Lake on the descent
While this winter is off to a slow start compared to last year, every cloud has its silver lining.  With good ice early last year in Hyalite I never had the desire to trek into the Beartooths.  I'm sure glad I did this year though.  Now let's hope for cold temps up in Hyalite!