Category Archives: Ice

The Pickle

It’s been years since I climbed the Icicle in the daylight. This thing is open 24/7 and today was no different, but I wanted to get out and do something. Luckily, the people that Scott and I found half way up were bailing, and the only other people we saw were below us. I still can’t place ice screws, so Scott ropegunned the belayed pitches despite not having led anything for several years. Good on ya Scott. The Pickle didn’t have the best ice ever, but there was plenty of it, and the sunset was pretty bad ass as well.

Ouray

Each year I try to get down to Ouray for a long weekend of ice climbing, and luckily my thumb is just healed enough to allow the trip this winter. I still can’t lead anything because I don’t possess the dexterity to place ice screws, but I did get to toprope a whole bunch of really steep stuff and got in a ton of pitches (except Sunday when I was really hungover from Saturday night’s margs). The climbing was great, but there’s something I always notice when I’m in Ouray and would like to address. It goes like this…

Belayer lowers Climber to the river 35 meters below.

Belayer: “On belay!”

Climber: “Am I on belay?

Belayer:”Dude, you’re one belay, climb!”

Climber: “Dude, can you hear me?”

Belayer: “ON BELAY, CLIMB WHEN READY!!!”

Climber: “AM I ON BELAY OR WHAT???”

Guy On The Bridge: “Dude, your friend has you on belay”

and so on until the climber just assumes everything is probably OK and starts climbing.

Try this instead: Lower your partner to the river. When the rope goes slack you know he’s standing on the ground. Take in the slack and give the rope three long, hard pulls. This is the signal to the climber that he’s on and can start moving. No yelling needed. Then again, listening to a half dozen climber standing next to running water in the bottom of a canyon yell back and fourth with a half dozen belayers standing ten feet back from the rim of the canyon was pretty entertaining. Thanks for keeping my smiling when I’m so hung over that I can barely function. Keep up the good work.

More Ice

Damn it! Where the hell is all the snow??!! Oh sorry, lost my train of thought. I mean, yay, I got to go ice climbing today. Jen and I took three friends out for their first time on the ice, and everyone had a blast. Conditions were surprisingly good given the warm weather. It’s good to know that winter lives… even if it is on life support.

Don’t Tell My Doctor

If my doctor or PT knew that I went ice climbing today, either one would kick my ass. I was told that skiing was not an option, so I’d guess that ice climbing is out as well. It turns out that ice climbing doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as I expected. As long as I don’t swing too hard or trip on the approach, it’s actually quite pleasant. I can’t lead, since my thumb likes to quit at very inappropriate times, but it’s still incredibly nice to simply be outside and going up. Even if I have to follow someone else and hook in their pick placements.

Alaska 2011

After six months of training, I hauled my 150lbs of gear to the airport and got on a plane to Alaska. Jesse and I met up in the airport where Delta promptly emptied our wallets to the tune of $185 in baggage fees despite only having three bags each with nothing over-weight. At midnight we arrived in Anchorage, got a cab to Jesse’s friend’s house, crashed for the night, and then spent the entire next day shopping for food and last minute items before getting on the shuttle up to Talkeetna. Our shuttle driver, Cliff, deserves mention, as he is possibly the most interesting person I’ve ever met and everything I hoped a native Alaskan would be. He has (according to himself) hunted everything there is to hunt, rolled one with Samuel L Jackson, and definitely does not carry hand grenades.

Anyway, upon arriving in Talkeetna, we learned that the weight limit for flying into the glacier was 150lbs a person. This proved a problem, since our bags not totaled 457lbs with the addition of a two-burner stove, grill, propane, large pots and frying pans, two bottles of scotch, two bottles of whisky, a bottle of Baileys, and tons of food (four steaks, bacon, chicken, sausage, veggies, and so on). The over-weight fee was $1 per pound. All in all, not as bad as Delta.

Jesse and I had a rather lofty goal for the trip, but we learned that our route was out of shape only a couple days before leaving for AK. We had two choices. Re-kit for something like a slog up Denali, or fly into the Kahiltna and do the base camp circuit of lower routes that have actual climbing on them. We chose the latter and boarded the Otter for our flight into the range. We hadn’t been on the ground more than a couple minutes when I heard someone yell my name and looked up to see Rick and Jess coming down the hill to greet us. They had flown in a couple days earlier and had been chilling out and waiting for the snow to end. They helped us lug some gear up the hill and we set up camp next to theirs. “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Things were a bit snowy and unsettled on the morning of day two, and we were still getting accustomed to the place, so Jesse and I decided to ski to the base of Mt Frances and climb the first little bit of the route to see what it was going to be like. It took us an hour and a half to make it to the top of the second tower, which included some really fun rock climbing with crampons in temps warm enough for bare hands. That night we went to sleep (as well as could be done with 24-hour daylight anyway) and set the alarm for 5:00am. When the alarm went off it was snowing like mad, so we went back to bed. 9:00 rolled around and we decided to greet the day, only to see a bluebird sky. Damn, should have gone. But then again, we reasoned, it never gets dark, so why don’t we just go? We made the call in about three minutes, slammed down some food, boiled some more water, and were walking out of camp at 10:00 in the morning.

With the lower snow section of the route nicely frozen, we made good time soloing everything up to the base of the second tower where we roped up and I took off in the lead. We cruised that pitch for the second time in two days, simal-climbed several rope lengths of steep snow and a bit of rock to the base of the third pitch, and then made the terrible mistake of following the topo. This is pretty much where things went to shit.

I followed the route description and climbed a hand crack on the right side of a short rock section. Unfortunately, due to the very low snow year, the “snowy slabs” above were just blank, unprotected slabs. So I tension traversed 15 feet to the left and climbed as high as I dared before placing more gear in order to make the move easier on Jesse. At the top of the pitch, I traversed 30 meters straight left (as per the route description) and came another 10-foot wide section of blank 70-degree slab. So, I reversed 15 meters, down climbed a bit, and went back out left. Once again, I came to a section of rock that I had no business dealing with. Finally, I had Jesse lower me 60 feet straight down and slightly to the left, to a snow ledge I could have walked to before climbing the crack, and the way ahead was clear. Well, that was an hour wasted for nothing.

So, with that cluster out of the way, I moved up the thigh-deep snow as fast as I could, turned the corner on the third tower, and moved into steep mixed terrain ahead. Only a couple body lengths into the slabby rock and snow it became clear that to continue straight up would be a terrible idea, so I built an anchor and brought up Jesse. At this point, after having done a bunch of really scary climbing in the last couple hours, I was mental fried. Jesse started his block by being lowered down and to the left until he was on 65-degree snow leading around the corner. We simal-climbed several rope lengths of steep, loose, scary snow with granite underneath. Occasionally Jesse would build a one or two-piece anchor and reel me in to reload on gear and then lead out again.

We completely abandoned the topo and started climbing whatever looked climbable until we could make it back to the ridge. After climbing into the notch, we finally saw the other side of the mountain again and from there made one more long simal-climbing pitch to the base of tower 4 where Jesse led through and took us to easy ground. Or so we thought. From there it was nearly 2000 feet of thigh-deep heavy snow to reach the cornice below the false summit. We cranked as hard as we could, but the hours ticked by anyway. By the time we reached the cornice I was back in the lead. I crossed a crevasse and traversed hard right hoping to see the end of the massive overhang. Eventually I came to it after several hundred feet of traversing and quite a bit of down climbing. 80-degree since (not quite snow, not quite ice) guarded the corner where the overhand relented, and Jesse slid a picket down the rope for me to place before making the turn. I’ll never talk shit about pickets again.

At this point is was about 11:00 at night, and I was still climbing in only a long-sleeve shirt, but when I turned the corner I put on every layer I had including my down jacket. We plodded along the ridge and Jesse started out in front to weave us through the last rock section, but not before accidentally dropping a van-sized cornice and nearly soiling himself as he watched it fall down the west face. At midnight we made the final couple hundred yards to the summit with me pulling hard on Jesse. It was the only time in the entire trip where he wasn’t running me into the ground.

Luckily for us, someone had climbed the east ridge earlier and left us a nice trail down to the glacier where were were able to follow ski tracks back to camp and avoid potholing. It was 3:15 in the morning when we strolled into camp and saw Rick and Jess gearing up for a go at the North Couloir of the Mini-Moonflower. The route that we expected to take 12 hours on ended up taking 17 hours and 15 minutes camp to camp because of the conditions. What a shit show.

At 10:00 in the morning after our climb, one of the rangers poked his head into our tent to ask if we had seen any signs of other human traffic on the route or on the west side of the mountain. Two climbers were now four days overdue and no one had heard or seen a thing of them. We wished out loud for them to come out alright. Jesse and I spent the rest of the day eating and reading and chatting with Rick and Jess who made it well past the crux of Mini but turned back in 50mph winds near the ridge. The next morning Jesse yelled from outside the tent “dude, you gotta come see this. Grab your camera.” So I jumped out of the tent with the long lens and saw a helicopter long-lining a PJ off the glacier. Those guys are bad ass for sure. A dozen minutes went by and the chopper came back, this time with more than just a PJ hanging below it. I was stoked to be taking shots of a heli rescue, firing off frames like a damn idiot when I realized, all at once, that the guy below the PJ was hanging in an unnatural position and wasn’t moving. “Ahhh, Fuck!” I yelled out loud and carelessly tossed my camera into a pile of climbing gear. It wasn’t a rescue.

I wanted nothing to do with the scene. I had nor morbid curiosity. I knew what I needed to know, and then some. I laid back into the tent and started reading, trying to take my mind of what I just saw. That very last thing I wanted to see on this trip. An hour later the helicopter left and came back again. Neither of us bothered to look. We already knew what we’d see. Four hours later a serac broke off the top of Mt Hunter, avalanched the entire north face, ripped across a half mile of glacier, and slammed into the base of Peak 12,200 on the other side. The powder cloud covered the tracks where Rick and Jess had just come from, and where Jesse and I were planning on going next. If I knew Jesse could find another person to climb with, I’m pretty sure I would have walked down to the landing strip and hopped on the next plane. I was done. I’d seen too much. I wanted out.

Jesse cooks just as well as he climbs. Maybe even better. Armed with a two-burner stove and more food than I generally eat in two months, he made up gourmet meal after gourmet meal during our stay. Between the meals, drinking scotch, and talking through my fuck-this-place feeling with Rick, I managed to get re-stoked. Jesse and I eventually tired of hanging out and wasting time and decided to ski over and check out Mini-Moonflower from the base. So, we skied across the glacier where we had watched the massive slide cover everything less than 24 hours ago, took a look, and decided to come back in the morning to give it a shot. We came back to camp, ate even more food, packed, and turned in for the night.

I didn’t sleep one damn second. When the alarm went off at 2:00 in the morning I was still wide awake and staring at the tent celing. Jesse did much better, getting in maybe two hours, if that. We scarfed some breakfast, put on the skis, and started toward the base of the route. We made it in well under the guidebook time, which indicates we were moving well, but I felt like complete shit the entire time. I nearly threw up while trying to get under the the slide zone quickly, and my stomach didn’t settle down until were were well up the route. Jesse led the first section over the schrund and belayed where the angle kicked off a bit, then I took over for five 60m pitches of 60- to 70-degree ice and neve. We moved pretty quickly and tried to stay comfortable at the hanging belays, but our calves took a pretty serious beating. On the final lead of my block, with only 50 feet to go and in the steepest section of the pitch, my left arm decided it was over the whole swinging-tools thing and cramped up so bad I could not move it. I had one well planted tool already, so I leaned in, took the tool from my left hand with my right, drove it deep, and then made a really shitty three-piece one-handed anchor in snice and yelled “off belay.” Jesse came up, I apologized for my shit show, and he finished the last 50 feet of my block. Then he looked up at the crux pitch. It was barely there two days ago when Rick led it, and now it wasn’t there at all. “I’m not fucking leading that!” Came the description and the decision in one sentence, and Jesse started building the first of several rappels. So much for that route.

Back on the glacier Jesse and I tested the benefits of our ski setups. He had his standard touring setup and had to pack around two pairs of boot shells (one for skiing and one for climbing) while swapping liners. But that did offer him some more support than my Silvretta bindings (which work with climbing boots) on skinny skis and a home-made support/tether system. Basically, both systems sucked. On the other hand, my skis had scales, so I ripped my skins and hauled ass under Hunter, beating Jesse back to safe ground by a half hour or better. The soft snow actually made for good turns, and we were having fun again despite bailing on the route.

I never expected Alaska to be so damned hot. At 7200 feet, in a place so far north that it never gets dark, we wore T-shirts all day long and recorded 88-degree temps in the tent nearly every day. The whole camp was melting around us and avalanches were going off like fireworks displays each afternoon. It quickly became clear that no one was climbing anything else around base camp. Not safely at least. So while Rick and Jess ran up the east ridge of Frances to see the amazing view up there, Jesse and I scheduled a flight out. The next morning, we broke down camp, gave away all the food we could, and flew to Talkeetna. We managed to waste two days there drinking, drying gear, and generally being lazy asses until that got old and we got a shuttle to Anchorage where we basically did the same thing. Jesse and I are both very competitive people, so we pretty much had to find out who was better at any competitive thing we could come up with. It broke down like this: Jesse is way better at golf and darts. I’m way better at ping pong and foosball. We both suck at pool, so that was a wash. Fortunately, while Jesse is better than me at shuffleboard, I could hold my own and sometimes win, so we ended up playing about 100 games at the Pioneer bar in addition to going on a long-steep hike and a couple bike rides. Finally, with nearly a week wasted, we initiated operation “sleep on the plane.” Here’s how it went down. We drank and played shuffleboard until about 6:00. Then we went home got the surf shorts we bought the day before and my $30 running shoes from the mall, went to the start of the Twilight 12K road race and started. We ran ourselves into the ground, drank away what was left, and went to bed at 2:00am. We got up at 5:00am, went to the airport, got on the plane, and slept like champions. And since I like to share knowledge, you should all know this. We flew back with Alaska Airlines, who charge $20 a bag no matter what, which makes their three-bag fees $125 cheaper than Delta. Screw those guys!

Sorry for the ultra-long post with way too-many photos. Everyone wanted to see “all of the photos.” This isn’t nearly all of them, but it’s as many as I was willing to subject anyone to.

 

Ophir

Mike is always up for the strange stuff that most people are smart enough to avoid, so he was stoked to join in a bit of drytooling today. After a complete cluster of a morning (I forgot my boots), we made our way to the tiny mining town of Ophir. Just beyond the town is a small mixed climbing crag right off the road. Nothing fancy, but better stone than Provo and definitely no people. Fun stuff. It was on the two of us, so no cool drytooling photos. Sorry.

Epic Fail on Olympus

Sometimes things just don’t go your way. Keelan joined me on today’s hate fest, and we began the approach to the Great Chimney on Olympus hoping that it would would provide a good training tool. Flotation is a must on the 2800 foot, very steep approach. I chose approach skis while Keelan used snowshoes. They both sucked. It took just as long to reach as it took for me and Alex to get the Pfiefferhorn earlier this season. Pretty sad considering we could still see the car. Before the actual pitches began, we reached a short squeeze chimney that, according to a friend is full of ice when the route is in. Unfortunately, only the first half or so has some ice-ish type stuff and then it turned to powder snow. I cruised up the chimney quickly, but when I stemmed across the top I was separated by the mellow terrain above by a body length of powder-covered featureless slab. There was absolutely no pro around or anywhere below me for that matter, and after wasting a good 20 minutes looking for some, I decided to come down instead of risking a fall that would certainly land me in the hospital. Not wanting to fail so pathetically, I moved 20 feet to the left and tried to climb the face before traversing into the gully. After 60 feet, it was clear that this wasn’t going to work. Keelan gave the slab exit a try but had the same result. So, after screwing around for a couple hours to try and cover less than 100 vertical feet of what I would feel comfortable soloing with rock shoes in summer, we went home. I’m pissed about failing, but sometimes conditions just aren’t right, I probably would have been able to top out the pitch, but it would have been a stupid gamble. No cracks, no gear. No gear, no go.

The Path Less Traveled

Another big storm rolled into the Wasatch today. Combined with the already deep and fluffy covering, the skiing should be amazing. But… I went ice climbing. Tim called and asked if I would join him in Maple, and I haven’t been down there yet this year, so I wasn’t too hard to persuade. Besides, the UAC has issued an avalanche warning, so it’s not the best day to go get rad in the backcountry. Conditions were pretty good today, though warmer than we would have liked. The only really notable event was Tim leading Get Whacked (WI5) in conditions the resembled a vertical slushy. I cleaned most of the screws with a few turns and a good hard pull. Oh, and I trundled a massive rock off the top of Running Man. It was perched rather precariously at the edge of the route, ready to kill some poor bastard who climbed under it when a stiff wind blew. I pushed with about the same amount of force that you’d use to give someone a slap on the back and it pin-balled down the route and cratered at the edge of the road. I smiled.

Late Night Ice

Jen and I are both very sick. Neither of us have felt like our normal selves for about two weeks, and we’ve both taken days off work. Jen and I are also both very bad at sitting around. So, despite feeling pretty crappy, we drive into LCC and climbed the Icicle in the middle of the night under a full moon. While the light from the moon didn’t penetrate the walls around the Icicle, it lit up the rest of the canyon like it was noon. And the air was so still that you could hear the squeak from the rusty water pump at the dam from the top of the last pitch (which was really eerie actually). Then we went home and realized we were more sick then when we started.

1000 Feet

Since I couldn’t talk anyone into my original plan for today, I decided to go to Provo and top-rope solo 1000 vertical feet of ice. Despite summer temps in the valley, the ice in the canyon was still decent. My plan was to set the altimeter and climb and rappel until it got to 1000 feet. However, I forgot that the altimeter does not track in real time, but every few minutes. My first lap (which included stopping at the top and bottom for setting up) showed 75 vertical feet. I didn’t check again until several laps later when things were in constant motion, and then I got 40 feet. So, who knows. I probably climbed something like 1400 feet, but since I didn’t count my laps there’s no way to know for sure. Either way it was a lot of fun and gave me confidence that all those calf raises have been paying off.