April 27, 2010

Colorado Update

I've now been in Colorado for about a week and a half.  The weather has been quite interesting thus far and has put a bit of a kibosh on my skiing plans.  With multiple feet of fresh snow and an inconsistent melt/freeze cycle, the snowpack is not setting up into the nice, stable spring snowpack that I was hoping for.  We're now looking at 2 days of warm weather followed by yet another storm cycle.

I have made it out a few days, and actually skied some nice powder just a couple days ago on a north facing aspect near tree line up by Loveland Pass.  Also had a beautiful day in the Indian Peaks Wilderness as demonstrated by the above photos.  We made it most of the way to the top of Pawnee Peak before the weather turned bad quickly and we hastily retreated.

Nonetheless, my goal of acclimating is going well with supplementary hikes and runs in the Flatirons.  Dane should be getting back from his course in the next couple days, and we'll probably head up to Summit County to begin the next phase of our acclimation plan (I've been staying in Boulder so far).  My altitude adjustment so far has made me quite glad that I decided to spend a month in Colorado before heading up to Denali.  I'm thoroughly convinced that this pre-acclimation process is going to make our time on the big mountain significantly more fun as well as increase our chances of successfully implementing our plans of skiing off the top!

April 19, 2010

Seattle Mountain Rescue / National Pond Skimming Championships

Last Thursday evening I attended a Seattle Mountain Rescue (SMR) monthly board meeting.  I had applied to join the search and rescue organization a couple months prior and was finally able to attend one of their meetings.  The purpose of my attendance was for the board to ask me some questions and see if they wanted me to become a part of their volunteer organization.  I apparently passed and I'm now part of SMR.  I won't be around Seattle much in the next 6 months or so, but after that I'm excited to become a more active SMR member!

The morning after the meeting with SMR I started driving to Colorado.  I arrived in Broomfield, CO two days later, just in time for a going away party for Tony and Lisa, who are leaving the Boulder area and heading for Utah.  I snuck out of the party around 10pm to drive up to Summit County.  The following morning I met up with Keith, Edyn, and Graham (KEG) for a day of shenanigans at Vail during their last ski day of the year.  We skied for a few hours in the morning before KEG got costumed up and headed out to compete in the National (World?) Pond Skimming Championships.

I had seen similar events in ski movies over the years, but it was something else to witness an event like this first hand.  Aside from a truly horrible announcer, the event was incredible in the best way.  Contestants picked up as much speed racing down the hill towards a jump that marked the beginning of a 100-foot-long pond.  Five of the 100ish participants made it across.  Most flailed and splashed miserably.

The Tooth

I suppose it was nearly a week ago now, but Jake finally made a trip up to Seattle to visit Molly, Phil, Ava, and me.  We spent quite a bit of time eating and playing Settlers over the course of about 2.5 days.  Thanks to Molly for all the delicious food!

I wanted to show Jake one of my favorite things about Seattle: the close proximity to alpine climbing.  I had been looking for an excuse to climb The Tooth on Snowqualmie Pass, and this was the perfect opportunity.

The Tooth is the big block on the right.  I'll refer to the gendarme to its left as The Fang.  The route we climbed pretty much follows the left skyline but is out of view on the other side of the peak.

We skied the approach to the climb, which took us a bit longer than it should have for a variety of reasons, the stupidest and funniest reason I'll share here.  The route description is very clear about ascending the saddle immediately to the left of The Fang.  This we accomplished without much difficulty.  However, once in this saddle at the base of the fang, I for some reason decided to switch from ski mode into climbing mode and begin climbing - completely failing to traverse around the back side of The Fang to the base of The Tooth and the beginning of our intended route.  After climbing what I retardedly believed to be the first pitch of The Tooth, I found myself at the top of The Fang and immediately slapped my palm to my forehead in disgust of my stupidity.  In hind site, I would recommend this route to anyone as it lets you get an extra pitch of climbing in as well as top out on a sweet little spire.

Jake following the first pitch of The Tooth

We rappelled from The Fang to the base of the Tooth and were quickly back on route.  There had been a lot of snow in the previous weeks, but the weather forecast for this day was sunny and hot!  Our route was on the south face, so I hoped that the sun would turn our climb into a straight forward rock climb.  For this reason, I optimistically brought rock climbing shoes with me.  It turned out there were only a few moves on the entire climb where rock shoes would have been appropriate due to the copious amount of snow that the sun was failing to deal with to my liking.  No problem.  I was prepared to climb in my ski boots.  Jake thought I was crazy when I told him we would be climbing in ski boots, but he soon realized that these were the most appropriate tools for the situation.

The climbing was fun and on the steeper sections the rock was great with sufficient protection.  The flatter sections were covered in snow and we would occasionally start a roller ball down the mountain that grew like they do in cartoons before plunging over the immense and overhanging east face of The Tooth.  The climbing definitely seemed harder than the rating of 5.4, but that's to be expected given the route conditions and use of ski boots.  I unburied many holds that made seemingly tricky moves much easier, which made me wonder how many other holds managed to elude me for the same reason.  Three pitches later, we were on top.

Jake and my leg on the summit with proof of footwear

The views were amazing in all directions - rugged Cascade mountains everywhere!  We rappelled the route in four single rope (70m) rappels.  Finding anchors after each rappel was tricky as some of them were buried under as much as two feet of snow and ice.  However, my strategy of selecting the sturdiest-looking tree and digging down to the base of the trunk, sometimes requiring an ice axe, always revealed some sort of anchor.

Jake rappelling one of the less snowy parts of the route

The ski down was mostly on super wet, heavy, and unconsolidated snow.  Skiing past a couple of struggling snowshoers most of the way back to the car reminded us of how much better bad skiing is than good snowshoeing.  We made it back to Molly and Phil's place just in time for an amazing dinner!

April 12, 2010

Teriyaki Now: Climbing in Leavenworth

"What do we want?  Teriyaki!  When do we want it?  Now!" we chanted shortly after we drove past the perpetually closed restaurant, Teriyaki Now, in Sultan, WA on our way to Leavenworth for a weekend of climbing.

Ava and I, along with the world's best third wheel, Evan, opted for a weekend of rock climbing to avoid escalating avalanche conditions once again.  Leavenworth is famous for having an eerie and very much out-of-place Bavarian style to the entire town.  I'll spare my readers visual images of the downtown.  Suffice it to say that attending Octoberfest there is now on my bucket list.

Ava on the upper stretches of The Fault, directly above Highway 2

The climbing around Leavenworth is much more spread out than I had anticipated, so it was great having Evan as our acting guide.  We spent Saturday climbing at Castle Rock in Tumwater Canyon.  I led a 3-pitch climb on Lower Castle Rock starting with The Fault (5.6) and finishing with Catapult (5.8) to gain Loggers Ledge, where a slew of climbs begin on Upper Castle Rock.  Evan then led Canary (5.8) and Angel (5.10b), both of which were 3 pitches on Upper Castle Rock.  The rock quality was incredible and everything we did was great fun!

Evan leading the first pitch of Canary

Ava at the amazing finger crack and crux of Angel

That night, as we poached a campsite at a closed campground, it started to snow.  There was only about a half inch on the ground when we got up, but I figured that would be enough to make the rock too wet to be suitable for climbing.  We went exploring on Sunday anyway, half-assed trying to find some other people we knew who were also associated with the UW Climbing Club.  In the process we found ourselves at Clamshell Cave and climbed an aesthetic and unknown single-pitch route (5.7ish) there, on which Ava got to practice leading on gear.

Me leading the unknown climb on Clamshell Cave

After this we backtracked to The Cube, which is a 20-foot high boulder near the base of Clamshell Cave with a beautiful 5.7 hand crack among other bouldering problems.  Evan did this first and made it look relatively easy.  I decided to give it a go next, and although 5.7 is not particularly difficult, the exposure at the top of the boulder combined with my novice crack climbing skills made the finish quite exciting.

Evan's local area knowledge then led us on a side-hill bushwhack for a half hour until we arrived at Givler's Dome.  The super classic climb on this dome is the two-pitch Givler's Crack (5.8) and was one I had randomly picked out of the guidebook as a "must do" based on it's description.  Evan had climbed this crack once before but never led it.  I was happy to give him the lead this time as I felt pretty worked over by all the climbing done thus far, and he was happy to have it.  Givler's Crack was as amazing as I had hoped and made for a great finish to a great weekend!

Givler's Crack

Evan leading the sweetest stretch of Givler's Crack

April 05, 2010

Farrel Cat Tits!

Immediately after the Tahoe trip, Ava and I attended my dad's wedding in Lake Oswego.  It was quite fancy with copious amounts of booze.  Congrats Dad and Jill!  I'm super happy for you both!

The next day marked the beginning of several days off for Jake.  This worked out perfectly for me as Ava had to head back to Seattle that same day.  Jake and I had planned to climb a few Oregon Cascade volcanoes, but the recent snow storm made mountain travel prohibitively sketchy.  After an hour, we had come up with an alternative plan: pay for a lift ticket at Mt. Bachelor and ski a full day on our way to Northeast Oregon for a 3-day kayak trip down the Grande Ronde River.

The exorbitantly priced lift ticket at Mt. Bachelor turned out to be worth it!  We skied bottomless powder all day, and it snowed so hard toward the end of the day that we were skiing fresh tracks all over again.  It reminded me of the good old days when almost everyday at Bachelor was bottomless powder, complete with goggle-coating freezing fog.

After driving from Eugene to Bachelor and skiing all day at Bachelor, we continued driving to La Grande where we stayed the night with my brother.  Early the next morning, Wes helped us shuttle a vehicle to the take out (Troy, OR) and dropped us off at the put in (Minam, OR).

Jake and all our gear at the put in

We planned to float the 46-miles to our car in three days, spending two nights on the river.  Jake paddled an inflatable kayak (IK) and carried most of our stuff.  I paddled my hardshell and stuffed as much into the back of it as I could.  With flows around 3,000 cfs, the river was higher than average, but far from flood stage.  There were no gnarly rapids on this stretch of river, but we were entertained by abundant wildlife (elk, deer, black bear, bald eagles, mountain goats, river otter, steelhead, etc.), remoteness (most of the run was designated 'wild and scenic'), and weather.

Jake at our first campsite during the long-lasting hail storm

We ended up paddling 15 miles the first day, 10 miles the second day, and 21 miles the last day.  Averaging almost 5 miles an hour while on the water, we really only paddled for about 10 hours in three days.  We spent much of the rest of our time hiking, looking for shed antlers, fishing, and making fires.

The weather on our first day was supposed to be the worst.  It ended up being overcast with patches of sun, followed by a late afternoon hail storm.  This was quite tolerable, so we thought we would luck out with the weather.  The second day was similar with the occasional snow flurry, but nothing stuck on the ground.  On the morning of the third day, Jake paddled across the river and set off to find some shed antlers.  I slept in and eventually got up to build a fire and eat breakfast.  At about 10:30 it started snowing.  Shortly after noon, Jake returned from an unsuccessful shed hunt.  There were a few inches of snow on the ground by then.

Yes, I agree.  Jake should join a circus.

Putting on my frozen wet suit was tons of fun.  Jake's dry suit required much less mental preparation to put on.
Jake getting ready to paddle during the snow storm

Loading the snowy IK

Aside from cold hands and feet, we had an enjoyable 21-mile paddle through the snow storm.  Only occasionally did the wind blow upstream, stinging our faces with icy snow pellets.  During these times I wished I was wearing my ski goggles.  Shortly before reaching the take out, the snow turned to mostly rain.

Snow paddling

We passed several steelhead fisherman within a few miles of the put in, and after that we didn't see a single person until we took out in Troy.  Even than, we only saw one lone guy passing in a pickup truck.  Turns out Troy is a bit of a ghost town this time of year.

The adventure wasn't quite over at the take out.  The drive out from Troy back to La Grande required going up quite a ways to get out of the canyon.  For most of the drive back, we were making fresh tracks through about 5 inches of snow on a gravel road.