August 23, 2010

Climbing Road Trip – Part Final

Ava and I just finished up our summer climbing road trip. Since my last post, we spent a couple more days at Lovers Leap, finishing off pretty much all of the classics at and below the 5.8 level as well as The Line (5.9), a line so amazing it is called "The Line". Imagine a pill so amazing it is called, simply, "The Pill" . . . I digress. We also climbed for a day at Smith Rock on our way back to Seattle.

Anyway, I had been thinking about "The Line" and using it as motivation to climb and lead at a more difficult level for the last couple weeks of our trip. I chose this particular 5.9 because it has a reputation for being very protectable (easy to place gear anywhere on the way up to prevent a long fall) as well as having amazing and sustained climbing. The climb lived up to its reputation. In two long pitches, of sustained 5.7 to 5.9 climbing, we ascended the most striking vertical crack that splits the East Wall of Lovers Leap. I placed gear frequently but efficiently and managed to climb the whole thing cleanly, and most importantly, felt solid the whole way up. All the way up, the route demands a mixture of crack, face, and lie back techniques. It finishes with a 15-foot overhung section with great holds, many of them hidden.

After our last stint at Lovers Leap, we met up with Ava's dad in Truckee before heading north. We drove up to Smith, climbed hard for a few hours the next morning before it got too hot, hitting a few of the classic sport routes such as: Phone Call From Satan (5.9), 5-Gallon Buckets (5.8), Outlaw (5.9), and Light on the Path (5.10a). This was a great intro for Ava as she had never been to Smith Rock before, and it was fun to finish our almost entirely trad climbing trip with a little sport climbing. I was happy with how good I felt leading the harder climbs at Smith.

We stayed a night with Jake in Eugene before heading north to Seattle. The next morning I woke up early and made it to Conway, WA to begin briefing for my next NOLS course at 8:00 am. It's been a great road trip! I'd be more sad for it to end if I wasn't looking forward to the next month so much (teaching a mountaineering course, followed by archery hunting with Jake)! It's nice be back in the Northwest after being gone for almost 4.5 months.

August 15, 2010

Climbing Road Trip Part III – California

After getting stormed off of the Grand Teton, Ava and I were scheduled to meet up with Kris and Mel (friends from Seattle) in Yosemite for a week of climbing in Tuolumne Meadows. We drove to Truckee, CA and spent a day there with Ava's parents. As usual, it was great to see them and wonderful to have a real house to stay in for a couple nights. On our way down to Yosemite, we stopped and climbed at Lovers Leap, linking Surrealistic Pillar with Corrugation Corner for perhaps the best seven pitch 5.7 climb in existance. What made this even better was that Ava is leading trad climbs now and she was able to take some of the leads!

Corrugation Corner
We had dinner that night at the Strawberry Lodge, a place that is eerily reminiscent of The Shining before driving to Tuolumne Meadows. The next day we climbed Northwest Books on Lembert Dome while waiting for Kris and Mel to show up, which was a great introduction to Yosemite granite. The fun picked up dramatically upon their arrival.

The four of us had a great time camping, drinking beer, and climbing for seven days. Over that week, and in various combinations we climbed:
Bull Dozier (5.7), Dozier Dome;
Holdless Horrer (5.6), Dozier Dome;
Northwest Buttress (5.5), Tenaya Peak;
Great White Book (5.6R), Stately Pleasure Dome;
West Country (5.7), Stately Pleasure Dome;
West Ridge (5.6), Mt. Conness;
Haystack (5.8), Lovers Leap; and
spent a day toproping 5.7 to 5.11a climbs at Murphy Creek.

Kris, Mel, and Ava about half way up Tenaya Peak
All these climbs were of fantastic quality and constituted trip highlights. I was particularly fond of the climbs on Stately Pleasure Dome and the West Ridge of Mt. Conness, but I think I still like the climbing at Lovers Leap best of all.

There are so many "you had to be there" stories, I don't know where to begin and they wouldn't make any sense here anyway. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

The 4th pitch of West Country
Second Pitch of the Great White Book
West Ridge of Conness
Ava high up on Conness's West Ridge
We are currently taking the weekend off to avoid crowds, but plan to spend one more week in the Tahoe area before heading north so I can begin instructing a NOLS course out of Washington. For obvious reasons, I want this summer to continue indefinitely.

August 01, 2010

Climbing Road Trip Part II - Cirque of the Towers

After spending a month in Wyoming's Wind River Range, I apparently hadn't had enough.  Ava and I decided to begin the second part of our climbing road trip by heading into the Cirque of the Towers, which, as the name suggests, is an amazing cirque lined with granite towers on nearly all sides.  The abundance of clean alpine granite lines in this area is astounding.  This is located only a few miles south of where my course passed by just days earlier (we intentionally avoided the area due to its reputation for being crowded).

Before I begin to recount these adventures, please follow my logic: Cirque of the Towers - C of the Ts - Sea of the Tease.  Thank you.

We backpacked into the cirque on our first day with plans of achieving alpine glory on the subsequent two or three days.  The weather was questionable nearly the entire time, but we went for it anyway and were glad that we did.

Pingora on the right, with Wolf's Head just to the left and behind Pingora
On day two we got up early and hiked up towards Pingora Peak, aiming for the classic South Buttress line.  We ended up taking a non-standard approach to this climb that involved some interesting scrambling.  Sufficient wandering around on ledges eventually led us to the start of the climb, where we ran into two fellow NOLSies who were just starting the same climb.  I led the first pitch, which was an enjoyable 5.6 crack/corner system on surprisingly clean alpine granite.  Ava valiantly led the next 5.6 pitch which continued in a similar fashion.  We were then faced with the option of traversing to yet another 5.6 corner or continuing straight up a 5.8 crack system known as the "K" cracks.  The left side of the "K" cracks looked amazing, so I got my send on.  The first two pitches were great, and this one was notably better.  After that, a 300-foot scramble led us to Pingora's summit.

Leading up the first pitch of the South Buttress (look at those pretty new ropes!)
The "K" Crack Pitch
A Craig Weiland inspired summit shot on Pingora
While the climbing/scenery/summit/etc. were amazing, we both left wishing the route was at least twice as long.

Our camp with Pingora and Wolf's Head in the background
We awoke early again on Day 3 and marched back up the cirque in search of the East Ridge of Wolf's Head.  There wasn't much searching necessary, as we could see if from our camp, but getting to the base of the ridge proved interesting.  It was supposed to be a Class 3 scramble on grassy ledges.  We found the grassy ledges but still had to pull out the rope for a few moves down low and and two easy 5th class pitches up higher.  The fact that it sporadically rained on us while gaining the ridge didn't help.

Once on the ridge, the reason this climb is so famous slaps you in the face.  The first part of the east ridge varies from 1-foot to about 6-feet wide and is split by a crack that provides excellent protection as it ascends toward the jagged summit ridge.  Considering the shear drop off on both sides of the ridge makes its position splendid.  Despite the dramatic position, the climbing is relatively easy until the towers along the summit ridge are encountered, at which point the route finding and climbing difficulties increase.  The exposure below us was made more real when we were forced to traverse around some of the towers.

Feeling the exposure (notice the climbing shoe camouflage)
The blocky towers of the summit ridge
Ava traversing under one of the summit towers with lots of air below
Once we finally made it to the top, I felt more than usual the reality of only being half way there upon reaching the summit.  I believe the suspect weather contributed largely to this.  We still had to get down and the descent route would be off an entirely different side of the mountain.  The descent was adventurous, for sure, but we found the necessary rappel stations and safely made our way back to camp for what seemed like a longer day than it actually was.

We had optimistically hoped to climb the Northeast Face of Pingora on the following day, but due to several factors including: copious amounts of rain the night before, our bodies feeling the ware of the previous three days, sustained difficulty of the route, continuing questionable weather, and consideration of opportunity costs, we opted to hike out and head for the Tetons.  I hope to return to this amazing cirque many times in the future as the number of incredible alpine granite lines is practically limitless.