Thursday, August 21, 2008

Puddle Jumpin

Little airplanes are fun, especially in a cross-wind.

Took a brilliant tour of Crazyhorse in preparation for the work I am doing there, andthat evening got the coolest picture I have take this whole trip.

CrazyHorse, lit you at night and with a lightening storm. Cool

Though not as cool, here are a couple of others as well...

Campground lightening

Looks like a lightening man with just his legs and arms below the clouds.

Also since the guy I am working with climbs (perfect!) I got to get the grand tour of the Needles this morning before heading out to catch the plane.

Did Classic Crack 5.8 Not really crack climbing but still nice, and the summits here are always spectacular.

Three Rings for Elven Kinds at 5.9+ was the best route I did here. Face climbing to a rappel off slings around the top of the spire!

Grading is pretty stiff here, and it is a very traditional area, runouts of 40 feet are not uncommon, makes you test the integrity of the little crystals you are pulling on.

Lots more pictures to upload but the internet in airports is pretty much guaranteed to be poor, which it is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

There be gold in them thar' hills

At least say the signs in every store in Custer SD.

Usually the apostrophe is used in the English language to indicate that something is missing. Perhaps the ability to construct a grammatically correct sentence?

Now that I have opened up myself to cries of hypocrisy when i make an error...

Drove from Vancouver through Pocatello, picked up all my stuff that I had left, and up past the Tetons and to South Dakota.

A not so standard picture of the Tetons. Though it looks normal, if you look really closely you can see some streaks behind the mountains... You will probably have to view it larger than in this blog. I took this around 11pm, and those are star trails!

Here is the more typical night shot.

Spent an uncomfortable night in the parking light at the spot where these were taken. Decided that 23 year old headlights, plus herds of Mule Deer and Bison on the road, plus night-time didnt mix.

Will be nice to have the real tripod back in the arsenal when i get home. With the tiny one that I am using its hard to see if you are level when you set it on the ground.

Another annoying thing I have discovered... The wireless transitter which i use to take long exposures is not quite as good as i though. The maximum time it can stay open is a half hour, you need the mechanical lock to do more. More toys to purchase.

Made some interesting encounters on the way across. A man with a mechanical hand was quite interested in my car. We swapped stories. You know how it goes...

Me: My car runs on veggie oil.
Him: You from Maryland? I met a Hells Angel in Sturgis that tried to stab a guy from Baltimore in the eye with a screwdriver. The guy from Baltimore just shot him.

You know you have had a similar conversation at a truck stop in Eastern Wyoming with a guy with a mechanical hand, we all have.

Also... Baltimore Rocks.

The Black Hills of South Dakota are host to some amazing scenery. As well as Mt Rushmore.. CrazyHorse Windy Cave National Park. etc.

Also the home to some fine granite face climbing, on "needle-like" spires. Where you pinch the crystals to make forward progress.

The view across Sylvan Lake.

Had another very strange encounter in a strange place.

Though it doesnt look like much, the following is one of the most famous pieces of rock in the world. It is about 35 feet tall and was first climbed in 1962 by a famous boulderer named John Gill. To this day only 4 more people have climbed it. The fall potential and the grade (5.13!) where so ridiculously far ahead of its time.

So I am thinking that it is neat that i just stumble upon this spot. And next to me, in slurred speech I hear.

"This is the famous Thimble, I'm a famous mountain climber"

Out stumbles this main, cocktail in hand, from behind the drivers seat. He recognizes me as a climber (I am not too subtle) and I have to convince his wife that this is indeed the famous thimble. For which i am offered a cocktail. I decline.

Turns out he is (was) a famous mountain climber, there was even a pictures of him in my car already! He was on the second ascent of mount alberta with Steve Swanson. Which was a huge deal at the time. A George Lowe route (they usually go unrepeated) had killed Tobin Sorenson when his anchor and all his gear pulled as he tried to rope solo the second ascent. In the book it mentions that Steves partner (Kit, the man waving his cocktail around by my car) had drunkenly tried to beat up a man in Canada who had nearly taken their parking spot while they were intent on celebrating.

I am thinking about this to myself, and the guy is bouldering on the thimble (remember 5.13 with a deadly fall) cocktail in one hand saying...

"I'm a famous mountain climber. A drunken mountain climber. I'm a famous mountain climber. Im gonna make the 5th ascent of the Thimble"

I look over and his wife has her head buried in her hands. I try not to look and make he feel worse. Though as they pull through the narrow one lane tunnel and one to 14 more miles of twisting driving, I feel even worse for her.

Did a little climbing before heading to meet with the CrazyHorse guys. Neat pebble pulling with some outrageous exposure as you get to the summits of some very tiny needles.

An interesting note here is the standard decent is to leave one line fixed at the bottom, drape a single line over the top and rappel off with no anchor just with the line over the top. Makes for interesting times, especially while rope soloing!

Just some fun with the macro

Off to go see a giant horse carved out of a mountain.

Then back to MD tomorrow, and it looks like India has been green-lighted!

Also check out Nathans Blog which if you look around has some more of those neat sketches and a picture of Bomber leaping through the air and catching a ball!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Squamish Summary

Ill add to this when i get some time with the guidebook in front of me, but in climbing terms this was the best 3 weeks of my life.

145 pitches, which at 100 foot average per pitch (which is conservative) gives me almost 3 miles of climbing!

Besides a ton of cragging, which could mean up to 6 pitches itself! I did 5 big routes. In order...

Ultimate Linkup 5.10b 23 pitches - did this as Bottom Line 3P 5.9 to supposedly Banana Peel which is a 8 pitch 5.7 but we simuled, got lost, and did parts of Slab Alley 5.9 before getting back on. Then to Boomstick crack 5.7 2 pitches, all this to get to the Ultimate Everything which is 10 pitches and 10b. Did this with Nathan in about 9 hours.

Angels Crest 5.10c 14 pitches. Climbed this with Jo in like 6 hours! Much more serious than anything else i did. It is hard to get off of, has 5 pitches of 5.10 and feels like a mountain route because of the position. Spectacular!

Rock On -> Squamish Buttress -> Joes Dike 5.10c 15 pitches Rock on destroyed me, but the rest is pretty casual besides the one incredibly hard 10c pitch. Did these first 3 in just 4 days!

Grand Wall 5.11a A0 8-12 pitches.

Re-did Ultimate link up with Jo, Dora and Andrew skipping Bottom Line, but doing Diedre instead.

Besides the climbing, I relearned making friends, hanging out, god forbid socializing. And I actually enjoyed it. The British Columbia license plates say the it is the most beautiful place in the world, and while that may be a bit presumptuous it is also not far off.

Had a little culture shock getting back to the states for sure.
Now I am in South Dakota by the Mt. Rushmore. Pictures to come when i find the huge rock faces.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Squamish the Final Days

After the Grand Wall i was perhaps due to take some time off... not!

Although not as terrribly exciting as the Grand Wall these last few days were awesome, and I really feel like I did some of the best quality routes here.

Wanted to sneak in a couple of the nice cracks at the base of the Grand Wall before the rain and managed to get on two spectacular ones.

Jo lead the first pitch of Rutabaga 11a (though the first pitch is 10b) though it looked like a crack down low, it was mostly balancy stemming between seams, but you do get the 30 feet of perfect cruiser hands up top.

Not a great picture, but a picture nonetheless, of Rutabaga

I did Arrowroot 10b, located just to the left. Tons and tons off large rattly fingers and tight hands through a small roof halfway. would have been way harder if there werent so many places in the crack for your feet.

Ended up being a great day to watch people on other routes as well. Saw people on the Grand Wall, and even a party on the Black Dike at 13c!


I had wanted to get to the Solarium on the backside of the Chief since I got here. No crowds long walk from the crowds and beautiful view, plus supposedly some great stone and a hugely long handcrack to boot.

Sunblessed 10b is 4 pitches (we did it in 3) and its 3 pitches of 5.10 were hugely varied and matched the strengths of Jo, Andrew, and I perfectly.

The hike up is long! almost to the summit of the 3rd and highest peak, and with the temperatures near 34 C there were some definite grumblings on the way up. We made it to the base however, and the route was living up to its namesake, sitting there baking in the sun.

Jo took the first pitch a 10a dike with some balancy moves but with good holds, glad she did it as the first bolt was 35 feet up with some non-trivial climbing down low!

Andrew looking for practice on handcracks took the second pitch, 120 feet of glorious hand-jamming, or it would have been if the crack wasnt so dang small! Basically .75 and 1 the whole way up, Andrew climbed himself into a predicament when he ran out of his needed gear only a third of the way up! Amazingly he managed to put in a few pieces, downclimb, clean the needed gear, re-climb, and continue on all to preserve his onsight! Well done Andrew. He linked this with the 3rd easier pitch bringing us to the base of the final corner.

Andrew starting up P2

The guidebook describes this as a "somewhat nasty and hard to protect start, but required for a true ascent of Sunblessed" sounds prefect for me. Actually not nasty at all, being perfectly clean rock, but it was bizarre. The crack was more like a groove flaring in every direction in a tight corner. I managed to get a bad #4 Camalot in before the bolt, and a succession of tenuous fist jams got me into the upper section. Andrew required a different technique entirely doing wild stemming to get through.

Me in the groove on the last pitch of Sunblessed

Andrew improvising past the corner

Jo Enjoying the summit

Ended up being a perfect climb for the three of us, and was a superlative memorable experience.

Ultimate Linkup Take 2

This time as a group of 4!

Jo and I would be a team, and Dora and Andrew would be the other team. Even planning on skipping the Bottom Line, the route is still 20 pitches.

Leaving bright and early

Jo and I did Diedre 5.8 on the Apron while Dora and Andrew did Banana Peel. Despite being longer they still got up first (simul climbing to make it 4 rather than 8 pitches. As it was Jo and I still made good time and were at the base of Boomstick in an hour and a half. Not bad for a 6 pitch climb that neither of us had done before!

Looking down at the last belay on Diedre.

Boomstick is an amazingly thin flake, and here I am looking psyched. I am actually leading right behind Dora here who is following, not normally a good idea, but the climbing here is casual.

Attacked by the belay tree on top of Boomstick

After boomstick you walk for awhile to get to the base of Ultimate Everything. 10 pitches already down! And a friend on the trail.

Dora coming up the the belay on P2 of Ultimate Everything

Andrew on the handcrack of P5

Did I have this smile on my face all day long???

Making 5.5 appear much harder than it actually is!

I actually managed to wipe that smile off my face for a bit.

A man sized sandwich on pitch 18

The last pitch is rated 9+ A0/ or 11c. So basically there is one or two hard moves than you can pull through the gear and keep the grade slightly easier. Though I would have like to have tried the moves, its sort of strange when you are 1800 feet off the ground.

Me on the 9+ mantle right before the crux

The last moves to the summit

On the walk down i reflect that I am sort of glad that it is the last walk down (6 times!) off the Chief because as good as the Waldies are at being approach shoes doing the 2000 foot walkoff 6 times over rough blocks ladders roots and my feet are really really sore. Of course so are everyone elses.

Seasoned in the Sun

A semi forgotten brilliant off fingers crack near the base of the Flake Escape ledges. I seem to have 10b pretty wired and 10c gives me fits, at least in Squamish. I think this suited my hand size pretty well, getting alot of big fingers albeit it with poor feet. This was not to bode well for later in the day.

Me leading up Seasoned in the Sun 10b

Jo leading up the start of the same.

Magazine shot of Jo halfway up

Took a while off to get packed (it was 34 out!) but me and Jo ran back right before dark to do one more climb.

Exasperator 10c is probably the second most popular climb after Grand Wall. Just 2 pitches long it climbs a 10a thin crack to a diagonally 10c crack only climbable one one and two finger pockets.

Decided to try and do it was one long! pitch. Took two falls at the crux thin finger locks which were just too small for my fingers. I knew that you sometimes have to skip ones that arent the right size so i had the good locks with trailing hand (left) and kept bumping up the right looking for something that fit. After skipping 4! pods that i couldnt get my fingers in i fell going for the jug at the top of the sequence.

Got back on and finished though just as twilight started to set in. Despite falling off I was glad in the way i tried it and it was a most brilliant finish to my climbing in Squamish, its been amazing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Grand Wall

The Grand Wall is a legendary rock climb, probably considered the best, and certainly the most famous, in Squamish.

The rating at 5.11a while difficult is accessible by gumbies like myself making it a classic that is doable by more than just the few elite.

A sorry try at a Pano of the whole Chief. The White X through darkish rock with a tree just to the right in the lower middle of main wall is a good indicator for locating our route

And again but just of the Grand Wall route. you can see the X and tree more clearly here.

A good overview of the meat of the route, Split Pillar starts at the tree, the guy in the picture is at the top of Split Pillar. The Sword takes the obvious right facing brilliant line above, and Perrys is the wide layback high above.

We had assembled the perfect gumbie team.

-Dominic, (myself) a middlin' 10 leader with some decent crack skills
-Andrew, tradster and leader of scary/traversing face pitches
-Simone, hardcore sport climber and multi-pitch newbie

We also assembled the massive rack required for us to hang-dog our way up

The Grand Wall is a pretty popular route, let me rephrase that. On a massive sheet of granite a half mile wide, crisscrossed with hundreds of routes, at any given time more than half of the parties will be on the Grand Wall.

So we wake up early, really really early.

Leaving camp at 4:30 in the morning.

We get to the base of the flake ledges after some trouble in the talus, and make our way up the flake escape ledges. This allows us to bypass the 2 pitch (often wet, and always hard) start called Apron Strings 10b. It is a pretty tiny ledge to navigate so early, but before long we are at the base of the first pitch.

P1 + P2 while moderate, Merci Me 5.8 is rather runout, and thus falls to our runout master Andrew to lead. We followed the first pitch of Merci Me, and about halfway up the second pitch you do a scary 5,9 traverse right to a hanging belay under a roof and the first belay. This is usually done as two pitches but we linked them into one with like 5 meters of simul-climbing.

Simone at the top of P2

Me starting up the same pitch

I dont know whether it was the early start, the type of climbing, or what but my head was not into the day, and this seriously compromised my climbing ability all day. Even on this first pitch at a scary step across to the belay i was feeling it.

P3 is a 10b traverse to get to the base of the Split Pillar. Again falling to Andrew who styled it nicely. I got through it but again gripped, I do not like traverses!

P4 is known as the Split Pillar. It is perhaps the best pitch of granite crack climbing in the world. 120 feet long, goes from finger laybacks, to perfect hands to fists to a squeeze chimney all on the side of this completely detached pillar. I dont layback very well, but manage to get through and up into the perfect cruiser hands. I took once in the wide hands but then fired on up through the squeeze chimney to the sweet belay at the top of the pillar.

Starting up the layback on Split Pillar

Into the meat of the hand jams.

Finishing up

Looking down at another party coming up the Split Pillar

P5 The Sword of Damocles may be just as famous as the Split Pillar pitch, albeit at the 11a grade rather than 10b. I dont lead anywhere near 11a and yet being the "crack specialist" it was my duty to get up there and send. My head still wasnt in the game either, and i spent maybe 10 minutes not really looking at anyone trying to convince myself that this was actually a good idea. Certainly not from a danger standpoint could i talk my out of this, there was perfect protection everywhere, but could i hang in there and place it? The first bits of wide crack go easily, and I am quickly below the first crux, thin tips laybacking up and over a bulge.

Hangdogging is a funny climbing word. There are lots of strange climbing words, and they could really mean anything. Its all pretty arbitrary. So you might get something like well-styled, and hang-dog ascent mixed up rather easily if you are unfamiliar with the vernacular.

Unfortunately I do know better, and though I got up the Sword, and in fact all pitches this day, it was rather ugly. Pulling on pieces, aiding on top-rope etc.etc.

Looking up at the first crux on the Sword, thin tips jams over the bulge.

Entering the enduro upper crux

Me on the same spot but from the campsite, courtesy of Jo with my big lens.

Finally here is a movie of me moving into the upper layback.

In any case, the bolt ladder above the Sword leads to a spectacular hanging belay with 600 feet of rock spilling below your feet, a spectacular place no matter who you are.

Andrew coming up the Sword. You can see parties at the top of the Pillar and just about the get to the base of the Pillar.

Time to break out Simone from our bag of tricks. Though rated about the same as the Sword, Perrys is way physical and if you stop you are toast.

Simone does not disappoint and styles the crux. Taken from afar.

The amazing chimney rest at the end of the pitch

I wont even show pictures of me doing this pitch. Even on toprope i end up aiding and groveling and cursing myself, however a half hour later i am at the belay, which at this point is all that matters.

P7 takes us from the Flats, a large ledge system, over and up via much wetness. Andrew with his usual soft spoken-manner is up quickly and puts us on belay. I find out when i get there however that at the 10b crux the vital hold is sopping wet. Nothing like pasting your feet on nothing and the one ok handhold you have being wet. But ends up being not too bad. I sure wouldnt have wanted to do that on lead... Thanks Andrew!

P8 is the last pitch and tackles the Sail Flake a 10c undercling out around a massive flake pasted to the wall. My lead again. I get through this with not quite grace but at least better than I had been doing the last few pitches.

Climbing the Sail Flake

Up to Belly-Good and tie into the anchors. Phew! over! Think again. Belly-good at times is nothing more than a horizontal crack splitting a vertical wall, not your average ledge. We end up belaying 4 more pitches over to the forest and can finally un-rope.

The first (of many) sketchy bits on Bell-Good

And Simones reaction to it...

Gummy Treats when we finally reach the forest.

This has definitely been a learning experience for me. On one hand it is the hardest and bigger wall I have ever done, especially in the free climbing realm. But i didnt really free climb very much and mentally struggled through much of the climb. I feel way better about nearly all the other climbs I have done here, and yet if climbers has resumes it would be on the top of mine.

Something that if I ever can increase my ability I would like to do again to see if i could do it in a better style.

Strange though that the exposure, though massive, didnt really phase my head, it clearly was subconsciously affecting my climbing. I have done as hard of things near the ground and been fine. Something I will have to work on I guess.

The Nose anyone?