Monday, April 27, 2009

Of Pancakes and Gut Feelings

Saturday I woke up from my Nyquil induced coma (I spent the previous week battling a cold) to the sound of birds chirping and bright morning sunlight in my eyes. After fighting day for a while, I succumbed and got out of my warm  synthetic-fill cocoon. I got things settled and we made breakfast, pancakes! The Bisquik Shake and Pour is a fantastic idea, unforuntately, the wind didn't agree and was blowing the inferno from my stove all over. I burned through almost all the fuel I'd brought. I figured I'd be able to burn through half, but no way could I get through all of it. After a pancake's worth of batter landing on the ground and several other minor frusturations, we cleaned up, and head for the rocks. 

After an enjoyable hike up "The Stair Stepper", a seemingly never ending stair case of stone, and a little more 3rd class hiking, we arrived at the base of our intended climb. As I flaked out the rope and tied in, all I could think about was this feeling in my stomach saying that climbing today wouldn't be wise. I blame the pancakes. 

Ignoring the pancakes, I work my way across the ledge and up to the first gear placement. Something really doesn't feel right, this climb does not feel like 5.6. I admit my feelings and down climb back to the ledge. As I look at the guide book again, I realize that I've misread the guide book, and the route I wanted to climb isn't even marked. I was actually about to climb a 5.8. Thank goodness for bad pancakes. 

We packed up and headed towards where we climbed yesterday, hoping to maybe find something a tad easier. As we tromped down the trail, me with my tail between my legs, we came upon the bearded man from the climbing shop. 

Mr. Beard, Steve, and his friend Bill, who lives about 30 minutes from my school, were tying in to climb Old Man's Route. After some chatting, they talked me into doing Conns West, something that was exactly what I was looking for. 

After they headed up, we roped up and took off after them. Upon reaching the belay ledge where our routes split, they suggested we meet at the top and take pictures and rappel down together. After bringing Kelly up, I recollected gear and headed straight up.

Fantastic climbing on great rock. After reaching a ledge where the route heads left, I went straight up the direct route. Straight up the dihedral to a fantastic ledge, I set a belay and brought Kelly up. I knew she would love the last 20 feet of the pitch, super exposed. 

I headed up the last pitch to the top, set a belay and up Kelly came. Soon after, Bill and Steve appeared. With them, a woman, and then several more people came up. The harnesses on these folks were the most unusual I've seen in the mountains. Several had webbing for a harness, one had a glacier harness, one had a real climbing harness, and their "guide" who I later 
learned to be their friend, had a runner and some cord forming his "harness". Some of them were wearing helmets, a few, including the "guide" was not. 

Bill and Steve realized the situation and were kind enough to set a fixed line to the summit. We quickly moved onto the summit, signed the register, in an old army ammo can. Bill and I headed down, and soon we learned that the group of 6 people only had 4 rappel devices and several of the people had rapped at all before! 

Under the impression that they were only going for a "rock scramble", they either got very off route or were misled, and thought they could just walk off. I suppose they could, but the first 300 foot, bone shattering step is certainly a doozy. We (Bill, Steve and myself), suggested that we rap down as a large group, in teams if need be. 

I would be the first one down, serving as a "fireman" for the new people with no experience. I rapped down 60 meters and was unable to find the next anchor. Hastily, I descended farther until I was on a small ledge, with a perfect crack for gear for an anchor, not more then 2 meters from the end of the rope. As the inexperienced started to come down, I decided I would lower them the remaining 40 or so feet to the ground, and after 2 hours, our mini-rescue was nearly complete. 

After finally making it to the ground myself, I packed my gear and Bill, Steve, Kelly and I hiked down, preventing another accident in the process. An out of shape father and his 2 kids, probably between 7 and 10, were hiking up the trail to what they thought was the North Summit. Bill informed them they were in dangerous territory and NOT where they thought they were. A little redirection and they were safely on their way. 

So many variables worked safely in the favor of 9 people. Afterwards, Bill Steve, Kelly and myself talked about what happened and decided that something very tragic could have occurred, and the group was fortunate we were there. As you can see by their expressions, Kelly and Steve were not thrilled by the situation on top...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What a year it has been since I've last written! With school, work, and the few small adventures I've been able to take over the last 8 months, I have not had much time to think! 

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be able to head down to Seneca Rocks, West Virginia with the lovely Miss Kelly Gilsenan. We left Millersville about 2:30 on Thursday afternoon, headed south to Winchester, VA for dinner at an Italian restaurant, that I've dined at before. I was not thrilled with the pasta I had, but Kelly really enjoyed her meal. After passing the Wal-Mart on Virginia Route 50, we were in the country side, where we should remain for the next several days. 

Cruising through the beautiful mountain and valley terrain, I couldn't help but be astonished. The mid April sun setting just beyond the ridge just made this the place to be at that moment in time. Further on we travel, moving quickly down country roads into Monongahela National Forest. 

Just before 8 PM we arrived at Seneca Shadows campground. After checking in with the exceptionally friendly campground hosts Ted and Marilyn, we found our camp spot. We were fortunate enough to catch the last bit of sun on Seneca Rocks as we were hauling things from the car. After setting up the tent, we were fortunate enough to see a set of stars that in all my travels I have never seen. I was enamored by the dandruff on the the black robe of the evening sky.

Friday morning came to quick and after a small breakfast we head out. After choosing some objective climbs for the day, we headed across the river and up Roy Gap Road. After climbing up something less like a trail and more like a goat path, we arrived at the base of Candy Corner (5.6). 

Although I will never be a super hard climber, whenever going to a new area, I like to warm up on something I'm sure I won't spend my time falling up. Seneca was no exception, especially with it's reputation for sandbagged, old school ratings. We unpacked the gear, stretched and tied in. As the belay commands flew, I was off and climbing. Into the cracks, my gear fit perfectly. Although cold in the early morning shade, I was content as a snake in the sun. Upwards I climbed, to the first belay station. I yelled off belay to Kelly, and pulled the rope up. Soon enough, she was on belay and climbing.

As she reached the crux of the route, she got stuck. The major drop off to the left had her gripped. A bulge with little to hold did not help either. After a few minutes of fighting with herself to pull this bulge, she told me she couldn't do it. She asked to be lowered off. I couldn't say no. 

Set up in guide mode, I quickly locked off the belay device, swapped it over to a redirect and to the ground she was lowered. After setting a rap anchor from the bolts, I lowered off and pulled my gear, leaving only a runner, carabiner and rap ring at the anchor. Bummed that I had to leave some gear, I told the next guy on the route he could have it. Being the genuine person he was, as well as an instructor from Garret College, he said that he would remove it and return it. Karma was on my side this morning, and I would repay the karma later that afternoon. 

After resting for a while, we followed the instructors recommendation to try Skyline Traverse (5.3), which is also the finishing pitches of Candy Corner. This route can be moderately terrifying with a step out and over 100 feet of air. After racking up and deciding to carry an extra rope, we quickly moved to the first belay. After bring Kelly up, I quickly regained my gear and off I went. The infamous step out over the void was not remotely as scary as imagined, with good protection and fantastic holds. I moved upwards to the point where the 2nd belay should be, but after finding no thrilling gear placements, I opted to run the pitch out farther and belay from the top, only 70 feet father, 170 feet of my 230 foot rope. After topping out and setting an anchor, I hollered "Off Belay!"

As I tried to pull up rope, the belay seemed to still be on. Perhaps she didn't hear me? I never did hear a response, I thought to myself. Again, as loud as I can, I scream "Off Belay!", but still, to no avail. Not anticipating this, we had not worked out commands via rope tugs. After hauling up a bit more rope, I tied off to the anchor and went over to the edge to where Kelly may be able to hear me. 

In the tree, I noticed a purple sling with a small locking carabiner attached. "Booty!" I exclaim to myself, thinking of the pirate I'm not. The mountain gods have blessed me today. As I lean over the ledge, I yell "Off Belay", only to hear "Belay Off". After putting Kelly on belay, she quickly moves up and and through to the top. 

As she sits down on a rock on our porch overlooking the mountains, a man walks over, looks at the tree and sighs, It's gone". I ask him what's gone, with the response of "A purple runner and carabiner I had attached to that tree over there. I left it by accident." Perhaps the mountain gods had not shined on me as much as I thought. Karma demanded its tax, and it's favor was repaid. 

We coiled the ropes and tried to figure out the descent. Looking around, I found nothing. I yelled to a guy higher up the ridge and he said that we could just walk off. Down the ledge I walked, ending in a 20 foot block. Perhaps this is not a walk off. After returning to our eagle's eye perch, I found a monster tree with signs that people have rappelled from it before. Doubting that there would be more anchors further down, we tied the 2 ropes that we had together. We set up to rappel, and down I went. I had to deal with several large knots of rope, but made it to the ground in 1 long 220 foot rappel, with only 10 feet of rope left to spare. 

Kelly came down, and I  pulled the rope though, smoothly and without any big event. We packed up our things, and headed down to the truck. I wanted to check out the famous Gendarme climbing shop, named after the rock formation that tumbled from sky to earth in 1987. 

We walked inside, eying a medium height, middle age, bearded man and a younger employee, talking about the sport. After looking around for a bit, and feeling a bit lost for routes to do, I asked. With some great recommendations, and a suggestion of "Don't make me work this weekend" from our bearded friend, reminding me to use good sense and not get myself in a situation where I  needed rescue, we headed back to the campground to sort gear, enjoy dinner and relax by the fire. 

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Northeast Ridge

Saturday we woke up planning to head to Pigeon Spire and do a route there, but halfway through the approach, Kurt said "Hey, why don't we go do the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo today and avoid the crowds on the splitter day tomorrow?" 

We already knew the approach and descent and the weather was pretty good so we figured we could move through it efficiently. We sprinted up to the base of the approach, up to the base of the route and hopped on.

The Northeast Ridge is a classic North American Route, with the crux move being one of the first moves. Kurt led, Matt followed and I cleaned. I fell on the crux move. My hand slipped off the sharp granite and due to rope stretch and my proximity to the ground my butt ended up back in the snow!

After I started climbing, I got up to the first belay ledge. From now for 9 of the next 10 pitches I belayed Kurt. He is a very proficient leader and allowed us to move quickly up the route. 

Midway up the route I realized just why this route is such a classic. The awesome exposure, not to much but enough to really show you how high you up, the gorgeous views in clear weather and the fun pitches, such as the finger crack, long chimney, and "step of faith" as I like to call it that was scary due to exposure but really not difficult. 

After 10 pitches, we topped out for the technical climbing and put our boots on, and transitioned to 4th class mode which allowed us to move really quick. We traversed across the top of Bugaboo Spire, me leading the group. 

Although the moves were not at all hard, it was super exposed with 2,000 foot drop offs on either side. At the point that I feel is the scariest of all, a small slab about 3 feet wide and 6 feet long with crazy exposure on either side, Matt had trouble removing a cam that I placed that had walked. I then had to stop and hang out in the middle of this slab, with a moderate wind blowing over my side. 

After I got over that sketchy section we moved into a sheltered area, where we moved down and up to the summit. Although this is not the true route, it is much quicker, less technically difficult and probably a good bit more fun. 

We sat on the summit for only a few minutes, Kurt and my second time there, and then went into descent mode. We descended much more efficiently then other groups have. We did the whole route in about 12 hours, not even originally planning on do it that fast. The guide book says it takes a group about 12-16 hours to do, and that it's not uncommon for groups to get caught in the dark. 

A group of climbers did the route earlier in the week and spent 23 hours and a night on the route. They had the misfortune of getting ropes hung up on the descent and didn't know the ascent or descent. This whole experience was a good way to prove that planning really allows for speed and safety. 

After returning to camp around 7:30, I broke out my salmon and mashed potatoes, the dinner I had been saving for the route all the week. It was glorious, and after a hearty dinner and conversation with other climbers, I climbed in my sleeping bag for a well deserved and fit-full night's sleep. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Christmas Morning

Thursday we headed out of camp to climb Eeyore, an area classic.  I led the first pitch, which was definitely one of the scariest pitches of my life. I successfully got to the belay ledge in good style without falling and built an anchor. As I was building my anchor, it started to snow. Not heavy, but more then flurries. Once Kurt and Matt got to the ledge, Matt took the sharp end and led the crux pitch.

Several more pitches up, it really started snowing. We kept climbing in true alpine style, but soon opted to bail off the route because of slippery rock. By the time we got down, the snow had stopped, the sun was shining and  the rock was dry.  Another great practice experience in bailing! 

When we got back to camp it was a little late in the day to do anything so we just chilled around camp. Soon after we ate dinner the wind picked up and we retreated into our tents. The wind blew and howled, pulling out one of my guy lines. Then it started to hail, and snow and I spent the rest of the evening reading and went to bed early. 

I woke up in the middle of the night just as the snow started to taper off. I was cold and realized my therm-a-rest had deflated, from a very tiny leak, about the size of a pinhole. I figured I would patch it the next day when I could actually find the leak. 
Early the next morning I woke up and crawled outside my tent to the cold, crisp sunrise. It was like Christmas morning in July. 25 degrees and gorgeous.  We decided to go hike around on the glacier because we couldn't do any climbing. 
Our hike around the glacier was a lot of fun and we got some plans for other routes nailed down which would help us out on routes the rest of the trip. Afterwards, we went back to camp and hung out with some other climbers for the remainder of the afternoon. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Awesome Granite

Tuesday morning we woke and got out of camp by about 7 am. Not far from camp, Matt said that he wasn't feeling well, probably a combination of a cold and the altitude. He headed back and Kurt and I headed towards the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col, which breaks the 2 famous spires in the Bugaboos. Once we got to the col, we took a break and then headed up the Kain Route of Bugaboo, an area classic that is used as a warm up by many new to the area and would also let us scope the descent of the Northeast Ridge, which is the same as that of the Kain route. 

After a lot of 4th class climbing (climbing that a fall could result in death and being roped up is a good idea) over lots of rock fields and up some small tricky spots, we got to the gendarme pitch which requires stepping out blindly around an edge onto a wide slab with almost no handholds. Although this would be an easy feat in climbing shoes, in alpine boots it can be a slightly scary experience. 

After a few more pitches of easy climbing we came to the summit where Kurt and I signed the summit register, which was filled, we wrote on the side of the descent description for lack of anywhere better to sign. 

We descended to a sheltered section of the ridge where we ate lunch and started our rappels down. After several stuck ropes, we made it back to the 4th class climbing which, when down climbing, results in a lot of sliding on your backside. 

After we got off the route, we grabbed our crampons and ice axes and headed back down the steep snow slope and back to camp where we chilled for the remainder of the day.

Wednesday we planned to do a more challenging climb, with almost no 4th class climbing and lots of 5th class climbing. We did the route Lion's Way on Crescent Spire. I led the first 2 pitches, then Matt led 2 pitches and Kurt led the last 2. After topping out, we decided to not traverse the whole spire which would take a while and I didn't think would be much fun, so we descended down the typical descent route and down a couloir where we glissaded the rest of the way down. 

Getting back to camp was nice because we were tired and we ate and relaxed for the remainder of the day. I layed in my tent for several hours and thought of nothing of substance but really enjoyed myself!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On the Road Again

July 5th I set the hotel alarm clock apprehensively, worried that if I set it wrong, which I've done in the past, that I would oversleep and be late getting to AAI. I would have set my cellphone alarm clock, but the battery was nearly dead, so I figured that was an even bigger risk. As I closed my eyes that night, I spent it thinking to myself, let's hope I did this right!

I woke up the next morning, looked over at the clock. It read 6:15. I thought to myself, awesome another 45 minutes to lay in this comfy bed. Around 6:24 I look over again, thinking to myself, "The alarm was supposed to go off at 6. I'm supposed to get picked up at 6:45. OH SHOOT!" I shot out of bed, quickly got dressed, brushed my hair for the last time for 12 days and bolted out the door, lucky that I had already packed all my stuff. 

I only had to wait a few minutes for AAI to show up, and upon my arrival, learned that we were in fact going to the Bugaboos in Canada! The Bugaboos are known for being an awesome alpine climbing playground, probably one of the best in North America. A picture is featured on the cover of the climbers bible "Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills". 

After cutting my ice axe shorter, because I had recently learned it was too long, and getting some donuts for the ride, we left Bellingham for Spokane, WA where we were to stop at Mountain Gear to pick up a guide book. 

After stopping at Mountain Gear we went to a local park that had some short cliffs to climb on, so our guide Kurt could get a feel for how we climbed. Afterwards, we hopped back on the highway and drove to a grocery store in Idaho where we bought dinner and drove through Northern Idaho (somewhere I never in my wildest dreams expected to ever be) to the Canadian Border, where we crossed efficiently and drove to the town of Canal Flats, where we drove up a logging road and camped on the side at a "Kurt Hicks Bivy Site". Free camping out under 
the stars. 

The next morning we woke, reset our watches and drove to Radium Hot Springs where we sorted our gear and headed to Bugaboo Provincial Park which is down a long (35 km) dirt road. When we got to the parking lot, we were immediately attacked by mosquitos the size of small birds, which ate us alive through our clothing. We quickly wrapped our van 
in chicken wire so the critters who live in the area wouldn't eat our brake lines. 

We started up the trail, which started easy but got very steep and rocky. It actually became so rough that the Alpine Club of Canada and BC Parks have cemented rocks in to form steps and installed chain railings and a ladder, something you would rarely find in the US. 

I moved quite slowly up the steep terrain, carrying 65-80 pounds on my back. We arrived at the Kain Hut, which is run but the Alpine Club of Canada. You can stay there, and it's fairly luxurious for its location, but is also very expensive. We paid for our campsite and hiked the extra kilometer and 250 vertical meters and set up our camp at Applebee Dome. 

When we arrived it was very windy and setting a tent up in the 20-30 MPH wind was an interesting experience. Once my tent was set up, I cooked dinner chilled a little, read and went to sleep, around 9:30 because we were going to get up at 5:30 AM the next morning. 

Saturday, July 5, 2008

As Confusing as a Fred Becky Route Description

At the ranger station in Glacier, WA, we checked on the trail conditions, got a weather report for the next 2 days. Richard, our guide, also showed us the basic route on a big 3-D topographic map. 

We then went out back and talked about the route and looked at the descriptions in 2 books Richard had. We then got in the van and drove up to the trailhead. 

The parking lot we parked in was surrounded by tourists. Some were interested in what we were doing, noticing all our gear all over the place and our big packs, but most just ignored us. The amount of people around was just overwhelming. Many were fascinated to see snow and the temperature being 75-80 degrees. 

Rather then hiking down the remainder of the road, we cut across the snow pack and started hiking in. The first part was pretty cool because it was all down hill! We then were down in a valley where we crossed many small creeks that were covered in snow. The last part of the hike was up some pretty big hills, but we moved quickly and efficiently. 

We got to a point where we had a couple choices to pick a camp site. I wanted to camp on the ridge because I could tell the view was going to be awesome. Richard and I headed up to the ridge to check it out, and Matt and Danielle went to
check out another site in the trees. We ended up choosing the site I picked out.

We set up camp and planned out how we were going to get to the bottom of the route the following day. We then made dinner and chilled out for the remainder of the evening. 

We got to see a gorgeous sunset over the mountains which was a great cap to a good day.

The following morning we woke up at 4:15 AM to get ready to leave by 5:30 so we could move while conditions were still good. As we we hiked over to the route, not far from camp Danielle said she wasn't feeling it today and went back camp. Only 3, we got to the bottom of the route which was partially melted out. We climbed up a partial trail, then traversed a wide snowfield. 

The route description told us to that the rock section started to the right of a huge boulder tha
t you can't miss. We're looking around. No boulder. We ask Richard where it is, as it turns out it is under the snow. Thank you Fred Becky. 

We started the rock portion of the route, not very hard, we can move together very quickly but then we come to a section of super steep snow. As we climb up we find easy rock right next to the snow, and climb up that. It's tricky but doable. 

When we get up to a ridge, Richard asks how I'm feeling. I'm hot because its about 80 degrees with the sun then reflecting back off the snow. The route isn't a huge amount of fun. He tells me that he thinks we should stop rather then going farther, just because conditions are falling apart and we are 3-4 hours away from the summit anyway. We stopped and had lunch before heading down. 

I led us down the steep 75-85 degree snow slope. After getting down the rock section safely, the space between the rock and snow at the base of the route had gotten much bigger. I climbed down a little farther where it would be easier to get on the snow. 

My knee was sore from bumping into rocks and kind of stiff as well. As i was traversing, the step in the snow broke out from under me and I went sliding. I tried to self arrest but the snow ran out and I slid into a moat. Right before I slid into the moat I could see it was an 8 foot drop on the rock slab below. I thought to myself, I'm going to end up wit
h a broken leg. 

Right as  I disappear below the surface of the snow,  I feel the rope catch me. Safe and sound I hear a "Paul are you ok?", which I responded with "Yeah, I'm just fine". Richard climbed up onto the snow and belayed me back up and away from the moat. We gathered in a flat spot and Matt led us on. 

Going down another steep slope, I slipped again, and tried to self arrest again. At the same time I slipped, Matt slipped. During my attempt at self arrest, my axe caught on a tree and slid out of my hands. Richard was able to arrest both of us. 

After some more down climbing on snow, we took a break. At this point I was very frustrated and just wanted to get off that route and go back to my tent. 

As we got to the rappel station, we set up a rappel and Matt headed down first. As I moved closer to the set up, my axe, which was now clipped to my harness, became unclipped and all we heard was cling, clang, clung and watched it fall off the side of the cliff. 

Rather then land in a moat, it landed in the snow. Matt was able to recover it. We soon got off the route and headed back to camp. 

On our walk back, I'm so frustrated about how the day went that I think to myself that I just want to go home. Not back to my tent. Home in Jersey. 

Once we get back, I just crawl in my tent where I relax in the warm sun streaming through the door and just let the frustration leave my body.

The rest of the night was spent hanging out, reading, napping, eating the remainder of our food and quoting lots of movies. We all headed to bed around 9. I read in my tent for a while and the wind picked up. I could tell a storm was coming. I saw some lightning before falling asleep but heard no thunder. 

Around 12:30 AM I wake up hearing loud thunder, and hearing rain pounding my tent. I sit up and look out the window and see that it's really windy, but my tent is barely showing that it is. After a few minutes of this, I hear from one of the other tents "So, Richard, what are we going to do?", to which he responds that we're pretty safe and are just going to deal. I lay in my sleeping bag thinking I'm not moving. My tent is made for Everest conditions. 

I remember a conversation I had with Eric Horst, a high caliber climber who is a professor at my college, and recall him saying that some of his scariest times in the mountains have been during storms much like we were enjoying. I just buried down in my sleeping bag and fell asleep.  

In the morning I woke up and started packing my stuff up. We decided that based on the look of the clouds, we wanted to get out as quick as possible. As we headed out, the clouds moved in lower in the valley, making it hard to see our landmarks. At one point we got disoriented and retraced our steps back and forth several times until we back on track. We made it back to our van in 3 hours, 10 minutes, about as long as the hike in, and were soaked to the bone because of the rain that we enjoyed for about 2 hours of our hike. 

We headed back to Bellingham, and I returned to my hotel. It was a great trip and I'm psyched for part 3, the final part of my climbing adventure.