Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rock Climbing Leadership with Colorado Mountain College in Leadville

   As the summer winds down the days are warm but short while the nights are getting cool and longer. August heat and monsoon rains taper off and give way to what climbers affectionately call "Sendtember." This perfect weather is ideal for rock climbing in many of the world class climbing destinations across the United States. Including Vedauwoo in south east Wyoming and Eldorado Canyon and Golden Gate Canyon in the Front Range of Colorado. These world class climbing destinations are the venues for our Rock Climbing Leadership course with Colorado Mountain College.
   Anticipation was high for many students. As with many of the outdoor recreation leadership courses students are excited to learn technical skills and instructional techniques that relate to their newly found interests, passions, and eventual careers. In this case rock climbing in single pitch and multi pitch terrain.
   We left the Timberline campus headed over Fremont Pass and the continental divide, through Summit County, on I-70 into the Johnson tunnel, down the Clear Creek watershed and then north along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains to our first rock climbing venue Vedauwoo. Know as "the land of the earth born spirit" Vedauwoo offers an ideal location for instruction.
Walt's Wall from Camp
   After we set up camp we quickly headed to Walt's Wall. Since we were all excited to climb our American Mountain Guide Association certified instructors Kip Davis, Cheyenne Chaffee, and John MacKinnon put up many routes to get us started. Before we started to climb we needed our first lesson. Fortunately I was given the opportunity to demonstrate proper belay technique and "buddy checks" in order to safely start a top rope or sling shot climb.
   Our first climbs were Satterfields Crack (5.8), Friction Slide (5.8/8-), Edwards Crack (5.7), Walt's Wall (5.4), and Horns Mother (5.11a). After a fun afternoon climbing one of the Voo's most popular walls we headed back to camp, cooked dinner, and debriefed about the day and what to expect the next morning.

Cheyenne on Horns Mother
Don Belaying on Edwards Crack

Erik on Middle Staircase
   On day 2 we headed to the Beehive Buttress. Here we covered site management for leading groups including "helmet zones", Leave No Trace practices, climber courtesy, and self care for outdoor leaders. Next we discussed skills used in top rope and lead sport climbing such as communication, bolt clipping, anchor building on expansion bolts, cleaning top rope anchors, and rappelling. Following a lead climbing demo students were able to mock lead. This is where students climb on top rope while trailing a rope below them, clipping quickdraws to bolt hangers, then clipping the rope through the quickdraw. In this manner a student can develop safe leading technique while avoiding a lead fall. Through out the day we climbed Back to Bucket Country (5.8), Intoxica (5.10b), Lucky Groove (5.9), Noxious Invasives (5.10c)Middle Staircase (5.7)Gypsy Fire (5.5)Rip Chords (5.6), and Walking the Boards (5.10a).
   After 2 days of sending quality routes we started our third day with a ground school. The objective of the day was to develop traditional gear selection, placement, and anchor building. Including equalized anchors and side to side anchors.  Later we made our way over to the Nautilus. Here we climbed Easy Jam (5.4)Cornelius (5.5), and Ted's Trot (5.7).

Ground School @ The Clamshell
   The next morning, after breakfast and a recap of the previous days skills, we hiked past Walt's Wall, through a cattle gate, meandered through yellowing aspens, past pillars of granite, over a low saddle between crags and down to the base of an area called Jurassic Park. This is where all the students put the previous days skills to work. Everyone built top rope anchors and in short order we rappelled to the base and started our day of sending. By this time the sun was high, beams of light blazed the large grain granite as puffs of chalk dried our sweating hands. This area provided a high density of fine quality climbs from the birthing canal chimney of Prologue (5.6), to off the ground crux of Spatial Juxtaposition (5.8), intriguing and varied cruxes of Anatomy Lesson (5.9+), and of course the highlight Mud in Your Eye (5.11b). Even though this grade is subjective it never the less is considered an extremely difficult climb. It's no doubt committing yet doable. It starts with a step up finger lock, to a juggy right hand, all sequenced for the judo chop hand jam that allows you to pull into a right facing crack over a series of hand jams. The crack continues and eventually starts to narrow down to fingertips then flares as you smear to the top. Awesome climb!

Brooke on Kim's 
   A cool quiet night led to another amazing sunrise shining on Walt's Wall, the sound of stoves burning, the smell of the morning joe, frying eggs, and hash browns drifted through camp as the group prepared for another ground school day. This comprehensive day included some of the most practical technical leadership skills. Such as pre and self equalized 3 point anchors. Belays including the munter hitch, tube and assisted braking devices in addition guide tethers, high and low master points and basketing were introduced. Perhaps the most important leadership skill that was elaborated on was coaching.
   Subsequently we had multiple days of gear placement and anchor building along with movement development and perhaps just as important, a full rest day from climbing. Next we took a short drive from camp, under the highway and down a dirt road to Poland Hill. Finally students were able to mock traditional lead, build anchors, bring followers up and practice top managed sites and the belayed rappel. Mock lead routes included the fun low angle finger crack and friction slab of Kim (5.6), also Southwest Friction (5.4), and the surprisingly fun and perhaps a super moderate sandbag, Little Old Crack (5.5) which climbed a little harder than Kim. As the sun intensified we gradually worked our way around The Rat Brain to other classic routes such as Sugar Crack (5.7) and its hand size jamming, low stems, and an optional chicken wing at the top. The engaging off the ground stem and jam crux of Ape Walk (5.9+), and of course the crown jewel of Poland Hill, Fantasia (5.9). This is classic Voo off-width at its finest. Off-width is defined as being a crack or split in the rock that is to small to get your entire body inside of and to big to hand or foot jam. Often times these routes require that your left arm, hip, and leg go in the crack (left side in) or your right arm, hip, and leg go in the crack (right side in) or in the case of Fantasia many of us started right side in, then turned to go left side in. Either way this was a scrumptastic good time. After a long day of learning, practicing, and sending we headed back to camp for another great dinner and briefing.

Anchor Light on Sugar Crack

Cheyenne Brings Erik up on Straight Edge

   It was dark when the quiet chirp of my alarm rustled me from sleep. Fortunately I packed the previous night and the only thing to do was grab a small breakfast then head out of camp on head lamp lit trails with Cheyenne and Erik. The rounded domes of granite were just silhouettes against the black and blue morning sky. Our breath billowed in front of our headlamps as we walked down the road, past the gazebo, up over and through stacked talus blocks to the base of our multi-pitch climb. An incredible experience and learning opportunity for students on this course is to go on a multi-pitch climb with professionally trained and certified guides. On this day we climbed 4 pitches that started with the friction slab of the Old Easy Arete (5.9+), linking this into the ultra classic and popular 2 pitch MRC Direct (5.9). This route starts with twin cracks and flakes to the first semi hanging belay. The next pitch begins with a low angle right corner to under clings, wide stems, and hand jams out around a roof, pulling into a widening hand and fist jam crack, continued jams lead to a large belay ledge. Our final pitch was Straight Edge (5.9+). Even though this pitch isn't technically part of MRC it is the recommended link up finish. Straight Edge starts out with a big step across an open chasm into finger locks. Then it continues abruptly up nice steep hand jams, flaring fists and finally into near off-width arm bars or stacked hands. Wow! This link up has full value climbing with every pitch at 5.9 or harder. Of course the adventure doesn't end once you reach the top. So we continued on short rope to our double rope rappel. This took us to a series of ledges and back down to the base of our climb. Along the way we excitedly talked about our favorite pitches, moves, and holds. Once back at camp we grabbed some lunch then headed over to the Nautilus where the rest of class was climbing single-pitch. 
   This ultimate day of send continued at the Nautilus. After an early morning of cold hands, climbing in insulating layers and shells, I waited for the sun to warm up my core. Following a big scrumpy chimney climb on Etude for the Left Hand (5.5) the class wrapped it up and headed around the Nautilus to a great route called The Grand Traverse (5.10a). This crack climb begins with moderate jams and side pulls leading into the crux bulge that requires fun hand jams, stems, lay backs, and a foot to hand match. Next was Captain Nemo (5.8) with its consistent hand size crack with foot smearing on the face. Then with a nice break from the scrumping and jamming we climbed face moves up War Zone (5.9)

   In a seeming blink of an eye our week at the "Voo" drew to a close. We packed up camp and said goodbye to the iconic Wyoming Front Range offwidth splitting granite. Our next stop is the Colorado Front Range with its deeply rooted climbing history and abundance of rock this next leg wouldn't disappoint. On the road before sunrise, we headed south back into Colorado to waiting thunderstorms. Greeted with wet rock and some skill assessments on the schedule we continued up to Golden Gate Canyon State Park to set up camp.
   Our final two days of Rock Leadership were spent in the legendary Eldorado Canyon State Park. These green, yellow, black, and red mottled sandstone monoliths were transformed from "their little spot" to enlivened bastions of international recognition by American icons such as Layton Kor, Bob Culp, Pat Ament, Jim Erickson, Larry and Roger Dalke, and many more. 
   We started our 2 day "Eldo" siege by heading to the moderate haven of the Wind Tower. Kip led out  with a couple students on Calypso (5.6)  and into Reggae (5.8). Then Johns team went up The Bomb (5.4) and over to the Wind Ridge (5.8). Next Erik led The Bomb (5.4) while I set up a top rope on Calypso (5.6). In the meantime Cheyennes multi-pitch team was making the approach to Grand Giraffe (5.9+) follwed by a link up into Smoke and Mirrors (5.10a). Later in the day I put a rope up on Tagger (5.9). Soon the sun was beaming on the Wind Tower while everyone finished lapping these routes, so we headed over to The Bastille. In the shade, next to the road, on this legendary cornerstone I put a rope up Werk Supp (5.9) while Kip put a rope on multiple routes in between March of Dimes (5.9) and  Lilliburlero (5.11d). Simultaneously Erik put up The Bastille Crack (5.7+) which included the Northcutt Start (5.10d)
   One final day of sending led us to the West Ridge. There we climbed another set of classic "Eldo" routes. These included Dandi Line (5.7), Mesca Line (5.7)Iron Horse (5.11)Pony Express (5.9) and just uphill Positively Fourth Street (5.10a) and Lunar Avenue (5.8). These wonderful climbs were a great finish to our Rock Leadership Course.
   Following a great morning of send we loaded up the crew and headed back up Interstate 70, along Clear Creek we played throwback tunes, through the Roberts Tunnel recalling the things we'll carry with us for a lifetime, down into the Blue River Valley filled with yellow, orange, and red splashes of  autumn aspen colors, back up Ten Mile Creek, over the continental divide at Fremont Pass, on the home stretch, with a sigh of relief into the Arkansas River Valley and back to Colorado Mountain College in Leadville. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mountaineering Leadership with Colorado Mountain College Leadville

   The clouds hung low over the Arkansas Valley shrouding the Sawatch Range. Cool wet winds reminded us that this has been a moist summer through out the entire Rocky Mountains including our field objective for the course Wyoming's Wind River Range.

Students on Monitor Rock
   As challenging as mountain weather is to any objective we set out on our first field day namely Monitor Rock on Independence Pass. Here we climbed the moderate Rainbow Route on fixed lines. Transitioning at anchors and wrapping friction hitches the class scurried up saturated and striated granite.
   The next day we took to the road. First we headed to the Front Range for supplies. Then northward into Lander Wyoming where we camped at the town park. In the morning we were on our way to Dubois in order to meet the horse  packer. Consider there are 13 people staying in the field for 12 days  this expedition style course required a resupply deep within the Wind River Range.
   After a quick lunch and a couple more supplies we were on our way to the glacier Trail head. Once at the trail head we quickly changed clothes then weighed packs to see how much everyone was carrying. Packs were loaded with 3 days of food, personal supplies and 3 person shelters. Packs weighed in between 72 lbs and 58 lbs. What a range!  The weight was proportionate to each cook groups meal plan and each individuals personal gear needs. While at the trail head we referenced the maps and estimated distance, elevation gain, and travel time to camp.

View of Gannett from Inkwells
   The first afternoon led us 6 miles up the trail into late afternoon rain and into a wet camp at Williamson Corral. On day two we headed over burrow flats. Then the class went down past Double Lake into the Downs creek drainage and up to Inkwells. In a huge day carrying big packs we covered nearly 13 miles. Once at Inkwells we crammed food and additional supplies for the remaining 11 mile approach to our high camp on the Dinwoody Moraine
   After a comfortable camp at Inkwells we prepared for the next heavy haul. Slowly we meandered along Dinwoody creek, across a bridge and up past treeline to our camp adjacent to Elk Lake. A short night at Elk Lake led to establishing camp on the Dinwoody Moraine. While this landscape was referred to as "being on the moon" I see these types of landscapes as "of this world." That planet earth is in reality as rugged as any place we could imagine. However since we are of this earth we feel as though we can survive here but not on another celestial body. But the reality is that this high moraine, this barren landscape devoid of most animals and an occasional human, devoid of most plant life, and filled with glaciers that seemingly stand still but once our human pace has slowed their movement becomes apparent we realize our survival is not guaranteed and we are left with this impression of our world.

Sunset at Elk Lake camp

Dinwoody Moraine Camp



   Once we set up our tents and grabbed some food we quickly set out on the glacier to discuss snow walking and glacier walks with crampons on steep snow and ice. Also we covered ice axe positions and use.

Kip Demonstrating Rope Team Skills


   In addition we covered rope team techniques such as kiwi coils, tie ins, and pre-rigged prusiks.

The Class Headed Upwards
The next day we went up the Dinwoody glacier to cover self arrest with an ice axe but without crampons. Once we found a north facing slope with frozen snow and a good sliding surface we practiced self arrest. Initially we slid feet first on our backs, next was head first on our stomachs, then head first on our backs. Once everyone demonstrated adequate self arrest techniques the class headed up a nearby couloir. On this route we used simul-climbing and running belays with snow pickets for protection as each student plunged their way up the 35 degree snow chute.
   As the weather stabilized the rope teams took the opportunity to go for a summit attempt on Gannet Peak, Wyoming's highest at 13,809'. An early alpine start of 4 a.m. led us through the headlamp lit moraine. Once below the steep toe of the Dinwoody Glacier we applied crampons and started up through the dry glacier using french and 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock crampon techniques. After reaching the wet glacier the teams quickly encountered our first crevasses and this prompted us to rope up and provide some protection as we navigated around sagging snow bridges and open crevasses. Along the way team leaders employed hip and terrain belays using nearby boulders as anchors and using our bodies as belay devices. Eventually the glaciers slope eased and we reached the wet glacier where we meandered to the base of the South Gooseneck Couloir. We crossed a bergschrund to enter the couloir then climbed, clipping snow pickets, planting ice axes and steadily plunge stepped until we reached the exposed wind blown scree near the ridge line. Next we scurried along the ridge to an exposed 32 degree snow slope that took us to our final traversing summit ridge. Under blue skies in calm winds, over wet snow, along a spine of rocks we reached the summit. While there was a prominent rock precipice generally the summit is flat and covered in snow.
The Class Headed Up South Gooneck Couloir
    Finally the time came to head back down the mountain. Across the summit ridge down a slope of snow another ridge line took us to the standard Gooseneck Couloir for our descent. At this point I was given the opportunity to place pickets for the group. My rope team and I headed down slope in sloppy snow conditions. We descended starting with a plunge step and eventually we faced the slope to down climb. This allowed us to be more stable in a self arrest position. With Kips oversight I work hardened the snow as I drove the pickets into the snow, clipping our rope in, and continuing our descent. We reached a bergschrund at the bottom of the couloir. Negotiating the schrund was easy but a little risky as it was only a matter of feet to inches from punching through the snow bridge into the gaping crevasse below. Everyone made it down the couloir and onto the Gooseneck Glacier down to the standard trail, through scree, across the creek and back to camp.
Hauling 6:1

   The next day brought us rest and recovery after a long day on the mountain. However we did have a ground school covering direct and indirect haul systems.

Ryan Above Moraine Camp


   With only a few days left in the moraine camp our next objective would be a sub peak of Mount 
Woodrow Wilson. Another early morning under dark skies with a fresh few inches of snow we left camp through the moraine, up the dry toe of the Dinwoody, around crevasses, and onto the wet glacier to reach a nice steep slope of snow to gain the summit ridge and out to the summit prominence of the day.

   On the descent we rappelled 3 times. First off 2 equalized snow pickets. Next off of 2 equalized ice screws. On our last low angle slope we arm rappelled.
Students Rappelling 
   Due to an unforeseen injury we left camp the next day, down through the Dinwoody Moraine, past Elk lake and to a trail side crag. Here we covered traditional protection placement and anchor building as it pertains to the alpine environment. After a short climb integrating hip belays and natural protection  we continued down the valley, through an aspen grove along the creek and back to Inkwells for our final resupply and a hefty loading of carbohydrates.

Double Lake Reflection
Over the next two days we meandered along creeks, through forests, upon rolling trails, up steep sunny switch backs, past beautiful alpine lakes, below towering walls of pristine Wind River granite, over high mountain passes, among the big horn sheep and ghost ponies to arrive at the Glacier trail head.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ark Sharks and Red Ladies are Going to the World Rafting Championships in Brazil

The United States National Raft Team is in final preparations for the World Championships in Foz De Igacu in Brazil. This October 8-19 teams from around the globe will converge on this UNESCO World Heritage site to compete in 4 different events in the attempt to become the world rafting champions. The event starts with training on the courses then teams will compete in sprint, head to head, slalom, and finally down river.

This year on the Cal-Salmon in the Trinity Alps (Video)  of Northern California Team Ark Sharks and Team Red Ladies won the National Championship ensuring their titles as champions and sending the teams to Brazil. Currently the team is in the depths of training. Even though practices are 3 days a week, commitment to this level of competition is a 24 hour a day thought.

These men and women have committed years to the sport and now have the opportunity to bring a title home to the United States. Follow the teams on Facebook here @ the US Raft Team, Team Ark Sharks, and The Red Ladies.

They continue to seek out support either through events or through their fund raising sites Go Fund Me Men and  Go Fund Me Women. Support the USA by donating to the teams and supporting the growth of the sport.

Gore Canyon Race 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dragontail and the Backbone Ridge

It all started with a simple question "What route havent you done?"

After a day of 100 degree temps and swimming in the Wenatchee River "World Class" and I headed up to the Stuart Lake trailhead to make final preparations for the Backbone Route. This route summits Dragontail at 8,840' and is within the Alpine Lakes wilderness. Also Dragontail is the second tallest peak with in the Stuart Range and the Enchantments. The trailhead starts at about 3,400' and asecnds to 6,400' the remaining 2,000' is technical rock climbing up to 5.9. In addition this route is grade IV with a total of 11 miles round trip. Our objective, to complete the route in one day.

Looking out through the car window, up towards the sky, stars shown brightly as we settled in for "a big day" in the mountains. Our eyes slowly shuttered close, the galaxy flickered away and just when we had fallen asleep the alarm started to buzz. In short order we ate a little food, brewed some joe, and we were off through the darkness on headlamp lit trails. Up the Stuart Lake trail following Mountaineers Creek to the junction with the Colchuck Lake Trail, along the dawn lit shoreline of Colchuck Lake and past scattered campsites. Eventually we chose a route up talus and scree then with crampons we crossed a small snowfield.
World Class approaching the Ledges Start
The route starts up class IV ledges that climb left past the backbone ridge and then back up to the right. Following the ramps up and back right to the ridge leads to a groove or dish that goes back left to an optional first pitch that goes at 5.2 . Alternately taking a more direct line up instead of right takes one directly to the base of what maybe pitch 0. At this point we soloed in approach shoes passing a ring slung tree then right to gain the ridge. This is where we roped up and started up on pitch 1.
Pitch 1 & 2 Including the Offwidth
Pitch 1 starts on moderate 5.5 climbing over blocks and around a bush to the base of pitch 2. This astonishing 2nd pitch starts out with hand size jamming but quickly goes to arm, leg, and then shoulder width. This climbed well with a left side in including side pulls on the right edge combined with stems and mantles on the right side face.
World Class Following Pitch 2; Yes That is a #6
Prior to this climb I read about the route including gear beta. Rest assured anyone on this pitch will be pleased to have a #5 and #6 C4. I bumped these pieces up for about 45 feet until I exited the off width to the left. Following this stunning off width crack we moved our belay left to start the 3rd pitch. On this pitch World Class started up the corner moving out left into low angle dirty cracks gaining a nice finger crack that would go at 5.7. Although just to the left of the belay were steeper cracks that lead more directly into pitch 4. World Class and I climbed the first four pitches in 2 pitch blocks so she continued up pitch 4. She left the belay to the right and up a short 12' hand crack to slabs and into a gradually widening hand to off width crack. Once gaining the offwidth portion World Class stepped down and left into a right facing dihedral with a finger crack in the corner and face edges to the right. Eventually she topped out to the left after 5.8 moves. After getting to the pitch 4 belay we realized that our pitch count was off thus leading us past an often climbed left facing dihedral. From the top of pitch 3 or what maybe referred to as pitch 4 one could "step down and left" to gain the crack system that leads to the left facing dihedral. Continuing up pitch 5 I followed a low angle hand crack up and left, out and around a corner, across a class III ledge and up to a comfortable shaded belay ledge. This is where a team could short pitch, simul, or solo however we continued to pitch out short 5.6 and 5.7 crux moves spaced with low fifth class terrain. We climbed a full 200' 6th pitch then simuled the 7th for another 200'. This lead us to a nice short 5.6 crack on the left side of the ridge. I placed pro for the 30' crack then ran out the remaining 150' for pitch 8. One more runout low fifth class 9th pitch took us to the base of the Fin Direct and lunch.

After a pleasant break soaking in the views from Mount Baker to Mount Rainier, World Class started up leading the 5.5 ridge and into easy ledges for a full rope length. After 200' of leading we finished the remaining 75' of 5.6 by simul-climbing creating what became known as "the longest pitch of the summer." Eventually we exited left up face moves to a comfortable ledge in the middle of the Fin Wall. This was our choice for pitch 10 instead of the chimney corner to our left. This corner  is often used as the lead in pitch to the comfortable ledge in the middle of the Fin Wall.

From this ledge I lead pitch 11 out left from the belay, into 5.7+ face moves, up to short parallel cracks that topped out on a smaller ledge. World Class followed then lead out left again for pitch 12. Thin 5.9 face moves lead into an open book with a crack in the back, climbing out left onto an arete, and up into a right facing dihedral with a combination of jamming and face moves for what we thought was the "short pitch" referred to in the route descriptions.

Two options exist from this belay. One is directly up into what apeared to be a 5.8 hand crack or traverse right across a ledge and into "twin cracks." I led the 13th pitch across the ledge, into the "twin cracks" (5.6)  reaching a dihedral where I built an uncomfortable hanging belay. In hindshight continuing up through the dihedral onto a broad ledge would have been a better option. World Class continued for the 14th pitch up the left facing dihedral with hand and foot jamming, across a broad ledge, then up and left through varied crack jamming and face moves to another "mid pitch" belay directly right and below the Fin. Next are nice 5.7 cracks that meander up, ending at a headwall, then climbing left into a variety of unprotected but short 5.9- face moves into the notch of the Fin for pitch 15.

From here a 16th pitch 4th class ledge leads to a notch on the right. The 17th pitch leads right across a class 3 ledge to join the top of the Serpetine Arete. These last two pitches could be soloed, simuled or short pitched. After coiling our rope and bagging the rack we scambled in approach shoes the last 100' to the summit of Dragontail.
Sunset on Dragontail
Finally we summited about 13 hours after leaving the Stuart Lake trailhead. Our casual pace eventually caused us to be slightly rushed thus leading to the aforementioned mid belays for pitches 13 and 14. After a short break at the summit we reconfigured our packs and started our descent. Once we reached the east side snowfield we put on crampons and descended to Mist Lake and Aasgard Pass. Then to a dusk colored Colchuck Lake down to Mountaineers Creek and back on headlamp lit paths to the trailhead. Roundtrip took me nearly 19 hours while World Class was patient and waited numerous times for me to catch up.
Mist Lake
This route is top notch with 17 pitches of climbing, unparalleled rock and pitch quality, in a wilderness setting, among a grand range of superb alpine rock there isn't better climbing for the grade. A fromidable approach with the possibility of frozen snow or ice and a staggering technical rock route this mountain is a delightful challenge. Considering ones own drive during a single day ascent or a multi day journey through one of Washingtons best alpine rock climbing destinations you will be challenged and you will be rewarded.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Midsummer River Flows and the Summer Super Moon

   Over the past couple weeks the wet  pacific northwest climate dried out. This led to falling river flows that stabilized around 4,000 cfs on the Main Skykomish and then steadily dropped to 2,000 cfs. As a result I was able to use the low water technical river skills I've acquired from years of guiding in Colorado.
   At these flows the North Fork of the Skykomish proves to be narrow, shallow, and generally technical. Thus providing clients with opportunity to hone their paddling skills while preparing for the increasingly difficult Boulder Drop. This dynamic and diverse rapid has an intricate character, from high water over head crashing waves to medium flow greasy tractor beam lines to technical meandering through narrow channels, around boat wrapping rocks, and down steep drops this rapid truly is compelling.

The Crew and Jere Coming Through Airplane Turn in Boulder Drop
   During this prolonged period of clear dry skies we had a stunning full moon display. The giant super moon posed along side the monolith that is the North Peak of Mount Index. The North Peak rises 4,800 feet from the valley floor. This striking tower of rock has resonated my imagination since my first trip to Washington over a decade ago. Now on a nearly daily basis I have gazed upon its faces. From the river and town walls, through shrouded fog and clouds, layered in a white blanket of snow or a sun setting red this peak is yet another beautiful, rugged, wild distinction of the Pacific Northwest.
Full Moon and the North and Middle Index Peaks

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Mystery and Surprise of Adventure

We have been happily floating through the first weeks of summer. Trip after trip of friendly adventurous rafters have left impressed and pleased to have rafted with Outdoor Adventures. Families from around Washington to corporate groups from Outdoor Research, Eddie Bauer, and Amazon have come to the Skykomish to raft but have left totally in love with Index. Climbers from all over the nation migrate to climb the town walls and some of the best dark horse paddlers reside here. Some of these paddlers have sent first descents all over the area. These kayakers I can proudly say are our safety boaters for our Main Skykomish adventure.
Ahh the Flowers of Index
Another couple weeks of sending great routes started with another new climbing partner from somewhere south of here. Mystery girl and I met up and climbed five pitches at Castle Rock in Tumwater Canyon including a three pitch route named Saints (5.8). This climb was a bit vague after the first pitch. Perhaps we were off route a bit and in this fashion I wouldn't give it the 3 star consensus that Mountain Project gives it. After that we found ourselves climbing the first pitch of Canary (5.8). This route starts with either  unprotected 5.7 face climbing or protected 5.8 moves under a small roof and turning a corner to gain ledges leading into a short corner with a finger crack. This leads into the crux that I mantled onto the Saber ledge. On our second pitch we stuck to a 5.5 corner with broken block climbing onto the top of Castle Rock.

The next morning I guided a morning Main Skykomish (IV-V) trip and met with my mystery partner in the afternoon. We climbed Rogers Corner (5.9) into Breakfast of Champions (5.10a) creating an awesome 2 pitch link up. Rogers starts with a short hand size dihedral into broken blocks up slabs to another corner with a crux pulling out of the corner and onto a block hanging off the side of the cliff. Then mystery girl led up BOC (5.10a) in style placing great pro and generally making it look easy. This pitch starts with an airy move to gain the hand crack. From there its jamming for the next 50'.

On the descent we simul rappelled. This is when both climbers rappel simultaneously on a single strand of rope in order to save time. This ended up with a pleasantly awkward rappel where I was rappelling in the lap of my partner. Then we switched and she rappelled in my lap. Needless to say we got to know each other a little better. Next we headed over to the ever crowded Godzilla (5.9). A pair was just starting up so we decided to climb Princely Ambitions (5.9).

The next day we started on the first two pitches of G.M. Route (5.9) and into Heart of the Country (5.10a) for the third. This third pitch is another lofty move from the belay into a beautiful hand crack, onto a ledge then an obtuse hand crack onto slabs. I preferred HOC over Breakfast of Champions because it was more consistent in hand size. Where as my mystery partner preferred BOC over Heart of the Country because of the slightly narrower crack.
Heart of the Country (5.10a) 
Following this great line we headed to Godzilla (5.9) and found not a soul waiting or climbing this ever crowded route. We quickly jumped on it and led up the first 30 feet of 5.7 run out to a sustained dihedral with varied crack jamming, lay backing, and an interesting traverse at the top to gain the belay anchor. Subsequently we climbed the second pitch of City Park (5.10b). This starts with a bolt protected move to a reachy finger out right and a bold mantle onto a ledge. This leads into a fun finger crack in a corner up to a slightly bulging bolt protected move. Eventually we were faced with the difficult proposition of continuing up for a third pitch on Slow Children (5.10d). Thankfully we made friends on the previous belay ledge and one of the climbers offered to be a "rope gun". He generously put our rope up so we could top rope this awesome 5.10d pitch. Another difficult move from the belay anchors into a balanced reach of just finger tips for me and fingers for mystery girl. Thin finger tips lead to a blind reach right, up more finger tips to an arete to gain the last fingers to tips in a flaring corner cruxing at the top. Totally awesome and one of the best 3 pitch routes I've ever done! Moreover these were the hardest routes I've climbed all season. What a great feeling to progress!  

After another great weekend of guiding on the Main Skykomish (IV-V) I met a couple new climbing friends and we headed up for a nonchalant couple pitches on K Cliff. We climbed Special K (5.8) a low angle dihedral leads to a pull out right and over a bulge on fingers. We also climbed Rise Pumpkin Rise (5.9+). This route climbs face moves up to a stretch out left to gain a corner to the top.

To my surprise we headed out to Snow Creek Wall the next day and climbed Orbit (5.8+). This wall is still one of my favorites. With 6 pitches of continuous climbing within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area it doesn't get much better.
Icicle Creek
After meeting up with some friends in Leavenworth we made quick time on the 45 minute approach to the wall. Surprise girl and I soloed low 5th class to our first pitch. To start is a chimney with a crack in the back or it can be stemmed. Next is one of the classic long 150' pitches that starts with 5.6 climbing into a short traverse that leads into an amazing finger crack dihedral. The third pitch is another long pitch that comes off the belay into an airy exposed move into a low angle dihedral. The increasing angle of the pitch leads into a reach out right turning a corner and starting up a finger to hands crack. Eventually this leads into face climbing into another corner and lay backs onto the belay ledge nearly 180' from the start of the pitch!
Surprise on the Third Pitch of Orbit (5.8+)
Then another great corner turns an edge onto another face then pulls over a slight bulge onto a face that finishes the fourth pitch. The fifth pitch traverses right into whats referred to as a sea of chicken heads. These features are little protrusions of rock that climb like a ladder up the cliff. This easy but extremely fun pitch stretches the rope at nearly 200' of climbing. Finally the sixth pitch gains the top of the wall nearly 800' up.

Welcome to the Top of Snow Creek Wall

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Friends and Clients on One of Washingtons Best Rivers

   The Skykomish River comes crashing off of the high peaks of the Wild Sky and Henry Jackson Wilderness areas. The mountains within these areas strike the sky five thousand feet above the valley floor. Collecting up to 200" of precipitation every year provides the Skykomish river with generous flows.
   Our North Fork of the Sky trip meanders along the Wild Sky Wilderness boundary. In fact sections of this commercially run section are the wilderness area boundary. This provides spectacular scenery with an almost daily sighting of bald eagles and the occasional bobcat sighting.
   Since Outdoor Adventures has a private put in we are the only company running this section. Outdoor Adventures is a family run business and the Corson's have been generous. They have allowed us to provide our friends, families, and clients with a unique class III experience.
Ryland on the North Fork
   Over the past couple weeks I have been able to take friends to this amazing location. After paddling at the USRA National Championships Jeremiah and Katie came to Index for a visit.  Subsequently we paddled with Seamus on the North Fork Skykomish (III). After that Jeremiah, Seamus, Ryland and I R-2'd the Main Skykomish (V). So much fun paddling with Katie and Jeremiah a fellow Ark Shark teammate. Shortly after their visit I had another opportunity to showcase one of Washington's best rivers to friends.
Wade, Hannah, Ryland, Josie, Me, Sam, Rib, and Seamus
   Josie came along with Sam as she was moving back to the South Sound area. They had rafted the Lochsa in Idaho a couple days before. So I figured we would be good to go on the Main Sky (V) but we were more inclined to have a scenic run on the North Fork followed with a riverside campfire. Not surprisingly Josie and Sam were impressed with the hidden town of Index, the Skykomish River and the surrounding wilderness. The next day Sam played guide and guides played tourists when we headed to Pikes Place Market in Seattle for a cultural buffet.
Keith, Lindsey, Me, Jordan
  Soon after I had the pleasure of guiding a wonderful group down the North Fork to the Main in a full day whitewater adventure. Here is a photo Mark from Woodinville took on our North Fork to Main Skykomish trip. Keith rallied two full boats from the North Fork to upgrade and add the Main Sky to complete this fun filled day.
   Last week I submitted an American Mountain Guide Association scholarship application and video. Finances are one of the biggest hurdles in acquiring AMGA certifications. Thankfully the AMGA has many industry sponsors that help instructors and guides become certified. This video is a short summary of the places Ive travelled to acquire experience and prerequisites to confidently participate in these professional level courses.  rock guide prerequisites  ski guide prerequisites

Check out my scholarship video here.

   Here is another short video from an adventure Seamus and I had on the Rapid River near Skykomish Washington.

Rapid River Skykomish Washington