Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Times are Changing

The end of a one month vacation is coming painfully close... I'll be back at school at 7 a.m. Monday morning (p.s. WTF!?) and Marcus begins a 6-month 40 hour/week stint on Thursday. Things were definately going to change...

BJ, Marcus and I just took a quick trip out to Bozeman. Conditions were supposed to be great and it had been years since any of us had been to Hyalite Canyon. A little different experience with different climbs on the ticklist than in years' past. We had to deal with some bad avy conditions and the memories of a bad accident that happened a few weeks back. Despite this we got some good climbs in, even if none of them happened to be what we hoped to climb.

Day 1: Went to climb The Climb Above Dribbles... bad snow and a little confusion meant it was just a warm up day.

Day 2: Marcus nabs the last of the low lying fruit with Cleopatra's Needle.

Day 3: Bad snow aborts our attempt on the real prize, end up climbing Bobo Like and Killer Piller not to shabby for a check-down day.

Day 4: Dielectric Breakdown and I cut my teeth, literally, on some Bozeman mixed.

Not the housekeeper's best friends...

BJ getting his first lead of the season on Silken.

If you know BJ you shouldn't be suprised, it was only -15F when we left the car...

Marcus crossing Cleopatra's Needle off the ticklist. It was the only plastic ice in the valley...

Killer Piller.

Marcus trying not to throw stones on the glassy Dielectric Breakdown.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Weather cooled off just in time for some scrappy ice in the NE. After a disappointing first trip back east my ratio of suffering to climbing has been steadily improving. Got on 3 pitches the first trip then sent the Black Dike among a few other climbs during the second trip. This trip I climbed over 20 pitches and all but one day.
The climbs were just starting to come in, so we focused on scrappy routes at Smuggler's Notch. We ended up getting the seasons first ascents of classic routes like Poster Child and Ragnarock. After three days climbing in the notch and one pirate party induced rest day, we got on a couple routes at Lake Willoughby. Lake Willoughby is Vermont's answer to Canada. If you are going climbing in the NE go here!

Andrew is "The Poster Child" Wi4 M4

Scrappy conditions putting the "rock" in Ragnarock Wi4+ or M6

Approaching the birthing canal on ENT gully... so cold climbed with Das Parkas on.

Andrew following the mega-classic 20- Gully.

Float Like a Butterfly at Lake Willoughby: Vermont's answer to the Weeping Wall.

Teamwork: Usually I have a climbing partner that is a stick clip, this time I had to use my climbing partner as a stick clip.

Ice in the Gorge, me in Vermont

Rodney getting first sticks on Cape Horn Upper Tier Left.

I may have gotten the first pitch of ice in this year's Gorge freeze, but it wasn't the last. A lot of cool lines got climbed, including a couple I had my eye on. As per usual, the Gorge freeze (all 5-days of it) coincided with my trip to Vermont. Now that I'm back its raining at 8,000 ft., so that's great. I guess its time to go to the gym and dream about living someplace drier and colder next year.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Are You Ready to (I) Rock?

With a good weather forcast and no work until 615 on Thursday, I knew I needed to get up on Hood and get some climbing in. Everyone was busy that day. Thankfully, I got a hold of Colin and he was game to play hooky and go out. It was pretty much a perfect day with a full-moon, no wind, cold temps, and cloud-free sky. We made great time up to I-Saddle and were climbing by 8:30 a.m. after leaving the parking lot at 6 a.m.

I-Rock's east wall was completely bare. We had heard that stuff on the other side (NW?) was fun and not often climbed. With conditions on the front side, we really had no choice but to drop off I-Saddle and find something there. We picked the most obvious line/weakness on the face.

Our first belay was pretty marginal with a picket and two marginal pins. Mentally I was preparing myself for the entire climb to have poor protection. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. I found solid protection (including ice screws!) the entire way up the climb. There wasn't a lot of ice on route, but almost every tool placement was on ice with the occasional pick torque, edge, or hook. It was moderate, fun and in great shape. Honestly a top-5 alpine-mixed day all-time.

I had Colin take a picture of this screw just to prove we actually placed it.

Pitch 2. Awesome dihedrals that were ice up and actually a little burly. Thankfully perfect protection abounded.

Looking down the second pitch from the Skylight. There was a big 3/8" bolt just below this. Maybe this is Wayne Wallace's route North Skylight Direct (or something like that). There was a good #2 camalot-sized crack next to the bolt, but don't get me wrong, I clipped the bolt.

Colin pulling the final move into the Skylight. This actually wasn't a posed shot. The climbing was that good.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Thanksgiving Left-overs

This was our second trip to the Canadian Rockies in two-weeks. This November we've put enough miles on Marcus' rig that it needed a oil change and a tire rotation. At least we've knocked off the rust, got on some proud routes and came home ready for more.

Donnie and Sue met us in the parking lot at 5 a.m., and car-pooled with us into the Ghost. They were headed for This House of Sky and we attempting Cryophobia. If you have the right vehicle you can drive in via the Waiporous Creek and reach the climb in just 30 min. Without the requisite monster truck, you have to walk in via Johnson Lakes and the Ghost River Valley. Though the approach is straight-forward, it is 3 hrs long with 2.5 hrs of bushwacking. Remind me why I don't do something easier like skiing?

We finally rounded the ridge and saw this:

The Hydrophobia cirque is pretty incredible. I want to get back there either later this year or in the Spring for some plastic-ice climbing. Hydrophobia is the, ahem, obvious feature on the left. Cryphobia climbs rock that connects the discontinous ice features to the right. I took the first pitch which meant I would also get the crux. Marcus got the second pitch which meant he would climb two M7+ pitches.

Marcus gunning through the roof on the second pitch.

Yep, it is that good...

We didn't get the send, but we did get close to half-way up the route before pulling the plug. On the bright-side we know what areas need work. We have every intention of training hard and getting on this route again.

We didn't get back to Canmore until 9 p.m. After 6 hrs of walking (as well as some hard climbing) we didn't feel like waking up early again. We opted for the B-shift and started up for Guinness Gully + Stout at 11:30 a.m. It ended up being perfect timing as the party ahead of us was rapping the final-pitch as we started climbing it. We did something like 6 pitches of climbing in an easy afternoon that got us back in time for the end of Sunday Night Football.

Marcus on the first pitch of Guiness Gully.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dancing Days are Hear Again... the winter nights grow?

Marcus and I got an early jump on the ice season. Conditions were a little bit spartan up north, but there was more than enough ice for four days of climbing. More than anything we knocked some rust off, sized up some future objectives and readied ourselves for the Thanksgiving weekend send-fest (hopefully!).

Day 1: We knew Nemesis had been climbed within the last few days but knew WI6 was probably not going to workout for our first day out this year. We wanted something a little easier and settled on Spray Falls WI5. Spray Falls was on the to do list after getting shut down a few years ago on a late season attempt with Chad. It was in very steep, albeit easy condition this year. Went down smoothly but we could have done without the 4-hr wait at the base while a party of very slow Albertans.

Day 2: After hearing of deteriorating avy conditions and that Will Gadd bailed we had to skipped our attempt on Nemesis. Instead we headed to the Ghost where there are no avy worries, at least we thought. Chad and I had climbed the Sorcerer, our intended route, a few years back (pretty good trip now that I think about it, we climbed Carlsberg, Kitty Hawk, Sorcerer in one trip). A massive cornice had formed up this year. Added to that feature was heavy winds and snow deposition that seemed to be loading the cornice. Did I mention the spindrift falling down, and up the climb? Needless to say we bailed. Unfortunately a 2.5 hr drive and 1.5hr approach didn't leave us any time to get on something else.

Day 3: Murchison is another climb that was on my grudge list. BJ and I had been on it but bailed when a nearby cornice collapsed. Marcus and I thought we might link up Murchison with Mixed Master. At 8 a.m. we drove past Murchison with a car already parked. We decided to reverse the link-up and head to Mixed Master. Mixed Master is dry... really dry. I would not be surprised if it doesn't come in this year. We headed back to Murchison. Leaving the car at 10:30 we thought we wouldn't have to wait too long. Unfortunately some guys from British Columbia were setting an anti-speed record on Murchison (what is it with slow Canadian ice climbers?). At 12:00 they were only starting the first pitch. Desperate after being shut down the previous day we got on the unformed Virtual Reality WI6. We only climbed one pitch but it ended up being a 30m WI5 with techy ice. I hope those Canadian brought headlamps because they probably only reached the base by nightfall.

Day 4: As per usual we hit Hafner on the way home. We didn't send anything incredible.... just worked some mixed routes that are pretty boney in the early season.

The uber-slow Albertans on the crux of Spray Falls.

Marcus heading up a WI4 leading to the crux of WI4.

Me posing for a picture just below the crux of Spray Falls. Not that I'm right at a screw or anything...

Me learning something about techy ice on Virtual Reality.

What's a gronk? Marcus on the send...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

When Numbers Lie...

During the past six months I’ve organized my training into a periodization scheme. I’ve consistently worked out for the past three/four years and have always made gains in times/weights/grades. However, my scheme has always been random and not focused on any goal per se.

Since, I’ve changed to a periodization scheme I have seen some incredible gains. These gains have are especially evident within any given period (i.e., strength, power, power/endurance, endurance). During each phase I have had dramatic improvement in my benchmark workout.
• Strength Phase – Increased dead lift 1 RM by 20%
• Power Phase – Increase output in benchmark WOD by 14%
• Power Endurance Phase – Decreased time in benchmark WOD by 22%
• Endurance Phase – Decreased time in benchmark WOD by 10%

These numbers are too good to be true. There is no way I am 10% stronger, powerful, faster, etc. in any one-month period. To what extent do these numbers represent habitulization, familiarization, and practice?

Currently, I’m working on the second cycle of periodization (i.e., I’m on my second power/endurance phase). I repeated my benchmark WOD from the original power/endurance phase. I was 13% quicker than my original effort during the first power/endurance phase. However, I was 10% slower than the final effort of the power/endurance phase. Does this mean I am 13% stronger or 10% weaker?

Since I am doing this for climbing maybe I should let my climbing do the talking… right? I’m still working on breaking through the plateau… maybe I need another cycle… maybe I need more climbing time?

For now, I’m just working on crushing my one-month phases and hopefully that will break me through plateaus and make me stronger/fitter over all.

Anybody have some ideas?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Hungry Like a Wolf

Mighty Wolf Rock.

Low on route looking up at the roofs.

Looking down the scary fourth pitch.

Rodney earning full style points on the 10d traverse.

Nothing but exposure and run out traverses.

Given the solid high pressure and cool temperatures, Rodney and I were able to work on our tick-list a little bit. Barad Dur has always been touted as a serious hardman' climb, I think both of us had probably thought it was a bit over our heads. However, with sending temps we thought better of it and gave it a go.

I know that Wolf Rock is a volcanic plug but the rock seemed to range from junky basalt to almost a sandstone-esque type rock. There is really a good variety of cracks, slabs, incuts, open hands, etc.

It’s kind of hard to describe how big and rotten those roofs look from the ground. But I assure you they are huge and oh so rotten. In general the rock is solid and protectable when you really need it. Be prepared to solo or essentially solo 5.10.

Rodney took the sharp end linking the first two pitches. Really excellent run out open handed climbing. I got the next two pitches. The first was excellent quality but that’s where things changed. The fourth pitch was scary. I felt like I was playing one of the Super Mario Bros. levels where the blocks will fall away if you stay on them too long. Probably the worst pitch of the climb. Rodney got the 10d traverse and earned full style points. This pitch was pretty junky as well, but only after the crux. I gave it a go on the 11b pitch but had a take at the crux after botching the sequence. The traverse out right looks completely improbable and it took me a while to commit. Finally I took of the blinders, found the key features and protection and was able to mantle up. An incredibly exposed handrail leads right. I placed a nest of flared gear to protect from a 50 ft. swing into the wall… ouch.

It was an incredible climb. I can see why people will come back and repeat it time and time again.

It ain't always easy...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I Need More Weight!

2x BW +5 lb DL... I think I need a couple more weight plates.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Enter the Dragon

Sneaking in just after a rain storm and immediately before a stint at work, James and I had a good couple of days alpine rock climbing in the Stuart Range. We were a little apprehensive due to reports of a fresh foot of snow in the area, but the sunny weather resolved the situation quickly.

After an Inversion IPA induced late start, we set off for the snow creek wall hoping for an enchainment of Orbit and Outer Space. Outer Space had a party armed for bear, roping up at the first pitch. Orbit was empty so we headed that direction.

James climbing a splitter moderate crack on Orbit. I think Orbit is a better climb overall than Outer Space. However, Outer Space has a couple amazing pitches.

We finished Orbit quickly, but two more parties had gotten on Outer Space. We watched the lowest party as they spent nearly an hour leading a 30m 5.9. We were positive they were going to spend the next five hours on route, so we headed out for Gustav's.

Next up was the classic climb, Backbone Ridge. Neither James nor myself had climbed any rock routes on Dragontail. Essentially we had to get this classic off our ticklist. Teams seemed to take about 15 hours on route. Titans-Steelers had a 5:30 kickoff so we opted for a 3:00 a.m. start. We actually arrived about an hour too early to start climbing. We weren't sure how to get on route so we waited at the morraine until it was light enough to see.

It's actually quite easy and intuitive, but it looks improbable from a distance. The off-width felt a little spicy, but probably because I didn't lug up the requisite protection. Unless you want to take multiple large cams, which I did not, you are required to run the pitch out. A newer-generation #5 protects the first 50-feet with some slung chockstones. You have to leave this piece at halfway and go unprotected for the last 50-feet. I think a new-generation #6 might protect from 50-75-feet out, leaders shaky on off-widths will certainly want one. It felt a lot like 5.7-5.8 rather than 5.9.

From here on out, you just follow your nose, don't stray from the ridge crest too far.

We got confused up on the fin. I'm not sure Nelson's route description is based on reality. We couldn't find any of the feature he describes. In the end we climbed the fin in three pitches. We followed face cracks and left facing corners for two pitches, then James got the plumb pitch following flakes and face moves to the crest.

A couple more pitches took us to the summit and the long descent down Asgard pass.

James on pitch two just after the off-width.

James two pitches up the Fin, Colchuck Lake in the background.

The fin. We conected the left facing corners in the center via face climbing. The final pitch took us just left of the smaller gendarme on the right side of the Fin.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Still need to work out the kinks... but first off to Leavenworth for a couple days of climbing.

Be there... be square. Come for the beer if nothing else!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Long Road

Jake and Dad nearing the Huandoy Pisco col.

First light on the Huandoy massif.

Dad and I on top. The real prize looms behind.

The guys had just four nights in Huaraz before heading for the hills. Not too bad, but given that we were pushing for near 6k, it might be a stretch.

After nearly two weeks of perfect weather, the day we left was, of course, rainy. We made decent time up to base camp, found a cave to pitch the Firstlight tent. The cave doubled as warm, non-windy, dry area for cooking and hanging out while the weather raged.

Originally we had planned to move our camp up to the morraine. However, the weather convinced us to stay put. We spent most of the day in the refugio with the guides, and later playing rummy and drinking Irish coffees. Probably not the best way to hydrate for a climb, but we weren´t sure the weather would lift.

We decided to wake up at midnight and leave if we could see stars. 0 hour came, not a cloud in the sky.

The road to the glacier was pretty gnarly. It took more than 4 hours to get there. The energy deficit set in. The climb wasn´t steep but had some sections that really push the unacclimitized. Dad and Jake dug down deep and pushed on. We reached the summit at 11 am with no wind, no clouds, nothing but 6k peaks.

Other than the blazing heat and dehydration the way down was uneventful. Cusqueña and sandwiches never tasted so good.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


Marcus left at 11h30 for Lima. Jake and my Dad were arriving at 5h30 the following day. Knowing Churup was actually getting climbed this year, it was killing me to look up at the face each day. Finally, I convinced an Australian climber, Simon, to venture out for a quick trip.

We left Zarela´s at 1h, were at base camp by 4h. Racked up and got ready to set out early.

We set the alarms for zero hour. By 1h we had left camp and worked our way up the morraine.

The warm weather had changed the deep snow I plodded through a month earlier to firm neve. Travel was quick. At the bergschrund we roped up and started pitching out the climb.

A long simul pitch brought us to the real difficulties. A short rightward traverse then a steep mixed pitch. I didn´t find any protection... but didn´t look too hard because conditions were perfect and the rock was solid.

Simon lead an extremely fun exposed traverse left. Another pitch brought us to the face. 60 degree neve all the way to the top.

The climb was never hard or scary. It was just engaging enough to keep it interesting. If the face is in condition it is an absolute must do. Funest day trip from Huaraz!

Simon on the summit. Ranrapalca, Oschalpalca and Vallunaraju to his left.

60 degree neve for a long way.

Simon on the second mixed pitch.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

King Me: Juego de los Reyes

Marcus working up mixed ground. The climb never relented despite features that looked like they would offer easy travel. The ground was precarious.

The thin ice technician at work. Marcus dealing with thin, exploding ice, and runout dicey protection on the first pitch.

Marcus nearing the finish of the first M6 kingmaker pitch.

Will BD warranty these picks? 300 m of thin ice and mixed not treating our picks nice.

Pucaraju 5400m
Juego de los Reyes
TD+ 300m WI4 M6 5.8
FA: Marcus Donaldson, Nate Farr 7.26.09

On July 26 Marcus and I made an ascent of an unclimbed line on the south face of Pucaraju (5400m). The line follows a couloir immediately right of the line La Princessa au Petit Pois.
After an early morning start, and more essentially a French-press of Café Andino´s finest, we reached the bottom of the face and began climbing at 8 a.m. Reports from other parties indicated that it took around 5 hours to climb other routes on the face. We found conditions that were far less than optimal and rock that yielded little protection. These factors meant that we spent far more time digging for protection and establishing anchors than we did actually climbing.
Though the Cordillera Blanca is well known for its good weather, this season has been an anomaly. Snowy weather has been the dominant pattern and most technical routes on the big mountains have not seen successful ascents yet. We dealt with snow, low visibility, but luckily no wind throughout the entire day.

The gods of rock, paper, scissors deemed Marcus the winner and he set off on the first pitch. This pitch yielded the hardest ice climbing. Though only graded a WI4 it had very little in the way of protection. Also the ice was never more than, and usually less, than a couple inches thick. Did I mention it was rotten, and would often give way underfoot? No better incentive to climb up, than when your feet disappear beneath. Marcus established a belay at the first available spot, after a full 60m.

The next two pitches were less difficult, though consistently sustained. Both pitches were 50m long.

The end of the third pitch brought us beneath a mixed band which we had spotted from the base. Initially we expected it to be the crux of the route. Of course after the first pitch we hoped we were wrong. Unfortunately these pitches yielded sustained mixed climbing around M6 (probably M7 at times), difficult, less than optimal protection, thin ice, and rotten rock. Two 40m pitches brought us through the last of the difficulties.

A last 50m pitch up deep snow, neve, and some mixed put us on the summit ridge around 4 p.m.
Being so close to the equator, the sun sets very early in Peru. By 6:30 p.m. your headlamp will be on. Most parties seem to descend the line Adam and Eve on the far climbers´ left of Pucaraju. This line looked very snowy and we were unsure that would be able to find the raps from above. Near our final belay we saw a lonely rap station. After dealing with bad protection for the length of our couloir, we didn´t want to descend our route. We made the decision and descended one couloir climbers´ right of our route. I won´t say the rock was any better, but were able to partially use a couple of the established raps. Either the team that had previously used this descent had very long ropes, or the stations had disappeared. Marcus had to work very hard to find anchors. Sometimes he would spend up to an hour to get in two pieces that would hold more than body weight.

It started to snow very hard. After one particularly hard fought anchor, Marcus rapped into the darkness stood on the edge of a very steep cliff and looked around for a long time. At this point we weren´t sure if we were one, three, four or even more raps from the ground. His eye caught a glimmer from his headlamp, then tat… then a bolt. Someone actually packed a bolt kit and a shiny ½ inch bolt up and down Pucaraju! After dealing with several exploding rap stations, Marcus bounced hard on the bolt… it was solid. Happily, just 40m down we reached terra firma at 7:30 p.m.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Finding lemons... looking for lemonade

Enter the choss: An hour out and 15 feet up, post 1000 pound block trundling.

Our desired route is the central couloir. Nothing but choss on the bottom.

On day one putting in a boot pack. We thought we had it in the bag, less than 500 ft. to the base. Two full days later we reached the face.

The view of what we needed to bridge.

Despite many pictures from three different years all showing a continous ice and mixed line... we found no such line. Most likely it's due to the strange weather this year. People are saying it is the snowiest winter in the past 30 years. I believe them. We have seen many major avalanches and have done more post-holing than I care to admit.

We set out for the Paron with a solid two-weeks of food. We came to hunt bear and make sure we gave an honest attempt on our project. This period would also serve for our acclimitization so we wanted it done right.

We spent the first three nights at 14,500 ft. Did some hiking and eventually moved our basecamp to 16,500 ft. We spent one day completely tent bound as the storm raged.

In total it took us the better part of three days to get a book pack up to the face. The snow hit Marcus' knees so I'll only let you guess where it puts the snow level on my frame.

Despite seeing from a distance that the snow was not continous we hoped to find crack systems or terrain condusive to mixed or aid climibng. No such luck. I spent over two hour trying two different obvious features to reach a ramp that would bring us within a pitch of the ice. I cleared probably a thousand pounds of rotten rock, ran it out, and never got more than 30 feet up. Without a HILTI I'm not sure this goes. Tried or look at every conceivable option... another year maybe.

No we are back in Huaraz as the mountains storm. Bad weather this season. The south faces are avalanches waiting-to-happen. We'll head to the seldom climbed, but this season climbable, Churup next. Looking for lemonade... still finding lemons.