Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Making Adjustments

I've been back from Alaska for a couple weeks now and aside from being extraordinarily busy, I've been trying to make adjustments.  Specifically from a haggard expedition weary alpinist to somebody in shape to do some summer rock climbing.  It has been a slow transition.  Despite every day feeling like a "high-gravity day" I have some hopes to be in shape someday soon.

In the meanwhile, a few shots that I got from Marcus the other day.

Breaking on through.... the other side:  Digging through the cornice on the Colton-Leech.

Digging for pro on day two... before the storm.

More recently, Yannis getting his first day in at Index.

Marcus and I were also asked to participate in the CiloGear Propoganda Movies the other day.  I wish somebody would have told me that I sound like Jeff Spicoli.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Into the Wild

After a few days of storms and then one clear day to clear snow from the face we headed up for round two on Mt. Huntington.  Our calves were shot after our first attempt but we cruised the couloir on our second ascent.  It took about 4-5 hours fast than our first go.  The weather was immaculate... but that wouldn't last.

Marcus climbing through the first constriction

Above the first constriction

Climbing into the second constriction

Marcus strikes a "blue steel"

Marcus on the second constriction

Looking for "the" bivy ledge on day one

The Colton-Leech is known for a paucity of bivy ledges.  We found exactly two on our ascent.  Our bivy ledge on day one was hacked into ice on the edge of a 2,000' cliff.  It took about four hours to clear enough ice for our ledge.  Thankfully the pro was good.

Room with a view

Day two started calm but quickly spiraled into a maelstrom.  We had a morning with just light clouds but once we had passed the point of no-return the clouds closed in and the snow started.  Most of the day felt like we were in a blender and the temps were cold.  We figured about -20F... thankfully there was no wind.  I'm sure we would have bivied or bailed if that were an option however from 7am until 1am we found exactly one spot to bivy... and that was on the summit ridge itself.  It was one of the colder days climbing I've ever had.  I just barely warmed up while wearing all my clothes, belay parka and moving.  The belays seemed endless and were bone-chillingly cold.  At long last, we dug into the summit ridge crawled into the sleepings bags after 2am and tried to rally for the descent and hopefully better weather.

Marcus leads out early on day two

Entering the upper snowfield with the WFC visible to the right
Marcus climbing on the upper snowfield

A quick break in the weather...

Marcus discovers the exit from the upper snowfield

Marcus shakes off the rust on day three

Look Ma, No Lenticular!:  Denali on day three
When day three dawned clear we thought we had it in the bag.  We knew we were a bit climbers' left of where we meant to be, but that could be reversed.  Marcus had a great traversing lead over unconsolidated snow flutings that found a fixed rap anchor.  At this point we were sure we had it in the bag.  After all, Marcus had some solid experience on this peak... piece of cake, right?  During Marcus' traversing pitch, Daniel had Paul from TAT buzz our route to check up on us and radio back.  We were feeling pretty good at this time and gave him a thumbs up... but several hours later we still couldn't find the descent.  We spent hours trying different ledges systems looking for the WFC.  We felt pretty zapped after the previous cold day.  At long last, we decided to rap down the unknown descent of the WF.  We expected to leave the entire rack on the descent, but stumbled into the WFC after only 5-7 rappels.  Once in the couloir proper, it was like sport climbing as we descended John's threads from March.  After a full day descending we slumped into the snow in the upper basin and enjoyed the first warmth or sunlight we'd felt in several days.  

1000 yard stare mid descent on the WF

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Alaska Take One

This is the fourth trip to Alaska that I've had in various stages of planning... but just the first to see me actually get into the range.  The wait did not disappoint.  I've climbed on big alpine faces before... and certainly at a higher altitude but Alaska is just different.  I've felt stagnated with climbing, going to the same areas and doing the same types of climbs.... Alaska has opened a door and I don't think I'll be looking back.

Though Dan and Eric had spent three days waiting to get into the Tok'... Marcus and I pretty much showed up and flew into the range.  Of course no other pilot than Paul with TAT would have flown that day... fly with that guy or learn to love the Talkeetna nightlife...

The Stumptown basecamp.... only fourty five minutes from pancakes and coffee to ropes and ice screws on the Colton-Leech!  Our route starts in the obvious couloir above the camp, left of center, and continues to the butress before climbing ramps up and right to the summit.

The initial couloir was about 2,000' of bulletproof calf-burning ice.  I climbed a lot of ice this season but I need to devise  a new training method to prepare for the unrelenting front-pointing this feature offered.

Marcus cruising about halfway up the couloir....

The second ramp before the final constriction....

Marcus following the first pitch of the second constrictions...

Upon reaching the top of Count-Zero Buttress we saw a dark mass of clouds coming from the South and a massive lenticular formed around Denali's summit.  It seemed like a good time to retreat before the oncoming storm which caught us about halfway down the couloir.  Even the initial squall sent a lot of slides down the couloir and made anchors difficult.  We we're happy to be down on terra firma and eating pancakes while we waited for another break in the weather.

Sometimes you eat the bar....

and sometimes the bar eats you....

I had a pretty inglorious end to the ice season this year.  Far from the great run I had on the Spring trip last year. This season's finale coincided with the biggest April snowstorm ever seen in the Canadian Rockies.  Despite some good sends at Haffner it is hard to justify a long drive for short mixed climbs.  Still, I had a few good days this season and the plans are already laid for the following...  Not much left to do but enjoy some sunny rock climbing and get honed for when the chilly November air settles in again.