Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's Getting Warm In Here

It's June and it is starting to get warm in Las Vegas.  

The Las Vegas "winter" is three months of blazing heat.  As far as compromises go, I suppose retreating to electric light and artificial air for three months is better than nine months of hibernation and moss growing in the PNW.  Last year at this time, highs in Las Vegas were pushing 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mere low-triple-digits are a blessing.  

In my two-ish years living in Las Vegas, I can say that late-May through September and November through February are my favorite months.  The downside of living at a "destination" area is that the crowds gather during peak times of the year.  I consider Red Rocks un-climbable during March and April, when essentially everyone I know is visiting the area to get on the classics.  During this time of year you should be prepared to wait for a half-dozen parties to siege their way up whatever route you were intended to climb that day.  If you wait another month, when "it is too hot" you will find empty crags and tolerable temperatures.  

June is that month.  Triple digit heat and direct sun make it a choir to reach the wall.  However, if you choose a shady wall, you can climb in shorts and a tee-shirt.  In addition to the comfortable temperatures in the shade, the crags are absolutely empty.  

My buddy Rob visited Las Vegas a couple days ago.  During the few days Rob was in Las Vegas we climbed Crimson Chrysalis, Triassic Sands and Inti Watana to Resolution all without even seeing another party.  I'm not sure where everyone else is, but it is all happening in Red Rock in June.

Rob somewhere on Crimson Chrysalis.

All alone on the most popular route in Red Rocks...

Rob on the first pitch of Triassic Sands.

Rob up high on Mt. Wilson
 and the Rainbow Enscarpment

Looking down from the 11th pitch of Inti Watana.

Rob up high while desert rockneering
on Mt. Wilson.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Les Miserables

Alpine climbers, much like the characters in Les Miserables, are mainly concerned with avoiding the chop.  For Jean Valjean it was fear of the guillotine, for alpine climbers it is a vast multitude of fears:  seracs, avalanches, cornices, rockfall, falling, phantom, etc...

On Mount Hunter's North Buttress this past May, the fear was palpable.  The North Buttress has been the scene of fatalities, perhaps most notably, Steve Mascioli.  The face is littered by  car-sized (and larger) snow mushrooms, pasted improbably to steep walls and roofs.  One of these snow mushrooms collapsed in warm conditions, killing him instantly.  Given the record high May temperatures at the Kahiltna Base Camp, this thought was ever-conscious as we ascended the face and passed many gargantuan snow mushrooms.

The conditions we encountered were far from the sticky blue ice seen in pictures from teams running up the face in a day or two.  In fact, the conditions were quite bony.  We climbed through several pitches nearly devoid of protection.  We found ourselves at the belays, questioning whether we ought to have just climbed the pitch.  Regardless, the climbing was never hard enough to shut us down but the sum of all fears was sufficient to stop our ascent.

I know more risk adverse climbers would have continued.  The climbing was not impossible.  However, if a snow mushroom had collapsed and killed us, other climbers would have looked at the temperatures and said "What did they expect?  It was record high temperatures."

Climbers always justify the risk, insisting that they would not make the same mistakes as parties who made poor choices and paid dearly.  In reality, most climbers justify the risks and then make the same decisions as those who perished before them.

Some get away with it, some don't.

If you believe you make better decisions than those that passed before you, then you actually need to make those difficult decisions.  If you do not make the difficult choices, then you have deluded yourself.  A successful ascent does not necessarily mean you made better decisions.  You were just luckier.

Mt. Hunter's North Buttress

Marcus low on the North Buttress.  This ice sections would be melted
out two days later and not frozen overnight.

Myself somewhere on the North Butress...

Aiding the bergschrund on pickets and screws...