Monday, May 24, 2010

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The Painted Wall is CO's biggest wall
(furthest left in the photo)

Looking toward some of the Black Canyon classic walls
Jim Turner scoping the Black Canyon
The long routes and remote settings of the Black Canyon makes the place feel like alpine climbing; there are many adventures waiting for the intrepid here. I teamed up with Jim Turner, a Black climber for my first time last week.
After a casual mid-day alpine start we got it together and hiked down the SOB gully to climb Comic Relief (III 5.10 300m), a classic moderate offering. I was feeling insecure on the balancy, weird crack crux after my spring in the Creek, but as the climbing continued I began to relax and ease into the unique rock and movements of the Canyon.
White-throated Swifts swooped within inches as I sat on the belay ledges, contemplating the vast, deep canyon walls swirled with Pegmatite and dark Gneiss. The snow-fed river rages on a thousand feet below; its amazing to consider the pre-dam (1937) runoff levels reaching 6 times the fury! ( at 6000 cfs)
The next morning showed clear skies as we started down the Cruise Gully with the mega-classic Scenic Cruise (V 5.10+ 600m) on the agenda. As it was Jim's third time on the route, I recieved a quick debrief of the upcoming pitch before setting out on my leads, super handy! Just as the sun began to bake our brains at 10am, the clouds rolled in to save the day! The reality of over a thousand feet of exposure set in as I took the sharp end high on the route's big traverse pitch; a techy face sequence was cause for pause, thankfully the original bolt has been replaced by a fatty Metolious!! We topped the Canyon rim around 5pm for a time of 9 hours on this beautiful route. The climbing on the Scenic Cruise is always exciting for leader and the follower, every pitch is classic, and the movement very cerebral with great cracks and wild edging.
The Black Canyon has a powerful allure and a history of training some of America's best climbers. In the late 70's Earl Wiggins soloed the second ascent of The Scenic Cruise in 90 mintues with no chalkbag!!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dulces para los ojos (eye candy)

On Friday, May 21, 2010 at 0200 I woke up to multiple alarms and walked down stairs to the freshly made pre-programmed coffee. What would Alpinism be without caffeine?? 20 minutes later I am in Jen’s kitchen imbibing more of the stimulant. How many times have I driven to this trail-head in the dark?

An hour after leaving the car, Jens, Dan, and I turned off our headlamps and look ed at the North Face of Mount Stuart. We all had the same thoughts, “there is a lot of snow on the face and not much ice, powder on slabs.” The large objective was quickly and unanimously ruled out.

It is a good idea to have a small, medium, and large objective when alpine climbing. This way, one can tailor the climbing objective to the weather and conditions. In the clearing below Mount Stuart, we decided to check out our medium objective, the Cotter-Bebie to Serpentine Ridge on Dragontail Peak.

I strongly recommend climbing with the locals whenever possible. Insider beta is often crucial to timing and matching inspiration to proper objectives. In our case, Jens had been keeping a critical eye on the North Faces and ventured out the week before to climb the Triple Direct. Therefore, we were able to correlate the undulation freezing elevation (read: freeze+thaw=ice) and recent weather to determine the location where the highest likely-hood for good mixed climbing would be.

Some M6 above good rock gear...

“If there are any prohibited items in your bag I will have to call the police,” said the Transportation Safety Officer at Sea-Tac International Airport. I quickly ran though the contents in my mind; off-belay knife, ice axes, ice screws, crampons, lots of sunscreen, mate gord and bombilla... all of which are “prohibited”, or look like something that should be. My hypocampus sent signals to release fight or flight response hormones in my adrenal glands. The airport immediately felt hot and I began to perspire as my heart rate increased as well as my breaths per minute.

“Have you ever flown before?” Asked the Officer as he pulled out the TheraCane. “Yeah, my friend suggested I take this bag a la carte and I was planning on checking it...”

When I returned to the Alaska Airline representative to check the bag in question I realized that my boarding pass was Missing In Action. The rep. couldn’t re-print the pass because the flight was leaving in 15 min. I ran back to the TSA people. They wouldn’t let me pass the initial screening to find my boarding pass without a boarding pass. (It is interesting how these negative feedback loops are built into the MATRIX). Ran back to AA rep. AA rep. and I run to TSA gate. Conversing. TSA Supervisor looked for my boarding pass because we are not allowed to pass initial security check-point. Still couldn’t find pass. Ran back to AA desk with nice AA rep named Melanie. SYSTEM OVER-RIDE Finally printed new boarding pass and called ahead to gate to not close doors w/o me. Ran to gate C14. “JOEL!” Yelled the flight attendent. “Yeah.” Just in time.

The gogoinflight internet above the Contiguous United Staters of America (and an hour North of Seattle into BC) gave me a taste of the future, but not enough to get anything accomplished. The remainder of the flight was spent editing photos and recounting our recent adventures.

El tiempo es perfecto in Anchorage...


Monday, May 17, 2010

The Ying and Yang of Spring in Washington State

Jens sends classic 5.9 on Icicle Buttress on the approach to Big Bertha!

Big Bertha exits the horizontal roof on an Off-Width flake... Note the #6 camalot (Geen)

Jens and I enjoy the cool temps and vistas atop Icicle Buttress. This was my first non-guiding ascent of the formation. There really are some hidden jems in the Icicle.

April showers bring May flowers...

Lots of snow and ice in the mountains and flowery approaches to splitter granite, all with amazing tour guides! Why leave WA? We are headed up to Mount Stuart to find how the alpine ice is shaping up with cooler temperatures moving into the region.

Neil is in the Black Canyon with Jim Turner. Enjoy! "Adventure, we find was not about gymnastic moves or mental steel but the head-on collision between what we want and what we got." John Long

Monday, May 10, 2010

Creek Freaks

Andres Marin on Dancing Queen

Dramatic sunset over the Meat Walls

Peter Ramos on Big Baby, 5.11 OW

Get this man a clothing sponsor!!!

Patrick Kingsbury finds yet another sickeningly hard OW invert

Sunset over the Bridger Jacks and the Dugout Ranch's reservoir

Early human petroglyphs can be found throughout Indian Creek
Any ideas on this one???

That's me on Mondo, hard off-fingers to fists forever!

Pedro Ramos psyches up for 140 feet of fisting!

Dirty Dan keepin it light at the cliff

my home for the last few weeks

Kristen Hughes enjoys a great belay seat under Hot Fun Sunday

While Joel has headed northwards for guiding work, I can't think of anyplace I would rather be right now. The spring weather in Indian Creek has been marvelous; nearly every day has offered perfect shade-climbing temperatures with some sunnny climbing possible on windier days. As one group of friends moves on, another bunch of excited friendlies seems to replace them! Thanks to everyone who's been around this season for the great days and nights shared at the Creek!
Now in Moab, I'd like to get a couple days in at Mill Creek to switch up the enduro crack sessions with some delicate bolt protected face climbing. I've got 'Buckeye' Jim Turner lined up for the weekend and my first visit to CO's Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Then into Wyoming for Tensleep, D Tow, and maybe a SD Needles visit. Back to work hunting frogs in the Sierra starting June, hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mount Shuksan, Sulfide Glacier ~ Trip Report ~ May 2-4, 2010

SKUNK CABBAGE Lysichiton americanum "Swamp Lantern"

A robust, hairless perennial 30-150 cm tall, from fleshy, upright, underground stems, with a skunky odour, especially when flowering. Found in swamps, fens, muskeg, wet forest, mucky seepage areas, wet meadows, at low to middle elevations.

‘In the ancient days, they say, there were no salmon. The Indians had nothing to eat save roots and leaves. Principal among these was the skunk-cabbage. Finally the spring salmon came for the first time. As they passed up river, a person stood upon the shore and shouted: “Here come our relatives whose bodies are full of eggs! If it had not been for me all the people would have starved.” “Who speaks to us?” asked the salmon. “Your uncle, Skunk Cabbage,” was the reply. Then the salmon came ashore to see him, and as a reward for having fed the people he was given an elk skin blanket and a war-club, and was set in the rich, soft soil near the river. (Kathlamet story, related in Haskin 1934) Wherever the leaves of this plant were available, they were used as ‘Indian wax paper,’ for lining berry baskets, berry drying-racks and steaming pits. Skunk cabbage was rarely used as food by the northwest coast peoples; it was mostly a famine food in early spring; and it was then eaten only after steaming or roasting.

Pojar, Mackinnon. 2004. PLANTS OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST COAST. Lone pine Publishing. Vancouver, BC. Auburn, WA. Edmonton, Alberta.

Our trio braved deep snow, prompting the Northwest Avalanche Center to come out of hibernation and issue warnings about the particularly hazardous conditions developing in the mountains. High wind + lots of wind = wind slab avalanche potential. We were able to use the terrain features to safely navigate down the mountain. However, the snowshoeing was especially challenging due to the 100+ centmeters (~36 inches) or fresh powder. Wishing we had skis on to blow up the snow "like a powder gangster," but glad we didn't as the slide alder and sagging hemlock trees snagged on any objects protruding from our packs.

The second night found us slowly descending the steeply forested sides of the Shaney Creek basin. We made camp on Forest Service road 1152 amongst the Swamp Lanterns and huge Western Hemlock trees shedding snow with a cascading effect that sounded strikingly similar to an avalanche.

Upon reaching the trailhead the morning of the third day, we found our vehicles buried under three feet of consolidated wet snow. I had been envisioning spending days camped at the trailhead waiting for the snow to melt enough for us to drive out without getting stuck. Fortunately, we both have all-wheel-drive and were able to back out and push through the sticky snow. A Medium garlic chicken and a Large Cascade special pizza in Sedro-Wooley were the consolation prizes for our efforts.

Sometimes when we get served what we asked for, it's not always what we wanted. The trip was a really good learning experience for all of us. We were able to fine tune our cold and wet weather gear as well as put our navigation skills to the test. I learned the benefit of having waterproof maps...

Thank you MSR for the label that says "never operate stove inside tent or other enclosed area."

Why did I leave Indian Creek??? As Neil continues to send splitter Wingate cracks, the elder hermano has migrated North to Washington state. Guiding work with the Northwest Mountains School and the prospect of climbing in Alaska prompted the move. Stay tuned to Planet Kauffman over the next few weeks as los hermanos climb with partners besides each other for the first time in 8 months. Stay strong Neil!!!