March 18, 2013

Back From Hiatus!

In March 2011 I set out to explore a different sort of adventure. After 24 months of some of the most difficult life trials I have encountered thus far, I reconnected with Scott Hurst for a day of ice climbing in Hyalite Canyon. We left Rexburg early and got home late. In all we climbed 6 pitches of WI 3/4 in the "Dribbles" area. After two years of absolutely zero climbing of any kind, I felt good about leading the first two pitches of "Dribbles" without looking like a complete novice. My sincere appreciation for Scott's patience and encouragement can't be overstated.

Two days after climbing in Bozman I drove south to warm, sunny Utah, where Dave Clawson and I climbed hard, clean quartzite faces in Johnson Draw at the upper reaches of Ogden Canyon. Ranging from 5.10 to 5.11d, leading these climbs proved both challenging and rewarding. The greatest reward, however, proved to be the camaraderie with a dear friend.

Climbing, in various forms and varieties, has been a defining activity of my life. I have always felt that it influenced me in significant ways that contributed a great deal to defining me as a person. Though my hiatus from climbing gave me the opportunity to take advantage of some long-desired educational opportunities, I sacrificed an essential element of my identity by forsaking both the activity of climbing, and the priceless associations that are a part of my climbing partnerships.

It is not an exaggeration to say that my soul has experienced a great famine during the past two years. Scott deserves especial thanks for not allowing my conscious decision to abstain from climbing deter our friendship. Upon my return to the mountains - while tied to the end of a rope - two things became brilliantly clear to me. First, among my most cherished friendships are those with climbing buddies - of which my climbing partnership with Scott is likely the most significant; and second, when sharing time with dear friends, the association is evermore meaningful when rock, ice, ropes, and gear are involved!

February 8, 2011

Days Like These...

Breathe in the crisp air of the alpine canyons and the smell of pines, buried under a thick blanket of soft, white snow.  Feel the sunshine warming your back and tune into the distinctive ring of your tools sinking into the ice.  Your heart races and your whole body thrills with the synchronizing of harmony in nature.  This is the appeal of ice climbing. And days like these I really do feel like I could change the world!

Not only were these ice climbs extremely fun, but many were first ascents put up by my good friend, Dean Lords. As much fun as the climbing is...the good friendships enjoyed along the way are probably the best reason to slog out to another great dagger of ice!

Check out the video and feel inspired!

July 8, 2010

Miskin-Steadman Route

Last weeks post was kind of a teaser to the route Kyle and I had been planning to climb on the north face of Sheep Mountain. The mountain lies along the main crest of the Lemhi range and is accessed on its north side via Long Canyon from the Gilmore townsite main road.

We spent more than a month this spring trying to get on the face between bouts of bad weather and high avalanche danger. The weather finally gave us a window and we were able to climb the route on Friday July 2, 2010.

Both Kyle and I were a bit nervous as we approached the base of the route and gazed up at the steepness of the angle and the ominous overhanging cornice that guarded the exit onto the summit ridge. However, we found the snow, ice and rock to be solid, and Kyle even placed an ice piton in over 12 inches of hard alpine ice when building a belay anchor near the top of the couloir.

This route is easily accessed (we drove up Long Canyon in Kyles Subaru) and has one of the most beautiful and easy approaches I've ever done in the Central Idaho ranges.

I HIGHLY recommend this route to anyone who wants a moderate mountaineering objective with UNBEATABLE alpine views. It would serve as a good warm-up to the classic White Line Couloir (WI4, M5) on Peak 11308 in the Lost River Range.

Here is a brief route description and some photos that I hope get some guys excited to climb the route for themselves.

Miskin-Steadman Route
Snow, AI 3; 1800 feet
Sheep Mountain North Face
Lemhi Range, Idaho
FA: July 2, 2010; Garon Miskin and Kyle Steadman

This beautiful route climbs the continuous couloir fourth from the left when looking at the north face of Sheep Mountain. The short, easy approach, remoteness and moderate nature of this route makes it a ‘must do’ for every Idaho mountaineer.

Approach via Long Canyon from the Gilmore main road. The road up Long Canyon forks about mid-way. The LEFT fork is identified by a Forest Service sign indicating FS Road 1A, continue along the RIGHT for another 0.75 miles. When the road dips downward, locate a small pullout to the left and park. Hike directly west and drop quickly into a small drainage. More or less follow the drainage (when in doubt stay low and left) for approximately 1.5 miles on easy ground to a large meadow. The North Face of Sheep Mountain will be in full view. Cross the meadow to another smaller meadow and cross to the edge of the meadow, into the trees and emerge out of tree-line at the base of the route.

The route begins directly out of tree-line and narrows very quickly. The lower one-third is 40-50 degree hard snow. After a few easy pitches, the couloir steepens to 60 degrees and becomes narrower. In the upper half the climbing becomes more varied and more difficult. The angle approaches 70 degrees and continually steepens with the final two pitches of 80 degree alpine ice and an exhilarating exit consisting of 30 feet of vertical alpine ice leading to the summit ridge. The route was protected with running belays in the lower sections and belay stances in the upper couloir were easily found and well protected.

Gear: 4 snow stakes, 4-5 lost arrows & knifeblades, 2 ice screws (18 cm), 4-5 small cams up to a #2 Camalot. The rock is solid and objective hazard is low, except for the overhanging cornice which extends along the entire rim of the upper bowl. Check avalanche conditions prior to ascending.

Descent: Descend the SW Ridge and locate the last couloir which appears to descend straight down to the base of the route. You know it’s the right one because the top is the most moderate angle from off the SW Ridge. At the point where the descent couloir appears to cliff out, traverse right (south), connecting narrow ledges until more moderate downclimbing is revealed. Alternately, descend all the way right into the lower section of the next couloir and downclimb steep, soft snow.

June 30, 2010

New Gear and New Territory

Most guys have to beg, plead and perform all kinds of menial tasks in order to convince their wives to let them buy new gear.  Mysha has never put me through the gauntlet when it comes to purchasing new (or more) climbing gear.  Although I have a very extensive collection of gear that would probably be sufficient to stock a small retail outlet, there are a few items which I have always had at my disposal through other climbing partners.

For instance, I provide the cams, my partner provides the ice screws.  Not that I don't have ice screws, but I did realize that I did not have enough snow pickets to attempt an early season climb that Kyle Steadman and I have been eyeing.  Two pickets won't get us through and so I ordered a few more, along with some additional gear that I have needed to get for a couple of years.

My dear friend, Dean Lords, also finds himself in the market for some new gear - out of necessity rather than by choice.  He has been working with a tight-knit group to develop the climbing at the Dam Boulder site.  He had cached three crash pads near one of the project routes and last week all three pads were stolen!

Many wonderful offers of support have gone out to Dean and his wife Heather, which speaks very highly of the majority of climbers and friends whose lives have been touched by the Lords'.  Dean and Heather have handled the situation with enviable dignity and I am certain that projecting at the Dam Boulders will continue in spite of the poor choice someone made when they took property that did not belong to them.

Kyle and I leave tomorrow to climb in the beautiful Lemhi Range.  I was once told that the entire range was a crumbling pile of limestone and few worthwhile climbs exist.  To a great extent the range is comprised of rotting limestone.  But for those willing to explore the unknown, the Lemhi's hold some of the most beautiful and rewarding lines I have ever seen.  I've been looked at sceptically for climbing in the Lemhi's during the winter - when temperatures are regularly in the -40 range.  But frozen, snow-covered limestone isn't crumbly and is actually a lot of fun to climb.

The avalanche danger has kept Kyle and I off the snow-covered slopes for the past several weeks.  Here's a picture of the pile of avalanche debris we were trying to avoid by delaying our climbing plans originally scheduled for the first part of June.  (Click the picture to enlarge).  Notice the heavy avy debris at the base of the couloirs.  It kind of looks like a river of snow.  Below is another picture that shows Kyle making his way across the toe of the debris zone.  The smell of the pines was intoxicating and the mixture of rock, snow, sky and friendship made for a great afternoon.
You can see some of the trees hit by the avalanche.  They're leaning over.  I should have thought to turn around and shoot a picture of all the trees behind me - some were torn in half and looked especially gnarly!
It may be difficult to see, but if you look carefully you might notice the waterfall in the center of the cliffband on the left.  The angle of this face is quite a bit steeper than it seems from these pictures.  Sections of the couloirs are vertical to overhanging.  Because of the suddenly warmer temperatures and the relative lateness of the season, Kyle and I decided to focus our attention away from our original objective, the couloir on the right in the first picture.

Overnight temperatures have not been dipping below freezing, although it was kind of chilly as the sun went down on the mountains.  The toe of the debris field is over 9,000 feet and there was a definite chill on the slight breeze that blew through the pines during our walk out.

Are you curious where this little gem of a peak is?  It's in the Lemhi Range - can you guess which peak?  Stay posted over the next few days for more pictures and to see if you guessed correctly!  After we climb this north facing peak, I'll share more details of the climb - and the location.  The picture below gives you a better idea of how steep the couloirs really are.  Dean Lords tells me he's
an alpine climber trapped in a sport climber's body.  His skill at sport climbing is world-class, no doubt.  I've seen him in the mountains too, though, and he's not half-bad at mountaineering.  If there's anything I excel at it's probably high-altitude mountaineering.  My lungs just seem to do better in thinner air, and I get a boost of energy above 15,000 feet.  But even at 10,000 feet my heart is overjoyed at being in the mountains.  These high-angled couloirs really excite me and I can't wait to see what lies above the base of the mountain.

Exploring the regions that lie off the edge of most peoples radars brings a small factor of fear with it.  For me it is not the fear of failure, or the fear of danger; rather it is the fear of finding the ultimate climb - the cherished prize - then realizing that every climb that follows will somehow be shadowed by that ultimate objective.

I used to think that the ultimate climb was the first 5.12 sport route I could lead, or making it to the top of the world on the summit of Mt. Everest.  My climbing objectives reflected this thinking.  But experience and maturity (and the example of good mentors) have taught me that we should not let the esteem of others define our Ultimate Expedition.  Everest is no longer the supreme goal.  Other mountains comprise my list of high-altitude objectives, and the passion I feel for the unexplored ridges and couloirs of the Central Idaho ranges grows with each season.

The beauty of the alpine environment west of Rexburg is largely unappreciated.  With some luck, those who follow my meager efforts to explore more of the Lemhi and Lost River Ranges will see them as I do.  Maybe some of the spirit of exploration that leads so many to head for the slopes of Everest will awaken an appreciation for what lies at the threshold of our own back doors here in Southeast Idaho.

Maybe, maybe not.  Either way, I hope you enjoy the pictures and find some time to get out into these ranges and discover something of the magic that lies in the heart of the Central Idaho mountains for yourself.  After all, the ultimate expedition is life itself.  It's a unique journey for each of us and only we can define what it is, or where it will go.

June 19, 2010

Moab Weekend

With a couple of days to dedicate to climbing, I figured the best thing to do was figure out where the warmest weather was.  Moab was looking pretty good, so I called Eric and Rob in Utah and they were already thinking like me!

We decided to throw back to the "old days" of dirtbag climbing when we would toss our gear and just enough food into the car and head for the desert crags of Zion, Moab or St. George.  Those days are responsible for some of my fondest memories and this trip proved very similar.

Someone said it's the simple things in life that make a person happy.  I figure that if they meant the smell of chalk, a tall finger splitter and the feel of cam slotting perfectly on the first go, they sure had it right!

I hit Top 40, a lieback crack rated 5.8 for the warm-up, while the others scattered to put ropes on various faces and cracks along Wall Street.  Dave Clawson and I had our eyes on Baby Blue (5.11a)  and after leads on Lacto-Mangulation (5.10b) and others, we headed down the road to start slamming some cams into what appeared to be a GREAT finger crack.

Just as Dave roped up for the first lead, a few drops of rain began to fall and we wondered if we had traveled far enough south to get out of the wet weather that has been extending the already too-long spring season.  Undaunted we huddled in close to the rock and realized that the route was overhung enough to be protected from the rain.  We smiled...BIG!

I spotted Dave on the cruxy start until he could slot a yellow Metolius and clip the rope.  Powerful moves requiring left-handed ring-locks resulted in upward progression.  One orange Metolius cam, two blue, another yellow and one #7 nut later Dave finally found a spot where he could alternate hand jams and wiggle the pump out of his forearms.  Since the crack flared over the last 15 feet, it took some creative cam placements above the bomber #2 BD that protected the slightly runout finish, but Dave showed us his mad Joshua Tree crack-climbing skills and pulled a
powerful finish through the flared finger crack to the chains.

With raindrops falling faster and in greater quantity, I tied-in and began the ascent, cleaning the cams as I went.  The movement on the lower 2/3 of the route was AWESOME!  Powerful toe jams, ring locks and modified lie-backs kept the climbing interesting and creative; and smooth, fluid upward progression was the reward of my labors.

I too found the crux finish difficult for my slender fingers as I battled the deceptively flaring crack that ran the final 15 feet.  After four falls I finger jammed like my pride depended on it as passers-by stopped their vehicles and took a couple of photos.  I finally made the final 10 feet (thanks largely to a toe jam that cranked some serious pressure onto my little toe) and pulled up to the chains.

Baby Blue proved to be all we hoped it would be and was definitely a good climb to get the season started.

Dave Clawson leading Baby Blue, 5.11a 100 ft.

May 28, 2010

Springtime In Southeast Idaho

The great thing about Idaho is that you have a better chance of winning the lottery than being able to guess what tomorrow;s weather is going to be.  You may doubt that this is a great thing, but can you imagine living somewhere like California where it was ALWAYS hot? Or what about Seattle where it ALWAYS rains?  Variety is the spice of life and I've been kept on my toes this spring bouncing from early season mountaineering to catching a few warm hours on the local crags trying to get my sport climbing up to par.

Mysha is still my favorite belayer (sorry guys - she's just prettier than you are) and so I have headed to the crag at Heise and Paramount a couple of times to get some chalk on my fingers and try out a new lightweight harness I recently purchased from C.A.M.P.  The harness was great, but almost a little too slimmed down for full function in racking gear.  However, it feels like wearing almost nothing at all and the fit makes the harness move with me very well!

Mysha likes the green color of the harness, so I think I'll keep it.  Scott Hurst and I headed to the mountains a couple of weeks ago and climbed Super Gully on Lost River Peak (Class 3 ridgeline preceded by moderate snow climbing).  The route was in good condition, but the evidence of recent avalanches was obvious.  We moved into the gully and then across the throat of it with caution.  The upper portions were especially good and quite stable.

The knife-edge ridge from South to North Summits was slightly easier than when I did the climb last Spring.  The weather turned out to be perfect, and we enjoyed a quick decent on mash potato snow!

Scott and Kyle Steadman returned last week with a group of BYU-Idaho students and found a very different mountain.  The weather was good, the conditions of the gully were also good, but Kyle reported a massive cornice running the length of the summit ridge.  The cornice was heavily wind-loaded and when Scott cautiously stepped onto the ridge, his body weight triggered an avalanche.  Needless to say, the group wisely retreated from the walk across the knife-edge ridge.

Wind and graupel also hit the group, feeding them a
 substantial dose of true mountain conditions.  Kyle returned from the encounter addicted to the battle that is mountaineering, and eager for more!

I'm hoping Memorial Day allows Scott and I to hit the crag with our families.  If the weather is lousy in the valley, I'll just set my sights on the mountains and plan for winter climbing conditions.  It hardly seems like nest week will be the first week of June.  I wonder if there's still ice on Short Line Couloir.....

September 28, 2009

Paradise Buttress - North Face Route

Paradise Buttress (9,727 ft.)
North Face Direct – II, 5.6
FA: Garon Miskin & Kyler Miskin
September 18, 2009

Friday Kyler, Jarik and I did some exploring in the Lemhi Range. In particular I was eager to return to a large buttress on the south side of Gilmore Peak that I had been to earlier this summer.

Dean and Heather Lords and I had done some recon earlier this summer near the south side of Gilmore Peak. Our objective then was to scout a possible base camp site for backcountry skiing in the huge cirques formed by Gilmore Peak, Sheep Mountain and other subsidiary ridges in between.

The high alpine meadow we discovered had impressed me so much that I couldn’t wait to return. Equally as impressive were two steep buttresses that jut out from a ridgeline between Gilmore Peak and Sheep Mountain.

Our intention Friday was to do some recon, snap some photos and assess the probability of routes on the buttresses. As we scrambled over the glacial scree at the base of the first buttress my eyes were drawn to the beautiful white and gray quartzite that forms the majority of the buttress.

The Lemhi Range is notorious for its rotten limestone and the solid quartzite made me almost giddy. Kyler and I found 4-5 pitches of fun, steep rock with scrambling on the lower and upper sections of the route. We climbed two roped pitches, approximately 200 feet each, through the middle of the route.

The alpine feel and mostly solid rock makes this route fun and aesthetic. The short approach (20-30 minutes) over easy ground makes this a great destination for short alpine routes. The other buttress, which is taller and steeper, probably holds a good number of harder alpine and multi-pitch wall routes.

Here’s the skinny.

The Route:

Cross the open meadow on the North Side of the Buttress and re-enter the trees on the opposite (west) side. Keep an eye on the buttress and when you are inline with the center of the North Face, turn left and head straight for the buttress. A couple of huge boulders near the bottom of the scree indicate you are in the right place.

Continue up the scree field straight toward the North Face from the large boulders and locate the bottom of an east/west tending ramp. A small, grassy area marks the start of the ramp.

Scramble up steep 4th class terrain, tending up and right to the top of the ramp. As one approaches the top of the ramp, look for a short, vertical chimney (5.4). Set a belay and climb the chimney. At the top of the chimney gain a narrow ledge and follow a series of narrow ledges up and left to the “J-tree ledge”. This narrow, down-sloping ledge will be obvious from the J-shaped tree growing across it. Directly to the left of the J-shaped tree is a small alcove. Set a belay in this alcove.

The crux pitch, a 200-foot chimney, rises directly up from the J-shaped tree (5.6). The lower section is wide, shallow and run-out.

About mid-way up, the chimney turns to the right and narrows significantly. Better gear is found in the back of the narrow, vertical chimney. Continue to the top of the upper chimney and make an exposed step to the right and onto a small arête. Locate a large tree and boulders several feet above the top of the chimney and set a belay.
Easy 5th class climbing with only moderate exposure above the arête will bring you near a large boulder. Experienced parties will want to coil ropes at this point since the remainder of the route is far less exposed. Make a fishhook left around the boulder and gain the upper section of the arête. The upper arête now leads to the obvious roof-shaped bellyroll pitch. At the southern end of bellyroll step across onto the large chockstone, then stem left onto the headwall face. Using positive face holds traverse up and left to gain the top of the headwall (5.4).

A short scramble on solid rock will lead to the small summit.


From the summit, work south-east toward the forested ridge, staying high. In a very short distance the ridge proper is gained. Walk East along the ridgeline (in the trees) until you cross an obvious game trail. Take this trail and work to your left. Descend the ridge toward the meadow.

The further East one progresses before descending the ridge, the easier the descent terrain will be. A series of good game trails exists all over this ridge and all eventually work their way down to the meadow. Just remember not to get to far off to the right.

 First Pitch - 4th Class Ramp                                                                                                 Belaying from the White Alcove

 Start of 2nd Pitch - Short Chimney                                               Crossing Bellyroll

   Summit - Paradise Buttress

The Ultimate Expedition

We take many side trips during our journey through life, but remember, your life is unique and the outcome each day is up to you. Find greatness every step of the way as you undertake the ultimate expedition - your life!