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.

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!