Monday, July 9, 2018

Sequoia - Sillliman point

I met up with a visiting climber from West Virginia names Wesley Neil for some adventure climbing in Sequoia. He was visiting his girlfriend who works at the lodge and wanted to stay in the park. Since Moro Rock was too hot, this was a perfect change to finally convince (i.e. trick) someone into climbing Silliman Point.

Silliman Point
 Silliman point is a rock formation at the head of the Mt Silliman cirque. It involves about 4 miles of hiking, some serious bush whacking and ~3000' of elevation gain to reach the base of the rock. The point itself is about 800 feet tall and only has a single recorded route - West Recess (II, 5.7, FA Skip Gaynard, 1973). I met up with Neil and we headed up for a day of melllo adventure climbing. 

The route is about 7 pitches ( 5 of real climbing and 2 of scrambling) up a chimney and crack system.

Silliman Point - route takes the crack system to the right
 I led the first pitch and then gave Wesley the "awesome" chimney pitch above. The climbing was easy, a bit dirty but very well protected. It was only Neil's second multi-pitch, so was  a perfect introduction to adventure climbing.

Wesley gets ready to head up the chimney
 I took over the lead for the rest of climb, which was the most part easy, slabby cracks. A pitch of easy cracks then we pulled up a chicken head covered pitch to a narrow ridge. Fun!

gear belay
Wesley coming up pitch 4
Pitch 5 was very enjoyable, a 5.7 corner crack system. Fun!

Wesley belays
Me heading up the corner-crack system

After pitch 5 we reached the ridge to the summit. From there we put the rope away and scrambled up the last few hundred feet of 3rd class to the top

End of the technical section
 We enjoyed the summit views for a while before beginning the walk off packs our packs at the base. 

Wesley, chillin on the summit
Flower filled meadow on the way down
 Super fun climb! There is a lot of new route potential on the formation and nearby, but maybe I shoudl keep that beta to myself!

 Wesley was a great guy to climb with, strong and super positive. Hopefully I'll get to climb with him again someday!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Sport climbing and swimming - Shuteye ridge

Full on summer has arrived, with temperatures in the triple digits its time for lazy man trips to the mountains. We headed up for 3 days of "climbing" in Shuteye ridge. Even at the high elevation of 7,000'+ its still smoking hot in the sun, which makes getting up the motivation to climb difficult!

Climbing trip?

Teresa, Michael and I spent 3 days camped out near Lost Eagle. We climbed twice at Lost Eagle and once in the Chilkoot lake area. With the heat we only climbed a handful of routes, but they were all good ones! Michael and I flashed a difficult 5.10c slab route and we made several cracks at sending the route "Afterglow" (5.11b), neither of us sent it clean on lead, but Michael came close (not so much me!)

My attempt on Afterglow

After the tricky parts
Michael climbing it with better style than me!

We also checked out the swimming hole wall. Climbed a couple of nice routes there, and did a bunch of swimming and lounging by the river. 

Swimming hole wall

a swimming hole
We climbed a couple of routes at Chilkoot Lake and We also some moderate slabs on the apron at Lost Eagle. We shared the shade with a large friendly group of climbers visiting from San Diego. 

Slab climbing

Some dude from San Diego. Nice guy!
And then of course, more time at the swimming holes!

Cool swimming holes
Michael enjoying the water!
Teresa swimming in the deeper pool
Fun weekend! Lost Eagle goes into the shade in the late afternoon, there are plenty of routes there to check out. We will have to go back for some climbing in the future (maybe with less swimming?)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Happy Place - Courtright Reservoir

Having spent 20 days on a freezing cold mountain in Alaska, I was more than ready to soak up some California sun. Teresa and I headed up to Courtright Reservoir for a mellow weekend of glamping and climbing on fine granite.

Courtright - Land of Domes and Lakes
 Courtright is one of my "happy places". Its beautiful, quiet and has interesting climbing. Its one of the places I rediscovered my love of climbing so holds a special place in my heart. The lack of grid bolting and a long twisting road to get there seems to keep most climbers at bay. 

Evening stroll to the dam
Even Penny likes Courtright
We camped at my favorite dispersed camping spot on the West side of the lake and enjoyed gourmet meals of backcountry pizza and vegetarian burritos. 

Backcountry pizza
 On this trip I made a point of only climbing routes I had not done before. Although Courtright is mostly famous for run-out face and slab climbs, we actually ended up climbing a lot cracks. Voyager Rock and Tiger Cage have a variety of trad routes we samples. I flailed and whipped on some 5.10 cracks. I think maybe I'm a bit out of shape after a month on a glacier.

Yummy cracks!

More cracks!
And more cracks!

Voyager Rock!
We also climbed on the West face of Punk Rock. We tried some tricky friction slab and TR'd a delicate 5.11 face climb. All very nice. We had the place to ourselves. I didn't see a another climber.

West face of Punk Rock
 In the afternoons we would have a siesta and beer in between climbs. In the evenings we would stroll down to the lakeside and take in the sunset. 

Evenings enjoying the lake
 Truly a great and relaxing weekend. I love this place.

Tricam in a pocket

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Denali (20,310') - West Buttress

"You know those things you've always wanted to do?  You should go do them"

 When I started climbing mountains a few years ago, I dreamed of trying one of the great peaks in the world. I thought, maybe I should  climb Denali, the tallest in North America at 20,310' (6190 meters) and arguably one of the most challenging of the 7 summits. 

This June I met that life goal.

I spent a total of 20 days in the Alaska Range climbing the West Buttress of Denali. The experience for me was the culmination of 6 months of difficult training and focus, and was a truly unique life experience. 


The mountain is climbed capsule style. A series of camps are established on the peak while carrying hundreds of pounds of gear, and leap-frogging it up the mountain. I climbed the West Buttress route, which is by far the easiest route, being non-techincal (although not totally a walk-up either). 

I had originally hoped to climb it self-supported with a group of friends, but that fell through, so I decided to go with a guide - The American Alpine Institute.

West Buttress route of Denali. Photo credit - Alaska Mountaineering School
 I took over 400 photos over 20 days, so I am going to try to whittle this blog post down to a handful of words and images to try and capture the whole experience. Its rather difficult to write about, and the pictures don't to the place justice. I cannot suggest enough that all climbing and mountain enthusiasts should tackle this great mountain once in their life. The experience won't leave you the same, I promise.

The trip began in Anchorage, Alaska. There I met up with the climbing team, 3 guides and 9 climbers. By far the biggest group I have ever climbed with. We loaded up a van and trailer with our gear and drove about 3 hours North to the town of Talkeetna, the tiny town that is the staging area for the mountain. 

Loading up.
 Once we were in Talkeetna, we headed straight to the private airport and K2 aviation's hanger. In the hanger we organized and sorted the hundreds of pounds of climbing gear, food, fuel and so on.

Sorting gear in the hanger
 In the late afternoon we helped load up 2 Otter airplanes with gear, boarded the plane and headed off for the glacier. 

Otter plane - equipped with skis for glacier landing
On our way!
The planes fly by sight only (no instruments!) so if there is any issues with visibility, the planes turn around. Our first flight into the glacier encountered thick fog, turning the pace around and back to Talkeetna. Later in the day, we tried again, this time with a successful landing on the glacier at base camp (7,200').

Landing at Base camp.
 The plane was unloaded, and a camp set-up. This was the start of 20 days in another world of snow and ice. 

Building camp
 The next day, we broke camp, loaded sleds and carried everything to Camp I (7,800'). Although not very far (6 miles) and not much elevation gain, it was actually one of the hardest days on the whole trip as we carried all of the gear in one shot. My sled has about 80 lbs in it and my pack had about 60 lbs. Heavy loads!

Loading the sleds

Traveling on the glacier
 We set up camp I, then the work began. For the next week or so, the way our days would go would be
1. Carry a load up somewhere below the next camp bury it.  
2. The next day, move up to the next camp
3. The next day , retrieve the gear below the camp
 repeat steps 1-3. 

Up until camp 3 (~ 14,000') the terrain is pretty mellow. Just a low angle glacier with the occasional steep hill. The weather was great for the most part. Sunny and warm during the day. We only had one day of snow, at camp 2, a good 3 feet dumped on us, but was didn't slow progress.

Fresh snow at Camp II (~11,000')
Burying gear in a white out

 On the lower glacier, the sun is intense. Even a few minutes of exposure can result in sever sun burns. To manage this, I wore a Patagonia sun hoody, glacier glasses, a baseball cap, a buff, a ridiculous looking nose guard combined with huge amounts of sun screen. The result, is that I looked very funny. Good thing I was on a glacier with a bunch of other dorky looking people!

Glacier sun protection = weird fashion statement
Over a week after starting, we rolled into the camp 3 at 14,000'. This camp is really where the mountain begins. The rolling easy glacier gives way to the steep upper mountain, and the camp itself becomes a mini tent-city with hundreds of climbers being there to climb a variety of routes or ski the mountain.The views from the camp are also spectacular. 

Our tents at camp 3
Views from Camp 3.
We built ourselves a nice wall of ice blocks, and settled into the rhythm of life at camp 3. 

Our wall
The "nights" (the sun does not actually set, just goes behind mountains) were extremely cold, dropping down to - 16F (-27 C) some night. We retrieved a gear cache one day, did a training day another, and then had a rest day. 

Life was interesting,  we had a cook tent dug out, where we enjoyed awesome meals (Pad Thai, Mac n' cheese, back country pizza, pancakes, I even had a variety of meat substitutes like tofurkey sausage). 

Cook tent
We dug and walled in a bathroom area. Here there was a "pee hole" in the snow, and a plastic bucket provided by the National park service, called a CMC (clean mountain can) is used for solid bodily waste!

Jaime demonstrates how to use the bathroom facilities
Denali toilet system - The clean mountain can (CMC) in all of its glory. 12 people would use this thing at once....

After these 3 days we started in on moving up the upper mountian. Above camp 3 there are 800 feet of fixed ropes which are climbed using jumars. This leads to a col, and a narrow ridge which ends in a flat glacier and camp 4 at 17,000'. 

On a frigidly cold morning, we carried some gear to be buried up the fixed lines to the col at 16,000'. This was possibly one of the coldest days on the trip, one of our group even got frost bite on his fingers, and I may have sustained a cold related injury on my feet (more on that later).

At the col around 16,000'

So cold I had to wear my expedition parka and big mitts
We then dropped back down to Camp 3, and remained stuck there for a few days due to extreme cold higher up and high winds. At that time, 3 of our group quit, and headed back down the mountain.

We entertained ourselves at Camp 3 by listening to podcasts, going to the weather board at the climbing ranger camp and taking short hikes to gorgeous views. 

The weather forecast board
Some of the views from the short hikes were not so bad...
Eventually the forecast improved, so we packed up and moved camp up the fixed lines to the high camp at 17,000' (camp 4). This was one of the harder days, carrying 50+ lb packs up steep fixed lines. However, it was also one of the more enjoyable parts of the climb as there was a long narrow ridge, at times only a few feet wide. The views were spectacular. We were very lucky, and had a gorgeous, warm sunny day for the move. On the move we also ran into Colin Haley, perhaps North America's top alpinist. Very cool.

Colin Haley - Notice his tiny backpack!
Moving on the ridge

Looking back at the fixed lines (see the obvious track with the tiny people!)
I'm excited to take a break
Always stunning views
A narrow section of the ridge
We arrived at Camp 4, pitched our tents. Living up there is hard. Its cold and exposed to the winds. We ended up spending 4 days there due to weather. But on the day of our arrival it was beautiful, so I had the chance to wander around and take a bunch of pictures.

Camp 4 at 17,000'
Looking down at Camp 3 from 17,000'. Its like a mini tent city

Looking at the ridge - see the climbers?
We had 2 tent -bound days of bad weather. Sunny, but windy and bitterly cold (~ -20F; -30C). We then made a summit bid, but got turned around due to extreme wind at Denali pass. We were super bummed.

We tuned into the radio forecast at 8 PM that night: -25F and 30 MPH winds. We went to bed thinking that the summit was not going to be ours.

We woke up to calm, sunny and warm weather! So we loaded up the packs, and made a blast for the summit. The weather was spectacular. Our lead guide told us, that in 14 summit bids he has made, this was the warmest one! Lucky us!

Its actually pretty easy going to the summit. Only 3,000' of elevation gain, a lot of it on very moderate, mellow terrain. The only hard section, is the autobahn, a 1000' hill our of Camp 4 which has running belays. After that, smooth sailing. 

The autobahn is the tracked hill in the back. The only hard part of summit day
Mellow terrain above the autobahn
After about 5 hours we reached the final summit ridge. Excitement was building. We were going to make it!

The final summit ridge!

When we topped out, I can't begin to describe the feeling. I have spent the past 6 months training more than 15 hours a week. I have dumped thousands of dollars into this goal, and I have had a almost singular focus on achieving this single moment. Its a exhilarating experience to have put so much energy into something and then reach it. What a moment. 

The rest of my team approaching the summit
Jay and I reached the summit first. So had a few moments to hoard the glory

Group summit photo!

This is what it looks like at the top of North America!
We made a hast descent. On the way we ran into Colin Haley again, having completed the speed record on the Cassin. We also ran into Chantel Astorga and Anne Gilbert Chase who had just completed the first female ascent of the Slovak Direct. Very cool, a lot more bad-ass than climbing the West Buttress!

We spent a night at Camp 4 and then descended the ridge. Unfortunately, everyone else on the planet was descending at the same time and the ridge was a bit of a shit-show. Luckily we were still high from having reached the summit, so did not mind too much.  

Heading down the ridge

chaos on the way down.
 We spent another night recovering at camp 3 (14,000') before dropping all the way back to basecamp in a single overnight push.

Night descent. Sometime around 2 AM
 When we arrived at base camp, we hastily pitched our tents, and dug out some well deserved cached beer!

Well deserved beer!
 The next morning, we queued up with others clamoring to get back to civilization, and loaded up the glacier planes

Everyone is ready to go home. Our guide enjoys a morning beer (right)
Load the planes. lets' go home!
When we arrived back in Talkeetna, I bought a one way ticket to LAX, and caught a bus to Anchorage. About 36 hours later I was back in Fresno.

The whole experience was almost surreal.  I suffered some minor nerve damage to my toes (maybe trench foot), which will hopefully heal soon. At the start I was unsure I was up to the challenge of spending 20 days in a tent on an arctic mountain, but I relished the whole experience. I'm already plotting my next big peak expedition. Who wants to join me for some suffering?