Monday, May 30, 2016

Summer Begins - Memorial Day Weekend

Grading is over! The summer really starts! Hooray! Now for 3 months of relative freedom, no teaching and so many trips planned. Memorial Day weekend kicks it all off.

Saturday -- Doggy Dome! One of the less frequented crags in Shuteye ridge, I really did not want crowds, so we avoided the more popular venues.

I had tried to find this one before, but got lost in the bush. This time we went armed with a GPS, making the approach much easier, but still a bit of a bush-whack!

Teresa on the approach
After about 30 min the dome came into view, it looked fun, I was stoked! The routes are a full 60 meters long, very nice. Being Doggy Dome, it was appropriate that Penny came along

Doggy Dome. Amazing water runnels and a bad-ass crack

Doggy at Doggy Dome

We climbed a few routes. First I totally wussed out on a run-out 5.6, I was not mentally prepared for a 30 meter run out, so I down climbed a bailed off my last bit of pro. This is supposed to be a rest weekend, sheesh. Then over to a well protected 5.9, much better!

Teresa coming up the 5.9

On the way down.
Next tick a 5.8 off-width. I have not climbed a lot of wide cracks, so I was a bit nervous. I had 5 cams that fit the wide crack, so I walked them up the entire route. I'm getting used to doing that.

Hands to off-width.
The climbing was super fun, a bit gnarly, and I ended up with thrashed hands, blood all over the crack. Good times!

Ouch! Should have brought the tape!
The over to a 5.10c sport climb. Super technical, and delicate climbing. A bit of hang-dogging at the crux, then up the climb

That was fun
Great way to start the weekend. We woke Penny up from her snooze. Then hiked home. Off to Kings Canyon tomorrow.

Ready to go home sleepy head?
Day 2 - Sunday May 29

Teresa wanted to go for a hike, we wanted somewhere not so crowded, so we settled on Kings Canyon. The plan was to hike up the Don Cecil trail to summit Lookout Peak.  ~ 11-12 miles, 4,000' elevation gain, it would take us a few hours, but no the whole day. Perfect. 

That's the trail!
Its not a particularly exciting hike, but its fairly sustained uphill, and is in the forest, which is nice given how hot it is outside. The goes by a cascading waterfall.

Waterfall action
After a couple of hours we went off trail and headed up lookout peak, which is really a pile of rocks situated at ~8,000 feet. Finally the pay off for the hike, some pleasant views of Kings Canyon

We were on top of the peak, with its weirdo microwave towers.

Weirdo micorwave thingy

Bunner on the summit


Then backdown for some beers at the lodge. Best part of hiking in the National Parks

Day 3 - Monday May 30

Who am I going to climb with? Teresa wants to garden, Troy and Michael are working, Jared is off somewhere. So I e-mailed Brandon Nunez, a guys I had climbed with a long time ago. He was down. Brandon is relatively new to climbing so I choose a friendly, but fun objective -- Big Sleep.  Big Sleep is a 1000' tall slab with a couple of easy routes on it. 

Big Sleep. 1000' of slabby goodness
We blasted up afternoon nap (5.7). I have done the route a few times before, but I find these long moderate multi-pitch climbs to be so very relaxing. For me its like sitting on the beach, I feel fresh and rejuvenated after climbing one. Also it raises my stoke level for future, more difficult climbs!

Hey Brandon!

So fun and relaxing!
What a great weekend. Time to start planning the next one. Where to next?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Shutdown on Shasta. Shuteye Success

Well, they can't all be wins. I have climbed 5 peaks so far this year, a couple were bound to fail. Mt Shasta was one. The plan was to go to the North Side of Shasta, participate summit via. the Hotlum Glacier, and then take a glacier rescue course organized by the Sierra Mountaineering Club

North Side of Mt Shasta. Never even saw the mountain
The weather forecast was not so great, but we (Troy, Michael and myself) made the 6+ hour drive to Mt. Shasta near the Oregon border. The outlook was not great, it started raining on the way up. We eventually turned down a rough dirt road leading to the North gate trail head. After a few miles the road was covered in snow, and then the snow started to get deeper, and deeper.... We ran into a car heading back down, it was a couple of people also taking the rescue course, and they were bailing. We helped them turn the car around, put the chains on, and continued. Eventually we came across another car heading back. This one belonged to an organizer of the course, it was cancelled, and being moved to the south side of the mountain.

With the danger of more snow fall over the next several days, it seemed likely that the cars might be trapped at the trailhead. So we headed to town, ate a bunch of food, checkout the local gear shop, and camped out. The next day we woke up to decent weather, met the group and did some glacier rescue training on some snow banks. Not ideal, but at least we did something. In the afternoon, it started blizzarding again, basically ending any chances of climbing the mountain. So back to Fresno.

On Monday, as a consolation prize we headed out sport climbing in Shuteye ridge.

Driving into Shuteye.
First we climbed a very interesting formation called the Amphitheater. Its called that for obvious reasons. We went up a 3 pitch 5.8 slabby sport climb. It turned out to be pretty fun in my books. Slab climbing, separated by vertical steps with mantels.

The amphitheater

Troy K. arriving at the anchor on the amphitheater

Me leading out on a steep step on the amphitheater. Photo credit: Tory K.
We rappelled the climb back to a snow field, and moved on to the next crag.

Troy K pulls the ropes. Michael P. hangs out

We went to a formation called the Talon. A short, steep jug-fest with a bunch of roofs. Not my favourite style of climbing, but a nice change from the usual slab, face and crack climbs. This is  where Michael excels. He nailed out a bunch of 5.10 sport climbs on the steep stuff, which Troy and I flailed on! Humble pie

The Talon

Gun show?

Michael shows us how its done

How do I climb this? Where is the crack? The slab? Photo credit: Troy K.

A super fun day all together. I like climbing with these guys, good attitudes, and complementary strengths and weaknesses, make for a good team.

Maybe climb this next time? Shuteye really is a cool place.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Birthday in Yosemite

May 13th - I'm 36 years old today: closer to 40 than 30. My birthday fell on a Friday this year, so I decided to head over to Yosemite for some climbing. 

I always find that I am a bit introspective around birthdays, where I've been, where I am and where I'm going. More on that later.

Originally I wanted to climb Royal arches, but I wanted to include the Spaniols, so for a consolation I settled on Snake Dike, up Half-Dome. I've climbed it before, its super easy, so I thought it would be good for Teresa and the Spaniols to climb

Snake Dike. Climb to the top of the Yosemite icon, Half-Dome

On Friday, my students brought be a cake, very thoughtful of them! After munching that down in the afternoon Teresa and I headed over to Wawona for Friday night. We enjoyed some pizza in Oakhurst, and I sorted gear while we waited for the Spaniols to arrive.

Sorting gear at the campground
Snake Dike and Half-Dome involves about 15 miles of hiking, and 8 pitches of climbing, so it is a very full day. So, on Saturday, we woke up at 4 am. Breakfast, then drive into the valley. We were on the trail by 6 am. Not too bad.
We started up the Mist trail, with high spirits.

On the Mist Trail
One of the nice things about the long approach to Snake Dike, is the awesome hike. It goes past some of the more spectacular scenery in Yosemite. I did not capture any nice pictures, but Ali managed to get some nice ones. 

Tese in front of Liberty Cap. Photo Credit: Ali Spaniol

Liberty cap, Nevada falls, and Half-Dome in the back. Photo credit: Ali Spaniol
After a few miles, the trail breaks off the main one, and then heads up towards Half-dome. We passed a swampy lake, then up some 3rd class talus, ledges and manzanita. 

Eventually the climb came into view. As nice as I remember.

Swampy lake. Half-Dome in the background

Spaniols - Friends in adventure

Looking up towards Snake Dike. Low angle, moderate fun.  Notice the climbers near the centre of the image on the route.
We got to the base, there was a party just roping up, and another higher on the wall. We settled in for some sandwiches and wait our turn. The wind also picked up, and it was surprisingly cold. 

Unfortunately Ali got freaked out by the exposure and decided to walk back down. Teresa volunteered to hike back down with her. I was a little bummed, I was looking forward to climbing Half-Dome with my wife. Teresa has really come a long way as a climber, she can be pretty bold on lead, and was prepared to swing leads with me, even on the wildly runout pitches of Snake Dike. 

I reminded myself, that the summer is young, and there will be many other awesome climbing adventures with her this summer.
Jared and I continued on. 

While we waited, many, many, many other groups of climbers showed up. 

Jared led the first pitch, and then we had to wait for the party ahead of us to bail. The guy had taken a massive fall factor 2 onto the anchor and injured himself. Once they were clear, I grabbed the lead for the remainder of the climb, and we were off!

The climbing is ridiculously easy, but the runouts are wild. As much as 80 feet between protection pieces.

Runout. Notice the rope is not clipped to anything. This photo is from when Kyle and I climbed it last summer

For some reason, the runouts on this climb don't scare me at all. I guess I am confident enough on this low angle terrain to not be scared of falling. Its funny how an 80 foot runout does not scare me, but 10 feet on a well protected, vertical trad climb can make me poop my pants! The human mind is a funny thing. 

Jared having fun on Snake Dike
Soon enough the climb was over. Its amazing how fast 800' of climbing goes by when there is no protection! I think we climbed all eight pitches in about 2 hours.

We stopped at the last pitch for a snack, and a recharge.

Jared looking jazzed near the end. 
A 1000' of easy 3rd class slab walk-up, then the top of Half-Dome. Because the cables are down, it was less crowded than normal, but we hardly were alone. There were some people setting up a Highline between the diving board and another rock outcropping. We didn't stick around to watch, but someone slacklining thousands of feet above the north face of Half-Dome would be pretty wild!
Views from the summit. Mt Watkins and Tenaya Canyon. Notice the green slackline!

Summit of Half-Dome
Crazy slackline on the summit of Half-Dome

We loitered for a few minutes on the summit. This is one of my favourite things about climbing big objectives. Taking a few moments to savour the moment, enjoying the accomplishment.

Victory. This is what I live for.
Jared savouring the moment (I hope)
Then down the cables. Basically, metal cables, put some gloves on, and walk down a steep slab. Not so bad. There were quite a few people going up them as we were coming down. But not nearly as crowded as the last time I was there. 

The cable descent, in all of its glory. 
Then a 9 mile slog back to the car. 13 hours car-to-car, a 16 hour day total with driving etc. I was nice and tired, not the most difficult endurance climbing day I've done, but still a nice full day, good way to celebrate my birthday.

36 years old, I feel better than I have felt in my entire life. I have my dream job, an amazing wife, every weekend I am climbing mountains. I am in the best shape of my life, and I am ready for a summer of difficult mountains, and bigger harder climbing objectives.  I feel like I am living my dream. I feel complete.  

Sunday, May 1, 2016

In the Valley: Central Pillar of Frenzy

I'm going to be be honest, Yosemite climbing intimidates me. The style is mostly crack climbing on polished rock. Climbing in the gym and sport climbing does very little to prepare you for it. 

Last summer with Kyle, I spent about 10 days there doing a bunch of easy classics. I also spend months working the hand cracks at the gym, learning how to jam. So now I have a tiny bit of confidence.

I've been back a few times, led some easy climbs. But I was not feeling satisfied, I really wanted to push out of the easy grades, try something a bit harder. Yosemite 5.9 can be a tough grade, but it opens the doors to a lot of long climbs in the valley, so where to start?

The Central Pillar of Frenzy on Middle Cathedral looked like a great route to push into the grade. Sustained, long, 3 pitches of 5.9, and with bolted belays, and a short approach the route is low on commitment.

Photo credit:
I have often had trouble finding partners interested in going climbing with me in Yosemite. The drive is a bit long, it can be crowded, and probably like me, intimidation by the magnitude and style of the climbing.

Troy Kellenberger and I made plans to climb the route on Sat. Troy is a young climber-alpinist. I recently climbed Mt Whitney with him, we had a great time, so why not do some rock climbing as well? He's experienced, competent and is both stoked and has a positive attitude.  I picked him up very early in the morning (5:30 am), and we were at the base of the climb by 8-8:30 am. We were not the first people there, so waited for the party above to clear the first belay. 

Start of the climb Looking up to the first belay on the pillar. Photo credit: Troy K.
We talked about who was going to lead first, we decided I would go first, taking the so called crux pitch, although for me it was not the crux!

Racking up for the climb. El cap in the background. Photo credit: Troy K.

Troy is stoked to go. Photo credit: Troy K.

I battled up pitch 1, it was a struggle. The crux is a squeeze then step across to a ledge. I felt like I was wrestling, not climbing. Thats' Yosemite climbing, sometimes full body climbing, no gentle face climbing here!

Next pitch, 5.9 fingers, Troy led it like a boss. This was a quality pitch, super awesome climbing, best pitch on the climb. Delicate, fingery, oh so good. 

Next pitch was mine. 5.8 hands, to roof, to off-width. Should be easy right, its only 5.8?

5.8 hands to roof. Easy? Photo credit:

Wrong! For me this was the crux! I took a small fall onto my gear going through the roof, it was awkward and burly! After floundering through the roof (finally) I was into the off-width. I had 2 cams to protect about 30-40 feet of off-width, so I walked the two cams one after another to the belay. What a pitch! 

After getting to the top of the off-width, our trail rope got stuck! I tried dislodging it for about 5 min, but it was no use. So I fixed the rope, and repelled all the way back down to the beginning of the pitch to free the stupid rope. Then I had to re-climb that burly roof and the off-width again! Sheesh! 
After that fiasco I was slightly red-lined, and pretty much done leading for the day. Good thing Troy was just warming up!

Starting to burn out. Photo credit: Troy K.
Pitch of 5.8 hand crack, nice and easy, then a pitch that consisted of a 5.6 chimney followed by delicate 5.9 crack. All very good. Troy led the last two pitched. Thanks Troy! 
I think we make a good team, he led more pitches than me, but I handled the stuck the rope, and led the gnarly 1st pitch, teamwork!

Soon the were at the top of the route. Although it does go on for another 500 feet, almost no one ever climbs it (looked nasty!)

Victory! Photo credit: Troy K.

Then then the descent, the rap route goes off to the side, so we were not exactly sure where to go. Down into the unknown.

Where the heck am I going? Photo credit: Troy K.
We found the way down, with a bit of confusion and searching for anchors on repel. The to El cap meadow for a cold beer and some lunch. Awesome day in the valley.

I feel like that climb was just what I needed, a confidence booster to try other 5.9s in the Valley, and start moving into the more adventurous climbs in Yosemite. Onwards!