Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Northern Ontario Ice

My hometown is a secret climbing heaven. While California and Rockies climbers descend in droves on crowded ice falls, climbers in my hometown quietly enjoy some of the best ice climbing east of the Canadian Rockies.

White Lightning (WI3) -- a local classic

This sleepy town has some of the best climbing east of the Rockies!

I go home to visit family and friends, but as a bonus, I get to strap on the crampons and ice tools, and get in some ice climbing with my brother. I even somehow convinced Teresa to get out ice climbing as well. 

We climbed a bunch of moderate classics over 3 days, and didn't see another climber the entire time. Amazing. The first thing we climbed was White Lightning, a beautiful 60 meter ice climb a 10 minute drive from town, up on Mt. McKay.

Teresa working the moves on White Lightning
Kyle on a variation
Of course, we did things other than ice climb! We brought Teresa to the Hoito for breakfast. A Thunder Bay landmark. The Hoito is a Finnish restaurant, founded in 1918 and might be the oldest, continuously operated Co-op owned restaurant in Canada. The service is slow, but the food is good!

Ready to eat?

The family - waiting patiently for Finnish pancakes!

  The next climbing day we headed out to Orient Bay, which is a 90 minute drive from town. Orient Bay is amazing, the area holds ~60 ice climbs, several of them greater than 120 meters in height, with most of climbs being less than a 20 minute walk from the road. If Orient Bay were located near a major city center, it would be as famous as Hyalite Canyon or even Ouray! But, being in Northwestern Ontario, you are pretty much guaranteed to have the place to yourself most days. No Lee Vinning style TR cluster fu@k here!

The routes range from easy beginner routes routes like Tempest (WI2) and Cascade Falls (WI3) to amazing spectacular pillars and test-pieces like Parallax (WI5) and Reflection Wall (WI5) -- something for everyone

One interesting and unique feature of the local ice, is that it tends to have a yellow color. I believe this is because of the minerals in the rock.

Tempest (WI2)- Easy classic!

Teresa climbs Tempest - note how close the road is!
We climbed a couple of easy ice climbs, enjoying the warm (-8 C) weather. 

Approaching Cascade Falls

Belay slave!
Kyle leading up Cascade Falls

On the last climbing day, Teresa was ready for a break, so Kyle and I headed out to Squaw Bay for a quick afternoon climb. It turned out to be my favorite climb of the whole trip. The climb was called Alpine Outing, a very interesting 2 pitch climb up into a gully system.

Super fun climb in Squaw Bay
Squaw Bay is really neat place to climb. Its located right on Lake Superior, and the climbs are a short walk from the road. It has an almost alpine feel to the place, despite a very short approach and being only a few minutes from town.

Squaw Bay - Sleeping Giant in the background

Kyle led the climb, making it look easy. The crux section is very thin, and requires a bit rock gear to protect it, and you actually use the rock band along with the ice to climb through the difficult section. It does not look hard from the ground, but it is deceptively steep, and also much longer than it looks. 

Kyle places a screw before committing to the crux moves
We reached the first belay, and Kyle fired off the second pitch. The next pitch sort of goes around the corner and climbs up a narrow ice filled gully, which ends with a fairly difficult and interesting steep section.

The narrow ice gully on the 2nd pitch

Final tricky section before exiting the climb
The top of the climb was glorious. The sun was shining, and there were terrific views of the lake. 

Kyle rigs the rappel at the top of Alpine Outing
We headed down, and then back to town for more family visiting time. 

Along with Christmas arrived, came a cold snap of -20  to -30 C temperatures, so that's it for ice climbing this trip. 

We did a bunch of visiting of old friends (and their various children) including Scott and Sarah, Eli and Sarah as well Chris and Carolyn. Its always great to see how everyone is doing, and nice that old friends can take times out of their busy lives to catch up.

Teresa and I also braved arctic temperatures to explore Thunder Bay's recently renovated water front.  Its very nice and I'm sure a lovely place to hang out when its not -25 C


Frozen water-front

 On Boxing day, the temps dipped even further with wind-chill approaching -35 C. I decided it would be a good idea to test out my Alaska gear by going a quick hike up Mt. McKay (1,450'). Mt McKay is the largest "mountain" in the Nor Wester Mountains which ring Thunder Bay. Its on First Nation lands, and has two distinct plateaus, the first having a lookout and structures for the First Nations, and a flat topped summit. 

Summit plateau of Mt McKay as seen from the lookout. First Nations Pow Wow structure in the foreground

It was a quick (~ 45 min) jaunt up about 1000' to the summit. It was extremely cold, but double mountaineering boots, and my Rab Xenon + buffs kept me toasty warm on the ascent.

I have not climbed Mt McKay since I was 12 years old. It seemed to big at the time!

Very cold summit selfie

Looking down on Thunder Bay from the Summit of Mt McKay

It was a wonderful visit home, lovely to see family and friends. As always climbing with my brother is a special treat, I'm glad that our passions converge on something we can both enjoy together.

Its always great to see some of my oldest friends, catch-up and see how much has changed. Looking forward to my next visit!

Bye TBay! Until next time!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Fresno Dome - December Sun

A high pressure ridge sitting out on the Pacific ocean had meant weeks of sunny warm weather in California, when it should be wet and snowing. Taking full advantage of this beautiful weather, I have spent the past 2 weekends at one my favorite climbing venues - Fresno Dome. Normally by this time of year it would be way to cold to climb there, and the road would be closed from snow, but not this year!

There was only a tiny bit of snow on the approach trail and the road. The dome itself was totally clear, warm and sunny. Feeling more like Sept or Oct than December!

Approaching Fresno Dome

The only snow -- in the shade on the North side of the dome

Last weekend Teresa, Michelle Johnson, Penny and Bart headed out for a mellow day of climbing.  First off was - Giggity Giggity, and enjoyable 5.8 face and crack climb

Michelle on Giggity giggity.

Bart supervises

 We then set up a top-rope on "Bitch Stewie" (5.11+) - a delightful corner/crack system with a tricky stem box start. Very fun. 

Michelle in the stem crux of Bitch Stewie (5.11+)
Master belay
We then headed over to the East face, and I led up the first pitch of Mule Train. Sadly the pitch was greater than 35 meters, resulting in some shenanigans for me to get back down. Teresa and Michelle didn't get to climb it. We then finished the day with some easy leading and hard top roping on the Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah buttress. A great day!

The next weekend, the weather still great. Back to Fresno Dome. Since I did not get to complete Mule Train, which is one of the classic old routes on Fresno Dome, Teresa and I decided to head back and climb the whole route to the summit (Mule Train, II, 5.9 PG13)

Mule Train
The climbing on Mule Train, was fun - run-out but very easy. Giant features to climb on!

Teresa climbs up a sea of chicken heads
Pitch 2

Good times!
The 3rd pitch was the crux, some spicy technical slab. 

Pitch 3
Pitch 4
We relaxed and enjoyed some lunch on the summit. Yet another classic Fresno Dome Multi-pitch completed. 

 After lunch, we packed up and headed back down and around to the West Face. There we gave the difficult "Time Lapse (II, 5.11b) a shot. It was one of the hardest leads I have done, I fell at the crux so will have to return and try it again clean. Very challenging face climbing.

Time Lapse - 5.11b
Old bolt on the West Face
After climbing Time Lapse, we called it a day, and headed back home. I spend a fair amount of time admiring the climbs on the West Face, so much to climb there. It might have to wait for next season, unless this high pressure system stays around a bit longer!

Routes on the West face!

Bye Fresno Dome and your beautiful Pine Cones!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thanksgiving in Utah

For the 3rd year in a row, Teresa and I spent our Thanksgiving break in the desert. This year we met up with up Mitchell, Michael and Troy in St. George, Utah for 4 full days of climbing fun. 

This trip had it all - such a variety of climbing in a small area -- desert splitter cracks, huecoed sandstone bolt clipping, steep volcanic sport climbing, pumpy limestone trickery and a massive "alpine" rock ridge in Zion National Park. Best of all -- time with great friends enjoying the warm desert sun!

It was a wonderful weekend, we packed in a ton of climbing on a wide variety of rock -- I'll try to pull out some of the highlights and showcase the many pics and other media of our climbing group.

Cowboy ridge (III, 5.7) of Mt Kinesava - Zion National Park - Photo Credit: Mitchell Quiring
Its been a while since I've been on a road trip, so it was nice to pack up the car with Teresa and the dog and head out to Utah.

Teresa and I met up with the boys in St. George mid-morning and we got straight to business out on the famous Chuckwalla wall, which is sort of like an outdoor climbing gym. Steep, featured  sandstone sport climbing is the name of the game for this place.

Crag or gym? What's the difference?
Michael contemplates the meaning of life while working this 5.12
 The boys climbed the hard stuff, while me, being a lazy old man, climbed some moderate 5.10s. Very enjoyable. The sun was beating down and the crag was busy, so we grabbed some lunch and meandered to a shady canyon with some enjoyable, but short, sport climbs on volcanic rock.

Moving to the next crag

Mitch works this fun but short route. Photo credit - Troy Kellenberger
 After a great first day, we cruised off to some BLM land just outside of town, and set-up shop in the desert for the night.

Enjoying our glamping in the desert.

My "RV". Sleeping in the back of the Subaru. Classic.
The next day, we abandoned wiener sport climbing and set off in search of classic desert sandstone splitter cracks. St George has a series of cliffs right in town which host a series of Indian Creek like cracks. I was salivating at giving that type of climbing a shot. I've climbed plenty of granite cracks, but never these mythical lightning bolt like splitters that form in sandstone. Would my jamming skills be up to the challenge?

Crack climbs above St. George
 While Michael started up some garbage looking warm-up crack (hahahah!) I headed over to the collection of 3 perfect hand cracks, and led up the 5.10. I was nervous, but the jams were perfect and the steep crack was surprisingly easy.

 I fixed a rope, allowing Mitchell to rig up some fancy camera shots as Michael also led the beautiful crack.

Michael - sending the gnar - Photo credit  - Mitchell Quiring
 Teresa and Troy also had a grand time on the crack.

Teresa - crack climbing wife
 We spent the whole morning, in the shade enjoying the cracks. I took multiple laps on some of them. Hands, off-width, finger - there was a little bit of everything. 

Michael - fighting the offwidth section like a bad-ass

Petroglyphs - we are not the first humans to admire these cracks!
Sun is starting to hit us!
As the morning wore on, the sun hit the cliffs and it was time to chase the shade and move on from these beautiful cracks. I really enjoyed climbing these, I'm going to have to make a pilgrimage to Indian Creek to try my hand at a endless supply of this type of climbing.

For the afternoon we headed over to Turtle Rock. There was some nice sport climbing in the shade. I climbed a royally sand-bagged 5.10c, which resulted in many whips, and lots of hanging before finally sending. We TR'd some fun 5.11s. Eventually as the afternoon wore on, the sand and the head took its toll and it was time to pack it in for the day.

While Mitchell and Troy did a bit of mountain biking, Teresa, Michael, Penny and I enjoyed some time relaxing in the quiet desert.

Did you get a good shot?

Hi Penny!

Reflecting on another awesome day of climbing. I love my life. Photo credit - Michael Putnam

When we got back to the parking lot, we were in for a surprise, a nail in Michael's tire. Dang. I helped by having a beer.

Oh crap.
 Since it was Thanksgiving the tire repair would have to wait until the next morning. Back to the desert - more camping, a lovely camp fire and the quiet solitude of people driving around in their ATVs and side-by-sides. Nature at its best. Hahahahah!

Another night at camp - Photo credit - Troy Kellenberger

Troy and Penny - Friends for life
 On Day 3 - more sport climbing! In the morning we headed back to the volcanic canyon for some bolt clipping in the sun this time. I had a great time, leading a series of short and fun 5.10s. I felt like I was on a roll, but then the crag got busy, and hot. Time to move on and find some shade!

 We drove about 40 minutes to the Welcome Springs, a desolate spot out in the empty Utah desert. The place looked like it was right of a Western movie. 

We found a highly enjoyable limestone crag in the shade. We went to work on some more sport climbs! 

Approaching the crag in the heat

Teresa samples some limestone goodies. Photo credit - Troy Kellenberger

Troy working a crux move
 I must confess that I was not at my best at this point, and neither was Penny. I think 3 days of hiking around in the sun may have been a bit much for her, she looked like we maybe had broken her.

I always get a bit sad to see her like this, a reminder that she is getting old.

Did we break our dog?
 We sampled some more of the routes, technical and pumpy, quite the combo. Very different climbing limestone than other rock types.

Michael onsights this techy and tricky 5.10
 The day wore on, my fingers here soar, I was done. The others climbed a bit more.

Penny and I take a nap

Michael are you ready to back to camp?

Another short video clip of Mitch climbing, courtesy of Mr. Kellenberger

 For our final day, the "piece de resistance", an adventure climb in Zion National Park. Teresa and Penny were going to spend the day in Springdale, taking a break from all this climbing non-sense, while me and the 3 boys headed into the National park for some desert alpine climbing. 

We set our sights on the Cowboy Ridge of Mt. Kinesava (III, 5.7, 7285'). The route ascends a prominent ridge line coming out of the desert floor at the very edge of the park. The climb involves about 3200' of elevation gain and 9 miles of cross-country travel.

We set the alarm for 5am, stopped at Starbucks, and were at the "trailhead" by ~7am, just as the sun started to rise.

Sunrise start - Cowboy ridge behind -- Photo credit - Michael Putnam
 We crossed hilly desert terrain, following a rough intermittent trail through yucca plants and cactus for about 2 hours until we reached the base of the ridge. 

After some water and a "pit stop" (euphemism)  -- we started climbing the ridge. The ridge basically involves ~2000 feet of 3rd and 4th class scrambling on loose sandstone until reaching a headwall with a 5.7 crack . Mostly a vast amount of unroped semi-technical scrambling. I LOVE this type of climb.

Cowboy ridge - Photo M. Quiring - annotated by yours truly

Me and Troy scrambling on the ridge - Photo Credit - Mitchell Quiring
 After a while of easy 3rd class scrambling, we reached the first technical feature, a giant chimney - the climbing was still easy however, really just more 3rd class with a short move of 4th to exit the feature.

Mitch and Troy in the Chimney! Photo Credit - Michael Putnam
 Michael started to feel not-so-hot at this point. The combination of hot sun, dehydration, days of on-sighting hard sport climbs, exposure, plus garbage rock on the ridge were starting to get to him. But he stuck it out and we carried on.

As we got higher, the climbing became slightly harder, with sections of steep 4th class scrambling. The pro was non-existent and the rock crap, so the rope stayed in the bag.

Group scramble! - Photo credit - Mitchell Quiring
  We then reached the headwall guarding the south summit which was bisected by a perfect and exposed 5.7 hand crack. Beautiful.

Handcrack! Photo credit - Troy Kellenberger
I got the pleasure and luck to be first to lead this wonderful section of rock. The climbing was really easy, not really harder than 5.5 and ate gear. Pure joy.

Me heading out on lead. Photo credit - Mitchell Quiring
After the technical part, we packed up the rope and looked up at the next few hundred feet that would bring us to the top of the ridge. 

Mitch belays Michael up the 5.7 pitch. Photo credit - Troy Kellenberger

Me - looking like a dweeb, as per usual. Photo credit - Troy Kellenberger.

 After a short scramble up some loose choss, we reached the south summit. 

View of West Temple from the summit. Photo credit - Mitchell Quiring

We ate some lunch, and the day was starting to heat up, so we started the descent. 

Starting to descend. Photo credit - Mitchell Quiring
The descent was fairly heinous, involving a long class 3/4 loose gully, and lots of encounters with sharp painful desert plants. Why are all the plants in the desert designed to hurt weary climbers?

It took us somewhere around 2.5 - 3 hours to make our way back to the car. We met up with Teresa, had some Mexican food, and then parted ways for the long drive home.

It was truly a great weekend. I feel very lucky to have some amazing friends and climbing partners, its such a joy to share a long weekend of adventure and celebration with such great people. I'm looking forward to our next adventure together!

Crag dog. Photo credit - M Putnam