Southern Spain - Jaen & Cordoba

James Lucas photo - last climb of the trip

Typical Spain: olive orchards, goats, multiple 5.14 climbers, and some americans
trying not to flail too hard.

It's a small climbing world. Last spring I was top-roping in Leavenworth with Fred Beckey, when I noticed a very strong climber circuiting nearby boulders. We began chatting, and through his thick Spanish accent, it became apparent that he was an accomplished Spanish alpinist who also had no problem onsighting V8 boulder problems. His name was Pedro Diaz, and he ended up staying in Leavenworth with me, and climbing for a couple days with my wife and I before heading back home. Pedro had just gotten back from the Revelation mountains in Alaska, and had many many trips to the USA to climb. We decided to meet up and climb again. Last we didn't cross paths, but this winter when I decided to go to Spain, I was immediately invited by Pedro to check out his home area of Cordoba and Jaen. This area (south-central Spain) has some amazing huge caves, a rural feel, relaxed cities, low costs, and friendly climbers. After being in Chulilla, I took the $50 AVE high-speed train from Valencia to Cordoba, and Pedro met me at the station, with American James Lucas, and Brit Hazel Findlay. The 4 of us were off to one of Pedro's favorite walls.

We climbed for a few days on massively overhanging limestone walls, working routes despite very cold weather. We had a small fire at the crag a couple of days, and experienced several snow squalls, but stayed dry. The final day, we arrived to find meter-long icicles hanging from many of the tufas. I asked Pedro what the Spanish word for icicle was, and he claimed that there wasn't one (at least in common usage in Andalusia) - it was basically something that never happened around there.

Looks steep up there, better use the
kneebar sleeve. 
It was great having Pedro show us his favorite lines, and it was fun to watch the rapid and dynamic climbing style of the local crushers. James, Hazel, and I threw ourselves at various projects and onsight attempts, with my personal highlight being my first flash of a 8a route / .13b route, called Conde Dracula. Dracula takes the full span of a huge cave, overhanging at least 40' in the first section. It's easy to belay and see the climber by simply turning around and staring out from the start of the climb. Since it's so steep, you can easily watch someone leading by looking backward from the base. It features 10 or 12 bolts worth of climbing out the first tier of the roof, then a rest between tufas, and an overhanging headwall of another 6-8 bolts of 5.12 climbing with a bit of chimney/tufa action at the top. Most climbers probably don't do the chimney technique, but I had to get a bit of Index/granite style body smushing in somewhere! I sent the climb despite fully frozen hands, and sat through the full pain cycle of screaming barfies in the tufa rest, watching snow fall across the valley. Thanks James for the long and boring belay! A few climbs to the left of Conde Dracula is an open project ("Somos Chromosomos") that's been attempted by Adam Ondra, and may end up being the world's hardest route if it ever gets sent. The other climbing highlight was a .13c/d masterpiece called "Lagunas Mentales" which I many-hanged my way up on the first day, and last day there. It's 35m of tufa pinching and pocket grabbing, using technical sequences up a steep plaque of striped rock - definitely one of the pitches I'll never forget.

Hazel on Lagunas Mentales
On a rest day, James and I got lost and went on a self-guided tour of Jaen. The highlight being when James (who barely spoke any Spanish) went into a tiny fabric store, pulled up his shirt, and pulled down the fly on his trousers to expose a missing button on the pants to the occupants of the tiny shop. No words had been exchanged at that point, and the only other people in the tiny store were some silver haired Spanish women to whom James was (almost) exposing himself. They eventually figured out that he needed to buy a button to replace the missing one, but in the interim, they asked us if were baffled that somehow being smelly, unshaven, ostentatiously dressed, then pulling down your pants as a means of greeting a grandmother is something that made them think "aha! missionaries!" The trip ended with Pedro dropping me off at the AVE/Renfe (high-speed rail) station in Cordoba, and I caught the morning train to Madrid, and the cross-town metro to the airport. I highly suggest using the fast trains in Spain, the prices are great ($50-$70 to go across the country) and things are way faster and easier than flying. American Airlines and their partner airlines fly round-trip to many Spanish destinations for 40,000 miles - AKA 1 credit card signup bonus.

James lowers off Conde Dracula

Very little of the climbing is bouldery, but Pedro stuck the dyno this thing this (V10? / 5.hard)

James on the tufa rest

Pedro's amazing house in downtown Cordoba, next to ancient castles, mosques, and bridges.

Plant grape vine in gutter. Wait 3 generations. Harvest grapes and wine from the roof.

I am very gluten tolerant.


Chulilla Spain

Ciudad de Artes y Ciencas, Valencia Spain

I've spent the past week sport climbing on the stunning 50-70m walls along the Rio Turia, just west of Valencia, Spain. I am here with Washington friends Benjit Hull and Chris Allen, and it has been great climbing with these guys. I had a bit of a baggage kerfuffle to begin the trip, and arrived with only my carry-on pack. Luckily, I had my harness as well as one supertight slipper and a loose warmup shoe, and they weren't even for the same foot, so I could climb!

Chulilla is an ideal spot to tick mega enduro pitches in the .11+ to .13+ range, with endurance being the name of the game on gently overhung waves of tufa-draped stone. The only thing it doesn't have is a big cave, or excellent low-grade climbing. From the tiny town (one bakery, one bar, one town square, etc etc) it's a 5-40minute walk to all the walls. I managed to onsight a couple 5.12c pitches early on, and topped off my week in Chulilla with a flash of the 40m .13a "Remanso de las Mulas", my first flash of that grade. My final day, I sent the area classic "Tequila Sunrise" (.13a/.13b) second try. (Video at the bottom of thsi post)

Here are a few psyche-you-up videos (not mine) that capture the area, and some of my photos. Valencia is also an amazing town, only 30 miles away, and with excellent rest day touristing opportunities, particularly the old castles, downtown region, huge central food/seafood market, and the City of Arts and Sciences.

Overall I HIGHLY recomend Chulilla for a visit, since you don't need a car once you arrive, the climbing is killer, there are hundreds of routes within a walk from the quaint town, and it seems to be dry and pleasant here all the time, even when it was storming hard and raining/snowing a couple hours north in Catalonia.

My array of ticketing/lost bag material - que lastima!

Chris Allen and I streaming the superbowl on a tiny computer after hacking into the interwebs (we weren't supposed to stream it from Europe.)

Tequila Sunrise 5.13- (It's actually overhanging the whole way)
Cobra Tufa atop the 40m masterpiece "Ramallar" 7c/.12d
The Chulilla Gorge

Piotr Bunsch climbing Primer Asalto (8c) in Chulilla, Spain from Valencia Climb on Vimeo.

veteranos from mugiwara on Vimeo.


Get Up Off The Mat, 'Cause Trying IS the Crux!

The Story You Tell Yourself Becomes Your Reality.
-Chad Kellogg

(so tell a story that matters)

Despite dealing with a couple nagging injuries to my shoulder and elbow, I have managed my hardest rock cimbs this year, sending trad, sport, and new alpine pitches from .12+ to .13+ and succeeingd on some unforgettable enduro-days in the Cascades and Red Rock with my two favorite climbing partners, Jens Holsten and Scott Bennett. I'm not any stronger than before, I'm just embracing getting knocked down by my goals. And I'm telling myself that success can take the form of another day trying hard and not sending.

Perhaps this bump in ability is due to improved fitness, having stuck around home since February. But I think this progress owes more to learning lessons of resilience from my partners and climbers who inspire me. My achievements are very modest in the grand scheme of climbing, but they are personally meaningful to me, precisely because they WERE difficult, intimidating, and humbling, but also obsession-inducing. If they had been easy, they would have been worthless. Adversity wasn't an obstacle, it was the purpose. Finding satisfaction didn't come about as much from achieving the final redpoint as it did from committing to the process, trusting in my partners, and applying 100% of my abilities day after day, whether at home or up on the wall. I'm not a gifted natural athlete, I never climbed until college, and I get scared leading at the crags. I fall off 5.11 and freeze up on 5.10 slabs. But I keep trying. I'm stubborn. And sometimes that's enough.

After probably many days of effort I sent a couple of the Lower Town Wall's 5.13 testpieces, including the third ascent of the Full Amandla, a 5.13d and perhaps Index's hardest pitch. This Andy DeKlerk masterpiece originally ended at anchors on the hanging arete that splits the Lower Town Wall, but Ben Gilkison extended it to its logical finish past the arete, and over the roof to a ledge. I owe a ton of fresh-baked bread and belay sessions to the friends who gave me catches on my numerous TR/whining sessions, and to the other climbers and friends who inspire me to try hard and brush myself off for another attempt. Thanks for reminding me that I CAN keep trying. Speaking of which...

A couple days after climbing Moonlight Buttress with my friend Max Tepfer, we shared Utah's famed Cathedral sport crag with Bill Ramsay and his partner. Both of them seemed to be on the far side of 50 years old, and both were coming close to sending the .14a masterpiece "Golden". Bill has climbed many 5.14 routes, and has also written extensively on the philosophy of climbing, applying effort into a task, and how those lessons translate to everyday life. After returning home, I listened to an excellent interview with Ramsay on Chris Kalous' Enormocast. Please, please check it out. Ramsay said something that has struck with me, because it is undeniably true, and because it I had never heard mentioned before. (Begin listening at about 33:00 in)

"When somebody guts it out, and they keep getting up off the mat after repeated failures... that tells me a lot about them as a climber. Finding out that Adam Ondra can onsight .14d, that means nothing to me, that's likely finding out someone's acquired the ability to levitate." 
But Ramsay's most insightful comment comes in response to the idea that trying a goal repeatedly somehow cheapens the end result.

"You hear a lot of people say things like if I tried that many times, I could get up that route too. But THAT'S the rub, right? You can't try that many times, you're not capable of trying that many times."

The very act of repeated 100% effort in the face of repeated failure is itself the crux, both to climbing and to so much of life. It's not the route, it's the act of willing yourself to try the route one more time. And its a crux that many folks can't or wont overcome. It's the crux of handling the loss of a loved one, fighting back against cancer, overcoming failed summits, and scrapping together the time and money for one more plane ticket, one more shot at route you dream about. But it's also the aspect of climbing that's 100% a choice for each of us. Make yourself capable of trying that many times.

Ramsay's comment in the interview is casual and off-the-cuff, but to me it's profound. I have repeated it to myself throughout the fall and winter, while climbing, while training, while freezing my elbow against a block of ice to self-induce the screaming barfies, while choosing those hippie-seed infused kale smoothies instead of christmas cookies, and while turning down those post-climb beers in favor of some (chalk)olate milk and whey-protein and recovery slurry. I will seldom be the best technical climber at the crag, but I want to be the hardest-working and most disciplined climber at the crag. I want to be the most enthusiastic and positive climber in basecamp when it's snowing for the 4th day in a row. And I want to be the guy who NOBODY doubts will be giving his all-out effort regardless of the pitch, or grade, or how many times I've already fallen to the mat and not wanted to get back up.


Don't Miss The Best Pitches Around

I've been working on writing a book to the best alpine and alpine-ish rock climbs in the Cascades, and I have been pondering what the very best pitches are. Either of these pitches is well worth doing on its own, as a day's solitary goal.

Matt Van Biene Photo - FFA of P3 "L&H"

Matt Van Biene Photo - FFA of P3 "L&H"
Here are 2 of them. If you are in the area, PLEASE go do them.

I can see both of these pitches being neglected and ignored, because they are both optional (more difficult) variations to the existing routes. The first one is an optional pitch #3 to "Ellen Pea" and the second pitch is an optional pitch #6+7 on "The Tiger".

Both are well protected and have a couple bolts or good pins but generally require a bunch of small/medium widgets, intricate sequences, powerful crux moves, and PERFECT STONE.
The only semi-decent shot of "Eye of the Tiger" - a direct hard 5.12 variation to "The Tiger" which substitutes for normal pitch 6, 7, 8 in a 45m lead.

P3 of the red line above

The blue line above, leaving the cave

One good idea to keep in mind if you do the "Eye of the Tiger",  a 45m pitch with a lot of steep and powerful climbing on the first half: There is a cramped no-hands stance after all the 5.12 climbing, about 25m up the pitch. Unless you have a really burly following climber, the leader can throw in a couple pieces to clip to with a sling (there's a large fixed wire now) and untie, lowering down the lead end of the rope to the belay in the cave. Haul up the bag, big cams, shoes, tagline, etc etc, and clip them off to a piece here for the follower to pick up once they have done the steeper and harder climbing. Then re-tie-in and lead the rest of the pitch (5.10+) up to the nice belay ledge w/bolts. Nobody has to negotiate anything cruxy with extra weight on their harness, and you don't even need to lead with a tagline.

MVI 1816 from Blake Herrington on Vimeo.


Moonlight Buttress Free Beta Overload

How to not get your stash stolen.
Moonlight Buttress has been climbed in 2 hours free solo, yet still gets done in 2-3 days as a seige-style bigwall. It's a difficult free climb, but certainly not cutting edge. It's also simply an amazing line, stacked with fun pitches. After coming close to sending the route a few years ago, I went back to Zion this fall for a rematch.

Although there is already scads of info in print and on MountainProject about this route, I'll add a bit more beta to the overload.

The pitch grades are my opinion (and relative to Trout Creek or stouter walls in Indian Creek):

  1. 50ish meters of sandy and steppy 5.8-5.10a ending at the left side of a large belay ledge with a tree, well left of the rest of the route. Take all the gear and slings.
  2. Move right to another ledge and follow a short lieback crack up to much larger triangular ledge where you could continue up/left for Sheer Lunacy, where a bolt ladder goes up, and where the free route climbs straight right. The standout feature of this pitch is that you could deck from the crux (~.10c) which is about 12' above the ledge. In all seriousness it is one of the headiest bits on the route. Just don't fall. All draws/slings and a double set to .5 camalot, single .75, #1. Feels like 5.10+
  3. The bolted .11c pitch, which moves right and a tiny bit down. Bring 5 draws and a red camalot. If you left the red camalot behind, your follower faces a fairly real swinging fall at the crux. A green camalot looked too small to work. Feels like Eldo/Index 5.11a
  4. The flakes pitch to the Rocker Block - .10d and feels like it.- Take a double set and all the draws. If you are under 5'10 or so, expect to have to do a few extra hard moves going straight up before stepping left at a higher point where tall folks can span over. After the step left, clip a bolt and then go HARD left again along easy ground. Straight up option has no pro. 
  5. Jump off the ledge and make some face moves and a mantle (V2/V3?) past 3 bolts. The corner above is probably no harder than 5.11-. This pitch gets a 5.12 rating due to the first 10' but it would be a seriously soft tick for the grade. I'd call it 5.11- V3- . Take all gear and slings 
  6. The crux for big-fingered technicians with no endurance. Take all the cams, no wires, and 1 or 2 draws. Layback to the flare, and jam to the anchor. A blue and green alien are nice to save for the flare or just above. Feels like .12b or so.
  7. The chimney to corner - bring the green camalot, all purples, all yellows, and 1 sling. The crux is spinning around from a chimney to a layback, sticking the 180-degree turn, and then not pumping out at the top. Pants help, as does not having anything (water or shoes) clipped to either side of your harness, as you end up scumming both sides pretty extensively. The crack slowly narrows from green camalot (very briefly) to yellow aliens. Most of the time it is purple camalots. Feels like the most physical and calorie-intensive pitch. 5.12- 
  8. The first splitter on the face pitch has more pods and generally thinner openings than the next pitch. The business comes in the first half of the pitch. Take 4x purples, 4x yellows, 3x green aliens, 1x blue alien. Feels like 5.11+/12a
  9. Be ready to crank high feet and pull hard on a tough size for the first 10m. 4-5 purple camalots will get you through it. Finish the pitch with a bit of finger crack and face climbing - 2x green alien, 2x yellow, all your purples - mid5.12 (easier if your fingers are big)
  10. Skip the hanging aid belay and link the last 2 into a 40m pitch. Rated .12a, feels like 5.11c. Bring all runners and gear, and bring the wires, which weren't useful until now. Nothing harder than 5.10 after the first anchor. 
My suggested rack for someone climbing at or near their limit on 5.12 pitches. This will provide ample gear on the meat of the route, with no need to run it out, but it will require some minor runouts on 5.10 terrain on the first/last pitches. The route goes into the shade around 1pm.

1x Blue Alien (Purple TCU)
3x Green Alien
5x Yellow Alien
5x Purple Camalot
1x Green Camalot
1x Red Camalot (could be skipped except that it seems the only option between bolts on P3)
4-5 mid sized wires (BD 6-9 or so) - really not worth bringing except on P10
2-3 draws, 2-3 slings

Random tidbits of advice for MLB:

It's easy to hike up to the top in advance to stash water/shoes/etc and the route tops out near a Y-shaped tree just north of a gully/chimney, and north of visible bolts in dark rock which are on Lunar X. But the walk down is on a paved and sandy path and can be done barefoot if you left shoes at the base. The approach is only 20min, so leaving shoes at the base and going back for them is trivial as well (though you'd want a second pair of shoes to use to cross the river and re-hike back up to the route to get your first pair). We both brought sandals and 1L of water up the route. We actually hauled this stuff (and the extra cams) on a few spots, as we had plenty of time and didn't want this gear clanking around on our waists. Simply clip to the anchor with a sling and lower down the lead end of the rope to haul on any pitch without bringing a tag line. Each pitch in the heart of the route is 35m or less, so this is no problem. You can't do this on the 5.11 bolted traverse or the final (linked) pitch. If you aren't sure about your ability on this route, just go give it a shot! You can also rappel the whole thing with a single 70m (not the best idea since you are likely rapping through parties, but certainly worth knowing if you think you may need to bail.) I definitely do not think that a second rope/tag line is worth the hassles on this climb. Rappelling down the final few hundred feet of steppy terrain used to require 1 rappel that was just over 35m, but there is a new anchor (and a tree one could use as well) so this second-to-last rappel should be no problem with 1x 70m.

 I had climbed Moonlight (MLB) once before, with sausage-fingered Scott Bennett. I think it was Scott's second time on the route, and he redpointed it that day. I recall being pretty sick (hacking up some green slime at numerous cruxes and belays) and I also recall Scott volunteering 4 or 5 of our mid-sized cams to be lent out to a lost French team we met at the base. ("oh, you guys are looking for Touchstone Wall? Well, you should just climb this thing, it's called Moonlight Buttress. It's really fun. You can't get lost. Blake wont mind trying to onsite the crux with just half a rack. You'll definitely send. It's not even 8a!") 

I fell getting off the belay ledge on P5 (the rocker block) but got the section clean second go. I actually did end up onsighting the crux, almost, stopping at an aid belay mid-pitch. I think with my relatively small fingers, that this traditional crux (Peter Croft .13b, now ~.12c?) isn't the hardest lead. This pitch was and is growing easier, as the locks open up to accept green and yellow alien sized pieces (and digits). For me, and likely other small-fingered folks, the changing corner on P7 and the 10m of splitter purple camalots on P9 marked other, more difficult sections, with no standout moves, but sustained splitterness too tight for ringlocks, and too wide for fingerlocks.

This pic, taken by our friend Jenny,
shows a bored Max yawning
after finishing the cruxes.
This time I was joined by Max Tepfer, and we teamed up for a no-falls day of the route. It was very hot, so we didn't leave the campground until 11AM, and still ended up waiting in the shade at belays atop P1, P2, and P4 as the rest of the route went into the shade. It felt good to never really come close to falling, and to share the day with Max's redpoint, as he had tried the route before as well.

A good Trout Creek MLB training day would be: 2x Alchemy, 2x the bottom 1/2 of Mayfly, 2x the bottom half of Gateway, and 2x (just one side, laybacking only) of a stem box route like Space Between.

I wanted to continue working toward a multi-year goal of ticking the "7Cs", classic "12d-ish" freeclimbs in all of North America's premiere climbing areas. It was nice to cross MLB off the list.

After MLB we climbed Shune's Buttress. A fun route with a really good first pitch, and second-to-last pitch. Save some small gear for the crux atop P1 and save a red or yellow camalot to supplement the
Max on a short face climbing pitch (#4) of Shune's Buttress
single bolt on the second to last belay.

All the rappels except for the first one would be fine with a single 70m, but the first rappel is about 41m long. (watch ends with an 80! know your reepschnur trickery) If the anchor was to be moved up, then the route wouldn't require two ropes. Even with 2 ropes, we used a single 70m for all rappels after the first, as there are large chimneys to eat your rope. 

Our rope got stuck on rappel #1, and we both discussed and agreed that there didn't seem to be any loose rocks or blocks up there (and the rope was stuck well to our right) so we felt convinced that it was snagged on a tree, and pulling was our best option. We rigged up a 3:1 hauling system (think crevasse rescue) and we were essentially hauling our own stuck rope down the cliff. Max clipped a Micro Traxion to his belay loop and we put the rope through this pulley, which uses teeth like a jumar to only allow the rope to pass in one direction. We also tied a Klemheist (prusik equivalent) around the rope a few feet above Max, between where it came down from the stuck point and Max's Micro Trax. We then clipped a carabiner to the free end of the Klemheist, and clipped the loose end of the rope (what we pulled on) through this carabiner so the rope was going down from the tree to Max's pulley, up to the carabiner on the Klemheist, and then down into our hands to be yarded on. We simultaneously pulled down, and the Micro Traxion pully would "bite" down on any rope that came through, not allowing our progress to be lost as we loosened and slid the klemheist a few feet back up the rope and repeated the process. Each time we would pull down, we could see a tree above us shaking. After a few tugs-of-war with the spiky oak, we managed to  begin lifting Max up the wall and also break off the tree, which came sailing down the wall still attached to our rope.

Without Max's handy Micro Traxion (which I usually would not have had with me) we could have substituted a GriGri or a guide-style belay plate, used in "guide mode" where the stuck tree is basically set up as the climber, and the "anchor" is the belay loop of a hanging person. This would have captured our progress as we pulled in rope, but would have added more friction, so we might have needed an additional re-direct of the rope for more mechanical advantage. For our Klemheist we used Max's small loop of 5mm/6mm cord, but could have used a dyneema runner. We also contemplated cutting the rope (and nearly decided to). We had a small knife with us, but without one (and since our belay gave us no access to a sharp stones or ice tools) we would have had to tension the rope and then use the edge of a lobe of our biggest piece (#5 camalot) to grind/hit the rope until it snapped. It's good to have these kind of tricks in mind, even if you generally carry dedicated tools for the job.
Max unties our rope from the tree after we pulled it off the mountain

The final day in the area took us to the famous Cathedral limestone crag near Saint George, Utah.
An actual tufa-in-training
This wall was stacked with amazing routes from .12- to .14+ and features some actual tufas and big pockets reminiscent of Spain. It felt nice to end our 4th-day-on with an onsight of a polished and pumpy "Speaking in Tongues", one of the steep .12b routes in the main cave, and then scrap out a tough-guy-TR-flash of a nearby .12c. The central route, "Golden", forms an amazing .14b up the center of the cave, and it struck me as one of the more inspiring hard sport routes I've seen in the states. The Cathedral and Wailing Wall (it's all one wall, just less cave-like on the right) receive no sun at all, so it has to be a warm day to head there, but I hope to be back some day!

The Cathedral, in all its sporto-glory


Fall Migration

After an incredibly hot summer, it finally feels as though autumn is settling in for Leavenworth and Index. And one of the traditions of many climbers is to head south in the fall. I am no exception, and generally try and make my way to the desert, or at the very least to central Oregon's destination climbing areas. I spent last weekend teaching a clinic at the American Alpine Club Craggin' Classic event at Smith Rock State Park, and got to climb at Trout Creek and at Smith.

Max on the FA

A big thumbs-up to Max "Crusher" Tepfer, who sent the newest local testpiece and established one of Oregon's hardest crack climbs with his FA of "The Compleat Angler" at Trout Creek. I showed up just in time to hold the rope for his redpoint.

Max then graciously spent that afternoon belaying me on another area open project, which I hope to
return to this fall.

It's officially a route! The hallowed crag-copy of the guidebook gets an update.

In Smith, I climbed a bit with Steven Swenson, and snapped some semi-decent photos of him flashing "Moons of Pluto" on the shady back side of the main area.


Summer Cascades Roundup and Topos

I devoted most of my climbing energy and time this summer to the Cascades, and was fortunate to get to do many routes which I had overlooked for years, primarily around Washington Pass and Mt. Stuart. In writing, photographing, and making topos of these routes, I ended up with several passable-quality topos for routes which had no published topos, or only very basic ones. I also had a great week-long trip to Idaho to climb in the Sawtooth Range, ticking some classics on the Elephant's Perch.

In addition to including some topos below, I've  had fun remembering the alpine rock routes I did this summer - I definitely managed to cram lots of climbing in!

  • Solid Gold - Prusik Peak (via skis after climbing Triple Couloirs)
  • The Scoop - CBR (in running shoes, without a harness - long story)
  • West Face NEWS and SW Rib SEWS - Via skis with 8th grade Stehekin buddy
  • Boving-Pollock - SEWS (with my wife)
  • Independence Route - Liberty Bell (2/3 of the line with Sol Wertkin, then the whole thing with Madaleine Sorkin)
  • Thin Red Line - Liberty Bell (with Madaleine Sorkin)
  • Liberty and Injustice for All - Liberty Bell (neither Jens nor I sent this new classic, on a cold and drippy fall attempt)
  • Freedom or Death - Liberty Bell (redpointed the route and rapped the whole E. face)
  • Barber Pole - Liberty Bell (stashing mission with Madaleine)
  • Lexington E Face - (with photographer and friends in a party ascent)
  • Supercave Wall - Ellen Pea (with Colin Moorhead)
  • Supercave Wall - "Cracks to the future"/L&H Route - (FFA of the 5.12 pitch I had cleaned in '13)
  • Supercave Wall - The Tiger (FA of new route, with Colin Moorhead)
  • Supercave Wall - The Eye of the Tiger (FFA of the harder direct variation)
  • Springbok Arete - Les Cornes w/direct start (first time finally getting up something in SW BC alpine)
  • The Scoop - Colchuck Balanced Rock (climbed with Forest and another team for photos)
  • Let it Burn - CBR (lead entire route in 3:45 as part of linkup)
  • Dragons of Eden - Dragontail (followed Jens during linkup - lead most of this the week prior - did not onsite it)
  • Der Sportsman - Prusik (climbed it 2 times in late July)
  • Boving-Christensen - Dragontail (not as scared as reported to be - see topo)
  • Fine Line - Elephant Perch (awesome. Hot!)
  • Astro-Elephant to Sunrise Book - Elephant Perch (the 5.9 is .10c, the .12- also about .10c)
  • Boomer's Story - Elephant Perch (1 hang following the 5.13- second pitch)
And I didn't make it to: Slesse, Girth Pillar, Liberty Crack, Big Kangaroo, West Stuart Wall, Colchuck Peak, The Tempest, the complete L&H route, Vanishing Point, Tooth&Claw, N. Face of SEWS, Mojo Rising, Serpentine Crack, Cutthroat Wall, Clean Break, ...

There's always next year!

  • Boving-Christensen on Dragontail Peak

  • Dragons of Eden - Dragontail Peak

  • Solid Gold - Prusik Peak


Surviving the Best Pitch in the Pickets

The most recent issue of Alpinist magazine (summer '14) included a great feature and mountain profile on the Picket Range of Washington State.

I wrote the following for Alpinist about my one and only in the Pickets, with a long-time climbing partner - and they ran the article on their website.

The block had fractured cleanly, and may have already been broken and waiting for hundreds of years. It was on the cleanest, steepest and—for me—best route in the Cascades' Picket Range. The East Ridge of Inspiration Peak, a crest of swirling and gnarled black and white stone, was first climbed by Fred Beckey, Dave Collins and Ed Cooper in 1958. The fine-grained metamorphic rock has fractured into clean edges and sharp, biting flakes, providing a welcome reprieve from the down-sloping choss and lichen gardens adorning peaks in both directions.
The best pitch, on this, the best route, follows a straight-in hand crack connecting flakes and edges up high, to the terraced and blocky terrain low down. It cuts through a blank slab, and its existence remains hidden until arriving at the base, a slanting pillar cleanly sheared off into a stance the size of a doormat. The splitter is one of those features—a geologic anomaly more than a predictable system—that connects the key dots and makes a route go, when it feels like it should dead-end. Climbing these pitches is like sneaking through an open window that was somehow, against all odds, left unlocked. It feels absurdly easy and a little bit like cheating. And it leads exactly where it should, exactly where a climber would want it to. The crack is a passage through the best pitch on the wall. But the block sat perched, more guillotine than windowpane. The best pitch in the Pickets was waiting to slam shut.
Sol Wertkin and I, a team of Washington climbers in our twenties, were attempting the second ascent of the Southern Pickets Traverse. We had done a few new routes together in the North Cascades, myself a 20-year-old undergrad and Sol the stronger veteran a decade my senior. The Southern Traverse is a multi-day choss tour following a ridge of mostly 5.8 filth amid some of the best views and wildest terrain in the country. It covers 14 named peaks and an equal number of unlabeled bumps and towers. Sol and I hadn't made it as far as we had hoped on Day 1, becoming disoriented amid unnamed spires between the McMillan Peaks. The itinerary of the first ascent, done by Pickets veterans Mark Bunker, Colin Haley and Wayne Wallace, provided a benchmark we hoped to catch up to by the end of our second full climbing day.

Unlike nearby mounts Terror and Fury, the name "Inspiration" doesn't compote with ominous area reputation. Low on the route, the rock was living up to our expectations, inspiring us to rally our heavy packs. These, finally, were holds I could trust and features I could pull out on without tedious testing. I started up the splitter. Sol slipped off his climbing shoes and wiggled bare toes stained red by spending 24 of the past 36 hours in a new pair of Moccasyms. Our single lifeline, an 8mm half rope, dangled freely below as I spaced out our three hand-sized pieces.

The splitter peters out just as face holds reappear, and I stemmed rightward onto a square edge, expecting a few meters of easy face climbing to bring me to a belay. Rather than stepping on to a hold, I had the sudden sensation of stepping through a hold and was falling rightward, out of the crack, my right leg passing through billowing dust and a gap newly vacated. Below me, and falling much faster, was a squared-off block of gneiss. I probably thought rockor falling and probably screamed as much. Sol heard something, or saw something, and that probably saved our lives.
I don't know how many September freezing rainstorms, March blizzards and August sunrises it had taken to shear the block away from the wall. But it had cracked along a base slanting steeply down and out. The result was a small oven of stone balanced on a hidden slab, imbedded into the face. With one careless foot placement, I had turned our window through the wall into a trapdoor.

Sol jumped back from his stance, coming tight against the clove hitch keeping him on the wall. An impossible limbo bend, like something from an action movie, kept him mostly free from the line of fire. The smell of gunpowder and smashing echoes surrounded us. I had fallen but been unhurt. Sol's rock shoes had taken a pounding, and he had a few cuts on his legs and feet. But our packs, the rope and ourselves were fundamentally unharmed. I blinked amid the sudden silence.
The words between us were predictable and meaningless after establishing that we were both OK. I trembled up the pitch and mentally limped along the final stretch to the summit and down the other side. The night ended with us both "oozing" upward on vertical 5.10 choss pitches as we accidentally climbed a new route on The Pyramid in near darkness. A bivy was hacked out. Water was melted. Inspiration lay behind us. We looked ahead to Terror.

The next morning dawned cloudy, but we didn't need the pretense of a storm to compel our retreat. We reached an old logging road late the next day, following hours of storm-soaked forest rappels, slide alder navigation and one morale-rebuilding brew stop to drink tea under a boulder as the rain poured around us. Having survived its best pitch, five years ago, I haven't climbed in the Pickets since.


The Tiger - 1,000' 5.12 10 pitches

A new route at Washington Pass, 40 minutes from the road, and on some of the best rock in the range!
Colin Moorhead on "The Tiger" P3 5.11c


Home-Field Triple Header

On July 27, Jens Holsten and I completed a long-dreamt goal of climbing 3 peaks in the Stuart Range via 3 different classic modern freeclimbs, each around 5.12a, and doing it in 24 hours.