10.15.2014

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.












10.07.2014

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





9.25.2014

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.



8.12.2014

The Tiger - 1,000' 5.12b

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


8.04.2014

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.


7.24.2014

Independence Route and East Face Info

The Independence Route, along with Thin Red Line, and Liberty Crack, comprise the 3 classic bigwall aid routes to breach one of the proudest faces in the Cascades, the eastern aspect of Liberty Bell. Despite other routes and variations with good climbing, the wall remains fairly obscure and quiet. In reality it is an excellent climb face with a laughably short approach, many fixed anchors, and remaining potential.





6.02.2014

Red Rock Desert Linkup

A couple months ago I had the good fortune to get to do a bit of climbing in Red Rock, Nevada, with my friend Scott Bennett. Scott is generally enthusiastic and optimistic about trying big goals and with minimal faffery, minimal gear, and minimal sleep/water/food.

The plan was to up the ante of this 2007 Jeremy Collins/Ben Williams linkup and climb Rainbow Wall (Original Route 1,200' 5.12b) Cloud Tower Complete (1,000' 5.12a A0) and Levitation 29 (1,000' 5.11). We managed the linkup, starting around 6:30AM from the Pine Creek trailhead, and returning to the car roughly 16 hours later. 1 rope, 2L of Water, 12 QDs, and singles to #3 camalot, with doubles from fingers to #1.

5.12.2014

Index LWS - Guilty as charged


Living only 65 miles from Index, WA, I have become a frequent visitor in my 2.5 years of Leavenworth residency. Even with only a few hours to climb, it is a perfect sport for solo TR laps or a quick after-work stop. Often I will get asked about climbing around my home in Leavenworth, to which I will rave about the bouldering, rave about the alpine climbing, and say that for roped days, I head to Index. Sure 65 miles is a bit of a drive, but with Stevens Pass marking the halfway point, I can combine climbing with skiing or merely observe the changing seasons. And unlike driving from Seattle, I don't have to pause at a single stoplight, stop sign, interchange, or traffic jam. Unlike many of the Leavenworth crags, the longest approach is 25 minutes on a very nice trail, so even living in Leavenworth, I can get to the Upper Town Wall faster than I can make it to many of our "local" climbs. To many climbers, Index sports a 3 or 4 month climbing season. But the walls are in fact climbable 12 months out of the year.  Last winter, within a few days of climbing a 1000' lowland ice climb, I spent a sunny 17-degree afternoon cragging at the Lower Town Wall with Ben "Crusher" Gilkison, while the upper wall sported a 400' ice dagger which crashed to the ground at mid-day. In winter there are no leaves on the trees, the low southern sun beats onto the wall all day, and the friction is at its peak. I have developed an advanced case of what Ben calls "Lower Wall Syndrome". In light of the guidebook aspirations of my friend Matt Van Biene I wanted to describe a few pitches which never get climbed solely for lack of information, and provide a quick list of routes ranked by difficulty.

The obscure-for-no-good-reason routes (and how to get to them)

Each of these is a three or four star classic:

1. P3 of Japanese Gardens 5.11a - Everyone and their mom has climbed the classic Godzilla-P2City Park-Slow Children linkup. Next time you are standing at the base of Slow Children, simply do a belayed walk about 35' to the left, and you will find yourself beneath another stellar finger crack, similar to Slow Children, which pulls an awesome roof and uses the same rack you've already got. This is called P3 of Japanese Gardens. It is just as good as Slow Children. It gets 1% the traffic, and needs more.

2. Leaping Lizards 5.10 - Ever want to go hang a rope on Natural Log Cabin or Narrow Arrow Overhang? How about access 2 awesome 5.10 crack pitches that nobody ever does? (NAD P2, P3) Simply looking for a another warmup?(easily linked through Godzilla in a 50m pitch) - From Godzilla step immediately right, clip a bolt, and then follow the crack and corner up and right, passing a couple more bolts and some gear placements, leading to a memorable final move. This belay ledge allows one to scramble a few meters right and reach the belay between the next two routes.

3/4. Pitch 2 and Pitch 3 of Narrow Arrow Direct 5.10b, 5.10d - Although the first pitch of NAD is 5.12c with a powerful bit of climbing up top, the next two pitches are splitter moderates that take perfect gear the whole way. They are never climbed. Access via: Climbing Shirley and stepping left, climbing Leaping Lizards and belayed scrambling right, or climbing Thin Fingers and belayed scrambling left.

5. Batskins P2 - 5.11d - Some bolts and some gear, some crack climbing and some face moves, some steep bits and a touch of slab, this pitch has the goods. Get to the base of it by rapping 35' down and hard left from atop Godzilla. Or lead all of P1 (5.12b)

6. Sagi-Horse 5.10+/5.11- Climb Sagittarius to the second anchor, then climb out the Iron Horse roof, on the left. This is labeled 5.11+ or 5.12a depending on the guidebook, but it's not that hard. Finishing via the left side of the roof also makes for a straighter rope line and less zig-zaggery.

Grades: Index should stay uniformly sandbagged. It should just be internally-consistently-sandbagged. That is to say, a 5.12b ought to be a touch easier to redpoint than a 5.12c, which is a touch easier than a 5.12d. They can still all be harder than a 5.13 in Indian Creek or a 5.14 in Tensleep, and that's ok. Ben Gilkison, one of the most accomplished LTW climbers ever, had this to say in regards to the grades after putting up a new route over the winter:

Regarding its grade, it felt around 12d to me, give or take.  Who knows though, perhaps it is only like 11d, like everything else at Index -wink.  Officially, I'm calling it 5.12, so nobody thinks I'm a fluffer.  In comparison, I thought it harder than routes like Numbah Ten, Narrow Arrow Direct, Stern Farmer, and Power Horse.  Please, take all this information with a grain of salt, or a heaping spoonful if you prefer.
And similar sentiment has been written by Mikey Schaefer, another of Index's most accomplished climbers:


 I can't really figured what to grade the pitch so I'm going to say Index,11d which in my opinion has ZERO correlation to Yosemite Decimal System. IF it were in Yosemite, it would probably be somewhere closer to 12/12+

So here's my personal ranking of some famous LTW testpieces. I'm 5'8" with no power, short arms, and a propensity to kneebar. Your mileage WILL vary. No Grades given except as bookends. I'll only list routes I've sent, so ideally the list will fill in over time.


Sagi-Horse. December 8th. 17 Degrees.
Shirley 5.11c - Less-than-stellar rock and easier moves lead to a classic stem finish above your gear.

Japanese Gardens P1  - I have done this one too many times to count, but would do it again today. I remember being so psyched and scared leading it for my first time, finding the highest possible pro to place beneath each crux, and clipping the highest wire with a single locker to minimize the fear and fall distance.
Iron Horse (short or long, the cruxes are both before anchor #1)
Ten Percent Meteorological Vinculation P1  - Stellar, keeps you on your toes
Stern Farmer - This seems to be harder for everyone else. Kneebar the crux. Tight hipster jeans help.
Batskins P1 - Being taller would help, but so would being a better climber. Really demanding of good composure up high and a good test of core strength and open-handed power.
Narrow Arrow Direct (right) - 5.11- on steep and big features for 80', to a V5 with the right beta (though refining this beta took Jens Holsten and myself 2 or 3 sessions to get just right) - I could see this being easier than the above last couple routes for a powerful climber good at slopey crimps.
Numbah Ten - This one gets a .12b in the guidebook. When I was working on it, Andrew Philbin remarked that the hardest move of the Full Amandla (.13d) is possibly at bolt #2 of Numbah Ten. Andrew has sent nearly every pitch at the LTW. You do the math...
Power Horse - Climb Iron Horse to the first anchor, but use it merely to clip off all the leftover widgets you wont need for the bolted section above, as you span left and finish via the 2nd half of Amandla. Both guides show (or even describe) a mid 5.13 crux somewhere on the arete, but it is not that hard.
Narrow Arrow Overhang 5.13-  A wild line with a strange history. The climbing to the first anchor was freed by someone long ago, and is 5.10c or so. The climbing from anchor #1 to #2 is a very shallow inset, which is insecure pressing and chimneying protected by RPs behind your butt. This is brilliant 5.11c (ish) - and the top part of the climb is when things get interesting. The next 20', above anchor #2, is a vertical arete which was first toproped cleanly by Chris Schlotfeldt, and he rated these moves 5.12d on TR. Sometime later, two bolts were added as lead protection by someone else. The roof "boulder problem" above this arete had climbed via traversing in from a ledge on the right (sent by roof crackspecialist Dick Cilley, and rated 5.12b, which seems an absurd rating, even for just 15' of climbing. Although LTW .12b has a bit of a mystic about it) - In 2008 Gilkison added an anchor above the roof at the 35m mark (where the climbing changes to 5.9), and sent the whole thing grading it low 5.13.
The roof on NAOverhang between anchors #2 and #3


It sounds like Ben's new route Nobody Tosses A Dwarf! will fall someone in the upper part of that lineup. And after TRing P2 of Stern Farmer, I think it would end up between Batskins and NAD. P2 of Ten PErcent, City Park and Amandla are the only routes harder than these listed, and nobody who has sent one of those has also sent the others. They must both be rated 5.11d.

4.22.2014

Alpine Girth Hitch

Here is a Tech Tip article I wrote for Climbing Magazine. It generated a slew of comments and concerns, some well-founded and other off base.






4.16.2014

Aguja De l'S and Mojon Rojo



After spending a few stormy weeks in the Torres Del Paine, Scott Bennett and I learned that the next 7 days were looking even more stormy! This was bad news as we had only about 10 days left in the trip. Armed with this info and running somewhat low on the tastier food products of our supply, we hiked out of the Torres Del Paine under gigantic loads consisting of packs-strapped-to-packs-strapped-to-packs. We caught the bus back into Puerto Natales and stayed with awesome friends there who run a trakking and kayaking company called Fortaleza Patagonia. They are the most amazing and nicest, most knowledgable guides one could ask for. In addition, both are bilingual. I highly suggest chatting with them if you visit the Paine or Puerto Natales and need local info or want to go kayaking or hiking in the park.

With our friends and a rented Toyota Yaris, we loaded up all our gear and drove (~3hrs) from Natales to El Chalten, where Scott and I thought we would just be bouldering and sport climbing for a week before leaving.

However, after a few days of reacquainting ourselves with actual climbing, a small blip of decent weather showed itself on the forecast for the day or two before I was to take off. We teamed up with a partnerless Steve Swenson, who would have to leave when we did for his return to the states. Steve is a true climbing guru and fount of Himalayan knowledge, and it was great to go climbing with him in the big mountains, not just at a crag in Squamish or Index. The three of us kicked around all kinds of ideas. Given that several accidents had already occurred in Chalten this year, owing (at least in part) to a very limited selection of snow and ice routes climbable between storms, we didn't want to find ourselves queued up behind other parties or climbing a peak we had all done multiple times. We settled on heading (via an approach which was new to all three of us) up to the southern end of the Fitz Roy range.

Scott and Steve - Fitz Roy and Poincenot on the left


We hiked in and left our overnight gear at an amazing bivy boulder/cave a couple thousand feet above Laguna Sucia and ~500' below the edge of the glacier. Nobody was around, which was exactly what we had wanted. The wind was still blowing fairly hard and it was already mid day, so we roped up and brought just a few pieces of gear, eventually rambling up the eastern aspect of Mojon Rojo, which was snow and rock scrambling to a 20' V0 finish. The views over the summit to the Torre Valley were amazing, with wind ripping the clouds through the strainer of the Torres' jagged summits. Armed with knowledge of the glacier and a high camp, we decided to try to climb something early the next morning which we reasonably could manage in gloves and boots.


A few other parties arrived at the bivy cave that evening, but we were the first ones up in the morning and tried to make a b-line for Aguja Saint Exupery. However, we kept running into dead ends in the glacier. After a few attempts at end-running crevasses in the pre-dawn light, we decided that our options were to: A - wait until it was light, and try to re-navigate while probably getting dead-ended. B - try to climbing something on Aguja De l'S which we could reach more easily.
Scott and Steve at the first belay. Aguja Saint Exupery is behind them.
Still following

We settled on option B, and generally followed a combination of the Austrian route (to start) and the Baby Face route for the remainder of the way. After some crotch-deep snow wallowing, I lead up ~100m of steep snow/snice over the bergschrund to build a rock anchor and bring up Steve and Scott. From there I just kept leading, as Scott and Steve quickly followed, often making soup or hot broth or tea at the belays. It snowed lightly all day, but the route was very fun, with interesting and easy ramps and narrow little corners covered in styrofoam snow, but with ample rock pro for both leader and follower. Our line basically traversed the entire east face of the peak from north-to-south, then angled up to the summit pyramid on much easier terrain, before taking 2 final steep pitches to the cumbre. I lead the final 2 pitches with no crampons and 1 ice tool, which, in retrospect, was a bad choice. I had expected more freeclimbable rock but things were very much covered in snow and a thick layer of water ice filled in the cracks. I aided, grunted, and free climbed very slowly as Steve and Scott huddled at the belays and made soup. Highlights included a committing mantle onto a snowy slab with no pro, and a small surprise aid fall, caught with aplomb by the ever-vigilant Mr. Swenson. We took turns standing on the tiny summit being ROCKED by winds from off the ice cap and over the Torre valley, and then downclimbed and rappelled the standard East Face.


Scott and Aguja St. Exupery

We were back in camp before dark and spent a nice night relaxing and asking Steven questions abut his upcoming Karakoram book and his numerous trips to central Asia, and the presence of the abominable snowman claimed to have been seen by Reinhold Messner, et al. For the record, Steve does not, even under intense scrutiny, admit to ever being a yeti.

The next day we hiked out, made pizza in Chalten (dough pre-made and rising during our trip to the mountains) and I caught the bus out of town, with Scott and Steve leaving the next day.