AAJ Routes

The folks who run the American Alpine Journal put this story of one of our new routes up on their site today:

I think this makes 6 consecutive American Alpine Journals that I've contributed stories and pictures to.


Training Tip - Save $$$, Climb More!

"You always bring the best snacks" garbled my partner, as his cold, chalk-covered fingers stuffed teriyaki jerky down his parched gullet. We'd just climbed Ariana on Colorado's Long's Peak, our puffy jackets stuffed with treats for the top of the Diamond. "But why do you bring so many little tidbits of different stuff?

Kelly licks his lips in preparation for free snacks.
I had a secret...


Published - Climbing Magazine

  • My wife Allison lead the final pitch of the route 'Captain Beyond' and our friend Rob Kepley took some early-evening shots. One of them ended up here! I just got to go along for the ride and enjoy the stellar climbing, then write about the experience. Congrats to Rob on the great photos in the current (December 2011) issue of Climbing Magazine.



Leavenworth isn't the front range, and winter days aren't all 60 and sunny here. I'm glad to be here, but I'm going to have to change how I train and stay in shape. Writing down goals and having some metrics have been proven to help with this sort of endeavor.


Alpine Blissing

Early this summer, Allison, myself, and friend Scott Bennett organized a week-long "Alpine-Stravaganza" up in Rocky Mountain National Park. After 6 miles of beautiful hiking, we found ourselves in the Glacier Gorge cirque, surrounded by alpine rock climbs, elk, a huge array of food, perma-dry bivy caves, scrabble games, and a tug-of-war contest known as "hunker down". We did a little climbing as well, and Graham Zimmerman made a movie!

Fall Road Trip: Glacier Gorge


Fall Ticks and "Blake-ing"

The blue cord worked better than the pine needles and leaves I tried first.
Not washing my jacket has paid off once again!


What is a First Ascent?

In the good old days before the interwebs ruined climbing and everything had been sent, pre-grizzled hardpersons climbed peaks nobody had ever stood atop. Those were first ascents. A little later, people climbed the same peaks via completely different terrain, maybe via more difficult, enjoyable, aesthetic, or seasonally-dependent condtions. They went to the summit as well. Those, also, were first ascents. But in the days of infinite variations, stopping at the end of "technical difficulties" 1/2way up the mountains, and failed attempts retroactively labeled as new climbs on features that might not really have summits, what is a first ascent?


The Secret to Sending?

Despite what the Beastie Boys say, I think it takes plenty of sleep, and some creative snack skills.


Sierras, Rainbow Wall

I recently got the chance to do a few days of "work" for CAMP USA, and this time it wasn't doing manual labor in their Denver-area warehouse. This was the cause for my first ever visit to the Sierras. And finally let me climb Red Rock's "Rainbow Wall". I also learned that the high point and low point in the continental USA are merely 100 miles apart. However, only one of them houses an 18-hole golf course. Take that Mt. Whitney!!


Ah, Washington...

Like most stories meant to frighten kids, climbers, and other scare-able sorts, tales from the northwest have more fairy tale than fact. In truth, the Cascade Range is diverse enough to defy description. It houses big wall granite free climbs and snowy skyline ridge scrambles. Fertile valleys grow bright fruit and bitter hops, producing unique meals and microbrews. Strong espresso and stronger beers bookend quintessentially Cascadian car-to-car pushes. And everywhere, amid every climb, the landscape itself will grab you. The mountains' complexities tell of the region's history and ongoing geologic turmoil. The rugged nature of this range has shaped its culture and climbing, both now tangled stoutly together. The landscape lurks as a character, figuring into the region's stories and experiences. And despite disparate views of politics, economics, religion, and probably even sport vs trad, the residents scattered throughout these sleepy mountain towns all revel in a pride of place and an eagerness to share their connection to the Cascades.

I'm moving back to Washington from Colorado at the end of October.

First a quick trip to the Sierra, and maybe Zion as well!


Summer Slideshow

Scott and Lauryn, checking the box scores (?) before climbing

Multi-use pack frame insert

Ginnie, Jonesing on the evening light at the North Early Winter Spire

Beer has food value, but food has no beer value

A crack climb in Rocky Mtn. N.P.    -   Forest Woodward shot

Tom the Kiwi - Index, WA - Zoom  5.10+

Heart of the Country  5.10- Index, WA

Flipping and Flopping my way to Liberty Bell

Following Scott's onsite of Thin Red Line's first 5.12 pitch


Silver Star and environs

Getting "all up amongst it" on the double roofs pitch

Big Kangaroo, North Cascades

Loaded for bear on Big Kangaroo



The turning of gears: Part 1

Camera accounted for atop the summit - but not for long
Or maybe this should be called the returning of the gears. This summer I've witnessed three instances of astounding and unlikely gear returns, and the stories are almost as interesting as reading about the newest  8aNu bouldering extreme radness. These are actually the human interactions which (in a well-written form) make any "climbing story" worth reading (and hence not really about climbing).


Choss Dogging and FA Failure

Psyched for the choss, or whatever we'd find.

"Nice Dogging Bro!"

"I'm freeclimbing!" replied Sol, the stress evident in his reply.

Of course I hadn't meant to imply he was hanging on the rope. Sol was definitely going for it, onsight and free. Halfway through Sol's 45 minute lead up a pitch on our new route in the North Cascades, we had gone through elaborate contortions to fetch and tag him up our #6 camalot, and he was finally and safely offwidthing into what we hoped would be a belay cave. It was sweet vindication of our FA dreams after our earlier project was revealed as a festering, yet vertical, heap of orange gravel. On this lead I hadn't meant to imply that Sol was "dogging" or hanging on the rope, but rather that he was being an enthusiastic "Choss Dog", an alpinist happy to embrace the occasional creaky, crunchy, and crumbling stone. Today we were sending, and on varnished golden granite, but the day before we had bailed off an unarguably chossy alpine project.

After several years of looking at the vertical wall of Tower Mountain's NE Face, and one climb of the peak's SE Ridge, I was joined by Sol Wertkin and Scott Bennett for a serious attempt on the wall. "Tower Mountain" is English for "Cerro Torre" and we hadn't brought our compressor. I think that spelled trouble from the start. Despite an appearance and scale eerily similar Long's Peak's "Diamond", Tower turned out to be an amazing, isolated, BASE-jumpable wall of crackless garbage and horizontal bands.

Upon realizing how close we were to the vertical kitty litter of Mt. Hardy, Sol started laughing and groaning. He knew we'd have to do some serious choss dogging to get up this thing.

Note Sol's groan of non-thusiasm at the end of the video. That basically sums up the face.

After walking under the face on the North Cascades' version of Broadway Ledge, we picked one general line where the rock was somewhat less "cereal-esque". But after 40 minutes and 40' of gain, Scott hit the dead end. Sol and I hadn't even been willing to step off the ledge. And recon from left and right showed that even this best rock was still largely blank, and largely overhanging.

The August ski run on the hike back to our bivy was among the trip's highlights.

We gave up and hiked the 9ish miles back to Hwy 20. This made something like 38 miles and .5 pitches of climbing in the prior 3 days for each Scott and I, but that is just part of the mystery of checking out these hidden corners of the Cascades. Back at Washington Pass, we busted out the food, maps, and guidebooks, and started planning the next day's adventure, confident that splitter stone awaited those who endured a little choss to find it.


Published - Frey

Check out the September 2011 issue of Climbing for an article I wrote about Argentina's granite spires. My friend Forest Woodward took the killer photos down in Frey.


(New) International Trade Routes

We were going! Mt Bute was on the radar, and for Graham, Scott, and myself, each ebullient with some summits on big trips this year, an expedition to the B.C. Coast Range had us buzzing for months. In early summer, psyche levels were at a 10. Then Graham hurt his shoulder and was out of the picture... Strike one. 


go climb 'Let it Burn'!

I am in Washington and British Columbia for a summer trip, and recently spent some time in the Enchantments and North Cascades.

At Colchuck Balanced Rock cirque with my friends Garrett and Scott, we climbed the 'West Face', the final 60m of 'The Tempest' and made the likely 2nd ascent of "Let it Burn". Scott and Garrett suggest 5.11a for the (once 5.12a) West Face, but agreed that it's a gem regardless of the letters we define it as.

Let it Burn was established last fall by local granite gurus Jens Holsten and Max Hasson. Their route is one of the very best rock climbs in the Cascades and should get climbed a lot.

Scott and I both onsighted the first 3 pitches (Scott lead the 5.12a) but then I fell above this. I lowered back to the belay after cleaning some funk and sussing out the moves, and since Scott was still sans-slips, he ropegunned the pitch and I followed cleanly. This drama basically repeated itself on the final 5.11c pitch as well. Let it Burn gets about twice as much sun as the rest of CBR, and after hiking up and climbing a bunch the day before and then spending most of the day on Let it Burn, my elbows were cramping with dehydration, making the final 5.11c "wild reachy boulder problem" feel rather cruxy. After a rest and our last sip of water, I at least followed it cleanly, so we (I) didn't onsight, but we did both make a free ascent of the route.

Bring a single #1 and #2 camalot, a single purple TCU/Blue Alien, and doubles from green alien to #1 Camalot, plus many wires.


Bailure or Failure?

Check out the Spring/Summer 2011 Alpinist Magazine (Issue 35) for an article I wrote and some pictures I took related to the psychology of "success" or retreat, and embracing unknown in the mountains. The piece was prompted by a trip last year with my friend Nate Farr to NW British Columbia.

Thanks to Nate for being a great partner when decisions got tough and for Katie Ives at Alpinist for the help in editing!


4 Peaks - 23 hours - Quadruple Lindy

On Friday the 22nd, my friend Scott Bennett and I climbed the 3 biggest faces in Rocky Mountain National Park, plus 'The Barb' (III 5.10, 900') on the NE Face of Spearhead peak, in 23:45 car-2-car. 

Leaving the car at 3AM, I already hadn't slept in 20 hours...


F.A.* on the Spearhead, and shooting with Jordan.

Graham and Lauryn on The Barb
I just got back from a week up in one of Colorado's choicest locales, Glacier Gorge. I was fortunate enough to be joined by a passel of good friends,  and we enjoyed local beer, steak, scrambled eggs, pancakes with maple syrup, grilled sausage, alpine scrabble games, great music, and even managed to climb a bit:


Pining for the 'Pine


Fearing loud noises and confused by flashing lights, I fled the crowded melee of Front Range fireworks, and headed up into Rocky Mountain National Park on the 4th of July with my wife Allison to climb Spearhead Peak.


Park Season!

Edited Conditions:
As of 4th of July I've been up the Loch Vale valley twice and into Glacier Gorge once.  No snowshoes, crampons, axes, or boots are required for any of the rock routes, and the approaches are melting out fast. All bridges (including to Mills Lake) are fine.

 Even though the snowpack is roughly a month-behind its typical melt-out schedule here in the Colorado hills, I made two trips up into Rocky Mountain National Park last week. for some rock climbing.


Tips for The Black

Having done a smattering of the weekend warrior routes on either side of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, here are a few things that I've noticed...

Late in the day, shady, still sweating in a t-shirt
  1. It's always hotter down there. Even the north-facing routes in the vicinity of the Astro-Slog rappels get sun until around 1pm in late spring. Your car is the coolest spot you'll be in all day.
  2. Wear Long Pants - Even though it's warm, long pants are your friend vs grainy stone and poison ivy. When Nate and I went down the 'Prisoner of your hairdo' gully in late spring, we were wading through huge thickets of poison ivy. But with long pants, we didn't notice a thing.
  3. Free Camping - Can be found just outside the park entrance on the north and south rims, where the land is owned by the BLM.
  4. Free Entrance - to the south side's NPS area, requires getting past the gate before 9am on weekdays, and probably earlier on weekends.
  5. Yes, both sides are the same height - When looking across the canyon, it's easy to convince yourself that the other rim, towering above, must be taller than the wall you're on. It's not.
  6. Ending another wandery pitch
  7. Bring LIGHT approach shoes - The gully approaches don't require much scrambling or downclimbing, so an ultralight pair of old running shoes will be a lot lighter to climb back up with, and wont slow you down on the approach. 
  8. Know your line - Routes can be wandering and have dead-ends that look like the way. Take a picture of the wall and use your digital camera screen to figure out where you are and where you are going.
  9. The worst rock - is often the stuff immediately in contact with the pegmatite layers. It's darker and looks better, but it got "over-cooked".
  10. Bring many slings - Every route I've been on has splitter pitches and meandering pitches, and it is often hard to tell from one belay where your next will be. Lots of slings are your friend, quickdraws are not.

My Black Canyon Climbs - In order of Quality

Scenic Cruise - One of the nation's best 5.10 routes. 4:55 (second time up it) with Scott - I lead the 2nd half in evening shade.

Journey Home - 25' of 5.9 R (but not X) face climbing leads to 4 or 5 pitches up a  steep corner, consistent at 5.10- and easy route finding.

Astro Dog - The canyon's classic 5.11?  I'll have to climb Stoned Oven to see which is better. Mostly 5.10 with 3 harder pitches. Leave water and food for yourself at the rap anchors you use to descend, then you can encounter these prizes on the return up the wall.

Comic Relief - Right Side - If you take all the right-hand (harder) variations, you can climb 5 of the route's 6 pitches completely different than the left-side options.

Trilogy - Excellent crack and face climbing, bakes in the first half of the day. Neither climber should fall on the 5.10- traverse on p1.

Atlantis - A LONG route, in the sun all day. Lots of face climbing on good rock.

The Flakes - 1800' of mostly 5.10 crack climbing. Oh yeah, and that chimney is 120' of no gear. Good rock, but legitimately x rated.

Checkerboard - The first couple pitches are forgettable, but the last couple are fun and exciting. Eldo-style in the Black.

The Dylan Wall - Some chossy roofs but very good rock at the crux pitch.

Escape Artist - A couple good pitches, nice and shady most of the day.


Wednesday 5/18 - Pics from Patagonia

Movies, photos and free prizes. New routes and 2nd ascents / first free ascents in Chile and Argentina.


Towers Round II

Success on the Castle Valley linkup!

12 Hours
5 Towers
2 Stoked Climbers
1 Giant Sandwich!

How did that rappel work???

In our case, the "Damaged Rope" was the short side of the rope, plus various gear tied on. We rappeled on just the "ok rope".


Looking the Part

My jacket is dry now, and mostly clean. Within it I'm warm.
But the cuts from crystalline granite don't wash out. Barefoot on brick I grope for a light switch. My hands create currents in the stagnant basement air. Knuckles hit brick and mortar, opening my almost-healed gobies. That'll look real professional in the interview.


Red Rock Update

I just got back from a few days doing some teaching of squeeze chimney and offwidth climbing at the Red Rock Rendezvous. That place is amazing!

Red Rock was reached via a 3-part ride from Denver.



Too bad authoring a 'Classic Climb' doesn't make me a 'classic author'.  (Heck, I'd settle for "classy.") While I was in South America, the March issue of climbing ran a feature I wrote, with photos by my friend Max Hasson.   I added it (along with a bunch of other stuff) to my "Published" portfolio.

But for a good look at some material that is certainly both classy and publishable, check out my friend Forest's shots from our first 2 weeks together in South America.


Papas Instantas!

For those times when regular mashed potatoes aren't going to cut it...

  • Instant Potato Powder
  • Instant Polenta or Gnocchi Flour
  • Milk Powder
  • Salt
  • Garlic powder or pieces
  • Parmesan. Lots of it.
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Bacon Bits or Salami pieces
  • Sundried Tomatoes
  • Olive Oil, to taste

Use your pre-made freeze dried meal the first night, then keep the foil pouch and it becomes your all-purpose dish for the remaining meals. Papas Instantas doesn't even require truly boiling water, and is a super-quick and simple dinner after a long day. Having the zip-lock-top lets you make hot food, close it up, and stash it inside your jacket for a "pouch o' heat" while you pack, unpack, and let your food cook.


...The Rest of the Story

Twelve years ago, when Scott and I were in middle school and likely more interested in Magic Cards than mountains, Jim Donini and Greg Crouch climbed the West Pillar of Cerro Pollone, in Chilean Patagonia. The account of their climb (and the fact that it hadn't been completed to the summit)  inspired me several years ago:

"...featured tons of high-angle free climbing on superb rock. The summit view from the top of the pillar is astonishing ... probably the best I've had in Patagonia. ... I think the whole route would go free with just a few short sections of 5.11. The right team should be able to peel the whole thing off in a single day."



Cosas Patagonicas Libre!

Scott and I woke after our climb on Guillaumet to the appearance of several teams of climbers who had just arrived in the mountains. Apparently the weather would stay good for several more days, which had compelled some folks to wait and plan bigger objectives, and others to try and to cram back-to-back climbs into the six days of splitterness. We had no more food, but psyche in abundance. And an unrepeated route established when I was 3 years old was beckoning...
Freeing new ground on Mermoz. Shame about the crummy rock...


First Ascent of Las Vent'uras

Sunset over the ice cap
Boundary Bay Oatmeal Stout vs Great Divide's Belgian 'Colette'. Riding my bike to sunny baseball games at Coors Field. Sneaking good food into a bad movie at the dollar theater. Feeling too full to want more food. Being warm. These and similar thoughts dominated my mind as we drudged down the final few hundred feet of glacier to our camp at Piedras Negras. I was thrilled to have pulled off a new route after a week in the range, but at the time, probably even more thrilled to just crawl into a tent and pass out.