All Retch and No Vomit

Wisdom from Alan Watts (not the PNW freeclimbing pioneer, though I bet he has some wisdom as well).

Make tomorrow memorable!


Trout Creek Photos

Trout Creek has 0 protection bolts at the entire crag. It's one of the driest spots in the NW, and the TC faithful are the most welcoming crowd you can ever meet. It closes Jan 15, so hurry up!

Oh yeah, those socks-turned-leg-warmers say "Girls Scouts". 

It looks like the old man of trout creek is going to head-butt Kathleen.

Max on Midas Touch

The project

Max coming really close to the send.

Another perfect sunset


Published: Internet Nonsense

I wrote the following piece for Alpinist's website, and even though it was fun to write something a little bit light-hearted, I actually really do stand by the assertions made in the article.

General Dirtbaggery: Saving time, wasting time and explaining climbing on the Internet


Blake Herrington
This article was written with the author's tongue placed firmly in his cheek. It is not meant as a "How To" for beginning climbers, and it assumes a certain level of pre-existing technical knowledge. --Ed.
As a beginning climber, I would read Internet forums and climbing blogs for hours. I justified these pupil-glazing sessions as "research" into a world I knew nothing about. As a more experienced climber, I still read Internet forums and climbing blogs for hours. I just no longer attempt to justify this patently unproductive behavior. And rather than continuing to learn about climbing, I sometimes wonder if my caffeine-powered screen time is having the opposite effect. Will these multi-page discussions of the same five subjects eventually make me afraid of micro-fractured carabiners and unwilling to climb without double-secret backup belay loops? In the interest of helping others avoid such hours fraught with peril, I'm going to attempt to answer nearly every Internet climbing conundrum in the span of a single Q&A session. This is the literary equivalent of a 5.8 in the Gunks. Everywhere else, it's 5.10. I just hope you can make it through before your eyes glaze over.
A: No. But you can make it safer by worrying about the things that actually cause the most accidents, such as falling while unroped on exposed, "easy" terrain, rappel-rigging mistakes and communication errors.
A: No, but it's safer if you weight your rappel rope before unclipping from the anchor, knot the ends of your rope and make sure your rope is centered in the anchor.
Q: How do I connect myself to rappel stations?
A: Temporarily repurpose a sling or two, and keep them weighted/taut even if there's a nice ledge at your anchor. This way you can't prematurely unclip yourself or anyone else.
Q: Do I need to shell out the big bucks on one of those dry-treated, bi-pattern ropes?
A: No. Get the one that's 70m long and costs the least. Skinnier ropes wear out faster, but a 9.2mm 70m weighs about .8kG (1.7lbs) less than a 10.2mm 70m. Learn how many of your arm-lengths will pull in half the rope. After you take it out of the package, mark the middle with a Sharpie.
Q: Won't that weaken the rope?
A: No, evidence shows that ropes break when stretched across sharp edges. People die by rappelling off their ropes. Nobody has died because of Sharpies, but every year people rappel off the end of a non-centered rope. And if you're like 95% of rope buyers contemplating spending more for a dry-treated rope, think about how often you'll be climbing in the rain.
Q: Do I need to learn about half ropes?
A: This depends. Is Earl Grey a drink, or a person?
Earl Grey is a person.
A: Half ropes don't apply to you.
Q: Well, what about double ropes?
A: Don't humour me.
Q: What about twin ropes?
A: These are pairs of skinnier ropes that you use together and treat as a single cord. You clip them both to every piece and belay them at the same time. They make the most sense when surrounding yourself with sharp implements in the winter, or expecting long rappels to get down.
Q: I was visiting your home climbing area and that 5.10b/c would definitely have just been 5.10b at my home climbing area. Are you guys a bunch of softies or what?
A: This is why man invented mountainproject.com.
A: Actual Distance x (1 + # of decades since fall/10)
A: If it says UIAA on it, probably. Climbers all over the world design and produce great products. They also tend to warm up on our projects, and eat tastier food in the process. Though we generally surpass them at owning lots of stuff, inventing products we don't need and arguing on the Internet.
A: Everything today is better than anything 20 years ago. The best gear generally becomes the most popular for good reason.
Q: How do I avoid some belaying errors?
A: Stand directly beneath the first piece of protection while belaying a leader. Hang your guide-style device off the anchor to belay up your follower.
Q: Isn't belaying directly off the anchor dangerous because the belayer might pay less attention?
A: No. Distracted climbers will neither suspend nor circumvent simple physics.
Q: Do I need a second belay loop on my harness?
A: No. Belay loops have broken one time. This was from being repeatedly sawed-through by a thinner sling fixed in one spot. Whenever you are on your way up a multipitch climb, you've already got a second belay loop, where you tied into the rope. Use this if you need a second option.
Q: I climbed a route the other day and it was easy for me. Doesn't this route have too many bolts on it?
A: Only if someone other than the first climber placed them, or if they are next to protectable cracks.
Q: Doesn't this other route need a few more bolts?
A: It sounds like you did not send.
Q: Well how am I supposed to get better so I can justify my complaints about over-bolting?
A: Hangboard, gym climb, boulder, go cragging. In that order. Getting older and thinking more about how good you used to be has been shown to work, as well.
Q: What's a cragging pack?
A: It's a marketing gimmick. If you're only going cragging, you don't need to buy a fancy pack. You do, however, need to bring tasty food.
Q: Why should I worry about food?
A: Because when you move beyond cragging, you'll have to eat chalky bars and dehydrated pouches of food-like substances. Yet somehow you'll still always want more of it.
Q: So should I bring more food into the mountains?
A: Yes. Always.
Q: What else will I need when I move beyond cragging?
A: More lightweight clothes, less heavy hardware. Bring a fancy windshirt and leave behind your cordelettes, heavy lockers, radios and rap rings.
Q: Without a piece of long cord, how will I build anchors?
A: Place solid gear in solid ice/rock/snow, everything else is situational. Sometimes a cordelette makes sense. However you build an anchor, clove hitch yourself into it with the rope; it's the strongest and stretchiest thing you have and you are already connected to it. You can adjust the length of your connection without disconnecting from the anchor.
Q: Can I just clove hitch a few solid pieces together for my anchor?
A: Yes.
Q: Didn't I read that my anchor should be static, redundant, equalized and have no extension?
A: Probably so. You were also taught to floss daily, always sport clean underwear and never reuse your camp dishes for three days without a thorough washing. Some things make sense on paper but prove naively optimistic in the mountains.
Q: What if a piece rips out, won't it shock-load the others?
A: The term "shock-loading" is a scary-sounding, meaningless, yet bafflingly persistent phenomenon, promulgated endlessly on the Internet. It's like a Justin Bieber video.
Q: Doesn't it mean weighting a piece all-of-a-sudden?
A: "All-of-a-sudden?" Without getting too technical here, Mr. wizard, this mysterious shock-loading sounds like falling. And falling directly on an anchor, even if one or more of your pieces pull, will not magically multiply the kiloNewtons exerted on your system. In fact, the failed pieces will often absorb part of the load.
A: Use it until it's soft, fuzzy or white bits from the inside have found their way to the outside.
[Disclaimer: Manufacturers generally give ropes a shelf life of 10 years (unused), 5 years of use and a varying number of falls before retiring, even without visible wear.]
Q: When my rope gets dirty, should I wash it?
A: Won't hurt, might help, but it's not very important overall. As desert canyoneers will attest, dirt and grit makes your rope more likely to groove your hardware and stain your hands. If you've got a filthy cord, just use Woolite or warm water and a gentle washing machine cycle or bathtub. Although grit within the fabric of a dirty rope can cut the inner fibers, even a dirty rope will still be strong enough to handle the stresses of climbing. But while your wet rope is flaked out and drying, you can practice your knots. Just not too many.
Q: Which knots do I need to know?
A: Clove hitch, overhand, figure eight, clove hitch some more, one-handed clove hitch for style points.
Q: But don't I need to learn the...
A: Nope.
Q: What about tying webbing together?
A: Overhand.
Q: Tying ropes together for rappels?
A: Overhand.
Q: Tying into the middle of a rope on a glacier?
A: Overhand.
Q: But I learned about the alpine butterfly...
A: I learned about a lot of things I didn't need. It's called wasting time on the Internet.
Q: I want to do more climbing, but I live in some corn-intensive state where mayonnaise is a food group.
A: Browse through different guidebooks and read about nearby states. Take a road trip. Introduce yourself to someone from a state with climbing, such as Colorado.
Q: How can I tell that someone is from Colorado?
A: Just give them five minutes. They'll tell you.


We Reap What We Sew

Some famous and bad-ass climbers will cover their pants in patches, gaining publicity for their sponsors and money for themselves.

I'm skipping the fame and bad-ass parts, and not even going to bother with the piddly amounts of money available from gear companies. I'm going straight to the big-time and will be seeking immediate sponsorship from Cellular Innovations! We all need phones, right?

The actual story behind this strange bit of sewing is much more interesting and far less potentially lucrative. I'd spent a few afternoons working on one of the hardest pitches at the Index Town Walls - Narrow Arrow Overhang. My method of overcoming the crux roof, 100' up, involved throwing my feet and legs above my head, and lodging both knees into a very shallow chimney feature. There are no cracks or holds in this area, but I hoped to climb it knees-first. This worked with varying levels of success, but practicing these moves also resulted in bloody knees, bruises on my legs, and torn pants. I wanted to give the route one last shot before the fall monsoons began, but I had some problems:
  1. The Index store sold packing tape, scotch tape, masking tape, but NO athletic tape.
  2. My only pants were shredding and my knee already bloody.
  3. And I'd fallen off the route repeatedly on top rope the day before, after whipping from different spots on my first lead attempts.

Luckily, caffeine, boredom, and a junk-filled subaru provided exactly what I needed. I found a few old sewing needles in my pack, leftover from our repair-kit for the summer's trip to the Waddington area. Without thread, I re-purposed my dental floss, and initially planned on just sewing up the tear in my pants. And then, hidden amid dust and wrappers beneath the seat, I stumbled across a small rubber pad used for keep electronic devices from sliding. It was perfect! Not having other pants with me, I actually sewed this pad onto the very pants I was wearing!

 It all reminded me of Kramer's story:

Armed with my trusty purple camalot for the crux, and with new-found faith in my ability to kneebar without shredding my denim and falling head-first past the roof, I tackled Narrow Arrow Overhang, and managed to send the full 37m pitch. The first 5.10 section to anchor #1 is fun and athletic, the next 5.11 section to anchor #2 is tense and scary, and the final third is simply a hard, well-protected, and amazing.

During my first 11 months in Leavenworth, I've probably climbed at Index over 20 times. And my favorite route in the area is undoubtedly the one that took me the most work to complete, Narrow Arrow Overhang. I think Ben Gilkison's 2008 ascent of this route was the FFA of the complete P1.
15' below the anchor after falling at the crux. Thanks Matt Van Biene for the picture!

Now its raining and running with water, but as soon as things dry out, definitely check out this awesome line. To the first anchor is .10c, to the second anchor is .11c, and if you stop short of the roof and climb right to NAD, it's .12d. The best way to hang a TR after an easy warmup is via p1 and p2 of Godzilla, done as a 50m pitch of 5.10. This allows you to rappel straight to the anchor atop NAO, and a 35m rope barely touches the ground, hanging a few feet out from the wall the whole way. And since this route now tackles the roof, it is definitely more "direct" than Narrow Arrow Direct, so maybe just saying NA left and NA right makes a lot more sense.


The 7Cs Project

Goals are important if one wants to improve at something. They are also personally motivating, giving me something to work toward and get inspired by. I wrote down a few goals a year ago and I've accomplished quite a few, with others still high on the list. Two the of my goals I didn't accomplish were free ascents of Rainbow Country in Red Rock and Moonlight Buttress in Zion. Having these near the top of my list has inspired me to work on a different, long-term rock climbing goal I'm calling the "7Cs Project".

I want to climb THE classic 5.12c or 5.12d or 5.13a wall or long multipitch route in each of great freeclimbing areas in North America. Here is my tentative list of areas and routes that qualify.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison - Tague Yer Time
Zion National Park - Moonlight Buttress
Red Rock - Rainbow Country
The Needles - Romantic Warrior (this route isn't so long, but I really want to do it!)
Yosemite - Freerider
The Cascades - Thin Red Line
Squamish - Gravity Bong or Northern Lights to Yukon Gold
Bugaboos - Sendero Norte

I've completed 1/8 and done parts of 3 others. Even if this takes me years, it will provide good incentives to stay in cragging shape AND visit some of the most amazing parks and peaks on the continent. If there's a better alternative to any of the above routes, I'd certainly appreciate suggestions for different climbs.


Rock&Ice Magazine Article

Snag a copy of the December issue of Rock&Ice. I wrote an article about an amazing climb (and climbing area) to the Southwest of Denver, the complex of walls is called Thunder Ridge. Garrett Grove's beautiful pictures were used.

And a few more of GG's shots from the area's other great 5.10 routes.

"Is this for Real?" - 5.10

Lisa Stern on "So Wild" -  5.10


Crimea River - We're all Local Somewhere!

During the past month, a climbing controversy arose when 3 or 4 individuals paid and sponsored by The North Face established new, bolted routes on a peak in the Crimean Ukraine which had traditionally been climbed ground-up. Their bolts were chopped, and most of the controversy was about one new multipitch climb that wove through existingroute, and added roughly 2-dozen new bolts. The problem arose because they drilled their bolts and scoped out their line while hanging on ropes from above. This supposedly violated a "local ethic". So what?


SuperCave, Thin Red Line, and Southern Man

With the Stuart Range closed due to fires, I've put a few local plans on hold and spent an idyllic couple weekends at Washington Pass. One trip involved climbing a new route or variation to the East Buttress of South Early Winter Spire - the line is called Southern Man, established by my friends Joel Kauffman and Mark Allen. It leaves the East Buttress where one would begin the short bolt ladder.

  1. Scramble or walk 30' left and then follow a rampy corner past two small trees to a piton belay in an alcove (40m 5.9)
  2. Take the excellent finger crack, past a low fixed-wire, and to a belay ledge on the left of the crack, just past a piton (130' 5.11+)
  3. An amazing hand and finger crack leads to the summit (200' 5.10)
Southern Man follows the right skyline, then tackles the next system left of the skyline, a corner that divides lighter and darker granite.

Ben on the last pitch of Southern Man

Ben and I both had a no-falls outing on Thin Red Line, despite the removal of a key moss-jug by a certain anonymous Twisp-based climber. I got to lead the pitches I had followed last year and found the route to be as good as I recalled. 

Finally, I got to check out the classic East Face of Lexington, as well as the SuperCave, with my friends Grant, Jon, and Sol. Here are a few photos of a party on the SuperCave's 2nd and 3rd pitches.


Mt. Baring - Vanishing Point

Bryan Burdo is responsible for putting up excellent alpine routes throughout the Cascades, from Slesse to Stevens Pass. Bryan has also created many new sport climbs. I got the chance to tackle something of a hybrid of the two, after Ben "Crusher" Gilkison convinced me to head with him to Mt. Baring (actually a sub-summit called Dolomite Tower) for a climb of Vanishing Point.



I wrote what amounted to an ode to Seam Grip for the Alpinist website - LINK

Here's an excerpt:

My grasp of contemporary fashion, music and even basic social trends is tenuous, at best. 
Yet one of 2012's hallmarks, of which I am fully-informed, is the obsession with all things pickled. The hipster-and-home-garden-inspired craze was even skewered in a recent episode of Portlandia, with the main characters cruising Cascadia's streets on fixies, adamantly proclaiming, "we can pickle that." And although I appreciate the potential cost and food savings from a well-pickled veggie, my preferred method of chemical salvage revolves around a magical tube of glue, and the supremely confident proclamation, "I can Seam Grip that!"

It is said, that upon holding a hammer, everything suddenly seems like a nail. For me, when holding an open tube of Seam Grip, everything seems to be leaking, tattered, crampon-torn, in too-many pieces, insufficiently waterproof or potentially in danger of achieving any of these states. I attribute this to Seam Grip's incredible effectiveness, as well as its alacritous tendency to harden inside the tube, rendering your $6 glue into a 3/4oz. rubber-filled sleeve. In addition to the normal uses, such as sleeping pad repair and shoe reinforcement, I've Seam Gripped my car (clutch pedal and broken tail light), apartment plumbing (loose shower knob) and iPod (which now doesn't slide off a dusty dashboard). I have also cut away a thin triangle of fabric from the back of a size large jacket, and Seam Gripped the left and right halves together. It'd been a gift, so who was I to let a detail like proper sizing prevent the use of a much-needed coat? Amid various crusades to utilize every drop of adhesive from a partially-used, hence soon-to-harden tube, I've also found a number of seriously beneficial applications for climbers.


Waddington Range - Stiletto Peak, The Blade

While in the Waddington Range we'd hoped to try a new route on the South Face of Asperity, well to the right of the 2011 Elson/McClane route. However, after getting forced onto the rock on a buttress toe below the face proper, we spent 7 pitches and 7 hours in getting dead-ended on plan #2, and we did eventually reach a spot below our original destination, the South face. By this time we'd already dealt with the glacier and ice of the lower Tiedemann/Asperity Couloir in the pre-dawn hours, but a narrow snow couloir we'd have to cross was running with slush-a-lanches and big blocks. We stayed on a shaded rock ledge and watched the evening pass, deciding what to do. Not only did we think that the rock on the South Face was loose and sharp, but also quite blank. Our best options seemed to be the major fractured weaknesses, some of which ran with water. I think that a few thousand years of active glacial scouring along these steep upper couloirs had scraped the wall clean and left few open cracks or holds. Other faces which were higher on the peaks (or not exposed to such active snow/ice scouring) were more climbable. We bailed back to Sunny Knob and had an awesome rest day as the mountains continued collapsing around us.

(We had each placed bets on which bit of the ice fall was next to fall off)

The two new routes that we did climb on the trip were not particularly long (450-500m each on rock above our wandering, mostly non-technical approach via the lower Stiletto Glacier) but they did tackle two of the steepest sections of stone in the area and were done onsight and free with one point of aid. [edit: the above makes more sense if written "onsight and free, apart from one point of aid". ]
Here are a few photos: