Monday, November 16, 2015

Brahma Temple

I got off at 7am from a 72 hr shift in Farmington.  I grabbed some food at Walmart on the way out of town and drove to the Grand Canyon.  I hiked down to Phantom Ranch on the S. Kaibab Trail and met up with John around 2pm.  We were going to have a dry camp so we loaded up on water before we left the ranch.  We hiked up toward Zoroaster and Brahma until the sun went down and set up camp just below the Hermit Shale layer.  
Zoraster from high on Brahma.
Note John in the bottom of the photo.
We got up well before sunrise and took off at 5:20am.  While traversing the Western edge of Brahma we decided to try a route that looked doable at easy 5th.  Things went well and we were on top at 8am!  We saw slings at 15' and 50' off the ground but besides that nothing.  Surely this wasn't a FA, but it was a fun alternative to the 4th class.     
We headed down the standard 4th class route and headed back to Phantom Ranch.

The weather started to roll in while we were starting up the S. Kaibab.  When we got up to O'Neill Butte we tried to find the 4th class route up but decided not to gild the lily with the loose, wet rock and the route not being obvious. 

After bailing on O'Neill we headed up to the South Rim with the snow starting to fall softly.  We got to the TH as it was getting dark.  Great climbing with you John!  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mt. Watkins and The Nose

We had 5 days planned in The Valley this October.  However, there seems to be a theme in 2015 that when I try to climb I either get shutdown by rain partially or completely.  Luckily the rain only cut our Yosemite trip down to 3 days.  We arrived in the valley on the evening of the 18th to rain.    Luckily our new friends from the Bugaboos Melissa and Anthony had a campsite already and invited us to camp with them.  We woke early the next morning to climb Mt. Watkins, a wall that neither Matt nor I had ever seen.  We hiked in the dark on discontinuous trails until we miraculously arrived at the base of the wall soaking wet from wet vegetation and sweat.  The approach slabs were running with water but luckily the fixed lines were in place and we were able to batman past.  Watkins was sort of a trial run before we attempted the Nose on El Cap in a day.  We wanted to see how fast we could move and see if any of our systems needed to be tweaked before the big day.
Matt had the first block which ended at the Sheraton Watkins ledge on top of pitch 8.  Matt drew the short straw since the first 6 pitches were wet, whereas the rest of the route was dry.
8 pitches above the Sheraton Watkins I was getting tired and slowing down so I lead one more and Matt took back over to lead the last two pitches to the summit.  We topped out just under 8 hrs on route.  We hiked the 3 miles to the road in Tuolumne gambling that someone would take pity on us.  Luckily, before too long a couple on their honeymoon from Utah picked us up and gave us a ride back to the valley.
We spent the next day doing errands around the valley and resting before the big day on the Captain.  Originally we were going to casually climb the first 4 pitches up to Sickle Ledge.  Onsighting up to the beginning of the Stove Legs is supposed to be challenging.  We decided to skip the trial run and just do it in the dark on game day.  Now to be fair, 11 years ago Amanda and I climbed up to Sickle Ledge and then rappelled off, so we weren't completely onsighting.  Upon seeing 8 groups on the route we decided to get up at 1am, in the hopes of passing as many groups as possible while they were still sleeping or just waking up.
I wake up to Matt's alarm.  We get dressed, stuff sleeping bags, pack up our tent, walk to Curry Village, eat some leftover pasta, then hop in the car and the clock reads 1:08am.  "Did that only take 8 minutes?" I ask Matt.  He just laughs.  Turns out all that coughing and clearing on his throat that he was doing while I was sleeping was actually him trying to wake me up.  Matt was like a kid on Christmas morning that just couldn't wait to open presents.
I had the first block this time. We started at 2:30am and did great with route finding in the dark until I went one crack system to far right at the beginning on the Stove Legs.  Luckily Matt caught it before I got us too far off route.  I was able to swing back left and in a 70m pitch get us back on track at the top of pitch 9.
Matt took over and raced up the Stove Legs and up to El Cap Tower passing 2 parties that were just waking up.  I would jug the pitch that Matt just lead and he would just be finishing the next pitch.  I'd unfix the line, he'd pull up the line, refix it, and I'd start jugging again.  We passed another party on top of Boot Flake.  I took over at the King Swing and started my second block.  We hit 2 more parties at Camp IV and finally passed them by the top of the Pancake Flake where Matt took back the lead.  So far we'd passed 5 parties and there were still 3 above us.  Unfortunetly we were only able to pass one more party before the top as one of the groups wouldn't let us pass.  All in all we topped out in 15 hrs. and had a great time on an amazing hunk of rock.
We hurried down the East Ledges, cleaned up, ate some food and drove 3 hrs into Nevada where we finally slept in a gravel lot on the side of the road.  Matt had to get back to work and I was headed to Gunnison to see my beautiful wife Amanda.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Wilson El Diente Traverse

On September 12th Amanda and I pulled into the Kilpacker trailhead parking lot around 9:30pm and crawled into the back of the vehicle to sleep.
We had tried to climb these two 14,000' peaks together multiple times between 2004-2006, but every time the weather would turn ugly and some combination of rain, hail and lightning would turn us around.  Our weather this time however looked splitter.
We woke at 3am and left the TH at 3:30.  Amanda set a fast pace in the dark and before long we were in Kilpacker Basin and then heading up El Diente.

As we ascended the southern
slopes of El Diente the terrain got gradually more exposed and technical.  Just below the ridge we paused to put on our helmets.  At the ridge the wind picked up a little and the cold bit through our clothing so we kept moving, summiting El Diente at 8am.  The traverse as always requires route finding and caution.  There are many places with loose rock and big exposure.  Amanda did amazingly well for not having been in that kind of terrain in many years.  We finished the traverse and the short section of ridge to the Mt. Wilson summit.  Arriving just before 10:30am.
We descended a slightly easier route back down to the Kilpacker Basin.  If you haven't been to Kilpacker Basin it's basically one giant talus pile. To offer our feet and legs some relief we aimed for the small patches of snow that were still sticking around from last winter.  Boot skiing on the snow was much easier and faster that negotiating the talus.  We got back to the TH at 1:45pm, jumped in the car and headed back to Durango.  My dad was flying into town that afternoon and we had to get back to meet up with him.  What a great day! It was a beautiful day in the mountains with the best wife in the world!


2015 Elk Hunting

For the 5th year in a row family from Michigan came out for the muzzleloader elk season.  We had learned a lot in past years and this year things finally came together.   My cousin Mick who had been out in 2012 shot a 6 by 5 on Tuesday at 6pm.  With everyones help we had the elk quartered and up to the truck by 9:30pm.  I can't imagine how long it would have taken if it was just one guy doing all the work!
Mick's 6 by 5.
On Thursday morning we got some bulls bugling and my cousin Bob who had never elk hunted before got a 5 by 5.  This time we had everything up to the road in 4 hours.  I'll tell you, its a lot of work to haul that much meat up 1,100' to the vehicle!
Ben, Bob, Don Jr., Randy, and Ed.
(Mick came later and Bill supported from the car) 
I always look forward to seeing the Kiessel family during the Elk season.  I'm already looking forward to next year!

Friday, August 7, 2015


With all the rainy weather this spring, there was a lot of canceling of planned climbing trips.  So when Matt and I flew to Calgary on our way to the Bugs we hadn't climbed together in over two months.  In fact we hadn't been climbing much of anything even separately.  My motto was that climbing ability wasn't going to slow us down in the bugs, overall physical fitness would.  So we focused on overall fitness and hoped that we would remember how to climb, place gear, manage the rope, etc.  Matt picked me up on Friday evening at the Calgary airport in the rental car he had picked up earlier that afternoon.  We drove west past all of the cheap hotel options and all the expensive hotel options, until the only options were to keep driving or sleep on the side of the road.  We chose the latter.  Periodically throughout the night a semi would drive by and we would wake up in a panic thinking we were going to be run over.  In the morning we continued on, stopping in Radium Hot Springs to pick up some last minute supplies.  We got to the trail head and exploded our duffels and packed our backpacks for the hike that was only a few miles but also gained a few thousand feet in that distance.  Our packs weren't large enough for all our gear so we were looking pretty gumby hiking up with half our stuff strapped to the outside of our packs.  We got to camp and started scheming about what to do tomorrow.
The forecast for Sunday called for weather in the afternoon. So we left camp at 04:45.  Two and a half hours later we were on top of Crescent Spire having climbed McTech Arete.  We descended Crescent Spire's West Ridge route until we were under Bugaboos Spires NE Ridge.  We were on top of Bugaboo Spire at 10:30 and back at Applebee Dome camp at 12:30.  Having not climbed in awhile and wanting to make the most of the good weather, we were bummed that we hadn't brought wide gear with us so we could have climbed Sunshine Crack on Snowpatch Spire after descending the Kain route.  We consoled our selves with the fact that the weather on Monday looked awesome.
Monday morning dawned to rain.  Solid rain till noon.  Our main objective while in the Bugaboos was 'All Along the Watchtower' on North Howser.  We decided that morning in the rain to stop screwing around at Applebee Dome and head over to East Creek so we would be set to have a go at North Howser.  When the rain stopped at noon we packed up our climbing gear, wet tent, and some food and headed to East Creek.  At the East Creek camp we met a crew of 6 from Colorado that had gotten a helicopter ride into camp.  Talk about a plush camp! They had it all from coolers of food to a propane tank.
We woke on Tuesday morning at 02:30 to a star filled sky.  We were walking out of camp at 03:15 and were probably off route twenty minutes later.  Luckily we recognized our mistake and corrected our course without loosing too much time.  The rappels down to the base of the West face of North Howser went smoothly and we were soon on a small chopped snow ledge with crampons on and axes out, standing above a big black drop off.  Luckily, back in Durango when Matt had said he wasn't going to bring an axe with him to Canada I not only brought mine, but one for him as well.  The snow was steep enough and hard enough that we did a couple rappels while traversing over to the base of the route.  Once on the rock things went smoothly up to pitch 7 where we once again got off route.  For some reason I decided to traverse left two pitches early.  To get back on route we had down climb 150' feet and do a 200' rappel.  Then again we got a little off on top of pitch 11.  When, thanks to my route finding I directed Matt to the wrong crack.  He belayed and I lead past him 20' to his left on the correct crack and he was able to pendulum back on route while seconding the pitch.  Even with the glitches in route finding we made good time up to the base of the dihedral with all the simul-climbing we were doing.  We started to get tired when the pitches started to get harder in the dihedral.  The pitches were great fun but were getting harder and harder to onsight as we went higher.  I aided the crux roof and Matt french freed the last dihedral pitch.
I lead the whole summit ridge to the top in one huge simul-climbing pitch.  We topped out at 19:15, ate a bar and headed down to find the descent route.  We didn't like what we saw when we were walking from Applebee Dome to East Creek.  The bergschrund looked sketchy to say the least.  As often happens in the mountains things look scarier from a distance.  The rappels to the glacier went super smoothly and the glacier was less steep and less sketch than it had looked from afar.  We were back at East Creek camp at 21:45.  18.5 hours camp to camp.
Wednesday was a well deserved rest day.  When packing up food to move to East Creek from Applebee Dome we decided that we wouldn't need much food on the planned rest day because we wouldn't be doing anything.  It made sense at the time but what we didn't think about was the fact that our bodies would be trying to recover from 'All Along the Watchtower'.  So as we were in our sleeping bags on Wednesday night shivering because our bodies didn't have enough calories to stay warm.  We heard someone from the helicopter crew say, "Man! We have so much food we're going to have to fly out with a bunch!".  At that Matt jumped out of his sleeping bag and hiked up the hill to beg for some food.  Thanks to the kindness of our fellow Colorado peeps, he came back with a gold mine!  Franks and beans, Gumbo soup, chocolate, and oatmeal creme pies!  We stuffed ourselves and slept nice and warm.
Thursday's weather didn't look that great but we decided that we better climb the mega classic 'Beckey-Chinouard' route while we were camped right under it.  We were standing on top 4.5hrs after leaving camp and were back at the Howser-Pigeon Col before noon.  It had snowed some on top of South Howser and the weather didn't look great but we decided it was too early to quit. So we headed off to go climb the 'Cooper-Kor' route on Pigeon Spire.  Matt and I were both a little hangry but we ate nothing and continued.  Twenty minutes later a misunderstanding about which side of a crevasse to travel on turned to yelling.  It's amazing what a few calories will do.
The 'Cooper-Kor' ended up being less than stellar and we got hit by a sleet storm on the summit.  But we made it back to camp at 17:25 cold, wet, tired and satisfied with a big day.
Friday-Monday was forecasted to be crap weather with everything clearing up again by Tuesday.  So on Friday morning we headed out to the car to rest and prepare to come back in to the Bugs for one last climb on Tuesday or Wednesday.  During the next week of rain we drove to Calgary to try and fly out early.  Failing to fly out early we grudgingly spent a few rainy afternoons climbing at Grassi Lakes near Banff, and Behind the Lake at Lake Louise.  They were great climbing areas but were hard to enjoy when we were spoiled by and dreaming of the Bugaboos.  Unfortunately the weather never cleared and we flew out that next Thursday.
I sure am glad we went big on the good weather days we had in the Bugs.  You never know when it will turn to crappy weather.  Below is a short video from our time in Canada.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Noname Basin

I was able to get out and guide a little bit at the end of June.  Tim has been coming out for years and we always have a great time.  As he had done last year, he was bringing along 3 friend so I brought along Bill.  The plan always starts out big.  Like we are going to climb everything in the area in 2 days big.  Usually it might get pared down a little bit, but this year it go pared down a bunch.  Luckily it was still and great trip.  We hiked up Noname Basin and set up camp at around 10,900'.  Just before dark Rodger yells, "a marmot stole my boot!" Sure enough.  We spent the next thirty minutes searching the area with headlamps until Bill finally spotted it halfway down Marmot hole.  Luckily it was still functional.
Looking up Noname toward Knife Point and Jagged
The next morning we hiked up to Jagged Pass and decided to change plans and climb Leviathan instead of Jagged.  Then ontop of Leviathan, we decided we might as well climb Vallecito Peak too.
Although we bailed on our primary objective of Jagged, we still got two great peaks and had a great time.  Jared had been struggling with blisters since day one, so on day three I took him out while everyone else climbed Knife Point.
Short break before the last mile to camp.
As usual, it's hard to have a bad trip in the mountains when you are with great people!

Popes Nose

This spring was rough.  There were too many planned climbing trips that got cancelled last minute because of weather to count.  So when there was a weather window I did everything I could to make sure I got out.  Ryan and I were originally going to hike in and climb Grand Gulch Spire but the forecast was for 100+ degree days in the desert.  So instead, we decided on a more alpine objective.  We left the trail head for the Popes Nose in the late afternoon.  We made good time and 13 miles later were at our little campsite just before dark.  It was fun to hike past Flag Mountain Falls again.  The last time I had been up that direction was when Eric and I climbed it in the spring of 2014.
Ryan following low on the route.
The next morning we got an early start and started up the Central Buttress.  We were climbing the last pitch to the summit when the sun finally swung around and started to cook the Central Buttress.
Ryan leading.
Luckily the heinous descent gully turned out to be pretty mellow.  By the time we got back to Flint creek the icy waters from the night before had transformed into nothing more than refreshing.
Crossing Flint Creek
The last few miles of the hike out were nothing short of brutal.  Between 26 miles of hiking and 1000' of climbing our feet were beat!  Flip flops have never felt better!