Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ames Ice Hose

Both Amanda and Jeff climbed Ames Ice Hose the other day after over a decade break from ice climbing!
A few weeks ago Gordon was in town and wanted to give ice climbing a go.  I knew that Jeff hadn't been in quite a while so I invited him as well.  The 4 of us spent a couple hours at Cascade Canyon north of Durango remembering how to climb frozen water.
Fact: 'Duck Lips' reduces pump.
 Fast forward a couple weeks. We drove up to Ophir on a Thursday hoping to avoid crowds.  Unfortunetly a crew from Ouray beat us to the parking lot.
Random trail head dog leading the way.
Ouray crew.
The Ouray crew was on the first pitch when we rolled up to the base.  We waited until they were off the pitch one anchor.  Killing time by listening to Pandora and drinking tea.
Pitch 3
 Both Amanda and Jeff seriously crushed it.  Super impressive performances on a sustained San Juan Classic.
All smiles on the hike out.
I didn't sleep much before the climb so I was pretty beat by the time we got back home.  I was in bed asleep by 6.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tiki Part 2

Since climbing Tiki Tower a couple weeks ago I've talked to Jeff a bit about the first ascent.  In November 1991 Jeff Widen, Mitch Allen, Paul Frank and Fred Lifton all hiked up to Tiki Tower to climb it.  Paul and Fred stayed at the saddle on top of the first pitch while Mitch and Jeff pushed the route two more pitches to the summit.  The stance on top of pitch two isn't very large so Paul and Fred were likely waiting below until they could jug a line to the summit.  The last pitch however is a bolt ladder, so by the time Jeff topped out it was well past dark as he remembers.  Mitch cleaned the pitch and met Jeff on the summit.  Paul and Fred likely cold from sitting in the saddle for hours wanted nothing but to rappel to the ground and warm up.
The tower itself is named after a small tiki that Mitch brought all the way to the summit.  Jeff and I were looking through his slides from the trip and were disappointed that he didn't have any photos of the actual tiki.
Fast forward a week, to a phone call from Brad.  Every week Brad hosts a monday night bouldering session at his home wall in Three Rivers, CA.  A new climber recently moved to the area and came to the bouldering session last monday night, his name is Mitch.  Brad and Mitch ended up bullshitting about climbing and Mitch says that he climbed a desert tower years ago.  An obscure one named Tiki Tower!  Turns out the Mitch is Mitch Allen and he still has the tiki 24 years later.  What a small world.
Tiki Tower's namesake.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Grand Gulch Spire

I've had my eye on Grand Gulch Spire for years.  This summer I actually planned the trip to Grand Gulch, but last minute decided to climb the Popes Nose instead, since it was 100+ degrees in the desert.  Even though the first ascent was in June, I decided that it would be better to climb the tower in late fall when things were cooler.  Especially since I wanted to approach the tower via a 10 mile hike from Collins Spring as opposed to the .5 mile walk from the San Juan River.  Most people raft down the San Juan and pull over at Grand Gulch to climb the tower.  Logistically rafting is more complicated for me since I don't own a raft.
Water falls in Grand Gulch
Geoff did some research by calling the BLM office in the area to get current conditions on the road into Collins Spring.  They told him that the road was basically impassible and that there was a giant rock slide so the river wasn't accessible from above.  We decided that we would just hike farther and carry all of our water with us.  Luckily we found the road to be dry and although a little rough here and there Geoff thought he could have gotten his Subaru to the TH.  I left the TH with 7 liters of water and Geoff had 8.  Funnily enough there was a ton of flowing water in Grand Gulch, pot holes full of water, and the rock slide was easily crossed.
Pitch 4 traverse
Summit! Luckily no headlamps were needed.
We got to the base of the the tower with enough light that we decided to do the route that evening.  We started climbing at about 2pm and were back on the ground around 5pm.  The route was wide, a little dirty, and chossy in spots but to be expected on a tower that doesn't get climbed that often.  We slept right at the base of the route and in the morning went down to check out the river.  We had walked 10 miles and could see the San Juan River from the tower, we figured we might as well go down to it.  After that we started the long hike back to the truck.  Our legs were feeling the miles from the day before and although our packs were lighter than the hike in, they were still heavy.  It's hard to go light when the rack is a double set through #5 and one #6.
Grand Gulch Spire
Once again, not surprisingly, Geoff and I had a great time adventuring in an amazing area!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tiki Tower

I asked Jeff the other day what I should do on a free day I had, he responded, "solo a tower!"  When pressed as to which one I should solo he responded, "do Tiki Tower!" Jeff Widen put up the first ascent of Tiki Tower in 1991 and it hasn't that many ascents in the past 24 years so it's not surprising he would suggest it.  
Jeff's hand drawn topo.
I left for Tiki at around 8pm, after a day of sport climbing at Golf Wall and margs and mexican food.  I arrived at my camp spot at the Lathrop Trail at 2:30am.  I don't mind a little four wheeling but I'd forgotten how long it takes to drive anywhere on the White Rim!
Airport Tower on the left. Tiki is hard to see on the right of the spiky ridge.
I woke at 7:30 and started to slowly pack the gear I'd tossed into the back of the truck the night before.  The hiking went fast and I was at the base just over 30 minutes after setting out. 
A proud shot of Tiki Tower.
As expected the route was a little dirty and loose here and there but all in all was a great time.  There was brand new tat at the anchor on top of the first pitch but whom ever replaced it seemed to have not made it to the top since the cord on the summit was in bad repair.  

On top of Tiki with Airport Tower in the background.
 I turned on my phone to take a few photos on the summit and was surprised to find that I had great service.  So I spent the next hour enjoying the views and texting friends and family.  Eventually I got cold and decided it was time to head down.
Great route Jeff!

Check out Tiki Part 2 here


Matt has been talking for years about how amazing the climbing in Oklahoma is.  I decided that it was time to find out if this claim had any backing.  I mean it's freaking Oklahoma!

The first stop was The Narrows in The Wichita Wildlife Reserve.  It was a humid day but Matt put me on the classics.  The highlight for me being a route called Arial Anticipation.  Arial Anticipation is out of character for the area, with steep, well protected climbing.  It was a nice mental break from the heady climbing we'd done during the day.  
Ben, Matt and Chase on top of Snakes Head. 
The next day the weather report forecasted rain, so we hung out in Starbucks in Lawton until it cleared then went for a jog up Mt. Scott.  On the third day we planned on cragging at Crab Eyes and Lost Dome.  After a few trad pitches in Testarossas at Crab Eyes and watching Tony Mayas rope solo everything at Lost Dome I was ready to call it a day.  Lost Dome looked to have some good climbing but unfortunately my stoke was low.

Next up we headed to a place called Quartz Mountain for the Bi-annual climbers gathering.  We arrived just before dusk and ran up Snakes Head, an easy 5th class free solo.  It was nice to move over some terrain quickly.  Snakes Head is hard enough to feel like climbing and easy enough to not worry about falling.
Ben on Wild Child
People trickled in all evening and by the time we woke the parking lot was packed.  Matt showed me a bunch of great runout slab routes which were mentally challenging but fun.  The highlight being a route called Last of the Good Guys.
Honestly, more than the climbing I was super impressed with the climbing community in Oklahoma.  Twice a year they have a climbing gathering where everyone gets together to party, hang out and climb.  Even though the climbing community is small and people are coming from everywhere from Kansas to Texas it appears as if everyone that climbs in OK knows each other.  Compare that to Durango where there is a more concentrated population of climbers but many of them don't know each other.  I've been climbing in Durango for 13 years and don't feel like I know all of the long time locals.  All in all I'm really  impressed with the stoke that Oklahoma climbers have for their local crags.  Big thanks to Matt for showing me around is old stomping grounds!
Matt and I cooking dinner.  Photo by Carl Zoch

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.