Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Better late than never.

*Note* I started this blog post in the middle of preparing to depart for Argentina. But, while bartering with Colin about how many tanks tops and cute skirts he could, in good conscience, let me bring, I just couldn't quite finish this thing before we left Canada -- and fast internet. Alas, I am sitting here in are our little Argentine apartment, so happy to be back, but dreading trying to load the photos that will accompany this post. 

The pressure is on. Colin and I leave for southern Patagonia in less than a week. My productivity level has just increased two-fold as I frantically try to tick everything off my list before I head for the hills in Argentina -- and unfortunately, the worst internet connection of my life! 

So, naturally, I am going to try and update my blog with a few more adventures. It's now been over two months since I returned from my climbing trip to California's High Sierra. So, consider this post fuelled by the threat that, on Friday, I leave for El Chalten, the place I love the most. Next to my home in Squamish, of course.

But first, a rather random note on the ebb and flow of life.

Preparing to leave for Argentina, on this, my fourth visit, has left a funny feeling in my tummy. When I return from Patagonia in January I've got to get a job. The bank has unfortunately, run dry. 

I've just spent the last two years on one long climbing trip. I've followed my fancy wherever it's taken me. I've been hindered by nothing, and soaked in life experiences unencumbered by responsibility. True to this philosophy, yesterday afternoon, I spent almost a full hour bouncing on the trampoline in the backyard of Colin's father's house on Mercer Island. Initially, I planned to just take a few bounces to clear my mind as I worked away on a writing project. But, instead, I kept bouncing, relishing the moment, knowing that at this very point in my life, I actually could bounce carefree on a trampoline if I wanted to. How on earth am I going to keep this sense of freedom, and impulsiveness alive when I, again, find myself a card-carrying member of the rat-race, commuting Monday to Friday into Vancouver for work?

In some ways I feel so privileged to know the feeling of total and complete freedom, but perhaps, this feeling is also a curse as I move onto the next phase of my life. Will I resent the rest of my working life, knowing what freedom lies beyond the office door? Or, will these two years of adventures continue to fuel my passion for balance in work and play? I suspect it will be the later.

This blog might in fact, prove to be a valuable tool as I begin my re-entry to full-time employment. These two years of fun, freedom, and friends are permanently etched into the ether of the world wide web. Recalling these adventures, and the feelings they aroused in my soul, are simply a click away now.

Well, the clock is ticking, it's 10:40 am, and I've got to finish this blog post before I head out to the Seattle Bouldering Project for one last session. Time to recount my time in California's High Sierra.

A long, long time ago. In a land far away, myself, and three buddies, Dan, Chad, and Steph had made plans to travel back to the Waddington Range. It would be my second trip there after last years adventure with Kinley and Jasmin. I had fallen in love with those big, beautiful mountains, and was psyched when Dan asked if I'd like to join them in August. 

As our departure date approached, we watched the weather forecasts, and checked in with a few others who had just returned from the range. By all accounts the news was not good. The weather was turbulent, and apparently the hot summer had left the glacial approaches to our proposed routes in total disarray. Thanks to perhaps, global warming, now the best time to be in the mountains around Waddington is in July, before the glaciers have had time to melt out and break up. Lesson learned.

Rather than throw in the hat through, we made a hasty decision to head south to the High Sierra of California. I'd spent lots of time climbing in Bishop, but had never given consideration to climbing on what was apparently, perfect alpine granite. We did the I-5 race south in typical fashion, driving as late into the night as possible, sleeping on the side of the road somewhere, and dragging our half-dead carcasses into Tuolumne.

It's been so long since the trip, I'm having a hard time even remembering in what order things even happened. I think what stands out the most, is the heat -- it was 37 degrees celcius at one point -- and the mind boggling quality of the granite we encountered route after route. 

Thankfully, I have the perfect solution to my short-term memory loss. Steph Abegg, my partner for this trip, is quickly gaining notoriety in the Pacific Northwest for her website, in which she maintains a near perfect record of every climb she's done in the mountains in the last few years. So, if you're interested in how long it took us to climb the Fishhook Arete car-to-car, then I am going to simply point you towards Steph's trip reports. If all you really care about are the photos, then look no further. Here they are.

Regular Route, Fairview Dome

Follow the link above to Steph's trip report. All I'm going to say is that this route is considered a 50 Classic for good reason. It was really fun and a perfect warm up.

One of Steph's friends, Mark, created this route topo. Steph took it one step further and added our belays, marked in pink. Mark Thomas photo.

Looking up at the start of the Regular Route. Yes, that's a one metre wide wet streak oozing out of the cracks we are to climb. Steph Abegg photo.


We climbed in two teams of two, Chad and Dan, and Steph and myself.  Here, I'm making Dan sweat a little. Steph Abegg photo.


We tried to stretch each pitch out. I mean, why not, the climbing was just so fun, there was no need to cut it short. After one particularly long rope stretcher, this was the gear I had left when I reached the belay. One lonely red camalot. Steph Abegg photo.


Leading out on perfect Tuolumne granite. Steph Abegg photo.


The Regular Route tops out on the apex of Fairview Dome with perfect views of Tuolumne Meadows, and the building forest fires in the distance. Steph Abegg photo.


And then, the descent is a fun little walk down third class slabs. Steph Abegg photo.


We followed that up by searching out a wireless signal. Colin was back in Seattle just about to leave for the winter season in El Chalten, so a couple phone calls seemed necessary. Steph Abegg photo.


And then, the skies opened, as we learned was a common afternoon occurrence in Toulumne this time of year. Steph Abegg photo.

Next day, to acclimatize further, we hiked to Lamarck Col (12,960 ft.) above Bishop. Again,  the afternoon storms arrived predictably, but at that elevation brought hail. Steph Abegg photo.


All the hail really hurt. Steph Abegg photo.


As we got closer to the col, we had to take shelter in the talus to escape the lightening and torrential downpour. Steph Abegg photo.


It rained really hard. Steph Abegg photo.


And then, as we got closer to the col, it started to snow. With shorts on, I was not dressed appropriately for these conditions! Steph Abegg photo.

Now that we were somewhat acclimatized, we decided to make a bid, quite literally, for some climbing around Mt. Whitney (14,505 ft.), the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. Apparently, this is a very popular, and severely regulated zone. We had to wake at 5:00 am, to make the drive to the Ranger's station, and then enter our names in a draw for one of the entry passes that are awarded by random draw each day. The only other way to gain entry to this region of the Sierra's is to apply for an entry pass as much as one year in advance! This all turned out to be a bit of a hoop dance. We had to return to the Ranger's station three times that day to enter our names in each of the draws. Finally, down to the wire, in the last draw of the day, our names were pulled and we were awarded one of the entry passes for that day. This experience was in stark comparison to romping around the alpine close to home in Squamish, where, entry is unregulated and seeing another party feels like a privilege.


Oh the tension. Steph Abegg photo.


Organizing gear up at the Whitney Portal campground. Like Colin, Chad never leaves home without his fishing scale. Steph Abegg photo.

Another one of Mark's route topos, this time for Mt. Russell's Fishhook Arete. Mark Thomas photo.


Check it out, it's the Fitz Roy massif of California, (R-L) Mt. Whitney,  Keeler Needle, Day Needle.  



Just in case you didn't know which one was Mt. Whitney, Dan points it out. Sarah Hart photo.

As I mentioned before, we climbed Mt. Russell car-to-car, which is impressive, considering we got royally lost on our approach. Here, you can barely make out Steph, Dan, and Chad amid the giant cirque of granite. This was completely the wrong valley for us to be in, so we ended up having to scramble over the high col visible in the middle of the photo and drop into the correct valley containing our route. Sarah Hart photo.


Here's Dan, Chad, and Steph making their way to the high col with Mt. Whitney visible on the left. Sarah Hart photo. 

Finally making it to the base of our route. Steph Abegg photo.


The race begins again! And look at how sweet that rock looks! Steph Abegg photo.


Yours truly surmounting a tricky mantle, with the continuation of the Fishhook Arete visible on the right of the picture. Steph Abegg photo.


Looking down at Steph, and the lower half of the arete that we've just climbed. Sarah Hart photo.


Steph following up the final headwall pitches of the arete. Sarah Hart photo.


Steph climbs the final technical pitch. Sarah Hart photo.

I've participated, unsuspectingly of course, in a number of photo-bombs in the recent past. Here, Dan and Chad do a summit dance while I belay Steph up the final technical pitch. Steph Abegg photo.


Down climbing along the east ridge of Mt. Russell during our descent. Steph Abegg photo. 


And, the obligatory third class choss gully walk off. Steph Abegg photo.

North Arete, Bear Creek Spire

After Mt. Russell, we were feeling pretty smug about our level of fitness, and car-to-car ascents became our choice strategy. So, we spent one comfortable night crashing at a friends house in Bishop, and settled on a day trip to Bear Creek Spire for the next days activities. Follow the link above if you'd like to learn about the ungodly hour in which we departed the house. Otherwise, scroll on for some ocular stimulation.

Route topo courtesy of Mark. Mark Thomas photo.


Dan, Chad, and I scoping our route, which is the long arete feature descending directly below the summit. Steph Abegg photo.

Steph pointing out the line of our ascent. Chad Kellogg photo.


Just to keep things interesting, Dan left his harness at home. So he rigged a harness made of a 1" dynema sling. OUCH! Steph Abegg photo.

Me leading out at the start of the technical climbing.  Steph Abegg photo.


As we got higher, it got colder. At this point, I'm climbing in all the clothing I brought. Steph Abegg photo.

Steph climbing in all the clothing she brought as well. Sarah Hart photo.


The route included a mandatory tunnel through. It was pretty fun to complete the technical climbing, and then pop out on the other side of the ridge crest to find a long, easy ridge scramble to the summit. Steph Abegg photo.


Simul-climbing along the moderate ridge to the summit. The valley we approached through is visible far below, and our car is parked at the top right corner of the picture. Steph Abegg photo.

Classic summit fist pump by Chad. Sarah Hart photo.


Dan, pretty darn satisfied with himself for putting Freedom of the Hills to good use with his home-made harness, near the summit. Chad Kellogg photo.


Dan, not so satisfied with himself and his harness once he actually has to use it.  Sarah Hart photo.

We must have gone really hard, because I had to throw my shoes out by the time we returned to the car. Sarah Hart photo.

The "TMC" (Tenaya Peak, Matthes Crest, Cathedral Peak) 

The TMC! Otherwise known as the link-up of Tenaya Peak, Matthes Crest, and Cathedral Peak. It was really fun, and naturally, there are many interesting statistics associated with this little diddy. So, follow the link above if you care to learn about the specifics. 



Chad leading the way as we begin our simul-solo up Tenaya Peak in early morning light.  Sarah Hart photo.


Dan, Chad, and Steph halfway up Tenaya. Sarah Hart photo.


Morning sun finally hitting us. Chad Kellog photo.

Chad on the summit of Tenaya. Steph Abegg photo.


Summit dance. 

With Tenaya complete, it's time to head to Matthes Crest. Our final objective, Cathedral Peak is the pyramid visible in the distance. Chad Kellogg photo.

Steph stops for a water refill as we cross the valley to Matthes Crest. Sarah Hart photo.


Steph soloing low on Matthes Crest. Sarah Hart photo.

Me walking the crest with the south and north summits visible in the distance. Steph Abegg photo.


More soloing along the crest. Chad Kellogg photo.

Chad soloing along the crest. Sarah Hart photo.

Ooooo...Chad Kellogg photo.


Yours truly. Chad Kellogg photo.

Looking back on what we just traversed, and a couple parties behind us. Steph Abegg photo.


Fires had been building in and around the park the whole duration of our stay in the High Sierra. Here, giant billowing smoke clouds are visible in the distance from Matthes Crest. Chad Kellogg photo.

Dan rapping from the col between the south and north summits. Chad Kellogg photo.


A view back at the crest, and what we just traversed. Chad Kellogg photo.

Finally, really tired, and heading up our last objective, Cathedral Peak. Steph Abegg photo.

And returning to our car at the end of our day, the billowing smoke clouds were closer still. Steph Abegg photo.

I'll leave you with this funny little note. In the middle is our note from the summit register of the Matthes Crest. A few days later, our friends Nick and Karina climbed the crest and left a lovely little response to our summit note. Nick Elson photo.