I Want to Go on Adventures

adventure-time

Whoa, how pretentious can a person be?

I’m a spoiled white boy with a debt free college education (#mom&dad). My life is easy.

Granted, I don’t have health insurance and I sleep in a van …but that’s alright. It feels good to escape that treadmill. …I probably shouldn’t be posting this on the internet.

What to do next, I’m not sure.

I think there are only two available paths that I  might want to  follow.

One.

I can build a life, skills, finances, whatever. This is a good option.

Two.

I can deny the pleasures of having stuff, services, and security so I can experience more things. This is a fun option.

I don’t think there is a middle ground for me. Working some job that I’m not passionate about at all seems useless. It’s like treading water. Balance is compromise.

For now, I’ve been trying to just drain some of the extra water from my life. That was a metaphor. I think that reducing myself has been a good thing. It has helped me figure out which things are actually worth the stuff required to keep them.

Looking forward is exciting but sad. I’ll always be missing big pieces. I can’t do everything.

For now, I guess I’ll try to have fun. I’ll do my best to scrape funding together for expeditions to big beautiful places. …because what else is there? No matter what professions/occupations/time-fillers I pick, I want to somehow just… be in awe… of nature or something.

Climbing around on cool looking chunks of geography seems like the most accessible way to do that right now.

I Will Dirtbag!

bishop camp site

Life would be half as confusing if I didn’t need to climb and explore.

I can’t commit myself wholeheartedly to anything that I can’t draw a topo line on.

Navigating the waters of the real world outside the forgiving shelter of college is interesting in some ways, but is way too bull-shit-full to keep my attention. Insurance, rent, work, car, jobs, fees, fines, girls, stuff. That was a sentence fragment. It feels like a lot of work to just… keep on keeping on… or whatever.

Grow up, work the system, build finances, sex girls, get hood rich, repeat. Live a long life that doesn’t make you feel too bad.

Maybe I should find Jesus or something. That would make things simpler. I’d bet that in a couple centuries people will show that religious belief is a positively selected behavior for modern human survival.

I think the only way I’m going to get close to dulling my angst and unease about whether I should be accumulating or renouncing responsibility is by jumping in the deep end of the dirtbag lifestyle, at least for a little while. I’ve never been “out there” for more than a couple of months. I’m sure I’ll wear out in no time, but I think I should at least try it out. A good number of the more interesting and classically successful old people I’ve met did something similar before caving in to a life of relative comfort, so maybe it won’t completely decapitate my future.

I WILL DIRTBAG!

When? …like sometime eventually or something I guess.

South East Alaska Spring 2013

I had never gone on a climbing trip with the sole purpose of doing new routes. I’ve always been more of classic bagger. There is definitely something appealing about doing something new though. Since it’s so much more improvisational than following a topo, so it feels like a completely different game. More than anything though, I like the idea of not being able to get off route, because there’s no established route to get off of. It’s totally acceptable to stray from the plan.

Last fall, a friend named David Hertel (“Whiskers”) who I hadn’t seen since I was about 12 years old at Boy Scout camp messaged me out of the blue. He invited me on an expedition to Greenland that he was trying to put together. I noncommittally told him that I’d be very psyched, but wouldn’t have time to help with most of the logistics, and wouldn’t be able to do it unless he could get the vast majority paid for. I expected that he’d omit me from his tentative plans as a result of that message, but he kept me in mind. Eventually he calculated that such an expedition wouldn’t be at all financially practical anyway, so he offered that I instead come up to climb with him in southeast Alaska, where he would be working for the summer. I had never climbed with Whiskers before, so I wasn’t immediately excited to front a bunch of money and time to head north, while not even knowing whether I’d have a decent partner when I got there. He volunteered to take care of nearly all of the logistics though, which I had no idea how to approach myself. Because of this, I was swayed to commit.

As soon as the busiest semester of my life ended, working two jobs and volunteering in a lab in addition to my full class schedule, I began the trek to a completely different world, with an entirely different set of priorities. I hopped on a plane from Denver to Seattle, then Seattle to Juneau. I managed to get a ride from the airport to the ferry port in Juneau from a hotel shuttle van because the driver was awesome. After a seven-hour boat ride and some gnarly food from the ferry cafeteria, I finally arrived in Skagway, AK, where Whiskers lives and works during the summer months. Skagway is a tiny town that’s supported solely by tourists from cruise ships. Whenever a ship pulls in, it explodes into a mess of sight-seers who spend money like it’s out of style. The town then dies back to ghost town status as soon as the luxury liners pull away. At night, only the quiet murmur of drunk seasonal workers in the 3 bars can be heard on the streets. Whiskers picked me up at the dock at four AM, from which we drove about thirty seconds back to his house.

I woke up on the couch to a flurry of people running around the house, preparing food and gear for the day. When I had gone to sleep, I assumed I was in a house where something like 3 or 4 people lived, but it turned out that I was actually in the employee housing for Alaska Mountain Guides (A.M.G.), containing about 15 residents in its bunk-lined bedrooms.

Mt. Emerick Cirque

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Above Photo: Dysentery Shoot, M5, WI3, ~250m

We spent a day preparing our gear, then hopped back on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Skagway to Haines, where we would wait for a weather window to fly into the Mt. Emerick cirque. Whiskers works for A.M.G., which has an office in Haines, so our first order of business was to acquire gear and last minute beta. Two of the company owners named Sean & Ely were incredibly helpful. They gave us my two favorite things in this world; beer and beta. The company also loaned us a satellite phone, and avy beacons fo free. The office is surrounded by old broken down busses and vans that have been converted to employee housing. We were allowed to stay in a 1970s StreamLine style camper for $2 per night, which we referred to as ‘The Palace’.

The weather forecast was questionable at best for the next couple of days. It was almost certain that we’d be laying low for a while. This was totally fine with me though because I was starting to feel a little sick. Haines is a pretty cool small town, which makes waiting around relatively pain free, even though climbing was the only thing on our minds.

Haines essential beta: everyone wears rubber boots, even if it’s sunny and dry out. The library is wicked nice for being in such a small town. The only free wifi is in the Fogcutter bar, where the Obsidian Stout is awesome. There’s a pretty good gear shop in town. The Mountain Market Cafe’ and Grocery Store is essentially the hub of town, and a good place to hang out.

On our second night in The Palace, I started to get very sick. I couldn’t eat, didn’t want to move, and stuff would come out of me when I didn’t want it to. On our third day in Haines, the weather improved so that flying might be a possibility, but I was still too sick to even think about being on a glacier, let alone climbing. It was obvious that Whiskers was getting quite frustrated, and rightfully so. After waiting around town for one more beautiful sunny day, I started to feel a bit better, and decided that I might be ok to fly in.

We met out pilot (Drake of *Fly Drake*) at the airstrip outside of town early the next morning. We loaded our gratuitous amount of gear and food into the tiny prop plane, handed Drake a wad of cash, and took off. Drake wasn’t sure if landing in the Emerick Cirque was even a possibility at that point, so he cautiously assessed the snow conditions by flying around the cirque a couple of times to look, then flying to and landing on a strip of snow that he knew he could take off from. He decided that conditions were acceptable, so we cruised back to the Emerick cirque and landed on the short bench just below Mt. Emerick, where we would set up our basecamp.

The next morning I learned that I was not healthy yet.  At this point, I felt pretty regretful about succumbing to the pressures of limited trip time to fly in before I was ready. I lay around for the next couple of days, barely eating and only leaving the tent when the privy would suddenly call, which occurred about every half hour.

My condition eventually improved enough that I could consider climbing, so I meandered up some steep couloir on the south side of Emerick to check out some possible lines on that side of the peak. Although the couloir I ascended wouldn’t be a good way to access the lines I was interested in, it put me right up next to the original ridge route on Emerick, done by Jack Tackle in the 70’s. The ridge was too snow packed to allow for a reasonable ascent, but it was interesting to take a look at the terrain from close up. I was also able to scope the steep lines I was interested in on the far south side.

Over the next couple of days, conditions worsened. Temperatures became quite a bit warmer, so the cirque began to fall apart. From our camp, we could hear avalanches and cornice collapses thunder down around us every 20-30 minutes. We lay low for a couple more days with the hopes that conditions would improve. To keep ourselves occupied, we spent our time hiking around on the glacier to scout potential climbs. It did get slightly better, so we decided to go for a route that we had picked out the previous day, one with a prominent runnel of ice through a relatively steep section, and some sections of snow trudging and steep exposed rock.

We left the tent at 3 am, strapped snowshoes on our feet and slogged our way across the cirque until reaching the steep snow leading to the base of our route. After trudging up some steep and precarious snow for another 45 minutes, we reached the base of a band of rock with the most technical and intimidating pitch. This climbing felt pretty insecure for me, especially since I was still recovering from sickness, and wasn’t totally clear headed yet. I found a questionable cam, a questionable nut, and a solid pin in the 60 meters of climbing. There was ice on the pitch, but none solid and thick enough to place a piece in, which was representative of the awkward season we were there, with still too much snow to climb pure rock, but not enough ice to hold loose rocks together. I thought the climbing on this pitch was around M5, which Whiskers agreed about. A couple more pitches of loose rock climbing took us to the tiny summit, which only one person could fit on at a time. We were able to find a reasonable descent down the next gully to looker’s left, after two rappels and some reverse slogging.

After we were able to finally squeeze this worthwhile climb out of the poor conditions, temperatures continued to increase. We wouldn’t be able to climb in the cirque again. Although we had initially planned to walk back to town from our camp, our exit was heavily corniced and we couldn’t find an alternative way around that would be safe to travel with heavy packs, so we called Drake on the satellite phone to see if he’d pluck us out of the cirque. He hesitantly agreed, so we waited around one more boring day before he was able to fly in. The liftoff was a bit saucy because of the short runway and soft snow. It was really cool of him to stick his neck out to keep us out of some very hazardous terrain. I hope that pilots like Drake are always around, and don’t get dominated by the tourist-based “flight seeing” companies. During the flight out, we received a well-deserved lecture about how it’s a bad idea to plan climbing trips in Alaska without knowing how the conditions will be.

North West Ridge of the Ships Prow

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Above Photo: Ships Prow, North West Ridge, 5.9, WI3, ~700m

Since we didn’t hang around Mt. Emerick as long as we had planned, we headed back to Skagway where we’d try to get some more accessible stuff done. Whiskers had previously scouted a route above upper Dewey Lake, on a formation that he called the Ships Prow, which is a few miles above town. I was still a bit sick, so I took a couple more rest days to recover while Whiskers worked, running his company’s tourist-trap zip line.

We hiked up to an awesome and free cabin that hikers have maintained. Sitting right next to the lake, that little cabin is definitely a place that I’d recommend everyone in the area to experience (although the locals would probably not like me for saying so). We left the cabin before the next days light, and headed up an approach that was a lot longer than we had expected when looking at it from the lake. We punched up a steep couloir as the sun hit, and decided to make our way up the prominent North West ridge of the formation. As predicted, the climbing was very loose, but overall was of good quality, especially because of the awesome position. We had an incredible view of the Sawtooths on one side and the ocean on the other. Whiskers let me lead all of the pitches, which felt good after being held down by illness for such a big portion of the trip. Five or six short pitches with a lot of traversing back and forth between the north and west faces took us to the summit. The climbing got up to about 5.9, with some thin ice for a couple pitches in the middle. After topping out, we were able to make it back to the top of the couloir, where we had started the technical climbing, in two 60m rappels and some down climbing. Tired and wet, we returned to the comfort of the cabin for the night, then jaunted back to town the next day to pack for the journey home.

Canadian Rockies for Turkey-day Break

For thanksgiving break from school in Boulder, myself and a few climbing partners conjured up a scheme to head to the Canadian rockies to climb ice routes instead of consuming ungodly portions of turkey at our respective homes.

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…training?

Kirill Langer, Colin Simon, Freshman Dave Lee, Bern Lam, and I packed Bern’s Xterra and Colin’s piece of crap Camry to the brim and took off as soon as we could. Colin & Freshman Dave were able to leave a couple days before the rest of us, so they stopped in Bozeman to sleep and climb for a day on the not so formed ice flows of Hyalite Canyon. With the help of RadioLab, Kirill, Bern and I drove straight through from Boulder to Canmore, where the other guys already had a hotel room waiting for us.

With as little time and money as I have at this point in my life to take big trips, making the most of them is extremely important to me. I like to hang out, socialize, and do normal-person things sometimes, but trips are always more distinct in my memory if I have a clear focus and plan throughout. I wanted to start with something big to set the tone for the rest of the trip.

I had been to Canmore twice before this trip to climb. Firstly in the summer of 2010 with Hard-man Brett Pierce, who has traveled more miles in those mountains than I can ever hope to. For some reason he decided to take me under his alpine wing, pouring tons of time, effort, and gas money into the sake of me becoming a more knowledgeable and thoughtful climber. That trip shifted my priorities as a climber in ways that I am extremely grateful for. He implanted alpine ideals into my sport climbing and  competition minded brain of the time.

I went back in the spring of 2011 with college friends to do more technical routes. On that trip, my friend Will Buckner & I failed to finish the super classic Polar Circus because another party beat us to it. We climbed to the base of the gigantic ice-flow that makes up the last five pitches only to realize that time and falling ice would make continuing unsafe. It was incredibly frustrating to have to turn around with that beautiful flow right in front of us, especially since we knew that we were physically & technically capable of finishing it. Previous failure makes the idea of a successful ascent even more appealing, so naturally it was a main target for this trip.

The top 5 pitches of the super classic Polar Circus on our failed attempt in March of 2011. It's much fatter here than it was for our recent ascent.

The top 5 pitches of the super classic Polar Circus on our failed attempt in March of 2011. It’s much fatter here than it was for our recent ascent.

Polar Circus

Bern isn’t the strongest climber out there, but he is mentally very capable, and psyched to go on every trip that he can, and climb almost anything that anyone proposes. This makes him a great partner. He didn’t think it would be a great idea to climb the 2,300’ of Polar Circus the first day, right after driving 22hrs with no really restful sleep, but after I pushed a bit more he agreed. We racked, packed, scarfed and crashed at about midnight. After a two hour power nap, we chugged coffee and drove an hour and a half to the climb. Snow pounded down as we drove through Banff. I figured the day would be a flop unless a miracle caused conditions to hold out for us on Icefield Parkway, which wasn’t very far away at that point. Miraculously, when we reached the parking spot for the climb, it was beautifully calm.

We downed our coffee and cruised. Hardly any snow had fallen on the area, which made the approach up the left side of the gully a nightmare of unconsolidated choss. If I climb the route again in similar conditions, I’ll most likely stay on the easy ice in the gully to approach to the first pitch of WI4. On our way up this choss, Bern’s headlamp sputtered and died. The batteries were fine but the lamp itself was not happy. We continued more slowly in the now darker dark. We cut right onto some fun but very wet easy ice until we reached the base of the first official pitch.

Bern wasn’t feeling his normal confidence because he hadn’t touched ice yet that season, so he let me to stay tied into the sharp end of the rope for the whole climb. Once I reached the top of the first WI4 pitch, I couldn’t find the bolts of the anchor because they were about 10 feet higher than they were the last time I had been to this same spot. The climb has been much “fatter” the last time I had been on it. I slung a boulder, brought Bern up, and we ran up the snow gully to the base of the next pitch. I soloed up the relatively easy pitch, and dropped a rope for Bern to follow. Again, the rappel bolts were about ten feet higher off the deck than they were the last time I was there. Some dry tooling allowed me to clip the anchor. We quickly walked up the gully and scrambled through some easy ice under the non-existent Pencil. Turning the Pencil wasn’t as stressful as it sometimes can be because of avalanche danger. The lack of snow made this part of the climb safer and quicker. The next part of the climb after the Pencil is the beautiful top five pitches of fat ice. It was a great feeling to stand at the base of that flow again, but to be unhindered by other climbers. We flew up the next few rope stretching pitches of virgin ice, linking pitch 6 & 7. I doubt I’ll link these in the future though because rope drag was crippling near the top of p7. The last two pitches were incredibly fun. I don’t recall seeing a single pick mark from previous ascents on the entire flow above the Pencil.

The end of the last pitch felt a little saucy because of the early season thin conditions. Reaching the anchors required some quite insecure moves on dry rock that kept my interest. These were the most difficult moves on the climb.

We were psyched!… but tired and hungry. The descent wasn’t quick with only a single headlamp. It was quite dark by the time we reached the bench between pitch 7 and 8. The rappel off the top of the pencil was eerie in the dark, but very cool. We reversed our steps back to the car where gallons of water and delicious caffeinated cake that friends in Boulder had made us for the trip enhanced our spirits for the drive back. It felt like a greatly successful first day of climbing.

We returned to the hotel to find Kirill with an ankle the size of a grapefruit. He had taken a big lead fall onto a screw on the Kananaskis Country classic route called Research & Development. During his flailing fall, he caught one of his crampons on the ice, jerking his foot upward. He didn’t believe any bones were broken, but it seemed pretty obvious that some of his structural stuff was not… psyched. I confidently hypothesized that he had broken a bone. The next day my confidence without evidence was validated by an X-ray showing a shattered talus bone. The trip was over for Kirill.

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Kirill’s shattered tallus bone

Research & Development (R&D)

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R&D

The day after Kirill annihilated the bone holding his ankle together, Bern went with him to see a doctor while the rest of us made the trek back to the route he had fallen off of to get his gear. He had lowered off of the screw that he had fallen on, leaving five or six screws and draws on the route. I lead up the route, finding it to be quite a bit more strenuous than I expected from looking at it. On the way out, I learned that tele skiing in the dark with a heavy pack is not easy for me. It was a surprisingly fun day of playing around on snow and ice, even though we didn’t do a momentous amount of climbing.

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Freshman Dave getting ready to descend from the base of R&D

Valley of the Birds

Kirill needed to fly home to get surgery from an American doctor so that his insurance would cover the cost of the operation. Bern and I planned to make an alpine start to drive him to the airport while Colin & Freshman Dave would attempt Polar Circus. On the way to drop our cripple off, we got a call from the other guys saying that Colin’s piece of crap Toyota failed to cart them to the base of the climb with too much snow on the roads. We made a grand scheme to meet up after dropping off the broken one, with the intent of checking out the Ghost Wilderness for the first time. To add to the days logistical snags, I was given the opportunity to learn that cars don’t work if you don’t put gasoline in them. We ran out of fuel on the way to meet up with the other guys so we had to enlist them to bring us a jug.

We finally took off for the Ghost. After some rough roads with fun river crossings, we reached a cool looking gully with some ice pouring out of it. We thought it was an easy classic called House Of Sky, but it turned out to be the mouth of the Valley of the Birds. We soloed up steps of ice for quite a long time before reaching a very steep, very virgin, very cool looking pillar of ice. I was a bit nervous about leading it, but peer pressure prevailed. It was one of the better leads of my life. It didn’t feel ridiculously difficult, but I felt more solid and dialed than I ever have on ice. Though the ice was vertical, so it feels overhanging, I felt like my technique allowed me to rest through the entire route. I’ve climbed more difficult ice routes, but never felt quite as in control.

The Eagle

The Eagle

Weeping Wall

Freshman Dave and Bern decided to ski the next day, so Colin and I planned to give Mixed Master a go. MM was pretty dry, so we instead made the extremely long & strenuous two minute approach to the Weeping Wall, which is accessed from the same parking lot. There was only one route up the gigantic smear of ice that looked doable, which was right in the center of the face.  It was wicked cold as we racked up at the base, but became radiantly warm. I had a lot of fun leading the whole thing, especially some quite tricky chandelier ice  on the last pitch. Almost all of the screws were crap, but the configuration of the ice made stemming and resting fairly easy, so it wasn’t unreasonable to get up. It’s pretty incredible that such a super classic climb is so close to the road. I love the Canadian Rockies.

Professor Falls

I wanted badly give Nemesis a go the next day, but high avalanche conditions disallowed this. We decided to cruise up the super classic moderate Professor Falls, just outside of Banff. I soloed the route, and had a lot of fun doing so. When I started climbing ice, I thought that leading was a little stupid and reckless, and that soloing was ridiculous. I never  thought I’d ever want to do either of these things. My experience and mentality has somehow completely transformed to the point that I didn’t feel out of line in this instance. I felt dialed to the point that it didn’t feel terribly scary. I felt in control the whole time.

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Professor Falls last pitch

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Colin Simon cruises through the same pitch as in the above photo

The next day we rolled back to Boulder, again in a single twenty-something hour push. It was a great trip. It seemed like we took advantage of our time well. It wasn’t as fun as it would have been with Kirill’s bombastic personality around the whole time, but it was still very epic.

I’d like to send infinite thanks to my homies at the American Alpine Club for making this a reality.