Simon Carter, one of the world's best active climbing photographers, has just published a gorgeous new volume called "World Climbing: Images from the Edge." Carter is Australian, and many of his crisp, bold images in climbing magazines are from his home country, but in the past five years he has traveled extensively to build his portfolio. (When I was at Rock & Ice, we were able to play a small part in this by helping with Simon's travel expenses, frequently publishing his work, and selling his calendar in the U.S.)
The new book is beautifully produced: It's a hard-cover coffee-table volume with more than 230 photos from 29 climbing areas in 12 countries. Unfortunately, this book is not yet distributed in North America, but you can order it from Simon's web site (and check out loads more photos while you're at it). At around US$37 (plus shipping), it's a bargain.
Saturday, December 31, 2005
Simon Carter, one of the world's best active climbing photographers, has just published a gorgeous new volume called "World Climbing: Images from the Edge." Carter is Australian, and many of his crisp, bold images in climbing magazines are from his home country, but in the past five years he has traveled extensively to build his portfolio. (When I was at Rock & Ice, we were able to play a small part in this by helping with Simon's travel expenses, frequently publishing his work, and selling his calendar in the U.S.)
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:59 AM
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Right before Christmas, I spent three great days climbing ice with my wife at Crawford Notch in New Hampshire. Conditions were excellent, and I took lots of pictures, then I left my camera on the roof of my car as we pulled out of the parking lot at Frankenstein. So…no pictures. This is the second small digital camera I’ve lost or destroyed in six months. Now that I’m using leashless ice tools, maybe I need a leash on my camera.
I learned to climb ice in New Hampshire, and it’s always fun to come back, especially when conditions are fat. I suspect many New Englanders don’t know how good they have it for ice. I live in the climbing mecca of Colorado, but to go ice climbing I either have to walk or ski for hours to reach a single climb, drive to Vail and suffer absurd crowds, or drive six hours to Ouray or Telluride. Places like the White Mountains, Green Mountains and Adirondacks that have abundant, relatively reliable, easily accessible ice in huge variety are very rare in the Lower 48. Easterners: Count your blessings.
The old, familiar climbs of Frankenstein also offered the perfect place to ease into leashless climbing. Earlier this month I got Black Diamond Viper tools with the Fang grips, and this was the first time I’d been able to try them. On Day Two in New Hampshire, I unclipped the leashes, and now I doubt I’ll ever go back. I loved the ease of dealing with protection and ropes without having to fiddle in and out of leashes and the freedom to shake out and warm my hands when I needed to. We only climbed about 10 feet of mixed ground the entire weekend (Pegasus’ rock finish), but, as promised, climbing leashless on rock felt much more like real rock climbing than with traditional tools. And unlike a lot of specialty mixed-climbing tools, the Vipers worked great on ice—the swing is different from my old Pulsars and Quasars, but once I figured out the right flick of the wrist it was like butter. I may drop a tool now and then, but probably not as often as I once thought: Since I no longer have to place or hang a tool close by when I'm fiddling with gear (so I can easily get back into the leash), I'm less likely to knock it off accidentally. The only time I imagine inevitably dropping a tool is if I fall off, and in more than two decades of ice climbing I've never taken a leader fall. But maybe now that I'm a rad leashless dude I'll be falling all over the place....
Anyway, I am sold.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:12 AM
Friday, December 16, 2005
When I head up to the mountains before dawn, I'm always appalled by the number of bright lights burning outside businesses, residences and municipal buildings as I drive through town at 2 or 3 in the morning. Along with being a shameless waste of energy, such lights brighten the night sky for miles around, hiding the stars, altering the habits of birds and animals, and diminishing the mystery of the nocturnal woods and mountains.
The excellent website Planet Mountain has just translated a press release from WWF Italy, highlighting a report from the University of Bern that shows intense light doubling in the Alpine area of Europe in the last 15 years. Check out the difference in these pictures in just eight years. (You can see more pictures here.) Where will it stop? It's a sad day when the high peaks of the Alps and other ranges are bathed in the ambient glow from car dealerships and sports arenas instead of moonlight. My only hope is that energy costs rise to the point where the absurd practice of burning bright lights in the wee hours of the morning becomes unsustainable.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:19 AM
Thursday, December 15, 2005
The January issue of Outside has an excellent article by Greg Child on the bizarre and enduring mystery surrounding Reinhold Messner's brother Günther, who disappeared on Nanga Parbat in 1970. A body that appeared to be Günther's, based on its clothing and a single boot, was discovered at the base of the Diamir Face of the 26,660-foot peak this summer, which would seem to end charges that Messner had abandoned his brother on the other side of the mountain; DNA testing later confirmed the body was indeed Günther Messner's. (The Outside article has dramatic photos from the grave site.) Although Child doesn't come right out and say it, the article makes plain that he thinks most of the claims against Reinhold Messner are hogwash. Even his former teammates have conceded that Günther died on the Diamir Face, yet the conspiracy theorists won't give up. "Finding Günther's body, they reiterated, did not by itself solve anything," Child writes. "Günther might have perished in a fall near the summit, or in the upper or middle part of the Diamir Face, not toward the bottom, where Messner said he'd last seen his brother." So much anger and resentment have accumulated between the antagonists in this drama that they can't let Günther rest. And, in the best passages of this article, Child makes clear that much of the fault for this bitter rivalry lies with Messner, who began attacking his teammates shortly after the expedition ended in 1970 and has rarely let up since. Even as most of the mystery of what happened to Günther Messner has been resolved, the rancor and name calling seem destined to continue indefinitely. Now that's a tragedy.
This same issue of Outside has several other decent climbing articles, including a good short report on the great German ice climber Ines Papert, a fun bit with Jack Osbourne, the British celeb who was guided up El Cap for TV in October, and a couple of how-to-have-the-adventure-of-a-lifetime interviews with Ed Viesturs and Tommy Caldwell, by yours truly. But what's up with the Corey Rich photo of "Caldwell warming up on the Great Roof of the Nose on El Cap"? It is quite clearly a picture of Beth Rodden. Oops!
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:39 AM
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
MountEverest.net is running a fascinating series reporting that several companies and individuals allegedly have supplied faulty oxygen bottles to climbers on Mount Everest in the past few years. The web site suggests that many of the deaths on The Big E that are attributed to exhaustion, exposure or heart attack may, in fact, have been the direct result of failed oxygen systems. Strong stuff! "New systems are continuously introduced without proper tests at altitude," the report states. "....There are no regulations on the mountain, mainstream media generally doesn't understand the subject, climbing magazines stay away and the customers are mostly new kids on the block. A sneaky part is also that oxygen failure closely resembles general altitude problems—and dead climbers' oxygen gear is rarely retrieved."
MountEverest.net writes that oxygen systems are a $2 million a year business on 8,000-meter peaks, offering plenty of incentive for shady outfits. These articles are rich with inflammatory language (the headline is "The Highest Death Lab in the World"), accounts of drug dealing, potshots at rival EverestNews.com and other material that, if published in mainstream press, would probably have the lawyers cranking up their fax machines. Journalistically speaking, I'm not sure if this website is fearless, reckless, naïve or all three, but it's certainly the only media outlet covering stories like this one. Read the stories and decide for yourself.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:39 AM
Monday, December 12, 2005
Reporting on Chris McNamara's three Zion speed records in three days with Ammon McNeely got me all nostalgic about my first big climb with Chris. He was still a teenager, he had never even done a climb on sandstone, and we had never met in person, yet we had hatched a plan to do a big new route in Zion together. Somehow it all worked out, and over five days in late November we put up Drop Zone (VI 5.8 A4+) on the Angelino Wall, behind the old visitor's center. The climb was an eye-opener for Chris (that's him nailing with beaks on his first-ever sandstone lead). But obviously it didn't scare him off; he went on to do other new routes in Zion and repeat many, many classics. I'd have to say Drop Zone was the hardest and best desert new route I ever did. Neither Chris nor I has ever heard of a repeat—not because it's so hard, but just because it's fairly obscure and 99 percent of visiting Zion climbers repeat the old standards. Drop Zone gets lots of sun, takes a direct line up a prominent feature, and has great variety, and pitches 5 through 8, in particular, are unforgettable. The Sandstone Tsunami on pitch 7 (left) was the wildest aid lead I ever did. I wish some folks would go do the climb and tell us what they think.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 3:56 PM
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Californian Guy Schott has broken the Guinness world record for pull-ups in one hour: He did 644 pull-ups in 60 minutes. The 42-year-old associate sanitary engineer stands 5-foot-8-inches, weighs 150 pounds and eats a banana split every night. "To be honest, I don't like to exercise," he told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 5:09 PM
Friday, December 09, 2005
Having trouble with the 5.13 cracks of El Cap's Salathé Headwall? Skip those pesky cracks and clamber straight up the smooth granite next to them! Taking their cue from the amazingly sticky feet of gecko lizards, researchers at the Stuttgart National Academy of Visual Arts came up with this self-contained climbing apparatus. It adheres to glass, metal and concrete, holds up to a ton, and gives two hours of climbing time. When you need to free up your hands, you just clip in to a couple of big gecko paws with daisy chains. A0, baby! OK, so the thing weighs 25 kg (55 pounds) and would never fit into the Harding Slot. It was designed with firefighting and rescue, building maintenance, and military operations in mind, not for rock climbing. But I'm revising my Christmas list right now.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:13 AM
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Frankly, I have a hard time caring about the Forest Service's interim decision to allow advertising inside chairlifts at ski resorts. Yeah it's crass, but the way people are up in arms, it's as if we were talking about corporate logos in unspoiled wilderness. These are ski resorts, people. They've already trashed the wilderness.
Far more insidious and potentially destructive are two other government efforts to commecialize public lands:
1. The director of the National Park Service, responding to perennial funding shortfalls, has proposed increased corporate sponsorship of parks, including selling naming rights for trails, benches and other facilities. The proposed rules don't allow renaming the parks themselves (think: "Disneystone, formerly known as Yosemite Valley"), and I have no doubt that well-meaning park managers and image-conscious corporate marketers aren't going to spring for "Old Faithful, brought to you by Viagara." (Tip of the hat to PEER for that line.) But unlike the ski-lift ads, this new advertising has the potential to impact previously unspoiled public lands; in my opinion any corporate presence on public lands once you leave a park loop road or BLM parking lot is an unacceptable intrusion of commercialism.
2. Much more potentially destructive is a proposal in Congress to lift a ban on selling public lands to mining companies, under a draft revision of an 1872 mining law. That means, for example, that a mining company could buy a patent on land next to one of the granite crags I frequent in Boulder Canyon and ultimately sell it off to a private developer for new homes. This scenario could be duplicated in countless forms on public lands across the country. Fortunately, this proposal appears to have generated bipartisan opposition as it moves into conference with the Senate, and it seems likely that it will be stripped from any legislation passed, but it may resurface in a different guise as long as the current anti-environment administration and Congress holds power in Washington.
With real threats to the mountain environment surfacing all the time in the halls of Congress, the Interior Department and the White House, it's important to stay focused. I'm headed up to Copper to ski today. Would I care if the chairlifts had ads on them? Not much. I'd really care, however, if the relatively pristine forests and steep mountainsides surrounding this resort were pocked with new commercial developments.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 3:44 PM
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
The Diamond Couloir of Mount Kenya, one of the world's greatest ice climbs, was thought to be a victim of global warming, destined not to reappear until the next ice age. This beautiful ice line, which splits the southwest face of the twin-summited peak, was first climbed in 1973 and then made famous by Yvon Chouinard, who pioneered its steep upper headwall two years later. Lately, the line has been deemed unclimbable. But this August, four Americans climbed the route by accessing steep ice with M7 drytooling. Jim Donini will have a story about these ascents in Climbing 246, available in mid-January.
Now it seems possible that the fall rainy season on Mount Kenya may be the best time to climb the Diamond Couloir, if you get lucky with the weather. (Most climbers visit the equatorial mountain in the dryer seasons of late summer or midwinter).
In October, Swiss guide Fred Salamin climbed the route and found great ice the entire way; he sent along these inspiring pictures. This may turn out to be an exceptional year, but for now, at least, it seems the Diamond Couloir has not disappeared.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:25 AM
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Last month I wrote about Anurag Sehgal's proposed "Modular Wearable System of Mountaineering Devices." But now I see that O'Neill Europe has already announced a solar-powered backpack for skiers and boarders, with slots to integrate an iPod, Bluetooth module and mobile phone; the two plastic solar panels on the back will recharge all the gear. With a mike built into the shoulder strap, headset jack on the chest, and Bluetooth for voice-activated, hands-free calling, you can call Mom and shout "Guess where I am?" just as you jump into Corbett's Couloir. O'Neill's second-generation h2 Comm/Ent Jacket incorporates the same devices, with a flexible control panel sewn into the left sleeve. Gol-dang, Martha, what will they think of next?
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 12:25 PM
Roy Leggett sent an email reporting that in early November Josh Wharton led Extendogap in Eldorado Canyon's Kloof Alcove, the same small crag where Iron Monkey went up in late November. Wharton felt Extendogap was 5.12c R/X. Now, all of the existing lines on this overhanging face have been led. In less than 100 feet, they go 5.11a, 5.12a, 5.12a, 5.12a, 5.12c, 5.14, and 5.12d. Is there anywhere else in North America with such a tight concentration of hard traditional leads?
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:29 AM
Friday, December 02, 2005
After years of climbing on effective but old-school Charlet Moser Pulsars, I just got a birthday present from my beautiful wife: A pair of Black Diamond Vipers with Fang leashless grips and, for when I need them, detachable leashes. I already love my crampons (Grivel G-14) and boots (La Sportiva K4 S). With all this state-of-the-art gear, this winter I truly have: No...More...Excuses.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:47 AM
I love seeing young rock climbers pursue all aspects of the sport. Nothing wrong with bouldering or sport climbing, but the most interesting climbers to me are the ones who apply their strength and skill to traditional routes, too, whether they're short, hard crack climbs or big walls. So, I was superpsyched to see 21-year-old Matt Segal establish what may be Eldorado Canyon's hardest route in late November and to do it on traditional gear.
Kloof Alcove is home to the steepest non-roof climbs in the Colorado canyon, with overhanging pitches from 5.11 to hard 5.12, all traditionally protected. For years, the guidebook has pointed out an unclimbed crack on the right side of the alcove. Matt Segal is gym-trained (he's originally from southern Florida), and he's one of the best sport climbers and boulderers in the country, one of three members of the U.S. bouldering team. When he moved to Colorado and had the opportunity to climb real rock, Segal decided he wanted to learn trad climbing too. A couple of years ago, he made the second ascent of the Skip Guerin testpiece Superfly (5.12d R), with a V6 or V7 boulder-problem crux and runout climbing above. Right next to Superfly was the unclimbed crack, and now Segal has climbed that one too. Segal feels Iron Monkey may be as hard as 5.14b, with a 5.12 "approach", a severe dyno crux, and 5.12 climbing above. Segal placed pro on the lead during this proud send. These photos are courtesy of Steve Woods, who witnessed Segal's ascent and then photographed Dave Graham and his son, Daniel, having a go at Iron Monkey with the gear in place. (See more photos at Woods' website). What a beautiful hard line!
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:17 AM
Thursday, December 01, 2005
The phrase jump the shark has probably jumped the shark by now, but it still applies to the latest achievement of Ted "Cave Dog" Keizer. Cave Dog is an extraordinary ultrahiker who owns the speed records for hiking the Colorado fourteeners, New Hampshire's White Mountains, New York's High Peaks in the Adirondacks, the Long Trail and others. He's a certified bad-ass. That's why, to me, his latest just seems a bit...contrived.
On Monday, Keizer finished his quest to hike 50 kilometers in 50 states (plus D.C.) in less than 100 days. He ended up doing it in 75. Two signs that this is a new sort of venture for the Cave Dog: 1. The Duofold Hike 50 Challenge, as it became known, got real-money sponsorship, and 2. The hikes were filmed for a TV special on the Outdoor Life Network.
Look, this was an incredible effort, and it's pretty cool that Keizer was emulating the late, great wilderness pioneer Bob Marshall, who apparently had a lifetime goal of doing 30-mile dayhikes in every state. But to me there are two classes of objectives in the outdoors: Natural and unnatural. Natural objectives include logical, coherent goals based on real-world topography, like climbing new routes on all the 8,000-meter peaks or skiing the Colorado fourteeners in a single winter. Unnatural goals are contrived, often to attract sponsorship money, in ways that depend on non-topographic factors such as state borders or personal characteristics like nationality or disability—goals like climbing the high points of the 50 states or becoming the first left-handed person to free the Nose or the first American to climb anything. The latter are great personal achievements and rightfully should be celebrated by the individual and her friends and family. But they don't belong in the record books. Cave Dog's 50 hikes in 50 states must have been a wonderful experience for him, and they may make for good TV, but I hope he'll apply his drive and talent to a more compelling objective next time out.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 11:59 AM
Wild Snow has the news on freeskier Chris Davenport's plan to attempt ski descents of all 54 Colorado fourteeners in a single season. Davenport, a champion extreme skier and ski-flick star, will start January 1 and keep going until he does all the descents or runs out of snow. Naturally, a film is planned. Lou Dawson, who runs Wild Snow, has posted a nice capsule history of recent attempts on the single-season push (scroll down to his November 28 entry). It's a monumental task: No one has come close to climbing all of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks in a single winter, let alone skiing them too. Davenport isn't trying to finish his descents by March 21—he can keep skiing into July—but it's going to take a lot of mountaineering ability and stamina, along with some great luck with the weather and conditions, to pull this off.
Dawson, of course, was the first—and, so far, only—person to ski from the summits of all the fourteeners. It took him 14 years to finish the project in 1991, and this year he was inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame for the feat. I profiled Lou in the December issue of 5280, focusing in part on his role as a mentor to younger skiers. Although Lou would be the first to say he couldn't teach Davenport a thing about skiing, Davenport has consulted with him this winter on the fourteener project. And, of course, Lou will be in the film.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 5:58 AM
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
All that stuff about the new Adventure magazine and I forgot to mention the fun last-page photo of Will Gadd climbing an iceberg off the coast of Labrador. Sure, it's a stunt, but it's a cool one! Check out the photo and video clip at Adventure's website or watch the six-minute Discovery Channel piece at the Arc'teryx site. I noticed that Will was using leashless tools on one of the bergs. Brave man—it's one thing to drop a tool at the crag, but out at sea it's goodbye ice tool! I suppose that's what sponsorship is for.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 11:18 AM
Yesterday's rant about the meaning of adventure got me wondering about truly meaningful "firsts" still out there to accomplish. A quick web search yielded a couple of Top Ten lists. This one, compiled in 2002 by Australian mountaineer Greg Mortimer for the Sydney Morning Herald, tilts toward the Southern Hemisphere, but it's a good start:
1. Climbing in the Siachen Glacier region in northern Kashmir, which has the world's greatest concentration of high unclimbed peaks and the largest glaciers in the world outside the polar regions.
2. Circling the globe on the Arctic and Antarctic circles. These are variations on the theme but would represent marvellous adventures.
3. Parachuting from space to Earth. It is possible and it is being seriously considered. The concept involves going to the edge of Earth's atmosphere in a massive helium balloon, then jumping out.
4. Searching for and finding Shackleton's ship Endurance, which was crushed in the ice in the Weddell Sea in Antarctica during the explorer's 1914 expedition.
5. Walking on the moon, in a privately funded, nongovernment expedition.
6. Repeating New Zealander David Lewis's circumnavigation of Antarctica by yacht, as he broke his original journey to return to the warmer latitudes.
7. Walking unsupported from west to east across Australia, as per Jon Muir's south/north crossing.
8. Walking from Commonwealth Bay (Mawson's Hut) in Antarctica to the South Pole.
9. Visiting the deepest trenches of the oceans, such as Mariana Trench.
10. Climbing in the beautiful mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula—this will become the alpine playground of the 21st century.
What else? Only eight of the world's 8,000-meter peaks have been climbed in winter. None of El Cap's main lines has had an onsight free ascent. Literally thousands of unclimbed peaks remain on Earth, especially in the vast reaches of China and Tibet. Huge expanses of winter terrain have never been traversed by skis. Got more ideas? Post a comment.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:47 AM
Monday, November 28, 2005
National Geographic Adventure magazine's "Best of Adventure" issue is out, and it names Ed Viesturs as "Adventurer of the Year." Ed's a master at high-altitude moutaineering, and he certainly deserves kudos for bagging all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter peaks safely. (I interviewed him about training for 8,000-meter peaks for an Outside magazine story slated for January). But Viesturs was the 12th climber to polish off the 8,000'ers, not the first. His only claim to fame is being the first American to do it. If that makes you adventurer of the year, then 2005 wasn't a great year for adventure.
Adventure's other climbing and skiing choices were on target: "Elites" included Josune Bereziartu, the only woman in the world who is rock climbing on par with men, and Greg Hill, who last season skied 1 million vertical feet under his own power—no lifts, no choppers. (Think of the last time you climbed a couple of thousand feet on backcountry gear. Felt like a lot, didn't it? Hill climbed more than 10,000 feet on 37 separate days last winter and spring, according to Adventure.) In Adventure's "Iconoclasts" category, Michael Reardon made the list for free soloing Romantic Warrior (multipitch 5.12b) in the Needles and soloing the Palisades Traverse in 22 hours. Now that's adventurous.
It's too bad because Adventure magazine usually gets it right with climbing stories, especially in the last couple of years. This same issue includes a decent reporting job by Dan Duane (marred by a few factual errors) on the Tomaz Humar helicopter rescue in August and its aftermath, and the magazine often features good investigative essays by David Roberts. In mountaineering and skiing alone, Adventure could have chosen from half a dozen other superb exploits this year to find its "Adventurer of the Year." Selecting Viesturs—as accomplished as he may be—only reinforces an unfortunate truth in mainstream journalism: The more famous you are, the more the media love you.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:19 PM
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Don't you hate tipping over in the passenger seat when you fall asleep? You know how your head keeps snapping up each time you nod off? Dave Goldstein came up with the solution to this annoying problem during an all-day drive to Arizona: The Passive Head Restraint System for Road Trips. Remember, you saw it here first.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 10:48 AM
Saturday, November 26, 2005
News from the Brave New World department: A guy named Anurag Sehgal at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy has written a thesis proposing "A Modular Wearable System of Mountaineering Devices." Sehgal imagines a chest harness that could holster a cell phone, sat phone, GPS unit, altimeter, walkie-talkie, digital camera, avalanche beacon, and PDA or laptop computer, all integrated so they are easy to use while, say, descending the Bottleneck on K2 in a whiteout.Fingers too frozen to call basecamp? No problem: Your glove acts as a joystick to control all the gizmos. Can't see the next wand in the whiteout? C'mon! You've got a heads-up display mounted on your goggles!
I don't know. I feel like I go to the mountains to escape all the electronic noise that bombards us. But even on the simplest days in the hills I already carry a digital camera, electronically controlled headlamp and altimeter watch, plus a digital avalanche beacon in winter. There have been a couple of times when I really wished I was carrying a cell phone on a climb or ski tour to call home and let my wife know I was OK but going to be late. I laugh a bit at the guys with their walkie-talkies in Eldorado Canyon, but when I'm screaming "off belay!" over a chinook wind I sometimes wish I had a walkie-talkie too. And I've been intrigued to learn that a GPS unit is now standard equipment on certain remote climbs, not just for techno-wankers but even for some of the world's best alpinists. As we add more and more electronics to the pack, the basic point Sehgal makes in his thesis abstract becomes increasingly valid: "Mountaineers currently carry a number of devices, which were never specifically developed for the context. The interfaces, software architecture, ergonomics, storage, wearability and power source on all the devices pose some form of problem to the users." So, who knows? Maybe Anurag Sehgal has seen the future of mountaineering. Just don't expect me to be an early adopter. I spent an hour and a half yesterday just trying to get a new cell phone to work.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:58 AM
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
I spent Monday morning at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, Colorado, where a small crew of American Alpine Club staff and volunteers were starting a two-day push to ship mountains of winter gear and clothing to earthquake victims in Pakistan. The gear was donated by AAC members and a number of outdoor companies; it lined the walls of the center's two large lobbies and a long corridor five to ten feet deep; I think it would have filled my house. Midway through the morning, a UPS truck pulled up and unloaded two dozen more boxes. We just added them to the pile and kept sorting and packing. Six TONS of gear will be shipped to Pakistan today, courtesy of DHL and Pakistan International Airlines. Although there was the usual junk (a pair of flip-flops, a climbing tank top), the majority was at least winter-worthy and quite a lot was expedtiion quality and nearly new. (Bags of clothing unsuitable for winter conditions were donated to Goodwill in the Denver area.) It was a great way to start Thanksgiving week.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:26 AM
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Talk about dedication: In September, Mike Scherer carried skis to a minuscule patch of hard snow in Colorado's Indian Peaks and carved a short series of telemark turns during a sleet storm. Why bother? Because Scherer skis at least once every month, and there aren't many choices in autumn. September was Scherer's 240th month of skiing in a row. That's 20 years. (My story about Scherer's streak is in the December issue of 5280 magazine.) To be sure, it hasn't all been untracked powder and bump runs. The skiing in Colorado often is wretched in late summer and early fall, and some of his outings have been pretty contrived. To keep the streak alive one autumn, Scherer had to tour along a dirt road on about an inch of new snow, with his car's headlights pointing the way. But Colorado has good skiing for eight or nine months of the year. And if nothing else, Scherer says, the streak gets him into the mountains at least once each month. Nothing wrong with that.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 8:29 AM
Monday, November 21, 2005
On November 13, Alessandro Beltrami, Rolando Garibotti and Ermanno Salvaterra completed a new route on the northern flanks of Cerro Torre in Patagonia and, in the process, put to rest a nearly 50-year-old saga of deceit.
In 1959, a team led by Italy's Cesare Maestri claimed the first ascent of Cerro Torre via a line that started on the East Face and finished on the North Face and North Ridge; only Maestri and Toni Egger were said to have summited, and Egger died during the descent. The ascent soon was questioned, and in 1970 Maestri returned to Cerro Torre to bolt his way up the Southeast Ridge and install the infamous Compressor Route, now the standard line up the tower.
Apparently, plenty of people still believe Maestri climbed the peak in 1959. Check out this photo of a Maestri T-shirt I purchased in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, about five years ago. It says, in part, "Twice on the top of the most difficult mountain in the world."
Garibotti and Salvaterra are two of Patagonia's most experienced and successful climbers; Salvaterra, for example, had already done two new routes on Cerro Torre and made the peak's first winter ascent. Both felt deep personal interest in the truth behind the great tower's first ascent. This year, they made two major assaults on the northern route; they climbed nearly 1,000 meters on the first attempt, and then reached the summit after two days, in alpine style, on their second try. During these climbs they followed Maestri's claimed line for hundreds of meters and crossed it many other times. Their verdict? There was not a single sign of Maestri's presence above a gear cache left in 1959 very low on the East Face, at the base of a prominent snowfield about 300 meters above the glacier. Above this, there was not a single 1959-era piton, rope, sling, rappel anchor or bolt, despite the fact that Maestri said he placed dozens of bolts on the upper face and ridge. The debate is over, folks, if one even remained. Maestri did not climb Cerro Torre in 1959.
Interestingly, as Garibotti points out in a comprehensive analysis of Cerro Torre's first ascent in the 2004 American Alpine Journal, Maestri didn't climb Cerro Torre in 1970 either. (You can read Garibotti's story here.) Although he is often credited with the first ascent via the Compressor Route, Maestri stopped climbing atop the headwall he bolted into submission, about 35 meters below the top; he did not even step out of his aiders onto the icy summit ledges, let alone climb the snow mushroom that caps the peak. Therefore, Garibotti concludes, the first ascent of Cerro Torre was in 1974, when Italians Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari and Pino Negri succeeded via the West Face. "History," Garibotti writes in the AAJ, "has yet to give this ascent its rightful place." Now, perhaps, historians will finally get it right.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:04 AM
Friday, November 18, 2005
So, I was attempting Direct North Buttress in Yosemite with Charlie Sassara, and I was stuck below one of that insecure climb's run-out face sections, four or five pitches up. I kept stepping up from a good foothold, groping at the slippery holds, and then stepping back down for more chalking up and wistful tugging at the bad nut by my knees. After two or three rounds of this, as I lingered on my foothold, a park ranger cruised below Middle Cathedral and briefly touched his siren to make one of those bleats designed to warn pedestrians or scare cyclists into the bushes. Without missing a beat, Charlie looked at me, assumed a PA voice, and said sternly: "Sir! Step away from the ledge!"
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:21 AM
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Whenever I feel a bit chilly in sunny Colorado, I like to think back to my early climbing days on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Then I feel a lot warmer. At 9:04 a.m. Eastern time today it was 14.9°F atop the 6,288-foot summit, with a brisk 54 mph breeze. I found these stats on the data- and photo-packed website of the Mount Washington Observatory, which sits on the summit. In October, the observatory recorded more than six and a half feet of snow (more than five times normal) on the summit. Does the Mount Washington Observatory photo above look like an October scene to you?
I spent many days on Mount Washington in high school and college, and the brutal weather was great training for bigger peaks, which almost always turned out to be balmy by comparison. Usually, the conditions looked like the Mount Washington Observatory photo at right, taken last January 1. But I remember an amazing New Year's Day when I climbed through thick clouds to burst into blue skies and bright sun on the mountain's upper slopes. At the summit, the air was completely calm. It looked and felt like ... Colorado.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:10 AM
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Leave it to George Bell, one of the most experienced climbers on the Front Range, to identify my mystery crag. Several people correctly placed the photo in Colorado's Indian Peaks, and Bell wrote, "Is that the Fair Glacier in the background? My guess is somewhere near Lone Eagle Peak, maybe that big west-facing buttress on the divide between Pawnee and Shoshone?" Yup, that's the one. As far as I know, the cliff is unnamed; I call it the Apache Wall or the Wall of Tears, after the water streaks that run down its steepest face. It's big: about 800 feet high in the middle. Jeff and George Lowe did a route on it many moons ago, and George and I did a route at about 5.10+ up the right side, with 10 pitches (some wandering). I know that Topher Donahue and Kennan Harvey have done a few scary routes here. The rock is not quite as good as the bombproof stone in Rocky Mountain National Park, just to the north. But this cliff deserves more exploration.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 11:48 AM
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
C.A.M.P., the 116-year-old Italian climbing gear manufacturer, still has a sense of humor—or at least its Colorado-based U.S. distributor does. Check out this amusingly bizarre promo video for C.A.M.P.'s line of superlight alpine gear. Parental guidance warning: Animated violence, some gore.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 9:37 AM
Monday, November 14, 2005
I had always wanted to climb Deep Freeze in Rocky Mountain National Park, and on Thursday I learned that Greg Sievers was keen for it too. The road to the Glacier Gorge was closed Sunday morning because of black ice on the pavement, but a certain well-known Boulder ice climber opened the gate, and four cars full of climbers reached the parking lot at about the same time. All hoped to climb either Deep Freeze or Necrophilia, the classic mixed route below Deep Freeze, but Greg and I were first out of the lot, and, as it turned out, we were the only ones who made it to the cliff.
The crux of Deep Freeze is a super-steep column through a roof about 800 feet above the talus, high above the Loch. (The route takes the obvious gully in the center of the photo at left; the crux column is hidden below and left of the huge roof near the top.) To get there, you either climb a grovelly chimney with a desperate chockstone, climb Necrophilia and then traverse left to the Deep Freeze gully, or climb the Northwest Gully and then traverse right to Deep Freeze. We chose the latter for speed: Necrophilia was barely in (the bottom would be desperate in this condition), and we still thought we were racing other parties for the route. The Northwest Gully is about 500 feet of loose rock and snow, followed by a short but fun WI 3 exit. A sketchy downclimb (scary for the second) led to the easy traverse ledge and eventually the gully. Another few hundred feet of snow gained a ledge below the climb: a WI3+ chute to a big amphitheater and the business.
The weather had been OK until now — high winds, but we were sheltered in the gully — but as Greg racked up for the crux pillar snow began to fall, the Loch disappeared from view, and spindrift began pouring over the giant roof. Greg did a fantastic job leading the column. It was touching down but wobbly at the base, and he had to climb about 25 feet to get his first good piece.
The column is superb, with good stemming rests now and then and protection in the rock face to the left. Amazingly, this once-feared route is so popular that it was somewhat picked out, and good hooks were frequently available. (I was still afraid.) At the exit through the roof, the ice narrowed to about 8 inches and 4 inches thick, but a hole on the left allowed relatively easy chimneying moves. At this point, spindrift was funneling through the slot at the roof, and Greg shouted, "I feel like I'm in a Chouinard poster," referring to the great old shot of Yvon on Ben Nevis in full conditions. By the time we began the rappels, we were in full blizzard and the descent was frosty. The walk out was tiring, with deep drifted snow to punch through, but we agreed that it was worth the cold and difficulty to climb all day on a Sunday in a national park without seeing another soul.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:40 AM
Friday, November 11, 2005
Here's an absolutely wild tale from Jonny Copp, who recently emailed a wrapup of his latest trip to India to attempt Nanda Devi and other peaks. The team was Copp, Chuck Bird, Sarah Thompson and Pete Takeda (right to left in photo). The following is excerpted (with permission) from Jonny's email:
"By week three our Nepali cook, Depender, said he had never, throughout his fifteen years working in these mountains, witnessed a worse spell of bad weather. 5 or 6 feet of snow had fallen. We had broken many tent poles. Bouldering was out of the question! Slopes were loaded. We were chowing through our precious supply of books and rum.
Finally a break in the weather: [We] started up on our first route, East Ridge of Nanda Kot, retracing the steps of a 1966 CIA expedition in which the team placed a nuclear powered surveillance device at 22000 feet to spy on the Chinese. By the end of day two we were hit by a big storm at 20,000ft and eventually escaped into a crevasse. Just past midnight an avalanche poured into our icy home like tons of cement. While it was pushing us deeper into the crevasse and burying us at the same time, I snapped a pole that ended up near my face and ripped out of the tent that was squeezing down around us. Pete was in the other tent and was able to latch one of the ice screws that were in the wall of the cave. Chuck swam out just in time. Their tent ended up six feet under. All our boots were lost. So was the shovel. It was pitch black. Sarah and I were two feet from the bottomless opening to the crevasse. But we were all breathing air.
We found a headlamp. We dug with axes and hands for six hours until we had found all of our boots, crampons, fuel, shovel and food. Then the sun started sifting in through the still raging storm outside. Then, the rumble of another avalanche overhead.
It was light, and then it was dark. We were now completely sealed in to the icy hollow, no one speaking. Then a headlamp popped on. Pete and I began digging a wormhole. Like moles, we started a hole 2 feet in diameter - Pete on the shovel and me clearing behind. At fifteen feet long, we popped through to the outside, then backed back in, dropping to our feet into the hollow where the four of us spent two and a half more days. The storm cleared and the avalanches stopped tearing down around us when we had half a can of fuel left. We went down to Depender’s excellent food triggering only one avalanche on our descent."
Did you get that last part? "...where the four of us spent two and a half more days."
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 4:23 PM
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Joel Javier Stidham, an Army infantryman in Iraq, posted a report to cascadeclimbers.com yesterday describing how a Black Diamond catalog might have saved his leg. Stidham was hit by shrapnel in the thigh, but only after it pierced BD's 2005/06 ice climbing catalog, which he had stashed in his pocket. "The doc said that the catalog is about the only thing that kept my bone from being shattered," Stidham wrote.
The Mountain World wishes you a speedy and full recovery, Joel. And if you return to active duty in Iraq, choose a Petzl or Cassin catalog for your body armor: They're a bit thicker and have sturdier covers.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:30 AM
Monday, November 07, 2005
Movie time. Among the films I saw on Saturday were three that featured good footage of alpine climbing—in two cases hard alpine climbing. This is quite rare: It’s damned hard to shoot film in an alpine environment, in the dark, in storm, under pressure to keep moving.
In his “Harvest Moon,” about a new route on India’s Thalay Sagar, Rob Frost climbed with the four-man Swiss team and documented their progress as they climbed, then captured close-up footage of hard ice and rock climbing from above by cajoling the climbers into releading a few pitches as they rappelled the route. Knowing they were on their way home makes the scene of one climber being nailed with a fire hose of spindrift while climbing steep ice all the more impressive. It’s amazing he even agreed to do it: This is posing, but it's a far cry from a swimsuit-model shoot.
“Sur le fil des 4000” documents French climbers Patrick Bérhault and Philippe Magnin’s fantastic and visionary attempt to link all 82 of the Alps' 4,000-meter summits, in winter conditions, without any breaks or motorized assistance. Bérhault fell and died three-quarters of the way through the project, and the film is a moving tribute to the great alpinist. Director Gilles Chappaz solved the problems of shooting in this environment by covering some tough climbs near huts, where he could set up in relative comfort, by equipping the climbers with a small camera for remote peaks, technical routes and stormy days, and by doing the occasional helicopter fly-by. It’s cool to see how quickly and confidently these two move over the sort of moderate ice, mixed ground and fourth-class and low fifth-class terrain that comprises so much of alpine climbing but is rarely compelling in film.
My favorite film on Saturday was “Passe-moi les jumelles: Le Clocher du Portalet," by Pierre-Antoine Hiroz. This one tells the story of two great modern Swiss climbers, Didier Berthod and Simon Anthamatten, free-climbing a 40-year-old aid route under the curious and appreciative gaze of the route’s pioneers, Michel Darbellay and Michel Vaucher, two great Swiss climbers of a prior generation. (Darbellay was first to solo the Eiger's North Face.) The older climbers’ commentary and the interplay between the two generations is heartfelt and filled with mutual respect; it’s clear that a passion for climbing unites all four. This is an understated yet powerful 15-minute film that will be hard to see in the U.S. unless the Banff organizers send it on tour. I hope they do—I’d like to see it again.
Quote of the day: In “Grand Canyon Dreams,” Will Gadd’s short film about paragliding across the Grand Canyon, Gadd initially plans to hang onto a three-wheeled, motorized glider until it reaches sufficient altitude above the canyon rim, whereupon he will jump off. Will doesn’t seem too happy about clinging to one side of this absurdly small and flimsy-looking contraption, and he says so to its pilot, Chris Santacroce, who replies: “Just hang on. You’re a fucking rock climber."
I didn't see the second day of films, but I learned this morning that "Sur le fils des 4000" won the grand prize last night. You can read about all of the prize-winning films at the Banff Mountain Film Festival web site.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:21 AM
Friday, November 04, 2005
This morning, Geoff Powter, editor of the Canadian Alpine Journal, interviewed Steve House in front of a large audience. House, of course, is one of America's leading alpinists at the moment, and is a blunt voice for the purest forms of alpine-style climbing. Most recently, House and Vince Anderson climbed a direct new route on the 4,100-meter Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat in six days up, two days down. Some quotes from today that I liked:
"My mission statement is I want to be the best alpinist I can be. And so I ask myself, how do I structure everything else to meet that goal. Where do I live? What do I do for work? How much do I spend on a car? If you're going to try to be the best you can at anything, then everything else has to follow."
"Different routes have different half-lives, if you will. I might go do half a dozen pitches at Smith Rock, and the next day I'm ready to go climbing again. But after Nanga Parbat I was ready to rest for a while; I was happy not to climb at all. The more intellectually and emotionally involving a climb is, the longer this feeling lasts."
"The perfect climb for me is one that takes everything I have. But, obviously, no more."
Q. Where do you see this taking you?
A. "Back to ground zero. The root of anything, whether it's a project at Smith or Nanga Parbat, is motivation. To find that next project is going to take some time. I just listen to my intuition. Where it takes me next is probably not what people think. They'll think the next bigger, badder, most awesome face. But that's not what's interesting to me. To me that's not pure. It's looking at the target and not at the process."
By the way, Vince Anderson has posted some terrific photos of the Nanga Parbat climb at his Skyward Mountaineering web site.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:03 PM
Last night my book, Longs Peak, won the Mountain Exposition Award at the 12th Banff Mountain Book Festival—one of seven winners out of 153 books entered from eight countries. What's Mountain Exposition? Basically it means "other," which is the only place my book really belongs, with its mix of history, climbing stories, geology and nature. (Most of the past winners in this category have been guidebooks; I was told by one organizer that my book was considered for Mountain Literature until the final round of voting, but it's a good thing it was moved—I didn't stand a chance against the superb works there.) The other winners are:
Grand Prize: "Being Caribou," by Karsten Heuer
Mountain Literature: "On Thin Ice," by Mick Fowler
Adventure Travel: "Learning to Breathe," by Andy Cave
Mountain History: "The Villain," by Jim Perrin
Mountain Image: "Mountain Ranges of Colorado," by John Fielder
Canadian Rockies Award: "The 11,000'ers of the Canadian Rockies," by Bill Corbett
I must say it is pleasing to be recognized this way. Writing a book is a load of work for very little financial reward, and it is great to hear strangers say they like what you've done.
I did get a good insight into the power of celebrity in the book world, even in the tiny world of mountain literature. Arlene Blum, author of the landmark 1980 book "Annapurna: A Woman's Place," has just published a memoir, and she gave a talk after the awards last night. Then she and all the award winners signed books in the lobby. Blum had a line forty deep that kept refilling with eager buyers. Meanwhile, Andy Cave and I each signed three or four books and then gave up and headed to the pub. The scene did prompt a good story from Cave. Blum was selling her iconic expedition T-shirt, "A Woman's Place is on Top," and they were going like hotcakes. Before we left, Cave leaned over and told me about a climb he'd done where a Korean women's expedition was in the same area. All of the women proudly and innocently sported T-shirts that read: "A Woman's Place is on the Face."
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:52 AM
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
It was T-shirt weather when I left Denver, and it's winter in Banff. But not winter enough, unfortunately. I called a friend upon arriving in town and he gave me the classic, "You should have been here last week" (when it was in the mid-60s and the rock climbing was fantastic), followed immediately by, "You should have come next week" (when colder, cloudy weather is supposed to bring some ice into shape). Well, I'm here now, and only for a few days. Oh well.
I'm here for the Banff Mountain Book Festival, and a bit of the film festival too. First time for me. It's really quite amazing to see a large auditorium with perhaps 400 people who have come out to see...an author. No slides, no video, no celebrity who just appeared on "Oprah." Just a guy talking about books about climbing.
Tonight I saw Jim Perrin, the British author of several fine books, including the new biography of Don Whillans, "The Villain." I liked "The Villain," which is extraordinarily thoughtful and literate, as climbing books go, and also is filled with lively footnotes, in which Perrin, an insider's insider for decades of British climbing, offers the backstory to his accounts. Tonight he gave the backstory to the backstory, explaining how one of his best footnotes actually wasn't what he wrote originally.
The footnote described his visit with Joe Brown, the greatest of all British climbers, who was at once a partner and rival of Whillans. Perrin went to Brown, a longtime friend, to tell him he planned to write a book about Whillans and to ask for his help. Brown sat him down in front of the fire, poured him a large glass of whiskey, and asked, "Why you writin' this book?" (One of the great pleasures of hearing an English writer read from his work is, of course, hearing him imitate his subjects' regional English accents.) Perrrin then "stammered some flummery" about his reasoning for pursuing the book, and Brown went silent for a full five minutes, staring at Perrin the whole time. He broke the excruciating silence to say, "You do know he was an absolute cunt, don't you?"
Except that's not what it says in the book. The backstory is that Brown asked to read the manuscript before it was published, and Perrin agreed. Brown liked it, but a month or so later he called Perrin back and told him that his wife had read it, too, "and she doesn't think I use that sort of language. She's a bit of a feminist." He suggested instead: "You do know that he was an absolute twat, don't you?" Perrin stifled a laugh and suggested, "You know, it does mean about the same thing, Joe." Brown thought some more and then said, "You better just say 'bastard.' But make sure you add this: 'One to one, he was the the best climbing partner I ever had." And that's the way it appears in "The Villain."
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 8:37 PM
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
It's interesting to read all the Internet chatter this morning following Tommy Caldwell's amazing one-day linkup of the free Nose and Freerider on El Cap. Words like "mutant" and "superhuman" pepper people's comments. Sure, Tommy is a gifted athlete. But athletes never rest on their genes to achieve such great feats. To prepare for this linkup, Tommy did months of incredibly hard endurance training. According to Kelly Cordes, his next-door neighbor in Estes Park, Colorado, a typical training day for Tommy would involve a long, hard bike ride in the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park, followed by sport climbing up to 5.14, followed by a session in the weight gym, followed by more hours on the climbing wall at his dad's house. Week after week after week. I'm sure people don't mean to diminish his accomplishment by calling him a "mutant," as if it comes naturally to him, but in my mind his achievements are only magnified by knowing how hard he works to reach his sky-high goals.
It reminds me a bit of the comments after Matt Carpenter destroyed the record for the Leadville Trail 100 this August. "Well, of course he did it," some said. "He's genetically gifted when it comes to high-altitude running." Yup, Carpenter has the highest VO2 ever tested for a runner. But he also trained hard 13 times a week—that's nearly two sessions a day—every single day for five months in a row to prepare for his great run at Leadville. The greatest athletes start with good genes and then work harder than any of us can imagine to make the most of them.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 8:47 AM
Monday, October 31, 2005
Haven't seen this in a while! I ran up the Third Flatiron this evening with Kelly Cordes, who was celebrating a clean bill of health from his doc after knee surgery. While we were rapping off the back, we both heard a burst of laughter from the top. We were coiling the rope at the base when a young guy who had just downclimbed the descent route ran by us wearing nothing but shoes and a chalk bag. I'm not saying I looked closely, but it was awfully cold in the shadows below the cliff and I'll bet he didn't have to worry about excess flappage as he ran down the trail.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:08 PM
Sunday, October 30, 2005
The American Alpine Club is leading a coat drive for victims of the earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir, which has killed more than 50,000 people and left millions homeless, just as winter is approaching. Climbers and skiers almost always have extra coats lying around that seldom get used—here's how you can do something useful with them. Send your surplus fleece and down to the American Alpine Club, 710 10th St., Suite 100, Golden, CO 80401. The AAC will bundle the coats for shipment to Pakistan, where the Alpine Club of Pakistan will ensure they reach needy people in the mountains. The AAC also has established a Pakistan Relief Fund, which already has raised thousands of dollars for aid to mountain villages. Make a contribution online at the AAC website.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:15 AM
Saturday, October 29, 2005
I just got Photoshop Elements and have begun learning to use it—hence this route line. This is the East Face of Mt. Taylor in Rocky Mountain National Park in late winter of 2004. Greg Sievers and I climbed this line in early April that year. It's pretty big: It took us eight stretcher pitches plus a shorter crux pitch through the summit headwall. Very poor snow conditions (deep and warm); we really shouldn't have been up there. Minimal ice and some sketchy mixed climbing. The approach took two hours longer than expected, we didn't top out until around 10 p.m., and the ski out through disintegrating snow with a malfunctioning headlamp nearly broke my will. All in all, it took us nearly 23 hours car-to-car. This face doesn't get many ascents, but in the right conditions it would be magnificent—certainly one of the biggest and most "alpine" mixed faces in the southern Rockies.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 11:25 AM
Friday, October 28, 2005
Lou Dawson was inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame last Saturday night—the first honoree in the hall of fame's 28-year history whose accomplishments were primarily in ski mountaineering. Dawson was the first and only person to ski all 54 of Colorado's fourteeners, a quest that took him 14 years to complete. He also wrote the best guidebooks to the fourteeners and an inspiring volume of ski-mountaineering history called "Wild Snow." Of personal interest to me, he publishes the web site wildsnow.com, which is packed with useful information and opinion on backcountry skiing, gear, global warming, you name it—and which was the insipriation for the blog you're reading now.
I wrote a short profile of Dawson that will appear in the December issue of 5280. Congratulations, Lou!
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 2:16 PM
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Just got back from a few days of canyon hiking in the San Rafael Swell—so beautiful and yet almost empty compared to nearby Moab. We did the classic Little Wild Horse Canyon-Bell Canyon loop, with 8 miles of fantastic and varied scenery and some good bouldering to climb past pools left by a recent flash flood. Some moron(s) had scrawled names and other gibberish in the sandstone walls—even big arrows pointing up or down the canyon—every few hundred yards for much of Little Wild Horse, nearly sending me into apoplectic seizures.
A day later we hiked into towering Black Dragon Wash, where some cretin who failed second-grade art class had scratched an outline around the large, pale-red pictographs on the canyon's Navajo sandstone walls. What is with these people? I get so saddened by the thought that these mysterious images, which have lasted untouched for centuries, can't survive a decade or two of modern "adventure" tourism. I wonder if any Anasazi or Fremont images will remain unscarred in another decade or two.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 10:43 AM
Sunday, October 23, 2005
Well, how about that: Just got word that my book on Longs Peak is a finalist at the Banff Mountain Book Festival. I've never been to the Banff book and film festivals—I've never even been to Banff—so I think I'll use this as an excuse to go check it out. And I'll pack my ice gear to check out the early-season ice.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:47 AM
Saturday, October 22, 2005
It's fantastic to see Jean Christophe Lafaille headed to Makalu to attempt its first winter ascent, and even more exciting to see him try it as a true solo, without teammates, Sherpas, or even basecamp support beyond a single cook. Makalu has been soloed several times, but it's increasingly difficult to find yourself alone on any 8,000-meter peak these days. By going in winter and eschewing any support on the mountain, Lafaille is playing the game at its highest level. He soloed Shishapangma in similar style last year but summited on December 11, before the start of calendar winter, and then made the mistake of claiming the peak's first winter ascent, a claim most observers disputed. (An Italian-Polish duo then made a calendar-winter ascent of Shishapangma in January.) Lafaille will put his experience on Shish to good use on the world's fifth-highest peak, and he has scheduled his attempt so it will take place after December 21. One must wish him, "Bon voyage et bonne chance!"
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 12:47 PM
Thursday, October 20, 2005
In light of Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden's free ascent of the Nose on El Capitan, there's been lots of internet chatter about whether this is the second, third, fourth, fifth, or whatever free ascent of the route. Here's the history:
1993: Lynn Hill. First free ascent, four days, traded leads but led the hardest pitches.
1994: Lynn Hill. Free ascent in 23 hours, leading every pitch, 3 falls on Changing Corners pitch.
1998: Scott Burke. Led every pitch free over 12 days except for the Great Roof, which he toproped free as storms threatened to end the climb.
2005: Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden. Each climber led or followed every pitch free over four days.
2005: Tommy Caldwell. Free ascent in 12 hours, leading every pitch, 1 fall on Changing Corners pitch.
So, did Scott Burke free the Nose? Did Beth Rodden? Neither led every pitch free, which is the "Euro standard" popularized in Yosemite by the Huber brothers. By that standard, Lynn's FFA shouldn't count nor should Tommy's climb with Beth, because they didn't lead every pitch. And don't count Skinner and Piana's free ascent of the Salathe, the 1988 climb that opened the door to modern El Cap free climbing. In fact, don't count the Hubers' early El Cap free climbs—they swung leads on El Niño, for example. By this standard, only Lynn and Tommy's one-day ascents of the Nose really count. Come on! When it comes to big-wall free climbing, you have to respect the great tradition and technique of swinging leads, which has been used for generations to pioneer big free climbs. And if you accept this standard, then what's the difference between Burke following the Great Roof on toprope and Caldwell following Beth's lead of the Great Roof? Essentially none.
Not convinced? Here's what Caldwell had to say about Scott Burke's climb a couple of weeks before he and Beth climbed the Nose: "I give him credit. I feel people should be able to do what they want up there, as long as they report honestly, which he did.... There’s so many variations of what people count as a free ascent, in terms of stance to stance or ledge to ledge or in a push or one person or two—there’s a bazillion different variations. There’s no way you can police that and say what’s legitimate, I don’t think."
Tommy and Beth are headed back up on the Nose next week for a photo session with Corey Rich. I'm looking forward to seeing those shots in Climbing #245.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 2:05 PM
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
I hiked up to Chasm Lake below Longs Peak's East Face this morning, hoping to find some ice. Not much there. My camera is in for repairs, unfortunately, but here's the verbal report. The Smear of Fear is probably 50 to 75 feet or so from being climbable by the 5.10 rock start. Alexander's Chimney was climbed a couple of days ago, but it looks very, very thin. Martha is nonexistent. There's nothing visible on Meeker. There are some mixed lines forming on Ship's Prow, but they seem a ways off, and there's decent slabby ice above Peacock Pool, so I guess if you were desperate....
I started up the Flying Dutchman, a nice snow gully that sort of parallels Lamb's Slide, with a short wall of ice near the top. But I had some problems with my crampons. I bought La Sportiva Trango S Evo GTX boots this summer, and although I've only hiked and scrambled in them so far, I think they're fantastic. (I'll do a real review once I've done more climbing.) However, the boots have no welt for a toe bail, so they require so-called "new-matic" or "semi-automatic" crampons, and most of my crampons are full step-in, with toe and heel bails. For today, I thought, I could just use my old SMC strap-on crampons. Although they have obvious disadvantages (the straps are fiddly and can make your feet cold), they also are very light and never ball up with snow. They seemed to fit well on my new boots when I adjusted them at home, but as I started plunging up the unconsolidated snow at the base of the route, I discovered a real problem: The heels of my new boots are so narrow that they eventually worked backwards past the heel posts on the crampons, loosening the crampon in front. I tried tightening the straps a couple of times, but the setup was so dangerous that I eventually bailed. (Just as well: Some wind slab had formed in the gully.) Most crampons now come with a heel bail or a strap/cup assembly , but if you're buying modern boots with narrow heels, double-check to make sure they fit securely in your old crampons as well as on your feet.
I noticed on SMC's website that these crampons (still in production, 26 years after I bought mine!) now come with a stainless-steel heel wire to prevent just the problem I'm describing. This would be an easy retrofit, but I'm going to spring for some modern crampons!
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 4:36 PM
Monday, October 17, 2005
I've been reading Jim Perrin's new biography of Don Whillans, "The Villain," recent co-winner of Britain's Boardman Tasker Prize. One passage jumped out at me—but not because of what it said about Whillans:
"Something of which the watching public — the audience for mountaineering — often seems unaware is that there is no intrinsic merit, no heroic value, in the mere struggle for self-preservation, however prolonged it may be.... As mountaineers, if we want to touch the void, we should make sure that, in the event of our falling into it, we get ourselves out; and having done so, we should not pose as heroes, should never believe in the constructs and the erroneous values that a public...may put on our actions. To get through by dint of our own efforts is why we choose to climb."
Perrin's words made me think of Tomaz Humar and his helicopter rescue on Nanga Parbat in August. As a reporter, I strove for balance and objectivity in my write-up on Humar's escapades, which appears in the new issue of Climbing (No. 244). I've never met Humar, but by all accounts he's a super-nice guy, and I can't fault him for calling for help when his situation proved dire. I can't even blame him for starting up the mountain alone and in atrocious conditions, though his decision put others at risk and I wonder if he wasn't pressured into an ill-advised attempt by the arrival in basecamp of Vince Anderson and Steve House, who were intent on the same line (and subsequently climbed it). Most of us have made poor choices in the mountains and just been lucky to get away with it. But Humar crossed a line by posing as a hero—or at least by failing to quash or object to the media-driven (and perhaps sponsor-encouraged) hero-worship that followed his rescue. The pilots who saved him surely are heroic; Humar should only be embarassed by his ignominious retreat. Instead, he has launched a lecture tour and a book undoubtedly will follow, and thus he fails to heed Perrin's words of wisdom.
When I was reporting the Humar story, I called his cell phone many times. His message starts with a recording of Queen's "The Show Must Go On." Make of that what you will...
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 11:25 AM
Friday, October 14, 2005
So, I was at a friend's house in Aspen this summer and late at night a bunch of us headed for the hot tub. (It was Aspen, right?) Jordan Campbell, a photographer and longtime outdoor-industry figure, was last man in the pool. Just before he dropped his drawers, Jordan announced to the boys and girls: "I haven't been as afraid of hot tubs ever since I had my penis reduction!"
(What does this have to do with mountains? It happened in Aspen. And Jordan climbs mountains.)
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 5:15 PM
Thursday, October 13, 2005
The New York Times' Fashion & Style section today featured an article on rock shoes. That's right: Fashion & Style. Longtime Gunkie Michael Dimitri gave his semi-tongue-in-cheek reviews of six models. I particularly liked this comment about the Evolv Bandit: "This California company sells only all-synthetic “vegan friendly” shoes, which Mr. Dimitri said, “doesn’t make for a better or worse shoe,” unless “you had to eat them.”
Nothing new here, actually: I remember back in the late 80s or early 90s when Boreal's Fire Classic was briefly a hot fashion item in certain cities, and sales of black, puffy down parkas in inner-city neighborhoods propped up The North Face's revenues for years. Interesting that Five Ten, easily the most fashion-conscious maker of climbing shoes, was represented in the Times article by the Altia, a white, high-topped crack-climbing shoe reminiscent of the old Converse All Stars. Retro chic?
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:30 PM
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
The Alpine Club of Pakistan has organized a bank account for climbers to contribute to earthquake relief. Donations may be made to the following account:
Lt. Col. (Retd) Manzoor Hussain
Alpine Club of Pakistan
National Bank of Pakistan Cantonment Branch
Alpine Club of Pakistan
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:48 AM
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
The earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir may be more devastating in mountain areas than the mainstream media is reporting, according to Greg Mortenson of the Central Asia Institute. Initial reports suggest Baltistan and other far northern areas may have escaped the worst damage, but many remote villages have not yet been visited by relief workers, and Mortenson warned that landslides and avalanches could continue to cause destruction for months ahead. Hundreds of thousansds of people are homeless, just as winter nears. So far, however, Mortenson has not discovered any damage to the schools built by his Central Asia Institute. Read his report here.
Mortenson and others hope the U.S. government will respond with a major donation of aid, given that Pakistan is a key ally in the "war on terror." So far, the U.S. has pledged $50 million. (By comparison, the government has pledged a total of more than $900 million to tsunami relief and reconstruction.) Many fear that private individuals may have donor fatigue following the Asian tsunami and Katrina hurricane and will not respond to the earthquake they way they did to those disasters. "No group of Americans has enjoyed Pakistan as much as [climbers]," wrote Jim Ansara, VP of the American Alpine Club, in an email last night, urging climbers to respond to the earthquake. The Pakistani Army and Red Crescent organization are taking the lead in immediate relief efforts. To offer longterm support, consider a gift to the Central Asia Institute.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 5:00 AM
Sunday, October 09, 2005
The intro music sounds like something from a documentary on the siege of Stalingrad, but this clip is pretty cool. It's from a new deep-water soloing DVD called "Depth Charge." Big air and big splashes on Croatian sea cliffs. Open the window in the lower right of the home page to fire it up.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:03 PM
Friday, October 07, 2005
Climber and MIT professor Hugh Herr is featured in the November issue of Popular Mechanics as one of the winners of the mag’s inaugural “Breakthrough Leadership Awards.” Herr, who lost both lower legs to frostbite during a storm on Mt. Washington in 1982, is a pioneer in advanced prosthetics. Using special “crack feet” and other modifications, he returned to climbing after his accident and repeated some of the country’s hardest climbs, including the 5.13 crack City Park at Index in Washington. As director of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab, Herr is developing microprocessor-driven prosthetics that actively mimic the complex motions and reactions of human limbs; he imagines a time when powered artificial exoskeletons will enhance the performance of even fully able bodies.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 6:45 AM
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Three cheers for Stefan Glowacz and Robert Jasper, who are headed back to the icecap in Patagonia for a third straight year of battle on Murallón. This isolated 9,285-foot peak was first climbed in 1984 by an Italian team, and Glowacz and Jasper, along with Klaus Fengler, made the probable third ascent, via a new route on the North Pillar, in 2003. Last year they returned to attempt a route on the extremely steep North Face, climbing 21 pitches (17 of them free, at up to 5.12c) before storms drove them down from just below the top. Now they’re headed back to try to clean up the route and make the summit. Any attempt on Murallón is a massive undertaking, with a brutal approach and storms sweeping nearly continuously across the icecap.
I remember the pictures of Glowacz when he was a top sport climber and early World Cup competitor, with day-glo tights and a shoulder-length Peter Frampton ’do. He’s still got the hair, but in recent years he has focused on long, desperate free climbs in the Alps and expeditions to some of the world’s remotest rock faces. Jasper is one of the Alps’ best young climbers, equally capable on 5.14 rock climbs, extreme sport-mixed routes and alpine faces—he has climbed the Eiger’s North Face more than a dozen times, for one. These guys know how to suffer.
All this makes me ponder the old question of why so few American climbers combine world-class rock climbing and alpine skills. I can’t name one 5.14 climber in the U.S. who also does serious mountain routes (not counting alpine rock climbs or big walls). To be sure, there are plenty of American alpinists who crank 5.13 (something I’ll never do, in case anyone’s wondering where I’m coming from), but no one near the top of both games. Perhaps it has something to do with topography. In Ways to the Sky Andy Selters argues that what makes American climbing unique is its wilderness aspect. There are no cable cars to the high peaks like there are in Europe; you have to commit serious time to climb even moderate peaks in the Lower 48. As a result, climbers tend to grow up either spending time in the mountains or spending time at the gym, boulders or crags, but rarely both, at least at a high level. Even for those who want to cross over, it’s just much harder to go sport climbing one day and alpine climbing the next than it is in Europe—no wonder climbers here specialize.
Still, I wonder if there will come a day when some future pundit will paraphrase Yvon Chouinard’s famous essay in the 1963 American Alpine Journal and write, “American climbing gyms have become be the training ground for a new generation of super-alpinists who are venturing forth to the high mountains of the world to free climb the most aesthetic and difficult walls on the face of the earth.” Maybe it will never happen. But wouldn't it be cool if it did?
The photos above (and lots more) can be seen at Glowacz' website and Jasper's website.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 5:55 AM