Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mt. Evans in 5280

5280 magazine's April issue has my story describing the cornucopia of outdoor sports available on Mt. Evans, the fourteener closest to Denver. (36.5 miles from the Capitol dome as the raven flies.) With a paved road to the summit open all summer (and an even longer season to Summit Lake at 12,830 feet), there's no easier access to high-altitude spring skiing, hiking, and climbing in Colorado. Last summer I did my first big climb on Evans in many years, the Cannonball Corner, and it has inspired me to get back up there more often—starting next month, as soon as the road opens, to check out the rumored monster ice climbs that may form in the wet, dark corner of the Black Wall. I've walked in twice during the fall to look for these climbs, without any luck. Maybe a spring visit is the secret formula. First cold day after the road opens, I'm there.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Old Dawgs

I got to do a nice new route in Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday with Greg Sievers. It takes the chimney line that forms the gap between a spectacular pinnacle and the main wall on the west side of the Gash, the deep ravine north of Sharkstooth. We think this is called Forbidden Tower and has at least one rock climb on its main face. It was a very warm day, and it took us almost three hours to ski to the base of the climb, but fortunately there wasn't much hanging above us, and nothing big fell down the line during the day. Fortunately, too, the route went into the shade around noon.

Greg had tried the route about two weeks earlier, but a powerful snowstorm had forced them off about halfway up the route. On Saturday, in beautiful weather and with Greg knowing how to do the tricky entrance to the chimney, our climb went fairly quickly, despite a time-sucking false start when I climbed 300 feet of steep snow and the first bit of technical mixed climbing before realizing I had left all the slings and quickdraws back at the packs. I fixed the ropes, and Greg slid down to the packs and then slogged back up to the belay, graciously minimizing his displeasure at me. Or maybe he was just too winded to curse at over 11,500 feet. We did four pitches, with good mixed climbing on each of the first three, followed by a short rock climb from the notch to reach the airy knifeblade summit in early afternoon.

We had maintained a slim hope that the tower itself might be unclimbed, but there were slings of varying age on top, indicating the pinnacle gets climbed in summer at least once every few years. Still, we were pleased with the route, which we named Old Dawgs Chimney, after a couple of old climbers who may not be able to learn many new tricks but can happily get up to some of the old ones. Given my boneheaded maneuver with the slings at the start of the day, the name may also reflect some memory-loss issues.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Google has added a "Terrain" feature to Google Maps—basically a topo layer with relief shading. Wicked.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Passages

The Dewey Bridge is gone. The 1916 bridge over the Colorado River in southeastern Utah was destroyed in a brush fire, apparently started by a child playing with matches. Until 1988, the single-lane wooden bridge was the only way across the Colorado along the River Road (Highway 128) between I-70 and Moab; until last week it was still used by mountain bikers on the Kokopelli Trail. The bridge even gave its name to a layer of sandstone found beneath the Entrada layer on Echo and Aeolian pinnacles, and in other parts of Canyonlands. I once did a first ascent on Aeolian, and the Dewey Bridge layer seemed at once diamond-hard and desperately fragile. Much like the bridge itself, it turns out.

That bridge had profound sentimental value for desert climbers. When you left the highway and drove past the Cisco ghost town and down through the sagebrush flats and then crossed the bridge over the Colorado, it meant you’d finally entered Canyon Country, and great adventures were about to begin. In the days when Dewey Bridge was the only way across the river, camping was still free and sparsely populated along the River Road; you were likely to know anyone you encountered on Castleton Tower; and many of the storefronts along Moab's main drag were boarded up for winter. Like many climbers, I'd often stop to walk onto the bridge and listen to the river. Though we may have stopped earlier for gas or food during the long drive from Denver or Boulder, this was the first place you could see all the stars blazing in the desert sky. Once, after the new bridge opened, we camped on Dewey Bridge's time-worn planks before carrying on to Indian Creek in the morning.

That era of desert climbing is long past. And to many of us, the bridge's destruction now seems as much a final signal of that passing as it was a beacon to travelers for generations.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Potter Succeeds With "Baseline" Walk


Dean Potter's attempt to do the world's first "baseline," walking a high slackline without a tether but with a BASE-jumping parachute as backup, got major play in mid-March, when the New York Times posted a big story and slick Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen video at its website. In the vid (as in this Steph Davis photo), Potter is shown making several attempts to cross the 180-foot line above Hell Roaring Canyon, near Moab, hundreds of feet above the ground. None were successful. But in early April, Potter finally walked the line without pulling the chute.

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