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Thursday, September 29, 2005

September Ice

It snowed down to 11,500 feet on Colorado’s Front Range on Tuesday night, and although the forecast is for temps in the low 80s in Denver this weekend, a few ice climbers undoubtedly will trek up to Longs Peak to see what climbs might be in. Fall ice climbing on Longs is a great and frustrating game: It’s a four-mile walk with 2,500 vertical feet of climbing just to see if the good climbs exist. Even the Longs Peak web cam doesn’t reveal what’s happening where the ice forms inside the Chasm Lake cirque. I’ve walked up there three times in the fall to try the Smear of Fear, the 250-foot route on Longs’ Lower East Face established in 1989 by the formidable trio of Duncan Ferguson, Jeff Lowe and Malcolm Daly. The first two times, no ice had formed and we walked right back out. The third time, ice plunged all the way to the snow at the base. This is very, very rare—often you have to climb a difficult pitch of rock on the left to reach the lowest ice, even when the Smear is “in.”

But here’s the thing with autumn ice climbing: The hardest climbs often form up when you’ve had the least time to practice. My partner and I geared up for the well-formed Smear, and then I kicked steps up a steep bank of snow and swung a tool at two inches of ice over granite slab. The pick bounced out. I swung a little more gently and the pick stuck, but I hesitated. I looked up the slab of ice, only four or five feet wide, and calculated the meters to the first possible protection. I knew the climbing wouldn’t be too hard, but I hadn’t climbed ice for many months. I was physically strong but mentally weak. My partner wasn’t game either, and so we headed off to do Alexander’s Chimney as a consolation prize. And the sad thing is I’ll probably never find the Smear in such great shape again.

But you never know. Maybe I’ll head up there this weekend and check it out.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Old Guy At It Again

John Roskelley, arguably the greatest American climber in Himalayan history, is back at it—this time with his son, Jess. In 2003, the father-and-son team summited Mt. Everest via the North Ridge, and this year they’ve raised the ante sky-high, attempting the steep, unclimbed Northeast Face of 23,400-foot Gaurishankar in Tibet. John Roskelley climbed the peak’s West Face in 1979, considered one of the most technically difficult Himalayan ascents ever. His list of other major ascents in the the region since 1973 is mind-boggling: K2, Makalu, Uli Biaho, Tawoche, Dhaulagiri, Nanda Devi and on and on. Now, at 56, Roskelley is back in a Himalayan basecamp, acclimatizing for an attempt on Gaurishankar’s 6,000-foot rock and ice ice wall with only his 22-year-old son as a partner. “I had to manufacture my own climbing partner," John writes on the expedition website. "I wore too many of my generation out.”

Follow the climb with written and audio reports here.

What I wonder is this: How do these old guys get it up for climbs like this? I’m much younger than John Roskelley, and my taste for really dangerous climbing has definitely waned. Charlie Sassara once told me: “The courage is the first thing to go.” Here’s a thought: Maybe some climbers had more courage to begin with.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Welcome to The Mountain World

This blog is my take on the mountain world—the world of people who find challenge and spirtual sustenance among high peaks, and whose activities there may be inspirational or asinine (or both). I plan to report and comment on mountain news and images, and I will post occasional trip reports that actually may interest someone besides my mom—in short, anything that does not fit into my usual Internet outlets at Climbing magazine's website and the AAC's E-News, both of which, I hasten to add, have no relationship with this blog.

Who am I? I've been writing about mountain sports for over 20 years, both as a freelancer and as an 8-to-5'er. I've been skiing since I was 3, backpacking since 15 and climbing since 17. I was editor in chief of Rock & Ice magazine for half a decade, and I co-founded Trail Runner magazine. I published a book last year about Longs Peak in Colorado. Now I write regularly for Climbing, Outside, Backpacker, 5280 and other mags, but there's a lot you can't say or do in print. That's where this page comes in. It publishes the things other people won't pay me to say.