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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.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Warm Coats for Pakistan

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.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Mt. Taylor Photoshop Practice

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.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Dawson Enters Skiing Hall of Fame

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, 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!


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Swell Hiking

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.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Going to Banff

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.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Makalu Solo in Winter

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!"


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Caldwell on Burke

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.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Walk in the Park

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!


Monday, October 17, 2005

False Heroics

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...


Friday, October 14, 2005

Say Again?

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.)


Thursday, October 13, 2005

End of the World as We Know It Department

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?


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Good Genes

Marmot founder Eric Reynolds on the gifted climber Rolando "Rolo" Garibotti: "He's got different genes than everyone else. It's all RNA: Rolo-nucleic acid."


Another Way to Help...

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
Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Alpine Club of Pakistan


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Aid to Earthquake Victims

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.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Monday Morning Time Waster

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.


Friday, October 07, 2005

Making Lemonade

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.


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hard Core

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.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Roskelleys Bail

The father-and-son team of John and Jess Roskelley has given up on 23,400-foot Gaurishankar in Tibet. (See my original report here.) The unclimbed Northeast Face, their original objective, had much less snow and ice than antcipated, and the duo was neither equipped for the necessary rock climbing nor prepared to risk the incessant rockfall. They switched to the Northeast Ridge but retreated after finding a "house of cards" of loose rock on the upper ridge.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Exploring the Indian Peaks

A friend of mine just asked for info about a route I did in Colorado's Indian Peaks 10 years ago, and for some reason I actually had saved a topo from back then. The route is the south buttress of Shoshoni Peak, an obscure climb not published in any guidebook. I remember it being very good, and it reminds me how much cool climbing in Colorado just never gets done. The crowds all flock to the Petit Grepon and other classics in Rocky Mountain National Park, and in the Indian Peaks technical climbers stick to just a few well-known climbs, like the North Buttress of Toll and the North Ridge of Navajo. The rock in the Indian Peaks isn't quite as good as the best stuff in the Park, but there's loads of great climbing for those willing to look around.

By the way, the article in Climbing #69 mentioned on this topo describes a steep Jeff Lowe route to the left of this one on Shoshoni. Looked like hard 5.10 or so and very good. But it will have to wait until next year. More snow is expected in the Front Range tonight.


Monday, October 03, 2005

Monday Morning Time Waster

OK, here's a good way to kill a few minutes before the staff meeting. "Rockface" was a BBC TV drama about a Scottish mountain rescue team that aired for a couple of seasons. The "Rockface" video game on the BBC website lets you pilot a helicopter to pick up stranded hikers and climbers. So far, I've only attempted the "training mission." I've crashed a couple of choppers, and I keep smacking my "winch man" into cliffs and dunking him into the ocean. I better get back to practicing.


Saturday, October 01, 2005

The F Word

Tom Goldstein, the mostly non-climbing brother of my regular partner Dave, has hung around enough crags to learn all he needs to know about climbing. One day, observing a particularly arduous and vocal ascent, he told Dave: "If the word 'fuck' didn't exist, climbers would have had to invent it." Amen, brother.