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Saturday, December 31, 2005

World Climbing Dreambook

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.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

At Home on Ice

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.


Friday, December 16, 2005

The Scourge of Light Pollution

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.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Greg Child on the Messner Mystery

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!


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Everest on Bad Oxygen 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." 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 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.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Memory Lane: Drop Zone

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.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Yeah, But Can He Pull 1-4-7 with One Finger on a Campus Board?

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.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Gecko Man

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.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Public Lands: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

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.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Diamond Couloir Still Shining

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.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Wearable Electronics

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?


Eldorado Gold

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?


Friday, December 02, 2005

No More Excuses

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.


New Traditionalists

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!


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.


Skiing the 14ers in a Season

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.