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Friday, April 28, 2006

Big Air I

Jeezum Crowbar! That's Chris McNamara leaping off Lover's Leap in California, parachute (hopefully) at the ready. Photo by David Safanda. More photos, explanation and discussion at


Big Air II

No chute on this guy! Note, he's falling in this shot, not climbing (and he walked away, thanks in part to a saintly spotter.) See the video clip here. It's from UnderDeveloped, an upcoming film about climbing in Ireland.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Secrets of the Stars

When Tommy Caldwell linked two El Cap free routes in a day last October (totaling 51 pitches), he carried two pairs of shoes: a snug-fiitting set for the crux pitches and a more comfortable pair for the wide cracks and easier stuff—everything 5.12a and easier, that is. (They were La Sportiva Miuras and Tradmasters, respectively, if you care about that kind of thing.) Many of us carrry multiple pairs of shoes to the base of a crag and swap out depending on the situation. But this got me wondering if I should do the same on a long route. There's always a compromise with a single pair of shoes: Either they're comfy and a bit sloppy or they're tight and precise but your feet hurt so much that you start losing your concentration—if not your will to live. For certain long routes, with lots of moderate cruising and a few hard pitches, the Tommy Two Shoes technique might be just the thing. Of course, I'm not likely to have a belayer who will carry my spare shoes like Tommy had.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Forget Something?

Sous chef David Goldstein preps for fine dining at Zion National Park's Watchman campground, April 2004.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Skiing on a Warm Planet

Is this the future of skiing? Snoasis , a proposed indoor ski resort 80 miles from London, received key approvals on Friday and is slated to open in 2009. If it is completed, the $570 million complex will have a 1,550-foot-long main ski slope with 330 feet of vertical drop, plus the usual accoutrements: ice rink, ice climbing wall, bobsled run, golf course, conference center and casino. At the district council meeting where approval was granted, one dissenter likened Snoasis to a giant phallus looming above the bucolic Suffolk countryside.

This year a similar indoor ski resort opened in Dubai, but Britain? Not surprising, really: It's a 12-hour drive from London to Scotland, and there's often little snow when you get there. One-hundred meters of vertical drop isn't much, but it'll be good for the kids, the after-work crowd, and business meetings, I suppose. If I lived in London, I'd still be buying those dirt-cheap airfares to ski in the Alps on weekends.


Friday, April 21, 2006

Extreme 14'ers

The Ski the 14'ers project is getting super-interesting. Last week, Chris Davenport, Neal Beidleman and Ted Mahon made the second descent of the Chris Landry line on the east face of Pyramid Peak, eliminating the short downclimb that Landry was forced to do on the first descent, way back in 1978. And yesterday, Davenport and Beidleman pioneered an amazing line on the east and south faces of Capitol Peak, one of Colorado's steepest mountains. According to Lou Dawson, who broke the news (and posted an AWESOME follow-up photo) on his Wild Snow website, Davenport said this was the toughest descent he'd ever done. Dawson also reported the third descent of the Pyramid line, the same day, by a group of skiers including Sean Crossen, who now just needs Capitol to complete his own multiyear quest to ski the 14'ers, making him the second person after Dawson to do them all.

Sound incestous? Not really. There just aren't that many people capable of pulling off these descents week after week, despite Colorado's high population of amazing skiers. Speaking of which: a few lest-we-forget notes on Chris Landry, who more or less pioneered extreme skiing in the U.S. After his Pyramid Peak descent in the late 1970s, Landry went on to complete two other almost inconceivable descents: the icy Mendel Couloir on Mt. Mendel in the Sierra, and the 6,000-vertical-foot Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainier. Later he attempted to ski the West Rib route on Denali but took a 1,000-foot fall and quit extreme descents for good. One shudders to imagine the skill and nerve such descents required on the gear of the late 1970s. The skis no doubt did their share of shuddering, too.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Easter Surprise

A friend was climbing on the pocketed rhyolite of Penitente Canyon in central Colorado last weekend, and on Sunday morning he (and everyone else in the canyon) discovered that an Easter bunny who climbs 5.10 had secreted colored eggs in some of the huecos and pockets on popular routes. Pretty funny. My friend's reaction? "The damned egg was blocking the hold and I couldn't clip!"


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

InSanitas Indeed

Early Sunday morning, ultrarunner Paul Pomeroy completed his 30 laps of Mt. Sanitas—that's 100 miles and 40,000 vertical feet on stair-step trails up the 6,863-foot peak above Boulder, Colorado. In typical Colorado spring weather, Pomeroy endured temps in the 80s followed by high winds and scattered cold rain. Plagued by stomach problems and muscle cramps on his first day, Pomeroy was slower than he'd hoped and finished in 45 hours 5 minutes. To put that in perspective, Colorado's Hardrock 100, considered one of the hardest ultras in the world, covers only 33,000 vertical feet (albeit, much of it over 11,000 feet in elevation), and 40 percent of the Hardrock finishers last year spent more than 45 hours on the 100-mile loop course. No doubt Hardrock runners get better views, but I'll bet Pomeroy experienced interesting "inner views" during the second night of his epic on Sanitas.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Springtime in the Rockies

Spring may be my favorite season in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's when some of the Park's best routes come into shape and the deep mantel of snow transforms ordinary climbs into beautiful and challenging outings. Yesterday, Greg Sievers and I climbed the Spiral Route on Notchtop. It's a pleasant mountaineering route in summer, with some 5.4 rock and scrambling, gaining a wild summit ridge. A storm the day before had brought cold temps, very high winds and a shot of snow to the Park, and the clouds and gusty wind lingered as we skied toward Notchtop. It wasn't looking good: The rime-covered peak looked like a tower straight out of B.C. or southeast Alaska and gusts were knocking me off my skinny skis. But the forecast was excellent, so we kept the faith.
By the time we started up the first rock pitches, the sun was out but the wind was still gusting. As we spiraled around the tower into the lee, the day got warmer and the clouds vanished. Crampons on, tools out, we entered the upper gully and slogged up some nasty unconsolidated snow to the final headwall. We chose a more direct line than the one I had followed before in summer, and it probably had some 5.7 or 5.8 rock. l got us halfway up before running out of rope and gear, and Greg got the crux, a couple of sketchy bare-handed moves on wet rock. All in all, a great climb in splendid alpine surroundings.

Much of the Park is dry in summer, but in the spring there's snow everywhere, and it's easy to visualize the glaciers that filled these cirques years ago. Spring is also ski season in the Park, and while we were climbing we watched three skiers headed up to the steep chutes and bowls at the head of the valley, and then ski out a couple of hours later. Once we crested the ridge, we could see their tracks right down the middle of the Ptarmigan Glacier. As we were rapping off, we heard a roar and watched all of the new snow slide off the glacier, obliterating the skiers' tracks about two and a half hours after they left them. With cornices looming over our own exit gully, we raced down as fast as we could and were happy to reach the skis safely and point them toward home.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Music to Slog By

What was running through Vince Anderson's head as he neared the summit of Nanga Parbat on Day Six of his alpine-style ascent of the Rupal Face? According to Vince, it was the dulcet strains of the seminal Norwegian Black Metal band Darkthrone. You can listen to samples here. I've had some of the same sounds pounding in my head at altitude. I just didn't realize they were music. On the other hand, I think I'd have preferred Darkthrone to the song that played an endless loop in my head last summer during long training runs for the Leadville 100. The song was "Frosty the Snowman."


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Gadd on Crack

Will Gadd has posted a trip report that gets at the mystery, misery and joy of crack climbing in Indian Creek, Utah. I love this passage: "My friend Greg was stuck neck-deep on an offwidth crack a few days ago and, after a long period with no movement, Greg's partner asked him what he was looking for with his head stuck so deep into the void. Greg said, 'My soul.'" Check it out here.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mountaineering: Not Dead Yet

There may be a decline in the number of climbers registering for Mt. Rainier and other big peaks, but popular mountain routes are still all too popular. As the spring alpine season gets under way in Colorado, here's a reminder: This pic was taken in early June of 2004, looking down the south couloir on Mt. Arapahoe in the Indian Peaks. Take a number!


Monday, April 10, 2006

Davenport's 14er Count Hits 20

With all the gruesome news in skiing last week (Doug Coombs and Chad VanderHam's deaths; the horrible accident at Mammoth that claimed three ski patrollers), it's nice to celebrate a little fun in skiing: Chris Davenport skied his 20th Colorado 14'er this weekend, Mt. Lindsey, putting him more than one-third of the way through his quest to ski all 54 of the 14ers in a single ski season. He ain't likely to succeed, and Davenport knows it: There's just not enough snow in parts of the state to allow successful ski descents from the very summit of each peak. But he keeps plugging away, heading out to a different range two or three times a week in all conditions. Davenport's online reports and photos at make great reading—above all, he just seems to be having fun out there, despite some truly grueling days. Must be nice to be fully sponsored and be able to make your living this way!


Friday, April 07, 2006

Three Cups of Tea

I have just about finished the new book Three Cups of Tea, by David Oscar Relin and Greg Mortenson, director of the Central Asia Institute, and I can safely say: Buy this book. Starting with nothing but a desire to help the Balti people in northern Pakistan who had helped him, Mortenson has built more than 50 schools in Central Asia and has done far more to win the "war on terrorism" than Washington has done by spending billions of dollars and sacrificing many thousands of lives. I feared either a dry or sensationalistic account in Three Cups of Tea, but, knowing Mortenson a bit, I shouldn't have worried. In much the same gentle but persistent way that Mortenson earned the trust of his clients in Asia, he formed a two-year collaboration with his co-author that has produced an engaging tale. As a storyteller, Relin has an odd method of mixing past-tense narration with present-tense quotes from his interviews, but Three Cups of Tea is nonetheless a page-turner. Although I already knew much of the story, the book renewed my amazement at Mortenson's dedication (sleeping for a year in a car in the Bay Area despite a good job, in order to save money to build his first school) and at the succession of serendipitous meetings with just the people in both America and Pakistan that could most help him advance his mission. Best of all was Relin and Mortenson's revealing and sympathetic look at the various communities where Mortenson works. I wish certain people in Washington would read this book and take some of its lessons to heart.


Thursday, April 06, 2006


I've been struggling all week to write something useful about the death of extreme skier and Exum guide Doug Coombs above La Grave, France. For once, I'm speechless. Instead, two links:

1. A beautiful video shot last June during Coombs and Doug Workman's ski (and rappel) descent of the Otterbody Couloir on the Grand Teton.

2. A way to contribute: The Doug Coombs Memorial Fund.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Scottish Lunacy

Raise a glass to Stephen Perry, who just completed a 121-day effort to bag all 284 of the Scottish Munros in winter conditions, without any motorized assistance other than ferry rides. What's a Munro? It's any peak in the Scottish Highlands higher than 3,000 feet. What's so hard about climbing a 3,000-foot peak? This is Scotland. The weather is just plain awful in winter (it's pretty bad in summer too). Perry's online log of the journey gives a sense of the difficulties, from beginning to end:

"Day 1, Thursday 1 December. Starting on Mull, climbed Ben More from the south side in winds gusting up to 86mph, then walked some 17 miles to Craignure at speed in order to catch the ferry to Oban and stayed overnight at the youth hostel."

"Day 121, Friday March 31. Walked to the foot of Ben Hope, then climbed the final Munro of a long and arduous trip. The weather was suitably Scottish—absolute blizzard conditions."

Perry stayed at a few inns and bothies (simple stone huts), but most nights he camped out. He walked around 1,500 miles. What a nut. I love this guy!


Sunday, April 02, 2006

April Fools

Some pretty good April Fools posts emerged all over the Web on Saturday. In my quick survey of outdoor and travel sites, nothing else came close to the flurry of fake stories on Two of my favorites:

Palin to Explore Inside of Cruise's Head
Monty Python alum Michael Palin and a BBC documentary crew will embark later this Spring on a 21 day expedition through the folds and recesses of actor Tom Cruise’s brain. Hot off the success of travelogues which have taken Palin Pole to Pole and Around the World in 80 Days, the British actor has made a career of journeying to locations so remote that many people don’t believe they even exist. The trek through Cruise’s brain will continue this exciting trend....

Nepalese Plan Everescalator
The Nepalese government wants to make it easier, much easier, for people to climb towering Mount Everest. Turns out they are planning to build a working, electric escalator that will carry people from base camp to the summit in less than an hour. The engineering effort is being put in the hands of the Japanese, in a serious political snub to the Chinese who had also bid on the project. The proposed escalator will be approximately fifteen miles long and will rise and fall with the jagged gradations of the mountain. It will move approximately five miles an hour and will offer superb views of the surrounding Himalayas....