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Friday, September 22, 2006

Ski the 14ers...Part II

It's supposed to snow up to 16 inches in the Colorado mountains today, which should be good news to Chris Davenport, who still hopes to complete his quest to ski all 54 of the Colorado 14ers this year. Davenport's original goal was to ski them all from January through June (one ski season), but an exceptionally dry spring shut him down on May 31 at No. 45. (Only one person, Lou Dawson, has skied all the 14ers from their very summit, and it took him about a dozen years to do it.) Reached by email in Europe, where he's leading bike trips, Davenport said he's "totally fired up to get back into the Colorado mountains to finish up my project. I've sold my soul to Mother Nature in hopes that she'll be kind to me in November and December and I can bang out the nine remaining peaks I have left on my list. Skiing these peaks in the early winter, from the summit, will be very difficult, but I have hope."

Meanwhile, the "Ski the 14ers" film will be out on DVD in October. It's sort of weird to have the film completed before the project, but whatever: The footage looks great, and it's cool to see all these familiar mountains in such a dramatic new light. You can watch the trailer here.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tower Lust

Do you have Tower Lust? Not the craving to climb desert towers—lots of us have that. I'm talking about Tower Lust, possibly the first guide to desert climbs.

It's hard to believe now, given the hordes that flock to Moab each spring and fall, but back in the day no guidebook existed to the desert climbing of Indian Creek, Castle Valley, and Canyonlands. Eric Bjornstad's original Desert Rock wasn't published until 1988. (The first edition is listed for $200 at Chessler Books, by the way.) Right around the same time came Ken Trout's mini-guide and stellar topos in Rock & Ice (No. 23, I believe, the same issue that had Charlie Fowler's seminal guide to Colorado ice climbs—that was a keeper! Naturally, I can't find my copy. But I digress...). Before these guides came Tower Lust, a collection of hand-drawn topos assembled sometime around 1986 or 1987 by Taras Skibicky and copied for friends. Taras and his wife, Anne Leibold, were some of the most active and talented desert climbers of the 1980s. I don't know exactly when Taras put together Tower Lust (the most recent topos are dated 1986, and I must have got my copy in 1987), nor do I know if it continued to grow until more formal guidebooks were published and made Taras' work unnecessary. I haven't seen him in ages. My copy of Tower Lust is 29 pages, and most of the great classics are in there: Castleton, Fine Jade, Primrose Dihedrals, North Sixshooter. The guide lists only eight routes at Supercrack Buttress (now there are at least two dozen). It also includes Taras and Anne's striking route on Bridger Jack, Powders of Persuasion, which was temporarily renamed through a typo in the Bjornstad guide and became Ponders of Persuasion.

I feel very lucky to have climbed in the Canyonlands in those days, when information was scarce and every climb seemed like a huge adventure. (And I arrived after the really adventurous era. From the 1960s through the early ’80s, before cams were widely available, climbing sandy, parallel-sided cracks was downright dangerous as well as strenuous and scary.) Less than 20 years ago, chain motels had not taken over Moab; half the storefronts on Main Street were boarded up all winter. It was still rare to encounter another climber at Castleton Tower or Supercrack Buttress. You didn't have to specify which brand of cam you were describing when you said a climb needed six No. 2 cams—Friends were the only units available. Climbing in the desert is still great, but it just isn't the same.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Monday Afternoon Time Waster

The trailer for the new film E11, covering Dave MacLeod's two-year effort to establish Rhapsody, has just been posted here. Rhapsody is the only E11 in Great Britain—E11 translates to 5.14 climbing with huge, potentially damaging falls, and indeed MacLeod lobs off over and over in this geat short trailer. Not since Hard Grit has a climbing film promised so much nail-biting gibbering on tiny holds and so many gut-churning whippers. The film will be out in late October.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

California Leads The Way

Friday's New York Times published a couple of charts that show per-capita electricity consumption has stayed bascially flat in California since the mid-1970s, while per capita use nationwide has risen more than 50 percent. How did they do it? By having the political will to enforce relatively simple requirements for energy efficiency in home appliances and other big electricity users. True, California's electric rates are 40 percent higher than the national average, according to the Times. However, because they consume much less electricity, users pay comparable bills.

These charts were part of an article about California's bold initiative to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020. Reading this, I was left thinking: What the hell is wrong with the rest of us? Depending on who's doing the measuring, California's economy ranks with Italy, Spain, or China for gross domestic product. And the state's economy has generally performed as well or better than the rest of the U.S. economy. So much for conservation measures being bad for business—that's an argument that I find incredibly frustrating to hear. If our leaders had even a glimmer of foresight they'd be pouring every resource they could into making the U.S. the world leader in renewable energy, new energy technologies, and energy-efficient devices of all kind, so we could control our own destiny as oil reserves are sucked dry. Imagine the business opportunities that await for the country that develops the dominant energy supply of the 21st and 22nd centuries. Imagine selling energy to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, instead of groveling to buy it. If such innovation happens in the U.S., it will be despite the fumbling efforts of the oil addicts in Washington. I hope it happens in California—they deserve it.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Outdoor Media News

Longtime Outside magazine owner Larry Burke is launching a quarterly travel magazine called, awkwardly, Outside's Go. (Probably a wee "Outside's" above a big "Go" on the cover.) According to the New York Post, the first issue, slated for March, will be polybagged with 100,000 copies of Outside; the new magazine's planned rate base (guaranteed circulation) is 200,000. Burke is teaming up with Outside's founding publisher, Don Welsh, to launch the new venture. It's aiming at a relatively untapped market for travel mags: well-heeled male readers, age 35 and over. The editor will be Kent Black. Outside currently publishes two travel annuals; presumably, those will be dropped.

At the other end of the outdoor media glossiness spectrum, Mountain Gazette, the 10-times-a-year alternative outdoor magazine published out of Colorado and distributed mostly in ski towns in the West, has been purchased by an investment group consisting of financial consultant Paul Gibb; Marc Sani, publisher of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News; and Felix Magowan, publisher of Velo News and Inside Triathlon. Plans are to upgrade the print quality (it's now on newsprint), go monthly, and increase distribution to 100,000 copies a month. The Mountain Gazette was a pioneering outdoor magazine in the 1970s, publishing writers from Edward Abbey to David Roberts. John Fayhee, who resurrected the Gazette in 1999 after a two-decade hiatus, will remain editor under the new management.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Ow Bird

Yeah, yeah, I know: Keep the rope in front of you, don't get your legs tangled in the rope. But sometimes you can't help it. Failing to clear the lip of a roof in Clear Creek Canyon, I managed to burn the back of my left knee and bruise my right knee during the same fall. Dave Goldstein, my longtime climbing partner, once said to me, "If you were a bird, your call would be "ow!," because I so frequently bump into things and mutter (or shout) "ow." But this time the bird deserved to call.


Monday, September 11, 2006


Nick Clinch, commenting on the news that a number of small peaks around the Vinson Massif had been named for members of his 1966-67 expedition to Antarctica: "I spent most of my career just trying to avoid having a crevasse named after me."


Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Things They Carried

Patagonia has produced a couple of great short videos of Steve House walking through the gear and clothing that he and Vince Anderson used on their 2005 ascent of the direct Rupal Face on Nanga Parbat. The gear video is 17 minutes long and worth every second. (And kudos to Patagonia for producing a a long video that shows off none of the clothing it makes. OK, so "producing" meant some guy pointing a camera at Steve in a conference room, but still.) These vids demonstrate the care and thought that go into House's choices of how to fill his pack, from gear modifications to save weight to seemingly frivolous items that are worth the extra ounces (goggles in addition to sunglasses, a pot gripper for cooking). I was first struck by House's careful preparation for big alpine routes after seeing the photos from his and Marko Prezelj's ascent of the north face of the Twin Towers in Canada; it was the first time I'd seen someone use leashless tools (with elastic tethers to the harness) on a huge wall, convincing me that leashless climbing was not just a gimmick for sport-mixed routes. And I was super-impressed to learn that House, who had pared his equipment to the bare minimum for that climb, still carried a GPS unit programmed with waypoints across the broad Columbia Icefield; they didn't even intend to descend via that route, but circumstances forced them to choose that option, and House was prepared to navigate the way home in a whiteout. Strength + boldness – preparation and planning = zero. Not always, but usually.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Whipper of the Week

How lucky was this guy? In late July, Dow Williams fell approximately 40 meters when a foothold crumbled on the West Face of the Watch Tower in the Canadian Rockies. He ripped several pieces, plungely past the belay, and barely missed a couple of ledges, coming to a stop about 10 meters above the base of the route. He was not seriously injured. Read his account here.


Monday, September 04, 2006

God's Crag

Earlier this summer, during a weeklong tour of Colorado crags, we visited Lake City and discovered yet another example of this state's embarassment of climbing riches: God's Crag. The setting: 10 miles up the Engineer Pass Road; the crag is at around 10,500 feet, making for comfortable climbing in full sun. The rock: pocketed rhyolite, like the stuff at Penitente Canyon, but more featured and easier on the fingers. The climbs: Something like 40 routes have been done, ranging from 5.8 to 5.13+, with several two-pitch climbs. All sport. 5.10-5.11 climbers will have a great weekend. 5.12 climbers will find two or three weekends of great climbing. 5.13 climbers should bring their drills. The Creamy Salmon Wall has an amazing cluster of five or six 5.12 routes on perfect rock; the picture at right shows climbers on the central (easiest) line at 5.12a. The amazing main face (left), with a pretty waterfall pouring over the lip, has only a few routes, all hard. Above this is the cave taken by Ryan Nelson and Jared Ogden's Jedi Mind Tricks, a good candidate for the world's hardest sport-mixed route, along with three or four other ridiculously steep mixed climbs. The effort they put in to establish these routes in the middle of winter, when the road is closed miles before the crag, is almost inconceivable.