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Monday, April 23, 2007

Tunnel Vision, Round 2

One week after Jack Roberts and I walked in to check out the climbs Womb With a View and Tunnel Vision in Rocky Mountain National Park, Greg Sievers and I returned to the Loch, hoping for more ice. There was more ice, but not nearly enough. Worse, the day was much warmer than forecast. We third-classed a short pitch and then climbed a long, challenging pitch before the ice and snow just got too slushy to proceed safely. (Well, it already had been unsafe. It just was too slushy to move at all.) I jacked my shoulder lurching onto my right arm when some snow collapsed under me in the chimney, and my heels got chewed up by skiing in mountain boots. But the climbing to our high point was great, and now I'm more psyched than ever to complete this long route. It's supposed to snow a lot over the next few days. Then all we need is some cold nights and a cloudy morning. If not, there's always next year.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wind Sledding

The big spring storm in New England this week has caused some hardship at the Mt. Washington Observatory, the manned weather station on top of the Northeast's highest peak. Winds gusted to 156 mph on Monday, 73 years and 4 days after the observatory documented the highest wind speed ever recorded: 231 mph. This week's storm is particularly damaging because the winds are out of the east and the buildings on top of Mt. Washington are hardened against the prevailing northwest winds. But the residents of this outpost are used to severe weather—they even know how to have a good time with it. Hence, the following Stupid Human Tricks video.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Guessing Game

It's April and that means the annual search for spring ice in Rocky Mountain National Park has begun. This is my favorite time of year in the Park, even though it's also the most frustrating time of year. Yesterday Jack Roberts and I walked and snowshoed up to the Loch, hoping the long mixed climbs on Cathedral Wall might be in shape. That's Cathedral Wall in the upper left of this photo; two 1,000-foot chimney systems sometimes fill with ice in the spring, when the snow above them melts and the running water freezes overnight. Sometimes. Every time I do one of these spring missions, half the talk during the approach is about previous searches for ice—which climbs each of us has done, and how many tries it took to find them in condition. There's a climb called Vanquished just up the valley from Cathedral Wall that is at the top of the hit list for every longtime alpine ice climber in eastern Colorado. Nearly everyone has walked in to try to catch it in shape. Practically no one I know has ever seen it formed. And yet, almost every year it gets climbed, sometimes in the spring, sometimes in the fall. It must exist: There are pictures! Vanquished is said to be a great route, but it wouldn't be half the climb if it formed reliably every season. Guessing is part of the game, and the low odds make winning that much sweeter.

Yesterday there was no ice at all in the Cathedral Wall chimneys, and so, after a two-hour walk with 30-pound packs, we turned around and walked back out. At least it was a beautiful day—warm with no wind. And we weren't the only ones guessing these climbs might be in. Fifteen minutes down the trail, we ran into two other climbers. As soon as one of them saw us carrying big packs, he said, "Uh-oh, which climb didn't you do?" They turned around and walked out with us.

But the season is far from over. The photo above was taken in mid-March 2004, and it shows less snow and ice on the face than we saw yesterday. By the end of April 2004, however, both of the climbs on Cathedral Wall had come into superb condition. And so we faithful watch the weather, hoping for a big dump of wet spring snow that doesn't immediately blow off the cliffs, followed by a day or two of warm sun and icy nights. And then the guessing game will begin again.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Buns of Steel

Mountain athletes! Have your sponsors been pestering you with “what have you done for me lately” questions? Maybe you could be the first Westerner to climb in Honk Kong’s two-century-old bun-scrambling contest. This ritual is held on the island of Cheung Chau to commemorate the death of islanders in the 18th century from bubonic plague. Competitors race up the bun-covered tower, sntaching as many rolls as they can from designated areas within the time limit. Legend has it the sweet buns were supposed to cure illness, but they weren’t too healthy for competitors in 1978, when a bamboo tower collapsed and injured 100 participants and spectators. The contest was banned by the British authorities in Hong Kong for the next 26 years. But with Hong Kong back in Chinese hands, bun climbing is back, baby!

The contest is May 24, and applications are being accepted now. It’s not clear if non-natives are welcome. On the other hand, foreigners were banned from Nepal’s mountains until 1950, so don’t let that discourage you. Hillary bagged Everest—who will be the first Westerner atop Mt. Sticky Roll?


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Not Ready for English-Speaking Markets

My favorite title in the world's climbing media is GÓRY, the Polish magazine that sounds like something Marc Twight might have come up with back in the storm years of his youth. Alas, though it conjures images of alpinists battered by rock fall (or even a boulderer with a bloody flapper), góry just means "mountains" in Polish.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Annals of Obsession

Tuesday, April 10, is the 100th day of 2007. For Boulder’s Scott Elliott, the day will mark the successful conclusion to his campaign to run up 8,461-foot Bear Peak 100 times in 100 days. These past few days have brought a spring storm with persistent cold and a glaze of ice over every street and trail. But only a fool would bet against Elliott’s success.

Elliott, a 42-year-old Macintosh computer tech, is no ordinary mountain runner: He has won the 13.3-mile, 7,815-vertical-foot Pikes Peak Ascent eight times. If not for a certain Pikes Peak runner named Matt Carpenter, Elliott would be the most famous name in that brutal race’s history.

Bear Peak is the middle of a trio of high peaks over Boulder’s beautiful Flatirons. The shortest route up the peak is up Fern Canyon: approximately 2.7 miles and 2,700 vertical feet, with most of the gain coming in the second half, on a seemingly endless series of punishing stone steps and switchbacks. In normal conditions, Elliott usually runs the round trip in about an hour and a half, according to a Clay Evans article in the Daily Camera. (Evans also took the photo here, showing Elliott fastening his Kahtoola crampons for the icy trails.) Unusual conditions—and there have been a lot of them this winter—might slow him to two and a half hours. Elliott has encountered chest-deep snow and nearly 100 mph winds during his “runs.” Because of work commitments and the short winter days, he often goes after dark.

With the 100-day mark approaching, Elliott has had to make up for some missed days because of work and races, and so he’s been doing two-a-days. As I write this, at around 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, it’s 25°F with freezing drizzle. At least the trails won’t be crowded.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Why I Keep Going to Joshua Tree...

...even though most of the climbing is not all that great (IMHO).


Monday, April 02, 2007

April Fools

This morning's perusal of the world's climbing sites revealed a few fairly decent April Fools stunts—a toll-free beta line at and the purported onsight of Britain's legendary Indian Face by a previously unknown Jordanian hard man, "reported" on Planet Fear—but by far the best was this gem from the Qubecois web site Cantille , proposing a new sport: snowshoe bouldering. (Be patient with the slow download—it's worth it.) Allez, allez!

At Rock & Ice we occasionally played an April Fools joke on unsuspecting readers. (They probably were unsuspecting because they didn't mentally link the bimonthly magazine to the specific date of hte April Fools holiday, even if it said April 1 on the cover.) Our best effort was the creation of the National Association Governing Sportclimbing (NAGS), an organization planning to codify responsible climbing practices, like allowing no more than three attempts on routes 5.11 or easier, in order to thin out crowds on popular routes. NAGS officials promised to measure the distance between bolts on new routes, to ensure they were safe, and to issue "chip certification" patches to qualified climbers who wanted to drill holds on new routes. Thanks to Denver-area climber Nate Adams, we even had pictures in R&I 91 and 93: A guy hanging from a rope with a tape measure, and another guy in a white OSHA-like painter's suit waving three fingers at a woman hanging from a project: "Three hangs, you're out!"

Amazingly, some readers bought it: The mail that month was sweet! We were helped along by someone who posted inflammatory "news" on the old rec.climbing site: He claimed to have attended a meeting of the Boulder chapter of NAGS, where the climbers voted to add 125 bolts to the classic route on the Third Flatiron. He wrote: "These guys are real and they are scary." Hah!