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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dodging Storms on Mt. Hagar

I wasn't optimistic when Mike and I drove up to Loveland on Sunday, hoping to ski a 13er called Mt. Hagar between rain storms.  We had to hike through puddles and small, raging torrents of meltwater to reach the first snow. But higher up the snow was actually pretty decent, and though we had a brief rain shower and a longer snow/graupel event, we also had some blue sky and sun, giving us nice views of the surrounding peaks, including the craggy Citadel (13,294 feet).

On Mt. Hagar's 13,195-foot summit the clouds were thick, but we still hadn't heard any thunder, which was weird, considering what we'd see later. Mike went first off the rocky top and immediately buried an entire leg in waist-deep slush. After the extrication, we gingerly traversed away from the rocks and into a broad chute where there was better snow. Our first turns sent a slush river, three to four inches deep, streaming toward the bench 800 feet below, but underneath was a firm, sun-baked layer, and the skiing in and out of the flowing slush turned out to be fun rather than terrifying. Strangely, the snow just got better the lower we went, with a steep, 400-foot slope of near-corn at around 11,500. As we walked out, the rain started in earnest, but we still had heard only a few faint rumbles of thunder. Then, during the drive home along I-70, we entered one of the most violent thunderstorms I've seen in years—it dumped up to two inches of rain in parts of metro Denver. For whatever reason, we'd escaped it all on Mt. Hagar.


Saturday, May 23, 2009


Back in March, Greg Sievers and I did a probable new route on the north face of Andrews Tower in Rocky Mountain National Park. At the time (left photo), the cornices atop the initial gully were big enough to make us choose a cold day for the route and climb as fast as we could. Now, they're the size of dump trucks. Greg snapped the photo on the right during a ski tour last week, two months later. For scale, the distance from the bottom of the photo frame to the top of the cornices is nearly 100 feet. Those are some big pillows... but I'm guessing they wouldn't feel too fluffy on your face.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Skiing Mt. Toll

Mike Scherer and I skied the classic Mt. Toll in Colorado's Indian Peaks last weekend on a fine day with clouds below but clear sky overhead. During prime spring skiing season, the road past Brainard Lake is closed and most skier bike 2.5 miles up the road until snow covers the pavement. Then it's a 3.5- to 4-mile ski to Mt. Toll's peak.

The best skiing on Toll comes down the obvious 1,000-foot slopes on the southeast shoulder of the 12,979-foot peak, but you can ski all the way back to the bikes in May.

We got a late start, leaving the car at 8:15, and we weren't on top until after noon. The result? Wet, unpredictable snow that made for tough turns. Still, a great day out!  


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Apropos of Nothing

Just the coolest backyard woodpile sculpture ever created. Alastair Heseltine is an extraordinary sculptor and basket artist from British Columbia. For a visual treat, page through all the photos of his work under the "sculpture" heading on his website.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Wildest Idea

The “First Look” department in the May issue of Outside has my story speculating about the possibility of a free-solo ascent of El Capitan—a buzz that surged in intensity last year after Alex Honnold’s free solo of the northwest face of Half Dome. The story naturally focused on Honnold and Dean Potter, who has begun exploring freeBASE ascents in Europe and North America (soloing with a BASE-jumping rig to give a possible second chance in case of a slip). Both men acknowledged they have pondered an El Cap solo, and both also indicated there was a very good chance they'd never attempt the feat.

Any time you feature such a dangerous act as free-soloing El Capitan—or the prospect of such an climb—in a high-profile venue like Outside, you will hear complaints that by “glorifying” the act you raise the chances that someone will attempt it, with the all-too-possible chances of fatal consequences.

When I interviewed him about El Cap, Potter told me, “The motivation should just be as pure as possible on this, and I think journalists might want to respect the mental process of a soloist, and not give them any extra motivation one way or another, and just kind of see what happens one way or another.” When he hears people ask him when he’s going to solo El Cap, Potter went on, “It doesn’t make me feel like, ‘Oh yeah, I should do it.' It makes me feel like a part of something that kind of disgusts me.”

But Potter and others are thinking about how and when someone might solo El Cap, and to me that’s a super-compelling story. I simply can’t imagine the skill, self-confidence, and self-control that would be required to free-solo El Cap, and so I find it fascinating to consider the possibility that any person might have what it takes. And as much as we abhor death and injury in climbing, the potential for such consequences is part of what makes climbing so compelling. Nowhere is that possibility more starkly illustrated than with free soloing. Of course I’d be horrified if someone died while attempting an El Cap solo, but I’d also be thrilled and inspired if someone succeeded. Like it or not, that contradiction is intrinsic to the sport.