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Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Spinner

All this spring I tested the Black Diamond Spinner set-up for leashless ice tools. I went mostly leashless a couple of years ago, but I’ve always worried about dropping a tool on big climbs. In fact, I’ve had a couple of scary bobbles. But I haven’t been able to buy a commercial tether in the States—Grivel made one, but I’ve yet to find it at a shop—and I’m too inept to make my own. The Spinner, which will be available this fall, is a sweet solution to the leashless dilemma. It girth-hitches to your belay loop with a 360° swivel device to minimize tangles, and it’s outfitted with easy-to-use clips for your tools and bungied tethers that extend to full arm’s reach for high placements.

The Spinner really eased my mind on long mixed climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park and Chamonix. I could climb quicker without having to worry every second about dropping a tool, and sometimes I’d let one tool hang from its tether while I fiddled with gear or bare-handed a move. Only occasionally did the tethers get in my way, and now and then I had to untwist them, but I think this is just a matter of learning how best to use such tethers—it’s not a flaw of the Spinner set-up. Plus, the tethers are rated to 2kN—that’s probably not enough to hold a fall if your feet cut out and you drop hard onto your tool, but it’s more than enough for body weight, which does offer a measure of comfort.

The Fang grips that I’d installed on my old Viper tools covered the clip-in holes, so I had to thread a loop of thin nylon tape behind the Fangs as clip-in points; they’re ugly, but they work fine. Newer Viper and Cobra tools don’t have this issue.

All in all, the Spinner is a great simple tool at $49.95—a total bargain for the peace of mind it offers to leashless climbers.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Beetle Mania

How will pine beetles affect outdoor recreation in Colorado? It ain't going to be pretty. I wrote about the problems hikers and backcountry skiers will face for the next decade or more in the summer issue of Elevation Outdoors.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Jonny's Gifts

I never climbed with Jonny Copp, but I’d bump into him everywhere: at the foot of a sandstone crack at Indian Creek; just after dawn at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park (gusty winds making us all wonder what we were doing there); post-climb at a picnic table above the Black Canyon; sharing photos on a laptop at his “office” in Amante coffee shop in Boulder. Each time was the same: an extended hand, a huge smile, an encouraging word. He always seemed so happy to see me (a longtime acquaintance but not a close friend); he appeared genuinely thrilled that I was out there with him, sharing similar experiences, sharing possibilities. He made me want to try harder. These were Jonny’s gifts. He had the gift of enthusiasm, of seeing the possibilities in others and nudging them forward; he bestowed these gifts unselfconsciously and without hesitation; and he inspired me (inspires me!) to try each day to do the same for others—perhaps his greatest gift of all.


Sunday, June 07, 2009


There will never be another quite like him.

Support the search for Jonny Copp's missing partners, Micah Dash and Wade Johnson. Donate here.


Ghost Dancers

Punishing but rewarding. That sums up the long day that Jack Roberts and I "enjoyed" in the Indian Peaks on June 6. The target was the northeast face of Paiute Peak (13,088 feet). I've never seen a record of any ascent of this face, though it's quite likely that it has been climbed—it's a big target and not very difficult. But the face is hidden from the east, and the approach is arduous. The only practical way to get there during snow-climbing season is to climb over a high shoulder of Mt. Audubon (or its summit), descend into the Coney Lakes basin, and then traverse to the base of Paiute. This is not an easy thing to do.

Jack and I mounted our bikes at the gate on the Brainard Lake Road just after 5 a.m., rode to the trailhead, and then hiked up the east ridge Audubon to a saddle at around 12,700 feet. Because of some illness issues, we were moving very slowly, and it was after 9 a.m. before we crested the ridge. The view to the other side was stunning but discouraging: We would have to traverse nearly a mile across broken ridges and frozen couloirs, while descending more than 1,000 feet. To make matters worse, a brutal, cold wind whipped over the saddle. Our hands were freezing, and we nearly bailed, but instead we decided to "take a look." In the end, it required nearly two hours of hard, somewhat dangerous work before we could reach the base of Paiute at around 11,500 feet. In hindsight, I think the best approach would be to continue over Audubon's 13,221-foot summit to the Audubon-Paiute col, and then descend to the north from there, or to drop straight down one of the Coney Couloirs from Audubon's east ridge and then walk up the valley floor to Paiute. Either way, it's a big approach. It took us more than six hours; a fast party would likely still need four hours.

By this time, the snow had softened significantly (much of the face was still in the sun until after noon), so we didn't need a rope as we kicked shin-deep steps up the central couloir. We had carried a rack because of the big headwall at the top of the face, and even just a few hundred feet below the top we still weren't sure where the route would go. But just when we were wondering if we'd have to escape by rock-climbing to the left or right, a hidden, body-length-wide slot snaked up to the left. We roped up partway along this for a short ice step and then carried on to the top, popping out within a few vertical feet of Paiute's summit. Good stuff!

A long glissade, snowshoe trudge, and bike ride awaited. But it was all downhill now. By the time we reached the car, we'd put in a 12-hour day, of which less than two hours was spent actually climbing. This route may have been climbed before, but we think it deserves a name, and we propose the Ghost Dancer Couloir. It's a superb outing...for those who don't mind a little punishment along with their rewards.


Thursday, June 04, 2009


A friend—I can't remember who—once made up a great word to describe climbers' habit of testing out hand holds and finger jams on man-made structures. You know how it goes: You're walking down a city street or climbing a stair well, and casually, almost without thinking, you find yourself crimping the edge of a brick or slotting your hand in the crack between two concrete slabs. We all do it. Unfortunately, age and decrepitude being what they are, I can't remember the term he/she came up with.


Man, it's right on the tip of my tongue.... This is a sniglet that's sorely needed. If you've got a good name for this common climber behavior, let me know.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Monday Morning Time Waster