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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Colorado MoJo

I've launched a new website that I invite you to explore. The Colorado Mountain Journal exclusively covers human-powered mountain sports. All Colorado. Mostly backcountry. I created it to provide news and a bit of inspiration for the sports I enjoy most—climbing, backcountry skiing, hiking, and trail running—in ways I couldn't finding anywhere else, in print or online.

Please take a look and let me know what you think. I'd be grateful for suggestions, critiques, contributions of news and other stories from the Colorado mountains, or links from your site. Have a great holiday!


The Cougars of Climbing

Too funny. This calendar of thirty- and forty-something women of climbing is the work of Miss March: Misty Murphy. Check out all 12 Cougars of Climbing, and click below to listen to Murphy's hilarious "Cougar Climber" rap.



Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Morning Time Waster

Fantastic sequence of annotated "instructional" clips from the baddest bad climbing film of all: Vertical Limit.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Block That Cliché

"Bullet hard." Can we please retire this phrase in writing about rock climbing? I don't know much about guns and ammo, but I do know that, unless you're talking about armor-piercing rounds, most bullets are made of lead coated with copper. Neither metal is any match for granite—or even solid sandstone. I've even seen "bullet-hard ice" in ad copy. Seriously?

Now, "bulletproof rock" is an acceptable phrase. But "bullet hard" or simply "bullet"—these have got to go.

Got a favorite overworn climbing cliché? Post it in the comments.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Great Alaskan-Yukon Loop

If it were coming from anyone but Andrew Skurka, you'd dismiss the proposed "Great Alaskan-Yukon Loop" as sheer fantasy. But Skurka, whose accomplishments include a 6,875-mile trek around the American West (2007) and a 7,778-mile trek across the continent (2004-05), has the experience and determination to just-maybe pull this one off. Here's how he describes this ski-raft-hiking odyssey on his website:

"The Great Alaskan-Yukon Loop (GAYL) is a 4,500-mile wilderness adventure around the state of Alaska and the Canadian territory of Yukon that connects many of this region's most magnificent natural features, including the Alaska Range, Wrangell's, Lost Coast, Coast Range, Yukon River, Richardson Mountains, and finally the Brooks Range. The GAYL is not an official trail or route; it has never been completed, attempted, and possibly even conceived of until now; it is almost entirely off-trail and it crosses only about 10 roads for its entire length."

He continues:

"In March 2010 I will begin the GAYL in the village of Kotzebue, located on the Chukchi Sea in northwestern Alaska. I will ski south to join the historic Iditarod Trail, which I'll follow southeast into the Alaska Range. Spring will arrive as I am traversing this range, which is home to North America's tallest mountain, Mt. McKinley. Near the eastern end of this range I will begin packrafting the Copper River and its tributaries towards the ocean. After several hundred miles along the rugged Lost Coast, I will trek the historic Chilkoot Pass Trail from the Inside Passage to the Yukon River, which I will float to Dawson City. A route through the Ogilvie Mountains, down the Miner River, and through the Richardson Mountains will link me into the eastern edge of the Brooks Range, which I will finish traversing just before Fall finally succumbs to Winter again."

Mind blowing. Who knows if this is possible, or if Skurka will even find the resources to attempt it. But this sort of uncertainty is the nature of real adventure.

By the way, Skurka is looking for a better name for his project. Leave a comment with your suggestion, or you can post it directly at his website.


Monday, November 16, 2009

The Alpine Briefs

Alpine Briefs 5 is live: alpine starts, a new Zion wall route, first ascents in Newfoundland, whipper videos, and much more.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Morning Mood Brightener

Mt. Shuksan,with Mt. Baker in the distance, at sunset—another astonishing aerial photo from the one-of-a-kind Pacific Northwest pilot and photographer John Scurlock.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

24 Hours of Gadd

Will Gadd will attempt to climb near-vertical ice for 24 hours straight in early January during the Ouray Ice Festival, as a benefit for the dZi Foundation. Gadd will be climbing the classic WI4 Pick O' the Vic. If he manages to complete the 150-foot route three times an hour, he'll be right around 11,000 vertical feet for the day. Think of the late-night heckling opportunities!


Friday, November 06, 2009

Rock Climbing Feat of the Year?

Yesterday, the blind Colorado climber Erik Weihenmayer climbed the Naked Edge (5.11b, 8 or 9 pitches) in Eldorado Canyon. Weihenmayer climbed with Brady Robinson, executive director of the Access Fund, and Charley Mace, a longtime friend and climbing partner. Cedar Wright filmed the ascent, so someday we'll be able to see it for ourselves.

The five main pitches of the Edge are comprised of near-vertical to overhanging sandstone, notorious for tiny holds and complex sequences. Three of pitches are 5.11, and one is a very tricky 5.10. Weihenmayer had never been on the route, yet Robinson and Wright said he only fell once or twice on each pitch, except for the final overhanging lieback and hand crack. Both men marveled at Weihenmayer's ability to quickly figure out 5.11 moves, and both said it might be the most impressive climbing feat they'd ever seen.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Not Too Big to Fail

Joe Puryear has just posted one of his superb desert trip reports (24 towers in 20 days) at SuperTopo. Buried in the post, in a caption to Joe's photo of the Cobra in the Fisher Towers, was this nugget:

"A warning to all about the Cobra: the Cobra shuddered and swayed twice while we were on it. I've never heard of or had it do that before. Fun times..."

I climbed the Cobra many years ago, but when a group of friends repeated it recently after doing nearby Ancient Arts, I stayed on the ground and took photos. One time up the Cobra was fun; twice seemed like pushing my luck. The summit is a tilted block merely balanced on a spindly neck of pebbly stone. The tower didn't shudder or sway when I climbed it, nor when my friends did it a couple of years ago. But if the Cobra is swaying now, it may be about to strike. Who will get the "last ascent?" And who will get snake-bit?

Postscript: A friend from Europe wrote after reading this item: "I feel the final sentences in your post incite people to do something which perhaps they shouldn't. Surely if the block is unstable, if it took millions of years to form in the fragile desert ecosystem, then perhaps we climbers should lead by example and call it a day." Come to think of it, he's right. To protect this cool, unique formation—to say nothing of climbers' lives—this climb ought to be "retired" for good.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Obscure Tour: Bullet

In early season, the most rewarding ice and mixed climbs often are those on the obscure tour—climbs that might not seem worth the trouble when fat ice is everywhere. Sometimes, the result is a happy discovery, as with Bullet, a short route at the foot of Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. I'd never heard of anyone climbing this route since its first ascent nearly 10 years ago, but this fall, thanks to a couple of compelling photos at, Bullet has seen a flurry of attempts and ascents.

As Jack Roberts and I neared the base of the route on Sunday after the relatively short walk from Bear Lake (less than 1.5 hours), we were surprised to hear voices—two climbers were just starting the climb. We watched them complete the first pitch as we geared up, and then Jack started up after them. Bullet isn't super-inspiring from the ground: After about 50 feet of easy ice climbing, it's all gray rock above. But the climbing was much better than it looked.
After taking a brief gander at the crux of pitch one, a poorly protected lieback, Jack opted for a bulging but well-protected variation to the right. Good stuff.

The party ahead of us hadn't liked the look of the second pitch, which follows a steep corner to a leftward traverse under a big roof; the leader bailed after about 15 feet, citing a lack of pro. Attempting the first ascent, Greg Sievers had taken a 25-footer from this roof. Neither of these facts gave me much confidence as Jack handed me our jumbo rack of rock gear, but, on the other hand, I could see that Bullet suited my style. The angle was less than vertical, and tiny footholds dotted the icy rock. I'm no good on really steep routes—rock or ice—because I don't have the strength and confidence for sustained overhangs, but on good days I can stand on small holds for a long time and work out moves and protection. This was a good day, and as I moved up the corner I was able to find decent pro every few feet. Below the roof, I spent many minutes balancing on monopoints and carefully slotting tiny wired nuts and C3 cams into the ceiling. The slab below the roof was nearly blank, but I could see jugs at the far side. When I was more or less happy with the pro, I committed to the traverse and quickly but carefully dry-tooled across the slab to reach a good stance and more pro.

Every once and a while, I feel really great about a lead. Bullet required some skill, but the real key was patience and mind control—the willingness to hang in there on tiny, tenuous holds until I'd done what had to be done with the gear, and then—and only then—switch to confident but controlled aggressiveness for the short run-out to good holds. Whether it's traditional rock climbing, steep ice, or dicey aid, the best climbers seem to muster this combination of patience and aggression at will. It rarely happens for me, and it's just so satisfying when it does.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Books to Read: Banff Festival Winners

Jerry Moffatt's Revelations is the grand-prize winner at the annual Banff Book Festival. I had high hopes that Moffatt's memoir would be good, in part because it was cowritten with the very talented Niall Grimes, and now it would seem to be a must-read.

Steve House's excellent Beyond the Mountain (reviewed here, with a follow-up note here) took the prize for Mountain Literature. Sarah Garlick's climbing geology book Flakes, Jugs, and Splitters won for Mountain Exposition. And the book I'm perhaps most keen to see is The Alps: A Bird's Eye View, by Slovenian photographer Matevz Lenarcic, who captured his aerial images from an ultralight motorized glider. Other winners: The Great Polar Journey: In the Footsteps of Nansen, by Børge Ousland; The Last of His Kind: The Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn, America's Boldest Mountaineer, by David Roberts; Royal Robbins: To be Brave—My Life, Volume One, by Royal Robbins; and In the Bear's House, by Bruce Hunter.