Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Spires, Splitters and Cabernet Sauvignon


Here it is, straight from the frontline, all the news that´s fit to print, coming to you live from the scorching cubicle in the heart of malbec country.
I just got back yesterday afternoon after 11 days in El Cajon de los Arenales, a deep canyon located in the "foothills" of the Andes Range at around 10,000ft, whose main claim to fame is a ridiculous number of steep granite spires split by record number of perfect splitter cracks. With just enough information to get me psyched, but not enough to give me any idea what was in store for me, I rallied out with my friend Amir to see what all the fuss was about.
We were not disappointed. What we found and climbed there during our stay equaled many of the 5 star free climbing routes in Yosemite.

Basecamp

The view.

The further you work up the canyon, the longer and more involved the routes become. Every single route we climbed was a classic in its own right, ascending laser cut splitters and exposed ridges leading to sometimes very small summit blocks on top of slender needles (agujas), the most memorable being Armonica (210m, 5.10b), El Escorpion (220m, 5.11a), and Mundo Interior (170m, 5.11b). The length of these routes might seem long just on their own, but also realize that the bases of these climbs were often more than 1,900 vertical feet away up a 45 degree scree and talus slope. So every day it was almost 4,000ft of gain and decent just to get to the climbing!

Me on crux pitch of Mundo Interior, Aguja Espina



Me on Summit of Aguja Espina


While we basecamped at the upper end of the canyon, near the upper climber´s refugio, Amir and I made a ton of great Argentine and Basque friends, and lived it up with the beverage of choice, a fine (or not-so-fine) wine passed around ring-of-fire style.

Summit shot on Aguja Charles Webis, after El Escorpion

Each route we climbed was a bit longer and harder, as we got a feel for the grades and climbing, in preparation for the granddaddy of the trip out to Arenales, an ascent of the route Mejor no Hablas ciertas cosas (500m, 5.11a) on the North Pillar of El Cohete, a massive granite pillar which captivates the imaginations of climbers in the Arenales.
So we racked, we hiked, and we sent. The route itself was rad- we simulclimbed 200m of rotten rock to get to the base of the pillar, where the hard climbing started right off the bat. Many pitches and several difficult cruxes later, with cold temps and numb hands we stood on the summit and let out a big monkey call to our friends up in the spires before beginning the many hours of rappels to get back down to the base.

Amir on the OW pitch 7 El Cohete

Pitch 9 El Cohete



Our Basque friend Jon climbing Pichulla de Caballo at night (5.13a)

El Cajon de los Arenales is an amazing place with an insane amount of potential, and I plan to make a return trip already. But for now, it is time for some New Year´s Fiestas, and then down to Bariloche to climb in the world-renowned Frey area.

¡Hasta Luego!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cordon Del Plata

Alright, here it is folks, the first installment of the long awaited, much debated, highly anticipated Patagonia Reports. But to be honest, the Cordon del Plata is in Mendoza, which is more central Argentina. The Cordon del PLata is a sub range of peaks within the Andes, the highest of which is Cerro Plata (around 20,000ft). My goal was Cerro Vallecitos (17,000), a really beautiful looking climb up a long summit ridge. So I get dropped off by my buddy Joe at the trailhead leading into the valley after staying with him at his house in Tupungato. The town is at 3,000ft and the trailhead is at 9,100ft. This alone is enough to give most people quite a little headache.
Mistake Number 1: I had only given myself 4 days to get up to basecamp and climb the peak, since I had to be down to Mendoza to meet a friend to go start getting on the real rock this trip is all about.
Mistake Number 2: In order to get this done, I chose to go all the way to Campo Salto (13,800 or so) on day one, passing a couple other lower camps. This would put me in much better position to climb the higher peaks at the end of the valley, but force my body to either put up or shut up. It chose the latter. At 13,100, well short of the steep scree ascent to Campo Salto, I was getting pounded by AMS, and decided to put up my tent a couple hundred feet lower along side a snowfilled moraine. Feeling quite shitty still and unable to sleep, I made the ultimate decision to leave most of my gear in my tent and hike out back down to the refugio (mountain hut) at 9,000ft to sleep. I got a decent sleep in side the refugio, but had to head back up the valley in the morning to either get my stuff and come down or push my camp up higher to Salto. Sadly, the weather forecasted was not looking good, and I was hammered after hiking 15 miles and ascending/decending over 16,000ft in 2 days. So I packed it in and am now down in the stifling heat of Mendoza getting ready to take a bus back to Tupungato after I get some topos of climbs in the los Arenales Canyon, which is where I am heading next as soon as I meet up with Amir.
Campo las Veguitas




Until the next one...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Packing and Racking



Patagonia Sufferfest 08/09 is getting ready to kick things into high gear!  Well, the days are getting shorter, nights are getting colder, and I am almost ready to go.  The tent is seam sealed, crampons are sharpened, and the flask is ready to be filled!  Leaving on Sunday morning for Buenos Aires to visit a friend for a few days, then off to Mendoza to climb in the Cordon del Plata, hoping to summit Cerro Plata (5,800 meters), as well as some lower peaks before going south and suffering on the real stuff.   
Here is just a little taste of what's to come, a shot of the Cerro Torre group, and a foreshortened view of the route Rubio y Azul on the Torre de la Media Luna which I'll be getting on a little later in the trip...   photo courtesy dave daly.   I will be posting photos and updates here for the most part, so check here to get the buzz on Patagonia Sufferfest 08/09! Take care and have a kick ass winter, wherever you are, whatever you're doing.  










 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Slacking Off on the Lost Arrow Spire

This spring I was hanging out at the top of Yosemite Falls, camping with a couple friends and staying away from the oppressive Valley heatwave (and tourons).  Also hanging out with us in camp was the legendary Heinz Zak, who was in town to walk the Lost Arrow Spire Highline.  Over 2000 feet above the Valley floor, this slackline is mind numbingly exposed, and actually gains 3 feet of elevation over its 70 foot length.  It was super windy the first day, so with the help Brent and Jon he got his triple-line rigged and ready for the morning.  Early morning brought splitter weather and no breeze, so after a couple of palm-sweating-heart-pounding-eye-popping falls, Heinz sent the thing. 

video

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lurking Fear

Lurking Fear
aka Fern Gully
aka Seeing a Man about a Horse



Me and Scott met up in early June to redeem ourselves on the Captain after getting spat off the Nose in a storm a couple of weeks prior. In the meantime we had cruised Skull Queen, I had stayed in the Valley and done a bunch of free climbing while Scott went to So-Cal to find a job, and I had also gone through a staff training trip in the Sierra for Outward Bound. With the help of my friends Drew and Mandy, I hiked a bunch of water, my portaledge and gear up to the base of Lurking Fear (VI 5.10 C2+). This was just the carrot I needed to hold in front of Scott! So he drove up, we racked up, and hiked up to the base again with a big load intent on blasting the next day.




While not a gimme-wall, Lurking Fear is one of the more moderate aid intensive routes on El Cap, so Scott and I planned on 3 days and 2 nights on the wall, taking a relaxed pace, and not fixing any pitches. We blasted in the morning, and got through the bolt intensive first pitches quickly. I led pitch 4 and ended up taking a 25 foot winger after blowing a brassy placement above a section I had just backcleaned. Stupid.
Anyway, we keeping cruising and make it to belay 7 right at dusk, set up the ledge, and rock out to Cypress Hill and the Beavis and Butthead soundtrack on Scott's Ipod/speaker combo. All is well...

Until we wake up in the morning, and Scott drops the haulbag for the ledge, AND the poop tube! Shit! Luckily no one is below when it hits and creates instant bio-hazard. There is nothing for us to do except rap down. The route isn't steep enough for us to flag the ledge without destroying it in one haul. So we tie 30 liters of water to the anchor, and bail, fixing ropes down from pitch 3. Scott cleans the BIO-hazard, and I find the bag.
The next day is a rest day, after which we come back up, without the portaledge, and blast. We take the pitches we already have led and know, and make it to pitch 11's natural ledge bivy (cramped for 2) just after dark. We are moving. The next day finds me leading awesome hooking and free climbing pitches, as well as some nasty junk. I yell to Scott that I propose a new route name: LURKING FERN!



After getting to Thanksgiving Ledge, we decided to just hang out and enjoy ourselves instead of pushing for the top. We drank booty water, watched people top out on the Salathe Headwall, and cranked up the tunes in celebration.



Topped out the next day and ran into Pass the Pitons Pete, who had just began burning 15 days worth of poo bags... Less than optimal odors! It seems that there was a common theme here...
Life back on the ground was full of cold beer and ice cream, until the next plans began to get hatched......

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tuolumne Summer


This was a great summer, both for work and for play. And if you know me at all, you know that these two are inextricably linked! I worked several Outward Bound Courses in the Sierras, hoping that I would be spending every day off in the Valley climbing walls, but with the oppressive heat that summer brings to Yosemite, I had to look to the High Country for my climbing fix. From alpine routes with my buddy Jon to sitting out storms at the base of Temple Crag, I got a healthy serving of everything that the Sierra is famous for, I already have my sights on next year's prizes! Enjoy the pics...

Mathes Crest

Sending POWER!

Mathes Crest is this amazing mile-long traverse that follows a knife edged ridge for its entire length. The exposure is spectacular, and you are rewarded with fun climbing, views of the entire Sierra crest and Yosemite Valley.

Splitters leading us up the magnificent 3rd Pillar of Dana

A storm that would lure us closer, even allow us a few hundred feet up at a time before spitting me and my partner off with threats of thunder and lightening. Luckily to pass the time Jon had given me two small bags (yes, BAGS) of Ugandan Gin which we mixed with Gatorade. This does not make as good as a combo as you might think.

North America Wall 10/08

-2014- Not sure where the pics went… but here is a link to the TR with pics on Supertopo.  http://www.supertopo.com/tr/North-America-Wall-TR/t425n.html

ob Dillon and myself were sitting around a couple weeks ago in the meadow, looking at all the great lines, and armed with the knowledge that the forecasted storm would scare everybody off the wall, we could get on just about anything we wanted. Knowing full well that there would be the post-storm surge of climbers on everything and anything, we fooled ourselves into planning to do the Zodiac on the Sunday after the one day of rain in the Valley.

We meet in the morning to rack up and go fix, but what do ya know? A small army of various parties had the same idea as us. So we sat on our thumbs, checked out the guidebook, considered Eagle's Way, but basically just racked up and started walking the base to find an empty line that somehow inspired us. We walked past several parties on New Dawn and Mescalito, crossing those off our list. Getting up to the base of the NA Wall, we look up, look around, and although there is some gear hanging at the base in between the NA and the Ranch, Rob and I look at each other and just go "Yee-Haw!"

Rob leading the first pitch, me belaying.

We get the first 2 pitches fixed, head down and pack up for the wall. We plan on 4 nights, 5 days on the wall- plenty of time to enjoy the pace, take it easy on the many traversing pitches and lower outs, and have the goal of never setting up the ledge after dark. This obviously sounds real good on the ground, but reality often has other plans.


Morning Day 1.

Day 1 is pretty relaxed. I climb pitches 3 and 4, having a good time on fun, kind of tricky aid with tons of scars and handplaced beaks. These pitches go clean easily only as a result of a double set of offset Aliens courtesy my buddy Dave!
Rob tackles the next pitch, after Mazatlan Ledge, grunting, swearing and getting fully worked in the squeeze chimney. This gets you to an amazing spot under the roof, featuring a cave inside the roof much bigger than I imagined!

Rob leading out the roof.

Looking from out of the roof/cave.

We set up the ledge at the pitch 6 anchors, and I fix the pitch above as well just as it gets dark.

Morning hits and Rob starts some heady free climbing to gain Calaveras Ledge.


Some more free climbing gets us up to Big Sur, a ledge fit for a king! Somebody bailed from here recently, but was kind enough to leave us some canned fruit, soup, 3 gallons of water and....drumroll please...THREE PBRs!!!
I climbed and fixed the Borderline traverse pitch, and came back to enjoy our booty beer.


Big air swinging back to the ledge! This is what climbing is all about!

The morning of Day 3 found us doing some funkiness to get ourselves and the bags out from the ledge. Thank God for Rob's little friend, Mr. Skinny, the 160ft. 7mm cord.


Rob getting it done, free climbing and backcleaning the HELL out of pitch 13/14!

We get it done though, and Rob gets us up through pitch 14 after an extensive backcleaning lesson. I was up next linking pitch 15/16 through the Black Dihedral. The rock texture up there is really cool, due to all the seeping there are calcium buildups which make it a lot easier to step out of the aiders and make some quasi-free moves.

Steeper than it looks!

Exfoliating flakes just hanging on.

Black Cave belay 16.

Rob, bringing the kitchen sink with him on the Black Cave pitch 17.

We get through pitch 18, to a nice little stance. Granted, the Cyclops Eye was only a pitch away, but it was dark, we were hungry, and felt like we were maintaining at a pretty good pace.

Morning 4, Rob gets busy and fires off the pitch to get us in the Eye, and I bitch a whole bunch having a do multiple lower offs some serious mank.
We get up to the ledge, relax for...5 minutes, then deal with having to get the bags across and down to the optional belay. We fashioned a pretty sweet zipline rig with a belay, and got them all over there pretty quick.
Rob started free climbing right off the belay, up some VERY loose and hollow rock, clipping mank which blows the other mank out of the water! Making the C3 Junk pitch look pretty cake, he makes it to the belay, under a nice seeping drip.


I link the next 2 pitches, which I think was the coolest of the route! Steep climbing up cool features, long reachy hooking and tensioning up good rock got me to belay 23 above the Cyclops Eye, and our bivy for the night. It got cold quick, so we set up the ledge with the fly, and hunkered down with all of our clothes, a flask of vodka (Rob smuggled it aboard!), and the biggest jar of Nutella ever.

So much happier now.

Rob taking his Nutella a bit too seriously...

Anyone in the Valley the next day (our Day 5), knows how F-ing cold it was. It was not much better up on the wall. Between me battling the freezing temps and Rob dealing with a seeping and dirty crack which kept spitting him out, we were not having the greatest day.

Rob doing his best to get through the pitch, me doing mine not to freeze to death.

We get to the Igloo after a few issues, and due to the impending bad weather we decide to leave the bags, grab our storm gear and climb up to the summit via the El Nino free variation. We may have cheated ourselves out of the full route by missing out on the top 2 pitches, but we made an executive decision to stay safe and get to the top so we could fix ropes back down and take another weather check.
Good decision. As soon as we topped out, we were greeted by David, who had just soloed the Reticent and hooked us up with some roll-your-owns, and had a brief moment of elation before realizing we still had to get our bags.

Not too exciting about the storm a'comin!
We got our storm gear on, and started rapping. Rob tied the bags on and no sooner than I started hauling did it begin to get nasty. An amazing cloudbank and entered filled the Valley from behind Half Dome, and within 10 minutes it was snowing sideways on us, coating our ropes in the white stuff. I jugged up to the top, carefully, and hauled up, getting a bit of help from the wet rock.

Rob wrestling with the pigs up top.

The weather passed, the skies cleared, and we were able to see the most beautiful purple sunset over the Clark and Cathedral ranges. Sadly my camera was still buried deep in the bag....

We pound a couple of Cobras in celebration, pack the bags, and head down. Along the way (around 8pm), we run into a couple of guys who had topped out at dusk off E. Buttress and got completely lost. Contemplating either the long walk down the Falls Trail or an open bivy, they were psyched to run into us! We got em down in exchange for grabbing our ledge!

The rest is just details. We went to ask Tom if he had any pics of us, even though we had forgotten to tell him we were going up. it was kind of disappointing that he didn't but writing up this TR made me realize what a great time Rob and I had on the route, and how much more it makes me psyched just looking at my own pics. This was my first REAL El Cap wall (not counting Lurking Fear), and it has inspired me to do all of the stuff I was more apprehensive of getting on before.

keep rocking everybody!

ryan