Monday, December 7, 2009

Success on North Tower of Paine

As the sun shines in Puerto Natales, and we chop tomatos and avacados for a fajita feast tonight, I take a moment to realize how lucky I am to be here in Patagonia, climbing the towers that for so long have inspired, intimidated, and ultimately drawn me to their faces.

After the last attempt on the North Tower, Josh and I took several days of much needed rest in town, waiting for good weather. When the forecast looked good, we dashed back up to Campamento Japones, and after enduring a cold night with lots of snow, moved to our high camp up on the moraine in the Val de Silencio.

Approaching below Central Tower.

Waking at 3.30am to high winds, we went back to sleep. At 6.50 I awoke again to calm and clear skies, and we made a hasty breakfast and began the long and arduous slog up to the Torres. Our friend Matt showed up around this time, intent on solo climbing the North Tower. Harder snow made the gully much easier, and we made much better time than on our first attempt. At 11.30 we began the mixed snow and rock pitches up to Col Bich, and arrived there at 1.30pm.

Get psyched!

Josh climbs out of Col Bich.

After a short break for food and warming of feet, we began the harder climbing out of the Col. Josh led a fantastic thin splitter crack for a full 60m pitch, then we began swapping leads in blocks. The route-finding was a bit difficult at times, and the conditions were (d)icy, but manageable.

After many long but technically easy pitches, we stood at the base of the final summit block. The wind was beginning to pick up and the clouds were starting to envelop Fortaleza and Escudo. At 7.15pm we were standing on top of the summit of the North Tower of Paine. Matt joined us shortly thereafter, I fueled up with several espresso GU packs, and we began the long series of rappels together.

Josh follows on frozen blocks.

Below summit block.


The term "Tat-agonia" is not a misnomer. Rappel anchors in Patagonia are shitty. And after the first ascent of the Tower of the season, we got a chance to see how badly ravaged they become after being subjected to the elements during winter here.

Sport climbing never looked so good.

Replacing most of the cord on all the rap anchors, we made many rappels down the circuitous ridge, dealing with some stuck ropes on the way, and put two major core-shots in Matt´s new rope. Darkness is falling, and the winds are escalating.

With two more rappels to go, we begin to pull my rope (still in one piece), when it becomes hopelessly stuck above us. The winds are reaching 50 or 60 miles an hour, and wind-driven spindrift is stinging our faces as we huddle on the exposed ledge. Unwilling to spend any more time to free the rope, we make a hasty anchor to bail from and make another series of shorter rappels on Matt´s damaged rope to the bottom of the gully. The rappels seem like a twisted version of Russian Roulette, placing one more bullet in the chamber the longer you stay in the game.


Two long hours of plunge stepping take us down to the ice band bisecting the approach gully. Forced to downclimb this section of steep ice took patience and composure, and was certainly my personal crux of the day. At 3.00am we arrived at the bottom of the gully on the moraine and collapsed. Matt stayed to brew up some water, as Josh and I made the hour long drunken stumble back to our camp, post-holing through snow instead of staying on the moraine. Just before 4am we arrived back to camp and threw ourselves down, completely exhausted from so many hours spent too close to the edge. With a camp-to-camp time of 20 hours, ours was not the fastest ascent of the Monzino Route, but we are proud of making the first ascent of the season, in difficult conditions, and making it back to camp safe.

Junk show.

With good weather forecasted last this coming week, we hope to return to climb on the Central Tower, with a new respect for the power of the wind in this beautiful yet savage land.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

No Paine, No Gaine

Alright, coming to your cubicle straight from the Ghetto Shanty itself at the head of the Ascensio Valley, is the first of the Patagonia Reports from Expeditiòn Fiebre de Cumbre (Summit Fever).
Josh Garrison and I arrived on November 15 to Puerto Natales, in Southern Chilean Patagonia to begin all the preperations to head into the Torres del Paine park to start climbing as many towers as we can before the real world calls back.

Beginning the hike past the Hosteria.

After securing our expedition´s permits with Park Administration we hiked with heavy loads up to Campomento Japonés, the climber´s camp used as a base for all of the west-side routes on the Torres. A 4 hour hike interrupted by a welcomed coffee break with the rangers in Campamento Las Torres got us to our home for the next 8 days.

Our first views of the Towers. Big.

The One, the Only, The Ghetto Shanty.


For 6 days the weather Gods did not smile on us. Temps were cold, snow fell, and many jumping jacks were done to keep toes warm. The gin rummy score was in the thousands. But with a good weather window forecasted, we racked and packed to move to a high camp on the moraine below the Torres, with the intent to first climb the Monzino Route on Torre Norte. The walls which soar above us, Fortaleza and Escudo, are ominous and featureless, home of some of the hardest and most visionary routes in the world.

Waking up at 4am with beautiful clear skies and no wind, we began the long arduous slog up the gully to the base of the climbing. The recent powder accumulation made this quite a task. At the base of the roped climbing we got a bit off route trying to avoid snow, only to encounter serious and run-out climbing. Back on route, the conditions did not prove favorable to rock climbing. It sucked. What should have taken 30 minutes to simul-climb was pitched out in 4 funky mixed pitches.

Sunrise-towers silhouetted on Escudo.

Post-hole hero.

Ugh. Screaming Barfies are no fun.

Making it to Col Bich, the notch between the Torre Norte and Torre Central, at 2.45pm, thoroughly exhausted, frozen and wet, we made the regrettable decision to head back down instead of onwards. It was a good first run, and with the hope that warmer temps will bring the col pitches into better condition, we cached our gear high, glissaded down thousands of feet to camp and now wait in town getting ready (read: eating as many empanadas as possible).

Until the next one, Hasta Proximo!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Southwest Face of Liberty Cap

With 10 days off in between a couple courses I am working, I headed into the Park to play on some big walls. My initial plan was to solo Ten Days After on Washington Column, but some major stuck rope issues forced me down after my second day on the wall.
After a couple days of getting my stuff down and decompressing at the El Cap Bridge, I teamed up with my buddy from El Portal, Andy Esparza, to go climb a route on Liberty Cap that had always captured my interest.

We racked up and hiked up the John Muir Trail, serving as amusement to the parched and dusty tourists who were amazed at the size of our packs (and that they weren't full of beer.) The best part though, was stopping for water along the trail, and several different people, thinking my open haulbag was a garbage can, threw their trash in it!
We made it up to the base, fixed a pitch, and went to hang out at a pool below Nevada Falls to relax and fill up our water bottles.
The next day came quick, and we started taking care of business pretty early. The second pitch featured a bitchin' 5.9 handcrack, and I got to lead the best pitch of the route, a super steep hook and rivet ladder out a steep corner.

The climbing overall was OK- a combination of decent climbing accompanied by some really low quality bush-grovelling. I likened it to Dante's Nine Circles of Hell, as experienced through shrubbery. The mini-epics were plentiful, including me leading a 5.6 chimney/c3 crack when my headlamp suddenly died, and one of Andy's approach shoes taking the plunge off the last pitch, leaving him to hike barefoot back down the trail, but the location was unbeatable.

Getting to look over at Nevada Falls all day long, looking at the tourists getting way to close to the edge and screaming, "YER GONNA DIE!!!" was priceless, and topping out and getting to look up into the Little Yosemite Valley was well worth our arboreal labors.

Sierra Summer Recap

As the summer officially draws to a close, and the cool fall winds breathe new life into the Valley and the High Sierra peaks, I figured it would be a good chance to reflect on the amazing months spent in the High Country and some photos of a couple of world-class routes I have gotten to play on.
The first is the North Arete of Bear Creek Spire (III 5.8, 13,800ft), a classic alpine rock route which takes a clean line up the striking pillar.

My friend Lyn Williams and I left Midpines to climb a route in Tuolumne Meadows before making our way over to the Eastside in the morning. We had in mind an easy, fun route that would get us psyched and break up the 5 hour drive. We approached the climb with no problems, but as we neared the base, Lyn began complaining of some "strange feelings". As I pimped my way out this traverse to scope the first pitch, Lyn calls up, "Hey, I don't mean to alarm you, but I CAN"T REMEMBER YOUR NAME!" Needless to say, I was alarmed. With Lyn fully ataxic, we descended really quickly to the car, where he drank a bunch of water and started feeling himself again. Really strange.
We did end up climbing a little route after all, but took it easy the rest of the day and drove to the trailhead at Mosquito Flat to sleep before blasting off in the morning to climb on Bear Creek Spire.
We left the car at 5 am, and made really good time on the trail up through Little Lakes Basin, one of the best Sierra approaches I've ever done.
The route itself was spectacular: it seemed like Cathedral Peak stacked on top of Yosemite's Nutcracker. We pitched out some of the pitches and soloed a great deal of the exposed 4th class, with smiles on our faces the whole way. We made it back down to the car in time to pick up cold beers at tom's Place and make it to the Mammoth Hotsprings for a wicked sunset.

A week later, I was hanging out in Tuolumne, doing some easy solo climbing and relaxing in the Meadows when a friend came up and started talking about the Incredible Hulk. I had wanted to get out and see for myself what the Hulk had to offer, as it has the reputation for having the finest alpine granite int he whole range.
So Daniel and I hiked in during the afternoon, making our way through aspen groves and over beaver dams, up to a basecamp situated directly under the massive stone.

As luck would have it, I ran into a few friends out there (the only other people climbing!), namely Robin and Roger, who were kind enough to bring us over hot chocolate (we had only brought cold canned chili in the name of going light).
We got up in the morning, not an alpine start by any means, and got started on the climbing on the ultra-classic Red Dihedral (IV 5.10c). The route was outstanding. Laser cut splitter cracks led to airy and exciting bulges to overcome, and the top it all off finished with a birth-canal tunnel though to the summit!
We scrambled/hobbled back down to our basecamp and packed up all our things, making it back down to Bridgeport for a greasy meal at a local cowboy bar. Giddy up!

The Birth Canal

As always the weather in the Sierras is some of the best mountain weather in the world, with day after day of splitter blue bird skies. So as I get ready to pack it all up for the season and head back down to Patagonia for another bout with the wind-battered spires, I am always appreciative of what I have in my own backyard.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ridge Running in the Palisades

It ain't too often that you get to spend the entire day climbing, but never leaving the summit.  I just spent a few days off in between courses out in the Palisades region of the Sierras, climbing one of the phenomenal ridges which string together FIVE 14,000ft. peaks over a 1.5 mile traverse.  
I hiked in with my partner Matt, looking up at dark clouds which didn't give me a lot of confidence in our proposed itinerary, but kept my mouth shut as we pounded trail up past blue glacial lakes en route to our camp at Sam Mack Lake below the Palisade Glacier.
While I cooked our delicious Tasty Bite Punjab Choley,  Matt landed a small brown trout from the lake and we loaded up for the long day to come.  

Morning hits the Crest.

Waking up early in the a.m. got us moving up the glacier towards the North Couloir of Thunderbolt Peak, hoping to dispatch this first crux before the snow began to get too soft.  This turned out to be a wise decision, as there was a large (but not recent) slab avalanche that had swept down the couloir, and which made crossing the bergschrund an interesting activity.

Looking out from the N Ridge of Thunderbolt.

A view of things to come

The rock quality on this route is surprisingly good.  

My favorite section of the whole traverse, climbing down from the summit of Polemonium.

Once on the main ridge, the climbing just seemed to flow into a perfect mix of classic alpine rock (loose!), amazing exposure and breathtaking summits (Thunderbolt Peak, Starlight Peak, North Palisade, Polemonium Peak and Mount Sill), the tallest being North Palisade at 
14, 242ft.

Obligatory posing atop Mount Sill.  Our route directly behind me.

After 14 hours on the move, we made it back to our camp, thirsty and worn out.  A quick hike out the next morning would reward us with hot springs and cold Tecates outside Mammoth as we watched a huge storm move in and enshroud the mountains in a blanket of dark clouds.

Thanks for checking this out.  The summer ain't over yet though folks!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Peaks, Passes and Trails: 22 Days in the Heart of the Sierra

Living and working in the beautiful Sierra Nevada has been a dream come true.  This past month, I had the opportunity to instruct a 22 day mountaineering course in the heart of the High Country, located in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  Every day brought us deeper into the wild and higher above the tree line.  The peaks are high, the trails steep, and the distances are great.  The beauty of this area is indescribable, and the amount of snow still present gave it that distinct alpine feel that the Sierra has always been able to capture for me. With any luck some of these photos will inspire others to take a personal journey and discover what lies amidst this range of light.

A cold view west from Twin Peaks after a snowstorm.

Taking it all in at Pear Lake.

Eagle Scout Peak

Suncups and Lawson Peak

Campsite in the Upper Nine Lakes Basin

Angel's Wings and Valhalla rising above Hamilton Lake

Lonely Peak aka the Scimitar