Thursday, November 28, 2013

Season Opener

Ice season is taking its sweet time to make it to Missoula, but with conditions looking promising in Glacier National Park, Ben and I decided to check it out.  We left Missoula at 5am Tuesday hoping to squeeze a climb out of the day.  We made great time and were leaving the parking lot by 8.  Approach conditions were amazing; almost zero snow all the way to the lake.  At the back of the lake we found a boot track, most likely from climbers over the weekend.  They were headed towards the route Memorandum, so we decided to take advantage of the easy travel and climb that particular route.  

Ben on Avalanche Lake

By around 11:30 I was racked up and leading up.  The ice was thick and gooey.  For the sake of time we stretched out each pitch and topped out on the climb after 3 pitches.  It had been a long time since I had climbed the route and had almost forgotten how awesome it is.  After 3 quick rappels we were back at the packs and beginning the walk out.  Everything went smoothly and before long we were on our way to meet Woody and Lexi in Whitefish for dinner.

Looking back at the lake

The next morning Justin joined us and the three of us headed back to Avalanche lake to climb the Inner Thigh.  Like the day before, the approach went incredibly smooth.  We had a later start so we were a bit behind schedule, but not too concerned.  It was noon by the time we reached the base of the route and it looked great.  A hidden corner system choked with ice.  


Woods began up and made short work of the first pitch which shares the start with Monument.  Ben and I moved the belay up the snow slope, then he began his pitch.  It was an awesome groove up the corner system for about 60 meters.  When I reached his belay, he informed me we were a little off route.  From the looks of it, a few tricky moves would get us back on route. 

Beginning of the season packing error

I took the lead and began the traverse.  It was a few balance moves run out from the gear, but really not too bad.  As I turned the corner and began up the steepest part of the pitch, I had trouble getting my left pick to stick and realized it had broken in half!  A moment of concern rushed over me, then I realized I just had to finish the pitch.  It was easing off and the ice was good so I was still able to get the busted pick to stick…good enough I guess.  With the broken pick, I cut the pitch short and built a belay.  The guys cruised up to me and with the day coming to an end, we decided I would continue up to finish the climb.  Ben lent me his tools and I climbed the last bit to a great belay.

 Last pitch of Memorandum

 As the light was fading, we made 3 rope stretching rappels and made it back to our packs.  By this point it was finally dark so we took our time and began the hike out.  We worked our way down the classic descend through slide alder and creeks eventually ending up at the crag ice cliff band.  After some searching, we found a good tree to rap off of.  70 meters into the pitch black seemed like one of the longest rappels I've ever done and thankfully the ropes reached the ground!  Now it was easy going.

Ben starting up the Inner Thigh

We began the easy hike back to the car and when we reached the lake, shut off our lamps…. The night sky was so beautiful.  Filled with stars and not a sounds other than the ice occasionally expanding and cracking.  We made it back to Whitefish, grabbed some dinner, and hit the road for home.  In bed by 2am and up for work by 6am.  A rough day now, but all worth it.

 Ben (Inner Thigh)

 Justin topping out (Inner Thigh)

 One more rap to go!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Escaping the Shoulder Season

With the weather slowly turning towards winter, we've be stuck in quite an extended shoulder season.  Temps are cold, but its dry.  Without any snow or ice, its been challenging to have some fun outdoor recreation.

Justin and his wife Lexi suggested a trip to Vegas for rock climbing in the sun.  Without much hesitation, I booked my tickets.  It turned out to be one of my best trips down there.  Super casual, enjoying the sunshine and climbing.  We spent most of our time sport climbing, but manage one longer route.  It was a fantastic trip filled with great climbing, awesome food, and amazing company.  

Sasha in the corridor 


Sasha at the Gallery




 Justin and Lexi








 Justin and Lexi

 Me bouldering

 Approaching pine creek

 Justin starting up

 Summit shot

Another casual morning

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ice fields Parkway - Canada

Once again with fall temps beginning to drop, Jeff and I got the itch to climb in the alpine and headed North.  We had our sights set on several objectives, but every time they came into sight from the road, we could see the routes weren't quite yet in condition.  We were a touch to early in the season.  With our hopes of alpine climbing crumbling, we took one more look at another line.

Since we were in the area, we checked out Slipsteam.  Slipstream is a 3,000ft ice route which is infamous for its incredible high objective danger.  Snow slabs and a serac band capping the route have killed many people.  It has been climbed many times though despite the danger.  Proper conditions and plenty of luck seems to be necessary.

Conditions looked perfect so we packed up and headed for the base to camp.  We were getting psyched!  Weather was looking perfect and there was very little activity from the sera band.  As the day came to an end we crawled into the tent to escape the cold.  Like clock work, the catabatic airflow started, and it was a fierce wind.  As the hot air left the valley floor, cold air from the ice cap flowed in to fill the void.  With 400 square miles of ice directly behind us, the temperature gradient was high and the wind came ripping in.  For three hours we laid in our bags holding the tent up.  40-50mph gusts were beating down our little tent.  I felt it was just a matter of time before the tent ripped open and the trip was over.  Once again, like clock work, when the temperature gradient equalized, the wind stopped.  We cooked dinner and prepared for an early start.

5:00 am, the alarm rudely cut into the silent night.  Surprisingly it wasn't too cold out making getting up much easier.  We ate, packed and were moving within 30 minutes.  It was a beautiful morning.  The full moon illuminated the world of ice and rock we were surrounded by.  Ice crystals flickered in the moon's light and a slight wind reminded us of the crisp cool morning temps.  As we climbed through the ice fall on the glacier, the winds began to pick up and lenticular clouds began forming in the distance.  We could hear the winds roaring above us and watch snow being ripped off the summit.  As conditions worsened, we had to make the difficult decision bail and head home.  Conditions we almost perfect, but for such a route, we needed them to be perfect.

The sun began to rise as we turned around illuminating the glaciers in a pink glow.  Vortices of snow lifted from the surrounding summits lit pink in the morning light and seracs plummeted to the glaciers below as beautiful avalanches.  I was disappointed to be leaving, but so psyched to be living in the now and witnessing all the beauty and splendor the mountains have to offer.

The tent was a little deformed when we got back, but still there.  We broke camp and headed for the car.  On the way back we took a quick break at a glacial cave to have some fun.  After a little ice bouldering we were back at the car and headed home for warmer temps and fall rock climbing.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

East Face of Mt. Gould (Attempt)

Glacier National Park is never without adventure and every time I go there, I leave having learnt something new.  I have been there several times climbing the greater peaks and have come to realize that the most dangerous objective hazards aren’t the rock and icefall, but the people, concession food, and wildlife.

 St. Josephine Lake

Justin reaching the base of the route

If you are like Justin and I, and choose an objective in the East side of the park, you must first survive “Going to the Sun” road.  48 miles of winding mountainous road filled with clueless tourist.  This is like running the gauntlet.  For 48 miles you are dodging tourist who are both looking at the scenery and not paying attention to the road, or just too scared of the road to stay in their own lane.  Pinned between a rock wall and a large drop on the other side, you’re left with very few options and the driving can get sporty.  If you do survive the drive and need time to unwind with a beer and some food, good luck.

Beginning the climb

Every time I eat at one of the concessions, I am amazed at how horrible the food is.  Generally 2 million people pass through the park every year and spend a ton of money on lodging and food only to be served slop.   As Justin experienced, it can be crippling.  Now that you are stressed from the driving and nauseous from the food, its time to survive the approach. 

 East Face of Gould

Just below our high point

With one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in the lower 48, the threat of an encounter is a realistic one.  Most of that concentration is in the Many Glacier area, exactly where our objective was.

Most of the time the bears don’t concern me much, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous this time.  We began hiking in the dark around 6am trying not to think about the bears and make good time.  We were about 15 minutes down the trail when through my dim headlamp; I caught the glimpse of something big and brown.  In a panic I began backpedaling and raised my bear spray.  I couldn’t make out what it was, but I was preparing for a charge.  Finally Justin shined his brighter headlamp on the animal and we could see it was just a moose.  Still incredibly dangerous, but not as terrifying.  Eventually a calf showed up and began nursing.  It was an incredible sight, but we were in a hurry.  The stubborn moose took 20 minutes to haze off the trail eating into our precious day.  The rest of the approach went with out incident.  We listened to elk bugling in the morning light and got surprised by a goat when we reached the base of the climb.

Hidden Lake

The face looked more moderate than I expected.  Quickly my nervousness gave way to excitement, but by the time we crossed the snowfield to the rock, Justin was doing all he could not to let the last night’s dinner come back up.  Despite feeling worked, he began climbing.  We had only been soloing for about 20 minutes when we spotted dark clouds moving in.  500 feet up the face; we weren’t yet at a point of total commitment.  Between the poor looking weather heading our way and Justin being sick, we decided it was best to leave this climb for another day. 

We enjoyed the scenery as we hiked out feeling luck to live in such a beautiful state.  With the remainder of the day, we check out other spots in the park (and yes, saw a bear) and worked our way back to Whitefish where we could get some good and safe food.

 Great Northern Peak

 Justin on the summit