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2,000 Vertical Feet in the Chugach

November 27th, 2012

Last winter it snowed in Southcentral Alaska from October through April. This winter it hasn’t snowed since mid-September. But that’s great! The ice is fat and juicy and the temps warm. Ice climbing season is here!

Last week, Cathy and I climbed 2,000 vertical feet of ice in a shrubby gully deep in the Western Chugach Mountains.

We used the rope on five pitches and soloed the rest.

Cathy pulling over the top of another belayed pitch. She’s wearing a big metal orange knee-brace to prevent her knee from locking. The next day she got the flip-flopping part of the meniscus cut out.

On the last belayed pitch. We topped out at 5:30 p.m. in total darkness. Over two hours we thrashed down 2,000 feet of thick alder back to the road. Oh, we long for the sun and easy approaches of Colorado!

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Sneaky Summit Season

November 23rd, 2012

The dry view of autumns last days on Mendota Peak's summit

I once traded 144 clif bars for 5 beers. At that time, I don’t think I could have ever eaten another one (and haven’t in the nearly 3 years since), but this was a bit of a dilemma considering we had a monstrous 5 day hike left to get out of the location where I squared off that deal — promising they had chocolate in them. No longer being able to accept fuel when the tank is empty is a real issue, but those 5 beers split among friends gave us the mental lift at 16,400′ that 144 clif bars couldn’t possibly have done, especially since we couldn’t stand the flavor of any of them any longer. We were fine walking on without them, we had completed a 50+ day Clif cleanse, if you will.

My life is filled with oddball choices like this. And counterintuitive as it may seem, I believe that sometimes it is better to feel happy when wishing to tough something out than it is to have a full belly. It’s funny now how I can look back and use my own vault of experience to A. subject myself to bigger and crazier things because of choices like this and B. reflect that there was a process that got me there… and could get me back. Hence, where I’m at today, in front of a monitor after a fast and completely unlikely day of going extremely light in the mountains. One of the best I can remember and shared with a great friend.

With a hard goal that sat on my bucket list for three years before coming to fruition on my 33rd birthday (running 8 peaks from Ophir to Telluride), the summer and my passion for the mountains sparked a flame from the embers of aging goals that I have already met in the high peaks. After 16 years of devotion to moving uphill and then back down in every trendy way possible, I finally realized the merit of all that time wasn’t skill so much — it was old man strength!!!! It’s true, knowledge of terrain, high mileage approaches to high peaks and doses of speed at altitude eventually netted me the ability to make quicker work of smaller peaks. Instead of looking for every line I could ski or juggy holds I could pull on this year, I looked at the mountains again with an eye similar to 10 years ago after my first trip to Nepal, as if the Rockies were all a scaled down canvas. Connecting many summits, valleys and ridges is possible, rather than focusing on singular massifs holding individual features I want to string along in a technical way. It is refreshing to see them this way again, much more endlessly challenging, and liberating to explore a new personal paradigm.

So with the last days of Indian Summer coming to a close, on November 4th I really thought I had to obligatorily bid adieu to summer’s sweet access to the San Juan mountains near Telluride, Co. On that day, I ran and power hiked from 8,750′ and enjoyed nearly 12 miles with 4 summits over 13,000′ and about 6,800′ of vertical while ridge-running and capped the day meeting friends in a basin and hiking to the top of one last mountain of the year, 13,275′ Mendota Peak. The air was crisp, the ground was dry and the mountains seemed to be setting the stage for winter to wisk in, ice formations to begin dripping down, turning on the ski lift and the sky to start dumping. Or not… as a mountaineer, I was not content to accept that this time had come yet. I knew there would be a chance that on the razor’s edge between fall and winter, I might have one more shot at a big day with running shoes on my feet.

Mountaineers are silly beasts in that we plot with this optimism and this neediness for terrain, at the edge of the season, of disappointment and often hope lost by weather moving faster than we. Somehow we got labeled so many things for this attitude: crazy, nuts and insane, but “Alpinist” stuck to those in the core, and then we collectively played a ton of games to fire off any objective with varying degrees of extreme and extreme skill. Carrying skis, ice tools, adding altitude, pushing every threshold in remote places is cool; why wouldn’t you want to do that, right?  I know, it’s complicated. Although it has been truly fulfilling participating in high mountain exploration on every level from high to low, few of those games since some of the massive enchainments like “the Jedi traverse” I did in 2004 (Mt. Wilson, Wilson peak, Gladstone, El Diente and Lizard head) had truly opened my eyes to what was possible to get away with — a dual sense of accomplishment and freedom to move like a mountain goat by throwing conventional wisdom out the door and making a run for it. This is very much unlike the staid trials and truths of the High Himalayas where being pounded by elements in between the frozen flutes of alpine features we hoped to climb and ski equals adventure at its finest! Both are fun, but for now I want to climb more mountains faster and get more vertical in — with less technicality, more freedom. The partner I had on the Jedi has since retired, but the mountains, they are still here.

13,213' Campbell Peak and TO. Our route bushwhacked in from the left and climbed the steep spine left of the lower hump on the left.

Having that feeling of freshness and the legs to beat it out of me at the start of winter is not the best timing. Having that ability is, well, something I’m glad to have right now nonetheless, as the snow dried up this summer and I put my skis, ropes and rack away to pursue just that. And so I took the leap once more and following our last storm cycle 5 days prior, this weekend was probably my last legitimate day for a little while of seeing a lot of landscape without a lot of hassle or kit. I ran over 21 miles, gained 6,400′ and summited two peaks that had been on my to-do list for a while, 13,213′ Campbell Peak and its higher, mysteriously-named peak to the right: TO. It’s funny though, the mix of speed and mountains, as 14.4 of the miles run from the town of Telluride took only a couple of hours — the other 6.8 miles, oh man! Let’s just say that me and my buddy Nick LeClaire hit “the” worst scree slope I have ever seen and had a full value day of winter up high above it. But we expected that and I carried one light jacket, 1,100 calories, a neck gaitor, gloves and 50 oz. of water, the style implied only one simple plan: keep moving to stay warm.

Climbing this scree slope with handfuls of wet mud, groveling through chicken-headed ankle biters and sliding back a step or more each time, I was running through scenarios in my mind of the last time I was on something less than 40 degrees steep and absolutely groveling on all fours like this. Was it Sichuan in 2007? Maybe Aconcagua’s kitty litter hill in 2002 and 2005? The moraine in front of Makalu in 2009? Nonetheless, this slope took the complete and total cake at nearly an hour of groveling to make it just 600′ and me telling myself over and over that I am in the best shape of my entire life. After that it was a mix of post holing, running and power hiking in full alpine splendor: snow, cold and wind to just above 13,800 + feet (TO has no marking on the map). Touching down all fours was mandatory several times, as was bona fide scrambling and snow tunneling through an exposed feature revealing to me the simple answer to the question of why I had not done these peaks before: there is no trail and everyone I asked suggested a different way, none of them very detailed, none of them leading here. This was our way, and right or wrong, it worked.

Nick LeClaire groveling on all fours through rare crumbling red rock to the summit of TO. Campbell is the peak behind and left of him, our route hit the ridge right of the lower hump on the right.

This still leaves the question you may be asking yourself: Why the hell would you add 14 more miles to something like this or bother to do it this time of year, it sounds awful. Well, I don’t know, I don’t… curiosity, training? But then again, I don’t think it is awful, it is the next thing, it is an old thing, it is an ongoing relationship I have with the mountains and that is enough for me. To be drawn to them and to draw on them. On the slim margin of ridiculously awesome days I’ve had overcoming the unexpected and having every resource in the book to throw at it, on this one I just had to keep moving or give up and this day was the type of day where I realized that we can all do amazing things that may only amaze us, we can all dream, just by moving forward — that’s really it. Because even though we still need a pack to do some of those things, we have one thing that can’t fit in a pack: our mind. If we have the will and a window opens, no matter what our goals are, we can try to accomplish them… and might! Don’t be afraid to chuck your Clif Bars, take a new look at the mountains and go to them in whatever way you wish; they will never stop delivering creative ways to see more of them.

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Free Rider!

November 20th, 2012

Me and my dream climb.

It was 8:30 a.m. and I was totally destroyed physically and mentally. We had been climbing since 3 a.m. to beat the way-too-hot November sun and I had just finished pitch 28 of Free Rider, a 34 pitch free route up El Capitan’s southwest face. It was the last 5.12 pitch on the route, but that didn’t mean much. Up next was a steep 5.11, followed by an 11d finger crack which led into the notorious Scotty Burke off width, with another two 5.11- pitches and a gimme 5.6 to the top. Graded 10d, the Scotty Burke might be the biggest sandbag I have ever experienced. It took me four tries to figure out how to climb it on toprope, and when I got it, I was really fresh and rested. When I got to it on this day, it would be on my fourth day of climbing in a row, after sleeping on the wall for three nights. ‘Sleeping’ would be an overstatement. It was more like a few hours of napping over four days. Everything was taking its toll, and it all caught up right now.

7" crack of your dreams/nightmares.

Right now I was sitting on the Round Table Ledge, after completing a wild 5.12 traverse on the lip of the Salathe Headwall. To give you an idea of this position, imagine yourself doing a hand traverse on top of the empire state building… which is sitting on top of another empire state building. Ya, it’s that exposed. I was sleep deprived, bonking and exhausted. I screamed, battled and hung on with every last bit of juice I could muster up, as I had climbed every pitch without falling to this point, and I didn’t want to start failing now. Somehow I made it to the ledge, but that was pretty much the end of me. I managed to set up the belay, haul over our day pack, and get Jasmin to start following. She was sending the route to here as well, and I wasn’t about to give up on her yet.

Two pitches down, 32 more to go!

What she found when she got to the belay was a shattered remnant of her husband and climbing partner. When you climb with your wife, there is no buffer or toughness on the surface that you might have with your friends, and before I knew it, I was crying. Granted, I cry more than most guys, I am a bit of a sensitive softie, but I had just sent the pitch, I was sending to here, yet I felt like I was about to fail. Years of dreaming about climbing this route, weeks of training and prep to get to this point in time and space, and I was crying, ready to throw in the towel. But that is what makes climbing so special; it’s a partner/team sport. When you can’t make it happen, sometimes your partner steps up. Jas took the reigns and shoved food and water down my throat, lots of food and water. A half hour later, while belaying her on an ‘easy’ 5.11 pitch, I started to come back to life. Calories, caffeine and H2O were going to my failing muscles, slowly rejuvenating them.

All I had to do was make it through the next two pitches, and the last three I could do no matter what. With no excess of power and strength, it all came down to technique and mental fortitude. That is what you should be doing anyway, but I guess there are lots of times when I climb ‘dumb’; pulling myself through moves and not climbing through them intelligently and efficiently. Well, there was no choice now.

Pitch 25 or so, getting up there now.

Chimneying, jamming and finding stances, I somehow rested my way up the 150’ of crack climbing to get to the steep and exposed belay for the Scotty Burke OW. I grabbed the handful of cams I thought I would use, leaving behind all excess weight. I climbed smart and fast through the steep 11d crack to the no hands rest before the 10d off width. I took a long break and slowed things down. I tried to remember all the techniques I had learned climbing the world-feared/renowned Monster almost 1500’ below me. (The Monster is a 160’ 5.11 offwidth that repels/scares away a lot of climbers. I had onsighted it on the first day up the wall, after not really sleeping in anticipation of how hard it might be. Technique came through and somehow I waltzed it!). On top rope I had lay backed the hardest part of the Scotty Burke, but that was not going to happen today. I entered full grovel mode and dug in to the trench for 100 feet of full on warfare. Inch by inch I locked my heel-toe cams in, arm barred and crimped. No one could see me as you are around a roof, but everyone could hear me screaming away in the biggest battle of my climbing career. 100 feet to go to send El Cap… and on this day, technique and mental fortitude prevailed. I had never dug so deep in my life.

Jasmin enjoying the jug at the end of the last hard pitch of the route, 1 5.6 pitch left, with 3,000' of air below you!

Getting up to the anchor with no more gear and slings, and sitting on the ledge in the sun, a wave of relaxation and contentment took over. Wow. Jasmin cruised the pitch behind me, and it was all but in the bag for both of us. Four years ago we had tried to do the route and failed. We had spent two weeks before launching up from the ground checking out all of the pitches on rappel and top rope and we were still not sure if we could do it. But there we were, three pitches from the top, and we were doing it. We each made it possible for each other, coming through when the other couldn’t, and now we were enjoying success together.

Party's over, time to unpack!

For 15 years I have been going to Yosemite, most of my climbing career. From my first hard multipitches (Astroman), my first multiday big wall (the nose, El Cap), my first one day big wall (the nose) to the crown jewel of my climbing dreams (Free Rider), it has been my proving grounds, and fuel for inspiration and memories, and this journey would be no different.

P.S.:

Just so the truth is out there: There were two pitches that both of us tried to lead and failed, the Teflon Corner and the 2nd Endurance Corner. We both tried multiple times, and could not send them on lead, but both managed to top rope them clean on our ascent. I know it’s not a perfect ascent, but I climb for myself, and I couldn’t be happier with what we managed to do with the time and energy we had at our disposal.

Free Rider, El Capitan, Grade VI, 5.12d, 34 pitches, 3,000’+. Climbed from November 1 to 6, 2012 with Jasmin Caton.

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Finding The Perfect Moment in Pig Poop and Powder

November 19th, 2012

Putting straw atop her compost pile on the farm. Photo courtesy The Denver Post

Alison Gannett is a World Champion Extreme Freeskier, founder of The Save Our Snow Foundation and an award-winning global cooling consultant who has spent her life dedicated to solutions for climate change.

A reporter asked me yesterday how I find time to shovel pig poop and run a farm with my busy schedule. In general, I avoid this job at all costs, but for some weird reason, I bonded with it this week and decided that it is extremely similar to skiing powder.

Read more…

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Finding My Way Home: Climbing Mt. Starr King in Yosemite

November 16th, 2012

Climber Beth Rodden made the first ascent of what is likely Yosemite’s single hardest traditional pitch: Meltdown, a 70-foot 5.14 crack at Upper Cascade Falls. Beth lives near Yosemite and loves to bake in between climbs and travels.

I normally hide from the heat when climbing. I feel like a raisin when the temperature gets into the 90’s, shriveling up and withering away. But this summer, I was more than happy to stick around Yosemite. With a fairly empty park because of the Hantavirus scare, it was a nice time to enjoy the shadier, higher climbs that I rarely visit.

My neighbors had been suggesting Mt. Starr King to me for years, probably due to my constant state of injury. They thought surely the 5.0 dome would be gentle on my injury-prone body. Their thinking was brilliant and one sweltering hot weekend in September we set off on an adventure.

Read more…

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Dreams of Brown Moose: A Classic Alaska Ice Climb

November 14th, 2012

Joe Stock is a mountain guide and photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.

Dreams of Brown Moose is a classic early-season ice climb in the Portage Valley near Anchorage. This 500-foot, Water Ice IV route has the ingredients of a proper Alaska adventure with a bushwacking approach, dodgy thin ice, overflowing water and deathly avalanche terrain. I went with Sam Johnson, a life-long Alaska climber, artist and Ph.D candidate to give it a shot.

Read more…

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Alison Gannett: A MoveShake Story

November 13th, 2012

“We’re all dying deep down for a reconnection to something bigger.”

Alison Gannett is a mover and shaker to the core. A world-champion freeskier, Alison also runs three nonprofits, including the Save Our Snow Foundation, and inspires other women to fall in love with the outdoors by teaching them how to ski, mountain bike and surf with her Rippin’ Chix camps. On top of that, she’s a busy climate change consultant and speaker for businesses and audiences large and small. And more recently, she and her husband Jason, took the leap into farming the 75-acre Holy Terror Farm in Paonia, Colorado. Determined to walk the talk, she and Jason strives for 100% self sufficiency on the farm, taking big steps each year to make the world around them a better place.
Read more…

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Imagine1day Brings New Packs to High School Students in Ethiopia

November 12th, 2012

imagine1day is a growing, global community of people making passionate contributions to ensure every child in Ethiopia receives a quality education.

Last month, representatives from imagine1day presented brand new Osprey Packs to their Class 2016 Graduate Fund students. The fund is designed to support high performing students from poor and disadvantaged households in rural Ethiopia in completing a full course of high school education (grades 9-12) and in developing as future leaders of Ethiopia. The packs were brought to the students by the Imagine Ethiopia 2012 crew, who traveled to Ethiopia’s Oromiya Region after raising $100,000 to fund the cost of a primary school project for the remote rural community.

Learn more about what you can do to help by visiting imagine1day.org.

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Use Your Voice, Share Your Story To Support Mountain2Mountain + Win An Osprey Raptor Pack!

November 7th, 2012

Mountain2Mountain's Shannon Galpin and Georgian photographer, Mikhail Galustov ride through the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Warren Buttery

Dare to believe in our common humanity.

Six years ago, Shannon Galpin walked away from her career as an athletic trainer and used her own limited funds to launch Mountain2Mountain and “be the change” she wished to see in the world. Today, Shannon and the M2M team, are just returning from their latest trip to Afghanistan where they launched the Streets of Afghanistan project and rode bicycles through Kabul to raise awareness of cultural barriers and empower women and girls in conflict regions.

We believe in the power of voice as a catalyst for social action.

Here at Osprey, we are proud to support Shannon and M2M’s work, both in the US and in Afghanistan. This year in particular, we’re incredibly proud of Shannon, who is one of the National Geographic Adventure’s Adventurer of the Year nominees—and you can vote for her throughout all of November and into January! To celebrate and stoke the fire of Shannon’s work, we’re highlighting this incredible organization for the entire month of November. Please join us and spread the word about M2M.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Use your voice. Share a photo or video from M2M with your online network on Facebook. Make sure to tag M2M and Osprey Packs in your post.
  2. Tell a story. Post a photo of your own on the Osprey Packs Facebook wall. Your photo can be of someone that inspires you, or an image that you believe exemplifies our common humanity. Just make sure to write a short caption that tells us about your image.

At the end of the month, we will be choosing three people at random to highlight right here on our blog and Facebook page and we will also award each winner with an Osprey Raptor Hydration Pack!

It didn’t take long before Shannon gathered a crowd of other bikers and formed a bike gang. Photo: Warren Buttery

Please share your stories between November 7 and 29. We will choose three winners on Friday, November 30. You can share and submit  from anywhere in the world, but we will only ship prizes to addresses within the United States and Canada.

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Thanks Andrew!

November 6th, 2012

Andrew McLean packed the Bear Tooth Theater for the annual Friends of the Chugach Avalanche Center fundraiser. This is the biggest event for the Friends, who provide weather stations, salary and gear for Southcentral Alaska avalanche forecasts. To over 400 fired up Alaskan skiers, Andrew told stories from ski adventures in the Wrangell St. Elias Mountains in Alaska. These are the most vast mountains in the U.S., and Andrew’s current ski obsession. Between slide shows-he gave another show for the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center–we played in the hills above Anchorage.

During 45-minutes of  laughter, Andrew told of one expedition where “The Sex Troll” drug his kite, ready for any puff of wind, across the Bagley Icefield.

At a Chugach trailhead with the fat tire bikes loaded onto the Rice Rocket. Or is the Honda Rice Rocket loaded onto the fat tire bikes? Andrew had never ridden a fat bike, so I gave him the Alaska experience.

Some hazards on the ride into the Chugach. We counted 16 moose along 4 miles of trail.

We biked around Gray Lake below Ptarmigan Peak.

Along the way we noticed this iceflow up in the rocks on Ptarmigan Peak.

We came back the next day and climbed this beautiful route. It was 300 feet of rolling water ice 4.

Following Andrew’s lead up the steepest section. Thanks for coming up Andrew and supporting the Friends. And thanks for the mountain time!

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