The Black Lake Chute took me ten years to ski. All that time it teased me from Anchorage. Above my home it looked like a thin white thread tied to the summit of O’Malley Peak. It hung down the north face and draped off of the lower wall. It became my White Whale. Sometimes, between attempts, I’d try to talk myself out of it. It’s too dangerous. There’s plenty of other stuff to ski. But I wanted it so bad….
Cathy controlled herself. She didn’t bring climbing gear to Spain. Still recovering from a whopper climbing injury in June, she knew bringing gear to Spain would be too tempting, and a backward step in PT. Although Spain is stacked with five-star sport crags, it is also a great place to be a tourist.
Being tourists was a new activity for us, rather than climbing or skiing. Cathy read 10 books. I worked on my next book. We drank gallons of coffee and wine. We hiked and ran. And we visited some old buildings.
After traveling from Chamonix, France to Barcelona, we drove to Grenada for a week of exploring the area. We stayed in a cave house dug into a mountain in the village of Monachil above Grenada. Above is Cathy walking through historic Albayzin toward the Alhambra Palace.
A short drive above our cave house were the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the highest mountains on mainland Spain. We hiked up Veleta (3,396m), which is the fourth highest in Spain. The highest mountain in all of Spain is Teide in the Canary Islands at 3,718 meters.
Joe bouldering on Monsul Beach in Cabo de Gata, where a portion of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed. We spent a second week in Cabo de Gata National Park. This was the only non-crowded location we found along the Spanish Mediterranean Sea. There must be other quiet areas, but they’re hard to find.
We hiked to a remote beach at Cabo de Gata where many Spanish with lengthy dreads lived in the trees and swam in the turquoise water.
Cathy and I at the artist Salvador Dali’s house in Cadaques, north of Barcelona, near the French border. We spent a third week in this classically beautiful Spanish coastal villa. We were about 20 years younger than most of the retired French vacationers who walked the Cadaques beach hand-in-hand. Straight out of a Viagra advert.
Eric Larson lives in Telluride, Colorado. But not very much. During the few winter months he works snow safety for Telluride Ski Resort. Then he ski guides in the Alps, guides expeditions on Denali and then guides mountaineering in the Alps. We see each other somewhere every year.
This year Eric and I overlapped in Chamonix. For a month, we guided trip after trip together. We had a blast working together. The best thing about Eric is that he’s always ready to go. We climbed every free day, then drank a few Stella Artois.
Eric leading the first pitch of the Contamine Route on Pointe Lachenal.
Eric following the money pitch on the Contamine Route, a 160-foot 5,10b.
Eric rapping the Contamine Route to the Vallee Blanche Glacier. This is classic Chamonix; we climb a beautiful six-pitch crack on orange granite at 12,000 feet. Then we get swished back to the city. It may sound soft, but if you like to climb…
The next day we climbed a 400-meter mixed route on the Triangle du Tacul. The route is called the Via Gabarrou-Marquis. Since every inch of the Triangle du Tacul has a route, we should probably call it the Larson-Stock-Artois route.
Eric leading money pitch on the Via Gabarrou-Marquis. Payback after I got the money pitch on the Contamine the day before.
Eric crossing the bergschrund on the Tois Sommets route on the Tacul. The Tacul is a low summit of Mont Blanc and is the first peak of the Trois Sommets route. This is the second most popular route on Mont Blanc, despite the major serac-fall hazard.
Then we drank Stella.
In 1999 I guided in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real mountains for two months. I’ve wanted to go back ever since. This year I was lucky to return with Glenn, Paul and James. We’ve been on many trips together including Denali, Marcus Baker, Bona, Mount Logan, Ecuador, Iliamna Volcano, Arctic Refuge and the Central Talkeenta Mountains. Our motivation for Bolivia was to get Glenn above 20,000 feet. See more photos here: www.stockalpine.com/posts/bolivia.html.
We based our trip out of La Paz, the world’s highest capital city. La Paz sits in a valley ranging from 10,500 feet to 13,500 feet. The wealthy live at warmer, lower elevations. The poorer live in El Alto, which sprawls across the altiplano above La Paz.
Paul on our three-day acclimatizing trek. Some valleys had hundreds of llamas milling about.
Descending from our first summit, the dramatic Pequeno Alpamayo (17,600′).
Huayna Potosi is 6,088 meters. The problem is that it equates to 26 feet short of Glenn’s coveted 20,000 feet. We still had fun climbing the knife-edge summit ridge of Huayna Potosi (19,974′).
Glenn feeling the hard turf of a yareta plant while hiking into Nevado Sajama. Many yareta are over 3,000 years old.
A VERY stoked Glenn gasping around the crater rim to the summit of Parinacota. Eight hundred and twenty seven feet over 20,000! Tick! Congrats Glenn!
I’ve had two personal ski days this winter. With no snow in the early season, I ice climbed and taught avalanche classes. In the midwinter, I taught back to back avalanche courses and guided skiing. A lot of fun days on skis, but all of them on the clock. When skiing off the clock, I can kick back, let my friends make the difficult decisions and ski steeper, higher consequence terrain.
On my two personal days this winter, I skied the pointiest peak in the Hatcher Pass area and the pointiest peak near Turnagain Pass. Both near Anchorage, Alaska.
Dana Drummond booting 50-degree powder near the summit of The Pinnacle at Hatcher Pass.
Dana on the summit of The Pinnacle after leading the exposed summit pitch.
Dana on the summit of the Pinnacle. The Western Chugach are in the far distance.
Dana breaking trail below seracs on Carpathian Peak in the Kenai Mountains.
Andy Newton and Tobey Carman heading to a break in the sunshine below our ski route on Carpathian.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Danny Uhlmann and I thought a couple pitches of ice climbing would be fun during our day off. The weather forecast seemed fine: no precip forecasted and low winds. We took the 9,000-foot Midi lift up from Chamonix to the alpine and trudged over to our route: the Chere Couloir on Mont Blanc du Tacul, a sub-peak of Mont Blanc. As we neared the route we realized the wind was funneling through the pass where the climb was located… Here’s what ensued.
The Chere follows a gully in the rock up the right side of the Triangle du Tacul.
Danny geared up, minus goggles. We led with our faces down, blind, climbing by feel. Our frozen sunglasses protected our eyes with a layer of ice.
At the top of the six-pitch route we exited the wind venturi — and the raging sandstorm subsided enough for a cup of mud.
Then we rappelled back into the blizzard.
And experienced a nice exfoliating facial for the boys.
Final rap down over the bergschrund. Let’s get out of here!
We ran back to the Midi station and zoomed down to the warm valley below. Next time we’ll bring goggles!
Guiding in the Alps surrounding Chamonix is the norm for American IFMGA guides. Over half of America’s 80-something fully certified guides are here this summer. Why? Not because the pay is great. The plane ticket here is expensive and the dollar is lame against the euro. It’s also not because the US doesn’t have great rock for guiding. The western US has some of the best rock in the world. It’s not because Chamonix is the birthplace of mountain guiding, either. We’re here because the guiding is AWESOME! With our customers we can zip to the alpine on a tram and climb impeccable rock all day, then whisk back to a comfortable town where guides are socializing and living their normal life. Small, non-knee crushing backpacks are another bonus.